The most frequently asked question I get lately from friends is: What is really going on in Iraq?
It's easy to see how and why people are so confused too - on one hand, you have retired General Ricardo Sanchez, who ran the war in Iraq during the tumultuous Abu Ghraib scandal, saying that the "surge" is not working and that the war in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight."
On the other hand, you have the Washington Post reporting on its front page that the US Military has dealt "a devastating blow to Al Qaeda" - which would lead one to believe that the "surge" is clearly achieving its goal.
So at today's Pentagon Blogger's Roundtable, I had the opportunity to pose that question to Col. Terry Ferrell, Commander 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, MND-C.
Col. Ferrell's area of operation is the heavily Sunni-dominated area of Arab Jabour - south of Baghdad and mostly rural landscape. It has been a "sanctuary" for Al Qaeda in Iraq and his Operation Marne Torch II (which just completed) was aimed specifically at reducing AQI's stranglehold as part of the larger "surge" that began several months ago.
So how are we doing?
"I can only speak for my area of operation... but Al Qaeda has been significantly reduced within our battle space," Ferrell said.
Col. Ferrell reminded me that there is always concern for Al Qaeda to regroup and rebuild, but that he has had a lot of success in identifying the AQI members, finding their weapons caches and locating and destroying their IED factories - and in large part BECAUSE of the "Concerned Citizen Groups" of local Sunnis who assist our troops in the fight. These CCGs, in Ferrell's eyes, have been the key instrument into establishing the first hope for real Iraqi governance to catch on in a relatively ungoverned region.
During Marne Torch II, Col. Ferrell reports that about 150 key AQI members - from foot soldiers to mid level operators and above were taken out of the fight - 3 significant members in the leadership structure were even killed in the last 30 days.
In his closing remarks on our conference call from Iraq, Col. Ferrell called the performance of his soldiers "truly phenomenal" to watch them engaging the enemy one moment and then working hand-in-hand with local Iraqis the next moment to build a better country.
Let's hope their hard work and successes aren't overlooked.