How Successful Was The Surge? The troop surge of 2007 was extremely controversial. Now that it's over, questions remain about how successful the tactic was. We speak with retired Gen. Jack Keane, one of the original architects of the surge.
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How Successful Was The Surge?

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How Successful Was The Surge?

How Successful Was The Surge?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Joining us now is retired General Jack Keane. He's a former acting Chief of Staff of the Army. General Keane, welcome to Day to Day.

General JACK KEANE (Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): I'm glad to be here, thank you.

Some people call you the Architect or the Godfather of the surge. You know, it was not that big an increase in troops originally calling for just 20,000. What made you think that was going to be enough of a margin to establish order, or try to establish order, or something like order?

Gen. KEANE: The surge, really is a horrible term, but the term stuck and in military terms it's a counter-offensive designed to wrest the offensive away from your opponent, in this case, the insurgency and the al-Qaeda in Iraq. And the surge, well everybody focuses on the troops, the real issue was we changed the strategy. For the first time we were going to protect the people and actually take on the mission to defeat the insurgency.

In the past, our mission was to transition to the Iraqis till down the road they could defeat them. To do that, you need additional forces because you have to decentralize and put the troops on the streets where they live in the neighborhoods, mulhollans as they call them in Iraq, and districts in those major urban centers. That is the issue. And in an urban insurgency the people are the issue.

CHADWICK: You know there are some including the West Point history professor, Lieutenant Colonel John Gentile, who say that it's not so much that we've sent in these extra troops or changed our strategy, it's that we got Muqtada al-Sadr's forces to have a ceasefire and we essentially hired 100,000 former Sunni insurgents to come onto our payroll and try to keep quiet.

Gen. KEANE: That's an absolute distortion of what's actually happened. Look, I've been going to Iraq for the last two years, every three or four months for a couple of weeks at a time. I have spoken to the Sunni insurgent leaders and they have capitulated. There's not a white flag of surrender, but they have come into the political process.

Why did you come into the political process? Why didn't you continue to seek your political objectives using armed violence? Answer, because we couldn't win. One of them said, when Bush occupied Baghdad, we knew we didn't have a chance. Those are his words not mine. The awakening movement had already started in Anbar province, but the fact of the matter is with the catalyst of additional troops, that awakening movement, as you say, the Sons of Iraq.

CHADWICK: This is the people we hired to.

Gen. KEANE: Yeah.

CHADWICK: We paid off.

Gen. KEANE: Yeah, well, I wouldn't call it that. I mean, what they - it's so unprecedented. The way insurgencies end and the way the Sunni insurgency has ended is that it just sort of fades away, then they either come into the political process, or they go into hiding. They leave the country. They just put their weapons and go back to doing what they normally did.

In this case, the insurgent leaders wanted to protect their people and they wanted us - they wanted to assist us in defeating the al-Qaeda. So they made a political, strategic decision to capitulate and then they gave us young people to assist in doing that. And as somewhat unprecedented they came over to our side to help us fight one of their enemies, the al-Qaeda.

CHADWICK: We're speaking with retired General Jack Keane, he's one of the strategists for the surge. The military surge in Iraq. General Keane, we heard General Petraeus earlier say that he's going to look ahead and think about what the numbers might be, the numbers of U.S. forces in Iraq. Maybe in September he'll be able to make an adjustment of some kind. What would you expect over the next six months?

Gen. KEANE: Well, I'm probably thinking the rest of 2008. I think the key event in Iraq is provincial elections, which has not been decided in terms of you know, when that's going to take place. I believe they will take place, and it doesn't make any sense to reduce forces, I don't believe, before provincial elections take place. And then I believe after that, the commander could probably announce it beforehand, after that you would see the force levels going down by X number of brigades in 2009.

Somewhere in there, late 2009 or 2010, we'll transition the mission where we will not be doing counter-insurgency. It will not be necessary for us to do it any longer. The Iraqis will be completely in the lead, and we'll have a support function, which will require considerably less troops to do. I mean, you can see that in the future.

Certainly, the command does not want to come out and put a time table on that, even though they think about it quite a bit. And I'm sure they have plans to accommodate that. But they don't want to provide a time table because you don't want to give, you know, you'll opponent, your enemy, that variable. And - so he can organize around that. And remember, we got in trouble in Iraq before because we underestimated our enemy. And these generals that are in Iraq now, they don't want to do that.

CHADWICK: The writer Michael Kinsley, who's a friend of this program, wrote about the surge a few months ago. Look at the numbers before the surge. Look at the numbers after the surge. This is what the Bush administration calls a success. One hundred and thirty thousand Americans in Iraq at the beginning and at the end. This country will still have about 130,000 soldiers - American soldiers in Iraq. Michael Kinsley said, have we really succeeded anything or have we just kind of changed the metric in some way?

Gen. KEANE: Oh my Lord. I mean, what we have in Iraq, and I just got back, you know, less than two weeks ago. What we have in Iraq is a government that is elected by its people. It's the only Arab-Muslim country of that type, of that form of government in that region. It will have a long- term security relationship and a strategic relationship with the United States and be aligned with the United States. That is a major positive outcome for us, particularly given the fact that in 2006 we nearly lost the country and suffered a humiliating defeat.

CHADWICK: Things do look an awful lot different than they did two years ago. You had a significant role in that, in thinking about what should be done at a time when it was a very unpopular plan to be putting forth. No one was - there wasn't a very big cheering squad for that. I wonder if you sit back on an evening now and feel some kind of sense of satisfaction? What is that?'

Gen. KEANE: Well, I think there were a lot of people that, you know, have a hand in it.

CHADWICK: Well, there were a lot of people, but, you know, I'm asking about you.

Gen. KEANE: But, yeah, sure. I mean on some kind of personal level given -look, this was not easy because we knew that when you do a counter-offensive, one thing that always happens, casualties go up. And we knew that casualties would go up in this counter-offensive, as it has in any other counter-offensives that this country's ever done. And we call that the "surge." But we also knew if we got the positive outcome that we thought was truly possible by using counter -insurgency practices and a change of strategy. Then in the long run we would have less casualties.

Yes, and certainly you take solace in that. In the sense that, we have almost a certainty of having achieved our objectives in Iraq. Despite all the problems we had, despite getting off on the wrong foot for three years despite the miscues and policy mistakes that we've made which we've done in previous wars as well. But you know we're Americans. And the great thing about America is its military reflects its people. And the military in America is intellectually flexible and is operationally very adaptable. And when people look at this, they'll see a military that just turn itself around and got a positive outcome very quickly. And we've done this throughout our history.

CHADWICK: Retired General Jack Keane, former acting Chief of Staff, for the U.S. Army. General Keane, thank you.

Gen. KEANE: You're welcome.

CHADWICK: Coming up on Day to Day, a conversation with an American Army captain who's based in Iraq. That in ten minutes on Day to Day.

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