- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2008

COMMENTARY:

First, and most important, the campaign in Mesopotamia is all but won. This week the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines arrived in Al Anbar Province - once the bloodiest place on the planet - to assume the mission of honing the skills of Iraqi forces who now have responsibility for security in the largest of the 18 provinces. Iraqis - instead of Americans - are now conducting most combat operations against al Qaeda remnants and Shi’ite militias throughout Iraq.

Second, despite predictions “it couldn’t be done,” the Maliki government has announced plans for provincial elections before year’s-end. The Iraqis are also completing an oil-revenue sharing plan and are quietly concluding a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States on the disposition of American troops. Though Iranian interference in Iraq’s internal affairs continues, U.S. and Iraqi Special Operations Forces have been quietly rolling up terror networks set up by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Gen. Ray Odierno, the new U.S. commander in Iraq demurs from describing the current situation a “victory” because bloodshed still occurs. This week Sunni suicide bombers in Salahidin Province and Baghdad killed 28 and wounded more than 30 Shi’ite worshippers celebrating Eid - the end of their Ramadan fast. Rather than pushing the country toward “civil war,” events like these have increasingly alienated insurgent groups from the civilian population.

Despite these attacks, violence is at a four-year low. Though widely unreported, U.S. military and diplomatic officials express quiet confidence that Iraq is well on its way to becoming our closest ally in a region where we need reliable friends.

There is also good news from Afghanistan that is generally ignored by our political and media elites in their efforts to find only gloom and doom in the campaign against a resurgent Taliban and the remnants of al Qaeda. Last Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reported that this year 30 aid workers have been killed, 92 were kidnapped and 22 World Food Program convoys have been attacked.

On Wednesday, President Bush met with Gen. David McKiernan, the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. Both men acknowledged the current spike in violence in Afghanistan precipitated by cross-border activity from Pakistan and Iran. Though they also observed there have been improvements in health care, education and transportation, press reports of the meeting emphasized that 2008 has been the bloodiest year for U.S. troops since 2001.

Gen. McKiernan made it clear he needs more troops, military hardware and reconstruction aid “as quickly as possible” to prosecute an effective winter campaign against a “surge” in foreign terrorists that includes Pakistanis, Chechens, Saudis, Uzbeks and Europeans. It is a point we made repeatedly in our Fox News Channel reports from Afghanistan in August and September.

We also noted that relying on our “NATO partners” - the consequence of a United Nations resolution - has not worked. Today there are 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan - but only 20,000 of them are under direct U.S. operational control. The rest report to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - 31,000 personnel from 39 other countries. With the exception of the British and Canadians, most ISAF troops have so many “national caveats” on how and where they can be employed that they are effectively noncombatants.

Unlike Mesopotamia, where U.S. troops have trained and equipped more than 400,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces since 2003, the Afghan National Army and Police - supposedly advised and outfitted by ISAF - still number fewer than 60,000. None of this is good news - but it is about to change.

Gen. David Petraeus has ordered Central Command to quietly review the disposition of U.S. forces in his theater - and equally important - NATO roles and missions in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the Sept. 20 Marriott Hotel suicide bombing in Islamabad, the Pakistani government is renewing efforts to rein in Islamic radicals. Last week Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak urged creation of a combined Afghan, Pakistani, U.S. Security Force for the porous, mountainous and largely ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border region where between 10,000 and 15,000 al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents have havens. Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari apparently likes the idea - as do U.S. commanders in the field.

Meanwhile, Baitullah Mehsud, titular head of the Taliban in Pakistan, is dead and the Pakistani army is prosecuting a successful campaign against al Qaeda militants in Bajour Agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicts it will be “springtime” before another 10,000 U.S. troops will arrive in Afghanistan, Gen. McKiernan has already received some of the aviation assets he needs to support a winter offensive.

In their constant effort to paint a dismal picture of the war, the masters of our media failed to report all this. Perhaps they will do better next week.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel, the author of “American Heroes” and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.