The Patton of Counterinsurgency

by Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, speaks with a group of local sheiks at Patrol Base Kemple, Dec. 18, 2007. Situated on the banks of the Euphrates River, Patrol Base Kemple is home to the Soldiers of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.

Great commanders often come in pairs: Eisenhower and Patton, Grant andSherman, Napoleon and Davout,MarlboroughandEugene, Caesar and Labienus. Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno can now be added to the list.

It's natural to assume that successful pairs of commanders complement each other's personalities (the diplomatic Eisenhower and the hard-charging Patton, for example) or that the junior partner is merely executing the vision of the other (Shermanseen as acting on Grant's orders). In reality, the task of planning and conducting large-scale military operations is too great for any single commander, no matter how talented his staff. The subordinate in every successful command pair has played a key role in designing and implementing the campaign plan.

History does not always justly appreciate such contributions. The role that Davout played in shaping operational plans for Napoleon is a matter for specialists. General Odierno deserves better. He played an absolutely essential role in designing and executing the successful counterinsurgency operations inIraq. His contributions to securingIraqoffer many important lessons for fighting the larger war on terror. As he and his team return toFort Hood,Texas, it is important not only to commemorate their achievement, but also to understand it.

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno took command of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) on December 14, 2006.Iraqwas in flames. Insurgents and death squads were killing 3,000 civilians a month. Coalition forces were sustaining more than 1,200 attacks per week. Operation Together Forward II, the 2006 campaign to clearBaghdad's most violent neighborhoods and hold them with Iraqi Security Forces, had been suspended because violence elsewhere in the capital was rising steeply. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) owned safe havens within and aroundBaghdad, throughout Anbar, and in Diyala, Salah-ad-Din, and Ninewa provinces. The Iraqi government was completely paralyzed.

When General Odierno relinquished command of MNC-I on February 14, 2008, the civil war was over. Civilian casualties were down 60 percent, as were weekly attacks. AQI had been driven from its safe havens in and aroundBaghdadand throughout Anbar and Diyala and was attempting to reconstitute for a "last stand" inMosul--with Coalition and Iraqi forces in pursuit. The Council of Representatives passed laws addressing de-Baathification, amnesty, provincial powers, and setting a date for provincial elections. The situation inIraqhad been utterly transformed.

As is well known, General Petraeus oversaw the writing of a new counterinsurgency doctrine before being sent toIraq. But the doctrine did not provide a great deal of detail about how to plan and conduct such operations across a theater as large asIraq. It was Odierno who creatively adapted sophisticated concepts from conventional fighting to the problems inIraq, filling gaps in the counterinsurgency doctrine and making the overall effort successful.

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