John McCain was right. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were wrong.
By early 2006, that strategy had begun to shift: Instead of hunting for the bombs, the soldiers hunted for bombmakers. "We started to know a lot of people in the community and develop contacts," recalls Gwinn, now a major. "There was a noticeable change … in the way we were doing things."
Today, that change has swept across Iraq, and attacks using improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have declined steadily for eight months. Casualties from the bombs are at their lowest point since 2003, the first year of the war. Troops have seized twice as many weapons caches this year as they did all of last.
"Just about every single night, we are identifying and engaging one or more cells caught in the act of planting IEDs," Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, said in an interview.
That plan and others mirroring the counterinsurgency blueprint that the Pentagon now hails as a success were pitched repeatedly in memos and presentations during the following two years, at meetings that included then-Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
The core of the strategy: Clear insurgents from key areas and provide security to win over Iraqis, who would respond by helping U.S. forces break IED networks and defeat the insurgency.
Bush administration officials, however, remained wedded to the idea that training the Iraqi army and leaving the country would suffice. Officials, including Cheney, insisted the insurgency was dying. Those pronouncements delayed the Pentagon from embracing new plans to stop IEDs and investing in better armored vehicles that allow troops to patrol more freely, documents and interviews show.