Be Not AfraidMichael Yon believes General Petraeus, if anyone, can rout Al Queda from Diyala Province. Read more of his extraordinary dispatches here.
You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst. You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way. You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand. You shall see the face of God and live.
Be not afraid.
I go before you always;
Come follow me, and I will give you rest.
[From a prayer card I found on a base in Anbar Province, Iraq.]
"We can dissect our Civil War, or World War II or Vietnam, but there is no way to dissect the current war. Only the residue of those prior wars remains with us today—the scars and headstones, memorial statues, history books, and national boundaries. We only dissect that which is dead. Pathologists who autopsy those wars can no longer affect the outcomes. There is little left to the corpse of a war, but the sculptors of history take the clay and give it shape and substance. But even the most masterful among the artisans—Michelangelo himself—chipping and slicing at marble from Carrara, could not breathe life into the statue of David. Twice I stood in Florence, staring up at David, clad only in his slingshot, the rock with which he would change history cupped in his hand.
"But as I write these words, the explosions—cannon fire reverberating day and night, rockets exploding on base, the rumbling and crumpling sounds of car bombs—are the very pulse of this war. This war cannot yet be dissected because it still lives—wounded, angry, thrashing on the table, but alive. We can only hack into it, diagnose it, treat it, knowing each attempt at a cure affects the pulse. Doing nothing causes tachycardia. Much of what afflicts Iraq was here before America was born. But when we elected to perform surgery on this sick land, we used hacksaws and sledgehammers, and took an already sick patient and hacked off some parts while pulverizing others.
"Our jets will drop bombs and we will use rockets. Helicopters will cover us, and medevac our wounded and killed. By the time you read this, our artillery will be firing, and our tanks moving in. And Humvees. And Strykers. And other vehicles. Our people will capture key terrain and cut off escape routes. The idea this time is not to chase Al Qaeda out, but to trap and kill them head-on, or in ambushes, or while they sleep. When they are wounded, they will be unable to go to hospitals without being captured, and so their wounds will fester and they will die painfully sometimes. It will be horrible for Al Qaeda. Horror and terrorism is what they sow, and tonight they will reap their harvest. They will get no rest. They can only fight and die, or run and try to get away. Nobody is asking for surrender, but if they surrender, they will be taken.
"We will go in on foot and fight from house to house if needed. We will shoot rockets into their hiding spaces, and our snipers will shoot them in their heads and chests. This is where all that talk of cancer and big ideas of what should be or could be done will smash head-on against the searing reality of combat.
"These words flow on the eve of a great battle, but are on hold until the attack is well underway. Nothing is certain. I am here and have been all year. We are in trouble, but we have a great general. The only one, I have long believed, who can lead the way out of this morass. Iraq is not hopeless. Iraq can stand again but first it must cast off these demons. And some of the demons must be killed.
"And while the battle rages, that prayer card will be in my pocket:"
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