Thursday, August 16, 2007

****EXCLUSIVE***Interview with Executive Director of Vets For Freedom, Pete Hegseth

By Susan Duclos aka Spree

Vets for Freedom is a nonpartisan organization established by combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our mission is to educate the American public about the importance of achieving success in these conflicts by applying our first-hand knowledge to issues of American strategy and tactics—namely "the surge" in Iraq. We support policymakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood behind our great generation of American warriors on the battlefield, and who have put long-term national security before short-term partisan political gain.

Pete Hegseth, Executive Director

First Lieutenant Pete Hegseth served in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division for their deployment to Iraq from 2005-2006. Lt. Hegseth served as an infantry Platoon Leader in Baghdad during the nationwide elections in October and December 2005, and as a Civil-Military Operations officer in Samarra. Lt. Hegseth also served in Guantanamo Bay for a year on a security mission with his National Guard unit and currently serves in the 1-69 Infantry, New York Army National Guard. He holds the Bronze Star for his time in Iraq. Pete is a graduate of Princeton University and plans to pursue a Masters in Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton in the fall. Lt. Hegseth originally hails from Minnesota, but now lives in New York City with his wife.

The Washington Times has published some key excerpts to this 25 minute interview with Mr. Hegseth, so please head over and read those excerpts dealing with, what the Vets For Freedom does and why, as well as giving a “face” to the Iraqi people and their hopes and desires for their country, what he is hearing from the soldiers and interpreters still on the ground in Iraq and he speaks to why Victory in Iraq is so important to America.

The transcript of the rest of this fascinating interview, via the phone, with Mr. Hegseth is posted below.

SD: I appreciate all the emails you send me with the weeks to testimony and I try to get them out. I see that you will be there September 18th , there is also anti-war protesters that will be there. You are going to be there to basically counter them?

: That’s part of it, our message has mostly been pro-active and less reactive, so we schedule, I guess we knew, but without regard to who else will be there, but at the same time, I think we have also given ourselves an opportunity to counter what a lot of the anti-war groups will be doing. There is also a large pro mission rally on the 15th with a couple other organizations and while we are not specifically going to have lots of guys there, we will be partnered with them. So we hope to really be involved for a couple weeks in September, it is just that 18th dates that we will bring all our guys, and if the other side wants to try, try to muster as many vets, Iraq and Afghanistan vets, as we do, I’d be surprised if they could.

SD: What is the difference that you see in General Petraeus’s strategy now, the counterinsurgency, than what you saw when you were there in 2005-2006?

Hegseth: That’s the million dollar question and what makes what we’re doing, so important, is that people don’t realize what a drastic change in strategy this really is. It’s not just throwing 30,000 more troops at a problem, it’s throwing 30,000 more troops with a new strategy and then reallocating the existing troops, more efficiently. So you are actually getting much more bang for your buck than just 30,000 troops. Your getting double that if not more in actual combat power and the troops are doing a different kind of mission, what we were doing in 2005-2206, while with the best intentions, was trying to hand over swathes of land and cities to the Iraqi people as fast as we could, irregardless of whether or not the security conditions merited it. We also handed over swathes of land to the Iraqi security forces and to tribal leaders and others without having a real understanding of what was going to happen.

Then we had elections and other things that were good on paper, but didn’t really bring about any changes on the ground for the Iraqi people, so we were actually fighting an unconventional asymmetrical war with large conventional tactics, but what General Petraeus has done, what we’ve done now, is totally reverse the course, and focus on the population centrals and we said, “we need to secure the areas for the Iraqi people first” and when we do that it will bring about the kind of security conditions where we can have economic and political stability and progress.

The biggest example of that is Anbar province, where the people hear about the “awakening” and these Tribal Sheiks, standing up and taking on al-Qaeda, and they have, but the reason they did that is because Americans cleared Anbar province and Ramadi, specifically, and then they held it, with 65 patrol bases throughout the city, troops bringing violence way down, to the point where the Sheiks kind of looked and said, wow, we have a strategic opportunity here to take on al-Qaeda, and they did and that’s what is allowing for the lasting peace there. As far as tactically, for the Americans, what we’ve done is we taken troops out of the big bases, with McDonald and burger King on them and we have pushed them out into the neighborhoods, into smaller, what is called joint security stations, and at these joint security stations you have a small number of Americans and a small number of Iraqi’s, working side by side, day by day, to provide local security in a local neighborhoods, persistently, day by day and that’s what is different, we used to be on big bases and we would drive out on patrols every once in a while to different areas and try to take care of problems, but it was all patchwork and what we are doing now is we are really committing to the population, committing to neighborhoods, we are clearing and we are holding and when you do that you start to gain the confidence of the locals.

You have relationships and relationships lead to the intelligence that you need to sift through friend and foe. I think one of the great metrics right now is “tips” and tips for , sort of information lines for Iraqi and American security forces are four times higher than they were, at this point last year, which is an incredible indicator of how much the Iraqi people have said the security environment is changing and it is time to call in my buddy next door, who is putting in IED’S. I think those are, in addition to the lower violence, are great signs.

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