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Heroes of Ramadi, Tal Afar to get first star

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2008

ARLINGTON, Va. — The heroes of Ramadi and Tal Afar have been nominated for their first star.

Army Cols. Sean B. MacFarland and H.R. McMaster Jr. have been selected for brigadier general pending Senate confirmation, officials said.

MacFarland was commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in May 2006 when the unit was sent to Ramadi, then one of the worst places in Iraq for U.S. troops.

During his tenure in Ramadi, MacFarland’s troops worked with local tribes and established combat outposts to take the initiative away from the insurgents.

“At the same time we were doing that, we were working with the Iraqi army as aggressively as possible to fight alongside us and accelerate their progress toward independence,” MacFarland said in a March 2007 interview with Stripes.

The turning point in the fight for Ramadi came on Aug. 21, 2006, when al-Qaida assassinated an influential sheikh, he said in the interview.

“That was the decisive miscalculation by al-Qaida that we were able to exploit and that will ultimately lead to the downfall of al-Qaida in al Anbar province,” he said.

The brigade began its tour in Tal Afar, where McMaster had successfully used tactics that would later become part of the official counterinsurgency doctrine.

McMaster, then commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, ordered his troops to treat detainees humanely, reached out to local Sunni Arabs to separate them from the insurgents, and he established patrol bases throughout the city, The Washington Post reported in 2006.

In late 2005, he launched Operation Restore Rights to take back the city from insurgents.

By the time the unit left in early 2006, the mayor of Tal Afar wrote a letter to the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq praising the regiment.

“To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence for the souls of your loved ones,” the mayor wrote. “We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land.”