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WASHINGTON — The approach seen in Tal Afar is a relatively new one for the U.S. military, which in the beginning of the Iraq war left hard-won places, such as Fallujah, almost as soon as leaders declared the battle won.

Dubbed the “clear, hold and build” approach, the strategy involves using U.S. forces to lead battles to wrest insurgents from their strongholds, and then install newly trained Iraqi troops, with some American assistance, to ensure the fighters don’t come back.

With relative peace maintained in a given area, contractors and nongovernment organizations will then feel safe enough to begin the serious business of building a “cleared” region’s infrastructure, according to the theory.

The U.S. military’s clear, hold and build strategy for Iraq “sounds awfully familiar,” Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington defense strategy think tank, said during a Dec. 6 Capitol Hill briefing.

Krepinevich, a former Army lieutenant colonel with a doctorate from Harvard University, proposed a version of the strategy in an article in the September-October edition of the journal Foreign Affairs.

Krepinevich said he was inspired by the lessons of Vietnam in composing what he dubbed the “oil-spot” theory, which would “concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need,” according to his Foreign Affairs article.

“Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effect — hence the image of an expanding oil spot,” Krepinevich wrote.

U.S. commanders have publicly avoided crediting Krepinevich’s article as inspiring their clear, hold and build approach. Krepinevich said that the name doesn’t matter; adopting a successful approach does.

Victory in Iraq “will require a better strategy than we’ve seen to date,” Krepinevich said. Still, “‘Clear, hold and build’ is easier to announce than to do.”


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