WASHINGTON -- Five years ago this week, 170,000 American and coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. When they commenced their attack, they were outnumbered nearly three to one by Saddam Hussein's military, yet it took U.S. troops just three weeks to liberate Baghdad. No military force in history has accomplished that much so fast with so few casualties.
Despite a lightning-fast victory over the dictator's army, Republican Guard and fedayeen, the challenge of leaving Iraq better than we found it proved to be daunting and dangerous. Unfortunately, few Americans know what their countrymen in uniform have accomplished in the Land Between the Rivers.
On the way to Baghdad, American and allied forces were accompanied by more than 700 print and broadcast reporters. Once the dictator's capital was liberated, most of the media elites either headed for home or sequestered themselves inside the Green Zone. There they bought photos, footage and "news" from photographers and "reporters" traveling with our adversaries.
As coverage shifted from the warriors to Washington, political controversy, casualties and missteps -- inevitable in any war -- became the focus of reports about the war. Courageous Americans serving in the line of fire found themselves cast as bit players in a partisan firestorm. Bright, brave young Americans in the line of fire -- not our enemies -- became the targets for the mainstream media and powerful politicians.
The New York Times described those serving in our military as nothing but "poor kids from Mississippi, Texas and Alabama who couldn't get a decent job." A U.S. senator likened them to those who served Hitler, Stalin and Cambodia's Pol Pot, and a presidential candidate claimed that those who don't do well in school will "get stuck in Iraq." In 2005, after the press had been beating Abu Ghraib like a rented mule for a year, Newsweek ran a fictitious story about U.S. military guards flushing a Quran down a toilet, which precipitated riots throughout the Muslim world.
The consistent spin for five years has been to get out of Iraq, and despite extraordinary gains in the past 12 months, it hasn't stopped. On Monday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton described how she intends to get our troops out of a war "we cannot win." Two days later, Sen. Barack Obama claimed, "Our military is badly overstretched." He promised he would "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq" and "remove all of them in 16 months."
Thankfully, America's soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines generally have ignored the press and the politicians. Instead they have been busy fighting a vicious adversary -- and winning. Here are some inconvenient facts about why they believe they can -- and must -- finish the job in Iraq:
-- Despite how it has been portrayed, today's all-volunteer U.S. military is the brightest and most educated, trained and equipped armed force ever fielded by any nation. More than 1.6 million American military personnel have served in Iraq. Notwithstanding the perception that our armed forces are stretched beyond the breaking point, re-enlistments never have been higher, and every service is exceeding its recruiting goals.
-- Iraq's police, military and security forces, widely depicted as ineffective or worse, have grown by more than 100,000 in the past year and have assumed responsibility for nine of 18 provinces.
-- In the past 12 months, the Interior Ministry has opened 13 new training facilities. The Iraqi military now has 134 active combat, infrastructure and special operations battalions, with a total of nearly 647,000 Iraqis who have volunteered to serve in uniform.
-- After we first reported on the Anbar Awakening in December 2006, the Sons of Iraq movement has crossed the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide and now has 91,000 members. In the same time frame, attacks against Iraqi civilians and coalition forces have dropped by more than 70 percent.
-- Since 2004, more than 4,000 civil reconstruction projects -- including 325 for electrical distribution and 320 water treatment facilities -- have been completed. More than 3,000 schools and 75 hospitals, clinics and health care facilities have been renovated or built from the ground up while nearly 3,200 primary health care providers and physicians were being trained.
-- There are now more than 100 privately owned radio stations, 31 television stations and 600 newspapers published in Iraq -- a nation just slightly larger than California.
-- In February, crude oil production exceeded 2.4 million barrels per day, and this year, the Iraqi economy is projected to grow by 7 percent.
In the half-decade since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, our Fox News' "War Stories" team has made nine trips to Iraq, spending months in the field embedded with more than 30 U.S. combat units -- from "shock and awe" to the "thunder runs" to gunfights in "bloody Anbar" to "the surge." The brave Americans we have documented deserve better than what they have gotten from the mainstream media and far too many of our politicians.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.