BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania (CNN) – John McCain defended comments he made in an interview on Tuesday when he incorrectly argued that the surge in Iraq gave way to the so-called “Anbar Awakening” – when Sunni leaders joined forces with U.S. troops to fight Al Qaeda in the fall of 2006.
The Arizona senator told reporters Wednesday afternoon that when he refers to the surge, it encompasses not just the January 2007 increase in troop levels but also the counter-insurgency that started in Iraq’s Al Anbar province months prior.
“A surge is really a counter-insurgency strategy, and it’s made up of a number of components,” McCain said. “This counter-insurgency was initiated to some degree by Colonel McFarland in Anbar province, relatively on his own.”
“General Petraeus said that the surge would not have worked, and the Anbar Awakening would not have taken place, successfully, if they hadn’t had an increase in the number of troops,” McCain added.
“I’m not sure frankly that people really understand that a surge is part of counter-insurgency strategy which means going in, clearing, holding, building a better life, providing services to the people,” he continued.
In an interview with CBS’s Katie Couric on Tuesday, McCain said that the surge led U.S. forces to ally with Sunnis, “And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history."
The Obama campaign quickly seized on the discrepancy in the timeline between when the Awakening started and the U.S. later added 30,000 boots on the ground. Before McCain responded, his camp hit back saying that Democrats were minimizing the military’s role in recent successes in Iraq.