10 years ago
It has been speculated that the U.S. will at some point “clear” Ramadi just as we did in Fallujah in 2004. This is highly unlikely to happen for a number of reasons, but we will examine four in this analysis.
The undulations in the political landscape make it difficult for the U.S. to heavily engage any area with large force projection. Some on the political right would support more troops, but it is doubtful that this is a large enough percentage to effect foreign policy. The political far left want to pull out completely. I estimate this to be no larger percentage than those on the right who want to deploy more troops to Iraq. The middle is the controlling factor, and they appear to want to persuade, or even force, the Iraqis to take responsibility for policing themselves (however naive this may or may not be).
There is a growing sense that while the U.S. may be present in the region for a protracted period of time, this presence will be in a different form (perhaps in the Kurdistan), and military operations, at least of the nature that we have recently seen, will fade from the picture in Iraq sooner rather than later. To launch a major clearing operation in Ramadi would have political ramifications two or three orders of magnitude worse than for Israeli Prime Minister Olmer, who has been ridiculed for launching an operation right at the end of the Israel-Lebanon War in which 33 IDF soldiers died. There has since been a growing chorus of calls for Olmert’s resignation. Heavy losses of U.S. troops is not what the public is calling for when they say they want a “change in direction.” And clearing operations in Ramadi similar to those in Fallujah in 2004 would cause significant losses.
Finally, operations in Fallujah were carried out after the essential evacuation of the entire city. The only people left in Fallujah were the insurgents. Ramadi is roughly four times the size of Fallujah, and the human catastrophy associated with the Iraqis fleeing the city would be staggering. As it stands, there are now more than half a million Iraqis who have fled to Syria. This would double with heavy combat in Ramadi and the surrounding areas in al Anbar.
Changes in Tactics
We have discussed the earlier redeployment of U.S. troops to heavily gaurded basis in lieu of patrols and other offensive operations in and around Baghdad, and the strengthening of the enemy because of this strategy. As opposed to this, Michael Fumento has documented a strategy that is working brilliantly (although slowly) to pacify Ramadi, called COPS, or Combat Operation Posts. There has previously been a battle of Generals in the military to ascertain how to approach Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Generals who believe that the approach used in Fallujah was too heavy-handed won the doctrinal struggle (I have stated my disagreement with them). The Generals who want a “kinder and gentler soldier” seem to have been relegated to the offices where they write reports and can’t hurt anything. The COIN doctrine currently under development seems to be focusing on correct force size, region pacification, political machinations, stability and proper planning. While proper force projection would help in pacification of the hot regions of Iraq, it seems unlikely that troop deployment will increase much beyond the current levels. If this is true, then the tactics that have been used successfully (i.e., COPS) will continue to be used as forces permit, but the progress will be slow. The administration will accept slow progress in lieu of a strategy that is known not to be successful (such as redeploying to heavily guarded bases).
High Loss of U.S. Troops
The Marines who took Fallujah did so with MOUT tactics, and more specifically, they used “clearing” techniques. These techniques are similar to those used by police SWAT teams, with one significant exception. There is no attempt to ascertain friend from foe. There never can be. As one seasoned Marine NCO said recently, “clearing a room is something that a fire team can execute to perfection, and still die.” The tactics used in Fallujah relied upon fragmentation grenades initially, but a Marine cannot carry enough to utilize these in each room that is cleared. Therefore, the techniques taught to Marines in SOI rely upon fast and furious “stacks” that enter a room and kill all inhabitants within a second or two. When the order is given to clear a room, the stack enters rapidly and immediately fires rounds at all inhabitants. In Fallujah, this was necessary because there were many rooms where insurgents were lying in wait for U.S. troops to enter the room. As one commenter said to a recent post, this is “nervewracking.” Literally, the Marine or Soldier is running into a potential hail of bullets. The cost for Fallujah was significant. The cost of these operations in Ramadi would be breathtaking. There was a time in 2004 when the U.S. could have forced the issue in Ramadi, immediately after Fallujah when al-Qaeda and the Baathist insurgents were on the run. To our complete and utter dismay here at the Captain’s Journal, this time has come and gone.
Iraqi Civilian Casualties
Because it is impossible to distinguish friend from foe in “room-clearing” operations (what would the Marine do – storm into the room and ask questions while a potential insurgent shot at him from behind a child?), the very nature of the operations would cause significant Iraqi casualties. Either this would come to pass or the citizens would flee, causing a human catastrophy. Either way, the citizens are caught in the middle. They die or they flee.
As a postscript, take note of the immoral slander and inappopriate allegations that the Marines have suffered at the hands of the ignorant concerning these so-called “heavy-handed” techniques. While being asked to “clear” rooms and cities by literally running into a potential storm of bullets (from insurgents hiding behind children in rooms) and IEDs, the Marines are then maligned for heavy handed techniques. What would the ignorant have them do?