Revised Tactics for Urban Warfare and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

We have discussed the issue of “room clearing” before, and how it is not only dangerous and nervewracking, but by its very nature limited to very specific techniques and not at all flexible.  Room clearing, as we discussed in The Reasons the U.S. Won’t Clear Ramadi, involves the use of techniques that resemble SWAT tactics.  A fire team (in the USMC, four Marines, the leader with a grenade launcher on his M-16, a SAW gunner and two other members) “stacks” at a doorway and furiously enters a room after breaking the door in, firing enough rounds at the inhabitants of the room to kill everyone in the room within a few seconds.  There is no time or provision for the delineation of friend from foe.  Such a requirement would redound to the deaths of Marines and Soldiers.  Insurgents hide behind women and children, lying in wait for the U.S. troops to enter the room so that they can fire on them.  This is likely what happened in Haditha as we have discussed before.  The deaths of innocents is an unfortunate collateral effect of room clearing techniques.  It cannot be any other way.  If the decision is made that the enemy inhabits a room and the order is given to clear the room, then these techniques are employed.  The way to avoid the collateral deaths of innocents is to refrain from room clearing to begin with, not to change the techniques, thus putting the lives of U.S. troops at higher risk.  In fact, the Small Wars Manual notes that there are times when guerrillas may be near women and children and Marines are ordered not to fire because of the possibility of collateral damage.

There has been an evolution in the expectations for Marines and Soldiers in the al Anbar Province concerning urban warfare techniques.  The L A Times reports in A New Assignment for Younger Troops:

Three years after insurgents appeared as a potent force in Iraq, the U.S. military has begun to expand its counterinsurgency training by focusing more closely on younger service members and junior officers.

The new emphasis on training the lower ranks reflects the growing view among top commanders that the war cannot be won by military might alone and that U.S. troops at all levels must be taught how to win the allegiance of the local population.

After the armed resistance started in earnest, commanders and senior officers began receiving specialized instruction in defusing insurgencies. But the principles have not always trickled down to the sergeants, corporals and privates who become the face of the American military to many Iraqis.

So far, so good.  They are discussing the “strategic Corporal.”  Continuing:

In an interview in Ramadi in July, Liston, who commands the Weapons Company of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines Regiment, said his unit will kick down a door if it has an intelligence tip that an insurgent is inside.

But in most random searches, the Marines are supposed to knock.

“We talk to our guys about putting themselves in the position of having an occupying power in their country,” he said. “Would they understand if someone kicks down their door?”

But on the streets of Ramadi, the Marines of Weapons Company interpret the rules differently.

During a routine patrol in July, a group of Marines stopped in front of a house to search it. Although the Marines did not believe there were insurgents inside, the house offered good sight lines for a potential triggerman hoping to set off an improvised explosive device.

After throwing smoke grenades to obscure their movements, the Marines entered the courtyard by kicking open a gate, then battered open the home’s front door.

In one room, two women huddled with several crying children. “See Ali Baba?” one Marine asked, using the jargon for “bad guy.”

“No Ali Baba,” the frightened woman said.

A moment later, the Marine turned to another woman and asked, “Do you see IEDs?”

“No, no,” the woman replied, looking bewildered.

“[Expletive] liars!” the Marine shouted, then walked away.

Although the women did not understand English, the sentiment was clear.

Lance Cpl. Jose Torres, a member of the Weapons Company, said there is a simple reason the Marines do not knock on doors.

“The quicker we get in, the less likely we are to get shot,” Torres said after the search. “A month ago, we lost a guy to a sniper, so we don’t fool around with knocking.”

On June 21, Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Whyte, a member of Weapons Company’s 3rd Platoon, was shot by a sniper on the streets of Ramadi, the Al Anbar capital. The bullet entered his neck and severed his spinal cord, killing him. He was 21.

Here the doctrine breaks down.  The Marines are taught first to defend Marines.  The “fire watch” concept is instilled in them from boot, through SOI, and then to the fleet.  It will be with them through their time in the Corps.  This is the way it should be.  The phrase “feeling threatened” takes on special meaning for a Marine, and if a Marine feels threatened, he will take action to defend himself and other Marines.  The Gaurdian Angel concept also becomes special for a Marine, in that there is always supposed to be someone or some group of Marines whose job it is to effect offensive operations from a position of concealment against the enemy who would harm Marines.

So the softer approach, i.e., knocking on doors, led eventually to the death of a Marine.  Now they do not knock.

Can you blame them?  What would you do?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  • Mike

    Ahh, my friend, you’re applying common sense. I would do the very same thing, because my life and that of my brothers is immensely important to me. But we’re not fighting a “war”… we’re using young men and women, who happen to be in the military, to effect policy. A policy of which the tactics and rules of engagement are decided by pathetic apologists and politicians who have never, and would never, dare wear the uniform of our country’s military. According to their way of thinking, the room clearing tactic that you describe might hurt someone’s feelings, so that’s a real “no-no”. If we had actually fought this war in acoordance of the training and practice of our military, it would been much uglier, much bloodier and much more effective. And it probably would have been over ny now, because dead people don’t wage insurgencies or civil war.

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  • James

    I’m a Soldier. As I end my 20 year career, I am amazed at how training and doctrine has changed. I’m still shocked by how far we’ve come and by how far we have yet to go.

    As for the IZ, We can only help those who will help themselves.

You are currently reading "Revised Tactics for Urban Warfare and Counterinsurgency", entry #357 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Weapons and Tactics and was published October 26th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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