Sand Berms Around Haditha

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month ago

I have previously argued that the mobility of insurgents in Anbar challenges U.S. abilities to maintain security; that the constant resupply and safe haven across the Syrian border makes the battlefield dynamic to the point of making standard counterinsurgency tactics inapplicable.  From Haditha, we learn that tactics are being used to seal off insurgents.  Non-human resources are being used as a force multiplier in this region.

Adapting ideas tracing back from ancient history to modern Israel, US Marines have sealed off flashpoint towns with sand walls in a new counter-insurgency tactic to quell the wilds of western Iraq …

When 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines deployed to western Al-Anbar from Hawaii in mid-September they sustained casualties in Haditha every day for 45 days. Then on November 10, gun battles in the town stopped.

Captain Matthew Tracy, whose marines patrol Haditha, attributes the lull to a local strongman, a former officer in the Saddam Hussein army known simply as Colonel Faruq, with the power and charisma to bring the town to heel.

Provided, that was, the Marines built a defensive sand wall sealing off Haditha from the porous desert, with checkpoints and traffic restrictions.

So last month, “berms” stretching 20 kilometres (12 miles) were built around Haditha and two neighbouring towns to cut off insurgent supply lines. A simultaneous US-led raid left dozens of insurgents dead or captured.

Ultimately, the borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran will have to be completely sealed, and safe haven denied to would-be insurgents inside Syria.  The vulnerability of the tactic described above is that it relies on a local “strongman.”  Assassination of this strongman might cause a problem, so the ability to resupply elements of terror across the border must be stopped.

This article has been updated with Security and WHAM: Getting the Order Right

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    Now, we have to wait (and pray) for some time to see whether the idea proves to be fruitful on the long run before experimenting it anew in a different place. I mean, time enough to see what possible riposte strategists and their insurgents and trouble makers could find.

    It’s no-nonsensical indeed to use one entry gate and one exit gate instead of a common checkpoint. For, I admit, with one checkpoint only things would be more complicated, much likely to give way for confusion and mistake, and so, dangerous.

    Also, one more thing has to be checked. That is: provisions and emergency rules for evacuating inhabitants in a hurry in case any kind of natural or unnatural disaster happens within the walls (fire, gas attack, mortar or rocket attack, etc).

  • Herschel Smith


    You make excellent points, points that didn’t occur to me when I wrote the post. Further, there is only one means of ingress and egress to the city – the whole point of the tactic. This means that all food, supplies, and people have to go through this gate, including people who need medical care.

    It is a draconian tactic, to be sure, but it seems to be working at the present.

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    Well, although it’s of minor importance, in an afterthought one thing did surprise me about this news, that is: why has it been released by AFP first (Agence France Presse), and not by the DoD or AP?

    Yesterday, I attempted to find further information previously released about this story, and I found nothing published before AFP did it on January 11, 2007(?)

    If AFP released this news, it’s because, and only because, I assume, the Army has chosen to communicate it to AFP. I’m pretty sure agencies such as AP or Reuters would have been glad to be the first. Am I correct?

  • Herschel Smith


    I suspect that rather than the DoD “releasing” the information to anyone, most of all AFP, the more likely scenario is that while the AP and Reuters look around trying to dig up ‘dirt’ on U.S. forces, AFP had a good ‘stringer’ rooting around for an interesting and informative story. He found it.

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    This comment just to say that the situation in Haditha seems to know some improvments. Marines reported on February 4 (extract):

    Many also asked questions about when the current vehicular restrictions would be lifted. Other than trucks carrying food, water and essential supplies, vehicular traffic has been restricted inside the city for six weeks. Citizens with special circumstances put in a request and are given temporary driving permits.

    The restriction was implemented to limit the movement of the local insurgency. Coupled with increased troop levels and a dirt berm surrounding the region, violence has dropped from seven to 10 attacks per day to approximately five per week.

    The full version of this article is available at:

  • Herschel Smith


    You are a pure delight to have on board. Thanks for the link.

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    Below are some encouraging news from Haditha. Marines are doing a very, very good job over there. It is an example to follow, in my opinion.

    Extract from Marines:

    “When we first got here, the people of Haditha wouldn’t even talk to an American much less be seen going to the CMOC because they feared the insurgents would kill them,? said Rignola, a 46-year-old from New York City. “Now the CMOC is packed everyday.?

    Whether they’re looking for a condolence payment, vehicle permit, information on the status of a detainee, money to repair damages caused by Marines or simply to ask a question, the locals who come to the CMOC are looking for answers in some form.

    “We’re not always able to give them what they’re looking for,? said Parker. “But in this culture, as long as they see that you’re making a strong effort they feel like they’re being taken care of.?

    Apparently the word has traveled around the entire triad that when you go to the CMOC “you can get something done?, said Parker. People walk for miles from neighboring cities just to get to the CMOC and speak with the CAG Marines

    The amount of triad residents who come to the CMOC to speak with the Marines has ballooned from five per week four months ago to an average of more than 60 people per day.

    A line of people waiting to talk with a CAG Marine spills out the door of the CMOC nearly everyday. Some local citizens come to the CMOC on such a regular basis that they’re on a first name basis with Rignola, who considers many of the Iraqis he’s met here his friends.

    “If they remember a Marine treating them good, they’ll keep that in the back of their mind for the rest of their lives,? said Rignolla, a reserve Marine who works for the New York City Fire Department investigating arsons and explosions when not activated.

    “No matter what someone tells them later on in life, they’ll know that the Marines were good to them. It just comes down to treating people as you would like to be treated,? added Rignola.

    The full version of this article is available here:

  • Herschel Smith


    You are amazing. I was writing my most recent article on this very subject when you posted this comment. I cannot keep up with you!

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    No no; nothing is amazing about this initiative. It just owes to common coincidence. For I’m regularly looking at the news about Haditha since you published this post. When I find something worthy to be published I post it, as I did it last week, as you can notice further above. Perhaps shall I send something more next week about this subject; it all depends of the turn of the events over there and of the interest of the news.
    Now, the reason underlying this marked interest for Haditha is that I find the Marines are doing an unusual and interesting experiment over there, and I am especially curious to see whether it will work or not on the long term.

    Best regards,

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This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published January 13th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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