Security and WHAM: Getting the Order Right

BY Herschel Smith
10 years ago

Earth moving equipment constructing sand berms around Haditha in order to prevent the influx of foreign fighters into the city.

On January 13th I wrote a short article entitled Sand Berms Around Haditha, linking to a story published by AFP.  Except for one particularly clever reader, this story got almost no attention.  Perhaps it should have.  With all of the noise and fury of the Baghdad security plan, the small things can get buried, but sometimes it is the small things that can teach us the big lessons if we’re not to hurried to pay attention.

This little story fascinated me from the beginning.  Consider what is occurring here.  Heavy equipment – enough of it to construct an earthen berm around a city – has been moved half way around the world into a desert in Western Iraq.  This equipment needs trained operators, and each piece has hundreds of grease fittings that require attention every day.  The engine and hydraulics need continual maintenance, and this maintenance itself requires a trained staff to pull it off.  The fuel and repacement parts must be available, and the security must be provided for those trained staff to effect equipment repair and maintenance.  Why would the United States Marines even consider something like this?

In Concerning the Failure of Counterinsurgency in Iraq, I pointed out that:

The battlefield, both for military actions and so-called “nonkinetic? actions to win the people, is dynamic.  As one insurgent is killed, another pops up in his place, coming not from any action the U.S. has or has not taken in Iraq, but rather, coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away due to a religious hatred that has been taught to him from birth.  The war in Iraq is both figuratively and quite literally a war without borders.

I continued by stating that David Galula’s classical philosophy of counterinsurgency, in vogue in military thinking, relied upon an artifact of his experience.  Galula stated that “The battle for the population is a major characteristic of the revolutionary war. . . . The objective being the population itself, the operations designed to win it over (for the insurgent) or to keep it at least submissive (for the counterinsurgent) are essentially of a political nature. . . . And so intricate is the interplay between the political and military actions that they cannot be tidily separated; on the contrary, every military move has to be weighed with regard to its political effects, and vice versa.?

But this is exactly the opposite of what has happened in Iraq.  The U.S. has been trying to win over the population, not keep it submissive, and the insurgents have been trying to keep them submissive, not win them over.  The insurgents have routinely used tactics of torture and intimidation to keep the population in submission, and this tactic has been remarkably successful. 

This campaign of torture and intimidation exemplifies brutality at its worst.  Iraqi police and Marines recently completed “Operation Three Swords? south of Fallujah, the purpose of which was to detain members of murder and intimidation cells within the rural area of Zaidon and the villages of Albu Hawa, Fuhaylat and Hasa.  During the operation, members of the Fallujah police Department and Coalition Forces discovered a torture house and rescued three individuals.  The house had blood-stained walls, and the torture devices included shackles, chains, syringes, rifles, knives, chord, clubs and a blow torch.  The condition of the torture victims was said to be dire.

Fallujah and Haditha are similar in terms of their situation.  The absence of security has made the so-called “nonkinetic operations” ineffective towards the claimed objective of our actions: to “win the hearts and minds” of the population.  WHAM.  When foreign fighters from around the world who are not subject to the temptations of U.S. largesse pour in across the porous borders, breaking the knee caps of or using power drills on anyone cooperating with the U.S. forces, the efforts at reconstruction and pacification simply cannot take hold and grow.  Giving the children backpacks to carry books doesn’t help when the classes are empty because of killings and kidnappings.

Enter the front end loaders and other heavy equipment.  Earthen berms were constructed around the city with manned points of ingress to and egress from the city.  The city was “locked down,” in order to stop the flow of foreign fighters into the city to cause terror.  Has this strategy worked?  Violence has dropped from seven to ten attacks per day to five per week.  To be sure, the fear of retaliation has not completely disappeared from the scene.  This could be seen in a recent meeting between the Marines and tribal leaders of Haditha:

While everyone who attended the meeting agreed the security of Haditha and the “Triad? region was paramount, there were no commitments to help strengthen the local Iraqi Police force, according to Lt. Col. Muhada Mahzir, Haditha Iraqi Police deputy commander.

“They (Sheikhs) say, ‘yes, you are right. We need security and we need police that are from this area’,? said Donnellan. “Then we ask, ‘OK, how many men in your tribe are willing to put forward?’ That’s when the room gets really quiet and everyone starts looking down at their feet? …

For years the contractors have been intimidated into not working with Coalition Forces, but recently some local business men have expressed that if peace continues to grow in this region they will be more likely to take a risk and begin building city projects such as schools, hospitals and roads.

So the Iraqis still fear the terrorists, and await the display of resolve by the U.S. forces.  Since relative security has been brought to Haditha, nonkinetic operations can now begin in earnest and with the expectation of success.  Now that the U.S. has shown itself in control of security, along with the local Iraqi government and police, the U.S. forces must be prepared to assist with real government.  A recent Multi-National Forces story gives us a feel for the current atmosphere of cooperation  between Haditha residents and the U.S. forces.

“Do you have any information about my son who was detained yesterday??

“Can you fix the damage that was done to my house when Marines were fighting ali-baba (what locals call insurgents)??

Citizens from this western Al Anbar city come to the U.S. Marines of the Virginia-based 4th Civil Affairs Group seeking answers for their many questions. Whether the CAG Marines were able to accommodate all the requests or not, they have built a strong rapport with the local population in the four months since their arrival through their tireless effort to help, according to Capt. William Parker, the CAG team leader.

The CAG acts as a link between the local Iraqi population and the infantry Marines of the Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who have been securing the Haditha “Triad? region since September 2006. The “Triad? region is home to 50,000 and consists of the cities of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwanah, which all sit on the banks of the Euphrates River.

While the Marines of 2nd Battalion hunt down insurgents, search for weapons caches and patrol the streets of these Euphrates River cities, the CAG Marines are busy building the foundation of a strong community, said Parker, a 36-year-old from Boston.

“Traditionally the CAG mission focuses on projects – building schools, hospitals and other infrastructure facilities,? Parker said. “The reasoning behind this is that these projects are built by local contractors, so you’re putting money back into the community and providing jobs.?

However, many local contractors are currently reluctant to work with the Coalition on building projects due to threats from the local insurgency. Undeterred by the insurgents’ murder and intimidation campaign, the CAG Marines here have tailored their operation to slowly build community support and involvement.

“Right now we’re doing smaller things on a more personal level,? Parker said. “We’re understanding who these people are, what their belief systems are, what their feelings towards the Coalition and insurgents are, what their goals are, and what they would like to see happen here.?

When Parker and his team of 12 Marines arrived in the triad in September 2006, the local population had minimal contact with the CAG Marines. In their first few weeks operating in the triad, they would be lucky to have five local Iraqis come into the Civil Military Operations Center, the hub for all CAG business, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Salvatore Rignola, the CAG’s senior enlisted adviser.

There was even talk of shutting down the CMOC because it was thought to be ineffective, said Parker. Instead, the CAG Marines began going on patrols with Marines from 2nd Battalion in an effort to talk to as many locals as possible and spread the word about what the CAG could do for them and their community.

“On the patrols the CAG mission never stopped,? Parker said. “It didn’t matter if there was a firefight going on outside, we kept talking to the people. The people saw that we were making a huge effort to reach out to the community and see what they were concerned about or what they needed.?

The word spread around to the entire triad that if any one had an issue concerning the Coalition or their own community, they should go to the CMOC and talk to the CAG 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.?

Master Gunnery Sgt. Salvatore Rignola, the CAG’s senior enlisted advisor, tries to get answers for a local Haditha citizen who has come to the Civil Military Operations Center to inquire about the whereabouts of a detained relative.

Of course, it is incorrect to suggest that this is a binary relationship, where suddenly security has occurred and then the transition to nonkinetic operations can ensue.  There is a dovetailing evident from the descriptions given in these reports.  Nonkinetic operations begin immediately, while strong kinetic counterinsurgency continued, and patrols still happen even though relative security has been brought to the city.

But the preconditions for success of the nonkinetic operations, the so-called “winning hearts and minds,” or WHAM operations, are present.  While there is much noise and fury associated with the Baghdad security plan, the United States Marines are slowly, deliberately and successfully pacifying the al Anbar Province.  They are doing it by bringing security first, followed on by WHAM.

No one ships earthmoving equipment half way across the world without there being a purpose, a plan and a procedure.  The purpose was to enable security.  The plan was to isolate Haditha from the foreign elements who wrought terror.  The procedure was to (1) bring security, (2) followed on by WHAM.

Earthen berms cannot be constructed around every city in Anbar.  The rogue elements entering from Syria must be stopped, and that in the very sanctuary they inhabit within the Syrian borders.  But Haditha is much more than an experiment.  It is a success story.  The United States Marines are doing it right in Haditha.

  • Smith

    Another good one Herschel. You are absolutely correct when you say that we’re doing it right. I have an easy solution to end this quicker…

    Here goes… Every terrorist we arrest gets tortured. Severely. Beat them to within an inch of their life, then drop them off at the scene of a recent attack on civilians with a sign saying: “I am a terrorist, and the good guys are now winning”
    I’ll bet after the first week normal people will be thinking twice about helping the bad guys.

    Before I hear it, Yes. I realize that it will never happen. It’s not Politically Correct. I know, I know. It’s my fantasy. You know though, it’s funny how Politics rears it’s nasty head in everything… even war. It’s really, really sad. It’s War, people. Besides, I’m a huge believer in “eye for an eye”. What better way to punish torturers than by… Torturing them?

  • Denis Murphy

    Thanks for following up on the original Haditha report. I remember thinking that it was an important story, which I promptly forgot. It reinforces my strong belief that “all” U.S. forces should get out there to Anbar right now and take care of business. IMO Baghdad can wait.

    One question I still have is: what’s the ratio between homegrown Sunnis and foreign fighters in the Anbar insurgency? — Denis

  • walrus

    Dear Herschel, with the greatest respect, while your article is very good and you understand the relationship between security and WHAM operations, you seem to have a “Syria Fixation” at the moment.

    The State Department has stated that “between four and ten percent” of insurgents are foriegners with the bulk coming from Saudi Arabia.

    I refer you to this paper on the subject which also contains references for the State Department and other quotations.

    I think we have enough trouble dealing with Iraq without going to war with Syria and Iran as well.

    [Editorial Comment by HPS: walrus, see my comment in response to yours under the article The Surge and Coming Operations In Iraq.  With regards to my “Syria fixation,” see my more recent article The Covert War with Iran.]

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    I am also looking for an answer to Denis’ question too. I’ll add one more question: is there, somewhere on the web, an exhaustive chronology and list of locations (with accurate coordinates) about past incidents in the Anbar region?
    Or, for wants of such information, does anyone know something about the location and distribution of those incidents? I mean, do they seem random-like distributed on the whole Anbar region from the western borders to Baghdad, or do they usually occur in some particular areas? Are there hot points? Things like that; you see.
    Am I wrong if I conjecture that such kind of information is likely to be publicly available since the media use to report about those incidents?

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    It looks like we both sent our comments nearly at the same time, so much so that I found yours only after I have sent mine. Personal thanks for the address of this report which sounds interesting and provides me with first useful answers.

You are currently reading "Security and WHAM: Getting the Order Right", entry #464 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Jihadists,Small Wars,Syria,Terrorism and was published February 16th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

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