6 years, 6 months ago
Kinetic operations against rogue elements – terrorists and insurgents – are the foundation upon which nonkinetic operations is built. Without security, so I have argued, reconstruction is meaningless. Candy and pediolyte for the children and babies and footballs for the teenagers doesn’t compare to holes drilled into ribs with a power drill at the hands of a terrorist. I have watched over months and years as the Marines have deliberately and methodically rooted rogue elements from Anbar and slowly but surely ensured a military defeat for al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna and other groups intent on fundamentalist Islamic tyranny and domination.
This hard work over four years set the stage for the tribal alliance with U.S. forces, but even here, given that the tribes were not as strong in Fallujah as in the balance of Anbar, different flavors of COIN were employed and other more classical counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures had to be applied to win the security (such as gated communities, see Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment). Yet upon the sure success of a determined United States Marine Corps, the final stages do come, heralding the advent of the warrior-scholar.
When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood.
As insurgent violence continues to decrease in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar Province – an improvement that President Bush heralded in his visit to Al Asad Air Base Monday as one sign of progress in the war – the conversation is shifting in Anbar. Where sheikhs and tribal leaders once only asked the US to protect them from Sunni extremists, now they want to know how to get their streets cleaned and where to buy generators.
“Security dominated everything, and we weren’t able to get anything done,” says Colonel Mullen, battalion commander here.
It’s been six months since the so-called Anbar Awakening, when Sunni sheikhs joined US Marines in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni extremists may still have a presence here, but US military officials say that with the help of the expanding Iraqi security forces, they’ve driven most of what remains of Al Qaeda from the urban areas.
Violence has stayed down, dropping from 2,000 attacks in March to about 450 last month – as the number of Iraqi security forces has increased, from around 24,000 this spring to nearly 40,000 today.
The changes here have allowed provincial and local governments to get established over the past few months, US officials here say. And now, true to the tribal culture that permeates Iraqi society, Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.
Handling such situations as presented to the Marines in Anbar at the moment requires greater managerial skill than most state-side executives will ever be required to exercise in their entire careers. The successful field grade officer in counterinsurgency must be an anthropologist, psychologist, theologian, manager, tactician, logistician, arbiter, lawyer and politician. He must exemplify the warrior poet … in a different era.
Almost simultaneously with Lt. Col. William Mullen’s city council appearance was another by Lt. Col. Jason Bohm in al Qaim, who was dealing with an ethical, legal and political situation. Each officer does what he must in the situation in which he finds himself, while upholding the honor of the United States and the Marine Corps.
But the scholarship isn’t just displayed at the highest levels of leadership. Michael Yon observes of the grunts:
Now I started to understand why the Army officers had been telling me the Marines are more advanced in counterinsurgency. Normal Marines have morphed into doing vintage Special Forces work. Many of our Army units are excellent at this work, but the Marines, at least these particular Marines, did seem to have an edge for it.
They were even studying Arabic in their filthy little compound. Lightweight study, but they were showing the Iraqis they were making the effort. The Iraqis appreciated it. I have yet to see an Army unit undertake such a clear effort to learn Arabic.
The Marines there live in disgusting conditions. They have two toilets. One is a tube. For more serious business, there are the small plastic baggies called WAG bags. Do your business, seal it up and put it into a garbage can. They don’t complain.
The professional counterinsurgency community wants to prematurely deploy this phase of the campaign. This is a mistake – it is misplaced emphasis. But the hard work has been done in Anbar: the security has been won, and the insurgency has been militarily defeated, as least in the main. Now is the time for winning hearts and minds. It is the time of the warrior-scholar, and the Marines are proving up to the task.