The Anbar Narrative and the Future of the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 9 months ago

In Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?, I discussed payments to neighborhood watch police and “concerned citizens” in Anbar and elsewhere to help achieve community security:

First, this approach is effective.  It was used in Fallujah (a variant of it), and use of this strategy has proven to reduce crime, violence, and increase local control over communities.  Its expansion into Baghdad and surrounding areas has reduced the available terrain in which the insurgency can operate.

Second, this approach is anthropologically sound.  A search of scholarly works pointing to the role of head of house as the income-earner and supporter of the family unit yields so many results that it is utterly impossible to digest it all …  Giveaway programs and inability among men to support their families is dishonorable.  More honorable, however, is the earning of income for services rendered.

Third and finally, it is the right thing to do.  Men and women both are searching for a way to support and provide for their families in the wake of collapse of their civilization.

Regarding the first two points, we see the results of the expansion of this program into areas other than Anbar first hand from an officer who was recently deployed Southwest of Baghdad.

Army 1st Lt. Michael Kelvington has seen things change dramatically for the better in the town where he has served in Iraq for more than a year.

The 2001 Springfield High School and 2005 West Point graduate, serves with Company A, 1st Battalion, 501st Airborne, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in Jurf as Sakhr, a town southwest of Baghdad.

Today, Kelvington, 25, who spoke via telephone from Iraq and expects to leave Iraq later this fall, talks about how the town’s people have come to the aid of the Americans and have told al-Qaida warriors to stay away.

Q: What was going on in the town before you got there?

A: To make a long story short, and to sum up the last 12 months of the deployment, we had small-arms fire, mortar attacks, IEDs in the roads. Something happened pretty much every day. Along with us and the Iraqi Army guys, the people in the town were getting tired of it.

We got a new sheik. And basically, he came to us with this idea of civilians from the area manning checkpoints and basically arming themselves against al-Qaida in our area.

One of the big problems in our area is unemployment. Al-Qaida would recruit these guys to do things like place bombs in the roads and try to attack our patrol base and shoot at our towers. A few times we’ve had hand grenades come over the wall where we operate. They would pay them to make those attacks.

Those people had no alternative. It’s a poor agrarian area. They have mouths to feed. A lot of times that is what they would do for money.

Now, with this new program, they are getting paid to protect their own areas and secure their neighborhoods, almost like an armed neighborhood watch program.

Q: Is what’s happening in your town happening elsewhere in Iraq?

A: The idea originally started in Anbar province

As I have stated before, the Anbar narrative is rich and involved counterinsurgency applied in one of the most difficult regions of the world, far more involved and complex than the story about a tribe or two “flipping” to support the U.S.  The Anbar province represents three years of investment by U.S. forces (primarily Marines, but certainly supplemented by Army and National Guard), and its model is proving successful in other parts of Iraq.  So what will happen to the Marines now that Anbar is relatively safe?  We have covered the Commandant’s plans to redeploy Marines to Afghanistan in The Future of the Marines and Marines Take, Army Holds?  The Commandant has taken some flak for his preliminary plans, but recently shot back a retort:

The proposal to remove Marines from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan is neither a power grab nor an attempt to get out of Iraq “while the getting is good,? according to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway.

In a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in the aftermath of the San Diego County fires, Conway pushed back at critics of his plan to let the Army take responsibility for Iraq while the Marines focus on Afghanistan, playing a major role in the NATO mission there.

The proposal was raised in early October during a closed-door session with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders, according to an Oct. 10 New York Times story.

Since that story broke, “it has been suggested in some news articles I’ve read that we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons,? Conway told members of the 5th Marine Regiment on Oct. 26 …

Conway challenged what he said were assertions “that we wanted to somehow capture the four-star billet of the officer who’s in charge of International Security Assistance Forces,? or ISAF, NATO’s mission to Afghanistan.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,? he said.

The Marines have only four, four-star officers at the present time, and only internal billets in which to place them: commandant and assistant commandant positions.

The other job openings are “joint? positions, such as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and controlled by the Secretary of Defense, not the Commandant.

So if the Marines were to snag the ISAF post, “after a year, I wouldn’t have a job for that guy,? Conway said, unless he is named to a joint billet.

“It’s been said that we are looking to get out of the Al Anbar Province while the getting is good,? Conway said.

“That makes absolutely no sense,? he said. “The Al Anbar Province is probably in better shape than any of us thought it would be at this point in time.?

The reason Anbar is in good shape, Conway said, is because for more than three years the Marines “have been in there, doing exactly the same thing, keeping a level of patience, keeping ourselves restrained, even though we lost Marines.?

“It’s not time to do dancing in the end zone,? Conway said. “But there’s a blood feud now between the Sunni sheiks and those al-Qaida, and there’s no way that they’re coming back.?

Redeployment of Marines to Afghanistan in order to capture a billet or two is a preposterous idea, and it is difficult to imagine that anyone would be that petty, especially the Commandant.  More likely, the plan is to integrate the Army into Anbar security along with elements of the Marines, and more than likely, these Marines will be reserve units.  To use active duty infantry Marines to perform daily security operations in Anbar while large scale kinetic operations are ongoing in Afghanistan is not only a misuse of resources by the Pentagon; it would be detrimental to morale and diminutive to the combat readiness of units which serve as the anchor of our national defense.  It is time to apply the Anbar model to Afghanistan, and active duty Marine infantry is just the ticket.

  • Brian H

    Thanks. Finally an analysis that makes sense.


You are currently reading "The Anbar Narrative and the Future of the Marines", entry #756 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps,The Anbar Narrative,War & Warfare and was published November 6th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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