Continuing Use of Sand Berms in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

In Sand Berms Around Haditha, we discussed instances of the use of sand berms over two years ago to isolate Haditha from insurgents coming across the border from Syria.  The strategy in Haditha also relied on a strong police chief, but the berms were a necessary element that allowed the Marines and police chief to control traffic into and out of Haditha.  Now as Regimental Combat Team 5 comes home, we learn of the continuing use of sand berms in counterinsurgency.

Securing the area involved building large sand berms around cities that would otherwise be easy to approach from any direction in the desert. Doing this limited the number of insurgent strikes and allowed the Iraqis to control the flow of population in their own cities, Malay said.

This, combined with intelligence gathering and cooperation with tribal leaders and Iraqi police forces, helped limit the number of attacks on Marines during the team’s 13-month tour in Iraq. Malay said attacks diminished from 16 a week when the unit arrived to less than two a week when it returned last month.

This tactic has been necessary for cities nearest to the Syrian border.  RCT-5 has been active in the West of Anbar, in and around Rawah, and Rutbah.  Rawah is close to the Syrian border.

Rutbah is close to not only the Syrian border, but the Jordanian border as well.  Whether it is gated communities and biometrics to prevent the flow of insurgents through the city, or the simpler use of sand berms surrounding a city, interdiction of the flow of insurgents through physical terrain has been a key tactic in counterinsurgency as practiced by the Marines in Anbar.



  • rrk3

    A simular tactic has been used with some success in Afghanistan as well. Most of the population lives in the valleys so the Afghan government and coalition forces in this case the U.S. Army moved into one part of the valley and embargoed the other towns in the valley because they would not cooperate. Word reaches the other towns which also want electricity, water, schools, and health care. Well the only way they get this stuff is if they accept Afghan rule. Well the tribal elders under pressure for this good stuff have to accept what the government is offering because his people want it. Another case of using the terrain in this case distance to put pressure for cooperation.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Good points. The notion that counterinsurgency can be exclusively population-centric is mistaken, as the reader comment to my Battle of Wanat article shows:

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2008/11/11/analysis-of-the-battle-of-wanat/

    Control over the physical terrain is part of the calculus for battling the insurgency.

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You are currently reading "Continuing Use of Sand Berms in Counterinsurgency", entry #2820 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,The Anbar Narrative and was published May 4th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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