Archive for the 'Operation Alljah' Category



Why are we succeeding in Iraq – or are we?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

For all those readers who care about counterinsurgency – how to wage it, what we have done wrong in Iraq, what we have done (and are doing) right in Iraq, and what the campaign in Iraq does for our doctrine – there is a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal that in our opinion is the most important one that has been started.  Without hesitation and in no holds barred fashion, it became a fascinating and most useful strategic slug-fest of competing ideas and narrative accounts of the campaign in Iraq.  If the main stream media reports have become boring and repetitious and the blogs have become outlets for talking points, this kind of discussion is at the same time professional, honest, forthright and intellectually complex, and should be engaged by all professional military who want to learn about both making war and peace.  This dialogue should be studied in war college classrooms across the nation.  We are linking it here (and also providing comments concerning this thread) because we have a number of readers who do not routinely traffic the Small Wars Journal.  While we will give some background, for the comments here to be in their proper context, the discussion thread must be studied.

The discussion began when the Small Wars Journal editor linked a commentary by Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, who is currently on staff at the United States Military Academy, and who also commanded a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006.  Gentile’s commentary was entitled Our Troops Did Not Fail in 2006, as was the Small Wars Council dicussion thread.  Gentile says:

During the year I commanded a combat battalion in West Baghdad in 2006, some of the soldiers in our outfit were wounded and some were killed, but we did not fail. In my opinion we succeeded.

We cleaned up garbage, started to establish neighborhood security forces, rebuilt schools and killed or captured hostile insurgents, both Shiite and Sunni. Our fundamental mission was to protect the people. Other combat outfits we served alongside did the same.

In this sense there is little difference between what American combat soldiers did in 2006 and what they are now doing as part of the “surge.” The only significant change is that, as part of the surge strategy, nearly 100,000 Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, were induced to stop attacking Americans and were put on the U.S. government payroll as allies against Al Qaeda.

This cash-for-cooperation tactic with our former enemies in no way diminishes the contribution of the soldiers and marines who are on the ground now. On the contrary, soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains are struggling harder than ever to bring stability and peace to a complex society scarred by years of brutal violence.

Much talk has come from expert analysts, army officers and U.S. presidential candidates touting the success of the effort implemented by General David Patraeus. Many of these individuals compare the success of the surge in 2007 with what they see as the failure of American forces in Iraq in 2006.

One proponent of the surge, the neoconservative writer Clifford May, has written that by 2006, American forces had pretty much quit the country and were “cooped up in well-guarded Forward Operating Bases” – FOBS in military jargon – while “foreign terrorists slaughtered innocents” and the Iraq civil war raged around them. A senior officer who this past summer was a staff member for a very senior American leader in Iraq matter-of-factly characterized the nature of American forces in Iraq in 2006 as “Fob Rats.” Senator John McCain, now running for president, wrote in a recent opinion article that, prior to the surge, American strategy at the highest levels in Iraq was “mismanaged.”

But the combat battalion that I commanded in the 4th Infantry Division was a part of that so-called mismanagement, or what other, perhaps more direct critics, have referred to as failure.

On one level, my response to such statements is admittedly raw and visceral: If I was hunkered down on Fobs and if I and my men had pretty much quit the country in 2006, then how did soldiers under my command “just get dead?” What now am I to tell their families?

I remember a medic in our battalion, his combat patrol hit by multiple roadside bombs, moving under potential enemy fire to save the life of a local Iraqi man who had been seriously wounded in the attack. This medic was decorated for valor. He understood our primary purpose in Iraq was to protect the people.

I know from experience that the accuracy of reports that tout differences between counterinsurgency methods in 2006 and in 2007 are mostly off the mark …

The main difference was a decision by senior American leaders in 2007 to pay large amounts of money to Sunni insurgents to stop attacking Americans and join the fight against Al Qaeda. Coupled with this was the decision by the Shiite militia leader, Moktada al-Sadr, to refrain from attacking coalition forces.  The dramatic drop in violence, especially toward Americans, that occurred in Baghdad from June to July 2007 can mainly be explained by these new conditions …

But we should call a spade a spade and acknowledge why violence has dropped. Politicians and political analysts may make false comparisons.

The political motivations for such assertions are obvious. Yet American soldiers who fought bravely and bled in Iraq in in the years before the surge have become victims of American politics. We deserve fairer treatment.

LTC Gian Gentile, squadron commander, 8th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, inspects Iraqi checkpoint operations in Southwest Baghdad. The Iraqi Security Forces working the checkpoint outside the Al Amarriya Mulhalla, or neighborhood, are dealing with Anti-Iraqi Forces attempting to disrupt security in their area by using snipers and planting Improvised Explosive Devices in the local communities. U.S. and Iraqi Forces are working together in South and Central Baghdad, conducting combined patrols in efforts to maintain security for the communities and defeat AIF activity in Baghdad. Pic: SSG Brent Williams

The responses in the discussion thread have a broad range, beginning with the short and (we think) correct observation by Professor Steve Metz that “the position that U.S. troops are now doing something different than before is a minority one. What I hear is that most people who know anything about Iraq recognize that by 2005 at the latest, our units were doing the right things. There just wasn’t enough of them.”  This is an important comment, and one to which we will return later.

The very next comment in this thread is also smart, saying in part that “I think that beyond the simple increase of troop numbers, the surge represented a political statement of will to continue the fight in Iraq at a time when we were signalling transition and withdrawal.  Contrary to many accounts, the Sunni awakening and the emergence of CLCs (“concerned Local Citizens”) was not merely a case of us buying off Iraqi tribes. If it were just a matter of money, we could simply keep paying for a long time. The cost-benefit case could be easily made between paying them and maintaining troops here. There were multiple reasons for this phenomenon, among them: extremists overplaying their hands, the relentless pressure of Coalition and Iraqi military operations (current efforts build off of previous efforts), and the signal from the surge that we were not leaving anytime soon (commitment to stay in Iraq).”

From here the discussion takes on a more spirited nature, with points and counterpoints being made by both commenters and Lt. Col. Gian Gentile.  One significant point is made that perhaps Lt. Col. Gentile’s unit wasn’t affected by the previous strategy, but his own unit was, that affect being FOB consolidation rather than in being near to or with the population.  Gentile later responds again with a lengthy rejoinder, including this gem: “Getting at the primary mechansim for the lowering of violence in Summer 2007 is absolutely critical here. Most assume that it was American military power using new doctrine and more troops that did it.”

At the Captain’s Journal we also hold the truth in high regard, and because there has been such disagreement on the Anbar campaign, we started the category Anbar Narrative.  In order to address some of Gentile’s points, we will use an operation with which we are intimately familiar: Operation Alljah, begun in April and essentially ending in October of 2007 with the return of 2/6 (although officially ending prior to that).

The middle and subsequent phases of the operation used many modern techniques to inhibit the insurgency, such as gated communities, biometrics (retinal scans, fingerprints), and census taking.  However, it is clear that the early stages of the operation and going into the middle stages involved heavy kinetic operations and force projection.  To be absolutely clear, military power set the pretext for the campaign and allowed the balance of the methods to be successful.  The force projection included combat operations, intelligence-driven raids, constant dismounted patrols, heavy contact with, questioning and deposing of the population, and high visibility within Fallujah proper and the Euphrates river basin towards Baghdad.

Prior to Operation Alljah there had been moderate to significant success in counterinsurgency efforts in the balance of Anbar, depending upon the location.  Foreign fighters (Arabs, Africans, Chechens and Far Eastern fighters) and some indigenous insurgents had been driven to Fallujah as the last relatively safe place for them in Anbar.  They owned the streets of Fallujah in the first quarter of 2007 and were protecting a very large weapons cache in the industrial area (which included small arms, heavier weapons and chlorine).  They were also using Fallujah as a base of operations from which to launch operations into Baghdad.  The unit 2/6 replaced had flatly stated that Fallujah could not be won.

Into this came the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.  As Bill Ardolino cites from the Marines he interviewed, the Marines with 2/6 came in hard (“the whole persona of the 2/6 [Marines], the way they’re running operations, is to provide for the citizens. The IPs [Iraqi Police] are like that too, they’re out there engaging the people. They [used to get] attacked so much that they were a military force, doing military-type operations. When they showed up, they showed up hard. Now it’s more ‘Hey what’s going on? How are you doing? What can we do for you?’ It’s yielded huge gains.”).  They found transition to food bags and civil affairs missions hard and boring, but made the change and eventually turned over a relatively stable and safe city to their replacements.  The indigenous insurgents went home (many to Lt. Col. Bohm’s AO in Western Anbar), and the foreign fighters – the ones who weren’t killed by the Marines – made their way North to Mosul, Kirkuk and other areas of the Diyala Province.  The deployment of 2/6 to Fallujah was planned prior to the so-called surge, and yet contrary to the well worn notion of tribal leaders, Operation Alljah didn’t make use of or have any reference to tribes.  The Marines made significant use of the muktars, or city leaders and block captains.

The populist understanding of the campaign in Anbar involves tribes “flipping” to support the U.S.  A Google search on the words “sheikhs turn against al Qaeda” yields more than 300,000 sources, and the year 2007 is rich with main stream media reports of the Anbar awakening.  To be sure, the tribal revolt against al Qaeda was important, and without it, Anbar may not be as safe as it is today.  Another (still incomplete) narrative of the Anbar campaign involves what Gentile discusses – the U.S. implemented a strategy to pay off the indigenous insurgents.  This narrative is only slightly more sophisticated than the populist version, and sees the strategy to pay the indigenous fighters as without pretext and disconnected from the previous two or three years of combat operations.

Even in areas in which tribal leaders were important, e.g., Ramadi, there was force projection and combat operations as the pretext for the awakening.  As we have stated before at the SWJ Blog:

It has become in vogue to characterize the Anbar narrative as the “awakening,” and nothing more than this, as if it was all about getting a tribe to “flip.” To be sure, we needed Captain Travis Patriquin’s observations sooner than we got them, and I have argued almost nonstop for greater language training before deployment and payment to so-called “concerned citizens” and other erstwhile insurgents. You can qualify expert on the rifle range, but if you can’t speak the language, you’re going in ‘blind’ (to play on words).

But just to make it clear, to see the Anbar narrative as all about tribes “flipping” is an impoverished view of the campaign. It’s a Johnny-come-lately view. Hard and costly kinetic operations laid the groundwork for the tribal realignments. Sheikh Sattar had to have his smuggling lines cut and dismembered by specially assigned units conducting kinetic operations in order to ‘see the light’ and align with U.S. forces. Then, a tank had to be parked outside his residence to provide protection against the insurgents in order to keep him alive and aligned with the U.S.

The pundits talk about the tribes, but the Marines talk about kinetic operations inside Ramadi to provide the window of opportunity for the tribes to realign their allegiance.

Costa … dedicated a portion of his time to cracking the insurgents’ methods of communication.

“Generally there was a guy putting up gang signs, which could either send a rocket-propelled grenade through your window or some other attack your way,” said Costa, who began to realize the significance of unarmed people on Ramadi’s streets providing information via visual cues.

“You’re watching something on the street like that happening, and you’re like, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’” he recalled. “And then the next thing you know, insurgents start coming out of the woodwork.”

“Signalers” — the eyes and ears of insurgent leaders — informed the insurgent strategists who commanded armed fighters by using hand and arm gestures. “You could see the signaler commanding troops,” Costa recalled. “He just doesn’t have a weapon.”

To curb insurgents’ ability to communicate, Costa decided on a revolutionary move: He and his unit would dismantle the enemy’s communication lines by neutralizing the threat from signalers. Sparing no time, he set a tone in Ramadi that signalers would be dealt with no differently from their weapon-wielding insurgent comrades.

“We called it in that we heard guys were signaling, and the battalion would advise from there,” he said, recalling the first day of the new strategy. “We locked that road down pretty well that day.”

In ensuing weeks, coalition forces coordinated efforts to dismember the insurgent signal patterns entrenched in Ramadi. This helped tamp down violence and create political breathing room, which in turn allowed the forging of key alliances between local tribal sheiks and coalition operators. The subsequent progress was later dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” a societal purging of extremism by Anbaris that ushered in a level of stability unprecedented since U.S. operations in Iraq began.

“In the end, it turned out that Ramadi did a complete 180,” Costa said. “I got pictures in September from the unit that had relieved us, and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I was looking at the same city.”

Ironically, in Ramadi — the city formerly paralyzed by insurgents, where Costa was unable to set foot in public during daylight hours upon arrival — citizens participated in a 5K “Fun Run” in September.

Regarding the payment to concerned citizens, a tactic we have strongly advocated here, it wasn’t as if U.S. strategists awoke one day and realized that payment might help to pacify their area of operations.  Rather, as observed by one commenter to this discussion thread, “relentless pressure” by coalition troops and the psychological affect of the surge (to convince them that the U.S. had no intention of leaving) were pre-conditions to successful implementation of this strategy.  While payment to sheikhs is larger, the payment to individual citizen’s watch members is no more than a pittance.

Whether tribal leaders, muktars, payment to concerned citizens, or operations from a combat outpost or FOB, there are many narratives coming from OIF.  Even when the 2/6 Marines pushed al Qaeda from Fallujah, there was still some degree of “whack-a-mole” counterinsurgency as they deployed to Diyala.  And hence, we are back to the comment left by Steve Metz at the beginning.  We never had enough troops to successfully implement counterinsurgency across Iraq.  In many ways the Marines in Anbar didn’t either, and took the losses associated with this lack of forces.

Intelligence-driven raids, close contact with the population, and constant dismounted patrols can be implemented from FOBs or combat outposts.  The location where Marines or Soldiers live takes on secondary or even tertiary importance to intelligence-driven operations, intensive contact with the population and enemy, and force projection.  Gentile is correct if his objection to the populist narrative is that it should not be seen as an exclusive narrative.  The campaign is much more complex than that.  However, before long in the discussion thread, Gentile digresses into a common meme over which we have engaged (that Iraq is in a civil war).  We have the utmost respect for Gentile, but if there can be no comprehensive and all-inclusive narrative for the campaign for him and his reports, then the comprehensive narrative of civil war cannot apply either.

There is no doubt that there was a low grade civil war in Gentile’s AO, and perhaps there still is in parts of Iraq.  Perhaps upon the eventual drawdown of U.S. troops there will be a return to factious warfare.  Then again, perhaps not.  But as for Anbar, there never was and is not now a civil war.  Of the many Marines we have debriefed following Operation Alljah, the consistent report is that “We killed Chechens, Africans, and men with slanted eyes – we don’t know where they were from.  But we didn’t kill a single Iraqi.”  Lt. Col. Gentile’s battalion was engaged in combat operations and protection of the population, no matter the populist narrative of troops sitting at FOBs eating ice cream.  Payment to concerned citizens and tribal participation in their own defense required a pretext and are good and wholesome and anthropologically sound tactics, no matter that the populist narrative chides the U.S. for “buying off” insurgents.  Civil war can describe parts of Iraq, but certainly not all of it.  The AOs are too diverse, and after all, the campaign for Iraq remains a complex affair that has proven unfriendly to populist narratives.

Prior:

The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

The Anbar Narrative (category)

Can the Anbar Strategy Work in Pakistan?

The Role of Force Projection in Counterinsurgency

Major General Benjamin Mixon Reports on Counterinsurgency

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Exporting the Anbar Model: An Exercise in Nuance

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

James Janega with the Chicago Tribune follows up the reporting that I and Bill Ardolino have done on the campaign in and around Fallujah area of operations.

The last car bomb in Fallujah exploded in May.

On that warm evening, insurgents drove a vehicle packed with explosives into mourners for a slain local tribal leader as they wound through a ramshackle corner of the city, killing 20. The next day, Fallujah’s mayor banned all vehicles from city streets.

If there were no cars, reasoned Mayor Saad Awad Rashid, there could be no car bombs.

“It stopped,” said Lt. Col. William Mullen, commander of a shrinking force of U.S. Marines in the city who have watched the insurgency melt into the encircling countryside. “The ‘significant events’ in the city stopped. I think a lot of [the insurgents] left.”

The Americans are not far behind: After surrounding the city with walls and improving security on its streets, the Marines are pulling back from the one-time insurgent bastion of Fallujah. They are redeploying to surrounding areas as the U.S. troop “surge” allows them to consolidate progress made largely by tribal leaders and local officials in security and civil works.

They leave behind a city devastated by years of fighting and starved for reconstruction, as well as questions about whether Fallujah — a place infamous for the 2004 mob killings of four American contractors and two resulting U.S. offensives — can now serve as a model of stability for a wider American troop withdrawal from Iraq in the months and years to come.

It has been a workable but messy solution, with successes like the reduction in car bombings coming as much from the mayor’s spur-of-the-moment decisions as any military planning.

A partially trained Iraqi police force and bands of armed volunteers now work under American supervision, carefully preserving peace on streets covered by years of trash and rubble. To live under this new protection, most of Fallujah’s 250,000 residents submitted fingerprints and retina scans to get identification cards that let them stay in the city.

As a point of fact, Lt. Col. Mullen is now a Colonel, one of thirty two promoted to Colonel effective October 1, 2007, prior to the publication of the Tribune article.  Also, there aren’t a quarter of a million residents left in Fallujah.  The article does go to show that the Marines in the Fallujah area of operations are currently primarily engaged in reconstruction, rebuilding and public affairs.  The article also reminds the reader that more work needs to be done.

It is a place under 24-hour lockdown, surrounded by berms and barbed wire. But that’s a price Fallujah’s war-weary residents say they are willing to pay for now.

“The last four months, things have been going better,” said Khamis Auda Najim, a 38-year-old cabinet-maker in Fallujah’s Andalus neighborhood. “But the changes are just on the security side. The street surfaces, the sewage, the electricity, the water? Those aren’t as good.”

U.S. forces promise those services are coming, along with U.S.-funded reconstruction projects and more money from the federal and provincial governments. But nothing in Fallujah moves quickly. As they face impatient city residents, the Americans are learning that everything is important now.

“I’ve been an infantry officer for 10 years. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned more about water treatment and sewage than I’ve ever wanted to know,” said Marine Capt. Jeff Scott McCormack, 32, a company commander from Oak Forest, Ill.

Quick transitions have been made from the U.S. forces that established security to civilian Iraqi forces deployed to preserve it. The last Iraqi army troops left a month ago; the streets are now in the hands of 1,500 volunteers and police officers, some of whom have completed abbreviated training courses.

Heavy kinetic operations in May and June of 2007 were followed on by gated communities and biometrics, and involvement of the local Iraqi police along with paid individuals engaged in community watch.  Marines filled sand bags and constructed joint combat outposts – Police Precincts, and patrolled with Iraqi Police in order to give them confidence.  With the comparative irrelevance of tribal leaders in the Fallujah area, Muktars were engaged to provide leadership of and communication with the communities.

Upon pacification of Hit, Haditha, and Ramadi (all by different means, Haditha with sand berms, curfew and a ban on vehicular  traffic, Ramadi with tribal engagement), the insurgency fled to Fallujah, where kinetic operations routed them from the area in the second quarter of 2007.  Many of them left and went home to Lt. Col. Bohm’s area of operation, where they are being carefully assimilated back into society.

Col. Richard Simcock who commands Regimental Combat Team 6 is measured and careful, yet honest with where he believes Anbar currently stands.

U.S. Marine Colonel Richard Simcock, who commands the 6th Marine Regiment, says his forces have successfully routed the insurgents in Anbar province.

“There are still attacks in Fallujah and surrounding areas,” said Colonel Simcock. “We have not killed or captured every single al-Qaida member that is here. But their capabilities are greatly diminished. I would characterize them as a defeated force from my perspective.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington via satellite from Iraq, Colonel Simcock says the surge of more U.S. forces in Anbar and Baghdad has allowed Marines to stay in areas where al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists have fled to prevent insurgents from returning.

He also credits the cooperation of the Iraqi army and police, as well as local tribal leaders in the effort to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq and bring security to Anbar.

“That has been the building block that has allowed the people to come out and participate in governance,” he said. “But, probably more importantly, it allows them to come out and do the things that a lot of the citizens here in al-Anbar have not been able to do because of murder and intimidation that al-Qaida was doing. We have made great strides in regards to that, and we are very, very pleased with the progress that we are making.”

Measured, careful and honest.  There are still attacks – we have not killed or captured every single AQI member – but they are a defeated force.  Exporting this model is complicated and nuanced, and involves more than just the participation and approval of tribal shiekhs, no matter what the current narrative says.  Nibras Kazimi has crafted a smart analysis of tribes and their saliency in Iraq for the New York Sun.

Does it really matter, whether tribes were the primary factor in defeating Al Qaeda or not, given that the story coming out of Iraq is more and more hopeful? Yes it does: the implication is that if you don’t know why and how you’ve won, then you won’t be able to replicate victory. The tribes, like the American troop surge, were catalysts that sped up the demise of the insurgency, but they did not trigger the process the insurgency’s failure predated the surge and any tribal strategies.

I believe the insurgency failed because it had bad ideas and unrealistic expectations. When the price paid by the local population for these ideas and expectations — fighting the Shiites and re-establishing Sunni hegemony — became too steep, Sunnis turned against the insurgents and tried to find shelter, yet again, under the central government This latter trend is the one that should be reinforced: Sunnis should be encouraged to throw in their lot with the New Iraq, rather than falling back into the tribal identities of Iraq’s past.

Once tribal leaders realized that Al Qaeda was losing, they turned towards Baghdad for guidance. As one Iraq observer put it to me, “Tribes are a barometer of power; they swarm around whoever has the upper hand.” The danger now is that Americans are trying to resuscitate a clannish social system that had withered away in Iraq, and turning it into a power in of itself.

We agree with Kazimi.  Nonetheless, the U.S. has worked with tribes where it suited our needs, and community Muktars where it suited our needs.  Given the constricted time frame that the U.S. public will allow for this counterinsurgency campaign, efficacy and expediency is the order of the day.  Thus, following the model in Fallujah, do we see retinal scans being taken by Army troopers south of Baghdad.

troopers_taking_scan.jpg

The Christian Science Monitor has an article in which they examine the export of the Anbar model to Shi’ite parts of Iraq.

Forward Operating Base Iskan, Iraq – The violence has dropped dramatically, say US commanders, in the towns surrounding this base in northern Babil Province, south of Baghdad.

In May, four improvised explosive device (IED) attacks targeted the battalion; none in August, says Maj. Craig Whiteside, executive officer of the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment. Fewer undetonated IEDs have been found – five in May and two in August. Indirect fire and small-arms violence have also dropped from about a dozen incidents in May to less than three in August.

The reason, they say, is that the same approach that won success in Anbar Province, where the Marines gained support of Sunni tribesmen against Al Qaeda, is taking hold in mixed-sectarian areas. But here, Americans have enlisted Shiites frustrated with extremists from such groups as the Mahdi Army, run by Moqtada al-Sadr.

Across the Euphrates River Valley, known to the military as the southern belts of Baghdad, about 14,000 Shiite and Sunni “concerned citizens” are being paid to man checkpoints and patrol roads in an effort to prevent attacks from violent extremism of either sect.

Largely untrained and armed with weapons they already own, the citizens wear armbands and monitor traffic along the roads, keeping watch to ensure no outsiders or other extremist elements come through to bury roadside bombs. If they fail to keep violence out, they could lose their monthly paycheck. Ultimately, the idea is that they will become members of the Iraq security forces.

“They are making their community safe,” says Army Capt. Charles Levine, one of the company commanders here. His battalion has recruited more than 1,300 participants since mid-September. A little less than half of them are Shiite.

Concerned citizens and turnover to the local communities is the key to the current counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.  If the hope is that people are taking responsibility for reasons other than their tribal Shiekh says to do so, this strategy is seeing some success.

A 72-year-old man stopped a suspected suicide bomber from detonating himself at a checkpoint in Arab Jabour Oct. 14.

The man approached a checkpoint where Mudhehr Fayadh Baresh was standing guard, but did not make it very far.

Baresh, a tribal commissioner and member of the Arab Jabour Concerned Citizens program, said he ordered the man to lift his shirt – using training received from Coalition Forces – when he did not recognize him as a local villager. 

The suspect refused to lift his shirt.  Baresh repeated the command again, and the suspect exposed his suicide vest, running toward the checkpoint.

Baresh opened fire which caused the vest to detonate, killing the suspect.

“I did it for the honor of my family and the honor of my country,? said Baresh, when he met with Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

All counterinsurgency is local, and whether it is for family, tribe, remuneration or simply for personal safety, the enemy is being defeated in Iraq.  There are fights remaining, and a precipitous departure of U.S. forces might turn a positive situation into a negative one.  Yet it is impossible to ignore the gains on the ground in Iraq.

Other sources:

TCJ, Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame.

TCJ, Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq.

TCJ, Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.

TCJ, Al Qaeda’s Miscalculation.

TCJ, Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.

Bill Ardolino, Operation Alljah: The Swarm.

Bill Ardolino, Confidence is Key: The Evolution of the Fallujah Police Department.

Bill Ardolino: Shuffling Paperwork to Victory: The Evolution of the Fallujah Police Department.

Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In Iraq: al Qaeda’s Quagmire, we noted that al Qaeda in Iraq had lost one of its few remaining allies in Iraq, Asaeb al-Iraq al-Jihadiya, or “the Iraqi Jihad Union,” due to pointless violence perpetrated on them by elements affiliated with al Qaeda in the Diyala province.  These jihadists are similar in nature to Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia in that violence doesn’t have to be directed or meaningful, per se.  It only has to intimidate.  Those who suffer in its wake are fodder for a power grab.  But it always has unintended consequences, and has never won the long term struggle for the soul of a population.

There are reorganizations within both the indigenous insurgency and foreign terrorists, partly to avoid the appearance of affiliation with al Qaeda, and partly because the typical response to a losing strategy is usually to reorganize.

Six main Iraqi insurgent groups announced the formation of a “political council” aimed at “liberating” Iraq from U.S. occupation in a video aired Thursday on Al-Jazeera television.

The council appeared to be a new attempt to assert the leadership of the groups, which have moved to distance themselves from another coalition of insurgent factions led by al-Qaida in Iraq.

In the video aired on Al-Jazeera, a man identified as the council’s spokesman — wearing traditional Iraqi garb, with his face blacked out — announced the council’s formation and a “political program to liberate Iraq.”

He said the program was based on two principles.

“First, the occupation is an oppression and aggression, rejected by Islamic Sharia law and tradition. Resistance of occupation is a right guaranteed by all religions and laws,” he said. “Second, the armed resistance … is the legitimate representative of Iraq. It is the one that bears responsibility for the leadership of the people to achieve its legitimate hope.”

The groups forming the council include the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, Ansar al-Sunna, the Fatiheen Army, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (Jami) and the Islamic Movement of Hamas-Iraq.

The step could be a bid by the insurgents for a more cohesive political voice at a time of considerable rearrangement among Sunni insurgent groups and Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.

Splinter factions of two insurgent groups, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Mujahideen Army, have cooperated with U.S. forces in fighting insurgents allied to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Earlier this year, other groups — the Islamic Army of Iraq, the main faction of the Mujahideen Army, a branch of Ansar al-Sunna and the Fatiheen Army — formed a coalition called the Jihad and Reform Front opposed to al-Qaida in Iraq, though they have continued attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The context of this reorganization is complicated.  In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, I argued that while foreign terrorists were a signficant force within Iraq, they didn’t constitute the majority of insurgents; rather indigenous Iraqis constituted the majority of the insurgency (albeit some of which was under the leadership of foreign elements).  I further argued that U.S. forces were waging a double war: (1) a war of counterterrorism against foreign elements (partly led by al Qaeda), and (2) a classical counterinsurgency.

Bill Ardolino was recently in Fallujah, and used the opportunity to interview a Fallujan translator for the U.S. forces.

INDC: When I speak to Fallujans, many say that it was all outsiders causing the insurgency, but a lot of it was certainly driven by locals. What portion of the insurgency was really local? Most of it?

Leo: Yes.

INDC: So why are people afraid to say, “Yeah, we used to fight the Americans??

Leo: No, not everyone. Many people you miss who will say, frankly, “Yes, we fought you.? But maybe he will say, “I didn’t [personally] fight you, but [the Fallujan people] fought you. [Resistance] is a normal thing, and a right for everyone.

INDC: Right. And so when al Qaeda came in, and by “al Qaeda? I really mean all of the outside jihadists, the Fallujans welcomed them to help fight the Americans?

Leo: Yes …

The war has been complex, with dozens of competing insurgent and terrorist groups, some acting as allies with each other, while still others wage war upon other groups in a power struggle.  Common to all groups, however, has been war on U.S. forces - that is, up until about a year ago.  The tribal “awakening” began in or around Ramadi, with tribal leaders one by one turning against the foreign terrorists due to violence perpetrated on the Anbari people, started by Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha.

But even this “awakening” had a context.  Shiekh Sattar didn’t turn on al Qaeda and the other foreign elements until his own smuggling line was shut down by kinetic operations of U.S. troops.  This was all quickly followed up by other measures in other areas of Anbar.  The storied city of Haditha, suffering from a terrorist problem from being close to the Syrian border, was isolated from these foreign fighters with sand berms.  Intense force projection, a robust Iraqi police presence and kinetic operations by U.S. troops managed to turn Haditha around.

Ramadi and Haditha being too difficult for major operations, many insurgents and terrorists fled to Fallujah.  From this point, an important account is brought to us by Damien McElroy of the Telegraph that sheds even more light on the relationship between indigenous insurgents, foreign terrorists, and where the most recent hot spots in Anbar have been.

A unique tribal reconciliation process is allowing repentant former al-Qa’eda loyalists to return to homes and families free from the threat of arrest by coalition forces.

The voluntary scheme has gained the backing of American commanders but is being run by local chieftains to rehabilitate sons of the region who no longer follow the path of violence.

Al-Qaim, a district in the far west of Anbar province, has reported dramatic gains against al-Qa’eda cells in the area but now faces a dilemma over the return of ex-residents who had joined the ranks of radical Islamic fighters after the American invasion in 2003.

In the fight against al-Qa’eda which has raged since last year, hundreds of residents of the region were forced out by fighting but have since signalled a wish to go home.

Sheikh Kurdi Rafi al-Shurayji, who as factor for the paramount sheikh acts as a chief representative of the tribes in the area, revealed a formal system had been established to rehabilitate ex-residents that renounced al-Qa’eda.

“Many of our people want to come back to their families,” he said. “If they are young, they can’t get married or get a job outside their own people. The older ones who worked with al-Qa’eda want to get back to resume their lives.”

Sheikh Kurdi has forged a deal with the American coalition that gives US commanders a supervisory role in the rehabilitation process.

An applicant’s first point of contact is his own sheikh, who must agree to sponsor his plea and vouch that he will not resume insurgent activity.

“We conduct background checks on the individuals to ensure that they do not have Iraqi blood on their hands,” said Sheikh Kurdi. “If they are clean we ask them to reveal all they know about insurgent activity. In this way we have found weapons caches and even discovered unknown cells.”

Before American Marines regained control of the area, which lies on the Syrian border, al-Qaim was a popular ‘rat-run’ for foreign fighters travelling to Iraq for jihad. Since the inception of the rehabilitation programme almost 50 residents have applied and 40 individuals have been accepted.

One of the successful returnees was Eid Mehlif Alab, a school friend of Sheikh Kurdi who had operated safe houses and gathered intelligence for terrorist groups.

“When the Americans took control Fallujah was the only place to seek safety,” he said. “But it was tiring to be away from home, family and friends. When it became clear that al-Qa’eda were not in Iraq for holy war but terrorism, the option of returning back in peace was there.”

In Fallujah, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, conducted intense kinetic operations in the second quarter of this year, and in Operation Alljah, implemented gated communities, biometrics, and high visibility force projection with the Iraqi Police (see also Bill Ardolino’s important article on Operation Alljah).  The city has turned around, the Iraqi Police are taking over city security, and a Marine hasn’t been killed in months.  With the last safe haven being taken away from the insurgents and terrorists, the indigenous fighters are returning home – at least, those who would make peace.  There is no point in fighting forces (U.S. Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away.  But Fallujans befriending U.S. Marines has brought peace to a once war-torn city.

The reorganization of groups discussed earlier is a mixed bag (with Ansar al-Sunna being foreign and the Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance being indigenous), but is not a sign of strength.  Rather, like corporate America, when the strategy fails, the typical solution is to cut losses, reorganize and regroup.  This is what is happening in Iraq at the moment.  Al Qaeda is the big loser, and no one wants to be affiliated with this savage group, even among other foreign elements.  What is left of the die hard fighters (ex-Ba’athists, Afghan fighters with Ansar al-Sunna, other foreign jihadists) will slowly dissipate and diminish.

In the mean time, they will be able to pull off some spectacular suicide bombings using rogue foreign elements who wish to die due to religious motivation, but they will not be able to pull off any major joint military operations.  They are no longer a major force in the Anbar Province.  Transporting this model to the balance of Iraq will be the subject of future articles.

Regimental Combat Team 6 Secures Eastern Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

We have previously covered Operation Alljah in and around the Fallujah area of operations, involving robust kinetic operations around Fallujah in May and early June, gated communities, interaction with the population, parnership with the Iraqi police, and the use of biometrics for identification of the population.  Bill Ardolino is embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and is reporting from Fallujah.

Operation Alljah was the latest and most successful bid to achieve security in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, marrying projection of force with aggressive civil affairs outreach.

We have argued for more than a year that force projection is usually inversely related to the actual need to use that force, something the British got very wrong in Basra.  We have also argued for the proper involvement of NGOs and rebuilding and reconstruction (water, sewage, electricity) as an integral part of effective counterinsurgency.  Continuing:

During the operation, the city was subdivided into 10 neighborhoods in efforts dubbed “the swarm,” a coordinated series of counterinsurgency components: US troops and Iraqi Security Forces rolled into a neighborhood and established security, cordoned it off with concrete barrier checkpoints, created a local police precinct, recruited a neighborhood watch, provided employment for day laborers, conducted an information campaign to inform the citizenry of the operation, arbitrated any claims against Iraqi or US forces, distributed food and began meetings with neighborhood leaders to address infrastructure concerns.

Heavy engagement of the population was the hallmark of Operation Alljah.  But while the tribes were of paramount importance in Ramadi, the engagement of this operation specifically targeted a heretofore neglected constituency.

“When we got here, there was a sheik’s council. But in [the actual city of)] Fallujah, you can’t have a sheik’s council, because they have [Muktars, who are] like city sheiks. Fallujah is not divided by tribes, like in Ramadi. So when we were doing the sheik’s council, we were going nowhere, because the sheiks didn’t know the people … until we started noticing the Muktars. They were like, ‘What about us? How come nobody’s talking to us?’” explained 5/10 CAG Staff Sergeant Mauricio Piedrahita.

“So we started talking to them. They are like block captains who go back to the Saddam days. He’s in charge of a neighborhood. He knows everyone inside that neighborhood. They’re official positions appointed by the government. We do contracting for projects through them, because they know who to employ, because they know ‘Hey, I’m not gonna employ this guy because he’s from another district, he needs to be employed by his own (neighborhood).’ So this way we ensure that everyone is getting a fair amount of contracts and the projects and jobs are being distributed around the district.”

Engaging Muktars and backing their authority has succeeded where past civil affairs strategies have failed. Projects are now more in line with the needs of the community, and the decentralization of contracting has mitigated serious problems with corruption. During these meetings, the Muktars outline the most pressing infrastructure needs for the district: power (generators), fuel, water and sewage.

Bill marks this operation with a counterinsurgency exclamation point.  “[The Marines and IP] are not kicking down doors, they knock on the door, they give them time for the women and children to go into a room, they’ll talk to the man of the house, so it’s a different attitude,” said SSG Piedrahita” … Some marines complain about the “boring” nature of the civil affairs focus, while others embrace it.  “It’s a change,” said SSG Piedrahita. “But like they say, we’re marines, we adapt to anything. We’re always going to do the job as best we can. Like these guys, the 2/6, are all grunts, all infantrymen. They get trained to kill, in combat, and then we get this and we adapt to it and do the best we can. In a way, it’s good. We’re not getting Marines killed out here.”  There has been a certain learned aspect to this operation, and the results have been recognized all the way up to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has visited Foward Operating Base Reaper.

1st Lt. Barry Edwards summarizes the conclusion of the operation, by saying that “Iraqi Security Forces and U. S. Marines concluded major activities associated with Operation Alljah, Sept. 6, having curbed the murder and intimidation threat imposed by al Qaeda and improved the security posture in Fallujah.  The operation, which began May 29, was carried out by the Fallujah police; soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division; and Marines from Regimental Combat Team 6, throughout the course of 10 iterations to set conditions for Iraqi police control within the city of Fallujah.  The improved security picture in the city has allowed the Iraqi Army to withdraw, leaving the Iraqi Police in full control of enforcement of the rule of law.”

In an interesting recapitulation of “what’s wrong with this picture,” in Saqlawiyah, 1/1 Marines (of RCT-6) have targeted weapons caches with success.

It was late morning when Pfc. Andrew D. Bear noticed the lone cinderblock in the middle of a field. There were no houses, no cement facilities, and no structures of any kind for hundreds of feet. It was just dirt, mud, weeds and the Marines of Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, accompanied by local Iraqi policemen. To the Yorba-Linda, Calif., native, the cinderblock, sitting in the sun-baked mud, stuck out like a cockroach in a spoonful of oatmeal.

“Now, tell me why a cinderblock would be just sitting in the middle of this field, all by itself,? implored the smirking 22-year-old fire team leader, to no one in particular. “Like we wouldn’t notice these things.?

In the distance, away from the two Marines who accompanied Bear, were IPs, who had brought the Marines to the location. The IPs made their way alongside the Marines through dust and 100-degree-plus heat, as they meticulously scanned the area for weapons caches.

Bear and his fellow Marine, Pfc. Cesar R. Burgos, approached with a metal detector, sweeping back and forth, low to the ground. Suddenly, the device made a sharp beeping sound, signaling the presence of metal.

The Marines eventually found more than 350 rounds of various calibers.  Marines of 1/1 have conducted Operation Street Sweeper searching for IEDs, weapons caches and insurgents in their AO.

The Marines woke in the middle of the night and rode in armored trucks to the operations start point. Arriving in the darkness, wearing full combat gear, night-vision goggles and carrying food and water for the coming days, the Marines were ready for what lay ahead …

“Dismounted patrols allow the Marines to learn everything about their Area of Operation (AO),? said 2nd Lt. Jared V. Hidalgo, the commander of 2nd platoon. “They can see all of the little paths, landmarks, so they can better predict enemy movement, enemy hot spots and IED placement.?

In Infantry Belongs on Foot, Sir!, we argued for just such dismounted patrols.  Whether in the inner city of Fallujah, the farm lands in the Euphrates river valley, or in Saqlawiyah, the Marines of RCT-6 have worked to pacify and secure Easter Anbar Province, and have done so with remarkable success.

**** UPDATE ****

Operation Texas bad news for insurgents.

“We are pinching and constricting,” said Howard. “5/7 is coming from the north, pushing through our AO toward the blocking positions, while 3/1 pushes from the northeast toward us also. Company B is reinforcing the blocking positions and pushing. We also have EOD and air support working with us” …

While patrolling through the lush landscape near the river, Marines and IPs discovered weapons caches containing everything from automatic weapons to high explosives. Material used for making IEDs was also found. With the help of EOD and the swarm of Marines who saturated the area, they were able to defuse a number of existing IEDs before they detonated, preventing many injuries to coalition forces and civilian personnel.

3/3 moves in on insurgent territory.

Hathaway explained that the most important weapon in a counterinsurgency fight like this is having the people on your side.

The Pacification of Fallujah: Is it Fake?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

John Robb has a post entitled Potemkin Pacification, in which he writes:

Indications of calm and tranquility in the “pacified cities” of Iraq is at the expense of viability. Essentially, to pacify urban areas we have destroyed the basic levels of connectivity that make them work. For example, Fallujah residents are disconnected…

  • from the country. A wall around the city with biometric entry points.
  • from each other. The city is divided into 10 walled districts with few entry/exit points. Each is guarded by a combination of neighborhood militias, police and US soldiers.
  • from basic mobility. The city has been under a vehicle ban since May 2007.

The natural result is zero economic activity. Its industrial area is closed since it is a security risk. The city suffers from 80 percent unemployment with the bulk of the remainder of those employed are either working in militias or with the police. There are chronic shortages of basic necessities like food and fuel. Reconstruction is nearly at a stand-still (in part due to a complete lack of support from the central government).

By invoking the word Potemkin, Robb is suggesting that whether intentionally or accidentally, the pacification of Fallujah is fake.

Rehearsing what I said about this post from Robb at a discussion thread at the Small Wars Council:

I like to keep up with John Robb. Without studying analyses that run counter to your own one can become rather closed-minded. But what were the conditions like in Fallujah prior to this? I had interviewed Lt. Col. William Mullen concerning the conditions in Fallujah in this article: Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.

And so I knew full well what we have had to do to pacify Fallujah. The tribal influence is much weaker in Fallujah, so more traditional counterinsurgency TTPs have been required, such as gated communities.

But is Robb seriously claiming that this has hindered true progress or otherwise caused conditions in Fallujah that are worse than they were prior to these actions? Is he seriously claiming that our efforts have caused unemployment or the lack of communication with the balance of Iraq?

He misses the point. The unemployment was already there, because it was the last major city in Anbar to undergo pacification. I claim exactly the opposite of Robb. Now … and only now … can Fallujah BEGIN its communication with the rest of Iraq.

More on Biometrics here from Noah Shachtman: Iraq diary: Anbar’s Boys in Blue.

Of course, the lifting of the vehicle ban will bring uninvited danger compared to the past few months, and there will certainly be bumps in the road.  Kinetic events can always happen — after all, it is still a counterinsurgency.  But Robb’s post makes it sound as if the typical Fallujan could object, “We had it all.  Fallujah was the tourism and vacation hot spot of Iraq, we were all employed and wealthy, had power and water 100% of the time, and then came the daffy Americans with their counterinsurgency tactics.  Sure wish for the good ole’ days.”

I have come to expect better and more challenging commentary and analysis from John Robb.  This is simply poor, and the pacification of Fallujah is real.  The question is, “Can it be maintained at the current level or some level greater than prior to these tactics being implemented?”

My bet is on the Marines and Fallujans.

Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, we interviewed Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who gave us a realistic but positive report on the accomplishments of the Marines in Fallujah.  As expected, we received e-mail from detractors (is Fallujah really this much better off?).  There are also reports that take the same facts and turn them into a completely different interpretation than the one we published.

We have also published extensively on the calamity in Basra, the British having essentially lost the military struggle for Basra and surrounding areas.  True to form, this assessment has also been questioned by detractors.  But even the British are finally managing to turn their gaze towards just how bad the situation is in Basra.

Like Donald Rumsfeld, the man British commentators love to hate, we never sent enough troops to Iraq. At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra. That small force must protect itself, must continue training the 10th Iraqi Division.

The U.S. has also begun to divulge the sensitivity of the situation.

“This is less an insurgency issue than it is criminal, a borderline Mafia kind of situation. You’ve got competing criminal interests looking for territory down there,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary.

“So that has certainly complicated matters for the Brits down there, and it certainly remains a concern for us,” he told reporters.

Britain has 5,500 troops in Basra but almost all have been pulled back to the airport where they are training Iraqi forces.

This admission may be gratuitous. Beyond criminal activity, three strong, competing Shi’a factions are at war with one another and openly demanding protection money from the population: Jaish al Mahdi, the Fadhila Party, and SIIC (Badr).

So what is the relationship between Basra and Anbar, and is there any acendotal evidence to back up these analyses?  The best on-the-scene evidence comes from Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model, who assesses the reversal of roles between the Shi’a south and the Sunni West in Crossing Anbar.

We’ve been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs across the province.

The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq’s second “port” in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high.

But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I’m convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…

This is good not only for Iraq’s economy and traveling but also for the American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.

Back to the story; there are two travel plans for passenger SUV’s and buses from Damascus to Baghdad; one includes leaving Damascus between 10 pm and midnight, reaching the Syrian border control before dawn, entering the Iraqi border control at 8 am and arriving in Baghdad around sunset. A total of approximately 20 hours with 6 to 7 hours lost in waiting and passport control.

The second plan includes leaving Damascus at noon and here convoys carrying the passengers continue to move all the way until a short distance northwest of Ramadi. At this point the time would be between midnight and 2 am and since that’s within curfew hours in Baghdad, the drivers park their vehicles and everyone gets to sleep 3 or 4 hours and wait for the sun to rise and then the journey would continue.

Now the first plan sounds predictable, safe and well planned given the distance and necessary stops. But look at the second one carefully and try to picture the scene; dozens of passenger SUV’s (GMC trucks mostly) and buses parking in he middle of nowhere in a zone that was until recently the heart of al-Qaeda’s Islamic state! Obviously the drivers and families feel safe enough that they know they won’t be robbed and slaughtered by cold-blooded terrorists. Even more interesting, this parking and resting zone was not designated nor protected by the Iraqi or American forces but simply an arrangement the drivers managed on their own perhaps with cooperation from the local tribes.

I still laugh every time I think of this incredible change and I honestly wouldn’t have believed it if the story teller wasn’t my father.

This sign of positive progress brings to my mind a sad irony. Back in 2004 when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist, I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times without any fear.

Now, I’m ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the militia infested land is something I’d never dare do at this stage.

The reports on the pacification of Anbar are indeed correct, and sadly, the British failure in Basra has made Operation Iraqi Freedom much more complicated.

Prior:

Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who commands the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (currently at Forward Operating Base Reaper on the South side of Fallujah), gives us an exclusive look into Operation Alljah and what has been accomplished in Fallujah.  His discussion is both informative and interesting, and points to modifications and adjustments to the template used in the Anbar Province.  Every city and engagement has been a unique experience, but the adaptability of the United States Marine Corps has proven to be one of the most effective weapons in their arsenal.

biometrics-automated-tool-set.jpg

Marines take fingerprints, iris scans and other information from Iraqi citizens using the Biometrics Automated Toolset in an Iraqi Police precinct in Fallujah on July 19.

Interview with Lt. Col. William F. Mullen

TCJ: Lt. Col. Mullen, thanks for the chance to interview you on the hard work and accomplishments of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines in Fallujah. Operation Alljah seems to have had multiple phases.  For instance, the Multi-National Force issued press releases on June 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th on kinetic operations against the insurgency and terrorists.  Can you describe this part of the operation for us?  For instance,  since the so-called Anbar Awakening came somewhat late to Fallujah compared to Ramadi, how did 2/6 identify the insurgents?

Lt. Col. Mullen: Well, to help clarify, many times MNF-W identifies attacks or kinetic events as happening in Fallujah, but they mean the Fallujah area.  There has been a great deal going on in the smaller towns outside of the city to curtail enemy activities out there and keep them from trying to return to the city.  We have had some small events in the city, but overall, it has been very quiet.  The latest big event we had was on June 2nd when we conducted a raid with the police that killed 7 enemy, captured 8, found two truck bombs before they went off, IED making material and other enemy supplies.  Three of the dead enemy had suicide vests on and they were killed before they could set off the vests.  This was a great operation based off of intelligence that the police had gained.  We have also been conducting quiet little cordons and searches on houses based off of more tips from the civilian population and are picking off the enemy one or two at a time.  They never fight when we do this because we are too strong for them and this is having a serious demoralizing effect on the enemy.  We had a serious sniper problem in the city when we first took over and it is gone for all intents and purposes now.  We detained 11 suspected snipers and killed two.  They now operate well away from the city.  As for the awakening, that is more of a tribal thing.  Tribes have little influence inside Fallujah because of how mixed up the population is.  They are all solidly against AQI though, because they want nothing to do with their extremist agenda and are appalled by the tactics AQI is using.  As just one example, in an area NE of the city, AQI herded 12 women and children, all relatives of a prominent area Sheik who had declared himself against AQI, into a building and blew it up on them killing them all.  That is the type of rabid dog enemy we all face out here.  They are cutting off their nose to spite their face and the average Iraqi wants nothing to do with them.

TCJ: It seems as if the police of Fallujah have managed to assist and work together in the pacification of Fallujah, with the Marines doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the way of combat operations in the initial stages of Operation Alljah.  Can you describe the working relationship between the Marines and the police?

Lt. Col. Mullen: The relationship between us and the police is very good.  At the start of ALLJAH, they were centrally located in the HQ in the middle of the city.  They were afraid to go home in uniform, some never went home at all, IP houses were getting blown up or burned down, some would get assassinated on their front doorsteps, etc.  When they went out to do a raid, they went out in force and scared to death.  Now they are spread all over the city in precincts supported by over 1400 neighborhood watch personnel.  They not only go home now, they do so in uniform proudly. They used to always wear masks over their face so they would not be recognized and targeted off duty – few do that now.  They have a lot of logistical support issues, but we are working hard to iron them out and make them self sufficient.  They are brave (at last count they had lost over 200 police since they were reestablished in mid 2005) and genuinely want to restore security to their city.  They are well on their way.  We know they have corruption issues – it is a cultural thing that is much more acceptable to them than it is to us – and they are infiltrated by the enemy, but all of these things are issues they are specifically working on.  Given the track record of our own police departments, I’d say they are doing pretty well.  We implemented a professional development program for them using actual American Police officers that have come over to train police here and it is starting to reap positive results.  They have a long way to go, but are moving with a purpose in the right direction.

TCJ: Working with erstwhile insurgents to turn them against the insurgency and terrorists has been called a risky strategy by some, and of course, any strategy comes with risks.  But it would seem that working with the insurgents and using their services against the very violence they at one time perpetrated is part of the genius of the approach.  Can you describe how this has occurred in Fallujah?

Lt. Col. Mullen: We aren’t really doing that here in the city.  I am sure that there are former insurgents in the police and neighborhood watch – which is why I tell my guys that we can never completely trust them – but we have not had a single instance where we took a known insurgent and turned him to our side.  We continue to target them heavily and most have either been detained, or fled the city.  The ones remaining spend a lot of time trying to keep from being detained instead of planning on how they will attack us.  We keep the pressure on them to keep them off balance and on the run.  That is having the best effect in the city.

TCJ: It appears that you have made signficant use of the concept of “gated communities” in Fallujah in order to bring security.  I noted that there is also a temporary ban on vehicle traffic that will be lifted soon.  Can you describe how the ban has helped and what the role of the gated communities has been?  How successful has this tactic been?

Lt. Col. Mullen: The gated community idea was implemented because the enemy uses cars almost exclusively to conduct their attacks.  The barriers emplaced allow the citizens of each precinct to choose who they want to come into their area, and makes it difficult for the enemy to move around and escape in a vehicle.  The vehicle curfew was implemented by the Mayor and Police chief due to several suicide vehicle bomb attacks, one of which was particularly horrific.  There was a funeral for an Iraqi that had been fighting AQI and AQI had a suicide bomber drive right into the funeral procession and blow himself up.  20 civilians were killed and 17 were injured.  This was a watershed event here in Fallujah.  We were not confident that a vehicle curfew could be implemented, but it has been, almost solely by the police and in conjunction with the barriers we have been emplacing, and it has resulted in a three-fold decrease in enemy attacks.  The people do not like the barriers or the curfew, but they do like the security and indicate they are willing to put up with them to keep the security.

TCJ: To what extent have you utilized COPS (variously called Combat Outposts and Combat Operation Posts) as part of Operation Alljah versus the more traditional military doctrine of force protection?

Lt. Col. Mullen: We do use Combat Outposts, but in this case, we call them Joint Security Stations.  We have Marines partnered with IP at every precinct HQ.  Force Protection is a constant, so we make sure each site is protected against suicide bombers and sniper fire, but we also ensure that the HQ is accessible to people on foot.  It is a difficult balance, but it is absolutely necessary.  Being out amongst the population is the only way to finish this fight.  Driving to work means you miss a lot.  Also, at least initially, the police would only stay in the precincts if we were there with them.  They were pretty intimidated.  This is no longer the case.  They know we have their back while they grow stronger by the day.

TCJ: It appears that the transition to nonkinetic operations was fairly stark.  Press reports about combat operations stopped and press reports about construction of police precincts started.  In a professional military academic climate that claims that standard counterinsurgency takes ten to twelve years, how did the Marines of 2/6 manage to pull this off?

Lt. Col. Mullen: We got the citizens of the city involved in providing their own security through the neighborhood watch system.  We pay them a pittance of $50 a month (only a part time job as an extra set of eyeballs for the police – they are not police) and we authorize them to carry a weapon if they have one for their own protection.  As I said above, the result has been a three-fold decrease in enemy attacks.  We also give the people a serious reason to stay on this side of the fence – we call it the “What’s in it for me?” program.  We have a heavy civil affairs emphasis that is changing the face of Fallujah.  In addition to the essential infrastructure improvements noted above, we are hiring them to pick up rubble and garbage, to paint cement barriers and school walls with murals (negates graffiti) and we are putting them to work in every way we can think of so they can put food on the table for their families.  Progress has been astounding and whenever we measure atmospherics (several times a week) all indications are that we are having a tremendous amount of success.  We have tied all of this to the improvements in the security situation and we tell them that if they want it to continue, then the enemy has the be driven out completely and kept out.  They understand and are providing a great deal more tips than they used to.  The enemy has not been able to do much of anything of late and we just passed the three month mark without having a single casualty from this battalion as a result of enemy action.  That is unheard of in Fallujah.

TCJ: In the accelerated environment in which the Marines work, how concerned should we be about the potential stand down of U.S. forces in Fallujah in 2008?  How soon will the police be trained, funded, cohesive and able to work alone in the security of Fallujah?

Lt. Col. Mullen: The police are watching activity in the US as much as we are.  They are getting better, but if we pull out early, it could have a serious detrimental effect.  I think they will manage to remain in control, but it will not be pretty.  They have a way of muddling through that makes us cringe, but it does work for them.  We certainly need to finish what we started, but pulling out would not be an unmitigated disaster here in Fallujah.  Neither the police nor the citizens want us to leave any time soon because they fully recognize what is happening around them and want it to continue.

TCJ: How badly has the lack of political reconciliation harmed the efforts to pacify the Anbar Province and in particular Fallujah?  It seems that there is still much animosity between Fallujah and Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Mullen: I cannot comment too much on the political situation in Baghdad, but the people here do not like the Iraqi Government and blame them for all the shortcomings in fuel, food and essential services.  I will say also though that things are rarely as bad as the Iraqi’s make them out to be. They are prone to serious over exaggeration and always want to blame someone else.  It is never their fault.  For example, fuel arrives in the city, but to make extra money, the truck drivers sell it to “free enterprise” folks that then sell it curbside from plastic jugs – it is known as black market fuel where we come from.  They charge much more than normal and keep the fuel from getting to the gas stations and city government in enough amounts to keep them open and operating.  They also tap into electrical and water lines illegally to get better service, all of which seriously degrades the overall service provided.  The city government is working on these things, but they all contribute to the problems Fallujah is having, and the Fallujans blame it all on the “Iranians” who make up the current government.  In the general opinion here, only Sunni can run a country properly, as they have until the past few years.  You also have a hard time convincing them that they are a minority.  The things they come up with really are amazing at times.  It is only a semi-literate society though so word of mouth, despite how illogical or ridiculous the rumor, has a big impact – especially if it is along the lines of what they want to believe.

TCJ: Can you describe any actions by NGOs or U.S. forces to help the people of Fallujah with utilities (e.g., power and water)?

Lt. Col. Mullen: Our Civil Affairs, the US Army Corps of Engineers and USAID have all teamed up to restore basic infrastructure in the city of Fallujah.  They have been trying to do this for several years now, but the security situation was not conducive to making much progress.  Major projects stalled due to the lack of security and both electricity and water were becoming scarce in the city.  Complaints were frequent and fully justified.  All of this has been turned around due to Operation ALLJAH.  All major projects have been restarted, the electricity and water services are being restored and people are very appreciative.  As a recent example, one of our patrols was trying to get some atmospherics in one of the neighborhoods of Fallujah and could not find anyone out on the streets.  This is normally a bad sign.  They knocked on some doors and found that everyone was inside enjoying the air conditioning and satellite TV because they had reliable electricity.  It isn’t on 24 hours a day (they never had this even before Saddam was toppled) but we are working towards that.  Water is plentiful now also as you can see cars and sidewalks getting washed, vegetation getting watered, and children playing in the water from hoses.

TCJ: I have called the the counterinsurgency campaign by the Marines in the Anbar Province one of the greatest in history.  I believe that it will be discussed and taught as part of advanced warfighting for years or even decades to come.  How much attention has Operation Alljah received, and how do the Marines of 2/6 feel about their accomplishments?

Lt. Col. Mullen: I’d say that the jury is still out on the claim to be the greatest counterinsurgency campaign in history, especially because we cannot say that we have won it yet.  It looks that way, but a lot can happen between now and when we leave.  Even more can happen after we leave.  These types of wars cannot be properly judged until many years later.  If Iraq pulls itself together and rejoins the community of nations as a well respected and contributing member, then we have been successful.  If it collapses in civil war or anarchy and we end up with a situation like there was in Afghanistan under the Taliban, then no matter how well 2/6 did, we will have failed overall.  ALLJAH has gotten some attention at some pretty high levels as an example of something that could work in other places in Iraq and this is always good.  As for how we feel, we are amazed by the progress and greatly encouraged by it.  Whereas last year, the battalion returned from a difficult 7 month deployment where they lost 12 of their comrades and had many wounded with precious little evident progress to show for it, this time we have taken few casualties and the progress is incredible.  All of the Marines and Sailors see it and are proud of what we have been able to do to date.  They all comment on it when I talk to them and it is very encouraging.  We have frequent high level visitors and they all comment on how well we have done here in Fallujah.  It is obvious to all who see it in person.

Other Information

Prior at TCJ:

Other Milblogs:

Main Stream Media:

Military Links:

scene2.jpg

Combat action in Fallujah in June, 2007, AFP Photograph 

Short List of Accomplishments

Here is a rundown of a few of the accomplishments of the 2/6 Marines in the past several months:

 - Enemy attacks have gone from a high of 72 in April when we first took over, to only 21 last month
 - We have discovered and destroyed 40 different enemy weapons caches
 - We have captured 64 suspected enemy and taken them off the streets of Fallujah
 - We have distributed close to 10,000 food bags (each feeds a family of 4 for 2-3 days) throughout the city
 - We have made marked progress in restoring electricity, water and sewage services all ravaged by 4 years of fighting
 - We have removed tons of trash and rubble from the streets
 - We are sponsoring mural painting on school walls and cement barriers all over the city 
 - We are building soccer fields all over the city (their national team just won the Asia Cup and they all went nuts!) and are sponsoring teams and tournaments
 - We are installing solar powered street lights along the main street


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