Getting the Strategy Right

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

“I got nothing but mad props for 2/6. With another unit from October 2006 to April 2007, many of us often found ourselves questioning the logic of how we were doing certain things, and positing “why can’t we do such and such.” 2/6 came in and, well, did such and such. During the relief-in-place with the company that replaced us replaced my faith in the U.S. Marine Corps; I’ve never been more impressed.” (courtesy of Michael Totten)

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.” (courtesy of Bill Ardolino)

The Small Wars Journal blog has an interesting continuation of the debate over strategy in Iraq by Pete Mansoor, entitled Misreading the History of the Iraq War.  Part of Mansoor’s commentary follows:

In his latest missive on the U.S. endeavor in Iraq (“Misreading the Surge Threatens U.S. Army’s Conventional Capabilities”), Army Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile claims that the Surge forces and the new U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine had little effect on the situation in Iraq. Rather, U.S. forces paid off the insurgents, who stopped fighting for cash. Once again, Gian Gentile misreads not just what is happening today in Iraq, but the history of the war.

To borrow a quote from Ronald Reagan, “Gian, there you go again.”

Gentile’s analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and his narrative is heavily influenced by the fact that he was a battalion commander in Baghdad in 2006. His unit didn’t fail, his thinking goes, therefore recent successes cannot be due to anything accomplished by units that came to Iraq during the Surge.

The facts speak otherwise. Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

This is a common narrative concerning the security plan and revised strategy for Operation Iraqi Freedom, i.e., “it’s all about the combat outposts.”  If the troops are on a FOB (Forward Operating Base), they cannot possibly engage in counterinsurgency.  This may be true under certain conditions for the mega-bases such as Camp Fallujah.  But this perspective seems very incomplete and truncated.  The experience of the Marines of 2/6 during Operation Alljah shows us why.

With the Anbar province pacified it might be difficult to recall the condition as recently as late 2006 in Ramadi and throughout the province.  The condition was bad almost beyond words, but with the success of the Marines and tribes in combating al Qaeda and other insurgents in the Western part of Anbar, the Eastern parts fell subject to their horror.  Fallujah, which had always been a very hardened city, was the new home to rogue elements from all across the globe.  Libyans, Chechens, and other hard core jihadist fighters called Fallujah home in early 2007.  They had utter and complete control, and were protecting a huge weapons cache in the industrial area, including small arms, explosive ordnance and chlorine.  The Marine command in this area of operations called Fallujah “unwinnable.”  At this point, the Anbar campaign could just as easily have taken a turn for the worse, and in fact could have turned completely in favor of the insurgency.

Into this came the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.  The population had clearly sided with the insurgents.  On one occasion the Marines witnessed the ultimate commitment being made by the locals (or perhaps the ultimate cowardice, or perhaps both).  The neighborhood children were sent out to demarcate the location of Marines on patrol by encircling the area and raising black balloons for insurgent mortars.  Soon enough, the mortar rounds started dropping.

Fallujah was pacified, but the Marines of 2/6 didn’t do it by living in combat outposts for seven months.  In fact, they were deployed to a FOB named Reaper, constructed specifically for 2/6 on the South side of Fallujah.  Upon 2/6 leaving Reaper, this FOB was never to see U.S. troops again.  This episode – the narrative, the FOB, the experiences, the unique things accomplished – remains not only important in the history of the Marines, but an un-mined jewel of counterinsurgency practice.

The Marines of 2/6 were rotated out to combination combat outposts / Iraqi police precincts for weeks at a time, and then rotated back to FOB Reaper to provide force protection for weeks, or conduct patrols, or nighttime census missions, or intelligence driven raids, or whatever the mission happened to be at the time.  These rotations were staggered so that the combat outposts were never unmanned, FOB Reaper always had adequate force protection, raids always had manpower, kinetic operations always took place against insurgents, checkpoints were always manned, and Iraqi police always had U.S. presence.  Sleep was a luxury, and all of the Marines were always busy.  Close and constant contact with the police and population and relentless kinetic operations against the insurgents was characteristic of the time that 2/6 spent in Fallujah.  The closest analogy that can be given of this operation is that of a swarm.  The Marines swarmed over Fallujah until the insurgents were killed or captured and the population sided with the U.S.  This close contact was not allowed to diminish the implementation of force protection.  While force protection was maintained, force projection was the hallmark of the final Marine Corp battle for Fallujah.

Whatever else can be said of the Iraq campaign, there were not enough troops (force size) to accomplish the mission (force projection).  This is not a fault of Gentile’s unit.  Concerning strategy, only Lt. Col. Gian Gentile and his reports can know if they accomplished the force projection needed to win a counterinsurgency.  If so, then his unit should be seen as a continuation of the overall campaign for Iraq.  After all, for those who claim that counterinsurgency takes ten to twelve years, it should not be surprising that a single deployment is only a part of the campaign rather than the thing in its entirety.  Time was necessary to convince the population that the U.S. troops were not “short-timers,” and thus Gentile may be right.  Neither the strategy nor the troops failed, but again, only Gentile knows if the force projection was adequate.

It all comes down to having enough troops and doing the right things with those troops.  Whether those troops man a checkpoint or conduct an intelligence-driven raid or take population census or go on patrols, where they live is only of logistical importance.  If it is beneficial to live at a combat outpost in some particular circumstance, then that’s where they should be.  If it is beneficial to live at a FOB but rarely spend time there because of constant contact with the population, they that’s where they should be.  While this experience raises the issue of Marine deployment length (7 months) and whether another branch of the service could survive longer deployments (e.g., 12 or 14 months) at the same pace, nonetheless, the salient points are unimpuned.  They key is what the troops do and how often they do it, not where they sleep.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment


You are currently reading "Getting the Strategy Right", entry #986 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Army,Counterinsurgency,Department of Defense,Featured,Marine Corps and was published March 9th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (704)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (40)
Air Power (10)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (22)
Ammunition (210)
Animals (180)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (337)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (81)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (27)
Australian Army (7)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (150)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (18)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (3)
Blogs (24)
Body Armor (23)
Books (3)
Border War (17)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (38)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (16)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (16)
Christmas (13)
CIA (29)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (3)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (218)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (200)
Department of Homeland Security (26)
Disaster Preparedness (5)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (12)
Donald Trump (27)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (2)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (33)
Featured (187)
Federal Firearms Laws (18)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (1,583)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (15)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (44)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (9)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (1,470)
Guns (2,097)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (8)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (16)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (3)
Horses (2)
Humor (66)
Hunting (2)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (98)
India (10)
Infantry (4)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (3)
Intelligence (23)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (171)
Iraq (379)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (64)
Islamists (95)
Israel (19)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (3)
Jihadists (80)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (5)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (5)
Lawfare (7)
Leadership (6)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (50)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (273)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (62)
Medical (144)
Memorial Day (6)
Mexican Cartels (39)
Mexico (58)
Michael Yon (6)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (4)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (6)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (25)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (25)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (87)
NATO (15)
Navy (25)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (3)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (61)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (221)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (7)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (70)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (2)
Pizzagate (21)
Police (585)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (959)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (380)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (75)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (36)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (506)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (28)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (23)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (34)
Survival (129)
SWAT Raids (57)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (2)
Tactical Gear (7)
Taliban (168)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (20)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (95)
Thanksgiving (12)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (24)
TSA Ineptitude (13)
TTPs (4)
U.S. Border Patrol (5)
U.S. Border Security (17)
U.S. Sovereignty (21)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (9)
Uncategorized (73)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (3)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (387)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (4)
War Reporting (21)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (76)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (21)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

October 2022
September 2022
August 2022
July 2022
June 2022
May 2022
April 2022
March 2022
February 2022
January 2022
December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2022 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.