Strange Counterinsurgency: The Marines Join Other Tribes!

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

After seeing a few pictures in a commentary by Diana West, I felt that they were so laughable, clownish and ridiculous that they must be fabricated, so I set about to locate them.  And locate them I did.


NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (From left to right) Lt . Col. Matt Baker, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones, sergeant major of 1/3, and Maj. Rudy Quiles, civil affairs team leader with 1/3, listen to Nawas district administrator speak March 21, during Islamic New Year celebration.

There are other pictures for your viewing.  The pity with the story that these photographs tell is that there is nothing quite like it in U.S. Marine Corps history.  The Marines have done counterinsurgency and stability operations for some 200 years now, and yet the history of these operations seems to have been all but forgotten.  The most recent counterinsurgency success – the Anbar Province in Iraq – surely has been forgotten.

Note that I have been careful to point out the need for warrior scholars.

When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood … Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.

This was Fallujah in 2007, and when the Marines of 2/6 entered in April, vehicle-borne IEDs were so prevalent that security couldn’t be enforced without draconian measures.  The city was locked down, gates and checkpoints were put up, communities were walled off, a census was taken, biometrics were taken on the population (fingerprints and iris scans), and kinetic operations were conducted on the insurgents.

Within months, Fallujah was a different place.  The Marines never relinquished their force protection, never jettisoned their uniforms, and always kept the upper hand with regards to the security of the city.  But in Marjah where Marine lives were lost to take the area, the situation is degrading.

Just a few weeks since the start of the operation, the Taliban have “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways” in northern Marja, Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, said in an interview in late March … Compensation helped turn the tide of insurgency in Iraq. But in Marja, where the Taliban seem to know everything — and most of the time it is impossible to even tell who they are — they have already found ways to thwart the strategy in many places, including killing or beating some who take the Marines’ money, or pocketing it themselves.

It isn’t counterinsurgency in Afghanistan that’s so different from Iraq – it’s the behavior of the Marines.  Insurgents have always been difficult to separate from the population.  That’s what makes it an insurgency.  In the Helmand Province, the Marines are apparently attempting to join the tribes, even if for a very brief period of time.  Note the irony.  Rather than being the strongest tribe, they are showing deference to the weaker tribes, i.e., the ones who are losing to the Taliban.


  1. On April 12, 2010 at 9:26 am, Warbucks said:

    Taking the process further:

    You’re looking at Phase One: Phase II provides:

    Joining the tribes may require that members of the strongest tribe (Marines) be served a 10-year in-country sheikdom-like status (part diplomat, part defender of the faith with a twist for peace and unification, after our men marry the eligible daughters of the ranking tribes’ families.

    As for the turbins, I’ve never really liked the Karakul (i.e., the old Piss-Cutter Overseas style worn by Pres. Karzai) I much prefer the more pedestrian Pakol – Wool Hats ( as better expressing the bottom-up dedication of the common man to the common good for the future of democracy…. sort of a Jeffersonian hint or tip of the hat to democratic wisdom as opposed to the turbin’s sheikdom imagery which is too easy to corrupt into Nazi-top-down control. If we are going to play the role of sheiks and integrate top down authority figures, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot to ever see bottom-up democracies…. but I could be wrong, of course.

    The idea is to bridge our American sense of patriot of the common man/woman and their non-discriminatory, integrated, post-American-Civil-War, amalgamation of races to serve the common good, and not class distinction and class separation as projected by the turban. Turban styling is important and communicates much (

    Even though it looks silly to the Western perception, these turban styles worn by our troops all share identical features, their dropped tails. While I have no idea just yet what the significance of the dropped tail means, that all four men wear the same dropped tail, it somehow suggests “softness and wisdom, or perhaps even scholar,” …. as opposed to the roguish commoner impression of the pakol.

    In any event, if we do not take wives, its seen as a false front of office without commitment and permanence.

    What say you.

  2. On April 12, 2010 at 10:08 am, Warbucks said:

    The keffiyeh (Arabic: كوفية‎, kūfiyyah, plural كوفيات, kūfiyyāt), also known as a (ya)shmagh (from Turkish: yaşmak “tied thing”), ghutrah (غترة), ḥaṭṭah (حطّة), mashadah (مشدة) or shemagh is a traditional headdress typically worn by Arab men made of a square of cloth (“scarf”), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly found in arid climate areas to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand. Its distinctive woven check pattern originated in an ancient Mesopotamian representation of either fishing nets or ears of grain.[1] … from Wiki.

    Ah-h-h-h! Bingo. The T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia effect.

    The British Colonel T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia), probably the best-known Western wearer of the keffiyeh, wore a plain white one with agal during his involvement in the Arab Revolt in World War I. This image of Lawrence was later popularized by the film epic about him, Lawrence of Arabia, in which he was played by Peter O’Toole.

    T. E. Lawrence at Rabegh, north of Jidda, 1917. See mid-page.

    So, career officers take note: “Study up T. E. Lawrence and emulate” is the message being sent here. Look at the imagery similarities. Age and Rank: Lt. Col. same as T.E. Lawrence. Use of the “keffiyeh” and most importantly the implied message of “unification” in parallel to Lawrence.

    It’s all Hollywood.

    Trouble is, I have this sinking feeling that we better go with the Pakol instead.

  3. On April 12, 2010 at 10:22 am, Warbucks said:

    Are we projecting religious neutrality or are we projecting one sect over the other among Shia and Sunni? If we are going to start project Hollywood-esque preferred stereotypes, and if we insist on yielding to the Top-down influence of faith, sheikdoms, and power-elites, nothing speaks peace better than a diversion into Sufi’s spirituality which I have been arguing for all along. So que the dancing whirling Dervish.

    You field grades out there and NCO’s need to practice the twirls. You will need a skirt under my foreign policy program. The heavy skirt helps you maintain balance through the twirl. And the tall hat. The hat places the center of gravity at the top of your head so your head does not fall on to your shoulders. I own a subsidiary that just happens to sell this stuff. I can get you such a deal.

  4. On April 12, 2010 at 10:55 am, Herschel Smith said:

    The trouble Rich is that, as you point out, we are being fake. I recall a report from Iraq about a chaplain who removed his cross before a meeting with a local Imam so that he wouldn’t “offend” him. He soon found out that the Imam expected him to be wearing his cross, and questioned him about it. The Imam wanted to see the chaplain be honest, forthright and bold. He was more offended that the chaplain didn’t wear his cross and purpose of the meeting failed because the Imam lost respect for the chaplain. I could not find the report in the some thirteen thousand e-mails in my in-box, but I distinctly recall reading the report.

    The goal should not be to be like them, or to join them, even temporarily. Consider how much more effective it would have been for our Marines to wear the distinctive garb of their tribe, i.e., dress blues, with full assortment of medals and ribbons?

  5. On April 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm, Warbucks said:

    I don’t know the politics of the participants that I am about to mention nor do I care to project them. But the most authentic man I’ve ever read about that achieved more good by both our standards and Muslim standards, so far, is Greg Mortenson, as written up by David Oliver Relin in the New York Times Best Seller “Three Cups of Tea – One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time.”

    At some juncture in this battle, we will need to enable people like Greg. I don’t know if Sayed Abbas Risvi ( — middle of page) is still in play but his noble attitude in modernization with compassion are just the opposite of the corrupt war lords we seem to otherwise have to deal with everywhere we turn.

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You are currently reading "Strange Counterinsurgency: The Marines Join Other Tribes!", entry #4819 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Marine Corps,Marines in Helmand and was published April 11th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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