Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thinking Out of the Box: A New Approach to the War in Iraq

No, don’t think I have changed my mind and suddenly support the war in Iraq, because I don’t. But I found a very interesting article while reading a blog called The Middle Ground called the Lessons of Counterinsurgency. The article describes a regiment that has taken a new approach to the war in the Iraq, and a much more logical approach, if you ask me. And so far, this approach has spelled success. Now I don’t know if the article is factual or if propaganda is an issue, but I do know this: the steps shown in this article are steps I would recommend, both to our armed forces and to our president if it wants to have any success fighting in the region.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry regiment was pretty pitiful, evidently, in their first tour of Iraq in 2003-2004. Col. H. R. McMaster was charged with reworking the regiment to be a counterinsurgency unit. He began by recognizing that the enemy was just people, and left standing orders that all soldiers would “treat detainees professionally”, a change from the previous tour where a prisoner was beaten to death during questioning. “Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy,” McMaster said. And it’s a great point; violence only breeds violence, and our inhumane acts against Iraqis only breed more martyrs.

Then he started breaking down the misconceptions. He banned the use of slang words to refer to the Iraqi people, taught 1 out of every 10 people under his command basic conversational Arabic (so that someone in every small unit could have basic exchanges with Iraqis), and he distributed reading material to all soldiers that included studies of Arab and Iraqi history, as well as texts on counterinsurgency. He decided to live in the Iraqi town that was soon to be his responsibility, so that he could experience the life in that city, Tall Afar.

Hickey also has spent months living in the city, perched in the Ottoman-era ramparts that dominate it. He slept at the base only rarely. From his position downtown, he said, "I hear every gunshot in the city." His conclusion: "Living among the people works, if you treat them with respect." When the electricity goes out for Iraqis, he noted, it does for him too, even though he has a generator for military communications.

Then, when it came time to rid the city of the terrorist elements that were thriving in Tall Afar, McMaster broke the US military mold in a number of ways. He was slow, deliberate and thoughtful, as opposed to rushing in guns blazing. He worked with the local Sunni population, who had found a new respect for this regiment, to employ methods that had been successful over the centuries in the Middle East against this exact situation.

And he had a plan to maintain the peace without entombing our troops in the region. Within a short time of liberating the city from the terrorist groups, a police force of 1400 people, predominantly Sunni Muslims, backed by 2000 Iraqi troops had set up multiple strategic outposts to control the city without using extensive force deployments or predictable rescue routes (preventing terrorist attacks on troops leaving bases). The city already has a working city council and an activist mayor.

Insurgent attacks in the area are down from 6 a day to 1 a day. And that number still appears to be decreasing. McMaster is leaving Tall Afar this month knowing that it is in capable hands, though those hands aren’t as sure, and are pushing for McMaster to stay. But this type of understanding of the conflict is obviously in short supply in the US military, and its needed where the battles are still pressing.

technorati tags: , , , , , , ,

Posted by Scottage at 1:09 AM / | |