View Full Version : Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq

12-12-03, 09:08 AM
Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq
1 hour, 23 minutes ago

By MICHAEL R. GORDON The New York Times

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Dec. 10 No force has a tougher reputation than the United States Marines. But the marines who are headed to Iraq (news - web sites) this spring say they intend to avoid the get-tough tactics that have been used in recent weeks by Army units.

Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq
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Marine commanders say they do not plan to surround villages with barbed wire, demolish buildings used by insurgents or detain relatives of suspected guerrillas. The Marines do not plan to fire artillery at suspected guerrilla mortar positions, an Army tactic that risks harming civilians. Nor do the Marines want to risk civilian casualties by calling in bombing strikes on the insurgents, as has happened most recently in Afghanistan (news - web sites).

"I do not envision using that tactic," said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, who led the Marine force that fought its way to Baghdad and will command the more than 20,000 marines who will return to Iraq in March. "It would have to be a rare incident that transcends anything that we have seen in the country to make that happen."

The increase in guerrilla attacks on American troops in Iraq has prompted Army units in the so-called Sunni triangle in central Iraq to adopt a hard-nosed approach and spawned a behind-the-scenes debate within the American military about the best way to quash the insurgents.

While some Army commanders insist the hard-nosed tactics have been successful in reducing enemy attacks, other military officers believe they are alienating Iraqis and thus depriving American commanders of the public support and human intelligence needed to ferret out threats.

In an interview at his headquarters at Camp Pendleton, General Conway was careful not to criticize the Army. Still, he indicated that he plans to pursue a very different strategy.

"I don't want to condemn what people are doing," General Conway said. "I think they are doing what they think they have to do. I'll simply say that I think until we can win the population over and they can give us those indigenous intelligence reports that we're prolonging the process."

The Marines, General Conway says, will try to design their raids to be "laser precise," focused on the enemy with a maximum effort made to avoid endangering or humiliating Iraqi civilians.

After American forces invaded Iraq last spring, United States marines fought some of the fiercest battles of the war at Nasiriya and at a mosque in eastern Baghdad. After Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) was ousted, the Marines assumed the responsibility for stabilizing south-central Iraq, where most of the inhabitants are Shiite Muslims who were persecuted under Mr. Hussein and were glad to see him gone. In contrast to the Army's experience, no marine was killed in action after mid-April.

The Marines insist their success also reflected their energetic efforts to work with the local population, an effort guided by their "Small Wars" manual, which derives from their 20th-century interventions in Central America.

There were several parallels between the Marine experience in southern Iraq and how the Army's 101st Airborne Division has approached northern Iraq and many differences from the aggressive tactics of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division and other Army units in the Sunni triangle.

On their return to Iraq now, the Marines will be dealing with a much more challenging area which includes restive towns like Falluja, west of Baghdad.

In that region, American military units have come and gone so often that they have had little time to understand their surroundings. Falluja was initially occupied by the 82nd Airborne Division, which was soon replaced by the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was in turn replaced by the Second Brigade of the Army's Third Infantry Division. In early summer, the Third Infantry Division had some success in helping to establish the local police. But it returned to the United States, handing the town back to the Third Armored Cavalry, which was soon replaced by the 82nd Airborne.

In Iraqi society, which emphasizes personal relationships, the constant rotations have made a difficult job that much harder. So have some tactics: in April, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne based themselves in Falluja and were fired on during an anti-American demonstration. The troops fired back. Iraqis say 17 people were killed and more than 70 wounded, many of them civilians who never fired on the American troops. The 82nd Airborne has disputed that account.

Starting next March, nine battalions of marines will be deployed. In addition to infantry, the Marine force will include light armored reconnaissance units, engineers and attack helicopters. The Marines will also take command of a brigade from the Army's First Infantry Division, which is also going to Iraq in the spring.

Success, Marine commanders say, will ultimately depend winning the trust of a wary Iraqi population. The measure of progress, General Conway says, will not be the number of American raids or enemy dead. It will be tips about potential threats that are provided to the Marines by ordinary Iraqis.

"The program we used in the south was a maturing Iraqi police, supported by an Army M.P. company in each of the cities, supported by a Marine quick reaction force," he said, defining this as a Marine infantry battalion. "That worked very well for us. That is the model we intend to use."

Toward this end, the Marines are planning to work with the Iraqi police and also train and equip an Iraqi military force to take on the insurgents. "We intend to create an Iraqi Marine battalion, maybe a brigade," General Conway said.

Marine commanders have stressed the need to be sensitive to local traditions. Marines here have been told to remove their sunglasses and look Iraqis in the eye when they speak with them. A select group of marines also been selected for intensive Arabic language training. The marines will use Iraqi, not American names, to delineate the zones assigned to specific Marine units and will try to align them with Iraqi administrative districts. To limit the disruption to the local populations, the Marines also plan to set up their bases outside of Iraqi cities.

But the marines at Camp Pendleton are also prepared to fight.

"We carry an embedded offensive capability in every convoy," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of the First Marine Division. "To us you don't drive on through, you stop, you hunt them down and you nail them."

"We will try to go and restore a degree of civility," said General Mattis. "If they choose to fight, they are going to regret it, but we also believe that part of the physicians' oath that says first do no harm. If to kill a terrorist we have got to kill eight innocent people, you don't kill them."

General Conway added: "We will be as vicious with the resistance as we have to be. It is not that we intend to go in and coddle everyone. Our marines just have to be able to be aggressive and hostile one moment and the next moment be able to play soccer with the kids."

General Conway said, for instance, that if marines fire artillery shells, they will be special illumination rounds to light up terrain, not destroy targets.

"Right now, in some of the sectors they are firing artillery missions against radar hits," General Conway said. "That will not be our method of operation."

Doc Crow
12-14-03, 11:54 PM
Win their hearts and minds didn't this fail at least once before

12-15-03, 12:30 AM
"General Conway said, for instance, that if marines fire artillery shells, they will be special illumination rounds to light up terrain, not destroy targets."

In Nam, even illumination rounds were taboo, because the canasters "might" land in populated areas.

P.S. Question. In the General's comments, why was the term "Marine" not capitalized?

12-15-03, 01:36 AM
Good point, Marine should always be capitalized.

This approach maybe what the US needs but at what price. I know Marines were very successful after major combat was over, but they were not in the hot spot the army is in now. I bet after Marines start dying at a rapid rate they will resort to the same tactics. I remember on March 25th, before we entered the city of An Nasiryia, Iraq after the Army and Marines got ambushed, 28 Marines and Army were killed. We were told the General said the hell with the rules of engagement, at this point thier are none. Subsequently, we started shelling everything and anything we suspected to be enemy. Within a week and half, civilian death toll was close to a thousand. Eventually, we stop the shelling of built up areas, but you know what, we saved Marine lives and pacified that hole entire city.