View Full Version : U.S. won't quickly change thousand year traditions

01-13-06, 07:03 AM
Posted on Fri, Jan. 13, 2006
U.S. won't quickly change thousand year traditions

Col. Steve Davis of New Rochelle, N.Y., commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of U.S. Marines in western Iraq, and he has no illusions about the place or the people.

The home-grown Sunni insurgents and the trickle of foreign jihad terrorists who cross the porous border with Syria are only part of Davis' problem. He also faces what he calls "a tribal-based criminal smuggling enterprise that is thousands of years old."

The tall colonel has spent years studying and being based in the Middle East. He knows what he and his Marines can change and what they can't.

The ancient smuggling enterprise falls in the latter category. "I can't change that. Saddam Hussein couldn't change that. The British couldn't change that. A dozen other occupying armies couldn't either," Davis told me in a visit this week.

He also knows that the Marines cannot defeat the insurgency with armed might, but "we can, have and will continue to disrupt their activities."

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3,200 Marines strong, is responsible for more than 30,000 square miles from the Syrian border to the Euphrates Valley.

Over the last six months, Davis' Marines and attached Army forces have fought insurgents in vital border crossing towns such as Qaim, the town of Haditha with its huge dam and hydroelectric power plant, and other key towns such as Karabala, Husayba, Ramana and Hit.

Davis' forces have not simply taken these towns in big sweeps and then given them back to the enemy when they left two weeks later. They have taken them and garrisoned them with small U.S. outposts and patrol bases.

"The great majority of the population crave nothing so much as stability and security, and we are getting some stability now," the colonel said.

The Marines of the 2nd BCT say they have killed hundreds of enemy fighters and seized 900 tons of arms and munitions since March.

The colonel said he doesn't particularly care if the population loves Americans or hates them so long as they begin to understand the rules and respect them.

"We don't murder or beat people," Davis said, adding, "but if you are an armed insurgent we will kill you. Simple as that."

The insurgents conceal their improvised explosive devices anywhere they can. The more armor the Americans employ, the bigger the IEDs. That translates to devices built of four or five 155 mm artillery shells wired together, or two 500-pound bombs. No amount of armor can withstand such a blast at close range or underneath.

Davis said the numbers of IEDs are declining and more are being found before they can do their terrible damage.

He is confident that if the Americans continue to maintain a presence in the towns of this region, and provide stability and security to townspeople, the insurgency will dwindle.

"But Americans want a straightforward solution to everything," Davis said, adding, "Do the job and get out. And do it fast. That is not the way in the Middle East, not the way in Iraq. This is an ancient culture and we aren't going to change the way they do things overnight. Or maybe ever."

On the ground some things are changing, and for the better. The once wide open border with Syria now has 11 new Iraqi border police posts to guard key points. Iraqi Army battalions are, according to Davis, steadily improving and taking greater responsibility for patrolling and securing parts of the region. Iraqi police are increasingly present in the towns.

"The good news is the bad guys are never going to drive us into the sea," Davis said. "The bad news is this thing is going to take time and money and the continued hard work of U.S. Marines and soldiers. I just hope we have the time."

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. Readers may write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005-3994. His column appears most Fridays.