View Full Version : Top General in Iraq Aims to Shoot Less, Rebuild More

04-01-06, 10:57 AM
April 1, 2006
Top General in Iraq Aims to Shoot Less, Rebuild More

CAMP RIPPER, Iraq, March 30 — Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who took command of American ground forces in January, tells his troops that the only way they will defeat the insurgency is to do less shooting and more rebuilding.

It's a tough sell at this desert base in Anbar Province, where marines recently spent an hour explaining to him that insurgent attacks and intimidation have brought reconstruction work in their area almost to a standstill. A few days earlier, a suicide car bombing just outside their front gate killed two Iraqi policemen, they told him.

"If you're saying you've got to get an area secure before you do any reconstruction, you'll never get any reconstruction done," General Chiarelli finally told the half-dozen officers around a conference table at the regiment's command post.

General Chiarelli is trying to carry out a far-reaching philosophical shift in military strategy in Iraq that seeks to reduce the use of force by Americans and finish long-planned reconstruction projects.

Though still in its early stages, the effort shows signs of taking hold in some parts of the country and even in Baghdad, where American troops are noticeably less visible. But in the most violent areas, including Anbar, he is finding that shifting to the new strategy will take time, if it can be done at all.

Still, the approach has been endorsed by the Bush administration in several recent strategy documents. General Chiarelli himself was selected to take over as ground commander last year largely because, after commanding the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq during 2004 and 2005, he became a champion of the notion that American tactics often alienated Iraqis and strengthened support for the insurgency.

"Every time we shoot at an Iraqi in this culture — a culture of revenge, a culture of honor — we stand the chance of taking someone who is sitting on the fence" and pushing him toward "the terrorists and foreign fighters," he said.

General Chiarelli is urging commanders to put local people to work and to revive services in towns that still have no local government, three years after the American invasion.

He has ordered American troops to leave checkpoints and patrols as much as possible to Iraqi soldiers and their American advisers. At a daily staff briefing, he also tracks the "escalation of force," the number of times each day that American soldiers fire their weapons.

Though the rules governing when troops may use force have not changed, he says units are being urged to make greater use of flares and other nonviolent methods of avoiding Iraqi casualties.

The number of shootings by Americans has fallen 20 percent since January, he says. In addition, large combat operations involving mostly American troops are likely to be rare in the future, unless security disintegrates, American commanders say.

The aim is to take some of the ardor out of the insurgency by pushing American forces into a supporting role. General Chiarelli (pronounced ka-RELL-ee) said he had learned that he could kill or arrest thousands of insurgents — and spawn more enemies in the process.

Some troops on their second tours in Iraq applaud the shift.

In a Marine unit south of Baghdad last year, Lt. Col. Jeff Kenney said, "we did direct-action hits and big sweeps. Instead of kicking in doors, what we should have done was put in a water purification system on the Tigris River."

Previous American commanders have stressed the need to get reconstruction projects finished, but none has been as public as General Chiarelli in questioning the emphasis over the last three years on killing and capturing suspected insurgents.

"We have picked so many folks who plant I.E.D.'s," he said, referring to improvised explosive devices. "But for all practical purposes we're getting the same number of I.E.D.'s as we had before, in some instances even more. So you've got to ask yourself: 'How is that happening? How do you break that cycle?' "

General Chiarelli, a butcher's son from Seattle with advanced degrees in economics and international relations, seems prepared to consider almost anything to achieve his goal.

On weekly trips around the country from the moated palace near the Baghdad airport that serves as his headquarters, he hands out copies of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink," a treatise on split-second decision-making, to get soldiers and marines to think about how to avoid opening fire unless they are in real danger.

Flying by helicopter over Anbar Province as the smell of manure wafts up from farms below, he tells an Iraqi general next to him that he is arranging for aerial spraying of the country's date palm groves.

Left unsprayed for the last three years, the once-lucrative crop is suffering from infestation. That means fewer jobs at harvest, potentially fueling the insurgency, he says. "We're going to do it," he said of the spraying. "I'm following it every day."

But fixing problems in the reconstruction effort, much of which is handled by the State Department and Iraqi ministries, strains even a three-star general's powers.

He mentions a tractor factory near Baghdad that once employed 6,000 workers. The factory has not been looted and is still owned by two Iraqi government ministries. But it sits largely idle, for reasons the general cannot fully explain but vows to fix.

At Asad air base in the desert, Col. Majid Khathim Shaban, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Army brigade that deployed to western Anbar Province last October, thanked General Chiarelli for the training and equipment his soldiers have received from American advisers. He then reeled off complaints about food, pay and the threat of suicide attacks. His unit has lost nearly 600 men to desertions and failures to return from leave, Colonel Kenney said.

Iraqi Army units are still spread thinly across much of Anbar and police forces are just beginning to form again in many towns, after collapsing in 2004. For that reason, American officers say, it could be a long time before most Iraqi units are able to operate independently.

Meeting with Marine commanders at the base, General Chiarelli heard Col. W. Blake Crowe say that because local contractors are afraid to work for the Americans, he could not find companies willing to help him clear a large ammunition dump, among other projects.

The only contractors willing to do the work come from Baghdad, but using them generates resentment among Anbar locals. General Chiarelli told him to approach sheiks and explain how they could benefit if they helped find local companies willing to do the work.

Colonel Crowe later described how his marines had recently tracked a suspected insurgent leader to an isolated house. A year ago, he said, they probably would have called in an airstrike to kill him. Mindful of the new emphasis on limiting combat, though, the marines raided the house and took the man alive.

"You probably got more intelligence and avoided killing civilians," said General Chiarelli, beaming. "That's what I'm trying to make everyone understand."