View Full Version : Fighting to Win Hearts and Minds in Anbar

07-23-07, 07:46 AM
U.S. Military
Fighting to Win Hearts and Minds in Anbar
US Military Civil Affairs Units Help Turn the Tide in Troubled Sunni Province
By MATT SANCHEZ Posted 23 hr. 3 min. ago

Fallujah - The official role of Civil Affair units is to "help military commanders by working with civil authorities and civilian populations in the commander's area of operations to lessen the impact of military operations on them during peace, contingency operations and declared war." That's a mouthful.

It's great to have people in high places make bold decisions, but someone actually has to carry those decisions out. I'd call civil affairs the "boots on the ground" section in the diplomacy department. They're tasks can range from developing a police precinct, to making sure the sewers are running. The civil affairs unit engages the population, asks them what they need and, if it fits the general mission, work to get it. They're like armed social workers who ride in armored vehicles.

In a conflict that relies heavily on the native population, civil affairs units are in demand. Civil Affairs are a strange hybrid because they require a strong interaction with the general population. Most units consists of reservists, but with the demand so high, that is quickly changing. Many CAG units (for the Marines) or CAT units (for the Army) have fanned out across Iraq and Afghanistan. The task is enormous. CAG units work with the local population and support the pillars of their society: governance, security and education. There is also the added obstacle of helping to put "an Iraqi face" on what they do, a task that can be difficult for a country that does not have a "customer service" mentality.

Chief Warrant officer Steve Townsley said, "We're working to get the trust of the local population, but we also want to put as much of an Iraqi face on this as possible." For Operation Alljah, local police officers, some of whom live in the neighborhoods we visited, handed out the huge sacks of foods and necessities to the local population. The "swarm" tactic of taking a neighborhood and locking it down, works best with the cooperation of those who actually live in the neighborhood. The 5/10 planned many projects, sewage plants, new schools, even reliable electricity, but everything from trash collection to running air-conditioners depended on one thing—security.

No matter how much up-armor the sluggish hum-vees packed on, or how many rounds per minute the gunner could send down range, the best hope to putting an end to the violence in Anbar province was to prevent it from happening in the first place.

"It is crucial to get out and actually meet the local population," said Major Andrew Dietz. But the major was referring to a population that has known nothing but uncertainty over the past two years. Their neighborhoods are pocked with holes made by both Marines and insurgents. There was a time, when one could not tell friend from foe, when these neighborhoods were the site of a battleground.

"A defection is much better than a capture," said Captain Hart, an infantry officer from the 3 rd Battalion, 6 th Marines. "I'd rather have them come over to our side, even if they were fighting us two or three weeks ago. The focus on mission accomplishment is precisely the type of improvisation that has made the Marines malleable in all climes but consistent at the core.

With an eye toward the open windows and roof tops, I was able to speak to some of those who have lived in Fallujah, those who may have fought or fled. I learned most just wanted to get on with their day to day lives.

The month before, a massive bomb killed mourners at a funeral. If the enemy had any support from the locals, it dissipated with that that blast. They were fed up, but they were scared. Like any neighborhood that feels it's streets are dangerous, the home becomes a sanctuary, and all Iraqi homes have a wall and gate for both privacy and protection. The CAG unit may mean well, but would Fallujans be interested?

"We're here to show that we have a presence and can protect them," added the CWO Townsley. A Chief Warrant Officer is a rare-breed that is somewhere between an officer and an enlisted man. An enlisted Marine can apply for the Warrant Officer program after having served at least eight years. CWO's are meant to bridge the gap between both sides of the military, officer and enlisted, but they are more than that. With fifteen years in the Corps, men like Townsley perform duties that require extensive knowledge, training and technical specialty. A chief warrant officer receives his commission and takes his oath the same way a commissioned officer does, but like so many other mustangs, the CWO has the added respect of having been an enlisted man, before moving on.

That day, in Fallujah, we were moving on to handing out the food and meeting the neighbors. The CWO shook hands and seemed to know many of the people who opened their gates as the convoy came down their street. Iraqis are not shy about accepting hand outs, but after a few knocks on the gates, there seemed to be an opening of the neighbors themselves. Kids followed behind the humvees, hoped some Marine would throw him a soccer ball.

A child handed Marine Corporal Kevin McDonald a glass of water, while other children asked me to take pictures of them.

A Marine out of Camp Pendleton, Corporal Rhubi, pointed out a building where he had fired and killed a man who intended to snipe another Marine. Rhubi, a second generation Marine, was a member of recon unit, and had been loaned out to Fallujah in a kind of break from his regular activities. He was taking pictures for Combat Camera, and some of the Marines from the 2/6 were already calling him "recon", in what is one of the few distinctions among a group that prides itself on unity.

Marine Force Recon are the special forces of the United States Marine Corps. Just like the Green Beret, or the Navy Seals, Marine Recon handle a variety of missions with the least resources.

Recon Marines are taught to rely on themselves and work in small teams. From counter-insurgency to unconventional warfare, the Marine recon is a product of an enormous amount of training. Among the "Few and the Proud," the men of Marine Recon Force that I have met have been "the rare and the humble."

Recon Operators are subtle but you'll know one when you see one. Slightly different body armor, with the subtle hint of better maintenance that is a tell-tale sign of the intense attention to detail that is a hallmark of the training. The operator has designs and markings that wouldn't be permitted to non-Recon Marines.

It's against the rules to photograph members of the Special Forces (SF) and that includes recon Marines. Corporal Rhubi recounted his training and told me of the intense memorization exercises that could disqualify a recon recruit from service.

That hot day, in the convoy handing out care packages to Fallujans, Corporal Rhubi remembered what the city had been like three years before, in 2004. "We would take enemy fire on all of these streets." You just couldn't walk out here like this. "Today, I'm taking pictures with these kids and handing out food. things have changed."