The seminar on Fourth Generation war that meets each month at my house took as its December topic the following question: You are the commander of the Marine Corps unit that will take over Fallujah in March; what will you do?
Army and Marine Corps participants agreed that your first task is to tell the locals, “We’re not like the guys who just left” – the 82nd Airborne. Wear the new Marine Corps utilities that look different from the Army desert uniforms. Don’t “relieve in place;” instead, move into new areas, not the Army’s old billets. Patrol on foot, not in vehicles. Wear soft covers, not helmets and body armor. Don’t wear sunglasses. Teach your troops a bit of Arabic, so they can say, “We’re different.” Teach them enough Arab culture so they avoid gross insults, like stepping on the heads of people they detain. Don’t do raids, breaking people’s doors down in the middle of the night.
Make sure you have plenty of money, and pass it around. Maybe the first thing the Marines should say is, “We are here to pay the blood money” – compensation to families who have had members killed by Americans. Without blood money, the locals’ honor requires that they fight you to avenge their dead. Here, Washington is a major obstacle, because it requires peacetime accounting rules for any money our forces spend. Commanders need a generous slush fund.
Remember that success comes not from escalation, but from de-escalation. This may require taking more casualties than you inflict. We need to re-think “force protection;” if it isolates us from the population, it works against us.
Of course, we will take casualties. How long can we sustain this alternate, “softer” approach as our casualties mount? The troops need to be trained and prepared for doing so, because their natural response will be to take it out on the population. One Marine said that we have to talk through traumatic events with the men when they happen, so they do not take revenge. They have to be willing not to kill.
If Fallujah is a hard spot, don’t start there; start where the situation is more favorable. Maybe we should not go into Fallujah at first.
A Marine suggested we use the “ink blot” strategy the Special Forces initially used in Vietnam, with good results. Let each squad get to know one particular area and the people in it. Regrettably, we probably won’t have enough troops to make this work.
We asked some radical questions: what if the Marines carried no weapons? One participant who spent time in Iraq said we have to be armed, because Iraq is an armed society and anyone without a weapon looks weak. Should we offer the guerillas a deal where they take responsibility for local security? Should we set up a liaison office where the locals can tell us what they need to get life working again, then we try to provide that to them? Should our troops wear civilian clothes, at least when working with Iraqis to repair infrastructure?
One Marine said that in Numaniya, his men had backed off on checkpoints for weapons and had loosened controls a little at a time; this gained a good deal of popular support. Another Marine talked about a rule we had in Somalia, where locals could carry weapons around Americans so long as they pointed the muzzles down. The Somali militiamen were willing to do that.
Toward the end of our seminar, we faced what may be the toughest question: what if the Marines do all this (and the thinking at Camp Pendleton seems to be similar to what we have come up with), and it doesn’t work? An Army officer said that at that point, the U.S. military may need to turn the problem back over to the politicians in Washington; the military will have done all it can do.
But there may be some other approaches. There is the British Northwest Frontier Agent model, where we would try to shift local balances of power. This may mean more to the locals than anything else, because the new power relationships we help create may be there long after we leave. But this requires superb local intelligence, and we usually don’t have it. There may be a “Mafia model,” where instead of acting directly, we contract “hits” on the bad guys, who just disappear with no American fingerprints on them. This helps keep us out of the local blood feud culture.
At its first session, our seminar said that we may find ourselves asking questions to which there are no answers. But we intend to keep asking. In January, in addition to continuing the above discussion, we will ask the question, how do you train Marines for all this? I’ll let you know where that discussion goes in a future column.
WILLIAM S. LIND’s On War column appears weekly in CounterPunch.