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Distorting Marines As Martyrs

Leaked Intelligence Report Gives Path To Victory But Portrayed As Defining Defeat

By Steve Schippert | November 29, 2006

Unlike the jihadi enemy, Marine Corps commanders are not in the business of sending men to certain death for the sake of a glorious fulfillment of religious duty. Keenly aware that casualties are without question the nature of warfare, Marines will send their men into ferocious battle in order to kill, capture and otherwise defeat an enemy. Simply stated, Marines do not request more troops in order to thrust their own into certain defeat. This is a basic tenet seemingly lost in the Washington Post’s latest assessment of an internal Marine Corps intelligence report on Iraq’s al-Anbar province.

When Marine Colonel Peter Devlin, currently in Ramadi, Iraq, wrote a detailed and recently updated classified August memo on the situation in al-Anbar province, “State of the Insurgency in Al-Anbar,” he concluded that an additional division (15,000 – 20,000 troops) would be required. The pro-active recommendation was based on what was believed to be needed in order to break al-Qaeda in Iraq’s establishment in Anbar and the six Sunni tribes that have aligned themselves with al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri) and the ‘emir’ of the Iraqi Sunni resistance, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. One must conclude that, as a responsible commander of Marines, Colonel Devlin was not making the recommendation as a means to a more dignified and glorious death and certain defeat.

Yet, the Post’s opening sentence states that, according to Col. Devlin’s assessment, “The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there.” Why then a recommendation of an additional 20,000 troops if the “U.S. military is no longer able to defeat” al-Qaeda and the insurgency? Marines are not in the martyrdom business. If the open can be this wrong, what ensues in the rest of the article is surely a literary minefield with cherry-picked sentence fragments strewn about in order to support an article that opens with its (flawed) conclusion.

The Washington Post writers, Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks, have surely read the entire classified report (officially ‘Secret’), supplied once again by a leaker within the Intelligence Community. The Post’s anonymous source of the secret intelligence information, which Linzer and Ricks concede is intended solely for military commanders in Anbar, seems to have his own axe to grind with the report and found like-minded journalists in which to confide. He is described in the article as requesting anonymity “because of the sensitivity of his work,” though would surely privately concede that it is because he is committing a federal crime by divulging classified intelligence documents to unauthorized individuals.

The “senior intelligence source” presents himself as representative of a group of people who disagree with Devlin’s desire to break al-Qaeda in Iraq, chiefly by clearing Ramadi in the same manner as Fallujah was successfully cleared and al-Qaeda’s base of operations there destroyed. He is quoted as saying in conclusion that, while he largely agrees with Devlin’s assessment of the situation in Anbar, “We argue that it (al-Qaeda) is a major element in Anbar, but it is not the largest or most dominant group.” He did not offer his view of precisely who is the “largest or most dominant group” if not al-Qaeda, nor did he offer a manner in which to defeat them.

All the leak source offered was that he agrees that the Anbar insurgency situation is difficult and that Americans should not hold al-Qaeda responsible. Nor, apparently, should American forces be used to engage them, uproot them and defeat them. One is left to conclude that the individual prefers simply to disengage and cede al-Qaeda an Anbar base of operations.

Make no mistake, Abu Ayyub al-Masri’s al-Qaeda in Iraq is the linchpin of the Anbar insurgency. It, along with the allied six Sunni Iraqi tribes, is the principle violent member of the Mujahideen Shura Council led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, seen as a regional al-Qaeda Emir of Jihad. At the time of the six tribes’ pledging allegiance, most of the al-Anbar tribes were engaged in negotiations with the Iraqi government for reconciliation in exchange for laying down their arms. It was under al-Qaeda threat that at least some of the tribes aligned with al-Qaeda. Indeed, some of the Sunni Anbar tribes who ultimately chose reconciliation often saw their tribal leaders assassinated.

Al-Masri claimed recently in a message that he had 12,000 al-Qaeda terrorists under his command – with another 10,000 in training – and placed them under the ultimate command of the Mujahideen Shura Council’s al-Baghdadi. Whether or not those numbers are truthful and accurate is not precisely known. However, it is generally considered that the ratio of conventional forces needed to defeat an insurgency is 10:1. Loosely following this matrix as a guide, Col. Devlin’s belief that augmenting the current Anbar forces with an additional 20,000 troops will break al-Qaeda in the Anbar province indicates that al-Masri’s claims may have been inflated for propaganda purposes.

To be sure, just as is the case in Baghdad, chaos is created in Anbar’s Ramadi by a relative few. Defeating those few – just as they were crushed in Fallujah – is the key. It appears that Devlin wants to do precisely this. The anonymous source clearly does not.

With al-Qaeda’s undeniable central role in the current state of the violent Sunni insurgency in Anbar, why would an intelligence official attempt to minimize or dismiss this? One is left to conclude that it is because if al-Qaeda is perceived by the American public to be the key player, they will support aggressive action. This public support would be problematic to those seeking an Iraq withdrawal. Conversely, if the American public perceives that Sunni Iraqi insurgents dominate the situation, the situation can then be spun as a Bush creation with American blame rather than that of the al-Qaeda terrorists who dominate the scene.

Civilians are fleeing Baghdad in droves and one of their principal destinations for safety is Fallujah. This may seem ironic to some, but it is the natural course of events following the US operation that uprooted and killed al-Qaeda terrorists and like-minded insurgents in place, thus returning the city once terrorized to its inhabitants. While Fallujah is certainly not a vacation hot spot for international travelers, it is also no longer an al-Qaeda base of operations.

Unfortunately, following the Fallujah operation, rather than pressing on in sustained pursuit, al-Qaeda in Iraq managed to catch their breath and regroup, currently using Ramadi as a Fallujah replacement. What Colonel Devlin seeks – and the leak source opposes – is the defeat of al-Qaeda and the insurgency it leads by bringing the Fallujah treatment to Ramadi.

The Washington Post article chooses several quotes from the classified report to buttress the dire situation in Anbar, including that, considering the injection of violence from Iran and al-Qaeda, “the social and political situation has deteriorated to a point” that U.S. and Iraqi troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar.” Without the availability of the original text to reference, this appears to be an example of cherry picking. The quote used indicates a definitive conclusion from the report. But it appears almost certain that the original context of the selected quotes contains the caveat that coalition troops ‘at their current levels’ are no longer able to defeat the insurgency. Recall that Colonel Devlin’s conclusions call for 15,000 to 20,000 additional troops. The Marine is surely not asking for another division because he definitively believes the cause is lost in Anbar.

Regarding the economic situation faced in Anbar, the article quotes a fragment from the report stating that “the potential for economic revival appears to be nonexistent.” The context the Post provides is that the “Iraqi government, dominated by Iranian-backed Shiites, has not paid salaries for Anbar officials and Iraqi forces stationed there.”

An intelligence source familiar with the Anbar intelligence assessment written by Col. Devlin was adamant in confirming that the report had been selectively “cherry-picked” throughout the article and distorts the thrust of the intelligence report. He told ThreatsWatch that the article failed to include the fact that, as clearly noted in the Devlin assessment, the American-led coalition has picked up the slack in making these payments. But without this important context, the reader is left with a false image of unpaid police and security units in violent protest over wages, just as is truly the case in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This is most certainly not the case in Anbar. The violent protest in Anbar emanates from al-Qaeda terrorists seeking a regional Middle Eastern base for their terrorist operations, not wages.

In fact, the Devlin report lauds the effectiveness of the Iraqi police units in saying that they have “proven remarkably resilient in most areas,” and that they should be included as an integral part of a greater Anbar solution. The Post article describes the suggested solution in the report as to include strengthening these police units as well as “establishing a Sunni state in Anbar, creating a local paramilitary force to protect Sunnis and to offset Iranian influence, [and] shifting local budget controls.”

The Devlin report seems to suggest that we first clear al-Qaeda from the midst through the only language it speaks - violence and force. Then, that should be followed by empowering the Sunni Anbar region with greater control over its own finances and a larger responsibility for its own security. In short, liberty.

The selective excerpting used by the Washington Post to arrive at the conclusion that “‘there is nothing’ U.S. troops ‘can do to influence’ the insurgency” in Anbar seems at odds with what appears to be the actual thrust of the document. To be sure, it seems incongruous that a Marine Corps intelligence assessment that states “Anbar's citizens undoubtedly would be far worse now if it was not for the very effective efforts” of the US military which has had “a real suppressive effect on the insurgency.”

Colonel Devlin is clearly suggesting that the path to victory against an al-Qaeda-aligned insurgency is more of what has worked thus far, not less. Somehow, the Washington Post and their anonymous intelligence source would have Americans believe that all is lost and withdrawal the only solution. So appears the message both seem intent on delivering.

This alternative is to cede to al-Qaeda a regional base for terrorist training and operations planning, from which attacks beyond Iraq and throughout the region can be launched, including terrorist strikes on Saudi and Jordanian targets. Those who advocate fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan yet would opt not to engage them in Iraq exhibit a logical disconnect and a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy and the jihadi fight he brings.

To come away from Colonel Devlin’s call for 20,000 troops to defeat al-Qaeda in Anbar with a definitive conclusion that there is nothing that the American military can do to defeat the Sunni insurgency is to believe that he and the United States Marine Corps are in the martyrdom business. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The solution provided by a Marine Corps officer, determined to defeat the al-Qaeda terrorists infesting Iraq and killing American fighting men and Iraqi civilians alike, is not an unproven method of breaking al-Qaeda that risks the unknown. It is a proven path to a critical victory in and for Iraq.

It was seen and proven in Fallujah. It can be seen in Ramadi. It is simply a matter of will.


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Mr. Schippert...

Your last remark in this article is profound; "It is simply a matter of will."

A short review of the past US military engagements testify to that:

During the Vietnam War the Tet offensive was an unmitigated disaster for the Communists. Despite the advantage of surprise, the South Vietnamese insurgents, the Vietcong, failed to hold onto a single target in South Vietnam and suffered staggering losses.

Of the 80,000 attackers, as many as half were killed in the first month alone, and the Vietcong never recovered. The United States had clearly won this round of the war.

Yet most Americans saw the Tet offensive as a failure for the United States. Approval of President Lyndon B. Johnson's handling of the war slipped to a low of 26 percent.

How did perceptions become so detached from reality? A key factor was overblown expectations. In the months before Tet, Johnson had begun a "progress campaign" to convince Americans that victory in Vietnam was right around the corner.

Reams of statistics showed that infiltration rates were down and enemy casualties were up. And it worked - public confidence ticked upward.

But after Johnson's bullish rhetoric, Tet looked like a disaster. The scale and surprise of the offensive sent a shock wave through the American psyche and will.

Finally, the American news media painted a picture of disaster in Vietnam. Even though Communist forces incurred enormous losses, reporters often lauded their performance. As the New York Times war correspondent Peter Braestrup put it, "To have portrayed such a setback for one side as a defeat for the other - in a major crisis abroad - cannot be counted as a triumph for American journalism."

A similar story later unfolded in Somalia. From 1992 to 1994 the American humanitarian intervention in Somalia saved the lives of more than 100,000 Somalis and cut the number of refugees in half, at the cost of 43 American lives.

Like Tet, the mission in Somalia suffered from overblown expectations. Intervening in an anarchic, war-ridden country was bound to be difficult. But early efforts to provide food and security in Somalia went so well that the project looked deceptively easy.

The American public and news media lost interest - until early October 1993, when American soldiers were killed in the infamous "Black Hawk Down" battle in Mogadishu.

With echoes of 1968 Saigon, powerful images of the Mogadishu battle pushed Americans toward a perception of defeat. Press coverage was dominated by pictures of the captured pilot and of mutilated American corpses, often with the tagline of America's "humiliation."

Journalists tended to ignore the bigger picture, in this case large pro-American demonstrations in Somalia and successful efforts to save lives and restore order outside of the capital.

Memories of Vietnam, and fears of getting bogged down in another messy quagmire, also promoted perceptions of failure.

In October 1993, 62 percent of Americans thought that the intervention in Somalia "could turn into another Vietnam," even after Clinton announced that America was pulling soldiers out of Somalia, and at a time when American casualties were 1,000 times lower than in Vietnam.

What does this mean for Iraq?

At the least, Tet and Somalia suggest we should be very careful before concluding that Iraq is a defeat. There is real evidence of failure, especially the escalating sectarian violence. But our perceptions are nevertheless easily manipulated.

Iraq looks like a defeat in part because the Bush administration fell into the same trap as the Johnson administration did, raising expectations of imminent victory by declaring "mission accomplished" before the real work had even begun. And, as with Somalia, fighting shadowy insurgents in Iraq while propping up a weak government engenders negative memories of Vietnam.

Perceptions of success and failure can change the course of history. Reeling from the supposed disaster at Tet, the United States began to withdraw.

Memories of "failure" in Somalia were a major reason, perhaps the major reason, that the United States did nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

If Iraq is fully perceived as a failure, it is only a matter of time before America pulls out, leaving who- knows-what-and-who behind. With the stakes so high, Americans must be certain that their perception of failure in Iraq is not a mirage. It is only a matter of "will." Is there "will" to finish the job and "will" the media provide a balanced picture?

The President has, for far too long, ceded the propaganda battlefield to our own fifth column-like media. Day after day, our own media, who seem to be willing a US defeat in not only Iraq but in many other theaters, remain unchallenged and free to spout one sided reports of doom to weaken Americans' morale. This is not good enough and the President and the Congress should have taken steps to restore a sense of balance to war reporting beyond the blogosphere.

I am not suggesting that our government should control broadcasters - just that they should control ONE broadcaster. That one broadcaster should be PBS and NPR.

If we are going to win any war ever again, it will not be good enough to hope that the mostly leftist journalists will wake up and be helpful. They are acting as if they still believe that adage about "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", not realising that the islamist enemies that hate the President would not like liberals one jot more.

One can only imagine what today's media would have been screaming as British forces were evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk - probably they would have told Churchill that he had to "negotiate with Germany to achieve stability in France".

Good analysis Steve. I can't think of an outcome worse than denying this Marine his troops to fix and contain an obvious problem - except for the MSM to use this Marine's report to vilefy his effort. Which MSM has (seemingly) done with grandiose ambition. How many people will read this article and deem the Marine wrong?

It isn't whether the Post should or shouldn't comment. It's not about "freedom of speech", the black cape they like to hide behind. It's simply about responsibility - about being grown up. About having those age-old American values of courage and clarity. The Post' effort at denigrating this war AND the military who fight for their right to publish is demoralizing. And the only weapon to hold them accountable, I think, is the blogosphere. Blogs didn't exist in Vietnam. It can be a useful tool, holding such publications as the Post and NYT to account. Keep it up.

It is disturbing how these so called journalists have completely and utterly distorted the situation in al Anbar and the character of Marines, and since their profession is rarely held legally accountable for telling lies, the duty lies to the public. Thanks Steve.

How large are the Six Enemy Tribes of Anbar, how many folks are there, compared to the Allied Tribes of Anbar?

I have not seen any reference as to how the Iraqi population, there in Anbar, breaks down.

Are the SETA the majority or minority?

Thanks to all for the excellent observations and kind words.

Desert Rat:

I shied away from this in the 'Martyrs' piece considering for length. It deserves its own analysis, and following your questions, I've decided to take it up as soon as I can.

In the interim, without getting into the tribal/social structure in Iraq (of which I claim no expertise), there are about 25 tribes and round about 2 million Iraqis in Anbar, as the territorial lines are drawn. Six of those tribes make up your 'SETA' tribes, together consitituting somewhere in the neighborhood of about 300,000 total. That's about 15% of the tribal population against us.

However, (!!!) it is important to note that it isn't exactly 300,000 against the US and the Iraqi government, as it is the top 'sheiks' of those tribes that have made the decision to align with al-Qaeda, and it was not arrived at via tribal referendum.

The slow plodding aim is to undermine them by enticing the 'non-aligned' lower leaders within the six tribes to come over from the dark side. Their senior sheiks have been promised power in the great al-Qaeda caliphate it claims is now forming.

It is also important to note that the remaining tribes not aligned with al-Qaeda are all part of what is called the Dulaimi, a qabila (or a larger organization of tribes). The Dulami has long been a rival - socially and politically - with the six tribes aligned with AQ, explaining in large part why 'who' is with 'who' and 'who' is not.

See what I mean? It needs its own analysis, and I'll try and sort it out in an acceptable and readable manner.

Hope that's a fair enough answer for the moment. Thanks for the excellent question.