A Shift in Operations
RAMADI, IRAQ: If you have a discussion with military officers in Western Anbar Province about the current and future status of military operations in the region, invariably the conversation will lead you to the reconstruction efforts of the Coalition. The phrases “switching from kinetic to non-kinetic operations” or “moving from kinetic operations to reconstruction” are often voiced.
Just the other day while at Al Asad Air base, I joined a group of senior staff officers of Regimental Combat Team – 2 in mid conversation at dinner, and the topic of the discussion was reconstruction efforts in a small strategic city in Anbar. Their concerns were the state of a water treatment plant, the status of schools and assisting in rebuilding them, electric power generation, and other mundane municipal issues. While these topics may seem less than glamorous to military officers, they astutely recognize their importance in countering the insurgency.
Major Tom Shoemake, the commander of the Civil Affairs Team in Hit, explains the mission, “Civil Military Operations is just another form of counterinsurgency warfare. Its predominantly a non-kinetic counterinsurgency tool. It takes place after the kinetic operations complete. After the fighting stops, you are not going through neighborhoods busting down doors, now you have to go in security and stabilization mode, you have to execute Civil Military Operations, you’ve got to get the power back on, drinking water is available, the essential services people need are there, the businesses are open. Its a whole different skill set.”
The dispersed nature of the towns along the Western Euphrates River Valley was once seen as an obstacle, but is now working to the Coalition’s advantage. The small communities make it easier for the Coalition to determine the tribal relationships and inner workings of the cities, and easier to identify members of the insurgency.
Major Shoemake explains how he gathered information in the city of Hit, with a population of 30,000. “First thing I did when I came in town was I knocked on doors and talked to the people. I can read the intelligence reports, listen to the mayor, listen to town council, but the heart of it comes from the people and that’s where I started. I started by meeting and talking to the people knocking on doors, going to markets, stopping on street corners, small businesses. It took three weeks before I had a picture of what was going on in the city… It gave me a solid picture of what I was up against.”
The impact of Major Shoemake’s efforts can be determined by the enemies he has made. The insurgents are actively targeting him. Just the other day, the terrorists detonated a large bomb in the center of the city market teaming with women and children in an attempt to kill him. One of his Marines was wounded in the blast.
As the Coalition continues to work to shut down the ratline from Syria, consolidate the gains from Operations Rivergate and Steel Curtain, and rebuild the small cities along the Euphrates River Valley, the core of the insurgency has moved back to the central environs of Iraq. Terrorist attacks continue in the capital of Baghdad. The cities and towns on the Tigris River directly north and west of Baghdad are a bastion of the Baathist insurgency. The city of Ramadi remains a battleground between the Coalition and the insurgency. Less than an hour ago incoming mortar fire landed about 300 yards from where I was sitting. The two rounds were quickly answered by counterbattery fire of the Army’s Paladin guns.
The larger cities give the insurgents cover due to the large populations. The foreign terrorists – al-Qaeda hit teams and suicide squads – which are responsible for the more craven acts of violence, can more easily blend in with the diverse peoples of the city.
But al-Qaeda in Iraq does not have complete immunity in the cities. In the past, the insurgency Ramadi has fought al-Qaeda to prevent them from slaughtering Shites and over the murder of Sunni sheikhs. Recently, residents of Ramadi turned in al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Amir Khalaf Fanus, also known as “The Butcher”.Fanus was number three on the most wanted list in Ramadi, and “wanted for criminal activities, including murder and kidnapping.” These are methods the terrorists and insurgents use to cow and intimidate the population.
The Coalition is taking further steps to improve the security presence in Ramadi. A press release from the 2nd Marine Division states “an additional 1,200 Iraqi Security Force soldiers have recently been stationed in Ramadi. Approximately 1,000 Iraqi Special Police Commandos and a mechanized Iraqi Army company completed their planned movement into the city.” The mechanized company, made of of Soviet era T-55 battletanks and BMP armored personnel carriers conducted its first patrol of Ramadi today.
The increased presence is designed to provide security for the election, and squeeze the insurgency and force the residents to make a choice between supporting the insurgents or rejecting them. The option to return to kinetic operations exists, however, as the inclusion of the mechanized Iraqi Army company makes clear.