Unit Immersion in Mosul: Establishing Stability
As conventional U.S. Forces transition from
full combat to stability operations, they will likely assume responsibility
for areas that have suffered significant war-related damage. In
the wake of combat operations, the local people may be demoralized
by their nation's defeat, by the apparent lack of economic opportunity,
and by shortages of critical needs such as electricity, water, and
fuel.1 The establishment of any governmental
authority supported by our military may also contribute to the disillusionment.
Such situations are ripe for the development of an insurgency and
must be quickly and decisively defused. Experience has proven that
immersing tactical units in their assigned areas of responsibility
offers the best chance for achieving stability.
The growth of an insurgency relies heavily
on unstable conditions. A few disgruntled community leaders can
spark interest and offer financial backing to fuel insurgent recruitment
efforts. Insurgent cadre will actively garner support for any effort
contrary to that of the fledgling government while attributing desperate
conditions to the "occupation" of the foreign military.
When faced with such situations, U.S. Forces must immediately begin
counter-operations that simultaneously provide an accurate picture
of the situation to the people, demonstrate the potential effectiveness
of the government, and publicly defeat the insurgent element with
direct action. U.S. Forces must "arrest [an insurgency's] growth
before it is able to gain initial traction" by installing and
maintaining a constant, authoritative presence within neighborhoods
to provide basic security.2 Defeated
forces cannot initially provide this authority; thus, a strong initial
U.S. Presence is necessary.
The potential for success in these operations
is significantly enhanced by immersing tactical units in their operating
environments as they transition to assume responsibility. The daily
interaction and relationships between Soldiers and host-nation civilians
form the foundation of a stability operation. Working together and
developing relationships at the grassroots level bolster opportunities
for success by demonstrating the potential for improvement through
deeds and by humanizing soldiers in the eyes of the local population.
Living within the assigned area of operations (AO), among the people
for whom U.S. Forces are providing stability, promotes the development
of these critical habitual relationships.
During a recent interview with the Washington
Post, Colonel Chris Short, commandant of the forward-deployed Counterinsurgency
Academy in Iraq, emphasized the need to break the "big-base
mentality" and mix with the population. He said that "classic
counterinsurgency theory holds that troops should live out among
the people as much as possible, to develop a sense of how the society
works and to gather intelligence."3
Such immersion increases the opportunities for soldiers and civilians
to interact in a positive manner while simultaneously helping soldiers
develop a very detailed knowledge of their operational environment.
Immersion provides units a greater flexibility to effect each tenet
of stability operations, whether gathering and disseminating information,
influencing host-nation political development, or neutralizing threat
The remainder of this paper will illustrate
the positive impact of company-level immersion during operation
Iraqi Freedom. Analysis and examples are drawn from my own experiences
while commanding Bravo company, 1st Battalion, 502d Infantry (B/1-502)
of the 101st Airborne Division (air assault) during the transition
to stability operations in Mosul.
Bravo Company arrived in Mosul in April 2003
after the city had seen some limited fighting, but significant looting.
Most public buildings were gutted down to their foundations; no
government agencies were functioning; there was no running water
or electricity; and fuel was in critically short supply. Over the
next 10 months, the company lived in and operated from three separate
locations within the heart of the city to stabilize and secure the
city's center, an area that included city hall, the courthouse,
the central bank, several police stations (to include the citywide
headquarters), the bus station, the train station, the commercial
epicenter with the central open air market, and thousands of residences
ranging from the wealthiest to the poorest in the city.
As defined in FM 3-07, Stability Operations
and Support Operations, there are three critical dimensions in stability
operations: information, political, and threat. A successful stability
operation involves winning the information battle with the host
population, helping rebuild and restructure the host political agencies,
and defeating the threat element.4 Figure
1 depicts how small-unit activities can influence these dimensions.5
Information (at the base of the triangle) serves
as the foundation for mission success since it is impossible to
affect the other dimensions without gathering substantial, credible
information. The proper dissemination of information also serves
to increase host-population support by keeping people abreast of
activities that will positively affect them as individuals. Offensive
information operations promote legitimacy, eliminate confusion,
and reduce bias and ignorance through persuasion and education of
the indigenous population.6 Such influence
helps to combat local perceptions of the U.S. Military as an occupation
force and deters nationals from accepting without question any anti-American
messages presented by an insurgency.
Only after gathering sufficient information
regarding their areas of operation can leaders make informed decisions
about the restructuring of political agencies. Almost immediately,
however, they must begin rebuilding the host nation's infrastructure.
This must be done to increase economic activity, to restore order,
and to give the local population hope. While these efforts should
be initiated quickly, units must be cautious in offering support
so that they do not alienate portions of the local population. Insufficient
knowledge of an individual's history or lack of a full understanding
of ethnic considerations in the region can result in a deleterious
perception of favoritism. Units must constantly gather information
and monitor political activities to ensure reconstruction efforts
proceed in a positive direction for all of the people. Exercising
tactical patience to collect information that identifies the right
person to place in a critical position can save significant time
and energy in the long run.
information is also the foundation for direct
action against enemy elements. Direct action requires a source to
inform units of insurgent activities and locations. Moreover, units
must be able to react quickly to capitalize on time-sensitive information.
The threat element is flexible, necessitating friendly forces that
can act almost instantaneously upon receipt of credible intelligence.
Units must simultaneously address all three
of these dimensions of stability operations-win the information
battle, rebuild the political apparatus, and defeat the threat-to
provide a secure environment, legitimize political agencies, and
defeat an insurgency. Overlooking any one of these may jeopardize
the mission. It is the synergistic effect of the daily activities
addressing each dimension that provides the best opportunities for
success. Units need the authority and the ability to act quickly
and constantly with regard to any and all of the dimensions. Immersing
units into their AOs immediately upon transition empowers them to
affect stability operations in the most significant manner.
Gathering information is a multifaceted problem
with no simple solution. Experience has shown, however, that decentralizing
command and immersing units in their own areas helps to quickly
develop an accurate picture of the situation. With a permanent,
dispersed footprint in the AO, we can use multiple patrols that
can act simultaneously to provide a constant intelligence-gathering
presence over a wide area. As doctrine accurately points out, "timely
and accurate intelligence depends on aggressive and continuous reconnaissance
and surveillance."7 this patrol
presence naturally results in substantial information that helps
leaders make sound decisions.
Learning the terrain. One facet of the information
battle comes from knowledge of the environment, specifically, the
proper use of terrain, which is a combat multiplier. Generally speaking,
the element that knows the terrain the best has a distinct advantage
during a fight. The situation in a stability operation is no different.
if units are afforded the opportunity to live
in their AOs during stability operations, they can learn the terrain
as well as, if not better than, the enemy. Since the operational
area is their own backyard, every patrol increases the soldiers'
awareness and understanding of the environment. This familiarity
increases their own maneuver capabilities while reducing the threat's
advantage of operating on their own turf. As soldiers become familiar
with back alleys, streets with restricted mobility, and unlit roads,
moving through the area becomes second nature. They soon find that
they don't need maps or satellite imagery.
More importantly, soldiers will develop knowledge
more detailed than they can derive from a map. B/1-502 was responsible
for securing a portion of Mosul's inner-city marketplace where the
satellite imagery suggested that there were multiple vehicle-sized
corridors. What the imagery did not show, however, was that every
day between 0900 and 1600 hours the area was so congested with vendors
and shoppers that even dismounted movement was nearly impossible.
Since the marketplace was within view of our rooftop surveillance
points and was a focal point of our patrols, we quickly learned
that there were two to three dismounted routes that supported rapid
movement through the market, and that vehicular movement wasn't
even an option until late in the evening. We learned to budget 15
minutes for a vehicle convoy to move a quarter of a mile during
in addition to improving mission execution,
knowledge of the terrain enhances leader planning. When conducting
counterinsurgency missions in support of stability operations, leaders
are often forced to develop orders with little or no planning time.
The immersed commander's ability to grab his subordinates and speak
off of common checkpoints and landmarks without looking at the map
while still clearly communicating the mission creates opportunities
to act decisively on time sensitive information. Soldiers learn
the names of coffee shops, hotels, streets, and other details that
minimize the requirement for terrain analysis and map orientation.
In one particular instance, we received a mission
to apprehend a suspected insurgent who had allegedly been operating
out of one of the local coffee shops. A brigade informant had provided
intelligence consisting only of local names: "Subhi Affer was
organizing activities from the al Dur coffee shop and staying at
the Fordus Hotel on nebashid street." When I relayed the information
to my subordinates, one platoon leader instantly said, "they
probably mean the al Durra coffee shop and the Fordhaus Hotel on
Nebasheed Street. The coffee shop is the one with the mural of a
boy on it and the hotel is on the 2d floor of a building halfway
between checkpoints 2 and 3." Without a recon and without satellite
images, the soldiers were capable of translating cryptic messages
from informants into meaningful information. Moreover, they knew
the area so well that we could instantly plan a mission and respond
to time-sensitive information because we weren't trying to decipher
10-digit grid locations and guess which building was the one of
interest from a satellite image-we knew it. We knew it as well as
the informant who had originated the intelligence because the information
didn't refer to just our AO, but also to our neighborhood.
Knowing the people. Detailed knowledge of the
AO certainly facilitated operations, but successful direct action
against the enemy also depended on information about specific people
and locations. The best source of this information was the people
who lived in the area and overheard conversations in the coffee
shops. Insurgents concealed their activities in the presence of
American forces so that U.S. Soldiers rarely saw any suspect behavior
firsthand; the locals, however, were privy to what was really going
on in the neighborhood.
From the outset, we needed to tap into this
source, but the locals would not openly risk their lives to pass
information to American forces. Many were skeptical of our true
intentions in the area to begin with. Since they had been raised
to hate Americans, it took only one disgruntled individual to persuade
an entire coffee shop of listeners that Americans were in Iraq as
an occupation force to steal oil and corrupt Muslim beliefs. Citing
the previous "liberation" of Baghdad in 1917 by the British,
the insurgents had a historical perspective to demonstrate how "liberators"
enjoyed the benefits of Iraqi oil reserves.8
Additionally, insurgent cadre could easily point out the absence
of critical services like electricity to demonstrate the Americans'
supposed inability to restore order.
We had to understand this context and approach
the local people accordingly; we needed to understand the history
and background of the area to relate to the people. The average
citizen didn't care about the coalition's strategic advances in
developing the country; the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline
in Baji didn't interest the average Iraqi citizen. Whether or not
there was propane available for cooking dinner or electricity for
powering fans were the true concerns.
We soon recognized that we had to address their
concerns if we were going to persuade the locals that we were in
Iraq to help. They needed to see action, not hear rhetoric. If we
wanted to earn their trust and eventually persuade them to offer
us information, then we had to legitimize our presence by focusing
our activities on real solutions to their immediate requirements.
We also had to win the street-level information
battle with the insurgency during the transition period. The longer
we delayed in producing tangible evidence of our intent to help,
the more we risked losing the local population to the insurgents.
In his book Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's
War, Anthony Shadid conveys the opinions of many Iraqis during the
transition period. Most citizens were guarded but open-minded about
U.S. Intentions; however, they all wanted to see tangible evidence
of our claim to help.9 While the insurgency
sent its cadre into the streets to pay average citizens to fight
us, we had to convince the same people to support the Coalition-backed
reconstruction efforts instead. This couldn't be done with rhetoric
or from atop a vehicle. It required activity in the marketplace,
on the street corner, and in the local coffee shops with a persistent,
tangible message delivered through habitual relationships and via
small-scale direct action targeting local concerns. It also had
to be initiated immediately upon transition to prevent the insurgent
message from taking root.
soldiers walking the streets and talking to
the people were the ones who knew what the individual Iraqi wanted
and needed. As British Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster has noted,
"Routine foot patrolling [is] a key means of interacting and
thus gathering HUMINT [human intelligence] . . . ."10
soldiers could not gather this information while mounted on a vehicle;
they had to get off and walk. They had to shake hands, drink chi,
and eat rice with their fingers when invited to "have a lunch"
if they expected the people to open up to them.
soldiers also had to understand Iraqi customs
and history and be able to speak a few words of Arabic to earn the
people's respect. Colonel H.R. McMaster, commander of the 3d armored
cavalry regiment, understood this and trained his unit accordingly
prior to deployment. He ensured each squad-sized unit had someone
who knew elementary Arabic, and he had his officers read about and
study the region.11 Basic steps like
these help the force to demonstrate "strength and resolve without
being perceived as threatening."12
In Mosul, developing habitual relationships
was critical to earning trust. In fact, relationship-building was
the decisive point of the stability operation. If the same soldier
stopped and talked to the same gas station attendant on a routine
basis, the two developed a relationship. The soldier came to understand
the daily rituals of the Iraqi civilians through experience; he
knew what a day in their life was like and he learned what problems
they faced. The Iraqi civilians, in turn, got to know the soldier
as a human instead of as an imposing, rifle-wielding warrior in
body armor. The Iraqis learned that the soldier had a wife and two
kids at home and other details that were seemingly insignificant
in terms of mission success, but critical in humanizing the soldier.
Such exchanges helped us take a monumental step toward winning the
hearts and minds of the local population-the locals no longer viewed
us as occupiers, but rather as individuals.
One of our platoon leaders built such a relationship
with two local propane salesmen, whom we nicknamed the "smash
Brothers" based on their uncharacteristically large physical
stature. The two routinely invited the platoon leader to have chi
and they often stopped by the platoon command post (CP) simply to
As propane salesmen, the smash Brothers were
very concerned with black market sales of the coveted resource.
At the time, propane was in short supply and was one of the largest
concerns among local people since they required it for cooking.
We were also concerned with black market activity since we were
attempting to regulate sales to avoid price gouging and to ensure
equal distribution through all of the neighborhoods.
During one of their routine visits, the smash
Brothers informed the platoon leader of multiple locations where
people were conducting illegal propane sales at four times the regulated
price. The result was that propane was only available in the wealthier
neighborhoods, and less fortunate citizens were forced to do without.
Not coincidentally, insurgent recruiting efforts were focused on
the destitute neighborhoods without propane. Disgruntled people
who could not get propane were the ones who would accept quick cash
for emplacing an improvised explosive device (IED). The smash Brothers'
intelligence resulted in the arrest of several black marketers and
the confiscation of hundreds of bottles of propane, and it enabled
us to properly regulate sales. It also helped to inhibit insurgent
recruitment of bombers.
Gathering information like this wasn't possible
without maintaining a consistent presence in the area. Simply patrolling
was very different from having soldiers patrol their areas to develop
contacts. Because they lived in the neighborhoods they were responsible
for, soldiers were much better able to develop these contacts. Proximity
thus provided a high degree of flexibility and gave small-unit leaders
opportunities to exercise initiative. Additionally, locals saw our
permanent presence as a deterrent to criminal activity.13
Immersing units from the very beginning of stability operations
helped to develop relationships before the locals could be negatively
influenced by insurgent cadre.
Centers of influence. We quickly realized the
tremendous potential of local relationships and sought ways to expand
and capitalize on our contacts. One initiative involved a company-wide
plan for building what we termed centers of influence. We wanted
to build a network of contacts throughout our AO that we could rely
on, whether it be for intelligence regarding insurgent activity
or just to be in tune with the community's opinion of our efforts.
Each leader from squad to company level was responsible for developing
at least one new center of influence each week. The centers were
tailored to a level of responsibility such that squad leaders focused
on coffee shop owners and street vendors; platoon leaders approached
more influential people like bank managers and police station chiefs;
and I, as the commander, contacted even more prominent individuals
like the regional police chief and the head of the city's municipal
works. Echelons of responsibility were important because the Iraqi
people wanted to deal exclusively with the most senior soldier they
our immediate goals were to learn what the
people's problems and concerns were and then work with the people
to develop joint solutions. We knew that we needed to act overtly,
but we also needed to know where to focus our efforts. I often challenged
subordinates to make themselves "more useful to the Iraqis
alive than dead" to motivate them to find and fix problems
plaguing those Iraqis who had yet to decide between supporting U.S.
Forces or the insurgency. The long-term goal was to develop trust
so that we could move the whole city in a positive direction by
sharing information and working toward mutually beneficial goals.
In practice, we addressed the entire gambit of local concerns, from
simple tasks like fixing potholes to complicated projects like designing
a garbage-collection system and rebuilding a police station.
B/1-502's experience with "Butchers' Row"
highlights the potential impact of developing centers of influence.
When we were assigned the city center in Mosul, it was a cluttered
mess of sidewalk vendors and shops that served thousands of pedestrian
shoppers hourly. In the absence of authority, the vendors disregarded
any sanitation standards in order to save time and money. This was
especially true in Butchers' Row, a series of 22 brick-and mortar
shops selling every imaginable portion of a cow or goat.
Butchers capitalized on the lack of authority
to bypass traditional regulations that mandated buying meat exclusively
from the slaughterhouse. In the traditional scheme, a farmer would
take the live animal to the slaughterhouse where it would be slaughtered,
packaged, and stamped prior to being loaded on a special vehicle
for transport to butcher shops throughout town. The butchers paid
a fee for the process. In the absence of supervision, the butchers
saved the fee by buying the animals directly from the farmers and
slaughtering them in the street in front of their stores. Each morning
the streets were red with blood as the butchers busily slaughtered
and skinned the animals.
To compound matters, the butchers did not want
to pay disposal fees for cleaning up the animal carcasses, so they
simply swept the remains into a centralized pile in front of Butchers'
row. The smell alone could turn your stomach from 100 meters, never
mind the danger of disease. I had spoken multiple times with members
of the city's trash department (the beladia) and with members of
the local medical community who had expressed concern about the
unsanitary conditions. Through my translator I began speaking with
the butchers to find out why the situation had deteriorated and
to develop a solution.
I explained that the situation was entirely
unacceptable, but told the butchers I wanted them, along with the
veterinary specialists, the beladia, the slaughterhouse, the local
police, and the transport drivers, to develop their own solution.
I told them I would help mediate the process and would assist the
police and veterinary office with enforcing the rules that they
jointly established, but that the solution had to be theirs, not
mine-if I dictated the solution, it might not hold for the long
term. Over the next 2 weeks, we held 4 joint meetings to which we
invited the senior butcher from all of the butcher markets across
the city. We developed a three-page document with rules explaining
the entire process, from the farmers delivering animals to the slaughterhouse
to the beladia cleaning up the butchers' scraps at the end of a
day. All of the participating members signed the document with the
understanding that enforcement would begin after a 1-week grace
From that point on, I always made it a point
to stop by and talk with the butchers along Butchers' Row, the veterinary
officials, the police, and the beladia employees. From simple conversations
about the weather to more detailed discussions of progress in the
marketplace, we spoke daily. We all quickly began to see the benefits
of the program we had jointly developed, and we were satisfied that
we were fixing a real problem that affected each of us. Through
our efforts, we developed mutual trust.
At this point I began to see the second-order
effects of our hard work. While the streets were considerably cleaner,
the greater benefit was that the local nationals now trusted me.
During one of my patrols, a butcher slipped me a note along with
a pat on the back. He communicated through my translator, Muhammad,
not to look at the note until I was in a safe place. After the patrol,
I had Muhammad translate the message, which indicated that one of
the other butcher's sons was dealing weapons to suspected insurgents.
After about a week's worth of investigative work, we were convinced
that the tip was accurate and we arrested the individual. We would
never have known about the activity without the information. I am
convinced that our success was a direct result of the trusting relationship
I had developed through close personal interaction.
Street-smart intelligence. By regularly patrolling
their area, our soldiers learned about the people who live and work
in the neighborhood. Not only did this help them develop a rapport
with the locals, but it also made them cognizant of anomalous and
potentially dangerous activity. In the marketplace, we became accustomed
to seeing the same people at the same location every day. Even though
vendor stands in the market weren't regulated, the same vendors
occupied the same locations daily. We learned their faces and we
came to expect to see the daily routine. If that routine was in
some way different, we became suspicious. On one particular patrol,
a sergeant noticed from across the street that the regular watermelon
salesman had been replaced by a younger man. Curious, the sergeant
crossed the street to ask why the regular man had relinquished his
spot on the corner. As the patrol approached, the new vendor abandoned
his stand and fled quickly into the densely packed area we referred
to as the "Deep Market." the sergeant examined the stand
closely and found three grenades hidden under the watermelons.
Soldiers cannot develop this level of awareness
until they are intimately familiar with their environment; in other
words, they can't identify subtle indicators until they know what
"normal" looks like. Once they do, however, small changes
to their area become noticeable.
Because the insurgents severely punish those
who assist our Soldiers, law-abiding citizens may be scared to tell
us about enemy activity. They can, however, provide information
indirectly through small changes in their routines. On one particular
mission, our company cordoned off a section of the market that had
been covertly selling weapons and ammunition. With typical Iraqi
curiosity, a large crowd developed along the edge of our cordon
to watch. About an hour into the mission, an NCO noticed that several
civilians he knew from the crowd had left the scene. Suspicious
of the change, he ordered his men to take cover while he figured
out why the locals had left. Within a minute of his issuing the
order, a grenade landed and detonated in the vicinity of his platoon.
This NCOs' experience in the marketplace had taught him that most
Iraqis would never leave the scene while there was activity; their
natural curiosity was too strong. The fact that many people he personally
knew had departed the area served as an indicator that something
was not right. His ability to detect such subtle behavior undoubtedly
saved his platoon members from injury or death.
When soldiers move into a city that has been
recently devastated by war and looting, they face an overwhelming
number of problems that need to be fixed. In such a situation, a
commander's ability to focus efforts on the most critical problems
first can greatly enhance the people's perception of the reconstruction
effort. Obviously, unit immersion in the AO can help to identify
the most pressing problems, but it also can inject a sense of empathy
and urgency into the reconstruction process. Soldiers immersed in
the same environment suffer from the same shortcomings as the people
they are helping: lack of electricity, absence of drinking water,
raw sewage flowing in the streets, and traffic congestion caused
by fuel lines all directly affect the soldiers' lives too. They
are therefore more motivated to correct the problems, and do so
in a prioritized fashion that promotes "citizen-driven, bottom-up
While we never consciously want our soldiers
to suffer, being able to relate to the local people helps tremendously
in earning their respect. Just as leaders lead by example within
our army, they need to lead by example in their neighborhoods during
the move to stability. Many Iraqis logically questioned why a superpower
could not provide generators to restore their electricity. What
perception would it foster if we lived in an isolated base camp
equipped with running water and powered by generators while we left
the civilians to suffer in isolation? Shadid's interviews suggest
that this very behavior fueled hatred of Americans among many Iraqis.15
In Mosul, we lived among the people so we could
focus on real problems. Unit leaders sought out government leaders
who were responsible for maintaining the city's infrastructure,
and together they assessed the problems. Leaders didn't have to
try to understand the problems from an outside perspective; immersion
gave them insight and, at the same time, legitimized their efforts.
Leaders helped lead and focus the efforts of government employees
with the support of the neighborhood residents. Upon determining
an appropriate course of action, the leaders provided resources
to support the implementation of the host nation's solutions.
The people of al Mansour, a middle class neighborhood
in our AO, lived without running water for long stretches of time.
Our company CP was serviced by the same pipeline and we received
water only intermittently. First Platoon was responsible for patrolling
al Mansour and its soldiers became acutely aware of the water situation
as everyone complained to them during their patrols. Ostensibly,
it seemed that the solution was tied to a large water tower that
sat atop a hill in the center of al Mansour, so this was where we
focused our efforts initially. We sought out the head of the city's
water department and took him to the tower for an assessment. He
explained in laymen's terms how he would rectify the situation by
fixing the pump at the base of the water tower. Having personally
attended his briefing, I felt confident that we could restore water
First Platoon continued patrolling through
the area, and its platoon leader told the people what we were doing
to fix their problem. They all seemed pleased that we were trying
to help. Problems arose, however, when we saw no developments over
the next week. The patrols targeted the water tower specifically
to check on progress and provide oversight, but they never saw any
workers. The people in the neighborhood questioned our efforts and
seemed to doubt whether we were really going to help them. The situation
was tenuous because saying you will do something and not following
through can have a severely detrimental impact on your relationship
with the people. As FM 3-07 notes: "Psychologically, the populace
must be assured continuously and effectively that conditions are
becoming better to counter insurgent propaganda."16
After a week without any action on the tower,
I returned to the water department to speak with one of the engineers.
I was armed with many details provided by first Platoon's routine
patrols of the area. An engineer explained that the man I had spoken
with didn't know what he was talking about and that the water tower
had not been operational in 20 years-water arrived in al Mansour
via a pipeline. The real problem was that al Mansour was at the
end of the pipeline and that people in other neighborhoods were
adjusting valves illegally to divert water for themselves. By the
time the water arrived at al Mansour, the water pressure was played
As a result of our discovery, we recommended
to brigade headquarters that we remove the head of the water department
and replace him with a man who the Iraqi engineers felt would be
the best choice. The new head developed a city-wide plan for controlling
the pipeline by placing locked cages over the valves and monitoring
them routinely. We offered support by adding the valve locations
to our patrol routes, and within a week al Mansour had running water
for 6 hours each day. Through direct oversight, frequent patrols,
and constant conversations with our Iraqi neighbors, we developed
a temporary solution that directly improved the lives of many Iraqi
civilians. Our ability to affect the situation only came through
the habitual relationship first Platoon had developed with the water
workers and the people of al Mansour. Walking across the street
from the platoon CP to the neighborhood was central to this relationship.
We gave the Iraqi engineers a sense of urgency, provided oversight
of how coalition funds were being used, and helped to put the right
person at the helm of the government agency.
Defeating the Enemy
It is necessary to rebuild the host nation's
infrastructure in order to restore stability, but establishing a
secure environment is essential if reconstruction is to progress.
U.S. Forces should provide a "safe and secure environment at
the local level and continuously [build] on the incremental success."17
Immersed units can enhance safety and security by maintaining a
dispersed footprint from which they conduct multiple patrols. These
patrols can provide a constant deterrent and can rapidly converge
on a critical location in the AO.
Blinding the insurgency. Insurgents maintain
constant surveillance on soldiers' activities. In the absence of
countermeasures, they can easily determine when soldiers are on
patrol and when they are not. They can then adjust their activities
accordingly to conceal any illicit behavior and appear innocent
when soldiers are present. We can defeat this surveillance if we
establish a constant presence that gives the enemy no opportunity
for activity. Continuous patrolling along varied routes at varied
times, combined with a permanent command post providing constant
surveillance in the neighborhood, can deter enemy activity.
Maintaining a CP eliminates the overhead associated
with movement to and from the AO. Because the company handles mission
coordination, platoons can conduct more patrols with greater flexibility.
With no need to coordinate boundary crossing or external support,
a patrol leader simply has to walk out the door with his unit and
a radio. Small-unit leaders maintain personal initiative. They can
still adjust patrols based on the situation, as they must be able
to do to seize otherwise fleeting opportunities. By contrast, operating
from a large forward operating base (FOB) makes us overly reliant
on vehicles and allows the enemy to monitor our activity. Regardless
of how much we vary our routes and routines, all our missions will
be canalized to the limited number of roads leading to and from
the FOB. The enemy only has to have a single operator with a cell
phone at each exit to monitor our activity. In this environment,
the enemy can always determine when soldiers are coming; he will
have ample time to hide his activity, and we will never be able
to catch him.
Of equal importance, the enemy can affect our
planning and thought processes by keeping us off balance. If we
are forced to use a limited number of roads into and out of our
AOs, the enemy can target these with IEDs, the deadliest and most
effective weapon in their arsenal. We play into their hands by exposing
ourselves to this weapon, which has accounted for 55 percent of
U.S. military deaths in Iraq.18 If
insurgents know when we come and go and along which routes, it is
only a matter of time before they hit us successfully. Reducing
our reliance on vehicles will give the enemy fewer opportunities
to attack us. When units live in their AOs, logistics distribution
is the only mission that requires mounted activity, and even this
mission can be controlled to minimize the threat of IEDs. Massing
combat power. Unit immersion also enables leaders to mass combat
power at the decisive point in a mission. Units dispersed at multiple
locations throughout an AO can maneuver quickly to support each
other because a unit in contact doesn't have to wait for help from
a squad dispatched from a single headquarters 15 blocks away. "Dispersed"
is really a misleading term: the fact of the matter is that all
of the company's combat power is forward-deployed. Although it takes
coordination and practice, subordinate units can converge on a single
location very rapidly from various locations.
The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment's recent experiences
in Tal Afar support this claim. One of the regiment's battalion
commanders has explained how the regiment operated from 29 distinct
checkpoints dispersed through the city, a deployment that gave them
"great agility to attack from two or three patrol bases instead
of predictably rolling out of the front gate of [their] base."19
This ability is critical because intelligence about insurgent activity
is time sensitive. There may not be time to muster units, load vehicles,
and move to the designated location. If soldiers are on patrol or
in their dispersed CPS, they can move dismounted along separate
avenues of approach to mass combat power without being detected
by the enemy.
During one mission, B/1-502 cordoned off a
section in the crowded Mosul market to search for weapons. We infiltrated
the entire company from three separate CP locations along eight
different dismounted and one mounted avenues of approach to arrive
simultaneously and maintain the element of surprise. Knowing how
crowded each route would be, knowing travel times along separate
routes, and knowing which routes supported movement without arousing
suspicion were critically important planning factors. We successfully
moved 100 soldiers into a confined area without tipping our hand.
The significance of the mission lay not in the relatively small
amount of weapons confiscated, but in the surprised faces of the
locals who looked up to find themselves surrounded. They quickly
understood what our forces were capable of and what it meant to
the potential for conducting illegal activity in the area.
Counterinsurgent leaders also need the ability
to respond immediately to threat activity. If soldiers live in the
AO, they do not have to be called on the radio to alert them to
the situation; most will have heard or seen an incident firsthand
and will already be prepared to move as orders are disseminated.
Moreover, soldiers become aware of much more activity. Incidents
that cannot be heard or seen from an FOB, and would thus go unnoticed,
will be within earshot of a CP or visible from rooftop surveillance
posts. Soldiers can react right away to restore order and perhaps
catch those responsible. Consider the perception of the local populace
if no one responded to an illegal act and contrast that with a rapid,
overt response by soldiers with whom the people are already familiar.
Proximity enables units to aggressively influence threat activity.
Defeating the enemy constitutes only part of
mission success. Units must address all tenets of stability operations
simultaneously as they transition from combat operations, because
that is the best time to win the hearts and minds of the local populace
and to assert governmental control. To prevent a protracted war
against a firmly embedded threat element, we must keep the insurgency
from developing by maintaining constant presence and authority in
transition. We must be in the back alleys and coffee shops where
an insurgency breeds. We must provide the authority that discourages
looting and other crimes that demoralize an otherwise neutral population,
that builds resentment against our forces, and that increases the
disgruntlement that fuels an insurgency. Immersing tactical units
into their AOs is the best way for soldiers to learn the AO, build
relationships with the people, identify priorities for making overt
improvements, and take the fight to any threat element that exposes
itself. Immersion, in short, is the most effective means to address
all dimensions of a stability operation.
1. In a 20 September 2001 address
to a joint session of Congress and the American people, President
George W. Bush noted the environmental factors that shape an insurgency.
The same information is contained in "The Nature Of The Terrorist
Threat Today," The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,
2. Direct quotation
from Bruce Hoffman, "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq,"
RAND National Security Research Center OP-127-IPC/CMEPP, June 2004.
Dr. Thomas A. Marks explains the requirement for basic security
and protection of the population in "Sustainability of Colombian
Military/Strategic Support for 'Democratic Security,'" Journal
of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International 10, 4,
3. Thomas E. Ricks,
"U.S. Counterinsurgency Academy Giving Officers a New Mind-Set,"
Washington Post, 21 February 2006.
4. FM 3-07 (FM 100-20)
Stability Operations and Support Operations (Washington, DC: Government
Printing Office [GPO], 2003), Chapter 1.
5. Figure developed
by CPT luster Hobbs, January 2005.
6. FM 3-07, 2-19.
7. FM 3-07, 2-3.
8. See Anthony Shadid,
Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (New
York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005). Iraqis made these claims in
multiple interviews Shadid conducted in March 2003.
9. Ibid., chapters 3
10. BG Nigel Aylwin-Foster,
"Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations,"
Military Review 85, 6 (November-December 2005): 6.
11. Thomas E. Ricks,
"The Lessons of Counterinsurgency," Washington Post, 16
12. FM 3-07, 1-5.
13. See Vance Serchuk
and Tom Donnelly, "Nation Building, After All with the U.S.
Military in Afghanistan," The Weekly Standard, 11 April 2005.
Serchuk and Donnelly describe the negative perception Afghanis have
of the U.S. military if Soldiers only periodically visit neighborhoods.
14. Department of
Defense Directive, "Military Support for Stability, Security,
transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations," Number 3000.05,
28 November 2005.
15. Shadid, 150.
16. FM 3-07.22, Counterinsurgency
Operations (Washington, DC: GPO, 2006), 2-3.
17. Ibid., 2-6
18. USA Today, 26
19. Ricks, 16 February
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