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A new emphasis on counterinsurgency
Raleigh News & Observer


January 09, 2007

Even before President Bush reveals his plan Wednesday for fighting the Iraq war, one thing is clear: The underlying theme is counterinsurgency.

Less than a month ago, the Army and Marine Corps published a new counterinsurgency manual, the first in 20 years. And the new commanding general in Iraq is Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, one of its two main authors and a longtime advocate of using counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq.

Many of the troops expected to fight there this year will watch Bush's speech for hints of whether a widely expected troop increase means they will leave earlier or return later. However long they are there, the new emphasis on counterinsurgency -which has been described as armed social work -means they will do more to protect and improve the lives of Iraqi civilians.

There probably will be fewer patrols sallying forth from large bases. Instead, there will be a stronger push to take neighborhoods and hold the turf for long periods. Also, there will be more efforts to win over Iraqi civilians by learning social networks, building personal relationships and creating jobs.

"If we can't employ them, it's easier for the enemy to recruit them," Marine Col. Richard L. Simcock said in an interview just before he left Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Saturday for Iraq. "If they're trying to eke out a living, that can make them open to being paid to attack us."

Bush's plan is expected to more than double the State Department-led reconstruction teams spread around the country, which will need military support. He also is expected to back major funding for Iraqi jobs programs.

According to the new manual, in a counterinsurgency, the side that learns and adapts more rapidly usually wins. Nearly four years after the war began, the crucial question is whether the United States learned too slowly.

"I don't think it's a question of whether it's too late; it's more like do we have the time commitment to see it through," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown University in Washington. "This would be a years-long commitment, and I'm not sure we have the staying power."

Simcock, who's about to take command of Marines fighting in and around Fallujah, said he doesn't believe it's too late. He said he will order Marines out of big bases to live among the Iraqis, which would make life for civilians more secure. He also expects more Marine advisers to be embedded among Iraqi police and military units to teach them better skills, because his main mission is to shift more control to Iraqi security forces.

Simcock has been preaching counterinsurgency to his officers since taking command of the 6th Marine Regiment in May, quoting from a succinct paper by Lt. Col. David Kilcullen -a counterinsurgency expert on loan from the Australian army to the U.S. State Department -called "Twenty-Eight Articles."

Kilcullen's vision of modern counterinsurgency can turn standard military tactics upside down: "The most beneficial actions are often local politics, civic action and beat-cop behaviors," he wrote.

"In this battlefield, popular perceptions and rumor are more influential than the facts and more powerful than a hundred tanks."

Some field commanders already have passed around dog-eared copies of Kilcullen's work and are putting it to use, including Lt. Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers of Camp Lejeune, commander of a battalion of about 800 Marines fighting in Anbar province just west of Fallujah, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents.

Simcock visited him in October while touring his future turf, and said Desgrosseilliers was a model for the way he wants to approach the broader fight. Desgrosseilliers had pushed Marines into more than 20 small camps, some as small as houses, and to foster good will, he would rent the homes rather than commandeer them.

In October, Desgrosseilliers said he had become a strong believer in counterinsurgency doctrine. "We have quit trying to shoot all the bad guys," he said. "I don't have enough Marines to win that fight. I'm just trying to persuade the insurgents to put down their guns."

That can mean tactics that seem counterintuitive.

The day after his October interview, as Desgrosseilliers went on a typical jaunt to politick with sheiks and police chiefs, a sniper shot two Marines, badly wounding one. Rather than returning a torrent of fire despite their inability to spot the sniper, the Marines didn't shoot back.

Desgrosseilliers' unit lost eight Marines in late summer, which meant those in his unit had about a 1-in-100 chance of being killed then. But the work they did to win over the Iraqis could have been erased in an instant if a stray bullet killed an innocent local.

"It takes a lot of individual courage on the part of these Marines," Desgrosseilliers said. "But if we do that, if we show the locals that we are willing to put ourselves at risk for their security, they will respect us."

Simcock agrees.

"Sometimes the more force you use, the less effective it is."


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