Tactically and temporarily, the newly organized Fallujah Brigade may be the safe play. Strategically, it’s dangerous.
On Friday, the Fallujah Brigade–an all-Iraqi force led by Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh (a former Iraqi Infantry commander and a veteran of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard)–began taking over some of the responsibilities of U.S. Marines in Fallujah. The Brigade, officially the 1st Battalion of the Fallujah Brigade, is under direct command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1st MEF).
On Saturday, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commanding general of the 1st MEF, announced that elements of the Brigade are beginning to move into positions in-and-around the city previously held for weeks by his Marines.
According to Conway, Marine units are simultaneously repositioning or “realigning” their positions. The repositioning is based on a decision not to “commingle” Iraqi and American units. “In fact, we have assigned the Iraqi battalion to our least engaged sector until they can get their feet on the deck, absorb the weapons and equipment we are passing their way and prepare for the next phase of operation,” he said.
Responding to newspaper reports that the introduction of an Iraqi force signaled the beginnings of an American “retreat” or a “withdrawal” from Fallujah, Conway added, “Both of those words [retreat and withdraw] are dirty words in the vocabulary of a Marine.”
Indeed they are dirty words to a Marine, and would surely be so to those young leathernecks who have already lost their lives in the streets and alleyways of Fallujah.
The Marines have performed superbly in an incredibly complex situation. In fact, no military force on the planet could have performed better. Which begs one to question the decision to send-in an ad hoc Iraqi force comprised of men who have been soundly defeated by the very troops they are replacing.
Naturally, the Iraqi soldiers are better received than U.S. forces by the citizens of Fallujah. But that warm reception may be a bit deceiving. Many of the gleeful citizens have either been whipped into a frenzy by insurgent propagandists or coerced into street celebrations welcoming the Fallujah Brigade and the “realignment” of American units. Despite assurances that the Brigade is under 1st MEF command, and Marines remain prepared to move-in on a moments notice, many Iraqis view the reworked U.S. strategy as a victory for those opposed to a free Iraq.
Some citizens in Fallujah who have openly assisted the Americans may now feel threatened by newly emboldened anti-Iraq guerillas. Others who have helped Americans might find themselves a bit unnerved by the fact that one of Saddam’s former generals is coming to town with over a thousand armed men.
The celebrations of anti-Iraq guerillas waving Saddam-era Iraqi flags will surely hearten terrorists throughout the world.
Officially, Marine commanders support the Fallujah Brigade. They may not have a choice. Still, the problem is not with Marine commanders. They will do as they have always done: Salute and carry-out orders. The problem may well be with too much hands-on in the conduct of military operations by civilian administrators in Iraq.
The Fallujah Brigade was part of a brokered compromise initiated by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which is overseen by Ambassador Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Both the IGC and the CPA are critical entities in the rebuilding of a new Iraq. But the IGC seems willing to compromise with suicide bombers, snipers, weapons traffickers, and those harboring the murderers of four American civilian contractors. And the CPA has no real grasp of military principles beyond what they’ve been learning over the past several months.
Decisions on how to destroy the enemy should be left to the professionals. It’s a basic maxim that has enabled nations to employ their military forces with great success for centuries.
In his famous military treatise, The Art of War (based on the 1963 translation by the late Brig. Gen. Samuel B. Griffith, USMC), Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu addressed the importance of good generalship and the criticality of the chosen general having a free-hand once movement to enemy contact has been initiated.
Sun believed that kings should have faith in those they had previously chosen to lead their armies. Once the line-of-departure had been crossed into enemy territory, the generals should have sole authority over how, when, and why they should deploy their troops.
Though written over 2,000 years ago, Sun’s principles appear to have stark relevance in the current situation in-and-around Fallujah. Unfortunately, the civilian administrators either have not read Sun or perhaps they have dismissed his maxims as lacking applicability in 21st-century Fallujah.
According to Sun Tzu, “There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army: 1) When ignorant that the army should not advance, to order an advance or ignorant that it should not retire, to order a retirement. This is described as ‘hobbling an army.’” Chia Lin, one of the famous “eleven commentators” of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, added, “The advance and retirement of an army can be controlled by the general in accordance with prevailing circumstances. No evil is greater than commands of the sovereign from court.”) 2) “When ignorant of military affairs, to participate in their administration. This causes the officers [in some translations, soldiers] to be perplexed. 3) “When ignorant of command problems to share in the exercise of responsibilities. This engenders doubts in the minds of officers [soldiers].”
Other commentators of Sun’s treatise have addressed the danger of civilian administrators involving themselves in the conduct of combat operations.
According to Wang Hsi, “if one ignorant of military affairs is sent to participate in the administration of the army [during military operations], then in every movement there will be disagreement and mutual frustration and the entire army will be hamstrung.”
Chang Yu said, “…court officials have been used as Supervisors of the Army and this is precisely what is wrong.”
Of course, communication is exponentially more effective today (U.S. military commanders can communicate in real-time with anyone in their civilian chain-of-command from anywhere in the world), and the situation in Fallujah is complex. But the basic maxims and principles of fighting and winning wars have not changed. Ambassador Bremer, the CPA, and the White House would do well to consider Sun Tzu and his Art of War.
Iraq must be won. To withdraw completely–as some of President Bush’s detractors have suggested–would be both morally irresponsible and an incomprehensible setback in the war against terror. To stay and fail would be equally disastrous. There is only one way to win, and that is to allow the Marines and soldiers on the ground to do what they do best.
–A former U.S. Marine infantry leader and paratrooper, W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of national and international publications. His third book, Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to American Airborne Forces, has just been published.