I went to a presentation by a young Marine infantry lieutenant last week about the platoon he led in the assault on the insurgents in Fallujah a few months ago. It was fascinating stuff for us military types–acronyms were being slung with abandon. Some points were particularly worth noting and sharing:
‐The intensity of combat in Fallujah: Of the 46 Marines in this lieutenant’s platoon, 20 were evacuated for wounds during the three days of fighting and only four emerged completely unscathed.
‐Some 20-odd insurgents were captured by his company during the battle, but there was not a single Iraqi amongst them. Muslims from all over the world, they were aspiring jihadists who had found easy recruiting networks through their local Mosques in their home countries, which plugged them right into the insurgency.
‐Most chose not to be captured. When surrounded in buildings and repeatedly told to surrender, they chose to fight on and become martyrs.
‐Many of the insurgents were injecting themselves with stimulants, bringing to mind the Moro guerillas in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.
‐Intel was sparse to nonexistent at his level–a figure-it-out picture. His intelligence preparation of the battlefield amounted to urban-combat drills. When the operation kicked off, he took his men into their assigned sector of town, found what insurgents were there (usually by taking their fire), and then used fire and maneuver to destroy them or compel their surrender.
‐Iraqi forces fighting with them were a mixed bag, ranging from very courageous and dependable to downright sympatico with the insurgents.
‐The “gloves off” rules of engagement in Fallujah had a profound effect in other trouble areas, where the populace became remarkably more cooperative and engaged with the Marines after word leaked of the Americans’ tough approach with the jihadists in Fallujah.
Incidentally, some sophisticate tried to prompt the young officer into musings on how he and his Marines felt about the mission in Iraq and our purpose there. The lieutenant gave a gold-plated answer, noting that his focus was on his Marines and his Marines’ focus was on each other, which provided the platform for any purpose. As in all wars, ultimately the men fight for each other–perhaps one could even say firstly they fight for each other. He also noted, though, that among the things they stumbled on in Fallujah was a torture house (he showed pictures) with hooks hanging from the ceiling, black masks, knives, al Qaeda-like jihadist literature, and other more gruesome evidence of what went on there. “Nobody had a problem focusing on why we were there,” he said, with Gary Cooper-like understatement.
Twenty-four years old, a Tufts graduate from a well-to-do family, he chose to go into Marine infantry and along with that rigorous training he attended the Army airborne school and even the special-warfare scuba school, one of the most physically demanding courses the American military has. This is the caliber of the young officers leading our combat troops on a confused and complex battlefield. This generation of young combat leaders is going to be a great resource for America for a number of years to come, whether they stay in the military or pursue other ventures.
–John Hillen, a contributing editor at National Review, was a defense-policy adviser to the Bush campaign in 2000.