By Jim Garamone
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq, June 26, 2006 – As the nature of the war on terror in Iraq has changed, so have the targets sought by coalition and Iraqi forces. When Operation Iraqi Freedom began, typical targets were military formations and vehicles of the former Iraqi army, Republican Guard formations, and state-sponsored terrorists. After Saddam Hussein fell, common targets became Saddamist loyalists and foreign fighters. Since then, Iraq has become a battleground of ideas, as extremists have come to the country to challenge the coalition, and a homegrown insurgency has arisen. Coalition forces are not targeting military hardware, but ideas. Soldiers of the 506th Regimental Combat Team, 4th Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, understand that and have changed accordingly.
The unit, part of Multinational Division Baghdad, has applied military terms to non-lethal engagements. The 506th is based here, between Rusafa and Sadr City in eastern Baghdad. Officials estimate the area is home to about 4.7 million people. The mostly Shiite area was the scene of desperate fighting between Shiite militias and 1st Cavalry Division and 1st Armored Division troops in April 2004. Yet the area has remained comparatively peaceful since. Regiment commander Army Col. Thomas Vail said the effectiveness of non-lethal targeting is part of the reason for the relative calm. "I've always been a big fan of effects-based targeting," the colonel said during an interview June 19. "My intent is always 'effects' and, to my mind, non-lethal and lethal targeting have to be considered together."
By this he means that commanders must determine what effect they want in a certain area and what the best way to get that outcome is. For instance, if a commander can speak to a local sheikh and defuse or prevent a situation from escalating, then that is more effective than a "kinetic" approach, using combat power. The unit is carrying on a plan first formed after the April 2004 fighting between coalition forces and Shitte militias. The 1st Cavalry Division used commander's emergency response funds to target the ills of Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. At the time, the city was a festering slum. Sewage ran in the streets, breaches in pipes mixed the sewage with drinking water, causing water-borne diseases, especially among the young and old. People used barbed wire to hook their homes up to the power grid.
The 1st Cavalry Division, and later the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, attacked these problems. They used local workers to refurbish the sewers and build pumping stations. Other local workers dug trenches for new pipes and built a series of water purification plants. Still others attached homes to the power grid properly. The results have been startling. The streets are clear, pure drinking water is available in every home in the city, and while the electrical grid would never meet code in the United States, it is a vast improvement over what it once was. The number of incidents against coalition troops dropped as the work progressed and the residents began seeing results. Soon, people were calling in tips about insurgents to the Baghdad tips line because they did not want to see progress stopped. Army and police recruiting picked up.
Neighborhood councils met and helped decide where projects were needed and allocated resources against those projects. People began going to the councils for help and with ideas, and the power of the groups to enact the peoples' will grew. Still, Vail said, lethal targeting is not a thing of the past. "There are terrorists out there, and you have to kill or capture them," he said. "But if you only use the lethal tool to impose security, you will soon lose the support of the people. With 4.7 million population in our sector alone, there is no way you are going to continually get away with doing kinetic operations. The people will not tolerate the collateral damage, and there will be a misunderstanding by the population of why you are doing the operation."
In East Baghdad, the Iraqi army is in the lead, and the police presence is growing fast. Military transition teams from the 506th work with the Iraqi units to help them with the targeting procedures. "They understand that intelligence drives operations," Vail said. "And they know that force is often not the preferred solution." Maj. Gen Jawad Romi Aldaini, commander of the Iraqi army's 2nd Brigade, 6th Division, instinctively understands what needs to be done in the area, Vail said. Communication with the people is key, and Jawad is taking advantage of the free press in the city to communicate across the area.
"The last battlefield circulation he made through the area he had, he brought the press with him," Vail said. "That was a huge step for the Iraqi army in reaching out to the people." The colonel said relationships drive progress in the area. Tribal, neighborhood and family ties are at the heart of the culture. He said his unit worked hard before arriving in Iraq in December 2005 and January 2006 to understand the culture. His unit leaders studied with scholars from universities and spoke with soldiers who had been in the region. It also helped that many of the soldiers are veterans of previous deployments to the region, he said.
The soldiers understood the need for engagement as part of the non-lethal targeting process, he said. "If you have to drink tea with the sheikh, then do so," he said. "That's the culture and the way things are done here." Then the unit tried to understand the dynamics of working in a city. The leaders went to Atlanta and spoke to city officials. They toured CNN headquarters there and spoke with embedded reporters. They spoke with agents at the FBI field office and talked about the interagency processes in theater. "Then we went over to the Atlanta police department and spent a whole day with them," Vail said. "All the company commanders got in separate squad cars and did 'battlefield circulation' with the police. The object was to observe how the police see the small nuances of behavior."
Vail said the tour helped the commanders understand the dynamics of a city, and how important personal relationships are to those people providing security. It also helped commanders and staff learn how to use police as an extension of the targeting program. All 24 police stations in Vail's region have police training teams. The teams are a mixture of military experts and civilian international police liaison office personnel. The police work under the tactical control of the 506th, and the process works very well. In East Baghdad, the Iraqis are "completely in the lead," Vail said. "Every area in East Baghdad is a combined battlespace."
In fact, in many sectors progress has been so good that "there is the possibility that you may be able to turn the area directly over to the police, and skip the (Iraqi army) piece altogether," he said. "There are maybe some areas that are mature enough that we can put Iraqi police in the lead, and we can have overwatch by national police or the Iraqi army." The U.S. solders work hard with their Iraqi compatriots to move that day closer. "They are proud of what they do; they see the results in the streets every day," Vail said. "The soldiers are the ones who stare into the eyes of the children in Sadr City, New Baghdad, Salman Pak. They know they are giving these people a chance.
"It's a flat-out honor to serve with these soldiers," he continued. "Anyone who comes and walks with these soldiers will never forget it, because they've never seen such humility and competence in people at such a young age."