Saturday, May 01, 2004

Retreat, Hell!

The guesswork hasn't been too far off. From the beginning it seemed clear that an Iraqi component was always going to be needed in Fallujah, both to process civilians and restore order. On April 2nd, before Valiant Resolve was formally announced, the Belmont Club guess was that:

CPA Administrator Paul Bremer chose a graduation ceremony for Iraqi police cadets to vow that the incident "will not go unpunished", possibly because a large role has been assigned to the Iraqi police in the forthcoming operation. From these elements one can deduce the basic shape of the counterstroke. Since Fallujah and its anti-coalition forces are largely run on tribal (read Mafia) lines, the strategic goal will be to arrest the tribal leadership structure and other ringleaders such as imams. A secondary goal will be to capture the thousands of weapons and magazines that are bound to be present. This will require a block by block reduction of an entire city of 230,000 persons. Hence, a plentiful supply of Iraqi cops is needed for large-scale interrogation. And all this must be accomplished within the limits of acceptable collateral damage levels.

One of the risks to taking the town was always that the defenders would use the opportunity to stage their own Viking funeral pyre by torching the town and roasting as many civilians as they could with it. The answer, it seemed back in April 3 was:

However, if the Marines exert only gradual pressure, and use neighbors or Iraqi police from outside Fallujah to guide other neighbors into processing areas, the defenders will never be presented with a clear opportunity to precipitate a crisis. Once the Marines get the momentum of processing going, the tribal leaders will lose control and the whole structure will start to crumble. The Marines can exploit their physical domination by offering clemency or even rewards to those who rat out on other perps. The inner bastion of Fallujah will collapse like a termite-eaten post as each man looks out for himself.

It is in this context that the perplexing cycle of ceasefires punctuated by nocturnal assaults can be understood. The Corps, besides incorporating the Chinese word Gung Ho into it's vocabulary, may have finally proved to the Arabs that they can out-hudna anyone who ever stood on a patch of sand. By alternately throttling and releasing the enemy, or in cruder terms, by a process of talking and shooting, the USMC seems to have squeegeed the foe into the 'Golan' without ever precipitating the feared crisis. ("Like a cut flower in a vase, fair to see, yet doomed to die" -- Winston Churchill)

When the Press began trumpeting a humiliating Marine withdrawal and their ignominous replacement by Iraqi Fallujah Protection Army, the Belmont Club, although perplexed by the origins of the Fallujah Protection Army, still guessed that the Marines would not be withdrawn, as per innuendo, from around the 'Golan' cordon and that the Iraqis would be employed in stabilization and police duties simply because it was impossible for a force in contact with the enemy to be replaced by a unit which had yet to be constituted.

One of the most difficult operations of war is relieving a unit in contact with the enemy. It first of all requires the existence of the relief force. News accounts which suggest that this-still-to-be formed Fallujah Protection Army (FPA) will take over from the Marines, said to be evacuating "front line positions" within a few days, are only slightly less incredible than a report that Batman, the Hulk and Wolverine have joined the Navy to see the world. ... The most likely scenario is that the FPA will be given charge over city areas free from heavy fighting and assigned general police duties.

Although the appearance of the Fallujah Protection Army (FPA) and its effects still remain to be seen, the mystery of it origins has been solved at last. It appears to be a creature of the Marines themselves, tricked out in Iraqi uniform. This would go a long way toward explaining the kind of training Marines were providing to Iraqis in southeastern industrial area of the city. They were training locals who will be assigned police duties. This April 30 press release from CENTCOM is here quoted in full.

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - As part of the overall effort to restore security and stability in Fallujah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is overseeing the formation of the 1st Battalion of the Fallujah Brigade.

The mission of this interim organization, to be completely integrated with that of I MEF, is part of the ongoing aspiration to have Iraqi Security Forces fully cooperate with Coalition Forces to perform security tasks and, eventually, to assume responsibility for security and stability in Fallujah and other cities.

The Coalition objectives remain unchanged -- to eliminate armed groups, collect and positively control all heavy weapons, and turn over foreign fighters and disarm Anti-Coalition insurgents in Fallujah. The Coalition welcomes the assistance of the Iraqi forces, including the 1st Battalion of the Fallujah Brigade, in efforts to achieve these objectives.

Like most of the existing Iraqi Security Forces, this battalion will be recruited largely from former soldiers of the Iraqi Army. The battalion will be employed in Fallujah alongside the 1st MEF to assist in the return of peace and stability for the city. Their employment will facilitate the flow of support and foster rapid reconstruction, thereby stimulating the job market for citizens inside the city. The Battalion will function as a subordinate command under the operational control of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and 1st MEF will provide the resources and equipment necessary to ensure mission accomplishment by this force.

Until the battalion's units demonstrate a capability to man designated checkpoints and positions, Marines will continue to maintain a presence in and around Fallujah. Consistent with our duty to provide security, Coalition Forces will maintain their right of freedom of movement in all areas of the AOR. As calm is restored, families will be allowed to return to the city, and during the transition, the number of families allowed into the city on a daily basis will increase to 200.

After commencing the restoration of law and order inside the city of Fallujah, Iraqi security forces inside the city will assist police with investigations to identify the murderers and mutilators of the four American contractors on 31 March, and the criminals responsible for the 14 February attack on the Fallujah Police Station. When captured, those persons will be tried in the Iraqi judicial system.

If this interpretation proves to be accurate, it will have flowed directly from the basic operational requirements of Valiant Resolve. The goals of that operation would have been to root out enemy cells in Fallujah without massacring everyone in the city. This had to be accomplished against an active resistance schooled in the methods which brought the Russians to grief in Grozny. All with the final goal of wresting control of Fallujah from its gang leaders into the hands of an American-controlled Iraqi administration. And although the final victory remains to be won and 'Golan' still to be reduced, no one should ever, ever, call Marines Jarheads again without meaning it in irony.