Counterinsurgency Strategy: Staying Put ; US Forces in Western Iraq Are Keeping out Insurgents by Remaining in Cleared Towns

By Charles Crain Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2006 | Go to article overview

Counterinsurgency Strategy: Staying Put ; US Forces in Western Iraq Are Keeping out Insurgents by Remaining in Cleared Towns


Charles Crain Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Last fall, US Marines swept through Qaim, a cluster of towns and villages along the Euphrates River, and wrested control from foreign jihadists.

Over the years and throughout Iraq, the Americans have followed up similar successes by returning to large bases miles from the nearest major town.

That distance allowed insurgents to return and regroup.

But in this region of about 80,000 people near the Syrian border, the marines have stayed. Under the command of Lt. Col. Julian Alford, they followed up Operation Steel Curtain by spreading out over a dozen small bases inside towns and along major roads. Lt. Col. Nick Marano and his marines took over in Qaim earlier this year and are using the strategy to push into towns and villages that are seeing an American presence for the first time.

That presence has helped the Americans prevent insurgents from reestablishing a large-scale presence in the area. This spring, marines are building more new bases in the rural areas east of the major towns here.

"If you don't go looking for them, you're not going to find them," says Col. W. Blake Crowe, whose command in western Anbar Province includes Qaim. He says that Qaim is "the model for where they want us to go."

The assumption in most of Iraq is that keeping American forces in population centers fuels the insurgency and increases American casualties. In Qaim, the result has been the opposite.

While insurgents are more active now than they were in the immediate aftermath of Steel Curtain, marines returning for a second deployment say they no longer face the constant threat of mortar attacks, gunfights, and well-organized insurgent ambushes.

"Especially compared to last year, this area is a lot better," says Capt. Greg Jones, of Charleston, S.C., who commands a company of Marines in eastern Qaim. "We're not getting mortared - we're not getting [attacked] in the streets."

New counterinsurgency strategies seemed beside the point earlier this year, as speculation mounted that the US military would begin substantial troop withdrawals. But the insurgency has proved its resilience in Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital, and an additional brigade is on its way to reinforce the Americans in western Iraq.

Marines here differ over whether the strategy would work elsewhere in Iraq. In Qaim, the insurgency became dominated by foreign fighters whose brutality and imposition of conservative Islam alienated powerful local sheikhs.

In areas where the insurgency enjoys local support - or where, as in Ramadi, the insurgency is strong enough to terrorize and assassinate leaders - putting Americans out among Iraqi civilians may be impossible. …

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