U.S. combat troops in Baghdad like the 82nd Airborne and 1st Armored Division are being asked to perform law enforcement and policing tasks for which they are not prepared. According to soldiers and commanders, there was inadequate training and equipment for what the military calls SASO (Stability and Support Operations) and an inadequate supply of Arabic interpreters.
The problem was articulately presented by an unnamed U.S infantry commander in an After Action Report filed April 24, 2003 and since declassified (See Appendix II).16 “After less than 48 hours after the first battlefield engagement,” the commander said:
With the exception of a class given to the platoon leaders, there were no formal classes or training conducted by CA prior to the operation. No training on checkpoint operations or dealing with civilians was received.
The commander also noted that the unit’s limited supply of construction and barrier materials for checkpoints was exhausted by the time they had reached Baghdad. Soldiers had to use “destroyed cars, flower pots, bicycle racks, and whatever else was available for force protection.” Interpreters, he wrote:
The report emphasized the “fundamental shift in attitude” demanded of the troops as they shifted from combat to law enforcement tasks:
Other officers have reflected the above concerns. In an interview published on a U.S. Army-related website, a 2nd Lt. from the 82nd Airborne described the complications of Iraq’s post-war scene:
Pulling the trigger against groups of Fedayeen was easy compared to this post-war environment where we are still taking casualties daily. Understanding why one village waves and blows kisses at you while the next one down the road sets up ambushes and IEDs is not as easy as friendly/enemy, don’t kill/kill. We are ambassadors with our thumbs on the selector lever and always scanning for a set-up. It’s so hard to help and interact with a people when you trust no one. Getting your soldiers to understand the need to be hot/cold, on/off, at war/at peace with only milliseconds between the two is very challenging.17
An article from the August 10, 2003, newsletter of the 1st Armored Division based in Iraq described how platoon leaders were adapting urban operations because the tasks in Iraq—patrols, raids and checkpoints—were different from the combat exercises for which they had trained. “[I]n Iraq, civilians are not merely an occasional presence, as urban terrain training often depicts civilians,” the author wrote. “Instead, interactions with civilians often comprise the entire mission.”18
“Our mentality as soldiers is combat,” said Lt. Lucas Hale, from the 1st Armored Division, who is trying to modify urban combat techniques (Military Operations in Urban Terrain, or MOUT) in the field. “We don’t deal with civilians well as a whole. But in Iraq, you have to understand that 99 percent of the people [we encounter] are simple people who just want to get on with their lives.”19
U.S. Judge Advocate General (JAG) and CPA legal officials who spoke with Human Rights Watch were sympathetic to these concerns, and they agreed that combat troops had not all received adequate training for post-war tasks. Special instructors were brought in to assist the 1st Armored Division, they said. “They must come to terms with this kind of environment,” Australian Col. Mike Kelly said. “Policing requires a different skill set.”20
According to the JAG, the U.S. Marines are performing better in the peacekeeping role because they were “quicker to adapt.” And Military Police are better trained for crowd control, checkpoints and other peacekeeping tasks. In general, they said, the biggest problems have been in Baghdad due to the intense urban environment and the high level of resistance.
14 “As Iraqis Die, Hate for U.S. Spreads,” by Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2003.
15 Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery is LTC William S. Rabena.
16 Unclassified After Action Report, “SUBJECT: Operation Iraqi Freedom After Action Review Comments,” April 24, 2003, conducted by TM C/3-15 Infantry, Task Force 1-64 [http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/20030912.asp]. See Appendix II for full text.
17 Interview with 2nd LT. Andy Blickhahn 325th AIR, 82nd ABN Div, available at www.companyteam.army.mil
18 “1AD Units Modify MOUT Training to Suit the Situation,” by Lisa Burgess, The Old Ironsides Report, Volume I, Issue 20, August 10, 2003.
20 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Marc Warren, Col. Mike Kelly and Major P.J. Perrone, Baghdad, September 23, 2003.