View Full Version : Techniques for securing and building relations with the people...

06-17-2007, 03:40 AM
The purpose of this thread is to evaluate a possible technique for securing the people. I’d greatly appreciate everyone’s input concerning whether moving in with a family for a day or two in an effort to both provide security for the people while simultaneously overwatching known insurgent ambush/cache/meeting locations is a wise technique? This technique was initially addressed a few months ago here: http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=2159. I’d like to dig deeper into this subject because I’ve interviewed multiple Marines that believe they had success in using a version of this technique.

My initial thoughts were that it’s not wise or tactically (strategically?) sound to use a family’s house because I wouldn’t be too pleased if a foreign army or the base MPs did the same in my house. But based on the Marines’ feedback and this NY Times video report: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/world/20061102_MEDIC_FEATURE/blocker.html (Click on the icon “politics”), I’m not so sure. A large part of me believes that the endstate of this squad's mission was a better understanding of the Iraqi people, the Iraqis more willing to share information with us, and the Iraqis having a better understanding of the "No Better Friend" side of what we're all about. I don’t think it really matters that the squad didn't have the opportunity to directly engage the enemy. Simply executing the mission does multiple things for us. First, if the enemy knows that we're using family's homes, he's now got to figure out which homes, when, for how long, where, did the family tell us anything?, etc--this puts us in his OODA loop and forces him to accept the fact that we'll use just about anywhere to observe and kill him, not just irrigation ditches, abandoned buildings and/or palm groves. Second, and probably most important, if the Marines/Soldiers—“strategic corporals”—understand their mission and are culturally sensitive and respectful to the family, this technique provides a way to build a rapport with the people. This is a critical piece in the COIN fight and one that we've very much been missing. And I also like to think that it's much harder for an Iraqi to want to kill us or to sympathize with those that might want to kill us after we shake someone's hand, address them by name, and, in general, just spend some time getting to know them.

I see a few possible dangers in employing this technique. The first is that we could ultimately end up pissing off a lot of families. Second, how do we respond if, after we leave the house, the enemy kills the family? While part of me thinks the enemy will ultimately pay the price for such brutal tactics (as we’re beginning to see today) another part of me thinks we’d be blamed for putting the family in this situation. Third, what do we do if/when the enemy uses our actions in its propaganda efforts (i.e., possibly putting up fliers saying that we're evil and that we kidnap, torture, rape, etc, creating a video saying much the same and putting it on the internet)? I’m not sure how this enemy counter would work in a tribal culture, where close relations within the tribe will likely reveal the truth, especially if we constantly interact with families all over our AOs (i.e., the leaders of the tribe will most likely ask the families if the propaganda is true and if we constantly show that we're "No Better Friend" then our actions will speak for themselves, at least to the local people). Maybe this technique is only viable in strong tribal areas and not in the cities?

Looking forward to learning from you all. Semper Fi!

06-17-2007, 11:39 AM
Your's is a very interesting post Maximus. I've been in those Marine's place, living among the people but it was several decades ago and I can only relate to that time and place, not Iraq.

We found that if we treated the people respectfully, they would reciprocate. There the local people did not have to worry about being killed or mistreated by the VC because the VC were their own family members, neighbors and friends and which I know now, having visited many times post war, that the majority of these rural peasants, at least where I was, supported the VC. To them it had nothing to do with communism. The simply wanted the foreigners to leave their country. They wanted to live in peace.

By treating us respectfully I mean playing around with the kids, having dinner with a local family, sharing tea with them, sharing C rats with them, etc. But then when we weren't looking the kids would steal our grenades.

One must understand the human factor. One can be respected or even truly liked as a friend and still as a representative of a foreign military occupation they would rather you not be there.

A friend who was in a similar unit went back to one of his former villages and when he found the former "kid" of his "adopted family" he was a government official. His family had been VC and had a tunnel entrance in the hooch they lived in. When my astounded friend asked them "... then why didn't you kill me?" The young village official replied "Because you were kind to our family".

I came to find out they my adopted family was the same. When I visited the then very elderly lady, the mother of that family from 1969, she still referred to me as "con" (her son).

For people who have been resisting foreign invaders and occupiers for centuries, there are no tactics that are going to win their heart of hearts.

Steve Blair
06-17-2007, 12:11 PM
Thanks for bringing that to the discussion, Maphu! It highlights one of the main COIN principles: one size does not fit all. You got through to those families on one level, but there was the other level that you couldn't get to. We've seen that in other involvements throughout our history, including the Indian Wars and Central America in the 1920s.

That said, hearts and minds can prove effective. I'm thinking here of the Montagnard example in Vietnam. Of course, there the 'Yards had a cause and purpose of their own, and we to an extent dovetailed with it (possibly in a similar way that we dovetailed with some Kurdish ambitions in Iraq). The culture of many 'Yard tribes was also conductive to this approach. SF teams could capitalize on their antipathy toward Vietnamese in general and then keep them pointed in the right direction when it came to targets. Of course, as the Montagnard Revolt demonstrated there are risks with this approach as well.

At the risk of over-generalizing, I'd say on the whole the possibilities in many areas of Iraq are closer to what we saw with the 'Yards than it was with the Vietnamese. In many areas in Vietnam the insurgency went back generations, as Maphu pointed out. Iraq has sectional feuds that go back at least that far, but we still have a chance (however slim) in some areas.

06-17-2007, 01:48 PM
Max, as a security and surveillance technique I have and many of my partners have done this in the LE realm. It is a very successful technique from that standpoint.
As for Iraq as you point out there are many side effects you may have to contend with. If the family was targeted for attack or some type of scandal campaign it might all blow up in your face. Literally and figuratively.

06-17-2007, 02:57 PM
All, thanks for the feedback thus far. Maphu, incredible insight from someone who's done similar things in a conflict that's similar in many ways.

I forgot to mention that, in my mind, such a technique can only work if you already live among the people. By this I mean our firm bases or joint security stations need to be inside villages/towns, not on the periphery as most were for the first 3 years of OIF. Otherwise, the families will most definitely pay a heavy price for our moving in; it would be next to impossible to employ this technique covertly; and I'm fairly certain that the people would be extremely reluctant to talk with us. We've made great strides in moving in among the people over the past year, especially in Anbar. Once living among the people, I view the proposed technique doing two main things: 1) as stated already, providing an intimate way to build rapport with the people; 2) in a sense providing a mobile defense in depth for us and the people given the inherent vulnerabilities and risks associated with moving 50-100 Marines/Soldiers in among a population numbering in the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands.

Slapout, appreciate the LE perspective. I went for a ride-along with an LAPD gang unit last week. On a separate but related subject, I was amazed to see that certain parts of LA were gated off, only allowing one way in and one way out, as a result of an effort by community and police leaders to decrease drive-by shootings, robberies, and crime in general. Aside from the pretty black steel gates that were blocking many of the roads, this "strategy" struck me as very familiar to that being employed around Iraq with respect to placing berms around some communities and even barricading some of the districts in Baghdad.

Headed to the field for 5 days of training. Looking forward to learning more from you all when I get back. Semper Fi!

06-18-2007, 02:09 PM
no power handshakes - quit crushing/possessing the hands of people you intend to help - give your hand in friendship, don't take control of theirs
take off sunglasses when talking to people
upturn rifles when talking to Iraqis, if it is safe to do so
don't stare into their eyes, look at their the tip of their nose
stand closer to old people than you would the average adult and lower the eyes and head and look at their chin, only very briefly glance at their eyes
keep an arms distance from men when talking - that distance doesn't violate their personal space and it shows you are not afraid of them
when sitting beside 3rd world Muslims, get up real close side by side especially if sitting on the floor on a rug - sitting is passive and pretty much a non-threatening posture and they pack in tight when eating together
quit playing and horsing around with the kids
buy local as often as possible
if they are sitting, sit/squat with them to talk - don't stand and look down at them while talking
hand out some cigarettes to the men, even if you don't smoke
show pictures of family and things at home, talk about the people and geography but don't talk much about what you own unless asked
learn to say "my name is______ " in Arabic and some other phrases
quit playing and horsing around with the kids
always eat with the right hand when with Iraqis and eat at the same pace the other males are eating at
if interested, ask some questions about Islam - never try to fake it
if interested, ask a counterpart to take you to a mosque, learn mosque etiquette and strictly adhere to it - never try to fake it
always ask about the family first, don't ask the man how he is, ask how his family is
tell counterparts about your father and what he does for a living, what he likes to do, etc - bond with their paternalism
ignore women as much as possible
if you're living outside the green zone, there is a fair chance you might get hit or worse so it really doesn't matter if you share a smoke or soda/water bottle with some Iraqi counterpart now and then
be generous and public with praise for your counterparts whenever possible
quit playing and horsing around with the kids

06-19-2007, 09:54 AM
upturn rifles when talking to Iraqis, if it is safe to do so

Does this mean that US soldiers are going to learn to upturn rifles when talking to other Americans, as well? :mad: If so, that would be a friggin' miracle.

06-20-2007, 12:44 AM
quit playing and horsing around with the kids

Why do you say this? Is it offensive or cause concern to the parents for their children's safety? What about the Soldiers giving the kids toys and books etc?

06-20-2007, 09:53 AM
I'm assuming it's a "face" thing. I've never seen an Arab adult male playing with children. They love them, sure, but they don't horse around and play with them.

I see the point. We should be affectionate toward iraqi kids, but more reserved in our demeanor in their presence.

06-20-2007, 12:52 PM
Ski - there are a number of ways to look at this point. In the 3rd world, kids go to work early yet in the words of one of my counterparts in Gambia, W. Africa, "kids are foolish" and he didn't mean this in a negative, derogatory way. I spent alot of time in Muslim bush villages in Gambia and Senegal in the Peace Corps. The least affective Volunteers spent the most time with kids. Children simply don't know much and can't contribute much in their hard scrabble lives. They love their kids as much as we love ours but kids are at the bottom of the totem pole in many respects. It is a point of logic from the hard scrabble side of things that you don't spend time and energy with elements of life that can't in turn produce much - sort of like fiddling around with a rock when you should be sharpening your machete or hoe. In this respect, it is beneath the dignity of a man to be horsing around very much with kids. Time, energy, resources need to be directed at those (adults) who can do the most for the extended family and clan, not those who can do the least, the children. That is not to say one should hand out a toy now and but there is a cautionary note with this too. The man is dominant, the bread winner and protector. When a child brings in goods given by GIs, he is ursurping the role of the dominant male in the family in some respects. Secondly, when a child brings in specialized knowledge and details of the Americans via interacting with them, he becomes the center of attention and assumes an adult role to a certain extent. Thirdly, there is the fear of cultural contamination. i.e. kids adopting errant ways of the foreigners by hanging around with them. Let's say your son started hanging aroung with a bunch of Vietnamese soldiers and pretty soon when he was out in the yard playing and needed to pee, he stepped over to the edge of the yard and did his thing in plain view of everyone. After all, that's what these new-found friends of his do. You wouldn't much care for that and would blame the soldiers more than your son. So maybe the Muslim boy wants to hang around the GIs instead of going to the mosque - his family is not going to look favorably upon you. For the most part, it is best to ignore the kids but always smile at them because it shows their mothers you don't hate them. It's hard to ignore kids because amidst the brutal violence that erupts, the innocence and purity of children is a life line to sanity and hope, yet nothing is entirely simple. They can be the best source of Intel going. In Nam, we always knew the villages that didn't like us - the kids would run out and give us the finger or totally ignore us. I would use trusted Iraqis to qualify any Intel kids might provide.

From another view and projecting yourself into Joe Iraqi, how would you feel if some strange, extremely powerful warriors came around and ingored you but played with your children? Would you feel insulted? Would you be mad? Would you think they were secretly afraid of you? Would you suspect they had evil intentions for your kids?