Theodore's World: Excerpt From Ghosts of Anbar

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September 05, 2007

Excerpt From Ghosts of Anbar

Excerpt From Ghosts of Anbar, Part III of IV A Model for Success ~~ The Persuasive Power of Character
written and presented by Michael Yon

This footage shows SSGT Rakene Lee, USMC, as he clears a culvert under a road that is in the area where an IED has reportedly been planted. It was taken by writer/photographer Michael Yon, while embedded with US Marines in Anbar Province. It is included in the 4-part "Ghosts of Anbar" dispatch and is best viewed within that context.
Read the full article here

From Michael's reporting:

Back in 2005, many Iraqi Soldiers and Police preferred to hide their identities.Today it seems that most Iraqi Soldiers and Police want their photos taken. Their confidence is growing and their attitude toward the terrorists is increasingly one of being more the hunter than the hunted.

Now I started to understand why the Army officers had been telling me the Marines are more advanced in counterinsurgency.

Normal Marines have morphed into doing vintage Special Forces work. Many of our Army units are excellent at this work, but the Marines, at least these particular Marines, did seem to have an edge for it.

They were even studying Arabic in their filthy little compound. Lightweight study, but they were showing the Iraqis they were making the effort. The Iraqis appreciated it. I have yet to see an Army unit undertake such a clear effort to learn Arabic.

The Marines there live in disgusting conditions. They have two toilets. One is a tube. For more serious business, there are the small plastic baggies called WAG bags. Do your business, seal it up and put it into a garbage can. They don’t complain.

Iraqi Soldiers and Police constantly emulate Marines and Soldiers. When he got back from missions, SSG Lee would work out. The Iraqis would watch and start doing their own exercises. This form of mentoring happens naturally because Lee is just being Lee, and the young Iraqis see it and want to be it.

It’s a cultural touchstone. A man like SSG Rakene Lee is not someone they would overlook. Physically, the man is amazingly strong. But what is most amazing is the strength of his moral fiber. Whatever the man talked, he walked. After all of al Qaeda’s false promises, the people here have learned a hard lesson about the true value of character.

U.S. forces start with a built-in challenge because of their reputation for accomplishment, what some call the “man on the moon syndrome.” This refers to the expressed disbelief that a nation able to put a man on the moon cannot quickly restore basic services. U.S. agencies trying to fan enthusiasm for their efforts should avoid making unrealistic promises.

In some cultures, failure to deliver promised results is automatically interpreted as deliberate deception, rather than good intentions gone awry. In other cultures, exorbitant promises are normal and people do not expect them to be kept. Effective counterinsurgents understand local norms; they use locally tailored approaches to control expectations.

Managing expectations also involves demonstrating economic and political progress to show the populace how life is improving. Increasing the number of people who feel they have a stake in the success of the state and its government is a key to successful COIN operations. In the end, victory comes, in large measure, by convincing the populace that their life will be better under the HN government than under an insurgent regime.

Over the next several days, I saw how much the Iraqis respected Rakene Lee and the other Marines who were all courageous, tactically competent, measured, and collectively and constantly telling even the Iraqis to go easy on the Iraqis.

Over days of operations, I found Lieutenant Hamid to be courageous, intelligent, and with natural leadership abilities. Hamid asked me to publish his photo. He said he wants al Qaeda to come to Sadr City and look for him.

One night, after a long day out in the sun, when we were all were exhausted, I sat talking with Hamid. He told me how he’d lost his girlfriend of two years.

She’d been studying banking in Baghdad, and when Hamid told her of his intentions to join the Iraqi Army, she replied that not only would she not marry him, but that she would break up. He said it was a very tough decision. Hamid’s father had been a soldier in Saddam’s Army, as had other relatives including uncles, some of whom died fighting.

When he told his girlfriend that he must go to the Iraqi Army, she left him. He told me, with remarkable sadness, “Women are crazy.”

Hamid said that he was so sick for two weeks he could hardly eat, and finally he went to a hospital and a doctor gave him an IV. When Hamid returned to duty, he decided he would be a soldier for life and might not ever get married. And then he said it again, “women are crazy,” but this time we laughed.

The Marines and his own commanders think highly of Hamid.

Wild Thing's comment........

Thank you Michael for bringing us this great progress on the ground .. one soldier .. one heart .. at a time. God bless our troops and keep them safe.

Posted by Wild Thing at September 5, 2007 12:45 AM


The small unit level is where this war will be won. I am glad to see these Marines interacting so well with their Iraqi counterparts. This is the idea behind the "surge". To have US units live as well as work among the Iraqis and deny the terrorists the opportunity to bully the Iraqis.

Posted by: TomR at September 5, 2007 08:04 AM

Thanks Tom, I thought it was really interesting how they are doing this and it really is working.

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 6, 2007 01:28 AM