TOPICS > Nation

On Patrol

January 2, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

TERENCE SMITH: Will the tactics described in that report help achieve U.S. objectives in Iraq? We get two military views. Ralph Peters is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and author of numerous books on warfare. The latest: “Beyond Baghdad, Postmodern War and Peace.” Gary Anderson is a retired Marine colonel whose tours included Somalia. He was in Iraq in July consulting with the Pentagon on setting up the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Welcome to you both. Gary Anderson, give me your reaction to the tape, to what you saw and your assessment as to the tactics employed.

COL. GARY ANDERSON: I think essentially what you’re seeing is an organization in what is arguably the toughest part of all of Iraq doing the best it can with the preparation that was given to do the job.

TERENCE SMITH: By the toughest part, you mean the Sunni Triangle?

COL. GARY ANDERSON: The Sunni Triangle and particularly around the area of Samarra and the area of the 4th Division is in. That’s the division that –

TERENCE SMITH: — Charlie Company –

COL. GARY ANDERSON: — is operating there. An important point to make is that the end state that we, the imperial United States is attempting to achieve in that country is not to have Americans kicking down doors. Doors have to be kicked down in guerrilla wars and suspects have to be hunted down, and so forth. We eventually want Iraqis to be doing that. That’s the end state. We’re not ready for that yet. Some places they’re moving along with that farther or faster than others, but the bottom line is that hopefully someday it will be Iraqis doing the unfortunate kicking down the doors and the kinds of things that these poor kids are being forced to do.

TERENCE SMITH: Colonel Peters, what do you think about the tactics employed and whether or not they’ll be effective?

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: Gary is absolutely right. And this is a terribly tough job in the toughest part of Iraq. The tactics already are effective. These are the tactics that we introduced this autumn that got us Saddam Hussein and that got us literally hundreds of the hardest core terrorists and several thousand of the fellow travelers, mid-level, lower-level insurgents.

Now, again, you look at that tape and it’s easy to take it out of context and see women crying and children weeping. Well, soldiers don’t like to cause that. But what you don’t see fascinates me. You don’t see soldiers beating people with rifle butts. Nobody is shot.

Now before Operation Iraqi Freedom, when doors were knocked down by Saddam’s secret police, men were shot on the spot, tortured in front of spouses, children. When they were taken away, they never came home. Women were raped in front of husbands.

So the people we are going after are the hardest of the hard core, the ones that will never be our friend. The journalist asked the question of one of the soldiers, won’t we be making enemies? In most of Iraq, we’ve made a lot of friends or these people who just wanted Saddam gone, but among the hardest of the hardest core, of the same minority, we will never be friends; we’ve got to break their power so the rest of Iraq can live free.

Finally, these tactics are happening in less than 10 percent of Iraq. Most of Iraq is relatively or completely at peace, and just as in the United States, you use different tactics in a small town in Kansas than you would in the worst urban districts of our nation. So in Iraq we use many different kinds of tactics. But these tactics, however regrettably, are necessary for now to give Iraq a chance.

TERENCE SMITH: Ten percent of the country, of its geography, but a densely populated portion of the country.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: Yes, but Sunnis make up about 18 percent of the population, Sunni Arabs, I should say because the Kurds are Sunnis as well. The Sunni Arabs are the troublemakers and only a small percentage of those are the troublemakers. Most Sunni Arabs didn’t profit from Saddam. They want him gone.

But you can’t take a gentle approach to everyone. You need carrot and stick. And what we have being seeing in the last few months is a constantly developed, modulated approach, carrot wherever the carrot works. Where the carrot doesn’t work for the future of Iraq and for the safety of our soldiers, sometimes you have got to use the stick.

TERENCE SMITH: Colonel Anderson, you said that … you made the point that the purpose is to turn this over to the Iraqis. Does this get us there?

COL. GARY ANDERSON: The important thing is to train up the police and the civil defense core to take over the mission. There’s probably some argument over who should be the primary leader in that argument, or in that particular effort. But the bottom line is that somebody needs, in the interim, until they’re ready to do this on their own, somebody needs to do it, and it’s fallen to these young men and women to get the job done.

But I would hope … I would hope that by July we’re ready to turn most of this sort of thing over to the Iraqis and put our folks more in the background — not that we shouldn’t be there — not that there shouldn’t be a presence for as long as it takes to get the job done properly. But I have … I’m fairly confident that we can do this and we can do this properly.

TERENCE SMITH: And yet this is … as you made the point, this is the hot spot, so to speak, in Iraq, the most difficult area. Other approaches are being taken in other parts of the country. Correct?


LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: Absolutely, yeah. In some areas, for instance in the South, the Marines went in, took a totally different approach and it worked wonderfully because the Shias had suffered under Saddam Hussein. They were glad to be liberated.

In the North, another Army, the 101st Airborne, under Maj. Gen. Dave Petreus, a brilliant officer, has done wonders if with the Kurds. Of course the Kurds backed us. And so you do see – and not only different approaches, but the approaches change literally day to day as we learn more, as we learn what works and what doesn’t.

But, you know, I also have to say for those soldiers, if in that tape they sometimes look rough around the edges, not only are they operating under tremendously dangerous conditions, but they have been there since April under constant threat of attack, of death. They’ve seen their buddies go down. And really, in the real world, they’re behaving with amazing restraint. Easy for us to sit in a comfortable studio or a comfortable American home and criticize the soldiers. Their job is indescribably tough.

TERENCE SMITH: Colonel Anderson, you have been working with the Marines, I believe, who are going to be redeployed back into Iraq and will be in the Sunni Triangle, will be operating there. What lessons are they drawing from what is going on there now and will their approach, when they arrive in a few months, be different?

COL. GARY ANDERSON: I don’t want to play Army-Marine because I think it’s important to realize that there is a, you know, that everybody … that everybody that’s going in is going back in in a joint team. I happen to have seen the Marines a couple of weeks ago training. And I’m really impressed with what they’re doing. And I have a feeling that the Army is doing the same thing. I can’t speak for the Army at this point.

But basically, what they’re doing is the approach is we can be your best friend or your worst enemy — you decide. You decide. But make that decision. And they had some Arabic experts training new military governors, and the only … to take an example from the film that we saw, they’re training them to say, to that police chief, how about bringing Mohammed in for a cup of tea tomorrow?

TERENCE SMITH: Instead of show up tomorrow morning…

COL. GARY ANDERSON: But the bottom line is Mohammed had better show up tomorrow morning. The captain got that right, you know? They respect power in that part of the world; sometimes maybe a little bit more velvet glove. But I think they’re doing okay.

TERENCE SMITH: Colonels, both, we have to go. Thank you. I appreciate it very much.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: My pleasure.