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Thread: Mattis on the Marines

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    Mattis on the Marines

    http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2006...4312_23_06.txt

    Mattis on the Marines: Pendleton commander upbeat about morale, progress in Iraq

    By: North County Times -

    On Wednesday, North County Times reporter Mark Walker sat down for an exclusive interview with Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of Camp Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force and commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

    Here are a few excerpts from that conversation:

    On the conditions in Iraq:


    Mattis: The situation in al-Anbar, which is the Marine area, it's a cancer on Iraq. ... But al-Anbar does not have the sectarian violence that the rest of the country has. It's the Sunni triangle. In fact, the only area that has any significant Shia in it is an area on the eastern side and we have no sectarian violence. Interestingly enough, it's an area with Sunni and Shia living side by side, and we have no significant violence, I couldn't tell you why.

    Fallujah is considered to be so changed for the better that Sunni fleeing out of Baghdad are going to Fallujah now. Who would have thought that two years ago? It sounds almost bizarre.

    But unlike the sectarian violence elsewhere, it is al-Qaida in Iraq that the Marines fight. That said, after the second election, where for the first time Sunnis voted in very large numbers, al-Qaida moved in the area and basically declared war on the nationalist groups there. And the tribes realized they bought in with the wrong people.

    What we are seeing now is a significant shift in the tribes. They are coming over. How does this manifest itself? How is it more than just my words? The Sunni sheiks are having their young guys join the Iraqi police. The reason is they will go to their local areas after they go to training academies in various countries outside of Iraq and they return, when they come back, they go back to their home areas.

    So you've got the tribes shifting over, their kids joining the police. You've got the Iraqi army and the Iraqi security forces today, they are probably running around, about 52 percent of the casualties in our medical treatment facilities are Iraqi security forces. Which says something about the nature of the fight and the nature of the Iraqi troops who are now represented among the casualties. It's one way to indicate whether or not they are really in the fight or not.

    So these are significant shifts right now. And the transition teams and the Marines who are over there, fighting in a very lethal area where the efforts have been unrelenting, have basically achieved successes that we would not have anticipated this early in this process.

    Our strategy approach to this remains pretty much the same. This is the U.S. approach: Get the security situation under control, the violence down. Get the Iraqi security forces trained and picking up more of the load. And third, assist and facilitate the Iraqi government becoming capable of meeting needs of the people. These things happen fast.

    But if there's one point I would make strongly, it is this, Mark: that violence and progress can and do coexist. You see the blasts, you see the IEDs, you see the cameras on them out there. And that is a legitimate point.

    But it is interesting to see in the background people driving by, looking at it the way we look at a car accident. Kids with backpacks on their backs walking by and looking at the blast site, but life is going on.

    A third province today was just turned over to Iraqi control. Now that's not going to be happening in al-Anbar anytime soon; I don't want to put lipstick on a pig and say everything is hunky-dory, but that said, the tribes coming over, the transition of authority, the growing capability of Iraqi security forces in terms of police and army, that sort of thing, the conditions we are seeing over there are specifically that we are winning.

    Now I realize that when you see the amount of violence going on and the amount of criminal activity going on, it's easy to just throw up your hands and say, 'Gosh, you know, this just isn't working,' or at best, 'We're going sideways, we're not going forward.'

    But the fact is, this is hard stuff. A lot of hard work has been done, a lot of hard work remains, and if this is important, then we've got to do it. And the fact is that our troops coming home from overseas sense that they are part of something important and they are making progress.

    Reporter: As we go forward, do you see that the deployment schedule will be increased?

    Mattis: You know, we are at war and the enemy gets a vote in this thing. If the enemy makes a press, a full-court press, and we have to react, we would shrink the dwell (the time troops spend between deployments). It's whatever it takes. But we, what we will not do is permit the enemy an initiative that we don't check him on.

    Reporter: How, in your view, can stability be achieved at this point?

    Mattis: I think we continue what we're doing. It doesn't happen overnight. There's been a lot of work done, like I said, there's a lot of work left to do, hard work.

    I think what we have to do is continue using American troops as a bulwark, as a shelter break behind which to stand up the Iraqi security forces who are standing up, like I said, to the point where they are taking over half the casualties now in al-Anbar, and giving, behind this shelter break, the very shallow roots of this Iraqi democracy, imperfect as it is, the chance to move forward.

    Now is Iraq going to look like Switzerland with its cantons of French-speaking Catholics and German-speaking Lutherans? No, it's not. But it can look a lot more stable than it is today, and get it down to a point where the Iraqi security forces can handle it.

    How long? I think it'll take five years and what you will see over those five-year period is declining U.S. force levels, declining U.S. casualty levels, declining enemy effectiveness.

    When you look at how reconciliations, for example, between Sunni, Shia, peshmerga, this is going to happen. I look at South Africa in the wake of apartheid, I look at Northern Ireland. These things take time. And so this is part of what has to happen. There has to be a natural reconciliation.

    I've noticed some good things seem to be going on right now along those lines, and I think with the hydrocarbon law, the sharing of the oil profits, there's reasons why more people can say, 'Well, this is in my best interest.' So I think overall, there is reason to be optimistic right now, but I am under no illusions about the difficulty of the task we have. We removed Saddam Hussein and these tensions were allowed to come to the surface. And we are not willing to be a police state with all the ramifications of that.

    If all we wanted to do was turn out an army over there, an Iraqi army that wanted to go out and murder everybody over there, we could do that literally in a couple of weeks and go home. But we are not going to do that. You have to teach forces to use ethical levels of force, and that's a lot more difficult.

    On the status of Marines:

    Mattis: Obviously we can sustain the current deployment tempo indefinitely, but do we think this the healthiest thing to do, for the force? We think not, not healthy in terms of equipment, training readiness, family readiness.

    But that said, let me give you the story of one battalion because it kind of encapsulates what we are seeing with our most deployed units and units that frequently take, that always take the most casualties, the infantry battalions. I kind of use them as a canary in the mineshaft for this topic.

    Second battalion, 5th Marines invited me up to speak at a birthday ball here, last November 10, in Las Vegas. Young battalion, infantry battalion, these are the young guys who go toe to toe, they go out hunting for the enemy. They don't sit inside Forward Operating Bases, they don't guard things, they're out on the roads.

    They are going to Ramadi, the key terrain in Al-Anbar. Fallujah has always gotten a lot of press, and rightfully so, it's the scene of some rather murderous fighting, but al-Anbar's key terrain is the provincial capital of Ramadi. This battalion has been there before.

    Their young men have re-enlisted at nearly double the rate that they were expected to. In other words, each unit has a certain number to give the commander an idea of what we need them to re-enlist at, and I think they doubled it, or very close to doubled it.

    But more importantly, 170-odd Marines decided to extend their enlistment to return to Ramadi with their battalion. They aren't going to make the Marine Corps a career, they're going to get out and go to school and go on with their lives, but you can't buy that level of commitment, and this is not being done by a bunch of novices.

    These are combat veterans who have been to Ramadi before, and know its alleyways and know the enemy in that area. These are not people who are unaware of the danger in a decision such as this.

    So what we have is a force where we currently see the lowest rates of misconduct and desertion as long as we've been keeping the statistics. Spousal abuse is declining, going downward, drug abuse continues to hover at very, very low levels. Our re-enlistment rates are at all-time highs, and the quality of what we are bringing in to the re-enlisted force, if these are the Marines that are able to re-enlist, most of them are coming out of the top half of that cohort.

    Further, our recruiters, many of them NCOs home from their second tour in Iraq, are going out and working upwards of 80- and 85-hour workweeks. But we have not had to lower our quality standards. The point I want to make here is: They are having to work much harder in order to get parent support for the enlistment, that sort of thing, but for some reason, we are able to maintain this very high quality force without any lowering of standards, and I won't go into any other services' situations.

    On the preparedness of Marines:

    Reporter: Let's talk about something I know you have been intimately involved with. Has the cultural training and the awareness of the Marines in Iraq progressed to the point where you are comfortable in their ability to carry out the mission at hand? Are we making the significant kinds of progress we talked about in August, in terms of really reaching the Iraqi people?

    Mattis: I don't think we're at the point we need to be at. ... I think the cultural training, I mean we are so advanced from what we were doing three years ago, it's night and day, there's no comparison. We are doing much better now, but I will never be satisfied with it, is the bottom line. We will always be improving on it, the anthropological aspects of the preparation of the troops, where we will continue to be a priority, confident that we have prioritized it properly. We are fighting wars amongst the people. It's not industrial wars anymore and so you can never do enough.

    It's all improving. I was talking to a transition team over in Habiniya here last week when I was there. We were talking about how they were coming to the end of their tour, they had been there for just about a year, and they talked about a new transition team that was just a couple miles away and they had come down to meet 'em and they had come in and taken the place of a team they had worked alongside for many months.

    And they said the new team had such better language skills, that they were already making connections with their Iraqi soldiers ... at a level that this team was still not. And this was a team that had the books, they had the tapes, they had been put through it.

    On the media coverage in Iraq:

    Mattis: I was talking to a lieutenant in Haditha, he told me that because they are now all connected nowadays in their FOBs, he could read stories about Haditha. He said, 'I guarantee you there has not been a reporter in Haditha in my last two and a half months here.'

    We're seeing, I think, an unwitting passing of the enemy's message, uncritical, unwitting passing of the enemy's message because the enemy has successfully denied the Western media access to the battlefields.

    I'm not sure what Lloyds of London is charging now, I think it's over $5,000 a month insurance for a reporter or photographer to go in. But the murder, the kidnapping, the intimidation means that, in many cases, we have media folks who are relying on stringers who are Iraqi.

    Now you can have any kind of (complaint) about the American media or Western media you want, but there is at least a nod, an effort toward objectivity. The stringers who are being brought in, who are bringing in these stories, are not bringing that same degree of objectivity.

    So on the one hand, our enemy is denying our media access to the battlefield, where anything perhaps that I say as a general is subject to any number of interpretations, challenges, questions, but the enemy's story basically gets there without that because our media is unable to challenge them. It's unwitting, but at the same time, it can promote the enemy's agenda, simply because there is an apparent attempt at objectivity.

    Reporter: Would you like to see more Western media there then?

    Mattis: Oh, we would be happy to have more Western media out there. We've had Al-Jazeera out with our troops.

    On the number of troops:

    Mattis: Well, we caveat it all by saying we do not want to lower the quality standards of the Marine Corps, we are not going to do that.

    So we have to put more NCOs out on recruiting and those are pulled from the combat force; you don't create an NCO overnight. So I think right now that I'd have to defer because this issue is actually in play right now in Washington to the commandant. With that said, the richest country in the history of this planet can afford survival.

    And I think that when we look at the fact that we have fought the war for several years now using basically supplementals to give us a few extra Marines over a peace-time insufficient, admittedly insufficient strength, it's time to get the wartime focus in the Marine Corps balanced, and this obviously means somewhere in excess of 180,000 Marines, and could be. I'm not giving you the full answer there, Mark, and I regret that it's active, between the president, the commandant, the chairman, the new SecDef, I'd rather not say something that could perhaps pre-empt or contradict (them).

    You have to be careful of just deciding to throw numbers at something, quantity at something, I think what we are all saying is that you need to think this problem is out there. I've talked to (Marine Maj.) Gen. (Richard C.) Zilner (the I Marine Expeditionary Force commander), I asked him if he needed more troops; he said the first thing he needs is more Iraqi troops.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

  2. #2

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    Thanks for the neat read. Shek, Gen. Mattis points to the nature of his A.O. here-

    "But unlike the sectarian violence elsewhere, it is al-Qaida in Iraq that the Marines fight...And the tribes realized they bought in with the wrong people."

    Al-Anbar is important for it's own reasons, but is it the central battle any longer? I'd submit that American national interests are now more threatened by a Persian proxy-government.

    As such, while Gen. Mattis comments are very valid to the morale, quality, enhanced training and overall improvement of his marines (and presumably our Army lads/lasses), and I'm encouraged by Mattis' comments on their progress in al-Anbar, I wonder if that'll remain the case as AQI remind the tribal sheiks of the emergance of an Iraqi government with a transparently pro-Shia AND anti-sunni agenda.

    More to the point, how do we, as Americans, actually benefit from all this, aside from the demise of Saddam? I'm not even certain that baathist ambitions aren't still pursued from sanctuary in Syria while I'm completely certain that Shia ambitions from Persia are pursued.

    Gen. Mattis places great reliance on shielding the Iraqi Armed Forces while they stand up. I hope so, but I'm unconvinced of their value and motives. He suggests this recipe to success-

    "This is the U.S. approach: Get the security situation under control, the violence down. Get the Iraqi security forces trained and picking up more of the load. And third, assist and facilitate the Iraqi government becoming capable of meeting needs of the people. These things happen fast."

    I've no evidence of speed to date. Do you? What does he mean, do you think, by this when we've been engaged with getting the security situation under control and the Iraqi security forces trained for some time?

    "Now is Iraq going to look like Switzerland with its cantons of French-speaking Catholics and German-speaking Lutherans? No, it's not. But it can look a lot more stable than it is today, and get it down to a point where the Iraqi security forces can handle it."

    Stability seems to be the objective, though his reference to a cantonment as an idealized outcome was interesting, though not realistic for the present. [Perhaps not desirable either].

    Gen. Mattis says-

    "There has to be a natural reconciliation."

    There will be. The competing agendas will do so just as soon as they've collectively exhausted all possibility of advancing their goals at the expense of others. That may take an orgy of blood to accomplish, but it'll be as natural an outcome as you could possibly have. Perhaps, then, rational minds will prevail over vendetta. Meanwhile we're not even close to that point, actually.

    Just to prove that I'm not a terminal sourpuss-

    "If all we wanted to do was turn out an army over there, an Iraqi army that wanted to go out and murder everybody over there, we could do that literally in a couple of weeks and go home. But we are not going to do that. You have to teach forces to use ethical levels of force, and that's a lot more difficult."

    Shek, if that's what standing up the Iraq Army truly means, then we will have done a tremendously good thing. If so, then I've nothing to fear from shia and kurd dominated brigades deployed to Baghdad while U.S. forces move away. If that is indeed the plan, and these Iraqi forces perform to those military and ethical standards.

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