Despite the constant threat of insurgent retaliation against them, these Iraqi citizens have come to the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) in Fallujah hoping that the 5th Marine Civil Affairs Group (CAG) will help them rebuild their lives. In the heart of what was once the most notorious insurgent stronghold in Iraq, CMOC has now become a model for joint efforts aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the local population throughout the country. Joining Marine CAGs in the effort are Army contractors and civil affairs units, Air Force personnel and Navy Seabees.
Unlike the long-term peacekeeping roles usually associated with the Army, the role of the CAGs is to provide an immediate base of aid and relief in order to help stabilize the Marines’ area of operations. Central to Marine urban combat doctrine is the concept of the “three-block war:” direct combat in block one, security and stabilization in block two, and civil affairs and humanitarian aid in block three.
Former Marine Corps Commandant Charles C. Krulak defined the concept, postulating that in addition to providing aid, the civil affairs groups would ensure fighting units had their rear flank covered, and the local population could be converted to supporters and intelligence assets of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. That force coordination is vital in urban insurgencies, where the battlespace is fluid and enemies are often indistinguishable from noncombatants....
... as ground operations in Iraq stretch into a third year, the Marine Corps has added two provisional CAGs into its normal rotation of four permanent civil affairs groups.
The CAGs are composed entirely of reservists who are rigorously selected for civilian expertise outside the normal skillsets of active duty Marines, such as advanced engineering, linguistic and cultural ability, and legal and governmental affairs. Far from being “weekend warriors,” CAG Marines are expected to be trained to Marine rifleman standards, and to play an integral role in the planning and execution of combat operations.
In a combat zone, even providing basic aid is challenging — and dangerous. Approximately 10 percent of 4th CAG Marines received the Purple Heart in the battle for Fallujah, and the 5th CAG has already lost one officer since it assumed the post in March. In the midst of combat, Civil Affairs Marines had to assess damage and impose curfews, as well as provide immediate humanitarian relief before long-term reconstruction could begin. Joined by Army personnel, the job expanded in ways they had not foreseen.
“One of the major concerns of the international press was [the possibility] that we had a major humanitarian crisis brewing, primarily because the Iraqi Red Crescent Society starting publicizing reports [about lack of food and medicine] before they had ever entered the city,” said U.S. Army Maj. James Orbock, 445th Civil Affairs Battalion commander.
“We also anticipated using local contractors for body removal of civilian casualties, but the [insurgents] started booby-trapping bodies and the civilians did not want to [do the job]. So we had to implement a remains removal program. As the animals starting running out of pet food, they started eating the bodies, and as we started removing the bodies, they started looking at us as the source of their next meal. So then we had to start [controlling] the dogs and cats.”
...Lt. Col. Bill Brown, then-director of the CMOC...
“The way to defeat an insurgency is getting the people to believe in what you’re doing. That’s one of the reasons we’re here,” he said. “It’s been a part of Marine Corps planning for a very long time, and we’re getting more and more important to the Marine Expeditionary Force.
“The people of Fallujah have had enough of the insurgents, and the people of this city are the ones who are going to defeat them in the long run. They feel they can trust us now, and they feel safe with us. Hundreds of people come here every day because they feel safe, and a lot of that is the work of civil affairs Marines,” he said...
...The Marine Corps, by virtue of its structure as an expeditionary force, limits its civil affairs to relief efforts that can be conducted during and immediately after hostilities. As the war in Iraq lengthens, CAGs find their missions blending into reconstruction efforts that normally are handled by the much greater resources of the Army.
The Army civil affairs force contains more than 6,000 soldiers, 90 percent of whom are reservists. The Marine Corps has less than 10 percent of that number, and its forces are entirely reserve. Unlike the Corps, the Army civil affairs force is attached to U.S. Special Operations Command, where certain units can provide support to Army Special Forces, which specialize in long-term missions with indigenous peoples.
Offer up a salute to the Marines doing this work and to their Army counterparts. Theirs is an important mission in a country in transition.