By LtCol John. R. Allen - Originally published February 1995
The recent commitment of Marines to duty at the migrant camps in Guantanamo-although classified as an operation other than war-placed a special premium on the warrior spirit and the mental preparation for conflict. This section discusses these essential attributes and how they can best be acquired and strengthened.
Lessons learned at Guantanamo by Marine security forces demonstrated the applicability of Marine training to operations other than war and the importance of knowing the 'enemy.'
In late August 1994, 2d Battalion, 6th Marines deployed for the second time that summer to conduct migrant security operations in the Caribbean. Serving earlier in the summer as the shipboard security force for the USNS Comfort and the Ukrainian cruise ship Gruziya (later the Ivan Franko), the battalion had learned valuable lessons about internal and external security, civil affairs, crowd control, and civil disturbance operations while dealing with Haitian migrants. Although there were tense situations and moments of violence aboard both ships, the battalion was unprepared for the level of chaos and the extent of the civil disorder soon to be encountered in the Cuban migrant camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Within hours of the battalion's arrival at Guantanamo on 28 August, we faced our first civil disturbance. Hundreds of Cuban migrants gathered at the fence lines of several of the camps, shouting, throwing rocks, and testing the barrier wire. Virtually a daily event, these disturbances increased in energy and violence until a general uprising occurred on 9 September resulting in the breakout of several thousand migrants from two separate camps. Restoring order and security in and around the camps fell largely to U.S. Marine and Army infantry units serving as external security forces and required 5 days of sustained civil disturbance and security operations to stabilize and quiet the camps.
2d Battalion, 6th Marines (2/6), recently redesignated from 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, was no different from many of the battalions in the Marine Corps. Six months after its return from unit deployment to the Western Pacific, it could field only some 500 deployable Marines and Sailors for its second deployment. The significance of the battalion's situation in both May and August points to the likelihood that any battalion, regardless of its strength, its personnel turbulence, and/or its level of training, is a candidate for deployment into this new military activity referred to as military operations other than war (MOOTW).
In retrospect, the single lesson of MOOTW is if a Marine unit is trained and ready for war-not low-intensity conflict (LIC), not MOOTW, but war-it will succeed at virtually any mission assigned, regardless of how murky it may seem under mission analysis. Having now commanded a battalion on two significantly different humanitarian contingency missions, I am more convinced than ever that success will flow from well-trained squads, squad leaders, and junior officers. Having watched Marines from private to general in these operations, I have come to believe we are truly remarkable and absolutely unique in our ability to adapt and innovate under pressure and operate in the joint environment. I am also convinced that the lessons Marines learned in the past hold true today. The discipline, intellect, and soldierly demeanor required for success in war are exactly the same attributes now needed for MOOTW.
What follows is the essence of the lessons learned by this battalion in the camps at Guantanamo Bay. Some of the lessons were entirely new. Others, particularly those associated with violence, conflict, and human factors, should not have been such a surprise; but they were. We also learned a lesson about something I will call violence supremacy, a concept that will be addressed later in the body of this paper. The comments are written from our perspective as the external security force guarding some 19,000 to 21,000 Cubans. In that role, we cooperated with the internal security force, an Army military police battalion, the crack 716th.
The Concept of Security
Security as a Concept. Security is first and foremost a state of mind. It is not a function of barriers, security forces, guard towers, or weapons status, though surely they are a part of the security equation. If the Cuban migrant is secure in his own mind, he will be compliant and quiescent, and his life from day to day in the camps will be endurable, even tolerable, as the Governments of the United States and Cuba resolve their political status. If however, he feels insecure, if he feels his basic wants and necessities are not being fulfilled, if he and his family are being victimized by elements of the Cuban population, or if his well-being is threatened, he will react in ways that will present challenges for U.S. forces. To define security in any other way ignores that most powerful force-human factors. Human factors will motivate migrants to breach six strands of concertina wire, to jump from a 60-foot cliff into unseen waters at night to swim to Cuba, and to pit themselves against hardened Marines when the milk has run out for the children. Security is in the mind of the migrant.
Security as a "Combined Arms" Effort. In military terms, the true security described above can only be achieved if viewed as a combined arms operation. As depicted in Figure 1, security appears "at the center of the universe." Virtually every endeavor, from camp engineering to medical support to the doling out of food rations, contributes in some measure to the issue of security. The coordination of all the many disparate agencies that operate inside and outside the barrier wire must be centrally managed to ensure all elements operate in harmony and in mutual support. The coordinated actions of the various agencies in combination will have the effect of creating that sense of well-being and security in the mind of the Cuban migrant. Civil affairs (CA) cannot organize inside the camps without the support of robust logistics efforts, which are controlled and monitored by internal security forces, who are supported by psychological operations (PsyOps) information campaigns, etc. Security, then, is a combined arms effort. All organizational schemes during such operations should seek to maximize these effects by eliminating tactical boundaries, streamlining command and control relationships, and improving interoperability.
The Scalpel Versus the Hammer. The security struggle for the hearts and minds will, for the most part, be won inside the camps' barrier wire. The combined arms effort achieved within the camps will come in large measure from the subtle, continuous effects of civil affairs supported by the actions of the other agencies depicted in Figure 1. While the campaign to achieve stability and security in the camps is long term and incremental, in many ways analogous to the excising effects of a scalpel in removing problems, the effort must also be supported by an obvious external security force, which by its posture, demeanor, and professionalism presents a visible deterrent to civil unrest or predatory activities by threat elements in the camps. The external force constitutes the hammer. Ultimately, success will be determined by the combination of forces that constitutes the scalpel, while failure will be retrieved by those forces that constitute the hammer. Having the correct combination of all forces, with emphasis on the effects of the scalpel, will offer this form of humanitarian mission the greatest chances for success.
Humanitarian Mission or LIC. While the operational imperatives of a humanitarian mission are the overall paramount concerns, an external security force has no choice but to view the operation as a LIC mission. From this perspective flows a discussion of tactics, techniques, and procedures employed by this battalion. The continued and widespread violence encountered by 2/6 early in this operation confirmed the LIC paradigm, and for the most part the battalion was ready. However, make no mistake, in its riot control it still had to achieve passage through the "first fights." This paper presents the essence of the battalion's thinking with respect to the use of force and the evolution of tactical thinking. Later observers of quiet camps and subdued, content migrants found discussions of early escalation to violence and of violence supremacy and the concept of violence thresholds potentially inconsistent with the concept of humanitarian operations. It is useful to note that the camps, as they are today, are quiet and the migrants are subdued precisely because external security units escalated to violence to impose civil order and permit overall security to be established. Had the battalion not been operating from the LIC paradigm, it would have been wholly unprepared for the level, extent, and organization of the violence of the Cuban migrants.
LIC Battlefield. Under this LIC paradigm, the innocent population is treated exactly as would be the populace in humanitarian operations. The fundamental difference between humanitarian and LIC operations is in the approach to the hostile element concealed within the general migrant population. Operations are guided and orchestrated by intensive intelligence operations to target hostile, dissident, or criminal elements; defeat their organizational attempts; and remove offending elements before they pose a serious threat to the harmony and good order and discipline of the camps.
The Threat. There were various factions within the camps that posed a significant threat to the success of this mission. It was necessary to break the threat into the basic four components identified by pattern analysis, after which significant effort was invested in analyzing each to identify their centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities.
Agents Provocateurs: These are potentially the most dangerous elements of the threat, for these elements were deliberately planted in the migrant population with the sole purpose of preying upon the discomforts of the migrant population at large and instigating or inciting demonstrations. While their shortterm goals may be the general disruption of camp life and to test security mechanisms, their long-term goal is potentially to force an international incident that will negatively impact on-going negotiations between the United States and Cuba. Their actions have the potential of being by far the most devastating to the successful accomplishment of the humanitarian mission.
Criminals/Prisoners: There are verified criminal elements within the camps. Released in large numbers from Cuban prisons and like institutions, these individuals or groups have the potential to generate significant instability within the camps by their ability to organize criminal elements and activities and to terrorize the common Cuban migrant. They will prey on these people in order to further their own causes, and they have little remorse or concern for the consequences of their actions.
Palo Mayombe/Abakua: Of great concern to the security forces was the presence of this cultist form of religion based on a blending of West African, Cuban, and Christian faith elements. The Abakua Cult is a combination of African idol worship and spiritualism, and the forces at work are considered those of evil. These individuals are known to be extremely violent and malevolent and are unpredictable almost to the point of being psychopathic. Intelligence officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stated these individuals should be removed from the general populace immediately upon detection and be segregated in the most secure facilities available. The criminal and religious subcultures that can flow from the organizational efforts of the Abakua can turn a camp into a living hell for the common migrant.
Troublemakers: These are individuals who, although not criminals, will continue to be a constant source of irritation for security personnel. They will attempt escapes to relieve boredom or feign illnesses in order to visit the hospitals away from the camps. These individuals are most likely young (18-30) and prone to "jumping on the bandwagon" during escape attempts or during demonstrations.
Intelligence. Early formation of a joint intelligence center served to focus the efforts of all intelligence agencies, assets, and resources. Collection efforts that did not fully and completely integrate the collection assets both inside and outside the barrier wire were inadequate and unable to cope with the array of threats present in the camps.
Much effort was expended on LIC pattern analysis of each demographic group within the camps. As these factors were identified and as patterns emerged, "camp hotspots," potential breach points, assembly areas or attack positions, weapons factories and caches, and organizational areas became discernible. These results further assisted in focusing the collection efforts and, ultimately, in interdicting illegal and hostile activities in the camps and the apprehension of perpetrators.
Beyond the obvious value of the LIC pattern analysis, the "intelligence preparation of the battlefield" within the camps was an important contribution as well. This included identification of weak points in the wire, potential breach sites, potential routes of egress from the camp, etc.
Violence Supremacy and "Seeing the Elephant."
Many of the tactical lessons learned by individual members of the external security force were "dearly purchased" in the wire of the migrant camps. For future external security forces to be "comfortable" in operations such as these, they must first overcome the psychological effects that are part of all first fight experiences. New troops and their leaders found the first riot experiences to be bewildering, chaotic encounters devoid of patterns and defying easy solution. The fact that most violent demonstrations occur at night only added to the confusion, uncertainty, and fear. While realistic training is an invaluable preparation for the chaos of the night time violent riot, there was no substitute for the actual experience. The Marines and soldiers of the external security forces must simply "see the elephant" as the veterans of the Civil War learned, and in seeing the elephant, find him smaller each time. With each encounter, we discovered that fear and confusion diminished and battlefield reasoning increased, with the result that tactical patterns and hostile methods become discernible through the fog of war.
A second dimension of dealing with the "elephant" on this LIC battlefield is the individual psychological preparation of the external security member. Again, in the LIC paradigm, the vast majority of the population is neutral and/or innocent. However, because security forces continually deal with that small percentage of migrants who create most of the trouble, security force members could easily blame all migrants for the "sins" of the few; treat individual, innocent migrants with disrespect; or take out deployment frustrations on recalcitrants or those captured while escaping. If left unchecked or unmanaged by unit leadership, individual violence could potentially escalate until it sparks a general uprising and/or a tragedy occurs. Leaders must constantly "take the temperature" of their Marines and/or soldiers to gauge the levels of rising animosity and use all the tools at their disposal: motivational/situational training exercises, chaplains, psychologists/psychiatrists, constant presence and supervision to enhance personal discipline and professional conduct, reduce tensions, and keep security forces focused on that small segment of the population that causes the most trouble.
To inexperienced troops, loud, violent demonstrations at first seemed to be formless and shapeless expressions of rage. Mobs were faceless masses of humanity, seething out of control. Early tactics generally revolved around containing the disturbance frontally, with the objective of arraying as many external security forces as possible in the immediate vicinity of the riot to deter an escalation of violence. If deterrence failed, the normal response was to "take on" the crowd frontally, initially trying to absorb the mass and weight of the migrants against the line of riot shields. Offensive violence was employed very reluctantly and often, when finally used, was too late either to quell the disturbance or to adequately defend the troops. Early casualties among security forces come from rocks, or close-in use of tent stakes, tent poles, or crudely fabricated knives and shanks.
As forces gained experience, their tactics changed, primarily regarding the use of violence. Americans are generally unused to the experience of violent social interaction. Loud, boisterous, or violent migrant posturing is initially intimidating to new forces and often serves to immobilize local or junior decisionmakers in the confusion of the new sensations associated with a night riot. With increased troop experience and upon closer examination, it became apparent that these mobs are, in fact, organized and led from the front, usually by "punks" motivated by the provocateurs or criminals at the rear of the demonstration or even commanding from their tents. The front ranks are heavily populated by the "berserkers," whose purpose it is to whip the mob into a frenzy.
With an understanding of this hostile order of battle, the most valuable lesson learned for external security troops is that the side that resorts to high-speed, aggressive, violent action first will usually prevail very quickly. In essence, and within a controlled framework, we sought to establish violence supremacy. As forces responded to the crisis, snatch teams immediately began "spotting" and "marking" targets in the crowds, assessing who the troublemakers were and who would be taken first. Forces were no longer disposed only frontally. While some reaction forces were positioned to take the mob head-on, other elements, the preponderance of the forces, were positioned on the riot's flanks and rear, usually outside the wire, poised there with breaching devices. Under centralized command and control, security forces were the first to push up the violence ante. On order, snatch teams rushed the crowd frontally at the main line of resistance, going for the most volatile demonstrators. Those snatched were removed quickly from the sight and hearing of the mob. The offenders must literally appear to disappear. Out of sight-out of mind. At the same time all other forces moved forward at high speed, secondary forces effected breaches and rushed the flanks and rear of the mob. Local snatch teams also operated aggressively against targets of opportunity on the flanks. The frontal attack served to support and protect the efforts of the snatch teams operating against the mob leadership and to fix the mob in place.
The unexpected appearance of the supporting attacks on the mob's soft spots usually had an electrifying effect on the crowd and caused the demonstration to disband at high speed. An important note, however, is the presence of women and children. If the riot is a daylight disturbance, there will probably be a substantial number of women and children in or near the front of the crowd, which will also place them in close proximity to the barrier wire. Commanders and leaders must account for this before unleashing the secondary attacks. Women and children pushed into triple strand concertina wire in the panic of the attack would be a tragedy from which that camp may never completely recover. Medical personnel must be on the scene in force during these situations to attend both to security force members as well as to the migrants.
During and immediately following the riot situation, active, aggressive intelligence collection was pursued. Intelligence personnel, whether from the S-2 shop, observation posts, combat cameras, etc., were employed. During the riot, principal collection occurred with the purpose of identifying troublemakers for future snatch operations, new patterns in the tactics of the migrants, the appearance of new or different weapons, and geographic hotbeds within camps-all to be targeted for future operations. Following the riot, collection served to provide "damage assessment" of the actions of the security force and to determine the degree of insecurity in the camps.
Evolving Security Threat
Following the 12 September operation to move the migrants of Radio Range back into their camps, the dissident elements changed their tactics. Where before there seemed to be a willingness to confront security forces head-on, either at the camp gates or at specially selected breach sites, a genuine reluctance to go force on force with security elements now appeared. There were probably five reasons for this:
First, the migrant population was surprised to learn that so many security forces were available. The presence of some 12 companies (3 battalions) in the operation created an impression of strength that the migrants had not previously appreciated.
Second, this operation was the first where migrants encountered the willingness of security forces to use violence. The image of fully equipped Marines and soldiers with camouflaged faces aggressively pursuing, capturing, apprehending, and removing offenders left a permanent impression of the strength of security forces and their definite willingness and ability to employ violence. Migrants apprehended were visibly shaken and were immediately separated to administrative segregation where their individual involvements in the disturbances were examined in greater detail. This sent a clear and unambiguous message to the dissident population that disorder and violence on their part would not be tolerated.
Third, Phase II of the operation, conducted on the second day, included a tent-by-tent sweep of the entire Radio Range area. The message to the migrant population was clear: Powerful security forces will randomly come to your camp and search it thoroughly for weapons, contraband, and other unauthorized items. Conducted with the dignity of the individual migrant in mind, these inspections put the predatory elements on notice that they would not be in charge anywhere-not in the camps and not in the tents.
Fourth, following the operation, the camp populations settled into more routine camp life. Many of the promised amenities arrived in quantity, and such chronic issues as water shortages were generally being addressed or resolved. While the logistics situation remained a challenge, the migrants generally accepted that all was being done for them that could done.
Finally, the organization of the various camp governments was having a stabilizing effect.
In the aggregate, these factors combined to "strip away" many of the migrants who previously participated in camp disturbances, either out of curiosity or because they felt there was no liability in doing so. Those mischief-makers who remained were the more hardened elements who had eluded apprehension by internal and external security forces. We discovered quickly that they changed their tactics. Security forces were then challenged to analyze the emerging situation and adapt their tactics to the changing threat.
After several days of relative calm following the sweep, security forces began to detect a new pattern to the camp disturbances. Rather than gathering in unruly mobs, troublemakers formed secretive groups, generally at the backs of the camps, where, using high-speed breaching techniques, they were through the wire and gone into the night before local security forces or quick reaction forces could respond. After two nights of witnessing this activity, officers of the battalion met to discuss this change and determine its implications for the security forces. Several critical factors were discussed:
First, reasons for the change in migrant tactics had to be considered. The solution was partially available in the analysis presented above, but there was another reason. With no hope now of resolving their political situation by rioting, and with an apparent interminable stay ahead of them in the camps, many of the migrants were now committed to breaking out and returning to Cuba. These groups were small, populated by desperate men who were prepared to use force and employ weapons against security forces to achieve their freedom. Qualitatively, this was a different opponent than the mischievous demonstrator.
From intelligence analysis and from external security observation, it became apparent the groups were well organized with chains of command, observers, armorers, and information gatherers. They would carefully reconnoiter the barrier wire for weaknesses, the actions and routines of internal and external security forces (with particular interest in the actions of officers), and the ground in and around the camps for avenues of egress. The plan was for escape groups to form quickly; breach the wire at high speed using cots, boards, or picnic tables; and be gone into the darkness to the north, into the hills, or south, into the water, before security forces could respond.
Examining their ability to respond to this apparent change in tactics, the commanders concluded that the quick reaction force (QRF), while capable of responding within 5 minutes, was too slow. It was also positioned too far away from the likely avenues of egress and was too "heavy" to pursue lightly clothed and equipped migrants. The ability to continue to observe escapees once they had "breached" the sectors of observation from the towers was minimal. Tower guards were focused almost entirely on the well-lit camps. Migrants speeding past the towers and into the darkness were quickly lost from sight. Tower guards given their sectors of observation had no light intensification devices because of their orientation on the lighted camps. Security forces on routine foot patrols were at physical risk of injury or death at the hands of escaping groups because the patrols placed the escape attempt at risk.
Based on the factors discussed above, commanders reached the following conclusions and then agreed to the tactical changes outlined below:
- The migrants intent on escaping, must be kept off balance both physically and psychologically, without negatively impacting the improving lifestyles and quality of life of the general migrant population.
- Security forces must defeat the migrants' attempt to template their activities and routines. At the same time, however, particularly during the hours of greatest probability of escape, changes in routine must be obvious and unambiguous to the migrants to confuse their plans.
- Employment of psychological operations was crucial to deterring an escape attempt. Officers' presence in towers, apparently using binoculars and taking notes, and the obvious employment of simulated listening devices suggested increased restraints while reducing the predictability of the external forces.
- The concept of reaction forces needed to be rethought and redefined.
Tactics were revised to account for the changing security environment. A heavily armed and armored, centrally controlled QRF was retained. Its primary mission remained to react to the large scale civil disturbance. However, its size was reduced in favor of a one to two platoon patrolling force. Platoon-size patrols were oriented on the most likely axis of migrant egress in the event of an escape attempt. Platoons established patrol bases in the bush some distance from the wire along likely egress routes. While some portion of the platoon patrolled, the remainder stayed in the patrol base, locally available to respond to any escape attempt that evaded the patrols themselves. Patrols were fully armed, with faces painted. Patrol routes carried patrols from the darkness of the bush or cliff line into the lighted areas of the camps where the patrols would be conspicuous. "Bouncing off the wire," the patrols would disappear once again into the darkness. Migrants were left to wonder where the patrol had gone and how long it was astride the prospective escape route. The patrol bases themselves became de facto local reaction forces as well.
Perimeter foot patrols ceased, and Marines were moved off the ground into guard towers for their own protection, where they provided early warning of migrant gatherings and other unusual activities. Marines continued to patrol only in those perimeter areas that constituted "dead space" from guard towers. These Marines patrolled in pairs.
Motorized patrols, unscheduled and along random routes, further enhanced the unpredictability of the external security force and served to provide presence more so than reaction or deterrence.
Though never implemented, an outer ring of observation posts (OPs) was planned. On key terrain, these OPs would be oriented to pick up the escapees as they passed the guard towers and moved into the comparative safety of the darkness and the bush or cliff line. Scout-sniper Marines would be particularly wellsuited for this mission. In addition, the thermal imaging capabilities of the TOW night sight would provide a tactical plus.
Military working dog (MWD) teams were used as an economy of force measure. While the heavy, QRF was centrally located, and the patrol bases were locally oriented, other potential problem areas were patrolled by MWD teams. These teams were an excellent deterrent, as Cubans showed considerable respect for them. Additionally, team leaders collected and reported against migrant activities and freed other external forces for operations against likely trouble areas.
Supporting all these operations was a PsyOp campaign that sought to sow ambiguity in the migrant's mind. Routines were varied, unusual activities were staged (such as the march-by of 1st Battalion, 2d Marines), officers were employed in obvious positions as observers, and "special" equipment was "flashed" at potential trouble spots. The intent of all these measures was to keep the migrant off balance, always wondering what security forces were doing and where they were. With sufficient doubt in his mind, the potentially hostile migrant was deterred.
No program outside the wire could be successful without the full and complete cooperation of the internal security forces. As tactics outside the wire were adapted to account for changes in migrant behavior, so too were the tactics inside the wire. Internal security elements were assigned sectors to patrol. When notified of "spontaneous" gatherings of migrants, camp command posts sent patrols immediately to investigate the activity. The intent was to keep the migrant always off balance, always guessing what was happening. These activities, supplemented by an on-going program of sweeps and unscheduled inspections, defeated hoarding, weapons manufacture, and other activities that relied on the concealment of tents and the secrecy of organized groups. External security forces assisted internal forces by aggressive reporting, in cordoning areas during sweeps, in protecting flanks during snatches, or by providing shows efforce during heightened tensions.
Our battalion learned many lessons the hard way in Guantanamo. Adapting to the early tactics of the migrants, Marine security forces ultimately developed the ability to "read" the anatomy of a riot and to adapt to each situation. Following the sweep of 12 September and the change in migrant tactics, the battalion again adapted. Two important points emerge. First, the battalion approached its mission as a LIC operation and was sufficiently flexible operationally to act and react to the tactics of the LIC battlefield. The second issue, though, may be the more important: Commanders at every level must recognize the absolute obligation to study the "enemy's" tactics, seek out the changes in his thinking, and counter his tactical directions with innovative approaches that capitalized on the migrants' human factors, critical vulnerabilities, and centers of gravity. This willingness to engage in an on-going study of the opponent's thinking and tactics is a crucial dimension of LIC operations in general and maneuver warfare tactics in particular. The end result, of course, is that the side that remains more intellectually agile will remain ahead in the decision-action relationship that characterizes conflict at every level.
In retrospect, I have asked myself many times: If I had raised the violence ante earlier-if I had established violence supremacy from the outsetwould we have experienced the general breakdown of civil order in the camps. My answer is no. Remaining true to the precepts of a humanitarian mission while dealing with a LIC environment is a unique tactical experience and places unusual tactical decisionmaking demands on commanders at all levels. From my own study of the art of war and the role of human factors in combat, I should have recognized that increased but controlled violence was the key to solving this dilemma with actors who have been born and raised under one of the world's premier violent and repressive regimes. Ultimately each situation will be different, and each humanitarian mission will bears its own complexion with respect to how much humanity we can afford in establishing the conditions for problem or conflict resolution. I would simply say to commanders who follow me into these operations, listen to the alarm bells going off in your head. They aren't caused by the rocks bouncing off your helmet, they're generated by sound tactical instincts screaming to be heard. We, as Marines, will be good at humanitarian operations and MOOTW because of our tactical instincts, our abilities to think and reason about war, and our unique organization for combat.
>LtCol Allen, a former member of the Gazette's editorial board, has been CO of 2d Bn, 6th Mar since March 1994.