On the Conduct of War

by 1stLt Mauro Mujica III

Maneuver warfare is defined as a:

. . . warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.1

The theory is simple in its idea yet complex in its application. It is possibly the first thing that every second lieutenant is taught-and is certainly the most valuable. It has proven over the years that the Marine Corps as a military force is in a league of its own. The idea itself is not new. Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, described similar principles. They are as true today as they were 2,000 years ago. In order to be successful in Iraq and in future operations, maneuver warfare must not only be emphasized in theoretical discussions and the classroom, but it must be ingrained into the way we conduct our operations.

In March 2003 coalition forces barreled across the Iraqi border to liberate a nation under a tyrannical government and advance our national security. We again demonstrated that U.S. military forces engaged in conventional operations are unmatched. It should be no shock then that the enemy forces that remained would begin utilizing unconventional methods to inflict maximum casualties.

The improvised explosive device (IED), a rather simple concoction, has become the ideal weapon to employ against occupying forces with predictable main supply routes. One can immediately see the “surface” that has caused such devastating casualties, yet we have done little to find the “gap.” The numbers themselves highlight the effectiveness of the enemy’s principal weapon against coalition forces.2 While we train our Marines in the classroom to find gaps to maneuver on the enemy, the continuing course of action in Iraq has been to bolt more armor onto our vehicles and develop more sophisticated electronic countermeasures. These actions contribute to a cycle in which we develop new ways to protect ourselves from IEDs while the enemy evolves more sophisticated IEDs, as witnessed by die implementation of the pressure or motion switches that are being seen today.

We have in fact been practicing the opposite of maneuver warfare. We have found the enemy’s surface and have pushed even harder into it. We allow our enemy to completely control the tempo of the fight by controlling the who, when, and where of contact. During 4 months in Ramadi our battalion didn’t catch one confirmed triggerman in the aftermath of an IED attack. With all of the capabilities that the Marine Corps has, we are long overdue to reorient and act.

The use of IEDs has created a central problem that is compounded when given the nature of this war; it grants the enemy anonymity. Coalition forces can’t orient on an insurgent force that can’t be identified. Given the amount of emphasis our doctrine places on orienting on the enemy, it should be obvious that drastic action is required if we are to succeed in defeating this very stealthy foe.

We should try to understand the unique characteristics that make the enemy function so that we can penetrate the system, tear it apart, and, if necessary, destroy the isolated components. We should seek to identify and attack critical vulnerabilities and those centers of gravity without which the enemy cannot function effectively.3

The insurgent’s center of gravity is his capacity to camouflage himself within the general population and therefore dictate the tempo of battle. He decides when to attack while quickly withdrawing before coalition forces can acquire positive identification. The enemy is only allowed such privileges because he hides within a population that either actively or passively supports him. There are three courses of action that will allow coalition forces to orient on the enemy. The first is to place a far greater emphasis on information operations (IO). The second is to augment the intelligence community with additional capabilities. Finally, the third is to nullify the IED and draw the enemy into small arms engagements where it is easier to acquire positive identification.

Far too often operations have been run in Ramadi without a detailed or well-planned IO component. It was often a cursory check in the box that equated to the Marines handing out leaflets with a generic statement appealing to the people’s national pride. The Marine Corps takes great pride in its ability to give subordinates the commander’s intent allowing for decentralized execution. We tell the Marine the “why,” but we rarely afford the same courtesies to the Iraqis caught in the middle of this war. It is not out of benevolence that we need to inform them of why we are running operations; it is in order to begin driving a wedge between insurgent groups and the populace. We can attack the decentralized enemy itself with a powerful IO campaign. Within Ramadi we identified rifts between various factions that made up anticoalition forces. Now is the time to exploit them. Currently, IO is extremely centralized, and company commanders are not given the authority to produce their own IO effort. This situation is utterly contrary to the way the Marine Corps does business. We must give the commander guidance and allow him to use his specific knowledge of the area of operations in order to effectively shape the battlefield through IO developed at the company level.

While the insurgency can be likened to organized crime, the Marine Corps is certainly not the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have completely different missions, yet we agree that intelligence drives operations. When fighting an insurgency, intelligence often is the operation. Thorough intelligence sheds light on a darkened enemy and allows units to develop target packages that subsequently lead to raids. Logically, therefore, the better the intelligence is the more precise the raids will be. Human intelligence in fourth-generation warfare is the most productive due to the enemy’s lack of technological dependence, unlike so many of our former and possibly future adversaries. Human exploitation teams (HETs) are extremely valuable, but they must be augmented. The Marine Corps currently lacks the personnel to gather the amount of intelligence needed. We attempt to address the problem through phrases and concepts, such as “every Marine a collector.” While this statement is true and has proven useful, the inability to allow commanders to field interrogate within a very specific set of guidelines is prohibiting them from developing informants, which in turn is hampering our intelligence efforts. Again, we are not Central Intelligence Agency case officers and do not need to run sources. But, with strict guidelines, allowing commanders to handle low-level informants would immediately bolster the intelligence community. A clear line needs to be drawn distinguishing an informant from a source, which would clarify which people would necessitate HETs. The potential for turf wars to begin within the Marine Corps exists, but defeating the enemy is a common goal. Human intelligence is vital for successful operations in Iraq. With the HETs current manning level, platoon commanders and above should be authorized to field interrogate and handle low-level informants.

The Marine Corps derives its historical combat supremacy from our ability to strike from the land, air, or sea. Every second lieutenant can remember the lectures at The Basic School and learning about the Corps’ history. In Iraq today we must utilize all of the assets that the Marine Corps has to offer’ in order to create an unpredictable atmosphere in which enemy forces can no longer dictate the pace of contact. If insurgent forces are laying IEDs along our main supply routes, then why not fly over them? If Iraq is the land of two rivers, why don’t we use them to float around the IEDs? The argument of a high risk to benefit ratio is already moot. It goes without saying that helicopter or boat operations require more planning than normal vehicle operations, but the benefit of these operations far outweighs the burden of the planning. It is already clear that the majority of insurgents spend far more time planning their extract than their ambush. At this stage, we have made ourselves predictable and have continually invited ambushes. By using helicopters and small riverine craft, we invalidate the enemy’s principal weapon. Vehicles are extremely useful and powerful assets that should continue to be utilized in Iraq. The ability to provide a powerful communications platform, their substantial firepower, and their protection against small arms makes them an invaluable combat power multiplier. Yet, to rely on them as we do in Ramadi, and I suspect across Iraq, is much like giving the star football player the ball on every down. Very quickly the opponent will adapt and begin to double- or tripleteam his efforts. When using vehicles, we must do so deliberately.

Imagine inserting a raid force with small boats while having a few support gun trucks moving parallel along a cleared supply route that has been under observation for 24 hours. IEDs would prove useless against the primary raid force, and therefore, the enemy would be forced to use small arms to inflict damage. Now the enemy is forced into a dilemma. Does he choose to attack with small arms knowing that vehicles could vector in on his position within moments? By examining this scenario we see that it is indeed risky but far less threatening than continually driving on unpaved roads where we can be certain to continue being hit by IEDs. Taking the scenario further, let us assume the enemy engages our force. The mobile units could cordon the house or block and fire upon the enemy. Dismounts can move in and begin interrogating those present as well as the surrounding neighbors. The IO component is utilized with the neighbors by informing them that they have been disrupted because anticoalition forces have been operating in their neighborhood. Another mobile section could launch, allowing the commander to continue with the raid. A combined arms effect has been created that sets up a favorable atmosphere in which to gather intelligence, conduct successful operations, and force the enemy to divulge his location.

Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 (MCDP 1), Warfighting, is our doctrine. It is the Marine Corps’ warfighting philosophy. Its principles must be fully utilized if the Marine Corps is going to be successful in Iraq. Maneuver warfare is an ongoing process, and we must continue to assess the enemy’s center of gravity and critical vulnerabilities. But the act is meaningless if we do not reorient and execute on our new conclusions. We must train and use our sea and air capabilities to create an unpredictable environment to decrease the effectiveness of the IED. Furthermore, decentralize execution and allow the commanders to create their own IO and field interrogate low-level informants. To maintain our status as the elite of the world’s military forces we must continue our scholastic analysis of the theoretical principles of warfighting but also begin to apply them practically.


1. MCDP 1, Warfighting, United States Government, Washington, DC, 1997, p. 73.

2. To date there have been 2,444 U.S. deaths as a result of hostile fire. IEDs are responsible for 1,105 of those killed in action, accounting for 45.2 percent of all hostile fire fatalities. Information is available at http://www.icasualties. org/oif, accessed on 19 January 2007.

3. MCDP 1, p. 76.