THE MARINES TAKE ANBAR: The Four-Year Fight Against Al Qaeda
Successful campaigns are won by brains. Whether they be wars for terrain or battles for city streets, planned by higher-ups and fought by ordinary soldiers, it’s always the same: the mind, first; the heart and soul, second.
This scholarly analysis, “The Marines Take Anbar—The Four-Year Fight Against Al Qaeda,” echoes with clarifying detailed explanations for the ancient maxim: “Any force that combines daring initiatives with a maximum of careful planning is unbeatable, even if it is outnumbered three or even five to one by an ill-organized and unimaginative enemy.”
During the four-year campaign for Anbar, Iraq’s largest providence in the Sunni Triangle, between March 2004 and the summer of 2008, the Corps’ legendary I and II Marine Expeditionary forces, suffering bewilderment and battle defeats at first, finally secured and stabilized the al Qaeda stronghold. By considering the essential social and cultural organizational conditions, as well as the psychological core of the enemy and its allies, the MEFs, with supporting units from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, Iraqi military and other coalition countries, employed impromptu but well-thought-out methods in gaining control of Anbar province.
In his splendid foreword, Major General Donald R. Gardner, USMC (Ret), President Emeritus, Marine Corps University, writes: “Throughout that campaign, Marines drew upon their long history of fighting small wars and insurrections to adjust and adapt to the province’s complex environment and devise novel and effective counterinsurgency strategies ... you could not win that war with kinetic operations.”
Page after page of Shultz’s anatomy of a classic military campaign suggests, subtly and discerningly, that brains and bravery always win over brawn. Although he cites the sagacity and piercing intellects of such formidable personalities as MajGen John Kelly, Colonel Joe Dunford, General John Allen, MajGen Richard Zilmer, Col Sean McFarland, Gen George Casey and Brigadier General Robert Neller, and a legion of others too numerous to mention in this limited space, the author suggests that a host of anonymous officers were equally involved in achieving Anbar’s final permanence.
They were the ones who not only gathered critical information and ensured supplying men and material, but also made a variety of suggestions that top combat leaders took on board to make and carry out decisions.
“The Marines Take Anbar—The Four-Year Fight Against Al Qaeda” is a first-rate, step-by-step account of military adaptation and improvisation under often horrific circumstances that match any campaigns in the annals of Corps history. The lessons learned from the Anbar story are not only for Marines to study but also for everyone in U.S. military and civilian security institutions.
The author concludes: “Given the persistence of irregular conflict challenges, these lessons will likely have an enduring applicability in the years ahead. They should be assiduously examined, dissected, and, where appropriate, institutionalized into training, organization, and preparation for future irregular challenges.”
Certainly a must-read for all military personnel.