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A New Type Of Armed Police Force For Maintaining Civil Order

The Marines (pictured) are a tight-knit brotherhood of warriors who pride themselves on strict discipline and honor. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Claude Salhani
International Editor
Washington (UPI) Jun 06, 2006
With the exception of the Salvation Army, recruits in all the world's armies are trained to fight -- and to kill. Consequently, when armies are dispatched overseas and tasked with jobs intended more for urban police forces than the military, trouble is bound to break out. As it did in Iraq.

Despite the best training in the world, it remains difficult to take an elite fighting force, such as the United States Marine Corps, place it an hostile environment, and expect it to perform as would a metropolitan police force.

In no way is this meant to excuse what happened in Haditha last November, when U.S. Marines allegedly killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children. The incident occurred after an improvised explosive device killed a Marine.

Initial reports from the U.S. military stated that an explosion killed the civilians. However, it later emerged that the Iraqis had died from gunshot wounds.

For the Marines, a tight-knit brotherhood of warriors who pride themselves on strict discipline and honor, the lamentable incident in Haditha comes as a blemish on the reputation of the entire Corps. The Marines, who call themselves "the few, the proud," are a relatively small number of men -- and also a few women. They number fewer than 180,000, far less than the 1 million-plus soldiers serving in the U.S. Army.

"If the incident at Haditha proves true, and Marines murdered innocent people, I attribute it first to bad leadership on the ground there, and secondly to the burnout of these Marines," Charles Henderson, a former Marine who served in Vietnam and Beirut, and who is the author of several books on the war in Southeast Asia, told United Press International.

Henderson, whose last book "Goodnight Saigon" won the general nonfiction Book of the Year Award for 2006 from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, also attributes another major factor to consider: combat fatigue.

"Our American fighting men and women are good people who will lay their lives on the line to protect innocent people; they just do not go around murdering them," said Henderson. "In Vietnam, most Marines and soldiers pulled one 13-month-long tour of duty and then went home."

That is far from the case in Iraq, where most Marines and soldiers serve two tours of duty, and many are expected to sign up for a third. Long deployments in combat zones," said Henderson, "causes soldiers to become hardened, and become angry. And when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proposes to cut military strength, I lose my breath when I hear the absurd notion mentioned!

"I must keep my faith with these and all Marines. I know them well, and they are not murderers."

"The Marine Corps has two missions; to make Marines and win battles," as the Corp advertises on its Web site. The Marines are compromised of smart, adaptable men and women, and serve as the "aggressive tip of the American military spear."

Note that one of the two missions is to "win battles."

Winning battles usually involves killing the enemy; sadly in urban warfare innocent people are caught by the demons of war, as was the case in Haditha, a relatively obscure town until last week. It now joins, with Abu Ghraib prison, the roster of infamous places in Iraq.

In reviewing the incident in Haditha it would be appropriate for the Department of Defense to rethink deploying fighting forces in situations that are neither war nor peace -- such as Iraq today.

It is worth noting that during the initial combat phase of the war, in the three weeks it took the U.S. and British military to drive across the Kuwaiti border in southern Iraq, and fight their way through the entire length of the country, up to the capital and beyond, all units performed as expected. The coalition troops were in their natural environment; that of trained soldiers engaged in the art of war, something for which they had long trained.

In some ways what is happening in Iraq today is analogous to the situation in which the Marines found themselves when President Ronald Reagan ordered them deployed to Lebanon in the early 1980s.

As in the post-heavy combat operations period in Iraq, so too in Lebanon in 1983, the Marines found themselves involved in what was basically a police action rather than a combat operation. In Iraq it was civilians who were killed, this time.

Twenty-three years ago in Lebanon it was the Marines who were massacred. They lost 241 men when a terrorist drove a truck filled with explosives into a building adjacent to Beirut International Airport that housed the Marines.

Lebanon, much like the post-heavy combat phase Iraq finds itself in today, fell into a limbo-like situation where neither all-out war, nor real peace exists. The result is added strain on the soldiers and Marines who are not trained for that type of situation.

As the United States and its Western European allies find themselves more and more involved in spreading democracy -- in other words, dispatching troops around the world to carry out functions traditionally reserved more for police forces than the military, it might be the right time to reassess and revaluate the role expected of that military.

Maybe this calls for the creation of a new branch in the military, something more along the lines of the French gendarmes, or the Italian Carabinieri -- a sort of paramilitary police force, usually dependent upon the Ministry of the Interior rather than the Ministry of Defense.

Some people say incident such as what happened in Haditha happens in every war. That may be true, but nevertheless it remains unacceptable.

"My greatest argument about this war is that the Bush administration is failing miserably in its leadership role because it is allowing political priorities to decide what should be strategic, tactical and military moral decisions," said Henderson.

Source: United Press International

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