Special Report

Ten Lessons of Fallujah

Peter Drucker would be proud.

By 11.17.04

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The U.S. military has much to teach those of us who seek to improve our marketable skills without recourse to Benjamin Franklin, Peter Drucker, and other people who've been self-help pets and talismans for so long that their once-luxurious advice is balder than the Velveteen Rabbit, and selling for less at "friends of the library" book sales.

American forces are lethal for many reasons. Per the saying that amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics, we the taxpayers have given our neighbors in the armed forces reach enough to go anywhere. More importantly, and in contrast to organizations where mistakes are seldom fatal, the American military learns quickly from its mistakes.

It is no disrespectful thing to assert that reports from the second battle of Fallujah can be analyzed with conviction that force of arms has turned the banks of the Euphrates River into a satellite campus of the Harvard Business School.

What the American military reminds me of is summarized in the following list of what might be called "dual use" advisories. In war, they help ensure survival on the battlefield. In peace, they increase the potential for success in business, even among people who've never had occasion to learn that that "IED" is an abbreviation for "improvised explosive device."

1. Plan well.

After learning last April that Fallujah was a tougher than expected nut, policy makers and commanders increased the surveillance on that city, and brought significantly more assets to bear on the reactionaries holed up there the second time around. As Canadian columnist David Warren wrote recently about coalition forces:

"I thought they were going in a month ago, but it turned out they were only starting the dress rehearsal, making feints, and using air and occasionally 'smart' artillery fire to 'shape the battlefield' for what is happening now. More than shaping it, they were creatively studying it, and testing the enemy's reactions."

2. Change tactics as needed.

Blogs like The Belmont Club were quick to recognize transformation in the U.S. military even apart from Donald Rumsfeld's successful use of Special Forces operators to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. From an overview posted to Belmont Club in October:

"The Marine methods of April would have been instantly familiar to any military historian: hammer and anvil, seizure of key terrain; feint and attack. Today, many of the military objectives in the developing siege of the terrorist stronghold are abstract. They consist of developing a network of informers in the city; of setting up a functioning wireless network; of getting close enough for smaller US units to deploy their line-of-sight controlled UAV and UGV units to create a seamless operational and tactical environment to wage 'swarm' warfare; of getting artillery and mortar units close enough to play hopscotch over everything the network decides to engage. To the traditional methods of warfare the Americans [are] adding a whole new plane which only they [can] inhabit."

3. Move quickly.

The second assault on Fallujah was a telegraphed punch, and politically necessary preparation for that punch allowed both innocent civilians and smarter jihadis to leave the immediate vicinity. After receiving the green light from Prime Minister Allawi, however, coalition forces advanced speedily, in a textbook example of what respected strategists call "getting inside the adversary's decision cycle."

4. Communicate.

U.S. troops now communicate with each other in ways that their fathers and grandfathers never imagined. Advances in wireless networking technology and the willingness of suppliers to increase the durability of their components have taken the concepts of "Network-Centric Warfare" out from the carpeted realm of think-tankery and into the dust of actual battle.

5. Divide big tasks into smaller pieces.

Coalition forces segmented Fallujah into several zones so as to concentrate firepower in areas where it was most needed:

"We've known for months that this (southern Fallujah) is where most of the foreign fighters are," said Marine Col. Craig Tucker, displaying a satellite photograph of the city. "This (the south) is where we find fortifications."

6. Pick your battles.

Mindful of the challenges posed by urban warfare, American commanders used combat engineers and guns to blow precise holes in buildings along the American route. Whenever they could, troops advanced via this "mouseholing" technique rather than through booby-trapped doors or along streets lined with IEDs.

Risk-averse behavior has also made checkpoints safer for the troops that secure them:

"Superior firepower is the order of the day; the soldiers are not taking risks and are eliminating the need to inspect vehicles and enter buildings by destroying them if they are deemed threatening."

7. Use the right tools.

In this area, of course, the American military is without peer:

"Significantly, the main assault began after darkness fell. Following months of preparatory airstrikes and unpublicized raids by U.S. special operations forces, the night attack instantly put the terrorists at a disadvantage. Although our enemies may have acquired a few night-vision devices, our troops are superbly equipped and trained as night stalkers."

The "backpack airplanes" described by TechCentralStation columnist Ralph Kinsey Bennett also count as tools:

"These small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be carried in two backpacks, assembled in minutes (they're made of a composite material that looks a lot like plastic foam) and launched by hand… Equipped with a small television camera and powered by an electric motor, these small planes (weight about 5 pounds, wingspan 45 inches) can give commanders on the scene a quick look at the other side of a building or a hill or screen of trees."

If one tool does not work, the military tries other tools, sometimes from halfway around the globe. One observer recounted how a Marine "watchdog" unit in Fallujah switched from artillery to air power via satellite while knocking out a hostile mortar:

"Launched from a site near Baghdad, the Predator UAV carried a Hellfire missile. Its crew and its video feeds were back in California."

8. Respect cultural realities.

In software companies, what U.S. commanders and their allies have been doing would be called "intelligent localization:"

"Iraq forces are leading the attack through culturally sensitive areas," Maj. Gen. Abdul Qader Mohan, appointed by Allawi to lead Iraqi forces in Fallujah, said. "Areas with schools, hospitals and mosques (will be) under the operational control of the Iraqi army."

"For Mustafa, one of 2,000 Iraqi soldiers fighting alongside U.S. troops for control of this insurgent-occupied city, the battle for Fallujah was personal. If the fighters continue to control Iraqi cities, there will be no future for him, his children or his wife of 10 weeks."

9. Keep notes on your efforts.

Note-taking makes sense even in environments where Al Jazeera, CNN, and stringers for NBC are not the other witnesses to your activity.

"One member of his troop was Sgt Kimberly Snow, a 'combat camera' photographer whose job was to record what happened in the battle to prevent the insurgents later boosting their cause with propaganda. 'If they're firing out of a mosque or a hospital I don't care where she is, bring Sgt Snow forward. So when we level that thing, we have pictures to show they were using it as a bad place,' said Capt Mayfield.'"

10. Think for yourself.

Ralph Peters, New York Post columnist and himself a veteran of military service, recently previewed both next month's news and the attitude we should bring to it:

"In the coming weeks, the terrorists will try to re-infiltrate the city. They'll stage photogenic car bombings and assassinations. Then we'll be told that we still don't control Fallujah, that we've failed. But a city where terrorists have to sneak in to plant a bomb is a far better place than one in which they rule."

That's the list. Each of the ten lessons on it has been paid for in blood, sweat, and treasure. You don't have to support American policy in Iraq to be humbled by that sacrifice, and grateful for it.

Although ten is an honorable number, the list needs at least one addendum, because combat is not the only thing happening in Iraq today. As talk radio host Laura Ingraham and others have remarked, efforts like Operation Iraqi Children, the cooperative charitable venture between actor/director Gary Sinise and "Seabiscuit" author Laura Hillenbrand, are also doing enormous good.

In uniform or out, we do well to remember and give thanks for the advice implicit in that example, too.

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About the Author

Patrick O'Hannigan is a writer in North Carolina.