Friday, April 20, 2007

Lessons from Haditha?

An article today in the New York Times asks if the Marines have learned any lessons from Haditha because innocent civilians have recently been killed in Afghanistan. I believe the question is a valid one...Have the Marines learned something from Haditha?
A recent story on NPR helps to explain that question. A camp has been set up in the California desert where Marines now train for combat. Not only does the village look like a typical Iraqi village with a marketplace and houses but the Marines are now training with something they previously lacked...People in the village. About 500 Iraqis currently work in the simulation as "Iraqi villagers" and go about daily business as they would in Iraq. When the Marines were shot upon in the simulation, they had to figure out what house the shooting was coming from amid the confusion of the "Iraqi villagers". One Marine, preparing for his second tour of duty said that the simulation was immensely helpful, as the first time he had been in Iraq, no one had prepared him for fighting between/around civilians.
In addition to the people in the simulation, there is now training that stresses manners regarding Islamic sensibilities and that winning friends is job number one. As a commander training at the simulation explained, if we shoot an enemy, we learn nothing, if we capture him, we may learn something from him, but if we befriend him, we may turn him and have one less insurgent to fight. This may seem obvious, but until recently no one wanted to admit, or train for, an insurgency, asymmetric war. It appears that the Marines are now trying to instill in their men, as all the forces are, that "just fighting" is not enough. They must try to understand and be-friend the "enemy" if they wish to win.
So while I find it tragic for the families in Afghanistan and can not even begin to understand their pain, I find it trite to ask if the Marines learned a lesson from Haditha. Unfortunately, this is war, people do die, even innocents. And while it is right to question why the Marines fired upon the civilians, until we are in a Humvee, sleep-deprived, home-sick and being shot at, I think it is ridiculous to even ask such a question.

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