“We walk with them as brothers,”

(The Regimental Insignia of the 1st Special Forces Regiment)Sfu8small

"Training foreign military forces is a core Special Forces mission — and the top priority of the U.S. command in Iraq. The Iraqi scout platoon, recruited from the Albu Nimr tribe and coached by the team in Hit, displayed an agility and confidence unusual among Iraqi soldiers. And the Americans fostered loyalty in the platoon.

"We’ve been to their homes, we’ve treated their children. They are our partners," said the team captain, an energetic officer from Los Angeles.  4_1

"We walk with them as brothers," said Mokles Ali Mukhlif, the Iraqi platoon leader." Tyson


(The Coat of Arms of the 36th Infantry Regiment)

Some things really do not change.  The antipathy felt by the officers of the conventional army for Special Forces soldiers (Green Berets) continues unabated.  This problem is now fifty years old and shows no sign of disappearing.

This article in the Washington Post is illustrative. 

I enclose a piece I wrote some time ago on "how to work with tribesmen." I had Anbar Province specifically in mind.

Pat Lang


Download how_to_work_with_tribesmen.pdf

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18 Responses to “We walk with them as brothers,”

  1. VietnamVet says:

    “Bringing Democracy and Freedom to Iraq” is converting the society to Western beliefs and ending resistance to American occupation.
    Green Berets and the Peace Corps have the allure of becoming part of another culture. But, at heart, both have two great fallacies; Westerners are not going to stay forever unless they go native and Western wealth is built on cheap energy, rule of law and education, none of which are readily available in the developing world.
    The second way of conversion is by Mormons and evangelistic Christians. Except so far the only monotheists who are converting are Catholics to evangelistic Christianity. Islam is resistant to conversion.
    The third path is with a regular army of occupation. The USA was successful in Germany and Japan but most examples are failures; Germany in Yugoslavia, France in Algeria or the USA in Vietnam. Iraq is a debacle due to the lack of boots on the ground, failure to develop a political plan give power back to the Sunnis, and a totally unobtainable goal of westernization of Mesopotamia.

  2. Michael says:

    Kind of ironic when you realize President Bush’s tactics and policies seem to reflect an inclination towards bulldozing rather than the use of patience and finesse. Looks as though we are getting the same results as well.
    Thnx Col, great article.

  3. Charles Cameron says:

    Col Lang:
    Thank you for posting your instructive CV the other day.
    At the end of your piece on tribesmen today, you note that you are a “Tribesman of the S’tiengan and Mnong Gar Peoples.”
    Can you tell us more about these peoples, and how you came to receive this honor?
    From my POV, that brief note makes a powerful supplement to your CV.

  4. Lightflyer says:

    Vietnam Vet is kind of on target. Special Forces are not a war winning strategy so much as a war winning tool. Like any tool it can be misused or ignored. Special Forces, no doubt, have been disrespected, discarded and demonised. The history of Special Forces is one of being misfunded, misunderstood and misused. None of this should, in some mistaken counter-effort, be taken as licence to give SF too much credit for things it cannot achieve or sustain.

  5. TR Stone says:

    Did I hear correctly that more troops are being redeployed to Bagdad from Anbar Province?

  6. J says:

    the key both you and the 44yr old sf sergeant of the article said — insurgencies are defeated by personal relationships, relationships build on 1)respect, 2)honor, and 3)patience

  7. walrus says:

    Great article Col. Lang.
    I guess from my very limited expereince, friction between special forces and “normal” army units is usually a function of envy.
    The special guys get all the good gear and don’t have to put up with all the usual B.S. that is inflicted on some units. Officers also complain about how the specials have first call on scarce resources, like helicopters.
    My own knowledge of Australian SAS is very limited, but we were in awe of them because they did some crazy things, like walk up a track somewhere in Vietnam for a month with a bag of rice and an AK47 just to see where it went…..

  8. arbogast says:

    I have the utmost respect for the professional soldiers who are doing their best under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances in Iraq.
    I think “history will show” that it was Murtha who turned the US against the war. Murtha simply couldn’t stand seeing brave young men and women maimed on a fool’s errand.
    And now we learn (front page news in Le Monde, but not the US) that troop strength in Iraq has been increased to 147,000.
    A friend of mine who went to business school told me that lowering prices was never a sign of strength. It is hard to believe that increasing the number of troops in Iraq is a sign of strength.
    I pray that our soldiers are not being led into more horror.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I think that SF in the Unconventional Warfare, i.e., guerrilla war mode could deny large parts of rural Iraq to the insurgents by organizing the tribes against them. pl

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I was both an SF person and an intelligence field operator in parts of SVN in which these non-Vietnamese peoples lived. Both “nations” are member of the Mon-Khmer family of Montagnard tribes. The other family of Montagnard tribes are the Malayo-Polynesian group. These tribesmen lived in the southern end of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. They were much despised by the Vietnamese and had had a good relationship with the French. When we came in they assumed we were a continuation of the French presence and gravitated to us. I was a “member” of FULRO, the “Front Unis Pour la Liberation de la Race Oprimee” Most of the SF people were. This was the association of Montagnard tribes. Eventually the two groups asked separately for me to come to a brotherhood ceremony. And that was it. pl

  11. TR Stone says:

    I admit to a difinite lack of miltary or political experience. Please can someone here explain a rational, plausable, or workable scenario for Afganistan/Iraq based on the miltary strategy now playing out.
    I do however, have mucho experience in the corporate culture where to succeed you have to “go along to get along”. Does this explain the JAG’s letter and the seemingly bizarre redeployment from a highly unstable area (per this weeks’ highly pessimistic evaluation of Anbar province-not dispiuted) to another (Bagdad).
    The adminstration has consistantly said the generals are calling the shots on the ground. Will the miltaqry take the blame quietly as this plays out?
    Could this the beginning of end game in Iraq?

  12. mike says:

    You would think that with Schoomaker as Army C-of-S that problems like this would have gone away.
    At first reading, I side with the special ops guys. However, without knowing all the details, as the article is sketchy, there does appear to be a breakdown in communications between 1-36 and the SF Team. Unity of command is a valuable principle. Whose TAOR is it anyway?
    With all due respect to Special Forces and to you, sometimes elite units regardless of branch or service rub people the wrong way. In some cases it is their non-standard operating procedures. In other cases it is arrogance or perceived arrogance. And in this case it sounds like 1-36 and the SF Team are leaving each other out of the loop.
    There is a leadership problem and I blame it on Rumsfeld’s Transformation brainfarts.

  13. MarcLord says:

    Vietnam Vet,
    While a Mormon missionary in southern Germany, I had some comparative success converting Islamic students and refugees, and went to Yugoslavia to assess prospects for opening that country to activity. Both Christianity and the Mormon form of it would’ve had great difficulty making inroads into communities in post-Tito Yugoslavia, even though it was the most western and largely non-religious enclave of Islam, not even if the break-up and violence never occurred. Ethnic and family bonds were strong and resistant to dispersion, with familial identity commonly linked to religion of origin even in the total absence of religious practice or maintenance of visible tradition.
    I suspect Christian missionaries, especially ones as visible and aggressive as Mormons, would be a politically counter-productive presence in most M.E. settings, and their lives would of course often be in danger. In my case I got away with a little jail.
    The right way in would’ve been to pay a great deal of attention to family and tribal history, almost as if you were an ethnographer recording the travails and greivances of a people. If done over sufficient time, you could be in a position to resolve conflicts, develop business ties and broker relations. If done cautiously and objectively across all ethnicities, you would end up providing a buffering function, and this would then provide a stronger basis for actual conversion. The Special Forces counterinsurgency tactics seem similar to this style approach. As Mormon missionaries our tactical doctrines were almost exactly parallel to the Regular Army’s sweep-and-resweep approach in Iraq, only there was a lot less shooting. 😉

  14. Nabil says:

    That article says Arabic lacks tenses. What do you mean? We certainly have a past tense.

  15. ali says:

    “The view which is sometimes elucidated in the United States that the God of Islam is not the God of Christians and Jews is a serious obstacle to ever finding workable bonds between our forces and those of Muslims anywhere. Soldiers who find that they can not accept this should consider requesting other duty. American soldiers should not be afraid to show their own religiosity. They will be RESPECTED for it so long as they do not seek to proselytize. ”
    This is very true. It’s very unfortunate that since 9-11 some Evangelical Churches have been far less respectful than the Shafa’i school and this negatively influences some American soldiers behavior. American religiosity should be an asset with Muslim tribesmen. Religious leaders should do more than lazily license hatred.
    It was not always so. I don’t recall talk of Moon Gods when Jihadis were harrying the Red Army in Afghanistan. Back then Muslims were brave God fearing allies in the crusade against Communism.
    Successful British interaction with tribesmen often featured extravagantly devout men in pith helmets. Men who had the highest confidence in their own cultures superiority but could respect and admire an alien one.
    These days English soldiers are normally heathen and the officers tend to babble multi-cultural pieties to the press.
    From experience I can say the Godly natives in 70s Belfast often found them incomprehensible; I wonder what a Muslim tribesman would make of them?

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Actually, you don’t have a past tense. What you have are two “aspects” of the verb. One is called the “perfective” in English and the other is the “imperfective.”
    The “Perfective” indicates completed action and the other uncompleted action. pl

  17. El Camino says:

    MarcLord: “The right way in would’ve been to pay a great deal of attention to family and tribal history, almost as if you were an ethnographer recording the travails and greivances of a people. If done over sufficient time, you could be in a position to resolve conflicts, develop business ties and broker relations. If done cautiously and objectively across all ethnicities, you would end up providing a buffering function, and this would then provide a stronger basis for actual conversion.”
    In other words to trick them. Did I understand it correctly?

  18. kevin says:

    Conventional officers feel antipathy toward conventional soldiers that think outside the box too.
    Peers ridicule us with labels; they stigmatize us as “gone native”

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