Troop Surge Belies Deeper Success of New Tactics in Iraq, Ex-Marine Turned Filmmaker Says

Iraq’s Anbar Province has awakened, the U.S. military is on the offensive, and Al Qaeda and is on the run but it is a mistake to assume this dramatic turnaround is exclusively the result of additional troops, J.D. Johannes, a former Marine and television news producer explained in an interview.

Johannes traveled to Iraq with the Marine Corps unit he previously served with in 2005 with the intention of pursuing syndicated television reports. This project grew into a documentary called “Outside the Wire: Call Sign Vengeance” that told the story of a Marine platoon on deployment in Fallujah.

Three additional documentaries followed from a subsequent trip in 2007 as part of “Outside the Wire.” The film, "Anbar Awakens," was screened during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washignton D.C. last month. It highlights the partnership between coalition forces and Sunni tribes. The film points out that in 2006 a classified report had declared the province to be lost.

However, over the past year U.S. forces operating in conjunction with tribal leaders orchestrated a remarkable turnaround that is now widely viewed as model for counter-insurgency. “It’s not just the additional surge in troops,” Johannes said in an interview.

“It is a wholesale change in tactics that we are seeing. “It’s about getting into the neighborhoods, living in the neighborhoods, conducting census data operations so that we know who lives in the neighborhoods, then controlling who moves in and out.”

“Anbar Awakens” features interviews with military officers and tribal leaders positioned along the Euphrates River. Col. G.I. Wilson, USMC (Ret.), a two-tour veteran of Al Anbar with expertise in counter-insurgency offers commentary throughout the film. “An insurgent that cannot operate in plain sight is an insurgent that cannot operate,” Johannes said. “That’s the big strategic change.”

The same counter-insurgency principles applied in Anbar parallel somewhat with the methods and techniques Great Britain used during the “Malayan Emergency” in the 1950s and 1960s, Johannes observed.

However, he cautions against assuming the Anbar model would be an exact fit in other areas of Iraq. “Anbar is its own animal because it’s a totally homogenous province and the [Sunni] tribes are all tied in,” Johannes said. “It won’t be the same [in other provinces] because you have to work with different tribes and different religious groups.”

However, the idea of building a census database and properly identifying the population of people who are part of neighborhood is something that can be broadly applied,” he added. American soldiers have, over time, fostered a certain degree of good will by virtue of their consistent and respectful treatment of the local population, Johannes explained. This example is not lost on the Sunnis who have been on the receiving end of Al Qaeda’s brutality, he continued. “Overtime what your are doing is not trying to win hearts and minds so much as it is show that you are a better and more consistent alternative than the enemy,” Johannes said.