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Nonlethal Engagements as a Sustainment Mission

Successful support of counterinsurgency operations can require logisticians to pursue unorthodox strategies. The 3d Sustainment Brigade learned that cultivating good relationships with local Iraqi leaders and villagers can improve the security of logistics operations in a challenging environment.

The Soldiers of the 3d Sustainment Brigade recognized early during the brigade’s deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 07–09 that the mission of sustainment operations within the Multi-National Division-North (MND–N) was an inherently complex undertaking. We soon learned that, in a counterinsurgency environment, logistics units can help maneuver forces to accomplish their missions by conducting humanitarian operations, building and maintaining relationships with local sheiks and Iraqi Army and Police officials, and supporting the local economy. Collectively, these operations are known as “nonlethal engagements,” or NLE.
The 3d Sustainment Brigade operated in a complicated threat environment within MND–N and consistently experienced more enemy activities against its Soldiers and civilians than any other sustainment brigade in theater. It was apparent early on that long-term success in the brigade’s area of operations (AO) would require a multidimensional mission set. In addition to traditional sustainment operations, the brigade embraced the MND–N commander’s mindset of putting Iraqis in the lead to promote self-reliance, interacting with the local populace to build relationships, creating jobs to stimulate the economy, and bolstering local confidence in Iraqi law enforcement and military officials.

The Brigade’s NLE Strategy

Although the 3d Sustainment Brigade did not own any ground during OIF 07–09, its area of influence was spread over 3 major contingency operating bases (COBs), 20 forward operating bases (FOBs), and a web of supply routes that served as the lifelines of MND–N. On a daily basis, the brigade’s units conducted logistics patrols across MND–N from Habur Gate to Balad and from Kirkuk to Tal Afar—an area about the size of Pennsylvania. Unlike the combat units it supported, the 3d Sustainment Brigade did not conduct kinetic operations to kill or capture the enemy. That is not to say that it had no impact on decisively shaping the AO. The brigade’s Soldiers came into contact with thousands of Iraqis daily across the AO, which put them in an excellent position to implement a robust NLE strategy that would allow them to influence the AO significantly. In view of its capabilities, the brigade developed and executed an NLE strategy geared toward promoting economic stability, the security of the populace, and Iraqi self-reliance, all in support of the objectives of MND–N and the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

Evolution of the Brigade’s NLE Program

When the 3d Sustainment Brigade took the reins from the 45th Sustainment Brigade on 26 June 2007, it fell in on a system of humanitarian-type NLEs, such as handing out sundry packets, toys, and school and medical supplies and providing jobs for local Iraqis around COB Qayyarah West (Q-West) through the Department of Public Works (DPW). For the first 90 days of the deployment, this was the strategy that those of us in the brigade used, particularly in the villages around COBs Q-West, Marez, and Speicher. With the shift in theater policy at the end of 2007 toward promoting Iraqi self-reliance, we began a complete overhaul of the existing NLE strategy.

The first step in developing the brigade’s NLE strategy was to better align our strategy with the guidance from our higher commands. The stated intent of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC–I) was for units to identify and engage the key players in their AO and foster dialog between their units and the local security forces. MND–N emphasized the need for local and regional engagements and activities designed to increase employment, while our higher sustainment command, the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), directed continued support to MNC–I lethal and nonlethal operations. All levels emphasized humanitarian assistance initiatives to help ensure that the Iraqi public viewed its government as both legitimate and able to respond to the needs of the people.

With this guidance in mind, the commander of the 3d Sustainment Brigade outlined his concept for the brigade’s NLE strategy. He emphasized the need to fully integrate all NLEs with the actions of maneuver commanders and to conduct them in conjunction with Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police officials. The NLE strategy would support the brigade’s logistics convoys by reducing threats in identified hot spots on main supply routes (MSRs) and alternate supply routes (ASRs). The NLE strategy also would engender goodwill with the Iraqi people and key leaders; teach Iraqis skills so they could help themselves; provide jobs for Iraqis that would assist with economic development; and meet the MNC–I and MND–N commanding generals’ intent to support Iraqi economic stability, growth, governance, and security.

In order to facilitate this intent, oversight of the NLE strategy was given to the brigade’s S–3 operations section. The six key types of NLEs identified during mission analysis were—

  • Humanitarian missions, such as distributing sundry packs and conducting medical engagements.
  • Pamphlet-targeting and counter-propaganda efforts to build support for the Iraqi Security Forces and increase interactions with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police.
  • Social and leadership engagements, including dinners with local sheiks and school visits.
  • Adopt-a-village programs.
  • Job creation programs, such as adopt-a-highway programs.
  • Economic and infrastructure initiatives, such as development of an Iraqi trucking network.

In order to best implement these proposed programs, the brigade S–2 analyzed our AO using targeting techniques. It was determined that, because of its large size, the AO should be broken down into five areas of interest or influence (AOIs) and that each of these AOIs should be assigned to one or more of the brigade’s subordinate battalions. After the S–2 analyzed the individual AOIs, specific towns and engagements were targeted to yield the greatest benefits for both the Iraqi people and the brigade.

All NLEs proposed by the battalions were synchronized with the maneuver commanders and performed in conjunction with local Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army officers to put an Iraqi “face” on the missions. By targeting specific villages in the vicinity of named AOIs along the routes our logistics convoys traveled, we were able to help the Iraqis move toward the goals of stability and self-reliance while reducing threats against our convoys and Soldiers.

AOI 1: Habur Gate

Habur Gate, on the Turkish border, was manned by a logistics task force (LTF) provided by the 3d Sustainment Brigade Special Troops Battalion. The LTF operated a convoy support center and served as a liaison to the brigade support operations cell in order to observe, assess, and report the movement progress of coalition forces sustainment stocks and fuel. Because of its important mission, the LTF was immediately identified as a candidate for NLEs. Three major locations in the vicinity of Habur Gate were selected for NLEs: the village of Zahko, the village of Dahouk, and Habur Gate itself.

Zahko, in an impoverished Kurdish region, was chosen to be a part of the brigade’s adopt-a-village program, particularly for engagements with the local nursery school, elementary school, and military academy in a dual humanitarian and training advisory capacity. The emphasis in the Zahko engagements was to foster a positive relationship between U.S. Soldiers and the youth in the region through the distribution of school supplies, toys, and clothing. The LTF also partnered with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police to provide advisory support to the Zahko Military Academy in areas such as combat lifesaver training, range management, physical training, and the roles of officers and noncommissioned officers in the military. This partnering was important in fostering the self-reliance and self-sufficiency of the Iraqi military through the train-the-trainer concept.

The emphasis in Habur Gate was on synchronizing and promoting communication between coalition forces and officials in Iraq and Turkey. In particular, the LTF arranged for a meeting among the Kurdish customs personnel, the Turkish customs personnel, the coalition forces movement control team, the Turkish liaison officer, and personnel of the consulate’s office in Ankara, Turkey. To support border security, the LTF conducted a weekly meeting with the Customs Facility Secret Police, the Habur Gate Port Police, and U.S. military representatives to discuss matters of force protection; this allowed all concerned parties in the AO to compare notes on security topics and foster a sense of teamwork between the coalition forces and their Kurdish hosts.

AOI 2: Mosul Region

The city of Mosul and its surrounding area have traditionally been named an area of interest for coalition forces in the region. That had an impact on the numbers and types of NLE missions that the 3d Sustainment Brigade could conduct. One village in the Mosul region, Filfay, was identified as a possible location for humanitarian NLEs.

The 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) conducted a humanitarian mission in cooperation with the 3–1–2 (3d Battalion, 1st Brigade, 2d Infantry Division, Iraqi Army) Military Transition Team (MiTT) that targeted the Sunni Arab neighborhood of Al Thubat in eastern Mosul. The intent of the operation was to strengthen relationships between the Iraqi Security Forces and coalition forces within the community. During this operation, the unit spoke with local residents and distributed toys, stuffed animals, and coloring books to children.

The 87th CSSB also conducted several visits with the local Iraqi Army battalion commander and his staff and with the commander of the Northern Operations Center. These visits produced critical intelligence information on the routes used during our logistics convoys and the atmosphere in the villages along those routes. This greatly increased our knowledge of the routes and helped us to identify key focus areas for future NLEs.

AOI 3: Q-West

The Qayyarah region was managed primarily by the Soldiers of the brigade mayor’s cell and base defense operations center (BDOC). Five different organizational headquarters—the 2d Battalion, 123d Armor Regiment; the 332d Rear Area Operations Center; the 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment (1–175 Infantry Battalion); the 76th Special Troops Battalion; and Task Force (TF) 113 from the Indiana National Guard—transitioned into mayor’s cell and BDOC positions over the course of the brigade’s tenure at COB Q-West; each left the NLE strategy more robust than they found it.

The overall strategy for Qayyarah and the surrounding villages focused on several key areas: humanitarian efforts, particularly support for local schools and medical facilities; economic support through the hiring of local national workers in DPW, adopt-a-village and adopt-a-highway initiatives; “souqs” (markets) held at COB Q-West for Iraqi vendors; and patrols within the villages, which had the added benefit of making the inhabitants feel safer thanks to a robust coalition forces presence.

The humanitarian efforts were similar to those in other regions within the brigade’s AO, such as visits to village schools to give out school supplies and children’s shoes. Female Soldiers from the COB mayor’s cell conducted several focused engagements with the women of Qayyarah, Kreidi, Al Tina, and Zalila, speaking with the women in private and distributing healthcare products. The brigade headquarters as well as its BDOC and mayor’s cell maintained a strong relationship with several local sheiks and mukhtars, regularly hosting them at dinners at the COB and in turn being hosted by them in their villages.

The economic support provided by the COB to the Qayyarah region was particularly robust. The COB employed approximately 500 local nationals, with 350 from Ninewa Province and the remainder being local villagers employed by the DPW. Nearly $3.28 million was given out in wages over the period of the brigade’s deployment, and a variety of COB improvement projects were completed entirely by using local national labor.

Headed by the BDOC, the adopt-a-highway program addressed two desired objectives of the NLE strategy: hiring local nationals to pick up trash along the COB access roads to make the conditions for emplacing improvised explosive devices less ideal; and targeted temporary hiring of unemployed men from Al Tina to improve that village’s ability to provide for the basic needs of its residents, improve the security of the base, and decrease the possibility of those men being recruited by insurgents.

A more recent development in the economic support provided to the region was the establishment of monthly souqs, which enabled local vendors to come onto the COB over a period of 2 days. Aside from the monetary benefits to the 3 to 15 vendors who participated monthly, the souqs paid enormous dividends by providing a neutral location for local government officials to meet and discuss issues affecting their villages.

Finally, the BDOC used its already scheduled counter-rocket patrols to deny insurgents a staging area to conduct attacks against COB Q-West and to engage with local leaders and the populace to foster a positive relationship of trust and early detection of insurgent activity. Local residents expressed their belief that they were safer when Coalition Forces made frequent stops in their villages.

These NLEs had benefits beyond the obvious humanitarian and economic improvements. The partnerships with the local villages resulting from the NLEs produced an additional layer of security for the COB because people in the villages were far more likely to report suspicious activity to the BDOC than they would have been without the engagements.

AOI 4: Speicher Route

Over the course of the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s tenure, the Speicher Route was managed by three battalions: the 927th CSSB, the 391st CSSB, and TF 1–151 Infantry. The NLE strategy in the vicinity of COB Speicher was primarily one of humanitarian assistance and cooperation with civil affairs and MiTT units. The 927th CSSB’s nonlethal force initiative, Operation Clear Skies, targeted villages and communities around COB Speicher and along major MSRs, as well as in the city of Tikrit. The operation was designed to foster goodwill within the 927th CSSB’s AO in the hope of reducing attacks. The Soldiers of the 927th CSSB worked closely with civil affairs and MiTT units and the battlespace owners to deliver humanitarian aid, specifically school supplies, sundry packs, clothing, toys, and toiletries to villages that demonstrated strong support for the existing Sons of Iraq program. [The Sons of Iraq are groups of primarily Sunni citizens who cooperate with U.S. forces to fight Al Qaeda terrorists and Shiite militias.] By rewarding participation, the program was designed to strengthen existing relationships with Iraqi partners.

The 391st CSSB and TF 1–151 continued and expanded this program deeper into the villages in the area, including Al Alam, Wynot, Al Sequor, and Al Hamran, in partnership with civil affairs and psychological operations assets drawn from the local maneuver forces. During village visits, the local sheik and other village leaders, as well as business owners, were able to discuss how well they were able to function, what support the city of Tikrit was giving them, and what they lacked to be able to operate more fully and efficiently. The program targeted local villages with strong Sons of Iraq participation and assisted the MiTT in making deliveries of humanitarian supplies in Tikrit. Approximately seven villages participated in the program, which helped to strengthen relationships with local officials, the Iraqi Police, and the Iraqi Army and to legitimize the position of those authorities in the local community.

AOI 5: Warrior and Sykes Route

The Warrior and Sykes Route was assigned to the 17th CSSB out of COB Q-West. The major initiatives of this program were robust medical support to villages along the route and leader engagements with the local chief of the Iraqi Police to foster security on the routes that logistics convoys traveled.

Representative of the medical support to the villages was the December 2007 NLE conducted by D Company, 1–175 Infantry Battalion, and the 17th CSSB. They participated in a civilian medical engagement (CME) with Soldiers from the Iraqi Army and a MiTT in the village of Marhanna to bolster the villagers’ trust in coalition forces and the Iraqi Army. The main tasks of the CME were to provide overall security for the engagement and allow coalition forces medics to observe Iraqi medical personnel. In addition to passing out school and hygiene supplies to the residents of Marhanna, coalition forces and Iraqi medics treated over 120 patients from the village during the CME. Influencing the residents of Marhanna was of crucial importance because of the village’s proximity to the main route that the 17th CSSB traveled to outlying supported FOBs.

Representative of the leader engagements conducted along the Warrior and Sykes Route was the NLE with the local police chief. The purpose was to conduct a force protection assessment of the chief’s compound. The chief had a great deal of influence in the vicinity of several important ASRs, and building a strong partnership with him would lead to continued safety of our logistics convoys as they operated along the routes to outlying supported FOBs. This relationship also paid dividends when the 17th CSSB conducted increased convoys to COB Speicher along MSRs as part of the improved concept of support developed in the later part of the OIF 07–09 rotation.

Success Stories and Achievements

The 3d Sustainment Brigade conducted a total of 14 training sessions with local nationals in trade skills such as carpentry and construction, which increased the marketability of the men who participated and provided needed economic stimulus to the region. The brigade also conducted two joint CMEs with Iraqi Army, Coalition Forces, and local doctors participating, overseeing medical treatment to more than 180 Iraqis and vastly improving the perception within the villages of the capabilities of their local doctors. Overall, approximately $102,000 in humanitarian aid was disbursed. The brigade distributed over 1,700 pairs of shoes, 40 desks, 150 toys, 1,000 school packs, 800 sundry packs, and 300 other items, including clothes and hygiene items. The brigade also paid $750 in local teachers’ salaries, another $750 in support of the adopt-a-highway program, and $3.28 million in salaries for local nationals employed by the DPW.

It is clear that the NLE strategy developed and implemented by 3d Sustainment Brigade and its subordinate battalions had an enormous impact on the regions in which the brigade’s Soldiers operated.

Suggestions for Implementing NLE

The development and continuous improvement of an NLE strategy is vitally important to the overall long-term success of the coalition forces mission in Iraq. The 3d Sustainment Brigade learned several lessons that may aid other sustainment brigades in developing their own NLE programs.

First, sustainment brigades should conduct detailed targeting to determine where NLEs may provide the most benefit for both the brigade and the local populace with whom that brigade regularly interacts. The 3d Sustainment Brigade was able to pinpoint particular villages along its routes and, through engagements with local leaders and residents, was able to reduce the number of enemy events experienced by logistics convoys and improve the type and quality of intelligence gathered in those regions.

Second, sustainment brigades should nest their efforts within ongoing kinetic and nonlethal operations. The 3d Sustainment Brigade was able to conduct several joint missions with civil affairs, psychological operations, and MiTT assets of the various maneuver headquarters with which it interacted; each of these missions paid huge dividends in increasing security throughout the brigade’s AO.

Finally, sustainment brigades should focus their efforts not only on humanitarian aid but also on initiatives that provide an economic stimulus to the region and foster dialog between the Iraqi people and coalition forces. We found that initiatives like the souqs provided a dual benefit: they offered monetary benefits to local vendors, and they benefited the COBs by opening communication channels between local leaders and Coalition Forces and among the different levels of tribal leadership in our AO.

Building relationships with Iraqis is one of the key factors in the counterinsurgency guidance issued by General David H. Petraeus on 21 June 2008. A successful NLE strategy will be geared toward the promotion of economic stability, the security of the populace, and Iraqi self-reliance. Such a focus will greatly contribute to the long-term stability and security of not only the regions in which sustainment brigades operate but of Iraq as a whole.

Captain Lloyd E. Warren III is the brigade assistant S–3 of the 3d Sustainment Brigade. He holds a B.S. degree in accounting with an emphasis in computer information systems from Northern Arizona University and is working on a master’s degree in organizational and security management from Webster University. He is a graduate of the Military Police Officer Basic Course and the Military Police Captains Career Course.

Captain Brittany R. Warren is the brigade adjutant for the 3d Sustainment Brigade. She served as a chemical platoon leader during Operation Iraqi Freedom 04–06 in 2005. She holds a B.S. degree in biological anthropology and anatomy from Duke University and is a graduate of the Chemical Officer Basic Course.