Mar 11, 2008

Hunter-Killers: Getting Native Against All Fears

A rather unique and recent Washington Post special report on PKK guerrillas in Iraq's Zap valley reminded me of an article stumbled upon last month in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Excerpts from each below.

San Diego Union-Tribune

Trying to become predators instead of prey, Marines headed to Iraq will go through training built on advice from big-game hunters, soldiers of fortune and troops who grew up around firearms in the woods or the inner city.

Combat Hunter, a program begun at Camp Pendleton and now being rolled out nationwide, is designed to help Marines stalk and kill insurgents by using their senses and instincts. It emphasizes keen observation of Marines' surroundings and meticulous knowledge of their foes' habits.

“This is the most comprehensive training of its kind in our history,” said Col. Clarke Lethin, chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

“These are primal skills that we all have but that we evolved out of,” he added. “We are going back in time. The Marines who go through this program will never be the same. They'll never look at the world the same again.”

The Marine Corps had not paid much attention to this low-tech combat approach since the Vietnam War. Like the other service branches, the Corps has generally gone high-tech by creating increasingly advanced weapons and developing virtual reality training.

Combat Hunter grew out of a concept by Gen. James Mattis, who has spearheaded the formation of various training programs for the Marine Corps. He saw the need for greater focus on hunting-related skills while overseeing combat forces at Camp Pendleton in 2006.


“One of the things that Gen. Mattis said is that he wanted a quick turnaround for this project. There was a sense of urgency,” said Maj. James Martin, the project officer for Combat Hunter.

Lethin recalled the reason for that urgency: Too many troops felt fear when they left their bases in Anbar province, the vast western region of Iraq where Marines hold the lead combat role for the U.S. military. “Fear is a terrible thing. The Marines felt they were being hunted. They felt they were bait for the insurgents,” Lethin said.

“How do we teach our Marines to be the hunters? How do we bring the confidence back?” Lethin said. “Sometimes technology is not the answer. We think we have the answer in Combat Hunter.”

The unorthodox program draws on the expertise of an eclectic mix of consultants. There are the tracking abilities of David Scott-Donelan, a former officer in the South African Special Forces and a veteran of civil wars in Africa. Then there's African guide Ivan Carter, as well as others who would rather not be identified by the Marine Corps.

Training drills also reflect the hunting skills of Marines from rural areas and, as an unclassified Marine briefing said, the life experiences of those “who have lived in disadvantaged areas of large cities.”

“What we are learning in Iraq is that the demands of warfare in the new century are so widely different from anything for which we were planning. We have to look in unexpected places for the skills that will serve us best”.

Washington Post

After President Bush met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in November to discuss the PKK problem, the guerrillas rushed to make arrangements for battle. They stashed ammunition, weapons, food and water in caves and crags throughout the mountains, for quick resupply. Inside one such cave, they installed a cylindrical, metal wood-burning stove and chimney to heat a room constructed of army green cloth and plastic tarp.

"The mountain is a school for us," said Elif, a 32-year-old commander who dropped out of interior design school in Turkey 10 years ago to join the PKK. "The mountain teaches us how to walk, it taught us how to live in cold weather, how to go without eating for a long time," she said. "The Turkish soldiers have huge bodies, but they can't stay in the snow for more than a couple hours."

The guerrillas are not a people's army or ad hoc insurgency, but a trained paramilitary force that requires every new recruit to attend a three-month camp to study military tactics and become indoctrinated in the ideology of the imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

In the PKK enclave in northern Iraq, Ocalan's chubby, mustachioed face is emblazoned on hillsides, flags and small pins the fighters wear on their vests. The reverence they exhibit toward Ocalan, captured in 1999 in Nairobi and now in a Turkish prison, borders on cultish. After assassination attempts against Ocalan in the 1990s, guerrillas immolated themselves and some became suicide bombers. To the governments of Turkey, Iraq and the United States, those tactics solidified the PKK's reputation as a terrorist organization.


Bustednuckles said...

No kidding, all the hight tech goodies in the world ain't gonna do ya a bit of good if yer stumblin' around like a bull in a china shop, unaware of what's going on around you.

mark said...

". Then there's African guide Ivan Carter, as well as others who would rather not be identified by the Marine Corps."

The reporter has a gift for understatement.

Perhaps in some cases it would be more accurate to say "Others that the Marine Corps would rather not identify". Rare skills are not always taught by good people.

Donald Douglas said...

Nice posting, Swedemeat!!

Meatball One said...

Bustednuckles - "Jane" lol

Mark - Nice. Leave it to you to find the essence of the piece. Excellent

Prof DD - Thanks NeoCon man!

Anonymous said...

what is the photograph of this post?

M1 said...

Hunter-killer camo --of course.