Tom Ricks's Inbox

Sunday, April 8, 2007

This comment from the April issue of the Marine Corps Gazette is one of the best explanations I've seen of how the U.S. military is trying to operate differently and more effectively in Iraq these days under Gen. David H. Petraeus. The most important aspect of the "surge" isn't troop numbers but how the troops are used -- most notably, getting them off big, isolated "forward operating bases" (FOBs) and instead having them live on small outposts among the people.

This observation was made by Lt. Col. Dale Alford, who commanded the 3rd Battalion of the 6th Marines in Afghanistan in 2004 and in Iraq in 2005-06:

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"Live amongst the people, eat off the local economy and the people will tell you where the bad guys are, where they're hiding their weapons and where the IEDs are. . . . Get out of these damn FOBs that have KBR [Kellogg, Brown & Root logistical support], a nice gym and showers and internet and telephones. . . . The way you get force protection is you live amongst the people. Not with more armor, not with more bases, not with more SAPI [small arms protective insert body armor] plates. We should be going in the other direction with SAPI plates. It's not very politically correct right now, but we should be taking off armor. . . . When I walked into a village the people would deal with me a lot quicker than if you came in all armored up looking like a robot."

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Tom Ricks is The Post's military correspondent. This feature aims to give readers a snapshot of the conversations about Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters that play out in Ricks's e-mail inbox. Have an interesting document? Send it to

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