February 12, 2007
"On the Baby Steps" in "the Bullseye:"
The Fallujah Police Transition Team Mission
Posted by Bill
I arrived in Fallujah just as the bulk of American troops were pulled out of barracks in the city and back to the heavily fortified Camp Fallujah on the outskirts of town. There remain exceptions, however: the Military and Police Transition Team advisors to the Iraqi Army and police continued to operate and live in the city proper, embedded with the Iraqi units recently charged with taking primary responsibility for security.
The Fallujah Iraqi Police Station (FIPS)
In the very center of Fallujah sits a square compound called the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) or Fallujah Government Center, which at any given time houses government officials, marines, Iraqi Army units and the Fallujah Iraqi Police Station (FIPS), the headquarters for Iraqi Police units in and around the city. Living within the FIPS are the Marines and civilian advisors of the Fallujah Police Transition Team, led by Major Brian Lippo, a reservist police officer from Philadelphia.
"It's dangerous because we live in the heart of the city - it's much easier to get to us than Camp Fallujah, which is isolated, well-fortified and the security of the base is in the hands of US forces, whereas here we're depending on the Iraqis to watch our backs and protect our lives," said Lippo. "Not to mention, this is a much smaller target; it's easier to hit than Camp Fallujah. We're the bullseye in the center of town where the government is, and the insurgents believe the US-friendly government is the center of all evil, and the government center is the symbol of that cooperation with the infidels. The insurgents want nothing more than to see this place go away and everything that the government stands for to be destroyed, so we're living in it. We're living on the bullseye."
Major Lippo states that his primary mission is to bring his "Marines home safe and sound." Beyond that, the Police Transition Team (PiTT) mission is "to mentor, train and advise the Iraqi police (IP) service in Fallujah."
In early 2007, this advisory role manifests itself in many ways: marines man the Joint Communications Center (a sort of a 9-11 dispatch for the city), oversee training programs for the Iraqi police, set up and assist with logistics, advise on operations, serve as diplomats between the police and the Iraqi Army, organize prisoner transfers, run recruiting drives and influence many other day-to-day activities. The Americans advise the Iraqi police on almost every aspect of their job, though their influence is finite - I was surprised by the extent to which Americans lacked ability to command events, from ensuring Iraqi procurement of local fuel supplies to compelling patrols by police officers. The PiTT members are truly in an advisory role; they assist but take a backseat to Iraqi operational command.
"A lot of what we are doing now is just advising, helping them get the training that they need, among other things," said International Police Liaison Officer (IPLO) Tom Gorman, a civilian police officer and advisor from Stark, FL. "I think being embedded in the police station like we are here, you're able to build relationships, able to make a difference and show them what we do back home. These marines that come out here and live with these guys day in and day out, that makes a big difference."
"You come to know these people (the Iraqis) ... and you start building relationships with 'em, nicknames for them. So it becomes a lot easier after a while," said Lance Corporal Michael Rickard.
Added PiTT Executive Officer Captain Tad Scott, "As far as technical capabilities, before they just had a radio, that's all they had, and that was up until just last month. So I teach them a lot of things on how to find locations, how to communicate to the Iraqi Army on grids and how to communicate with us."
The PiTT is made up of six Marine advisors who are reservists with civilian law enforcement experience, two International Police Liaison Officer (IPLOs) advisors - civilian law enforcement officers contracted by the State Department - and a detachment of young Marines who assist with operations and provide security for the team.
"The concept is, you take a bunch of reservists, and there is a subculture in law enforcement where you have a bunch of cops who used to be marines ... so the Marine Corps figured they'd get more bang for the buck and take reservists who are cops, bring them back into the fold and send them to Iraq to teach the police how to be policemen," said Lippo. "The junior marines who exist to run the convoys, they're our security element. But there is so much going on here, such a need for advisors, that we've had to plug them in to the mission as well."
The Joint Communications Center (JCC)
Manned 24 hours a day, the JCC is a sort of 9-1-1 dispatch and communications hub for security forces and civil services in the city of Fallujah.
"Basically (we take in) any info that comes in from the fire department, the traffic police, even ... the facility protection service, anything that comes from any Coalition unit, the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police. There are also a lot of sources that will call in - it gives us a pulse on the city. If shops start closing down, I'll know about it. If there's a rumor of an IED, I'll know about it. If there's a problem within the city, I'll know about it. It's the one organization that ties all the other organizations together," explained Capt. Scott.
Marines manning the JCC apply that information, oftentimes acting as diplomats between mistrustful Iraqi security elements.
"It's the 9-1-1 center; it's also the social work center. I kind of smooth things over between the Iraqi Army and the police," said Scott. "The police come to me and I tell them, did you tell the Iraqi Army? Most of the time, the answer is 'no.' Sometimes they surprise me; sometimes they pass information about IEDs to the Iraqi Army. And then I'll find out later. Which is what I want more and more to happen - cross communication between the Iraqi Army and the police. But there is a lack of trust between the IA leadership and this (the police) leadership. Many times, I find myself in the middle."
The Fallujan PD, Past and Present
The police in Iraq and Fallujah particularly have a spotty history. Under Saddam Hussein's regime, average cops were considered lowly civil servants compared to more prestigious positions in the Iraqi Army, intelligence services or secret police. This cultural memory has had a hand in driving better quality recruits into other Iraqi security forces. But in Fallujah, locals are particularly xenophobic and there is a resistance to joining the Army because of the likelihood that a soldier will be stationed far from home. Thus, the local police department offers the only employment option in the security forces that guarantees local work and residence.
After the Marine invasion of the city in 2004, Fallujan civil services disintegrated; there was no police department. Several attempts to reconstitute the police force failed, as poor quality recruits and a successfully murderous campaign of intimidation by insurgents prevented cops from gaining traction and maintaining numbers.
"We lost over half our police force last year. The height of it was late July through early September, and it really affected the police force in Fallujah. We had 140-something die or quit, and for about a month 2-3 per night were getting wounded or killed. They received threats at home and at the mosque. And even now, if the insurgents know who they are, they kill their families," said Gorman.
Despite the difficulty, the latest reconstitution of the police force seems to have gained momentum, as 700 officers currently serve in and around the city, and another 102 recruits are training at a police academy in Jordan. This momentum is a result of months of hands-on American involvement in Fallujah's security, new equipment, weapons and buildings provided to the police department, mounting local dislike of the insurgency and - most importantly - steady, good salaries paid to police officers.
"This place has changed a lot ... we did this probably two years ago, maybe, did the same exact thing in this same exact place. It didn't go very well. I'm just hoping this one goes a lot smoother, I'm thinking we've got a bit more preparation on this one ... making sure that they're set," said Lance Corporal Daniel Mast.
That said, the police are mainly in a defensive posture. As hunted locals who fear for their families' safety, and with limited American influence over daily operations, the Fallujan cops hide their identities and resist patrolling the streets. The bulk of officers man police stations, weathering persistent IED, small arms and sniper threats from insurgents intent on destroying any manifestation of civil order in Fallujah.
"Being a cop in Philadelphia and Tennessee is a lot different than being a cop in Fallujah. These guys are definitely paramilitary; they're not going to bank robbery jobs, car stops, writing parking tickets or auto accidents - the traditional law enforcement we do in America. These guys are hunted and they go out in a very limited capacity to look for an IED, or to pick up a victim that's been shot on the street. They're not in police patrol mode like in the American sense," said Lippo.
There are two exceptions to this defensive posture:
"Major Crimes" is a misnomer, as the Fallujan version bears little resemblance to the mission or tactics of such a department back in the United States. These cops are housed in a separate structure, have much less of a relationship with the American advisors and focus on "middle of the night stuff;" it's suspected that they cling to some of the same tactics historically used by secret police under Saddam Hussein.
"I will tell you they are the hardest working arm of the IPs. Our biggest challenge is finding time to spend with them in order to teach them that criminal cases are more than just forced confessions. We've had the FBI come to Fallujah to teach them a gentler form of interrogation, to introduce them to physical evidence collection and crime scene photography. We're trying to get them to add these skills to their routine. It's a tough battle - we're just too busy with other aspects of the PTT mission and can't spend all that time with Major Crimes," said Lippo.
The Marines have limited influence on and knowledge about Major Crimes operations, but note that they are obviously proving effective, as the insurgents concentrate the bulk of indirect artillery fire on their headquarters.
"They didn't take much in the way of indirect fire before ... but their pick up in their aggressiveness, picking people up off the streets, related immediately to them taking indirect fire. And I think that's like everything else - where the insurgency sees their challenge, that's where they target," explains Gorman.
The Special Missions Group (SMG)
Founded by a Marine advisor with SWAT experience and advised by Marines and US Special Forces, the SMG is the current American bid to get the IPs back on the offensive in Fallujah. The SMG is comprised of a number of cops specially selected for their aggressiveness, fitness, experience, responsibility and ability to conduct SWAT-team like raids in the city.
"We've given them highly specialized training, new uniforms, new weapons, high-speed gear ... a lot of weapons training, training in close quarters battle, fire discipline, first-aid ... day and nighttime operations," said Lippo.
In addition to the SMG's direct role in capturing or killing insurgents, there is also a hope that the team will inspire regular Fallujan cops to get more aggressive and conduct patrols, something Lippo feels is key to a successful police force and mission:
"Hopefully the other IPs see this and it gives them something to look up to, and maybe they see these guys out there kicking in doors and taking it to the bad guys, hopefully it empowers them to do patrolling, just the basic fundamentals of being a cop. That's driving around the streets in your white police car, showing the flag and letting the bad guys know that 'hey I have to get off this street corner.'"
As of this writing, the SMG had completed a handful of very successful missions, netting scores of suspected insurgents in nighttime raids.
Broken Courts and Corrections
The local criminal justice system is dysfunctional to non-existent. There are no local prisons, and the Fallujah PD jail is not large enough to house prisoners swept up in recent raids.
"The next step in the criminal justice system is broken; the judicial system is compromised," says Lippo, "You've got judges here who are afraid to take criminal cases because of threats to their lives. You don't even have a local prison to hold them, if (the Iraqi Police) wanted to make more arrests, they have nowhere to hold these guys."
Right now when a suspect is captured, he's held in the jail until the police can gather evidence and present it to an investigative judge. The investigative judge reviews the case and can sign an order to hold the prisoner for 15 days. During this window, the cops must transport the suspect to the Baghdad corrections and court system. Previously this function was fulfilled by US Military convoys, but now the Iraqis are trying to work out a system of their own.
"When they make an arrest they take them down to the jail, they process them, they build a case on them, mostly based on what they confess to or what interviews they have. They do have cameras, they do have recording devices, they do have video cameras, fingerprinting kits, they have all those things. But for the last how many years, that is not their system. We did just have a good investigative class, put on a good class for them, teaching them evidence-taking to build good cases," explained CAPT Scott.
"So they put the cases together, they present them in front of an investigative judge, reportedly - I know the investigative judge writes in green, but I've never met him. Once that order is written, that detainment order is good for 15 days to get (a suspect) detained at a prison in Baghdad. But ... to get him there seems a logistical nightmare, because there are only certain neighborhoods that these guys (Sunni police from Fallujah) feel comfortable going to in Baghdad. So I'm trying to get the info for all the district courts in Baghdad that the ... prison corrections IPs will go to."
"Before, the coalition forces basically transported (the prisoners), got them all the way there. On one occasion, four of them went last summer, and right now they just started trial. Once we get them there it will be a while before they get trial. But they need to get them there, or this will never work. Otherwise, we need a functioning court and local prison here."
Other Negative Factors
The effectiveness of the IPs is almost totally contingent upon strong leadership, and Fallujan PD leadership is poor to inconsistent, directly responsible for the lack of an offensive posture in the city. In addition, corruption and administrative incompetence among local leaders and the bureaucrats at the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad severely hamper effectiveness. The Marines are trying to work with these flaws, but the current American disengagement strategy ties the PiTT's hands. The impotence of the advisory role is possibly the single biggest impediment to mission success.
"I think ... if this is the key to eventually sending everybody home, to stand up the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police, then right now they're doing a pretty good job with the Iraqi Army, but the Iraqi police are not where they should be right now. We need to pour more resources into the problem. Not supplies - we've given the them all that they need to succeed - rather, right now we need more advisors to come out here and more interpreters. Without them we can't get anything done," said Lippo.
"I also think we need a larger role in hiring and firing the leadership here. We're letting the Iraqis do it all and we're not at that stage yet. The Americans need to take more of a leadership role in running the police department here instead of sitting back and letting the Iraqis do it."
Though they apparently lack the security and initiative required to conduct regular patrols, the Fallujan cops are still considered brave and resilient in the face of intimidation and violence. IPs are regularly shot or blown up both on the street as well as in and around the guard posts manning the perimeter of the stations. Some cops quit after being injured, but many return to work, often after remarkably short recovery periods. One can levy many criticisms of the Fallujan officers, but lack of toughness isn't one of them.
"Would people back home come back to work the next day after being shot in the head?" asks Gorman. "If we faced what these guys face back in the states, it would be a national crisis. And they do it every day, so there is a lot to be said for that."
In addition, as locals, they know the city and are thus uniquely capable of cultivating intelligence that will root out the insurgency. It's believed that if and when the Iraqi government and American forces can win over the local populace and the tribes to choose sides and actively fight the insurgents, the police will be the security outlet that benefits most from the support and added manpower.
Finally, a series of successful raids by the SMG in conjunction with the Iraqi Army have recently led to a surprising level of cooperation between the Fallujan cops and the soldiers, two groups that mistrust each other because of the Army's status as outsiders and the traditionally lower status of the cops in Iraqi civil service. Whether this esprit de corps will last is anyone's guess, but it's a good sign, as this cooperation is considered a requisite to securing the city.
Like so many other aspects of Iraq, the outlook for the Fallujan police shows signs of both promise and despair. The political and cultural impediments to the formation of an effective police force are steep: Fallujah is not a city with a strong tradition of altruistic civil service, and the insurgents more casually wield violence, the most important currency in Iraq. American advisors are charged with teaching Fallujan cops Western standards of law enforcement, when in reality the IPs are fighting an insurgency, not crime. It's a bit ironic that restrictive rules of engagement and Western standards of policing are compelled on the American mission by a watchful western media and political leadership, when our own standards would undoubtedly evaporate in the face of the violence that the Fallujans are facing. Specific examples:
1. In addition to the cops themselves, their families are targeted. If this ever happened in the West on a massive scale, the reaction would be quite a bit more severe than permitted by our current standards of jurisprudence.
2. The insurgents use particularly violent mafia tactics to establish power and fund themselves. I asked a civil affairs officer why locals complain about the intimidation but don't report the insurgents to the police or Americans, and he told me that the Fallujans have no guarantee that the reported individual won't be released for lack of evidence or administrative reasons. Thus, when the choice is to fear an insurgent threatening them with decapitation vs. trusting the nascent Iraqi and American law enforcement system, the locals often opt to keep their mouths shut. It's not an irrational choice.
In contrast, hopeful signs include a boost in police recruitment, recent police cooperation with the Iraqi Army, and a string of successful offensive raids and defensive actions against insurgents. In my view, to read the above piece and definitively assert an opinion about the prospects of the Fallujah PD would be a mistake, as it could go either way.
"We're on the baby steps right now. We've finally got 'em to where they're halfway doing their job, going out there and doing their job, but if we pull out right now, they're still halfway depending on us. If we pull out right now, let's just say things will go straight back to where they were. There's been a lot of progress here," said Lance Corporal Nathan Yeager.
Said IPLO Gorman: "You're trying to advise on a democratic way of policing, and it's a big difference from the way the Iraqi police worked in the past, it's a process. People tend to expect this to happen overnight, to change from what it was to a democratic way of policing. And it didn't happen overnight in the states either. It takes time."
If you'd prefer to donate via check, please e-mail me and I'll provide you mailing instructions. Thank you for your support.
Posted by Bill at February 12, 2007 10:16 AM | TrackBack (7)
TrackBack URL for this entry:
I don't find your report to be particularly encouraging...
Posted by: Babs at February 13, 2007 09:07 AM
It strikes me that, as dangerous as they are, places like Fallujah, Ramadi, Baquba in the Sunni triangle may be our only decent chance to make real progress. Just by not being Baghdad-- or other spots where the civil war is raging--these places at least allow US and IG forces to focus on a mainly-Sunni insurgency within mainly-Sunni populations.
Posted by: Bob C at February 13, 2007 10:03 AM
Based on your report I fully expect the entire experiment to go down the crapper as soon as we pull out of there.
A smart assessment, contingent upon when.
Bob C -
You are correct, even though I think the idea of a Sunni-Shia "civil war" is overplayed in Baghdad.
I think the west is winnable. The political situation, while terribly complex and frustrating in its own right, is a bit more straightforward.
Posted by: Bill from INDC at February 13, 2007 10:09 AM
Mucho thanx to LCPL Michael Baker, CAPT Tad Scott, MAJ Lippo, LCPL Thomas Hauck and LCPL Michael Rickard, GSGT Jason Lawson and all the other troops for being there, for 'getting it', for a job well done, for keeping the faith, for taking care of me.
Even tho' I'm a really old fart, I wish I were there amongst the bunch.
Posted by: Willy at February 13, 2007 11:41 AM
Babs - It will take years and years for them to make the transition. That's kinda the point. We won't be pulling out of there anytime soon. We're not leaving under the current administration. Hopefully we can make more progress while Bush is still in office.
Posted by: Marty at February 13, 2007 01:03 PM
Another gr8 read Bill. Thank you so much...
ps: Love ya brother ... first nine holes and dinner @ Bobo's is on me.
Posted by: kirk at February 13, 2007 04:05 PM
The other US govt agencies are supposed to be augmenting DOD efforts in Iraq. From your description, it sounds like a few task forces from the Dept. of Justice are needed. Besides the aforementioned FBI, have you seen or heard of any personnel, say, non-military lawyers, rotating thru?
Posted by: bfartan at February 13, 2007 04:32 PM
Besides the aforementioned FBI, have you seen or heard of any personnel, say, non-military lawyers, rotating thru?
No, but that doesn't mean they haven't. The IPLOs are civilians hired by State, but are apparently in short supply. Dangerous job.
Which is I suspect part of the problem.
Posted by: Bill from INDC at February 13, 2007 04:36 PM
Posted by: nbpundit at February 13, 2007 07:00 PM
Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 02/15/2007
Posted by: David M at February 14, 2007 03:39 PM
Saw the photos on "Doc J", he is our nephew. Is there anyway you could email us copies of all your photos of him in action, etc. We can't download any to our computer to print out. |We had received one several months back from another writer/photographer, Bill Roggio. He had to email us a version copy we could download and print out. We are saving them for our family history. Thanks, Tom, Janet, & Michael Goins Texas
Posted by: Thomas Goins at March 8, 2007 10:25 PM