An Interview with Major General Huck
RAMADI, IRAQ: Here in Ramadi, where the insurgency is at its strongest, Major General Richard A. Huck, Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division, leads the fight against the insurgency and reconstruction efforts in the bulk of Anbar province. The 2nd Marine Division's area of responsibility is vast: it spans from east of Fallujah all the way out to the Syrian border, and as far south as Rutbah on the Jordanian border.
His command is fully joint and combined, made up of active duty, Reserve and National Guard units, as well as multiple divisions of the Iraqi Army and police forces. The U.S. Regiments and brigades under the division are made up of two Marine Regimental Combat Teams, RCT-2 and RCT-8, and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the "Iron Brigade" of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 28th Division, which is in charge of Ramadi and the surrounding regions. Technically, Major General Huck commands the equivalent of an Army Corps, but he is not daunted by the numbers in the least.
Major General Huck has presided over perhaps the most important operation in Iraq since the fall of Fallujah in November of 2004. In what I have referred to as The Anbar Campaign, the Coalition and Iraqi troops systematically took over the various cities and town along the Euphrates River Valley which were once strong points of the insurgency, and seeded them with Coalition and Iraqi forces to provide a permanent presence.
The successful Coalition operations in Western Anbar, which culminated in Rivergate and Steel Curtain, were due to a shift in focus by General Casey, the Commander of Multinational Forces Iraq. "We didn't have the people to [establish] a permanent presence, which was needed. He gave me the forces" , says Major General Huck. The Iraqi Security forces were the linchpin in establishing this permanent presence. "It's all about the Iraqis."
In June of 2005, there were only 34 Iraqi Security Force soldiers in AO Denver, the western section of Anbar province under Colonel Stephen Davis' command. Today, there are over two Iraqi Army brigades operating in the battlespace, well over 4,000 troops. In Anbar province, there are over 15,000 Iraqi Security Force personnel overall.
There were worries about the capabilities of the Iraqi troops and their ability to integrate with Coalition forces. "In March, I was concerned if they would fight" , says Major General Huck. Today, this is no longer a concern, and U.S. and Iraqi forces operate jointly and live on the same posts throughout Anbar Province.
Major General Huck explains the impact of the Iraqi troops out west is just beginning to be felt, as the Iraqi Army is still ramping up its capabilities. "People have to understand it takes patience; You don't build Iraqi Army battalions and brigades in a week or month." The process to develop the Iraqi Security requires the Coalition to "train, integrate and operate" with Coalition forces, and "repeat the cycle."
He sees the calls for a premature withdrawal from Iraq as folly; "Are you kidding me? We are getting closer to where we want to be, why would we want to withdraw now? These tigers just took five towns on the western Euphrates, why would we want to leave?"
Major General Huck illustrates the level of difficulty in transitioning from hot operations to classic low level insurgency warfare; "The kinetic piece is checkers, the stabilization and reconstruction piece is chess... We are in what is called phase four [of the counterinsurgency operations], stabilization and security is the hardest part." Colonel Stephen Davis has described the reconstruction phase as "playing chess on a fourteen level board." Both state the Marines, soldiers, airmen and navy personnel in their command are well prepared to deal with this transition.
From what I have seen while embedding at the platoon level in Western Anbar and Ramadi, they are right. The leadership at the junior officer and Non-Commissioned Officer level are well in tune with the importance of fighting a low level insurgency in Iraq. The "Strategic Corporal" is alive, well and operating in Iraq, and executing a mission outside of the range of combat operations, and venturing into the realm of Civil-Military Operations.