An Interview with Colonel Davis

Colonel Stephen W. Davis is the regimental commander of Regimental Combat Team -2, 2nd Marine Division, serving in AO Danger in Western Iraqi. His area of operation is comprised of the Qaim Region on the Syrian Border to the Triad cities of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana, as well as Rutbah, Anah, and Khan Al Baghdadi. I embedded with RCT-2 from November 26 to December 17th of 2005.

Colonel Davis has commanded numerous operations in western Anbar, including Matador, Sword, Iron Fist, River Gate, Steel Curtain, Western Shield and a summer blitz that took a devastating toll on al Qaeda in Iraq’s network in the region. Colonel Davis will soon be transferring command to Colonel Blake Crowe and Regimental Combat Team – 7, the unit in charge of the region prior to RCT-2. The transcript below is from an interview conducted this afternoon (February 19, 2005).

Colonel Davis: The operations prior to your arrival in Iraq – Iron Fist River Gate and Steel Curtain – set up an interesting period of success. We created a security environment that is unprecedented in our time in Iraq. Because of this, areas like Hit had an enormous turnout during the December election – from zero voters during the Constitutional Referendum to 72,000 voters during the Parliamentary Election.

There are great signs of progress in the area of services. We are setting up permanent power generation which allows for clean water. We are setting up educational and medical facilities, services which were destroyed by the insurgency during fighting.

Two weeks ago I was in Husaybah, and walked all the way down Market Street. You couldn’t do this a few months ago. The markets were packed with foods, fruits & vegetables, electronics and other goods. And not just the main streets, but the side streets as well.

A similar situation is developing in the Triad, but they are a little behind in that region. Recently we’ve seen an increase in IEDs, small arms attacks and five suicide bombers. The security situation is cyclical, the insurgents are always probing, trying to fill the space where they think you are not.

Bill: Several officers have told me about al Qaeda “hit squads” – small teams of 6 to 12 foreign fighters, well armed, well trained in small squad tactics. They have new weapons, body armor, often wear suicide vests and have lots of money – in American dollars . They are accompanied by Iraqi “scouts” – locals with knowledge of the region and often act as the driver. Their mission is to stir up trouble, put civilians in the crossfire and evoke a over-reaction from Coalition forces. Can you confirm their existence?

Colonel Davis: There are three levels to the insurgency we are fighting out here: the criminal element; the FREs- or former regime elements made up of Baathists and Saddam’s military and intelligence officers; and the foreign fighters and Islamists. This [Western Anbar] is strategic territory for them and they need to come through Syria and transit through the Triad region [Haditha, Haqlaniyah & Barwana]. The Triad is strategically important to them and they are constantly trying to establish a presence.

They attack in small groups such as this to stir up trouble. Back in the summer, in the town of Cykla, a small farming town a few clicks [kilometers] north of Haditha, our Marines engaged a unit of eleven. The fight soon turned into a company sized action. In January, in the town of Sadah, we ran into a team of six to eight Libyans. This is nothing new for us out here, we have been fighting these engagements for some time.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has nothing to offer the Iraqi people. The people know this, but fear al Qaeda too. We see that the residents understand this, and they offer us information at every opportunity they think al Qaeda isn’t looking. We see red-on-red fighting because of this – tribes fighting al Qaeda, insurgent groups fighting al Qaeda. The people know if al Qaeda run the territories then they are in for a long road ahead.

Bill: During your Pentagon News Briefing on February 10th, you mentioned three or four towns where you’d like to deploy more troops. Can you elaborate on which towns you would like to increase the Coalition & Iraqi Army presence?

Colonel Davis: Sure can. I would like to have more Iraqi battalions in the Anah region, the Baghdadi region and Rutbah. The gives the RCTs the ability to shut down the flow of insurgent support and bring greater security and stability to the overall region, which paves the way for reconstruction.

But look at the progress we’ve made. Recently the insurgency was ensconced in the major population centers i n western Iraq – Husaybah, Hit Haditha and the Triad region. We were able to go in and establish a permanent presence in the major centers, and the insurgency is trying to grab a foothold in the rural farming regions.

Bill: Can you elaborate more on Rutbah? Recently you conducted Operation Western Shield in Rutbah and built a berm around the town. The media acted as if this was a new tactic, but this has occurred elsewhere in Iraq, including Samarra.

Colonel Davis: Rutbah is an interesting place, as it is an old smuggler’s town positioned on the edge of the Jordanian and Syrian borders. There is a crossing at Tribil on the Jordanian border, and At Tanif on the Syria crossing. This city did not have adequate Iraqi forces. We put a berm around the city, which is a tactic that has been used elsewhere in Iraq and established security checkpoints manned by Iraq troops to control the flow of insurgents into the city. We’ve increased the security and the people are happy for this.

Bill: Are foreign fighters making an effort to make Rutbah the main point of entry into Iraq? Are they crossing at the Syrian or Jordanian border, or both?

Colonel Davis: One doesn’t get the nod over the other. Any point of entry will get traffic and they will try to cross where they think they can. You have to be vigilant at the borders, at all times. The Jordanians run a great border operation, we don’t see corruption or other problems. They run an impressive operation. [Note from Bill: notice the Syrian border operation is omitted.]

Bill: I know Hit is out of your area of operations, but you controlled Hit in the past. What is your opinion about what is going on there?

Colonel Davis: Hit has changed owners several times over the past few month. We owned Hit up until the end of the Summer, then the 13th MEU took over, and now the 22nd MEU owns Hit. Continuity greatly helps the security situation. I was in Hit about two weeks ago, and the Marine Civil Affairs group is working hard. Things go in cycles out here, as the insurgency is always probing. Threats in the Euphrates River Valley are transitory. Groups might move in from Ramadi for a bit and stir things up, then they’re gone. The locals know who they are and let us know.

Ramadi is another challenge. The Marines, soldiers and sailors serving there are doing a great job in a difficult security situation. The key is not to let up or in diminishing the security structure.

We need to continue to bring along the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police forces. The units on the borders are doing a good job, they are competent. I have two brigades of Iraqi Army out here, and several hundred recruit just left for police training. We are gaining support from the tribal sheikhs as well.

Bill: I know the battalions in Iraq with RCT-2 are not organic your regiment, but do you have a feel for reenlistment rates?

Colonel Davis: I don’t have the rates by battalion, but throughout RCT-2 and the 2nd Marine Division the reenlistments are well over 100%. We have had no problems with reenlistments, they have not been a concern either in Iraq or at home. Since 1976 we have had an all volunteer military and our men and women serve with honor. The courage they display here in Iraq is stunning. They wake up each morning and face death, and every day go on their mission, walk patrols, run convoys, interact with the Iraqi people. They are professionals we all should be proud of.

Note from Bill: Many thanks to Colonel Davis for granting this interview and others, and for the hospitality from RCT-2 during my embed in Western Iraq.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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23 Comments

  • Rob says:

    This is what victory is made of. The American military has stayed focused on results. They have acted with courage and wisdom. The result is several successful elections and a nation of Iraqis giving the inkstained finger to Al Qaeda and the Baathists for that matter. Someone needs to tell our own media so they can take off their orange highway safety vests.

  • Enigma says:

    Our media refuse to listen. Good news like this doesn’t fit their agenda.

  • TallDave says:

    You know, it is increasingly odd that we don’t see this kind of reporting in the MSM. I mean, what Bill is doing here is pretty amazing when you consider it: he’s providing, as far as I can, the only tactical news on the security situation. That’s versus a media that has a budget in the tens of billions. The MSM only report “X U.S. soldiers killed by Y” and it’s as if they are blind to the whole rest of the picture.
    Come on, all those operations on the Euphrates and not one story about them on the AP feed? What the hell?
    Mind-boggling.

  • Tom W. says:

    The reason the MSM won’t report anything good coming out of Iraq is because it’s against their religion.
    The religion of the left is Bush hatred. Bush is Satan, Cheney is Satan Jr., Rumsfeld is Satan’s nephew, and Rice is Satan’s concubine. Bush stole two elections, tortures people, illegally listens to us on the phone, drops bombs on brown people, lets black people drown, and sends our young men and women to die to enrich his oil buddies.
    To report good news from Iraq reflects well on Bush. If Bush does anything good, then he can’t be Satan, and if he’s not Satan, the entire leftist belief system comes crashing down.
    Asking a journalist to report good news from Iraq is like asking a Christian to desecrate a church. As the news from Iraq gets better and better, you’ll see more total raving insanity from the press, i. e. “DICK CHENEY SHOT A MAN IN THE FACE!!!!!!!”

  • Christine says:

    I can say from personal experience what effect the MSM has on people. For approx. 7 mos in 2005, I did not have access to internet. I received all of my information from the MSM. I was one of the cheering crowd when the war started and have stood behind the effort since the beginning. During those 7 mos. I found myself becoming increasingly depressed and negative about the situation over there. I felt as if there was absolutely nothing going right and that it was a total failure. Once I got back online, I not only started reading about the current situation, but also went back and read about those 7 mos.
    I was duped. The impression that the MSM gave me was wrong and I really resent that to this day. I totally refuse to have anything whatsoever to do with them now.

  • Christine says:

    By the way. Thank you Bill for what you did. You going to Iraq has given us another “sane” voice to depend on.

  • hamidreza says:

    Interesting experience Christine. Thanks.
    I guess there is some truth to the ethically bankrupt postmoderns (generally left-liberals but also some on the right) who claim that truth is a social construction, and there is no such thing as objective truth. Of course for them, this means, “it is OK to manufacture the truth”. While for any other sane and reasonable human being, it would mean, there is something immoral and disgusting in manufacturing the truth.

  • Enigma says:

    The media do our military a great disservice with their coverage, or lack thereof. Men like Colonel Davis should be household names in America. How many Americans today would recognize the name of Colonel McMaster, much less remember the exploits of then-Captain McMaster at the Battle of 73 Easting? How many Americans today even know about SFC Paul R. Smith, the first MOH winner in this war?
    Uh oh. I’m ranting again…

  • Mark Garrity says:

    Bottom line: we’ve overthrown a tinhorn dictator in Iraq in favor of a government allied with Iran. The country is destined to blow up into a fullscale civil war, split apart or kill off 20% of it’s population to put down the insurgency. But the end game is still the same. The oil producing provinces will be allied with Iran. The provinces including the capital, where a majority of the people live will remain unstable crime and terrorist havens for years if not decades to come. The Iraq war has not made the US or the world safer or more democratic despite the best efforts of our men and women in uniform. This is a failure of civilian leadership in the Bush administration.

  • TallDave says:

    Mark,
    Allied with Iran? Is that why they’re talking about joining NATO?
    And what makes you think the Kurdish oil-producing areas would go along?
    The provinces including the capital, where a majority of the people live will remain unstable crime and terrorist havens for years if not decades to come.
    As opposed to last few decades under Saddam? You don’t seem to understand that these places were always filled with criminals and terrorists. The only difference is that they’re no longer in charge of the whole country.

  • Mark Garrity says:

    I’ve seen proposals by interested parties for Egypt, Israel and now Iraq to join NATO. Ain’t gonna happen. Why? From the Assyrian International News Agency: “Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Gen. Babaker Zibari called for joining NATO to spare Iraq building a big and costly army.” The Iraqi Chief of Staff wants somebody else to spend their blood and treasure to police and protect Iraq. Doesn’t look like he has much stomach for the fight.
    The Kurds wiil go along for awhile with anything they perceive to be in their interests. Right now booting out non Kurds from what they hope will be Kurdistan someday is their goal. They’re already issuing their own visas. That’s fine with the Iraqi government and fine with Iran. If the Shia led government wants to institute Sharia law in Kirkuk that’s another matter. Regardless the Kurds are on good terms with Iran. Talabani can be seen in Tehren as often as Chalabi.
    I completely understand that these places were always filled with criminals and terrorists. Now they’re getting on the job training in how to kill Americans. To what end? Either Shia led militias wipe towns like Fallujah and Ramadi and their inhabitants off the map or share the wealth and power with their Sunni cousins. It’d be nice to see the latter happen but there’s no chance it will as long as coalition troops occupy the country.

  • BLACKFIVE says:

    Bill Rogio Interviews Marine Regiment Commander

    Bill Roggio at the Fourth Rail interviews Marine Colonel Stephen Davis – the Commander of Regimental Combat Team Two (2nd Marine Division) with Area of Operations in Western Iraq. This is the team that Bill embedded with last Fall. Here’s

  • hamidreza says:

    Mark, sectarian civil war is a likelihood in Iraq. If US pulls out its forces, it becomes a certainty. US has proposed a fair democratic structure for Iraq. It is the Islamists (both Shiite and Sunni) and some Baathists who are opposing it. There is no way that civil society can be established in Iraq, without foreign presence. This is well established.
    The problem with “anti-war” (better known as pro-totalitarian) criticism of Iraq, is that none offer a solution to real conditions and real societites and real people – and only offer some half-wit such as “if we only pull out our troops, then peace, democracy, freedoms and civil society will be somehow miraculously established”.
    As they say, criticism without a real and practical (not a utopian) alternative is not worth writing about.

  • Mark Garrity says:

    hamidreza the insurgency will go on fighting until coalition, especially US forces leave. They may go on fighting after that but the handful of foreign insurgents and remnants of the baathist regime will have little backing even from Sunni Iraqis if the occupation ends. Even if I’m wrong on that there is no way they can prevail against the numerically stronger Shiites and Kurds.
    We did not need the French to show us how to form a government and protect us from the tories and Indians after 1783. If there is any fighting that needs to be done for democracy in Iraq it needs to be done by Iraqis. As Donald Rumsfeld says “In the last analysis it will be the Iraqi people that will defeat the insurgency, not the coalition”

  • Bill Roggio: An Interview with Colonel Davis

    An Interview with Colonel Davis Colonel Stephen W. Davis is the regimental commander of Regimental Combat Team -2, 2nd Marine Division, serving in AO Danger in Western Iraqi. His area of operation is comprised of the Qaim Region on the

  • Enigma says:

    If the US withdraws from Iraq today, there is no guarantee the Sunnis won’t re-establish control over Iraq (minus the Kurdish north). If numbers alone were enough, the Sunnis would never have dominated the Shias and Kurds to begin with.
    The whole point of the US presence in Iraq at this time is to continue building the Iraqi security forces so that they can do the job on their own, not to mention the strategic position we now have WRT Syria and Iran. Success in Iraq may not yet be guaranteed at this point, but failure almost certainly is if we leave now.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    enigma,
    Exactly how does someone take a poll in a country where for 30 years, having an opinion other than the glorious leader was grounds to be executed?
    Do you really think an Iraqi is going to trust an anonymous stranger? How would they know it wasn’t the local head choppers, calling to see who was loyal or not?
    People who spent their entire lives living in a police state barely trust their immediate family.
    So they are going to trust a pollster from claiming to be from the University of Maryland.
    If I get a phone call from a pollster from the University of Baghdad, I’m calling the police.

  • blert says:

    Caution one and all: Mark Garrity is a professional troll.
    His posts at The Belmont Club are always trollish.
    He is absolutely undebatable.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Aplogies to enigma. Got the commentor mixed up

  • hamidreza says:

    Mark, it is impossible to take such accurate polls in Iraq. Sounds like that Lancet US election timed poll, which concluded that the number of deaths due to the war “is anywhere between 10,000 to 190,000 – pick your number”.
    You underestimate the schism between Sunnis, Kurds, and Shias. Like those people who misread Islam as a lovy dovy democratic religion,
    Your solution that US should pull out so they can slaughter each other, so in that process they learn the hard way how to co-exist, is not a solution at all. It is an immoral position. You seem to be more concerned to see US booted, than for Iraqis to arrive at their civil society peacefully.
    As said before, criticism without a valid and practical alternative is nothing to write about.

  • Mark Garrity says:

    blert It should be obvious by my writing I’m not a professional troll and I only remember ever posting at Belmont Club once. Now YARGB is another story. I came from there. I wish someone would pay me to write this stuff but alas no one has offered.
    Soldiers’s dad I agree with you on polling in Iraq but even the CPA did them and took into account the results. When you think about it though polling shouldn’t as hard as holding elections and
    those have been pulled off a number of times in Iraq. The problems you cite are some of the same reasons democracy is so hard to impose. Saddam’s government as near as I can tell was a cross between a Stalinist police state complete with 5 different secret police forces and the mafia. People that oppressed tend to be distrustful and disoriented when they have freedom thrust upon them. The dismal performance by the CPA and heavyhanded US military tactics like torture have undercut our credibility with them. According to our own US metrics water, sewage, electricity, employment, and security are all in worse shape today than before the invasion. If foreigners came to our country and ran it demonstrably worse than Saddam you and I would be trying to kick them out too. Thus the increase in attacks.
    hamidreza if you’re right and I underestimate the schism between Sunnis, Kurds, and Shias then 140,000 US troops aren’t going to stop the break up anyway. They are slaughtering each other right now and we can barely protect our own supply lines. Periodically conducting sweeps, kicking in doors and temporarily cleansing cities or neighborhoods without the troops to hold that territory and provide security is an exercise in futility.
    Regardless political factors here in the US will drive the drawdown. It’s widely expected that by November our troop strength in Iraq will be reduced to about 100,000. It isn’t Cindy Sheehan or John Murtha driving this calculation, it’s Republican politicians looking to hold onto their jobs and the US Army trying to save the volunteer Army. Even if we announced a total withdrawal today it’d take 6 months to move all our forces to Kuwait. It’s very troubling that the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff expressed a desire to abdicate his responsiblity by wistfully calling for NATO troops. Doesn’t sound like he has much confidence in standing Iraqis up so we can stand down. There was a chance NATO or EU troops would go to Iraq after the invasion, Chirac was making such offers as late as April 2004 if Bush would turn over control to the UN and tone down the sneering at old Europe. That train has long left the station. It’s been reported that Cheney was in Egypt a few weeks ago to beg Mubarak’s government to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq. If true I guess that explains why the Egyptian press was instrumental in fanning the flames of the cartoon riots. Not the answer he was looking for. What happens now in Iraq is up to Iraqis. It’s not their fault but their furture is in their hands.
    Folks this die was cast back before the invasion when the neocons in the DOD rejected the State Dept’s Future of Iraq postwar plan. Powell had his people put together teams of experts to manage the
    postwar occupation and drunk on power Rummy and Wolfowitz in the days just before the invasion got Cheney to convince Bush to let them handle it. They fired something like 17 of the 21 experts Powell tapped to manage ministries for being “Arab apologists”. This isn’t news, we on the left have been warning about this stuff since 2002. Bush’s Wilsonian vision for spreading demoracy in the ME starting with Iraq had a very slim chance of succeeding to begin with. It’s been totally botched in execution because it ran smack into the Republican disdain for nation building and government. The same philosophy responsible for Iraq is responsible for Katrina and the Medicare Part D drug plan. They don’t believe government can be a force for good in people’s lives. The don’t study it, they don’t make it work well because they want to prove it doesn’t work at all and large chunks of it need to be privatized or disgarded altogether. That’s led to all kinds of corporate crony corruption in the reconstruction of both Iraq and the Gulf Coast. Indeed many of the same US contractors from Iraq started relocating their people to LA last fall as the reconstruction money started running out in Baghdad and started flowing in LA.
    When you try to force feed laizzez faire large corporation capitalism on a Stalnist kleptocracy that was barely held together with mass murder and has enough stockpiles of munitions to fight an insurgency for 18 years and do it with too few troops to secure the country you get what we have today. Rampant destabilizing corruption and violent resistance to occupation. Our military had no real plan to maintain a hostile occupation of a Arab nation because the general consensus was it’d be crazy to even try. Even today Rumsfeld’s new Force Review is inexplicitly long on conventional war fighting capabilities and short on countering terrorist tactics and guerilla insurgencies. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld learned nothing from Vietnam. Saddam did.

  • hamidreza says:

    Mark, you can’t answer the point, so you load up with poststructural rubbish? This is the hallmark of a troll.
    Your final solution that Iraqis should kill each other for the next 300 years before they figure out democracy, is not a valid or practical solution. It is immoral and hilarious at the same time. I guess for the purpose of handing US a defeat, you will stoop to any low? Just like saying we should remove the police and let the gangs shoot up the neighborhood until they learn how to behave civilly.
    As said several times before, criticism without offering a reasonable alternative is not worth writing.
    blert is absolutely right to call you a troll.

  • Mark Garrity says:

    The answer is hamidreza that it’s up to the Iraqis. Got that? Your noblesse oblige and keyboard courage ain’t workin pal. Neither are the propaganda reports from Iraq. We do not have half a million troops to send to stabilize the country. Bush alienated most of the rest of the world so badly years ago and even if we lived in some alternative universe where he hadn’t his handling of the insurgency has made it so much worse nobody wants to touch this tar baby. There aren’t any UN, EU or Arab League troops that are gonna ride to the rescue.
    Now you tell me what’s your solution? What we have now is slow motion suicide for Iraq with assistance from the US. Staying the course isn’t an answer unless you think it’s the US military’s job to kill roughly half the Sunni Arab population of Iraq over the next few years. That’s not moral or even feasible and it’s sure as hell not good for US relations with the rest of the world. So tell me what should we do?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis