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The Combined Action Platoon in Iraq:
An Old Technique for a New War
First Lieutenants Jason Goodale and Jon Webre, USMC
May 2004 the Marines of 3d Platoon, Company G, Task Force 2nd Battalion,
Seventh Marines (TF 2/7), Regimental Combat Team-7 (RCT 7), were activated
as one of the first Combined Action Program (CAP) platoons since the end
of the program during Vietnam in 1971. Upon entering into this mission,
which was new to everyone involved, the TF 2/7 CAP platoon had to
“reinvent the wheel” and use an almost forgotten model in order to wage
modern counter-insurgency warfare in the west-central Al Anbar Province of
Iraq. The scope of the TF 2/7 CAP mission can be broken into three
phases: initiating and founding the CAP mission, coordination and
operations in a joint CAP environment, and establishing a training base to
ensure the continuation of the mission.
Phase I: Initiating the
TF 2/7 operations occurring up to the day of the CAP platoon activation,
which included TF 2/7 displacement east in support of Fallujah offensive
operations in April 2004, the CAP platoon was not able to start working
with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) until late May 2004. The utilization
of the CAP platoon as a semi-independent unit within TF 2/7’s area of
operations (AO) had been planned for a period of weeks since the
battalion’s arrival in February 2004, but finally the opportunity
presented itself. When the order arrived, the TF 2/7 CAP platoon, call
sign “Golf 3,” displaced from the battalion main forward operating base
and moved 25 kilometers away into the platoon’s new home near the city of
Hit (pronounced “Heet”), Iraq. The CAP platoon arrived at the
headquarters of the nascent Iraqi National Guard (ING) 503d Battalion on
30 May 2004.
arriving at the 503d headquarters, the platoon had three goals: establish
initial security, familiarize with new responsibilities, and sustainment.
After a brief introduction to the platoon’s new host, Colonel Fahad Ab’dal
Aziz, Commander of the 503rd, the platoon established local security, and
began settling in to billeting areas.
The CAP platoon
quickly set in motion the necessary functions to quickly train the 503d in
anticipation of the national transfer of sovereignty in little over a
month. The CAP platoon commander introduced the unit to the staff and
officers of the 503d and established short, mid, and long-term training
and operations goals. The CAP platoon sergeant, ensured all logistical
and security concerns were immediately addressed and that future
requirements were anticipated. The platoon guide assumed the role of
chief trainer and began establishing the process of turning the 503d into
a capable Iraqi fighting force.
NCOs of the platoon made sure tasks were assigned, watches and rotations
established, and everything was proceeding according to the platoon plan.
The junior Marines had perhaps the hardest role of adapting to a foreign
culture by learning the language and working, daily, with hundreds of
non-English speaking, ill-trained soldiers. Needless to say, this was all
ad hoc considering the CAP platoon’s pre-deployment training consisted of
two days of orientation which already proved far short of the expectations
necessary to live, eat, sleep, and fight with the 503d. Despite these
shortcomings, the TF 2/7 CAP platoon was cognizant that they were going to
carry out this mission for the last three months of the battalion’s
deployment and the platoon wanted nothing short of success. The future
local security in this area of operations needed to be transferred to the
Iraqis as soon as they were ready.
Phase II: Coordination
and Operations in a Joint CAP Environment
biggest challenge that the TF 2/7 CAP faced in its mission was the
establishment of procedures when it came to joint operations with Marines
and the 503d soldiers. Golf 3’s role in coordinating all U.S. and ISF
training and operations from the 503d headquarters decreased throughout
the platoon’s stay in Iraq. This would never have been possible without
the addition, in early June, of a battalion detachment lead by the TF 2/7
S3L. Along with subject matter experts from each battalion staff section,
the essential task of establishing an operational capability at the 503d
battalion level was removed from the CAP platoon.
The CAP platoon
and battalion staff solidified as the weeks passed, into a solid band of
Marines and sailors that became known as “Team JCC.” The JCC was the
operations center at the heart of the mission. From the JCC, the CAP
platoon and TF 2/7 tracked the majority of activity concerning the
Marines, the ING, and the Iraqi Police (IP) in TF 2/7’s AO. Despite some
early difficulties with command and control, understandable for a mission
of this type, Team JCC began to establish useful techniques and
procedures. Such procedures consisted of receiving direction from TF 2/7
headquarters, establishing whether an Iraqi, U.S.-only, or a combined
effort would act on it, and supervising the execution of any action. As a
team, the officers from the respective agencies would assess the situation
and assign react teams from the ISF to respond. These teams were often
supported by the Marines of Company E located at the adjacent battalion
forward operating base, or other units of the battalion as required.
Difficulties would often arise due to lack of communications equipment and
logistics assets such as fuel, unreliability (or lack of training) of the
local forces, or language barriers. Each one of these problems was dealt
with as it occurred and over the course of months the CAP managed to find
creative solutions to solve each challenge.
simple example is that of the language barriers. Many of the battalion’s
interpreters were either not Iraqi, or were from a different part of Iraq,
making it difficult for Iraqi soldiers to understand them. By learning
enough tactical terms in the local dialect to issue a simple order such as
checkpoint, patrol, enemy, and weapons, while making up the difference
with diagrams and hand gestures, the problem was solved. As in Vietnam,
the CAP platoon’s language ability was essential to mission success.
operations with the ISF are rarely smooth, but as the mission matured and
evolved, Team JCC developed a system that resulted in several successful
operations against the enemy. The CAP jointly confiscated hundreds of
illegal weapons and explosive material, captured several insurgents, and
successfully engaged the enemy on numerous occasions with no casualties to
ISF or TF 2/7 Marines.
Phase III: Establish a
most visible success of CAP platoon’s training mission was the
establishment of an instruction foundation that would ensure the
continuation of sustainment training throughout the 503d. The CAP platoon
initial training package trained 700 soldiers of the 503d in basic weapons
handling and marksmanship with the AK-47 and RPK light machine gun. The
503d fired more than 13,000 rounds in the span of four days and set a
standard for ISF training.
As a result of
some collective thought between the 503d trainers and Marines, a plan
developed to bring one platoon a week from one of the four companies in
the 503d (from the cities of Hit, Baghdadi, Haditha and Anah/Rawah) and
train them in basic combat skills. The training package, which became
known as the “Basic Skills Training”, lasted from Monday to Thursday of
each week (accounting for the Iraqi religious day on Friday) with Sunday
as a receiving day. The package included physical training and martial
arts every morning and covered the gamut of basic mission essential tasks
and combat skills to include: procedures at checkpoints, search actions
for both vehicles and personnel, basic dismounted patrolling skills such
as hand/arm signals, mounted/dismounted techniques, and medical training.
Also included were urban skills such as room clearing, patrolling,
building entry techniques, and a full day of live fire-and-movement
training on the 503d’s 300-meter rifle range which was recently renovated
by TF 2/7 civil affairs. The 503d soldiers learned to rely on a basic
formation that they called the “zigzag,” or tactical column, for most
training week culminated in a series of graduation battle drills in which
the three squads of the 503d platoons would demonstrate, in a series of
events, all the skills learned in the week’s training. In the CAP platoon
time with the 503d, the 503d passed ten platoons through the training
package for approximately 400 soldiers. Each week the plan fluctuated and
evolved but ultimately became smoother.
platoon’s most significant training accomplishment was the establishment
of a core group of approximately ten Iraqi trainers led by Major Ab’dal
Qader Jubair, the Training Officer of the 503rd and the senior enlisted
trainer, Jafa. With the personnel additions of other trainers, the group
developed into a highly skilled and well-versed training cadre.
Building on TF 2/7’s military police platoon, “Train the Trainer” package
for 503d non-commissioned officers, the CAP platoon’s initial training of
the 503d was conducted entirely by Marines. After an additional
Train-the-Trainer piece, the 503d trainers affectionately referred to as
the “Red Sleeves,” for the armband they wore, assumed responsibility.
beginning of August 2004, the Red Sleeves assumed full control of the
Basic Skills Training package and shaped it as their own. The Marines
gladly and proudly allowed them to take the reins and stood back. The CAP
realized that if it was theirs (the Iraqis) it was better.
On 9 September
2004, the last Marines of Team JCC were extracted by helicopter and the
CAP mission of Golf 3 was complete. As the helicopter circled overhead of
the 503rd headquarters, the Marines reflected that in three short months a
small group of Marines had stood-up an ING battalion, conducted joint
operations against the enemy, and created a training program that had been
adapted by the Iraqis as their own. As of this writing, the training
program continues beyond TF 2/7’s stay. A new CAP platoon from TF 1/23
carried on the mission. TF 2/7 CAP platoon results were often roughly
bordered and many times the unit had to adjust expectations, but
nevertheless, the overall goal was defined; the Team JCC leadership was
completely confident the mission was worthwhile. The reactivated Combined
Action Program has been a relative success in this modern war on terror
and should be closely examined as an option for future conflicts.
1stLt Goodale is now the Executive Officer of
Weapons Company, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines.
1stLt Webre is now attending Military Intelligence
Officer’s Course (MIOC) while pursuing a lateral transfer to the