Monday, July 30, 2018

Lessons Learned: Observations from the siege of Ramadi

Hello! A few years ago I sent you an email regarding my observations and experiences in Afghanistan and how community is integral for long term survival and how dangerous the lone-wolf bunker mindset can be. You quite effectively provided clarification on points where I was correct and a pretty spot on rebuttal regarding how one must not rely on the kindness of others TOO much. So, in the years since I have been a few more places and seen some more things that I feel might be relevant to your blog.

For background I am an active duty infantryman in the United States Marine Corps and have been to (and fought in) some of the most dangerous and unstable political hot-spots on the planet. In the summer of 2015 through the winter of 2016 I was present in an advisory role to the Iraqi army during the siege of Ramadi in Iraq. To say the place was devastated is an understatement. I remember watching old black and white videos of the liquidation of Poland's ghettos by the Nazis and the aftermath of the battle of Warsaw. It looked like that, just utter destruction and rubble. The people there had really been through the wringer, everybody to the last child were very thin, a man came to me holding an infant covered in some kind of skin infection. I really don't know how to put what I saw into words, I thought my experience with war in Afghanistan had shown me everything but I was gravely mistaken. The worst of it was, just because the city was liberated didn't mean it was over for them.

The Iraqi army behaved admirably and with as much discipline as could be expected from such a hastily trained, equipped, and fielded force. Rough around the edges for certain, but not terrible. The rag-tag band of assorted militia and volunteer forces were another story. Such groups were hardly better than ISIS themselves and many were open enemies as likely to fight among themselves or against us as they were to fire at ISIS. A large number of these groups were really little more than roving groups of bandits who had simply pledged their support to the campaign for the opportunity to loot whatever was left after. This is something they set about doing with wild abandon against the beleaguered populace almost immediately. I saw quite a few of these militia members running around with armloads of things they had "found." Cartons of cigarettes, watches, phones, radios, flashlights, even furniture or bottles of cooking oil. For a few nights it was pure chaos. I remember on the first night some volunteer militia from Iran decided to move into an "empty" building. After violently evicting the civilians who already lived there the Iraqi army showed up to kick them out. After this things devolved into a gun-battle that lasted three days leaving most of the Iranians dead, a good number of Iraqi soldiers dead or wounded, and the original occupants totally homeless. In short, the disaster really wasn't over for the residents of the city, in fact they had several more months of hardship to endure caught in between inter-factional squabbling, government corruption, supply delays, and banditry. Aid was very very slow to arrive and when it did people who wanted it often had to pique an Iraqi soldier's interest with barter. Cartons of cigarettes, american currency, and precious metals always seemed to get people to the front of the line and they always seemed to have a little bigger armload of aid items than anyone else. I saw very very little genuine charity, the line between relief and corruption rackets was very very blurry.

The poorly supplied Iraqi soldiers were as likely to hold onto anything that showed up as hand it out and often needed to be "persuaded" to part with anything. The militias just flat out stole and hoarded anything they could get their hands on from beans and bullets to office chairs. I  even saw men armed to the teeth guarding a building packed to the ceiling with bed's mattresses, and foot stools for some reason. The idea that things can get so bad that somebody will literally shoot you in the face for a dirty mattress had never occurred to me. I tried to help the guy with the sick baby but we were deployed so far forward that the best I could do was give the guy a bottle of soap and some clean water to wash the baby with. We were the only people there who had any capability or motive to help but we had virtually nothing that we weren't carrying with us and were even forced to begin bartering bits of kit and the odd american dollar for simple crap like drinking water. Frankly, I could fill a book with the stupid, senseless, petty and weird bullshit that was going on there but I think I've made my point.

In summary, The line between disaster and recovery is often about as blurry as the line between friend and foe. Just because the shooting stops for a bit and the "bad guys" are gone doesn't mean you should hop out of your hole and start dancing just yet. The "good guy's" gun can kill you just as easily and it might still be a very long time before any actual relief or positive change is seen. The lesson I took from this is that if one can ever help it they ought to not just prepare for the disaster, but it's aftermath as well. One cannot rely on aid showing up on time (or even at all) and the relief force liberating you might be just as likely to kick you out of your house as the marauding thugs they supposedly aren't. People who laid low and held on to barter items seemed to do a lot better. The people who helped themselves were far, far better off than the ones who had counted on the "friendly" force to bail them out.
Thanks a lot T!
First-hand accounts of events such as these are extremely valuable.
It’s a mix bag really, sometimes you find humbling acts of generosity but it seems that just as often and then some you come across some of the worst acts people are capable of.
I agree 100% on trying not to count on anyone. If someone helps out or you manage to work together with others then even better but expect not to have any help, especially when everyone is struggling to stay afloat themselves.
Take care and again, thank you for your email.

Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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