Regimental Combat Team 7
(c) Roger Leo
Col. W. Blake Crowe, commander of Regimental Combat Team 7, at al-Asad in Anbar Province.
ANBAR (MAY 2006) – Col. W. Blake Crowe, 48, of Alexandria, Va., is commander of Regimental Combat Team 7, which operates throughout Anbar Province, a violent region of Iraq.
RCT7 comprises 5,000 men in five units: two Marine infantry battalions, one Marine light armored recon battalion, an armored cavalry unit out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and TF 136 out of Germany.
It covers an area of 33,000 square miles.
Like Lt. Col. Norman L. Cooling, commander of 3-3 Marines, Col. Crowe emphasized the importance of training Iraqi security forces – soldiers and policemen – to take over for U.S. and other Coalition forces.
“It’s a challenge,” Col. Crowe said. “We have to be in the cities, maintain a persistent presence, provide security. And security is improving. People are talking to us. If you told me two months ago that people would talk to us, I would have laughed at you. Now they’re coming forward.”
IEDs remain the most effective weapon against U.S. and Coalition forces, but also in spreading fear among Iraqis, Col. Crowe said.
“We meet with the local mayors, the local sheikhs, and they say their people are being hurt by IEDs as well. If the enemy had aircraft, they would drop those bombs on us. They don’t, so they use IEDs. If we stop the IEDs, we can open bridges and bring more wealth into their area.
“It’s a campaign of fear, murder, intimidation. We counteract that by showing people we’re not fly-by-night,” Col. Crowe said.
But the United States can’t hope to do it alone, he said.
“The Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police have to stand up. The Iraqi Army is on the way. The Iraqi Police have to be trained to more of a paramilitary standard than police anywhere else. Once police start taking root, that’s the No. 1 threat to the insurgency.
“An Iraqi policeman from this area, he can look at someone and say, ‘He’s a Syrian, look at his feet –nice manicured feet. He’s not a farmer, look at his hands.’ They pick up on accents and dialects – and we just don’t have that ability,” Col. Crowe said.
His hopes for the future – like the hopes of most American commanders in the region – are for Iraqi security forces to take over most operations.
“Every town in the Euphrates River Valley is going to have an Iraqi presence supported by American forces. We provide that windbreak because we have heavy armored vehicles and humvees.
“As Iraqis pick up more of the burden, the U.S. becomes a QRF – quick reaction force – for emergencies,” he said.
“But if we’re willing to continue to do what we’re doing now, they’re willing to let us. We have to start weaning ourselves off and letting the Iraqi forces take more responsibility,” he said.
“When we do downsize, there will still be advisers, and a few enduring bases to provide fire support to the Iraqi Army to defeat this insurgency,” he said.
One common concern among U.S. commanders is that political pressure in the United States will force troop reductions too soon for a solid transition.
“While looking at bringing forces home,” one commander said, “you have to look at areas that don’t have enough. I didn’t come here to draw and my Marines didn’t come here to lose. We’re at a tipping point here. Some strategic decisions will be made here this summer, bring some troops home, and not send over some that are scheduled to come. Why not shift those troops to areas that need them?”