One aspect of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that doesnt get much media attention, probably because it doesnt involve much shooting, is the civil affairs efforts. The United States is unique in having so many units that train hard to develop ways to quickly establish good relationships with potentially hostile locals. The vast majority of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan spend more time on this than they do fighting.
The U.S. Army Special Forces are organized and trained to work with civilians in order to accomplish military missions. In Afghanistan, Special Forces A Teams have spent the last two years building relationships with tribes along the Pakistani border. One reason that American combat deaths in Afghanistan have been only two or three a month, despite the presence of over 11,000 American troops and large numbers of Afghans who still back the Taliban and al Qaeda, is the work of the Special Forces and the Civil Affairs troops.
The SOCOM (Special Operations Command) A Teams and Civil Affairs troops performed equally well in Iraq, despite an ongoing civil war sparked by diehard members of the deposed Baath Party, and radical Shia Moslems determined to establish an religious dictatorship. The Taliban never had as much control over Afghanistan, as the Baath Party, and its leader, Saddam Hussein, had over Iraq. Baath had over 100,000 secret police, intelligence officers and various armed enforcers to run what was a police state. Many of these men continued to work after the Baath Party government was overthrown. This created combat zones within Sunni Arab areas, as most of the Baath Party enforcers were Sunni Arabs. The Baath gunmen tried to stir up a widespread rebellion against the coalition forces, but failed. This was largely due to the work of the Special Forces troops before the invasion, and the efforts of the Civil Affairs troops right after it.
Before the invasion, Special Forces A Teams entered Iraq and made contact with Sunni tribes that had been supporting Saddam. The Arab speaking soldiers made it clear that if the tribes supported the coalition, or at least did not resist, there would be considerable benefits. Perhaps more importantly, the Special Forces negotiators made it clear that American military forces could do a lot of damage to the tribes, and to the tribal chiefs personally. It was, as the saying goes, an offer you cant refuse. The Special Forces had been monitoring Iraq for over a decade and knew that in 1991, when the Shias rose up in rebellion against Baath, Saddam went to the same tribal chiefs and offered them cash and material rewards, and a withdrawal of his brutal enforcers, in return for cooperation against the Shia rebels. Despite their dislike for Saddam, the chiefs saw an opportunity to enrich their tribes, and themselves. Saddam knew this approach would make the tribes more powerful and independent, but he didnt have much choice. The Special Forces then came in and made a similar offer, and provided the chiefs with satellite phones to stay in touch, and as the first of many gifts the chiefs could expect, in return for cooperation. What the Special Forces did here was nothing new. The predecessor of the Special Forces, the World War II OSS, had used the same technique with tribal chiefs and faction leaders back then. It still worked.
For most of 2003, the Special Forces were out looking for Saddam and other senior Baath Party officials. But the Civil Affairs and Psychological Warfare troops (who, like the Special Forces, belong to SOCOM) quickly moved into most of the country and began reconstruction. This included providing medical care, food and other supplies. Iraqis on the receiving end of this were not very hostile. The hostile Iraqis the Civil Affairs troops did encounter were usually from another part of the country, the Sunni Arab areas. The generally peaceful situation in the majority of the country was the sort of thing that was not considered newsworthy, and has been generally ignored.
The Civil Affairs soldiers did have a more dangerous time of it than the average trooper, mainly because they had to travel so much to visit with the various reconstruction projects they were responsible for. Most American troops in Iraq rarely left their well protected bases. But because the Civil Affairs troops made so many friends among the Iraqis, they were often tipped off it local Iraqis knew an attack was being planned. The most dangerous situations were the random attacks along the main highways.
In addition to thousands of Civil Affairs troops, each of the combat divisions started its own civil affairs efforts. Partly because of much smarter and experienced troops, and recent peacekeeping experience in the Balkans, the combat divisions were involved in reconstruction and making friends when they werent fighting. Using cash obtained just for that purpose, division commanders and their subordinates used the money to offer reconstruction aid in return for information (about hostile actions planned) or simply to keep everyone happy and quiet. This sort of thing began in the Summer of 2003, and quickly had the Baath Party thugs forced back into a handful of towns (like Fallujah) where the Baath Party had a lot of members, and support.
A major problem with the Baath thugs was that they spent most of their time terrorizing Iraqis into supporting Baath, or by not working for the new government or the coalition. The only troops with a solution to this was the Special Forces, who were prepared to live among the Iraqis (or Afghans) and personally deal with any hostile folks coming around to terrorize. While this has worked well in isolated Afghan villages, its more difficult in the more densely populated areas of Iraq. So the combat troops went after the gunmen in a few areas, while most of the country went on with peace and reconstruction.
In the long run, most Iraqis will fondly remember what most of the coalition troops were doing, most of the time, reconstruction. Less than ten percent of Iraqis, probably closer to five percent, were involved in any armed resistance. That bunch, in return, got all the media attention. The rest of the world got a warped view of the peacekeeping effort that was successfully carried out throughout Iraq. The peacekeepers are rather mystified at how the war is being reported, but thats another story.