Latest News

After battles, U.S. must convince Iraqis it wants to help them

CHAMPION MAIN, Kuwait—When the war wanes, U.S. and coalition soldiers plan to go into Iraqi cities and villages to complete one of their most difficult tasks: convince the Iraqis that the same forces who bombed them are now there to help.

Civil affairs officers will dispatch select troops with two-page "rapid assessment" forms to chart damage to homes and neighborhoods, make contact with local leaders, assess whether a humanitarian organization or local religious institution can distribute food, check whether the schools are functioning and see if the water and sanitation systems work.

"They can get a good information picture," said Maj. Charles Brown, a civil affairs officer attached to the Army's 82nd Airborne Division based in Ft. Bragg, N.C., and now camped at this assembly area in the Kuwaiti desert. "They're going to try to be that interface between civilians and humanitarian assistance agencies such as the World Health Organization."

The troops will analyze the damage and bring food and supplies to refugees and bombed neighborhoods, not only to meet a humanitarian need, but to win new allies, according to civil affairs soldiers attached to the 82nd. Their work in Afghanistan established a fruitful rapport in several villages, according to a medic with the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion.

Local villagers "were showing us caches of (al-Qaida) weapons. They were telling us the bad guys are in town. It's another weapon," said Vic, one of several Green Berets medics with the battalion who asked that their last names not be used because of their special-forces work.

Much of the post-war assessment will require judgment calls. Who really qualifies as displaced? What is preventing them from returning home?

"It could be occupied by bad guys," said Henry, the civil affairs team sergeant. "We're going to get a lot of that. It'll be like Afghanistan: `So-and-so is in there, and he's a bad guy.'"

The assessment form features graphics to help measure the level of damage to a house, placing it in one of five categories. Category three, for example, includes:

_ Up to 30 percent roof damage

_ Light shelling or bullet impact on walls

_ Partial fire damage

_ Can be repaired

The form asks soldiers to determine what local leadership is still in the community, whether it's the mayor or a religious leader or both. Troops need to determine whether any food supplies they bring in will be distributed fairly and not commandeered by local gangs.

Much of the troops' work later will be turned over to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. For instance, if the war has destroyed any cooking facilities, the commission can provide a kitchen on wheels, Henry said.

The form asks what food sources are available, including the number of dairy cows, a bakery, any farms that expect to harvest, household gardens, shops, markets or the location of the nearest village with a market.

Soldiers are asked to examine whether a household is getting clean water. The minimal amount is 7 liters a day, and 15 liters is optimal. If the water system is damaged, did coalition forces do it?

The civil affairs troops will find out if a hospital or clinic is open in the area and whether it has medicines and equipment.

"Is it working?" Henry asked. "Would you have your dog operated on there?"

Perhaps most importantly, soldiers need to talk with local leaders and residents about needs while keeping expectations realistic.

"The worst thing you can do," said Tom, the civil affairs team leader, "is make promises you can't deliver."

When soldiers know what resources they can bring in, Henry said, "it's a real shot in the arm to show up the next day and deliver something."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.