Saturday, December 31, 2005

U.S. Uses Diplomacy in Hunt for Insurgents

"BUJWARI, Iraq (AP) - U.S. Army soldiers sit cross-legged in a room thick with kerosene fumes from a whistling heater while a sheik puffs quietly on a cigarette.

Dressed in a dapper brown coat and robe, the aging Iraqi is not a suspect in any roadside bombings or as someone who helps insurgents. He is a prominent figure who knows the area's residents well, and the soldiers need his help tracking rebels.

U.S. military units across Iraq often rely on the personal touch in hunting for clues about insurgents, sitting down to sip tea - chai in Arabic - with locals and building a rapport with tribal leaders.

"Our primary focus, which isn't what we trained for, is to get the town on our side. It's, 'This is the type of protection I can offer if you help me out,'" said Staff Sgt. Gary Frisbee, 28, of Chattanooga, Tenn., one of those at the meeting in Bujwari.

The village sits near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. Iraq's largest refinery is in Beiji and threats by insurgents to kill tanker-truck drivers have shut down refining since Dec. 18, creating a fuel shortage in much of Iraq. The Americans want to find those making the threats.

For many the soldiers, the transition from warrior to diplomat has been challenging. It requires them to put down their guns to shake hands with informants. Instead of kicking down doors, they more often knock.

The tactics are a stark change from earlier missions for the 101st Airborne Division, which deployed to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, and then came to Iraq to help coalition forces drive north into Baghdad during the 2003 invasion.

Lt. Col. Jim O'Brien, commander of the division's 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, said on the visit to Bujwari that soldiers must adapt to multiple roles while a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation continues.

"It's soldiering one minute, being a diplomat the next," said O'Brien, 40, of Valrico, Fla. "It's everything. We're not an occupying force. We're here to help these folks, and every one of us would rather be home."

Iraq's insurgency remains an elusive mix for soldiers."


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