It took a year of lobbying and they had to agree to a long list of restrictions, but in September the Navy SEALs unit in western Iraq invited writer Bob Drury and photog Max Becherer to “embed.” The result — “Bravery and How to Master It” — is in the latest Men’s Health, and it kicks ass. Buried near the end is this fascinating nugget:
In his cramped office in Fallujah, the 27-year-old Naval Academy grad — the liaison with the Anbar sheikhs — opens his laptop and shows me a screen filled with floating, intersecting circles of various sizes and colors. He hits a key and the circles mesh; another, and they separate. Fourth, fifth, and sixth screens show parallel lines of various colors. The circles and graphs represent local tribes and their changing alliances over the past few years.
“These Bedouin tribes — their loyalties shift with the sands,” he says. “This is where we stood when we arrived a couple of years ago.” The screen fills with “hostile” circles. “This is where we are now.” Most of them morph into “friendly” circles. “Of the 101 tribes out here, 31 are major. They’re the ones we’ve targeted to bring over to our side against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Bigs come. Smalls follow. They’re not stupid. They’re clever. So how do we do this? We volunteer to, er, solve problems they may be having with insurgents.”
That work consists basically of bartering, says 32-year-old Lieutenant Chris W., whose unit, SEAL Team 4, recently returned from Anbar. “When we arrived in Ramadi, we weren’t engaging these tribes in any consistent way.” Army and marine units were transferring in and out so rapidly that American outreach ebbed and flowed — and potential allies were lost.
But in November 2006, Chris W.’s SEAL team, sensing an opening, used an al-Qaeda attack on a local Iraqi sheikh as its first wedge. Working with U.S. Army units stationed in the area, SEAL Team 4 wiped out about 30 of the sheikh’s enemies, set up sniper positions overlooking his home and village, and began a brisk lend-lease program of supplies, such as generators, water pumps, and ovens. In return, the sheikh encouraged his followers to become Iraqi police and army recruits. That was the start of the now famous, if controversial, Anbar awakening.