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Someone You Should Know - COL Rick Welch

Posted By Grim • [March 12, 2010]

I had the honor of working with COL Rick Welch, US Special Forces, from time to time.  He's been in Iraq literally for years -- divisions come and go, but the tribes won't let him go.  I asked MG Wolff if he were still around, and this is what he said:

Rick is -- Colonel Rick Welch is a national treasure.

What you -- what everyone there needs to understand is that over time, we have gotten a lot smarter about the complex human terrain that dominates the areas which we operate in. I would tell you, from being here in '03 and then coming back in '06 and now back here in 2010, that's been the biggest change. We have begun to get it.

We recognize that it isn't -- you know, that there are a lot of reasons there are insurgents out there, and the insurgents often are out there because of a problem or what I call a beef. What Rick Welch does so well for us is he's our reconciliation guy, our reconciliation chief.

And Rick has developed superb relationships with all of key tribal leaders, certainly in Baghdad province, out in Al Anbar province, and then he knows most of the key (paramount ?) sheikhs that operate in Iraq.

What most of you understand already, but I'll state it again, is that most -- you know, in Iraq there's a government, but underneath the government there's family, clan, tribe. Tribe is hugely important in the Sunni areas. It's a little less important in the Shi'a areas. That's Wolff's opinion.

But it -- but it is the fabric or the mosaic in which this society is interlocked and interwoven. Often, security problems are inter- tribal; sometimes they -- sometimes they are between tribes. And in this -- in this country, outside of the key cities, often the tribes resolve these problems themselves.

The insurgency out in Al Anbar, in the Sunni area, a lot of it had to do with al Qaeda moving in and making deals with the tribes, but then, over time, basically -- you know, basically going back on those deals, and then trying to terrorize the tribal leadership when al Qaeda decided to change the deal. Sometimes it was because of the tribes refusing to allow their daughters to marry al Qaeda, or these arranged marriages. Other times, it was because it was economic, that al Qaeda was trying to extort things or do other things that undercut the tribes.

What Rich Welch does is, he helps us work our way through that. So if we're trying to get a sensing on -- if you will, of the Sunni street at the senior tribal level, Rick helps us do that. We sit down and we talk with senior Sunni sheikhs in Baghdad province. We do this with the -- a thing we call the Baghdad Belt Council, where I and senior folks from my team meet with a lot of these key sheikhs from many of the areas just outside of the city. Out in Al Anbar, we often meet with the paramount sheikhs, which are their major -- they are major figures out there. And you just can't ignore them, because they are another piece of this complex society.

To tie all this up a little bit, our young captains, lieutenants and noncommissioned officers get this stuff. They understand this complex mosaic that resides out there in the battlespace, that they're partnered with with their Iraqi security forces. The ISF, the senior ISF leaders get this, because they come from that. They come from that -- this society.

So again, there are many ways in which you deal with the security situation. It's more than just putting forces on the ground, or rooting out terrorists or insurgents.

It also has to do with figuring out what the nature of the problem is and then at times trying to see that Iraqi tribal society is connected to -- if you will to their governance at the many different levels.

COL Welch is one of those who made this mission work.  He's got a good heart, and he approached the tribal leadership with honesty and honor.  They responded.


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