The Softer Touch

In north-central Iraq, battalion by battalion, the Army is shifting its tactics. Recognizing that the consent of the local populace is the foundation of progress, battalions are taking pains to make friends.austin.jpgThis means talking (and listening) to local leaders, keeping armored vehicles out of crowded cities, handing out goodies like pencils and medicine and generally treating Iraqis with the same respect you might treat a fellow American. And that means not shooting at them unless you have to.Some battalions have a softer touch than others. In a recent issue of Spokane's The Inlander newspaper, I profiled Echo Company, 1-8 Infantry, a unit that has taken a softer approach than most:"It's been suggested that the reason we don't get hit as much is because we're nicer to people," [Echo Co. 1st Lt. Derek] Austin says. Other units shoot up the countryside to test their weapons -- and as a show of force. But not Echo. "We don't do test fires. You don't know where that round's going to go." He says the unit that Echo replaced accidentally shot an Iraqi woman during a test fire.While Echo has fired warning shots at cars that get too close to their convoys, they've done so as a last resort -- and only twice in two months. Austin says one of the key tenets of Echo's strategy for winning the support of everyday Iraqis is that "we just don't shoot at them.Read the article here.-- David Axe

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