U.S. troops share lessons learned from Iraq at Balikatan training
FORT MAGSAYSAY, Philippines — Lessons learned in Iraq are guiding some of the training between U.S. soldiers and their Philippine counterparts in the annual Balikatan military exercise.
On Tuesday, at a remote Philippine army base east of Clark Air Field, members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment — a unit with the 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii — began four days of training in urban warfare tactics.
Their students, part of the Philippine Armed Forces’ 45th Infantry, know how to fight in the jungle, said their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Eddie Maningding. But, he added, “We are not used to this kind of scenario, fighting in an urban area.”
Weapons familiarization was first. While the Philippine army uses some of the same weapons as the U.S. military, its guns aren’t retrofitted with the latest technology, such as infrared lasers that help soldiers hit targets in the dark. A program, however, already is in place to upgrade the Philippine army’s equipment.
The urban warfare training focused on how to move in and around buildings and how to enter a building. A door isn’t always the first choice. A portable ladder can be used to climb in a window, a better option sometimes because of the element of surprise, said Capt. Jim Pangelinan, Alpha Company commander. One theory is that it’s also more advantageous to attack higher to lower inside a building to flush the enemy out instead of fighting him indoors.
If a door won’t budge, the Philippine soldiers observed, a sledgehammer or machine gun can be used to break open the lock, along with explosives.
With a gravel road as an alley and a fence gate as a doorway, Philippine soldiers in small groups walked silently in single file, their weapons and eyes constantly changing direction. A U.S. soldier watched, giving instruction and feedback.
“You guys did good. Just practice and you’ll be fine,” said Spc. Chris Fairburn.
Maningding said most of his soldiers are fighting the New People’s Army, a communist insurgency in the mountains of northern Luzon — an ongoing conflict since 1968.
“We share our knowledge to your guys on how we do our battle,” he said, noting Balikatan was an exchange of strategies and tactics between the two militaries. “We learn from them and they also learn from us.”
In the streets of Samarrah, Iraq, Pangelinan’s Alpha Company resorted to explosives only as a last resort when going house to house.
“Lessons we learned in Iraq: You don’t go straight to demolitions” since civilians may be on the other side, he said, increasing the possibility for collateral damage.
“Urban warfare,” he said, “is the most dangerous kind of warfare out there.” The enemy can be perching on a rooftop, crouching in a basement, hiding in a sewer or “easily blending into the population you don’t want to harm. Most of the time in Iraq, we knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey, can we come in?’ — but not when we’re attacking, we don’t.”