Marine and Navy Engineering
What will the role of US military engineering be in reconstruction in Fallujah? As a former combat engineer officer, I'll offer a few thoughts: The primary purpose of any US military engineering units in Iraq is to support US military forces, not to reconstruct Iraq. For that, civilian contractors, either Western or Iraqi, are much more effective. US military engineering units focus on building roads, building camps, providing water and other hygiene services, providing electricity, building airfields, fortifying camps, and so forth. These units are capable of limited humanitarian assistance, but what assistance they can provide is primarily temporary in nature. The more robust the engineering force, the more reconstruction assistance can be provided. Large-scale reconstruction projects or humanitarian assistance projects require detailed planning just like a construction project in the US, though. Marine engineers come in two primary flavors: combat engineers, which breach minefields, destroy IEDs, and create obstacles, etc, and what could be termed construction engineers, who build roads, small buildings, make water, make power, etc (a branch of these also builds airfields). The emphasis in Marine engineering is on temporary, expedient solutions. No superhighways, and nothing like the Taj Mahal. Simple, quick solutions that will last just long enough and can be improved later. For longer-term solutions to engineering problems, US Navy Seabees are attached to Marine forces. Seabees have a heavier engineering capability in many respects, but suffer from the fact that they are not Marines (quick wink to my Seabee friends out there). Seabees are usually stand-alone construction forces, whereas Marine engineer units are usually employed as part of an overall logistics plan and reside within logistics units. Seabees have in the past created humanitarian assistance contact teams, which consist of a few experts with a small amount of equipment, who travel around a given area and do on the spot fixes for temporary assistance. None of these military forces are able to do the big things that a major reconstruction effort requires, like restoring power permanently. They have the capability to do things like refurbish buildings, but cannot do so on a significantly large scale. Of course, if there are lots and lots of Marine engineers or Seabees around and this is their only task, then they can do much more. But again, their job is to support US forces. One way that these engineering forces will come in handy is in assessing work that needs to be done. Seabees or engineers are both capable or determining the scope of work for a given task. The largest amount of reconstruction work in Fallujah will be performed by Iraqi or other contractors. Creating a stable security environment for them will be the main factor that dictates the speed at which they get started. Two more issues are important to note: Some US Army engineering units may have been sent to Iraq solely for reconstruction purposes. I am less familiar with their capabilities, though I know they can be very heavy. Also, Fallujah has not been the recipient of any reconstruction aid until this point. The city may look rubbled in some places, and underdeveloped in others, but it is important to remember that US combat forces have set foot in it for at least a year, let alone reconstruction units or organizations.