Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Elements of Mehdi Army out of Control

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

This little nuggert from an article otherwise focused on Iranian funding of the violence in Iraq:

“You see them enabling all comers,? he said. “And by the way, nobody in this country stays bought. You’re rented.?

The senior military official was discussing intelligence issues under condition he not be named, in a briefing with journalists in Baghdad on Wednesday, the transcript of which was made available on Thursday.

He estimated that Iran has sent “millions of dollars? to the Mehdi Army militia of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, including rogue elements that had slipped out of Sadr’s direct control.

Interestingly, this same issue is discussed elsewhere:

Since Moqtada Al Sadr has taken a more active role in Iraq’s government, his militiamen have become frustrated by the constraints and have broken away, the New York Times said Thursday. Splinter groups are hiring themselves out as death squads and criminal gangs, the newspaper said.

Shiites dominate Sadr’s militia, the Times said, and are organized into neighborhood protection forces. His militias have listened to Sadr in the past, but as violence in Iraq spread, so did the militias’ waywardness, the Times said.

Sadr still has as many as 7,000 militiamen in Baghdad, the Times said.

Al Sadr’s militia, at least some of them, have turned into common criminals.  So much for the “holy war” concept.

Regarding those remaining, an estimated 7000 militia, on FNC several nights ago, Fred Barnes divulged that an unidentified general had told him that the U.S. military was going to “go after” al Sadr.

It would appear that if we don’t we are leaving a powder keg in place.  Al Sadr has been allowed to operate with impunity for too long.  If the problem isn’t his loyal followers spawning hatred of the U.S. with pro-Hizballah rallies, it is the disloyal followers spawning organized crime.

Taliban Planning on Special Operations

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

In Taliban Preparing for Major Spring Offensive, I cited a report that the Taliban were readying for large scale operations against Kabul:

In a recent telephone interview with a Pakistani reporter, senior Taliban leader Dadullah Akhund said he had told local Taliban members to cease attacks in Pakistan but to continue their fight “abroad” against the U.S. military. He said that he had 500 suicide bombers and 12,000 fighters at his disposal and that by next spring the Taliban would have enough force to launch major attacks on Kabul, the Afghan capital.

This might be bluster, but it also might be a revelation of the long range plan for the Taliban.  Either way, it appears as if the interim period will see smaller, lighter and more dedicated incursions into Afghan territory:

In North Waziristan, a ruggedly mountainous region where foreigners are banned, the Taliban are in control and the mood following the peace deal was buoyantly militant. Residents said there was a general expectation that the peace deal with Pakistan’s ruling army will let the militants step up fighting in Afghanistan.

In one village a few miles from the Afghan border, men said Taliban officials have declared that the jihad now will be more organized and disciplined. Men who volunteer to fight must now cross in smaller groups and stay for longer periods – at least 40 days, according to one source. Fighters will be required to hand their identity documents to the Taliban commander in their village to ensure that they will not be identifiable as Pakistani citizens.

This is the tactic of special operations: small units, silent operation, no identification, with sustenance being derived from the land or the people.  It is certainly not the case that these fighters will be the equivalent of SEALs, Delta Force, or Marine Recon, but the point is that this might signal a temporary change in tactics.

If it is deemed too risky to directly attack Waziristan due to instability in the Musharraf regime and the nuclear weapons in Pakistan, then plans must be made for operations of increased intensity along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

More on Catastrophic Injuries of U.S. Troops

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

In my post Brain Injury: Signature Wound of the War in Iraq, I discussed IEDs and brain injury as being the wound that many GIs were coming home with, and I encouraged our support — over the long haul — of these disabled troops.  There is more at the two links below.  I must confess that I read these pieces under some emotional distress.  These boys have made a sacrifice that will be with them the balance of their lives.  But read these stories you must.  Don’t turn away from them.  Even if you know the drill, read the stories anyway.  You will be a better person for knowing the struggles that the families of these young boys endure.

Army explores issue of living wills as more return from war in comas

Families bear catastrophic war wounds

Al Qaeda in Iraq and Kill Ratios in MOUT

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

In a stark admission of the casualty rate for al Qaeda in Iraq, al Masri has divulged enemy intelligence to the coalition:

CAIRO, Egypt — The new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq said in an audio message posted on a Web site Thursday that more than 4,000 foreign insurgent fighters have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. It was believed to be the first major statement from insurgents in Iraq about their losses.

“The blood has been spilled in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight,” said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir – also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri – the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. The voice could not be independently identified.

The good news is that Iraq, while not being touted as such, is important to the GWOT because, if nothing else, it has become a place where literally thousands of terrorists can be killed.  The notion that this is a bad thing is a political talking point, but militarily, is nonsensical if we see the GWOT as being a larger, regional, and protracted campaign that must be won on soil other than America.

Of course, there is bad news, and the bad news is sobering.  In my post Afghanistan, Talibanistan, Waziristan and Kill Ratios, I conservatively calculated a kill ratio in recent Afghanistan action of 50:1.  Considering U.S. mortalities of 3022 as I write this post, and using a value of 4000 al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iraqi situation is much worse.  I calculate a kill ratio of 1.324.

A kill ratio is not simply a clinical number.  These are the sons of America, and it behooves us to understand the difference between Afghan fighting and the war in Iraq.

While it is easy to second-guess each strategic decision and tactical blunder that has been made, several things can be pointed out that might have contributed to this stark difference.  While there is a resurgence of the Taliban in Waziristan, at least initially, the enemy was routed and driven out of Afghanistan.  Conventional operations did not cease until the territory was relatively secure.  The enemy, even now, is being fought primarily on terrain other than urban, and in Iraq, the prevalence of MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) is noteworthy.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, bypassing large urban centers on our drive to Baghdad put a quick end to conventional operations and a start to counterinsurgency operations, but this cessation was likely premature.  Fallujah was taken with relatively few casualties compared to the continually increasing casualty count in the al Anbar Province.  We have left the enemy in Ramadi, Haditha, al Haqlaniyah, Habaniyah, and other highly urbanized parts of al Anbar, and consistently use COIN tactics to effect enemy casualties, but this leads also to a high casualty rate for U.S. troops.

The lesson is simple.  When a strategy of COIN is intended and employed in large urban areas where large numbers of the enemy have been intentionally left to operate, the kill ratio does not even come close to comparing with conventional operations.

This should cause us to think long and hard in the future about the cessation of conventional operations and the invocation of counterinsurgency operations.

Taliban Preparing for Major Spring Offensive

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

The Taliban has taken control over Waziristan and is patiently rebuilding their ranks with plans to lauch major attacks into Kabul in the spring of 2007.  Pakistani editorials urge more involvement in politics, and Musharraf denies that any of this matters by discussing Bin Laden rather than the Taliban. 

Musharraf has denied that the Waziristan accord with the Taliban was really an accord with the Taliban, claiming that it was with the tribal leaders.  If so, then it was with the tribal leaders who were left after the execution of more than 200 tribal leaders.  Musharraf is also denying that Pakistan or the intelligence services are aiding terrorism.

LONDON – An angry Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said he would complain to British Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday about allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence service backed terrorism.

In media interviews ahead of the London meeting, Musharraf denied the allegations in a British defence ministry policy paper, and also said that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was alive and hiding in Afghanistan.

“Absolutely, 200 percent, I reject it,? Musharraf told the BBC in an interview Wednesday to address the allegations before he traveled to London on Thursday.

The British broadcaster cited a policy paper written by an unnamed senior official in the British defence ministry as charging that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, supported terrorism.

“Indirectly, Pakistan, through the ISI, has been supporting terrorism and extremism, whether in London on 7/7 (the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s transport network) or in Afghanistan or Iraq,? the report reads.

But Musharraf wants it both ways.  He has on the one hand agreed to the Waziristan accords, allowing free rein to the Taliban, and on the other hand attempted to draw a symbiotic connection between Bin Laden and terrorism.  It is an easy abdication of responsibility.

Rather than reject the violence and mayhem caused by the Taliban, there are calls from within Pakistan for the inclusion of the Pashtun tribes (and their “representatives,” the Taliban) in national politics.

It’s thus time to strategise the scenario in Afghanistan and judiciously and pragmatically prioritise the issues for giving hope to the Afghan people. President Musharraff’s observation that Pakhtoon population represented by the Taliban needs to be brought on board in the country’s administration represents the crux of the problem. It is the bitter truth about the ground realities in Afghanistan, which Bush and Karzai should over ponder over for the sake of peace and security. The fact that Afghan people can’t be subjugated with military might should also be recognised by Washington if peace and security needs to be restored in the land-locked country. We are, however, convinced that a Waziristan like deal with Taliban is the answer to the objective conditions in Afghanistan.

This kind of denial of the true intentions of the Taliban reverses logic.  The problem is asserted to be that the Taliban are not involved in politics, and so the solution is proferred to give them more power and authority under the belief that this will bring peace.  In the Washington Post today we learn that the Waziristan area is under the control of the Taliban, and peace is not high on the Taliban’s agenda.

In a recent telephone interview with a Pakistani reporter, senior Taliban leader Dadullah Akhund said he had told local Taliban members to cease attacks in Pakistan but to continue their fight “abroad” against the U.S. military. He said that he had 500 suicide bombers and 12,000 fighters at his disposal and that by next spring the Taliban would have enough force to launch major attacks on Kabul, the Afghan capital.

“This deal has handed over North Waziristan to the Taliban,” Afrasiab Khattak, a human rights activist and secular politician, said in an interview in Peshawar, located in the so-called settled areas outside the tribal region. He said a hierarchy of Taliban commanders had taken control of North Waziristan, collecting taxes and meting out rough justice.

“The war in Afghanistan is totally from this side,” Khattak said. “It is a new round of jihad, and it is not going to remain inside the tribal enclaves.”

The Taliban has taken control over Waziristan and is patiently rebuilding their ranks.  Pakistani editorials urge more involvement in politics, and Musharraf denies that any of this matters by discussing Bin Laden rather than the Taliban.

And NATO should be watching and preparing to take action, or Afghanistan will fall back into the hands of the Taliban.

Brain Injury: Signature Wound of the War in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

I have long known about the prevalence of brain injury in boxers.  The harmful effects of boxing, regarding especially the brain, can be studied here and here (and many other places).  Many my age can remember the incredible, superhuman performances of Mohammed Ali and his opponents (Joe Frazier, George Foreman, etc.).  It isn’t by accident that there is such a thing as the Mohammed Ali Boxing Reform Act.

When a blow lands to the head, the brain disconnects from the skull, or in other words, tissue tears, and in its place fluids and scar tissue develop, causing many other problems.  I’ll let a brain surgeon explain it better than I can.

Well, sustaining repeated blows by IEDs and other explosive ordnance is having similar effects as that of boxing, and it is happening in apparently significant numbers of GIs in Iraq.  Brain injury is the “signature wound” of the war in Iraq.  It is good that body armor has become as robust as it has, but the downside of this is that of those who would otherwise have perished, many live.  But this living comes at a cost.  The Gaurdian gives us the story.

By JORDAN ROBERTSON

Associated Press Writer

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) – Lance Cpl. Sam Reyes bears scars from three horrific attacks in Iraq, but his most debilitating wound cannot be seen.

He recovered from the chest wound delivered by a machine gun-toting insurgent and the bullet wound to his back that came during an ambush. He survived the severe burns and broken ribs inflicted by a suicide bomber who struck a lightly armored 18-wheeler he was riding in – an explosion that killed 12 of his fellow Marines.

One injury initially went undetected. It continues to cripple him long after he arrived home with a clean bill of health.

Reyes suffered a traumatic brain injury in the truck explosion. The blast sent a powerful shock wave through his brain tissue, bursting blood vessels and smacking his brain against the inside of his skull.

“I thought I was a mess-up, just damn near dumb,” Reyes, 22, said about the mysterious fogginess that plagued him long after his physical wounds healed. “I thought I was just a failure at this. I was recognized before as being the best. I knew my stuff real well. It made me feel like I wasn’t a Marine no more.”

Doctors say traumatic brain injuries are the signature wound of the Iraq war, a byproduct of improved armor that allows troops to survive once-deadly attacks but does not fully protect against roadside explosives and suicide bombers.

So far, about 1,000 patients have been treated for the symptoms, which include slowed thinking, severe memory loss and problems with coordination and impulse control. Some doctors fear there may be thousands more active duty and discharged troops who are suffering undiagnosed.

“People who were hit by lightning, a lot of energy goes through their systems and their brains are cooked,” said Dr. Harriet Zeiner, a neuropsychologist at the VA hospital in Palo Alto. “A lot of that happens in (improvised explosive device) blasts. Your brain is not meant to handle that energy blast going through it.”

The injury, a loss of brain tissue, shares some symptoms with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is triggered by extreme anxiety and permanently resets the brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism.

Battlefield medics and military supervisors often fail to spot traumatic brain injuries. Many troops don’t know the symptoms or won’t discuss their difficulties for fear of being sent home.

“Most of us are used to the Vietnam War, where people didn’t trust the government,” Zeiner said. “That’s not going on here. A lot of these guys want to go back, they want to go help their buddies.”

The most devastating effects of traumatic brain injuries – depression, agitation and social withdrawal – are difficult to treat with medications, said Dr. Rohit Das, a Boston Medical Center neurologist who treats injured troops at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Certain symptoms, such as seizures, can be treated, but after that “we just draw a blank,” Das said, adding that doctors are just beginning to cope with the mounting volume of brain injuries as the war drags on.

“We’re just unlocking the secrets of the brain,” he said. “And when they have memory problems, leg weakness, arm weakness – there’s no quick fix for that. We’re probably decades away from regrowing brain tissue. Once you lose that, it’s permanent.”

In Reyes’ case, the Purple Heart recipient didn’t recognize his father and closest friends when they picked him up at the airport. His math and reading skills had deteriorated to a child’s level.

A machine gun operator in the war, he taught recruits while healing at Camp Pendleton, but was relieved of the position after he started to forget the differences among weapons.

After his injury was discovered, he was sent to the Palo Alto VA hospital, where his treatment includes exercises to improve his speed and attention and to control his angry outbursts.

But his memory may never fully recover: He’ll watch half of a movie before remembering he has already seen it multiple times. He forgets basic tasks without Post-it note reminders and alerts programmed into his cell phone.

He feels “like I’m back to a little kid,” he said. “I’ve got to go through the whole process. It’s frustrating, depressing and very overwhelming.”

The spike in traumatic brain injury cases is forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand its treatment. The VA operates four hospital trauma centers specializing in treating traumatic brain injuries, and is creating 21 smaller regional facilities, said Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson.

“This is very high priority,” he said. “It’s a very serious injury to those young heroes that suffer it. We’re pulling out all the stops.”

The patients need a combination of psychiatric, psychological and physical rehabilitation that can be difficult to coordinate in a traditional hospital, Nicholson said.

In troops with brain injuries, the loss of brain function is often compounded by other serious injuries.

Eric Cagle, a 26-year-old Army staff sergeant from Arizona, lost his right eye and was paralyzed on his left side when an IED exploded under his patrol Humvee two years ago.

A concussion he sustained in the blast left him with a brain injury that makes math difficult and triggers inappropriate outbursts. He feels its symptoms caused his divorce.

Treatment has improved his outlook, he said. He’s been using a wheelchair, but took his first tentative steps last year. He wants to study forensic science and hopes to work in an FBI crime lab.

“I’m getting part of me back here,” he said in Palo Alto. “I’m getting my life back.”

Years from now, when few people remember the sacrifices of the boys we sent over to Iraq, it will be tempting to ridicule growing Defense Department budgets.  But the costs associated with the war in Iraq have yet to fully unfold.

And my repeat readers know what position I will take.  We cannot forget our boys.  They are sons of America.  We cannot forget them, for it would be immoral to do so, and God will judge us accordingly.

Talabani and Iraqi Shia on U.S. Troop Presence

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has gone on record stating the obvious, i.e., that Iraq will need troop presence for some protracted period of time to protect against aggression from its neighbors (and it is presumed he is speaking mainly of Iran).

“The American presence has always prevented any kind of foreign invasion to Iraq,” Talabani said.

“That’s one of the main reasons why we think that we need an American presence, even symbolical, in the country to prevent our neighbors attacking us,” he said at a forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think thank (sic).

Talabani also said Baghdad could not “further tolerate” neighbors’ interference in its internal affairs.

“I think that our neighbors must understand that our patience is limited,” he said, refusing to single out countries but adding “we mean all of them.”

Iraq shares borders with Syria, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Asked if there was concern over aggression from Turkey, Talabani said: “I don’t think there is any danger for invasion by Turkey to Iraq.”

But as soon as he said this, dissenting voices began to howl back at this proposal, including specifically Sunni clerics and generally the Shia.  It is no mistake that Talabani, a Kurdish politician who has reached out to the Sunni in an attempt at reconciliation, has made these statements.  The Kurds and the Sunni population know exactly what the Shia majority is capable of given the recent revenge killings by Shia death squads.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that if the U.S. doesn’t have a strong military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, U.S. deaths will have been in vain.  Our operation in Iraq will amount to nothing more than the overthrow of the Sunni strongman so that Iran could then wield its influence.  That is, we will have done Iran’s work for them at the expense of U.S. lives.

Funding for USMC and Hizballah

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

Threats Watch picked up an interesting study done at Stanford entitled An Uncertain Ceasefire Takes Hold in Lebanon.  The salient quote is:

International sources—the news departments of CNN, ABC, and CBS, et cetera—widely agree that Iran feeds Hezbollah upwards of $250 million in direct funding annually. This may be an overestimation, but the low-end estimate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies places Iranian aid to Hezbollah at a quite considerable $50 million annually. Even according to this most conservative figure, Iran spends, as a fraction of GDP, nearly three times as much arming Hezbollah as the United States spends arming the Marine Corps under the 2005 Navy budget. This astonishing comparison exposes the hopelessness of disarming Hezbollah with a strategy that does not include Iran.

This is interesting on several levels.  First, it shows the commitment that Iran has to the spread of its influence around the region.  As I have pointed out before, Iran sees itself at the head of a new regional Caliphate.  This amount of money is not trivial, especially for a country that is widely acknowledged to be in some degree of economic trouble in spite of its oil revenue stream.

But second — and most interesting — is that this amount is not truly spent “arming” Hizballah.  To be sure, a significant fraction of this is used directly for armaments and munitions.  But a significant fraction is also spent as largesse in southern Lebanon … schools, medical care, welfare for the high numbers of unemployed, etc. … leading in no small part to the political influence of Iran, via Hizballah, in Lebanon.

Paralleling a theme in my posts on Iran, the study does come to the correct conclusion.  We will not win in a battle to disarm Hizballah, the Shia militia in Iraq, or anywhere else where Iran has influence, unless and until we muzzle Iran — politically, militarily, or both.

We have worked hard to defang the Sunni extremists (al Qaeda, Taliban), but sooner or later we will have to face off the Shia extremists.  If it is later, the costs will be higher.

Sunni Leaders Pressing to Disarm Mehdi Army

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

From the Gulf News:

A major Sunni group is holding talks with the Iraqi government over disarming of the Shiite militia belonging to Moqtada Al Sadr, Iraqi political sources said.

Adnan Al Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi Accordance Front who is holding the talks with the government, has also called for the government to resign if it fails to handle the issue of disarming Shiite militias, like the Mehdi Army, which is led by Al Sadr.

Sunni locations in Baghdad, such as Saydiya, Hurriya and Doura, are witnessing attacks by men in black clothes, believed to be members of the Mehdi Army.

Al Dulaimi, in direct contact with the Americans, asked them to disperse a special military force in Hurriya to put an end to the Mehdi Army attacks.

Sources in the Iraqi Accordance Front are negotiating with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki to chalk out procedures to disarm militias and deter the Mehdi Army in Baghdad.

“Al Maliki is ready to take additional … procedures against the Mehdi Army. But apparently is under pressure from religious Shiite leaders to stop …taking serious measures in this respect,” said a source in the Front.

The same sources told Gulf News there is an Iraqi-American military plan to tackle the Mehdi Army, which attacks Sunni locations, carries out abductions, tortures and killing.

However, Al Maliki seems reluctant to implement the plan. Also, the contacts between the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Shiite coalition headed by Abdul Aziz Al Hakim has reached a dead end, after the Shiite coalition and Al Sadr refused to admit the responsibility of some of their members in killing tens of Iraqis daily.

“Al Maliki wants to conduct a political dialogue with the Al Sadr group. He wants to be backed by religious Shiite leaders to resolve the Mehdi dossier peacefully,” Abbas Al Bayati, a Member of Parliament, told Gulf News.

However, sources in Meshaan Al Jubouri’s group, a Sunni Member in Parliament, told Gulf News Al Maliki’s plans to rid the Ministry of Interior of Al Sadr elements is greatly criticised by religious leaders in Najaf and Karbala.

I have made the point that the degree to which the U.S. wins the war in Iraq is a linear function of the degree to which we disarm and muzzle both the Shia militia and their proximate leaders, Iran.

Rewind … repeat.  I say again.  If we do not disarm the Shia militias and muzzle Iran, we will lose the war.  Period.  No amount of reconstruction and good will can change this axiom.

Michael Fumento is off to Iraq on another embed

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

Late Monday evening, September 25, 2006, I received the following e-mail from Michael Fumento:

I head out Tuesday, should be in the IZ by Saturday and probably will send out my first blog then. Then will catch first helo to Ramadi. Hooah!

Michael Fumento
www.fumento.com
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

Michael and I then exchanged some more pleasant e-mail, and I told him to say hello from a Marine father to the young warriors he meets in the al Anbar Province.

I have said Michael Fumento, in my opinion, is the closest thing we have to a contemporary version of Ernie Pyle.  Check out his blog from the al Anbar Province (or if you don’t, rest assured that I will remind you in my posts).

God bless Michael, the Marines, the Soldiers and all of our other boys under arms in al Anbar and in Iraq generally.  You fight.  We pray for your safety and victory.  All I can do is blog and pray, so that’s what I do.

Semper Fidelis.


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