AR-15 Ammunition And Barrel Twist Rate

Herschel Smith · 19 Feb 2017 · 3 Comments

There are a lot of articles and discussion forum threads on barrel twist rate for AR-15s.  So why am I writing one?  Well, some of the information on the web is very wrong.  Additionally, this closes out comment threads we've had here touching on this topic, EMail exchanges I've had with readers, and personal conversations I've had with shooters and friends about this subject.  It's natural to put this down in case anyone else can benefit from the information.  Or you may not benefit at…… [read more]

The Anbar Province Reconsidered

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

In Where is Anbar Headed? Where are the Marines Headed?, I cited the ABC News Report that claimed that the Pentagon officials were considering a major pullback of Marines from the Anbar Province, due in part to the most recent Devlin intelligence report covered by the Washington Post.  Michael Fumento notes that the Post article stands in stark contrast to his recent experiences as an embedded reporter in Ramadi.  I said in “Where is Anbar Headed” that it looked like the U.S. was either getting out of Anbar or getting serious about Anbar.

Today General Peter Pace denied reports that the Pentagon was considering a movement of Marines out of the Anbar province.  Asked specifically whether serious consideration is being given to the idea of abandoning Al-Anbar to put more U.S. forces in Baghdad, Pace bluntly replied “no.”  “You gave me a very straight question. I gave you a very straight answer. No. Why would we want to forfeit any part of Iraq to the enemy? We don’t,” he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

I believe that it is important to keep balance with respect to our understanding of the Anbar Province.  Assuming that Pace is correct and that conditions and intentions don’t change, the U.S. will not abandon Anbar.  I have discussed the alignment of some of the tribes in the Anbar Province with the Iraqi government and against al Qaeda, but it is also clear that these tribes cannot secure Anbar without the help of Iraqi security forces and more particularly U.S. forces.

In Coalition, Al Qaeda and Tribes Battle in Anbar and Diyala, I covered the recent battles against al Qaeda in which tribal elements participated.

On November 25, insurgents linked to al Qaeda attacked an Anbar tribe in an alliance of twenty five tribes who have vowed to fight al Qaeda.  The insurgents attacked the Abu Soda tribe in Sofiya, near the provincial capital of Ramadi, with mortars and small arms, burning homes, in apparent revenge for their support of the Iraqi government.  “Al Qaeda has decided to attack the tribes due to their support,? said Sheikh Abdel Sittar Baziya, head of the Abu Risha tribe and a founder of the movement. “The terrorists have gone to a neighboring tribe and have brought fighters to attack the Abu Soda.?

Al Qaeda attacked through a tribal area checkpoint, and burned homes and killed tribal members using small arms and mortar fire.  Coalition forces assisted the Abu Soda tribe with air strikes and artillery fire at al Qaeda.  There is no report of coalition casualties, but fifty al Qaeda linked insurgents and nine tribesmen were killed in the battle (Reuters is reporting fifty five al Qaeda killed).  Four Iraqi civilians were evacuated to Camp Taqqadum for medical treatment for inujuries sustained during this battle.

Take note of the determinative aspect of the battle: “Coalition forces assisted the Abu Soda tribe with air strikes and artillery fire at al Qaeda.”  Without the presence of U.S. forces, I believe that the tribes would lose heart and nerve, disperse, flee to Syria (like so many of them already have), and desist offensive operations within several weeks.  Al Qaeda would own Ramadi within one month and all of Anbar within two months.

Col. Peter Devlin wrote “Although it is likely that attack levels have peaked, the steady rise in attacks from mid-2003 to 2006 indicates a clear failure to defeat the insurgency in al-Anbar.”  The Post misinterpreted this and other aspects of the report as meaning that “The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda’s rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military’s mission in Anbar province.”

This is a preposterous statement by the Post.  Regardless of what the intelligence report said or didn’t say, to assert that it is no longer possible for the most powerful nation on earth to defeat an insurgency makes the authors of the article look like rodeo clowns.  No one alive believes that it is “impossible,” not even the authors of the article.

But just as we should not overreact to the Devlin report, we should listen to it and heed its advice.  I concur with Devlin’s remarks.  The trend line for casualties in Iraq has a positive slope line (see Statistical Evaluation of Casualties in Iraq).  I have commented here in The Consequences of Inadequate Force Projection that lack of force projection, along with rules of engagement that cause our troops to be hamstrung (with Marines reporting that “A lot of us feel like we have our hands tied behind our back“), are the two most serious impediments to victory in Anbar, and in fact, all of Iraq.  With the current force projection and rules of engagement, the U.S. will not win.

As before, I say that the U.S. is getting out, or getting serious.  Getting serious requires robust rules of engagement and proper force projection.


  1. Where is Anbar Headed? Where are the Marines Headed?
  2. Coalition, Al Qaeda and Tribes Battle in Anbar and Diyala
  3. Racoon Hunting and the Battle for Anbar
  4. The Reasons the U.S. Won’t “Clear? Ramadi
  5. Demonstrations, Violence and Preparations in al Anbar Province
  6. Combat Operation Posts
  7. Regression in al Anbar Province
  8. Ramadi is Still a Troubled City
  9. Al Anbar Tribes Gives Coalition Three Divisions of Recruits
  10. Ramadi: Marines Own the Night, 3.5 Years Into Iraq War
  11. Will we Lose the Anbar Province?
  12. Haditha Sequence of Events
  13. Update on Ramadi
  14. Ramadi: Don’t Expect More Fallujah

Technology Transfer to the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

The U.S. is engaging in three categories of technology transfer to the enemy: (1) It is bad but almost impossible to stop, (2) It is extremely bad and we should do a much better job of stopping it, and (3) It is extremely bad and we are intentionally doing it.

It is bad but almost impossible to stop

At Chronicles of War, John Little is covering the issue of the Technical Mujahid.  CENTCOM has published an update to “What Extremists are Saying” that outlines the basics of a new computer hardware, software and file management protocol for jihadists.

The first issue of what is indicated to be a period magazine, “Technical Mujahid? [Al-Mujahid al-Teqany], published by al-Fajr Information Center, was electronically distributed to password-protected jihadist forums Tuesday, November 28, 2006.

This edition, 64-pages in length, contains articles that primarily deal with computer and Internet security, in addition to other pieces explaining Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and video types, editing, and encoding into different formats. The editors of the publication state that it was written to heed the directives of the Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and his call for technical support. Material such as this, regarding anonymity on the Internet, concealing of personal files locally on a computer, and utilizing all schemes of encryption, is to serve as electronic jihad, and a virtual means of supporting the Mujahideen.

Jihad, as a philosophy, religion and world view, is utterly incapable of sustaining technological development.  If it were possible to stop all technological development in the U.S., it is likely that jihadist technology would stay static, or freeze in place.  But because software and information technology is so readily available (consider the staggering amount of source code available over the web for free), jihadists will make ready use of this technology.  The strategy here might be to stay several steps ahead of the enemy by waging a better technology war than they do.

It is extremely bad and we should do a much better job of stopping it

The Strategy Page has this concerning technology espionage of our air defense program:

American federal prosecutors revealed that they are trying an Indian born American citizen, Noshir S. Gowadia, on charges of spying for China. Gowadia is alleged to have sold China details of the B-2 bombers engine exhaust system. This technology makes it more difficult for heat sensors (like heat seeking missiles) to detect the exhaust of the B-2 engines. Gowadia is also alleged to have helped Chinese engineers apply this technology to the design of a stealthy cruise missile. The secrets Gowadia sold would also make it easier for the Chinese to detect a B-2 bomber. Gowadia is supposed to have helped China with other matters relating to stealth technology.

Gowadia has apparently been running a Hawaii based spy ring since 1999, and made six clandestine trips to China. Gowadia worked on the B-2 project from 1968 to 1986, as one of the designers. Gowadia was arrested a year ago, and his trial will begin next Summer. He could get life in prison if convicted.

China is interested in upgrading the quality of its weapons systems, and will take every opportunity to steal military and technological secrets.  Similar to the Wen Ho Lee incident (concerning the miniturization of nuclear weapons), when the secrets are of so much importance and the loss of them so damaging, the level of security must be commensurate with this risk.  This sort of thing just cannot happen if the U.S. is to stay secure from its enemies.

It is extremely bad and we are intentionally doing it

In Our Dirty Little Secret: Technology Proliferation, I have covered the issue of higher education, and how U.S. universities are training the next generation of  PhDs in sensitive areas such as nuclear engineering, bacteriology, biochemistry, biotechnology research, microbiology and neuroscience, and atomic, chemical, molecular and nuclear physics.  Approximately 10% of the degrees awarded in these areas were awarded to students from 26 countries that are on the State Department “watch? list as being state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt and Jordan.

American universities are doing this with full knowledge that they are training students who do not have U.S. citizenship, will not stay in the U.S., and could potentially use the knowledge against the U.S.  And it continues unabated … while the citizens of America trust the government to keep them safe.

Where is Anbar Headed? Where are the Marines Headed?

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

John Little has given us a tip to a breaking story about potential movement of the Marines out of Anbar altogether.  This is major … major … news.  ABC News is reporting the following (I will copy and paste at length, and then offer up [I hope] some interesting … and unique … observations):

ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province and join the fight to secure Baghdad.

The news comes as President Bush prepares to meet with Iraq’s president to discuss the growing sectarian violence.

There are now 30,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar, mainly Marines, braving some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. At least 1,055 Americans have been killed in this region, making al-Anbar the deadliest province for American troops.

The region is a Sunni stronghold and the main base of operations for al Qaeda in Iraq and has been a place of increasing frustration to U.S. commanders.

In a recent intelligence assessment, top Marine in al-Anbar, Col. Peter Devlin, concluded that without a massive infusement of more troops, the battle in al-Anbar is unwinnable.

In the memo, first reported by the Washington Post, Devlin writes, “Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Faced with that situation in al-Anbar, and the desperate need to control Iraq’s capital, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving U.S. troops from there into Baghdad.

“If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out [in al-Anbar], what’s the point of having them out there?” said a senior military official.

Another option under consideration is to increase the overall U.S. troop level in Iraq by two to five brigades (that’s about 7,000 to 18,000 troops).

Generals Casey and Abizaid, however, have both weighed in against this idea. And such an increase would only be sustainable for six to eight months. Far more likely, the official says, will be a repositioning of forces currently in Iraq. “There is a push for a change of footprint, not more combat power.”

In Racoon Hunting and the Battle for Anbar, after the Marines had said that Fallujah held iconic status to them, and losing it would be like losing Iwo Jima, I asked the question, “Will we lose this hallowed soil, this soil on which so much U.S. blood has been shed?”

Perhaps.  And then perhaps not.  There are two possibilities that I see.  Either we have ceded power to al Qaeda and asked the Iraqi security forces to take them out, or we are cordoning off the area, only to go in later to “clear” it.  On October 24, I said that we would not “clear” Ramadi Fallujah-style, and at the time I had what I thought were good reasons to take this position.

I believe that there is some possibility, however remote it may seem to the reader (and to me), that we are cordoning off the Anbar Province (and in particular Ramadi), in order to prepare an assault later “Fallujah-style.”  More Marine patrols where they are getting sniper attacks is not adding to security.  We are either getting out, or we’re getting serious.

I confess, I am at a point of indecision on this, because I think the military brass may be.  It might be left to the incoming SECDEF to make the decision.  More force projection, or do we turn it over to the Iraqis?

The war turns on this decision.

More on Snipers and Body Armor for Marines

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

In Old and New Body Armor for Marines, I discussed the planned deployment of the new Modular Tactical Vest (MTV) to replace the Interceptor System.  Following up on this post, I wrote Snipers and Body Armor, and followed up this post with Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops, in which, using a New York Times article, I showed that snipers in Iraq had adapted and were learning to aim for gaps in SAPI plate coverage in the Interceptor body armor system, and that the new MTV was superior to the Interceptor regarding these gaps in coverage.

While writing and subsequent to these posts, I communicated numerous times with USMC Public Affairs Officers, and they were mostly helpful.  For instance, unless it is explained to you in a word-picture, it is difficult to understand how the MTV handles weight distribution better than its predecessors.  Backpackers can visualize this easily, but others may not be able to as well.  Any back packer who carries a heavy pack, whether internal or external frame, knows that the shoulders cannot withstand all of the weight for very long.  The shoulders need a break.  The MTV gives them the break they need.  The MTV has a design similar to backpacks in which the weight rests on the hips rather than the shoulders, and this may give the Marine the edge he needs to fight more effectively.

The help from the PAOs has withered lately, and hopefully will start up soon as I press the issues I have with body armor.  It has been said to me that the MTV was intended to be an improvement over the Interceptor as it regards comfort, but that “Interceptor offers the same level of ballistic protection as the MTV.”  This contradicts the Strategy Pages and Stars and Stripes, both of which are linked in my earlier posts.  In fact, the MTV apparently offers fully and more integrated protection in the side SAPI plates.  Here is a picture of the side SAPI plate.




The Marine Corps Times has a nice 360-degree flash player that shows the body armor and how it fits the Marine.  There is also an updated article in the Marine Corps Times that says what I have learned from the PAOs, that the USMC will issue the new MTV in or about February, but that they do not know yet which specific units will have the MTV.  For me, this isn’t very satisfying, and I will pursue the matter.

On the issue of snipers which I have covered with a vengeance, the Strategy Page has an interesting update, which doesn’t shed new light beyond what I have already covered, except to say that al Qaeda snipers in Anbar are using children to hunt for snipers, and paying handsome rewards for kids who find U.S. snipers and report back to them.

Jihadists Spread False Propaganda

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

The Information Ministry of the Islamic State of Iraq periodically publishes updated propaganda.  Their mother web site is blocked by some ISPs, but it is easy enough (if you cannot get to it) to find web sites who profer the propaganda without verification, such as Jihad Unspun.  Al Qaeda claims to have had a stellar day on November 18.  The claim is that in two separate incidents, five “crusaders” were killed in each incident for a total of ten killed by IEDs.

Let’s evaluate this claim.  First of all, the Multi-National Force web site publishes press releases upon the death of any U.S. service member.  A quick check of the home page for press releases shows that no such deaths occurred.  On the other hand, Jihad Unspun uses phrases like “so-called Iraqis” and “collaborators” to describe the Iraqi troops, and it is possible that rather than U.S. forces, they are referring to Iraqi forces (although, frankly, it seems strange to refer to Iraqis as “crusaders” even if they are your enemy).

This too can be independently verified.  The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count tracks all Iraqi deaths (both army and police).  A quick check of this web site shows that no such deaths occurred on November 18.

The Jihadists have made outlandish claims to have killed ten troops in a single day by IEDs, while absolutely no independent reports of this exist anywhere.  To the jihadist claims, I say, prove it!

The Consequences of Inadequate Force Projection

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

I have made heavy use of a phrase at TCJ that I have not seen anywhere else: force projection.  Its full meaning will come clear in a minute.  Even if it is difficult for the U.S. commanders to admit that force projection at the beginning of the Iraq war was inadequate (as it currently is), Australia’s Commander in Chief has no problems telling us that we needed more troops.  In an interview with the Weekend Australian Magazine, Governor-General Michael Jeffery said he believes a lack of troops on the ground in the weeks after the US-led coalition went into Iraq hampered efforts to secure Baghdad.

He contrasted early tactics in Iraq with the counter-insurgency campaign he led in Phuoc Tuy province during the Vietnam War. “We were charged with winning the hearts and minds of local people and ensuring they were safe, which is the antithesis of what’s happening in Baghdad. People aren’t safe,” he said.  Reflecting on the initial phase of the Iraqi conflict, in March 2003, the Governor-General said: “There weren’t enough soldiers to seal Baghdad off.”

“A lack of troops, a lack of police, the structures weren’t there, the numbers weren’t there and this is a vitally important time immediately after the first battles.”

This lack of troop presence (note, not exactly equal to the definition of force projection) causes various contortions by the commanders regarding situational details.  In testimony before the Senate where senators questioned the adequacy of the number of troops, Abizaid said that “Al-Anbar province is not under control.  But while “Al-Anbar province is critical, more critical than al-Anbar province is Baghdad. Baghdad’s the main military effort,” Abizaid told Nelson. “That’s where our military resources will go.”

It is a remarkable thing to witness a general say that a particular province is “not under control” three and a half years into the war effort, and then to demur to the “more critical” city of Baghdad, presumably because it is the seat of government in Iraq.  The point is that this question – and its remarkable answer – would never have been salient with the right number of troops.  Said another way, only a lack of troop presence causes the need to shift resources from one location to another, while leaving the one to suffer and descend into anarchy.  Is this clear enough?

There isn’t any question that despite the heavy media attention given to Baghdad and the various street bombings and other violence, the al Anbar Province is still the most dangerous place in Iraq, and likely then the most dangerous place on earth.  Further, this “whack-a-mole” concept of war has extended the war effort in Iraq longer than the U.S. was involved in World War II, contrary to the counsel from the Small Wars Manual that I discussed in “War, Counterinsurgency and Prolonged Operations” (note from this post the unwillingness to mention or tackle the issue of prolonged operations and its effect on moral in the draft U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24).

Finally, there is more to the concept of force projection than number of troops.  Proper force projection also has to do with how the troops are used, i.e., their mission.  I have previously noted that the Marines in the Anbar Province feel hamstrung by the rules of engagement, which have evolved over the war in Iraq.  Further, having a troop presence, even with robust rules of engagement, is not the same thing as utilizing them.  Camp Fallujah has at the present around 10,000 troops resident.  Of those troops in the area, only 300 currently have a continual presence in Fallujah-proper, a city of 300,000.  Note that this is a ratio 1000:1 Iraqis to Marines.

As Marines in Iraq expand into more advisory roles to Iraqi troops, the insurgency, by the use of criminal techniques, has become financially self-sufficient.  The violence has not abated, there are daily retaliatory attacks by Sunni and Shia, and there is talk of civil war in Iraq.  U.S. troops face the daily threat of sniper attacks, and the U.S. casualty rate in Iraq has a positive slope line.  At least in part, these are the consequences of inadequate force projection.

The Department of Defense Trys Blogging

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

Over at Blogs of War, John Little has discussed the new Department of Defense blog called “For the Record.”  John cites the assessment of “For the Record” by D-Ring:

For the Record has been criticized as a shoddy attempt to rebut negative conversation about the war in Iraq and the Department of Defense. All this Web site does is link to a given article from the mainstream media and blast it. And it comes across as quite petty.

On top of that, For the Record misses the whole point of a blog — community. There is no blogroll, no ability to comment, no conversation. It follows the traditional DoD model of communication that says “we will send our messages to the people from up on high.?

John went on to say that “I do a bit of blog related consulting, sometimes a lot, and blogs like For the Record are why people hire me. They know they need a blog but they’re smart enough to realize that they don’t understand the details that make a blog work. The folks at the DoD either didn’t think about taking that route or management dumbed down the blog and removed the features that make a blog relevant.”

I had previously known about this blog, but had failed to check it out properly.  So I studied one of the “posts” (To be clear, this “post” has no specific URL.  The only URL is an associated one, a so-called letter to the editor on which the post it based.  This is a serious, perhaps even fatal, weakness in the DoD blog.  How can another blogger link to a specific post unless there is a URL associated with it?).

The title of the letter is “New York Times Involved in Mythmaking.”  This post raises a whole host of troubling questions, and it is not clear whether the author thought of them prior to posting.  It might have been better had they never made this post.  Let’s assess it.

The author takes on the critics of Rumsfeld who ascribe to him the failure to listen properly to his generals.  Calling this assertion “demonstrably untrue,” the author goes on to cite specific examples where the generals have allegedly said otherwise:

  • General Tommy Franks, Commander, U.S. Central Command during the opening of Operation Iraqi Freedom: “Don Rumsfeld was a hard task master — but he never tried to control the tactics of our war-fight [Franks, “American Soldier, “ pg 313]
  • General George Casey, Commander of Multi-National Force – Iraq: “I just want to assure you and the American people that if we need more troops we’ll ask for them. Right now, we don’t.? [CBS News, June 27, 2005]
  • General John Abizaid, Commander, U.S. Central Command: “… this notion that troop levels are static is not true, never has been true, and it won’t be true. We’ll ask for what we need when we need them.? [CNN, September 18, 2006]
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Pete Pace: “We have done more than honor the request of the commanders. . . . As Joint Chiefs, we have validated that; we have looked at that; we have analyzed it. We decided for ourselves, and I as an individual have agreed with the size force that’s there. So we should take on the responsibility that we own.? [Pace Confirmation Hearings, Transcript, July 10, 2005]
  • Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers: “But in the plan going in there, the best military judgment, the judgment we got from academia, from anybody that wanted to make inputs to include the National Security Council was that we had the right number of troops. And so you can always look back and say, should we had something different? I personally don’t believe – we didn’t want to turn Iraq into a police state.? [ABC News, April 16, 2006]

The DoD blog finishes by saying that “These statements are not new, nor difficult to find in public sources. So the implication is that either the New York Times believes these generals are not being truthful, or that they are too intimidated to tell the truth. If the Times feels this way, way not say so? For our part, we vigorously dispute either assertion about these distinguished military leaders.”

The DoD blog is just a tad caustic, and the problem here is that there is some truth to the content, which is different than saying that the entire post is spot-on.  The author has marshalled generals who agreed with Rumsfeld, or who have stated that Rumsfeld didn’t bother them.  But it is certainly possible to marshal contrary evidence.  Take General Eric Shinseki.  His testimony before the Senate, where he stated that war with Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops, earned him dismissal by Rumsfeld.  Specifically, Shinseki said:

I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.

In a move so extraordinary that Washington still remembers it, the Pentagon lashed General Shinseki for making those remarks.  While the General was still on post, then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz called Shinseki’s remarks “wildly off the mark.”  Wolfowitz said that he was reasonably sure that the U.S. would be greeted as liberators.  As an editorial sidebar, does it seem somewhat stolid to suggest that the Sunnis, who were displaced as rulers upon the overthrow of the Saddam regime, would greet the U.S. as liberators?  It cannot be said that Shinseki’s remarks were unknown or unheard.  In recent testimony before the Senate, Abizaid admitted that Shinseki’s recommendations were sound.  Additionally, Brigadier General Mitchell Zais said of Shinseki’s testimony that “Because of his testimony before Congress, Rumsfeld moved Shinseki aside. In a nearly unprecedented move, to replace Shinseki, Rumsfeld recalled from active duty a retired general who was more likely to accept his theory that we could win a war in Iraq and establish a stable government with a small number of troops.”

Second and finally, take General Anthony Zinni.  He commissioned a group to war-game Iraq prior to the invasion, and this group concluded that 400,000 U.S. troops would be required.  No one listened to him.

This should be enough evidence to show that the DoD post contains truth, but doesn’t point the reader to the truth, even if unintentionally.  The tendency is to defend yourself, as every blogger knows.  But the virtue of blogs is that the blogger can ping, comment, allow others to comment, enjoy the commendations of supporters, and suffer the inspection and derision of detractors.

The blogosphere is an organic entity that constantly adapts to the environment.  With all due respect, and we mean that, the DoD blog has a long way to go to truly enter the world of blogging.

TCJ: Blogger of the Week at Chronicles of War

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

Friend John Little at Chronicles of War has named The Captain’s Journal “Blogger of the Week.”  I appreciate John’s kind words and vote of confidence.  Go check out John’s redesigned Chronicles of War and companion site, Blogs of War.  John has been busy with work and posting was less frequent, but he is back at it again, and for one, I am glad.  I always check out what John has to say.  John always manages to find things that I can’t, and his analysis is clear and level-headed.  I wish a hearty welcome to Chronicles of War and Blogs of War readers.

Coalition, Al Qaeda and Tribes Battle in Anbar and Diyala

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

On November 25, insurgents linked to al Qaeda attacked an Anbar tribe in an alliance of twenty five tribes who have vowed to fight al Qaeda.  The insurgents attacked the Abu Soda tribe in Sofiya, near the provincial capital of Ramadi, with mortars and small arms, burning homes, in apparent revenge for their support of the Iraqi government.  “Al Qaeda has decided to attack the tribes due to their support,” said Sheikh Abdel Sittar Baziya, head of the Abu Risha tribe and a founder of the movement. “The terrorists have gone to a neighboring tribe and have brought fighters to attack the Abu Soda.”

Al Qaeda attacked through a tribal area checkpoint, and burned homes and killed tribal members using small arms and mortar fire.  Coalition forces assisted the Abu Soda tribe with air strikes and artillery fire at al Qaeda.  There is no report of coalition casualties, but fifty al Qaeda linked insurgents and nine tribesmen were killed in the battle (Reuters is reporting fifty five al Qaeda killed).  Four Iraqi civilians were evacuated to Camp Taqqadum for medical treatment for inujuries sustained during this battle.

Yesterday, November 26, two more Marines were lost in combat operations in the Anbar Province in a reminder of how dangerous the province is for U.S. troops.  Also in Ramadi, Coalition Forces conducted a precision strike on insurgent forces after observing three men loading weapons from a known cache site into a vehicle in central Ramadi.  After establishing positive identification, Coalition Forces fired precision ordnance at the vehicle, killing two terrorists. One terrorist was seen fleeing from the scene.

Directly to the east in the Diyala Province, Iraqi forces battled Sunni insurgents in its capital, Baquba.  At least 47 Sunni Arab insurgents were killed Saturday during long gunbattles with Iraqi security forces, a police spokesman in Baquba said.

In the largest and deadliest fight, scores of insurgents, using assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, laid siege to several government buildings in the center of the city, according to the spokesman. At least 36 of the Sunni Arab insurgents were killed in that clash, which raged for about four hours, according to the official, who said he did not yet know if any Iraqi security forces had been wounded.

Gunbattles also broke out in Buhruz, a predominantly Sunni village just south of Baqouba, when gunmen assaulted the main police station from three directions using mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, the police spokesman in Baqouba reported.

After nightfall, clashes broke out between gunmen and Iraqi army troops in the Al Tahrir neighborhood in Baqouba, according to the police spokesman there. At least 11 insurgents were killed in the fighting, he said.

Diyala has been an increasingly bloody battleground between Sunni and Shiite death squads vying for sectarian domination. Shiite militiamen have recently mobilized there in large numbers in defense of its Shiite inhabitants against the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, which has long made the province a redoubt in its campaign to topple the Iraqi government and drive American forces out of the country. American officials have accused the province’s police and military forces of siding with the Shiite militias.

I have discussed the feeling among U.S. troops that they are hamstrung by the rules of engagement, which have tightened in recent months.  If patrols conducted by U.S. forces makes them vulnerable to sniper attacks and the ROE prohibits their response, the only option left to bring security to Iraq is to let the tribal elements, police and Iraqi security forces battle it out with al Qaeda and the Mehdi army, with both al Qaeda and the Shi’ite militia having infiltrated the police and army.

So the strategy is to minimize casualties and train the Iraqis.  Somehow, the relationship between this approach and the idea of providing security to conquered nations in the Small Wars Manual does not announce itself.

Racoon Hunting and the Battle for Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

There is a dichotomy developing in the Anbar Province.  On the one hand, there is a window of opportunity to score the finishing defeat of al Qaeda.  On the other hand, U.S. forces rules of engagement and command lack of willingness to engage the enemy is holding this defeat in abatement.

The Strategy Page is discussing the battle for Anbar, and after rehearsing things we have covered at TCJ (e.g., the ongoing factious fighting between Sunnis, Tribal loyalties being stretched to the limits, Tribal agreements to oust al Qaeda, etc.), they offer up this penultimate status assessment:

… after Saddam was overthrown, and al Qaeda offered to help the Sunni Arabs eject the Americans, and regain control of the country, the Sunni tribes kept fighting. But the alliance with al Qaeda soon unraveled. By 2004, Sunni Arab tribesmen were fighting with al Qaeda. The problem was that al Qaeda did not believe the tribes were aggressive enough, or religious enough. First threats, then the murder of Sunni Arab tribal chiefs, brought al Qaeda into open warfare with the tribes. At first, the anti-al Qaeda tribes were not the majority, and they were outgunned by the Baath Party terrorist organizations and pro-Saddam tribes. But month-by-month, more tribes turned against al Qaeda and Baath. For the last year, as more American and Iraqi troops moved into western Iraq, the fighting became more intense.

Over a dozen tribes are now pro-government, with tribemen joining the police force, and serving in their own neighborhoods. Recruiting was slow at first, even with the approval of the chiefs. Only 30 stepped forward last June, but now there are 1,300 tribesmen in the police force. During that same period, some 750 al Qaeda and Baath terrorists have been killed in Ramadi, the center of al Qaeda power in Anbar. There are only a few hundred of them left, and the government controls two-thirds of the city. During that same period, the number of terrorist attacks, including roadside bombs, has also fallen by two-thirds.

This has brought about a civil war in western Iraq, with Sunni tribes fighting each other. Even with al Qaeda and the Baath Party terrorists, the anti-government tribes are on the defensive. Ramadi, which was to be the capital of the new al Qaeda sanctuary, is in ruins, and the scene of daily fighting, and defeats for the terrorists.

Al Qaeda no longer boasts of a base in western Iraq. To do so would have to address the fact that most al Qaeda losses in the area have been at the hands of angry Sunni Arab tribesmen. The tribes are fighting for their homes, and western Iraq is the only part of the Iraq that is almost wholly Sunni Arab. Angry Kurds and Shia Arabs are driving Sunni Arabs out of other parts of Iraq, and the only alternative to foreign exile, is moving to western Iraq. The only way to hang on to western Iraq is to eliminate the al Qaeda and Baath Party groups that refuse to halt their terrorist operations. Al Qaeda knows it’s losing its battle for western Iraq, which is one reason why they have shifted so many resources, especially cash and leadership, to Afghanistan. The al Qaeda defeat in western Iraq has not gotten much attention in the media, but it’s there, it’s real and it will soon be over. (italics mine)

I discussed the fissure that was occurring in al Qaeda high command in Iraq in Al Qaeda Reorganization, pointing out that al Qaeda in Iraq today might be likened to a wounded animal.  Wounded, yes, but a wounded animal is a dangeous thing, with nothing left to lose and hence unable to be deterred.  My son, who before he went to Boot Camp at Parris Island was quite the hunter, has hunted and killed deer, opossum, rabbit, turkey, snakes, coyote (they are all over South Carolina), and Racoon.  This last one is interesting.  The wounded Racoon is the most dangerous.  We have suffered from a Racoon problem at my home (trash strewed everywhere), and Daniel has always warned me against confronting a Racoon without having an edge.  You’d better have an edge.  I didn’t believe him until I faced off a Racoon one night with a tire iron (I can’t discharge a firearm within the city limits), and he ended up backing me down with Daniel shouting “Dad back off — get away from that thing.  He’ll tear you apart!”  Daniel recalls seeing Racoons tear ‘Coon dogs apart after being shot multiple times by rifle (the Racoon, that is).  He recalled seeing dogs limp, whine, sleep and recover from injuries.

It would be good had the Generals gone ‘Coon hunting and watched some dogs get chewed up before beginning the Iraq war.

Al Qaeda is wounded.  Robust rules of engagement, constantly offensive operations and strong force projection is required, now more than ever before.  Yet this is precisely the opposite of what is occurring in the Anbar Province.  In my post “Unleash the Snipers,” I covered the story of countersnipers in the Anbar Province, and the objection of the Marines to the “straightjacket” that the ROE had them in.  I suggested that small, mobile teams with maximum latitude be allowed to make war on al Qaeda in Ramadi, with robust rules of engagement.  There have been teams lost due to the smallness of the excursions, but as the Marines observe:

Snipers argue a counterintuitive point, saying that even though two-man teams have less firepower and fewer men, they are safer because they can hide more effectively.

Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin, the leader of the battalion’s First Sniper Team, said the sniper community was suffering from an overreaction. “It’s sad that they got killed, but when you think about it, we’ve been here three years, going on four, and we’ve only had two teams killed,? he said. “That’s not that dramatic.?

Sergeant Chamblin killed for the first time on Nov. 10, shooting an insurgent who was putting a makeshift bomb beside a bridge near Saqlawiya, near Falluja, a spot where a similar bomb killed three marines and a translator this summer.

He said snipers were willing to assume the risk of traveling in pairs. “It’s a war,? he said. “People are going to die, and the American public needs to get over that. They need to get over that and let us do our job.?

The military has also tightened rules of engagement as the war has progressed, toughening the requirements before a sniper may shoot an Iraqi. Potential targets must be engaged in a hostile act, or show clear hostile intent.

The marines say insurgents know the rules, and now rarely carry weapons in the open. Instead, they pose as civilians and keep their weapons concealed in cars or buildings until just before they need them. Later, when they are done shooting, they put them swiftly out of sight and mingle with civilians.

Like a bad and annoying broken record, Marines from Fallujah report that they are hamstrung:

From Observation Post Blazer, marines view Fallujah through a thick sheet of bullet-proof glass – already tested with numerous impacts. Or they stare through night-vision goggles or a thermal imaging scope that can pick up the heat of a dog hundreds of yards away.

The marines still patrol key roads. The US military, which still travels boldly through town despite a surge in deadly sniper attacks and roadside bombs, is spending $200 million on 60-plus projects to rebuild the city, heavily damaged in fighting two years ago.

But with just 300 marines, the US military footprint is smaller in this Sunni stronghold of more than 300,000 than it has been in two years. As the marine presence shrinks and Iraqis take more control, Fallujah – once a template for counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, where US forces have controlled all the variables – is likely again to set a standard for the rest of the country.

“A lot of us feel like we have our hands tied behind our back,” says Cpl. Peter Mattice, of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. “In Fallujah, [insurgents] know our [rules of engagement] – they know when to stop, just before we engage.”

It isn’t just the ROE, but it is also force projection that is lacking.  Fallujah is hallowed ground for Marines, and it might soon be desecrated:

“As soon as we leave, I’m afraid that the insurgents will take over…. They watch us, as we watch them,” says Mattice, echoing the fears of Fallujans who, while unhappy with the marine presence, are far more worried that a hurried US departure will leave them vulnerable to Sunni militants, and exposed to sectarian killings.

That fear has been fueled by a spike in insurgent attacks since summer, against both Iraqis and US troops. The 1/24 Marines, a reserve unit headquartered in Detroit and recently arrived, suffered nine dead and more than 40 seriously wounded in their first month in Iraq. Another marine died Sunday from a roadside bomb.

Since August, an assassination and intimidation campaign here has also killed the head of the city council and another prominent member; numerous policemen – including the deputy police chief – and contractors and workers on US-funded projects have also been murdered.

The numbers underscore the dilemma for marines in Fallujah, and for US troops across Iraq, as they begin to pull back and hand more responsibility to Iraqi forces.

The 300 marines here are attacked five to eight times each day. That presence is a significant drop from the 3,000 marines posted here in March 2005, and the 10,000 that took part in the late 2004 invasion.

Another metric: Officers say the number of direct fire incidents against US forces has shot up 650 percent in the past year. Three marines had been hit by snipers in one 48-hour span earlier this week.

“It is no secret,” Col. Lawrence Nicholson told the Fallujah City Council during their regular Tuesday meeting. “My mission is to do less, every single day, as Iraqi forces do more.”

Fallujah was the test case counter-insurgency invasion in November 2004 – effectively destroying the city to root out insurgents in the biggest urban battle for US marines since Hue City in Vietnam in 1968. Fallujah later became the model for a “go and stay” strategy attempted in cities along the Euphrates in the fall of 2005, which the August intelligence report found to have failed.

Senior officers now refer to Fallujah as a “gated community” – putting a deft gloss on the fact that Fallujah has for two years had only six entry points, and entering Iraqi residents still require US-issued biometric cards with retinal scans and fingerprints on file.

But among those Iraqi residents are 150 newcomers a week, fleeing the sectarian violence in Baghdad to a known “Sunni safe haven,” in the words of one officer. Others say hundreds of highly trained insurgents, Iraqis from outside Fallujah, have also recently moved in to step up attacks.

“Fallujah has an iconic value to the Marine Corps,” says Colonel Nicholson, commander of the Regimental Combat Team 5, which covers Fallujah and a populated swath of Anbar Province, in an interview. “Fallujah falling [to insurgents] would be like Iwo Jima falling to the Japanese again after World War II – it would be intolerable.”

Losing Fallujah might be intolerable, but it might just happen without the right force projection and ROE.  The Strategy Page’s assessment might be somewhat optimistic.  Will we lose this hallowed soil, this soil on which so much U.S. blood has been shed?

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