AR-15 Ammunition And Barrel Twist Rate

Herschel Smith · 19 Feb 2017 · 7 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]

TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 4 months ago

In my article Brain Injury: Signature Would of the War in Iraq (written before Woodwards’s show), I discussed repeat concussion as a cause of brain injury to American warriors who have been deployed to Iraq.  My efforts seem rather pitiful when contrasted with the exposé done by Bob Woodruff entitled To Iraq and Back.  His entire presentation can be watched again, and I highly recommend that you do so.  It isn’t for the weak of heart.  It might be the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever witness – these young warriors coming home with permanent brain damage.  To Woodruff’s huge credit, he didn’t spend much of the time focusing on his experience, except as it helped him to understand the plight of our boys coming home with this injury.  He used his time to tell their story, and show the unpreparedness of the Defense Department to handle their care.  For the present and future, there has been a change in the helmet sling suspension system to a padding suspension system, under Marine Administrative Order 480/06.  But this can only go so far in the protection of the troops.

Woodruff has shown himself to be a first-rate reporter, and my respect goes to him.  Again, this is must-see television.  There isn’t much more that can be said after watching his show.  More here at NPR, and at IraqSlogger in what is correctly called a “Phenomenal, Moving TV Documentary.”

Intelligence Bulletin #1

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

Intelligence bulletin #1 covers the following subjects: [1] Iran’s Quds forces, [2] international war against the CIA, [3] recent combat action in Ramadi, [4] State Department unauthorized absence in the global war on terror, [5] British pullback from Iraq and the Mahdi army, [6] Iranian activities inside Iraq and Israeli concerns, [7] the M-16, [8] speculation on thermobaric weapons inside Iraq, [9] the wounded, and [10] A-10 flyover video.

Iran’s Quds forces

The Quds Force is an arm of the IRGC that carries out operations outside of Iran.  The AP recently reported on Iran’s highly secretive Quds forces being deeply enmeshed within Iraq:

Iran’s secretive Quds Force, accused by the United States of arming Iraqi militants with deadly bomb-making material, has built up an extensive network in the war-torn country, recruiting Iraqis and supporting not only Shiite militias but also Shiites allied with Washington, experts say.

Iran likely does not want a direct confrontation with American troops in Iraq but is backing militiamen to ensure Shiites win any future civil war with Iraqi Sunnis after the Americans leave, several experts said Thursday.

The Quds Force’s role underlines how deeply enmeshed Iran is in its neighbor — and how the U.S. could face resistance even from its allies in Iraq if it tries to uproot Iran’s influence in Iraq.

But as quickly as the connection between the Shi’ite insurgency and Iran is pointed out, the report equivocates, saying “still unclear, however, is how closely Iran’s top leadership is directing the Quds Force’s operations — and whether Iran has intended for its help to Shiite militias to be turned against U.S. forces.”  This line is parroted in a recent Los Angeles Times article on the same subject, as the subtitle reads “Does the government control the Quds Force? Experts aren’t sure.”  Picking up on the same AP report, Newsday says the same thing.

As I discussed in The Covert War with Iran, the deep involvement of the Quds Forces, Badr Brigade and other Iranian personnel assets in Iraq is undeniable.  But it is fashionable to bifurcate the actions of the Quds and Badr Brigade from the “highest levels of government in Iran.”  Even General Peter Pace does this, recently saying after reviewing the intelligence on Iran’s involvement in Iraq, “that does not translate that the Iranian Government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this…What it does say is that things made in Iran are being used in Iraq to kill coalition soldiers.

Announcing the Intelligence Bulletin

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

I have been blogging for more than half a year now, and the evolution has occurred from short, cantankerous posts to more sweeping analyses generally on one of several themes and usually dealing with issues associated with Iraq, counterinsurgency, weapons and tactics, policy and warfare.  These broader, more sweeping analyses were modeled after the work that David Danelo, Michael Fumento, Josh Manchester and Westhawk have done.  But I have found that I am constrained by several things that make this uncomfortable to me.

First, this style of writing is generally third person, emotionally disconnected, and reads more like term papers for college.  It is also more difficult and time consuming to generate, and I usually cannot draft more than an analysis per two or three days (and sometimes not that frequently).  I will continue to generate these analyses, but if I stick exclusively to this style, there is a vast swath of news and information that we are missing.  I am missing the opportunity to provide commentary on it, and the readers are missing the opportunity to respond with comments.

Further, the exclusive focus on a single theme (or a few themes) for each article is constraining, and I want to be able to convey larger quantities of information and analyses than this style allows.  So I am introducing the “Intelligence Bulletin.”  Of course, it will convey only open source information, so no OPSEC will be compromised.  However, recent events have convinced me once again that no matter how much time or energy a person has, no one can find and digest all of the available information.

By calling this the Intelligence Bulletin, the hope is not merely to rehearse old news, but rather, to find trends, patterns, and little-known but important stories.  Since I cannot find and analyze everything, the readers are invited to use the comments forum to follow up on my analyses.  Of course, as always, rude and insulting comments will be deleted.  I am not sure how all of this will transpire in the future or how many of these I will write, but hopefully we can weave together some important ideas into a tapestry that makes the issues that interest us more understandable.  If it doesn’t work out, there is nothing lost except a bit of effort.  Finally, readers can send links and analysis themselves that I can use as a building block for future bulletins.

Modern Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

Counterinsurgency in Iraq is proving to be difficult, and not amenable to the classical understanding of how it is supposed to be conducted.  The potable water supply in the al Anbar Province is described as a desperate situation, and aid workers and other government representatives cannot access the region to repair the systems or bring in potable water due to security concerns.  Umm Muhammad Jalal, 39, starts every day walking to a river 7km away from her temporary home in a displacement camp on the outskirts of Fallujah, 70km west of the capital, Baghdad. Because of severe water shortages, she and many others make the daily trip to the river to collect water for all their needs.  “For the past four months we have been forced to drink, wash and clean with the river water. There is a dire shortage of potable water in Fallujah and nearby cities,” Umm Muhammad said.  “My children are sick with diarrhoea but I have no option. They cannot live without water,” she added. “Aid agencies that were helping us with their trucks of potable water are less and less frequent these days for security reasons. For the same reason, the military doesn’t want the [aid] convoys to get too close to some areas.”

Meanwhile, the Marines in Anbar are occupied with mundane duties.  Many will not fire a shot from their firearm the entire deployment.  “In farming communities along the Syrian border, U.S. Marines work with Iraqis to open health clinics and a job center and to improve trash collection and water delivery.  In Fallouja, Marines at a center for displaced people greet Sunni Muslims from Baghdad seeking sanctuary from Shiite Muslim death squads.  And along the sniper alley of a freeway that runs between Fallouja and Ramadi, Marines patrol less like warriors than traffic cops.  Rather than charge into battle, most Marines in Iraq’s western desert are engaged in nation building on a piecemeal basis.”

It is interesting that the road from Fallujah to Ramadi is even now, more than four years into the counterinsurgency campaign, described as “sniper alley.”  This is eerily reminiscent of the picture so aptly painted by National Geographic Explorer’s exposé entitled “Iraq’s Guns for Hire.”   The planning for one British security contractor night time operation, i.e., the delivery of supplies, involved a description of sniper fire along roads from Baghdad to other parts of Iraq.  The sniper firing locations were so well-known that the planning for the mission included consideration for continual movement of the convoy at the right places and the related appropriate instructions to the recently hired Iraqi drivers. The gauntlet was described as a sophisticated system of interlocking and opposing fields of fire that covered several kilometers, and just as expected, the convoy was struck with sniper fire.

In previous sniper and countersniper coverage, I have noted that although there are two primary enemy tactics of U.S. casualties in Iraq, IEDs and snipers, the doctrinal underpinnings of a strategy to counter this threat have been mostly absent.  I have also covered body armor in the context of snipers, but this is primarily a defensive answer to the threat.  Tactical solutions such as satellite patrols (the details of which will not be described here for obvious reasons) can only have some finite effectiveness, and so more is needed to address the threat.

Beyond body armor and satellite patrols, the serious thinker must ponder the question, “how can the precise locations of enemy snipers be so well-known that mission planning accounts for this threat, yet we still have soldiers and marines deployed to relatively safe FOBs without offensively engaging the enemy snipers?”  I have previously suggested unleashing American snipers from the restrictions that they have been under, but this requires re-thinking cherished features of military life like chain of command.  Finally, one is forced to wonder about the risk aversion that would leave enemy snipers on the main arteries to wreak havoc in the night hours, while the U.S. troops are said to “own the night.”

The fluidity of enemy movement is still problematic, probably for reasons that include informing the enemy of strategic and tactical intentions in advance of their implementation.  As previously discussed, it is confirmed by more recent reports that enemy forces are streaming north into the Diyala Province.  Iraqi insurgents have been streaming out of Baghdad to escape the security crackdown, carrying the fight to neighbouring Diyala province where direct attacks on Americans have nearly doubled since last summer, U.S. soldiers said.  That has led to sharp fighting only 55 kilometres north of the capital in a province known as “Little Iraq

11 Point Plan for Victory in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

Pat Dollard gives us an interesting rundown of what he calls the 11-point plan for victory in Iraq submitted to the White House, Pentagon and State Department (which he claims has been confirmed by sources both inside and outside the military).  I highly recommend that you spend some time reading the full eleven points, but I want to call out three specific points and comment on them.

1. U.S. troops are to be gradually pulled back from all Iraqi cities and towns and sent to seal the borders with Iran and Syria. The real insurgency is not indigenous to Iraq, but being pumped in through Iran and Syria.

2. Ramadi and Baghdad will be two of a handful of initial principle exceptions, as major U.S supported military engagements are in process in Baghadad (sic) and gearing up in Ramadi.

6. A massive assault is shortly due to be launched on Ramadi, the capital of Al Qaeda, and the remnants of the Sunni Insurgency, in Iraq. Ramadi has degenerated to a sort of post-modern trench warfare, Marines and Soldiers locked away in a variety of new urban outposts, while all the schools have finally been closed and it is nigh on impossible for the average citizen to conduct his daily life. The deadlock must be broken, and Al Qaeda must finally be ejected.

Beginning first with point number six, in my article Watching Anbar, I said:

I have been watching the al Anbar Province for most of the Iraq war, and I beg to differ with the U.S. generals.  I believe that however Anbar goes, so goes the war.  The key to Iraq is the Anbar Province.  While Anbar remains unpacified, insurgent groups (al Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna, etc.) can continue to split the tribal loyalties in the region with some tribes siding with the insurgents and others siding with the government in Baghdad.  This is done not only by propaganda, but by intimidation of the tribal leaders and violence perpetrated on their people.

This is a clever way to effect force multiplication.  The insurgents not only have their own military and personnel assets with which to conduct guerrilla operations, they coax and cajole others to join them in the fight.  This way, tribes fight tribes in internecine war throughout the Anbar Province, ensuring that the insurgents are free to continue their guerrilla operations against coalition forces.  This tactic was successfully used by the Viet Cong in the war in Vietnam.

Being freed to continue guerrilla operations, in addition to attacks against coalition forces, the insurgents can conduct death raids against Shi’ite elements, ensuring a response by Shia militia, which ensures a counter-response by more insurgents (including some tribal elements), and so the cycle goes.

Really, this description is somewhat incomplete, and in recent article The Covert War with Iran, I filled in the blanks.  Not only is AQI and AAS fomenting a sectarian war by attacking the Shi’a, but Iranian intelligence assets are doing so as well by directing death squads to do the same to the Sunni.  Ramadi is home to all manner of rougue elements, and must be pacified for OIF to succeed.  It is one side of the fulcrum, the other being Baghdad.

While much was made of the tribes taking up the war against AQI and AAS, I was skeptical, calling the tribes “recruits” and saying that if they end up being useful, it will be only after a protracted time.  Dollard echoes this concern in point number seven of the plan, saying “We will be “firing

The Covert War with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

Syria and Iran could not tolerate an American success in Iraq, because it would fatally undermine the authority of the tyrants in Damascus and Tehran. Since the United States has taken too long to move on from Afghanistan to challenge the regimes of the terror masters, they had forged an alliance and would co-operate in sending terror squads against coalition armed forces, with the intention of repeating the Lebanese scenarios in the mid-Eighties (against the United States) and the late Nineties (against Israel)Michael Ledeen, before the invasion of Iraq.

Michael Ledeen has given us compelling argument to see the war in the Middle East as running through Syria directly to Iran.  The war.  The Isreal-Hezballah war, and OIF …  the war.  It is all the same war, argues Ledeen.  Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming.  It has been well known for some time that Iran has provided training, funding, weapons and equipment for terrorists inside Iraq.

Iranians have been caught destroying oil pipelines in Iraq under orders from Iranian intelligence.  IED technology has been developed in Iran, tested by Hezballah in the recent war with Israel, and shipped to Iraq, this IED technology having an unmistakable Iranian signature.  In response to “the surge,” dozens of Iranian Intelligence officers were taking positions around Baghdad, in Salman Pak, Hilla and Kut, in preparation for an attack to drive out the remaining Sunni population from districts on the Rusafa side, east of Baghdad, in order to assume full control by Shi’ite political parties loyal to Iran.

Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, an accomplished terrorist, serves as an Iranian agent in the Iraqi ParliamentMoqtada al Sadr is apparently not the Iraqi patriot he has been made out to be, as it appears now that not only was he smuggled off to Iran, but the high level leaders of the Mahdi army were as well (see also here).  It is old and tired, this argument on the question whether the insurgents are domestic or foreigners.  Iran and Syria are behind much of the trouble in Iraq.  The Iranian investment of human resources inside Iraq and as a safe haven for the Sadrists, Badr Brigade and other terrorists is as unmistakable as it is remarkable.  Recently seized Iranian intelligence documents detail the mayhem Iran has planned and executed inside Iraq.

The activity of Iranian intelligence and the Quds forces and the flight of the Mahdi army leadership to Iran are not reflexive.  It must be seen within the context of the broader war with Iran.  Perhaps four years too late with this assessment, the January 16, 2007 Strategic Forecasting Geopolitical Intelligence Report by George Friedman flatly states:

The Iraq war has turned into a duel between the United States and Iran. For the United States, the goal has been the creation of a generally pro-American coalition government in Baghdad — representing Iraq’s three major ethnic communities. For Iran, the goal has been the creation of either a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad or, alternatively, the division of Iraq into three regions, with Iran dominating the Shiite south.

The United States has encountered serious problems in creating the coalition government. The Iranians have been primarily responsible for that. With the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, when it appeared that the Sunnis would enter the political process fully, the Iranians used their influence with various Iraqi Shiite factions to disrupt that process by launching attacks on Sunnis and generally destabilizing the situation. Certainly, [the] Sunnis contributed to this, but for much of the past year, it has been the Shia, supported by Iran, that have been the primary destabilizing force.

So long as the Iranians continue to follow this policy, the U.S. strategy cannot succeed. The difficulty of the American plan is that it requires the political participation of three main ethnic groups that are themselves politically fragmented. Virtually any substantial group can block the success of the strategy by undermining the political process. The Iranians, however, appear to be in a more powerful position than the Americans. So long as they continue to support Shiite groups within Iraq, they will be able to block the U.S. plan.

The Iranian activity has not been limited to providing ordnance, weapons, cash, moral support, training and direct military engagement.  The February 14, 2007, the Strategic Forecasting Terrorism Intelligence Report by Fred Burton describes the ongoing covert war with Iran.

Clearly, there is a lot of rhetoric flying around. But despite the threats and bluster, it is not at all clear that the United States has either the capacity or the will to launch an actual attack against Iran — nor is it clear that Israel has the ability to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure on its own. For its part, Iran — in spite of its recent weapons purchases and highly publicized missile tests — clearly is in no position to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. military.

With neither side willing or able to confront the other in the conventional military sense, both will be looking for alternative means of achieving its goals. For any nation-state, its intelligence services are an important weapon in the arsenal — and it now appears that a covert intelligence war between the United States and Iran, first raised by Stratfor as a possibility in March 2006 , is well under way. So far, the action in this intelligence war has been confined mainly to Iraq and Lebanon. However, recent events — including the mysterious death in January of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, who was believed to have been a target of Mossad — indicate that this quiet war is escalating, and soon could move to fronts beyond the Middle East …

Because Iran’s conventional military forces — though among the best in the region — are clearly no match for those of the Americans or others, the sophisticated and highly disciplined intelligence service, and its ability to carry out covert campaigns, is a key component of national security. In the past, kidnappings and assassinations — carried out with sufficient deniability — have proved an effective way of eliminating enemies and leveraging the country’s geopolitical position without incurring unacceptable risk.

But Strategic Forecasting stops short in either of the two analyses cited above of recommending a compelling strategy for addressing the Syrian and Iranian threat inside Iraq, even though they have said that the success of OIF depends upon such a strategy.

In The Iran War Plans, I provided a fairly pedestrian analysis in which I suggested that a land invasion of Iran would be costly and fraught with problems.  Moreover, I pointed out that if the goal of such military action is to destroy the Iranian nuclear enrichment program, the transport aircraft to deploy Soldiers and Marines to the sites are too slow, cannot carry the requisite fuel to get to some of the nuclear sites based on calculations I performed (and relying upon aircraft specifications in the public domain), and cannot move enough troops to accomplish the mission.  Destruction of the enrichment sites will require heavy involvement of U.S. air power, probably to the exclusion of everything else.

Thus the boundary conditions are as follows.  The human costs of a land invasion would be high.  Iran is at war with both Iraq and the United States, involving covert and intelligence operations and other military and additional assistance.  The Iranian strategy is succeeding.  Assuming the accuracy of the Strafor assessment – “So long as the Iranians continue to follow this policy, the U.S. strategy cannot succeed

Security and WHAM: Getting the Order Right

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

Earth moving equipment constructing sand berms around Haditha in order to prevent the influx of foreign fighters into the city.

On January 13th I wrote a short article entitled Sand Berms Around Haditha, linking to a story published by AFP.  Except for one particularly clever reader, this story got almost no attention.  Perhaps it should have.  With all of the noise and fury of the Baghdad security plan, the small things can get buried, but sometimes it is the small things that can teach us the big lessons if we’re not to hurried to pay attention.

This little story fascinated me from the beginning.  Consider what is occurring here.  Heavy equipment – enough of it to construct an earthen berm around a city – has been moved half way around the world into a desert in Western Iraq.  This equipment needs trained operators, and each piece has hundreds of grease fittings that require attention every day.  The engine and hydraulics need continual maintenance, and this maintenance itself requires a trained staff to pull it off.  The fuel and repacement parts must be available, and the security must be provided for those trained staff to effect equipment repair and maintenance.  Why would the United States Marines even consider something like this?

In Concerning the Failure of Counterinsurgency in Iraq, I pointed out that:

The battlefield, both for military actions and so-called “nonkinetic

Al Sadr Flees to Iran

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

ABC News has broken a report about al Sadr fleeing Iraq to Tehran, Iran, where he has family.  This is reported to have occurred two to three weeks ago, and would not be different behavior than other elements of the insurgency, whether Sunni or Shi’a.  In The Enemy Reacts to The Surge, I discussed the fact that AQI had left Baghdad for the Diyala Province under orders from Al Masri.  In The Surge and Coming Operations in Iraq, I pointed out that there were a large number of insurgents who were said to be heading towards Syria.  The Mahdi army was ordered to lay low and avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. forces, and U.S. checkpoints were positioned, probably too late, in an attempt to catch the insurgents as they fled to the surrounding areas.  The politicians, religious leaders and tribal leaders of the Diyala Province had requested that their province be subject to the same security plan as Baghdad.

The insurgents’ intention is to wait out the surge, and with the corruption of the Iraqi political scene with militia and Iranian influence, when the surge is finished, the Iraqi government may not be capable of continuing the security provided by the U.S. forces.  According to one military official, Al Sadr is afraid that “he will get a JDAM dropped on his house.”  But there may be more to the story than simply seeking safety in Iran.  There are fractures in al Sadr’s political and militia operations, and it isn’t clear whether they will join the political process.  However, the departure of al Sadr is not expected to be permanent.

A ragtag but highly motivated militia that fought U.S. forces twice in 2004, the Mahdi Army is blamed for much of the sectarian strife shaking Iraq since the Samara shrine was bombed by Sunni militants a year ago, and thus they have been targeted by the Baghdad security plan.  Two key members of al Sadr’s political and military organization were killed last week, the latest of as many as seven key figures in the al Sadr organization killed or captured in the past two months.  The deaths and captures came after al Maliki, also a Shi’ite, dropped his protection for the organization.  Shi’ite leaders insist that the Shi’ite militias flourished because the U.S. and its allies could not protect civilians, and as I have pointed out numerous times, the force size from the cessation of conventional operations was inadequate.  The charges are probably correct, although not the only reason that security was not forthcoming.  Sectarian strife has been brewing for many years.

It remains to be seen what use the U.S. makes of this opportunity.  As I have discussed before, the surge is not long or large enough to bring permanent security to Iraq, and it is dubious whether Iraqi security forces can purge itself of sectarian influences enough to step into the gap.

Taking al Sadr out early in the war and counterinsurgency would have been preferable, but destruction of his political and military machinery and marginalization of him and his influence might come in a close second in terms of its effect on pacification of Iraq.

Rules of Engagement and Pre-Theoretical Commitments

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

I have extensively covered and commented on rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I doubt that there are any other weblogs for which seven articles have been published under the subject tag.  The comments (totaling in the hundreds now) range across the spectrum, but one thing has become clear.  The commenters (and this author) are talking past each other because of failure to engage the discussion at its root: pre-theoretical commitments.

Permit me a bit of philosophical meandering, and forgive me for what will be a long article.  The problem lies not in whether the ROE are “right” or “wrong,” as there are NCOs, officers, and civilians who, regardless of the so-called “evidence” that there are problems, will deny it and assert with full confidence that the ROE are fine, or regardless of the testimony in favor of the current ROE, will assert that there are problems.  This is not surprising, and points to commitments or beliefs that philosopher Alvin Plantinga would call properly foundational or basic, not being subject to “proof” since they are in fact used as axioms or presuppositions to prove the consequent(s).

So that we don’t remain in the realm of the incomprehensible to most people, let’s tackle a couple of examples, the first coming from my sniper coverage.  There has been an evolution even during OIF in how the sniper threat is treated when potential non-combatants are in the vicinity.  The first example comes from Camp Habbaniyah and Lt. Col. Desgrosseilliers’ Battalion after it had sustained a sniper attack.

Within eight minutes, the jump team slid to a stop in front of the surgical unit at an air base near Camp Habbaniyah. Desgrosseilliers joined several jump-team Marines and orderlies in carrying the wounded man inside on a stretcher.

After a few minutes, Grant came out, blood all over his jumpsuit, and sat on the ground, wordless.

Later a doctor came out and told Navy corpsman George Grant it looked as if the Marine would live, that he’d been stabilized and would be flown to a larger hospital. 

Desgrosseilliers emerged and stood silent as Mueller gathered the members of the jump team in a circle and told them that they’d done a good job and he was glad they were safe.

Earlier in the war, maybe, or under a different commander, the Marines might have returned heavy fire in the general direction of the sniper to make him stop.

This time, they hadn’t fired, not even once. No one could see exactly where the shots were coming from, and a stream of bullets into the town could have hit innocent civilians and seriously damaged Desgrosseilliers’ plan to calm the area.

Back in camp, he said he was proud of his men for being so disciplined.

“I think the insurgency is trying to get us off our message by getting us to return fire and maybe kill some innocent people,” Desgrosseilliers said. “But it’s just not going to work.”

The second example describes a soldier’s reaction to a non-lethal standoff weapon that causes the skin to feel as if it is at a very high temperature – the “ray gun.”

Airman Blaine Pernell, 22, said he could have used the system during his four tours in Iraq, where he manned watchtowers around a base near Kirkuk. He said Iraqis often pulled up and faked car problems so they could scout U.S. forces (italics mine).

“All we could do is watch them,” he said. But if they had the ray gun, troops “could have dispersed them.”

Before we query ourselves concerning these examples, there are a few interesting revelations that have developed over the last few weeks concerning ROE.  First, a Washington Times commentary appeared on January 26th, entitled Untie military hands, which I discussed in my last article on ROE and in which Admiral James A. Lyons outlined a set of conditions that must be met before the enemy could be engaged.  Since I have discussed this I will not rehearse the arguments here.  Subsequently to this (beginning on the next day and extending until just recently), there has been a flurry of activity on this web site from military network domains.  Some of this activity came from repeat visitors and came in from referrals or direct access, but of the ones that came in via “organic” means (e.g., Google), it is possible to see the word searches that brought the readers to my site, what articles they read and how long they stayed (among other things such as network location, information about their computer, etc.).

Since I believe that denoting the specific network domains, locations and keywords that were used could possibly be divulging information that should remain undisclosed, I will not publish that information.  However, I can say that rules of engagement has been a top interest of serious readers for a couple of weeks, and the readers didn’t quickly leave this site.  Some serious time was spent studying the issues of ROE.  The culmination seems to be seen in a recent press release by Major General William B. Caldwell.  In this press release, Caldwell takes direct aim at the Washington Times commentaries:

Two separate articles from Jan. 26 editions of The Washington Times offer contradictory assertions concerning rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Iraq. The first article asserts that the rules are too specific and demanding, placing troops at risk. The second article argues that the rules are vague and confusing, endangering troops who must make life and death decisions in an instant.

Both assertions are wrong.

Contrary to the claim in “Untie military hands,” the rules of engagement in Iraq do not require U.S. service members to satisfy seven steps prior to using force. Instead, the overriding rule for all service members is that nothing in our rules of engagement prevents our troops from using necessary and proportional force to defend themselves.

This foundational concept of U.S. rules of engagement (ROE) is provided to every service member on a pocket-size ROE card. More important, service members are trained to understand this rule and its application in life or death situations. While I cannot rule out the possibility that a leader at a lower level may have issued the restrictive guidance stated in the article, such guidance is in direct conflict with both current ROE and command policy.

The law of armed conflict requires that, to use force, “combatants” must distinguish individuals presenting a threat from innocent civilians. This basic principle is accepted by all disciplined militaries. In the counterinsurgency we are now fighting, disciplined application of force is even more critical because our enemies camouflage themselves in the civilian population. Our success in Iraq depends on our ability to treat the civilian population with humanity and dignity, even as we remain ready to immediately defend ourselves or Iraqi civilians when a threat is detected.

If someone levels an AK-47 at our troops, or if our forces receive hostile fire, the current ROE unambiguously allow our troops to fire immediately in self-defense. In either situation, our forces are trained to recognize the threat and respond with appropriate force to eliminate it. This does not mean “firing wildly”; instead, the individual perceiving the threat identifies the source of that threat, and engages with disciplined shots. “Positive identification” of a threat has nothing to do with membership in a particular ethnic or sectarian group, and has everything to do with recognizing hostile intent. U.S.Iraq have never had limitations beyond that.

“Vague rules,” on the other hand, asserts that vague rules of engagement endanger our troops. The article focuses on the words “use minimum force necessary to decisively eliminate the threat.” Although this phrase articulates the self-defense principles of necessity and proportionality — principles that are especially relevant in the current counterinsurgency fight — it neither appears nor is discussed on the ROE card issued to U.S. service members in Iraq.

We (the public) seem to be in the middle of a bare-knuckles brawl between the Washington Times commentaries and OIF command.  It would seem that at least some of the brawling is targeted towards gaining the understanding and sympathy of the civilian population (as is the case with some of the word searches I cited).  Let’s think a bit about the examples I give above and the Multi-National Force web site press release on ROE.

Regarding the charge of “firing wildly” at perceived threats, a better example of this than the U.S. forces might be the Iraqi troops.  The now deceased Marine Captain Robert Secher describes this for us in one exchange with an enemy sniper.

Anytime an American fires a weapon there has to be an investigation into why there was an escalation of force. That wouldn’t have stopped us from firing, but it prevents us from just firing indiscriminately. We have to have positively identified targets. That is why I am now a big fan of having the Iraqis with us. They can fire at whatever the hell they want, we call it the “Iraqi Death Blossom.” These guys receive one shot and the whole unit fires at everything in sight until the attached American unit gets them to control their fire. That’s fine with me.

Apparently, Captain Secher felt safer with the Iraqis and their ROE than he did with his own.  Note that in an instance such as this the U.S. ROE prevents even the firing in the direction of the sniper shots for fear of civilian casualties.    Note also that when it is understood that the ROE places U.S. troops in an environment that is less safe than otherwise would be the case if we adopted more Iraqi-like ROE, the discussion usually shifts from what is perceived as “right” to a more utilitarian approach.  When the discussion shifts to the utility of the ROE (e.g., heavy-handed tactics that creates more insurgents than you kill, failure to “win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis,” etc.), the conversation is advanced, because at least the pre-theoretical commitments are laid bare.  If the focus of the discussion becomes what works or doesn’t work versus what is right or wrong, at least there is clarity.

Leaving this instance for a moment and turning to an instance that may be clearer than this one, another observation about Caldwell’s press release is that it focuses on the neat, clean, decisive action of “distinguishing” the enemy.  For the mathematically inclined, it is the Heaviside step function in Caldwell’s equation.  It is a one or zero.  It is on or off.  Either the enemy has been clearly identified and is leveling an AK-47 at you, or they are non-combatants worthy of protection.  It is as simple as that.  Or is it?

In my opinion, the best, clearest, most informative and most compelling war reporting from Iraq is coming from Michael YonBill Ardolino, and David Danelo and Andrew Lubin of US Cavalry On Point.  Turning at the moment to David Danelo’s recent article A Day in Ramadi:

The patrol left Camp Hurricane Point an hour ago.  We have two missions; pass out candy in a friendly neighborhood and “strongpoint

The Petraeus Thinkers: Five Challenges

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

The Small Wars Journal has a fascinating discussion thread that begins with a Washington Post article by reporter Thomas Ricks, entitled “Officers with PhDs Advising War Effort.”  Says Ricks:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals — including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders — in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.

Army officers tend to refer to the group as “Petraeus guys.” They are smart colonels who have been noticed by Petraeus, and who make up one of the most selective clubs in the world: military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq.

Essentially, the Army is turning the war over to its dissidents, who have criticized the way the service has operated there the past three years, and is letting them try to wage the war their way.

“Their role is crucial if we are to reverse the effects of four years of conventional mind-set fighting an unconventional war,” said a Special Forces colonel who knows some of the officers.

But there is widespread skepticism that even this unusual group, with its specialized knowledge of counterinsurgency methods, will be able to win the battle of Baghdad.

“Petraeus’s ‘brain trust’ is an impressive bunch, but I think it’s too late to salvage success in Iraq,” said a professor at a military war college, who said he thinks that the general will still not have sufficient troops to implement a genuine counterinsurgency strategy and that the United States really has no solution for the sectarian violence tearing apart Iraq.

The related conversation in the discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal ranges from doctrinal observations on counterinsurgency strategy to personal reflections on the public’s view of the military concerning whether there is sufficient brain power in the conventional military to develop a strategy to pull off a victory in Iraq.

I do not find it at all odd that ‘warrior-philosophers’ or ‘warrior-scholars’ would be involved in the development of strategy, while at the same time I see no compelling argument to suggest that they are situated any better than their predecessors or the balance of the military to develop the going-forward doctrine for OIF.

While a wildly unpopular view, I have been critical of the recently released counterinsurgency manual on which General Petraeus spent much of the previous couple of years developing.  In War, Counterinsurgency and Prolonged Operations, I contrasted FM 3-24 with both Sun Tzu (The Art of War) and the Small Wars Manual, regarding the understanding of both of the later of the effect of prolonged operations on the morale of the warrior, and the reticence of the former on the same subject.  In Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops (still a well-visited post), I made the observation that while snipers were one of two main prongs of insurgent success in Iraq (IEDs being the other), FM 3-24 did not contain one instance of the use of the word sniper.  The retort is granted that FM 3-24 addresses counterinsurgency on a doctrinal level rather than a tactical level, but the objection loses its punch considering that (a) the Small Wars Manual addresses tactical level concerns, and (b) the fighting men from the ‘strategic corporal‘ to the field grade officer work with tactical level concerns on a daily basis.  If FM 3-24 does not address tactical level issues, one must question its usefulness.

I have also questioned the Petraeus model for Mosul, stating that at all times and in all circumstances, security trumps nonkinetic operations, politics and reconstruction.  The question “what have you done to win Iraqi hearts and minds today,


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