AR-15 Ammunition And Barrel Twist Rate

Herschel Smith · 19 Feb 2017 · 1 Comment

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
9 years, 12 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 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.?  This reply paints Pace in a bad light, as Tony Snow responded when asked if we were confident that the shaped explosives were delivered to Iraq with the explicit ok of the Iranian Government, “yes.?

If it is admitted that Iran’s involvement is intentional and goes to the highest levels of the government, then the conversation backdrop changes from one of a country “which is merely trying to secure its position in the region in the potential absence of U.S. forces,” to one of a country “which is at direct war with Iraq and the U.S. by covert means.”  The question becomes one not only pertaining to the success of OIF, but of the overall regional war in which the U.S. is now engaged.  At least Iran has no problem admitting the regional nature of the conflict.

International War Against the CIA

The Washington Times reports on Germany having issued arrest warrants on 13 CIA agents that they say are suspected in an abduction of a German citizen in what is alleged to be an anti-terrorist operation “gone wrong.”  Similarly, in Italy a judge has ordered 26 Americans, most of them thought to be CIA agents, to stand trial along with Italian spies for the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric, who says he was flown to Egypt and tortured.  This should be seen as more than a warning shot over the bow of the international intelligence community.  The proper context is a covert war against the CIA, where unilateral action meets quick reaction in the courts of the “offended” country.  Such, it should be noted, are the perils of participation in the international courts.  As it is, if convicted these agents merely lose their ability to travel to countries who have extradition treaties with Italy or Germany.  If the U.S. assists Italy or Germany, or if in the future the U.S. participates in the international courts, these agents could end up in prison overseas.

Consistent with the same theme, a U.S. soldier is on trial in absentia in an Italian court for a March, 2005, “killing” of an Italian in Iraq who did not heed warnings at a checkpoint.  This instance also raises again the important issue of rules of engagement.  As one officer writes to me, this soldier now has to avoid travel to countries which have extradition treaties with Italy.  And this, for the rest of his life — for doing the job that America asked him to do.

Recent Combat Action in Ramadi

February 22 saw intense combat action in Ramadi between U.S. forces and insurgents:

U.S. troops battled insurgents in fierce fighting that killed at least 12 people in the volatile Sunni city of Ramadi, the military said Thursday. Iraqi authorities said the dead included women and children.

The six-hour firefight began after U.S. troops were attacked by insurgents with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades Wednesday evening in eastern Ramadi, said marine spokesman 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer.

The fighting ended after “precision-guided munitions” damaged a number of buildings being used by the insurgents, he said. Twelve insurgents were killed and three wounded, Mercer said. He said there were no civilian casualties.

However, Dr. Hafidh Ibrahim of the Ramadi Hospital said 26 people, including four women and children, were killed when three houses were damaged in the fighting.

One local news station in Minnesota led the story with the headline “Women and children killed in fighting in Ramadi.”  The Middle East Online even reverses this story and headlines with “Marines kill civilians, claim killing Iraqi insurgents.”  Assuming for a minute the accuracy of the assertion that women and children were killed in the combat action, since “precision-guided munitions” were used the result was not a consequence of area bombardment either with artilliery or air-delivered munitions.  For those who would amend the outcome of this battle if it were possible, we are forced to ponder just what action was taken that should not have been, or what action should have been taken that wasn’t.

Turning away from the battle because there may be non-combatants in the structures means that the U.S. is confiming the insurgents in their choice of tactics.  If the U.S. will not fire upon insurgents inside structures, then the insurgents have safe haven from which to conduct offensive operations.  On the other hand, if the reader prefers room clearing operations to precision-guided munitions, then the choice is being made to sacrifice U.S. lives because there may be non-combatants in the structures, these operations themselves also being subject to killing of non-combatants.  Room clearing operations are highly casualty-laden operations, and in a battle such as was described here, there would certainly have been U.S. troops deaths had they conducted these operations.

Once again this turns to the issue of rules of engagement, which have been covered in the following articles:

There is also an article by Colonel W. Hays Parks, published in the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute, entitled Deadly Force is Authorized, that is recommended reading.

Absence of the State Department in the GWOT

On February 22, 2007, in my article Modern Counterinsurgency, I said:

But the Marines are frustrated, many with visions of OIF1 in their head.  Marines who have become experts at squad rushes and “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver? are instead called to be social workers.  While the Marines can accomodate and adapt, the necessity to do this exists because the bumbling State Department has yet to engage in the global war on terror and thus hasn’t the people or infrastructure in place in Iraq to effect the vision of nation-building.

Chris Muir, recently back from an embed in Iraq, e-mailed Glenn Reynolds, and on February 23, 2007, Glenn published the note from Chris at Instapundit, including this snippet:

The State Department appears completely absent from the theatre, and the Army has done the work of infrastructure projects & rebuild, community relations, political organization, etc.

When I look around my home here this morning, I appreciate more readily the invisible but strong level of infrastructure only possible with an organization and co-operation of a society. This is what I saw the Army doing for Iraqis from scratch, and as they reiterated to me there, it ‘will take time’ for the Iraqis to get to that day.

Chris should have also mentioned the Marines in his note.  At Fort Leavenworth, officers recently discussed strategy for Iraq.  The following poignant observation was made by Brig. Gen. Mark O’Neill (h/t Small Wars Journal):

Part of the strategy being implemented by Petraeus and Iraqi forces is to station soldiers in smaller units in neighborhoods to keep their presence before the population. Keeping that constant face of security is critical, officers said, in gaining legitimacy for the Iraqi forces and improving their ability to provide security with little or no U.S. support.

O’Neill said the fight would remain difficult, but success is still possible.

“You’re up to your hips in it,” he said. “You don’t have the luxury of not being fully committed.”

But this is exactly what is occurring.  The State Department has been granted the luxury of not being fully committed.  The Army and Marines are at war, with the State Department UA.  Thousands of State Department employees, many who majored in international studies in college, read literature written by others on international relations and talk about talking.  Meanwhile, men who trained to perform battlefield maneuvers worry about and work on water, electricity, government, language and sectarian reconciliation on scene in Iraq.  So much for the college degrees in international studies.

British Pullback from Iraq and the Mahdi Army

The Brits have announced their pullback from Basra.  The usually brilliant Mark Steyn observes that Blair is having political troubles at home, but then defends Blair by saying:

If their job is all but done in the Shia south, why could not Blair redeploy British troops to Baghdad to share some of the burden of the Yankee surge? Well, because it’s simply not politically possible. Not even for a leader who shares exactly the same view of the Islamist threat and the importance of victory in Iraq as President Bush.

The misguided part is not that Blair cannot achieve redeployment of the British troops to Baghdad because of lack of political support.  This is true.  Rather, it is in calling the job “all but done” in Basra.  In fact, the pullback is being called a defeat.  There has been a degeneration in security for the British forces over the past couple of years (h/t SWJ):

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,” he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

IraqSlogger reports that the Mahdi army is in de facto control of Basra; the same organization the U.S. is battling in Baghdad has the loyalties of the police in Basra:

The town’s police is efficient, albeit dominated by members of the Mahdi, a Shiite militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr. According to journalist Ghalid Khazal, 75 percent of the city’s police officers follow orders from Sadr headquarters. That number is roughly the same as that mentioned by General Major Hassan Sawadi, the former police chief of Basra, one and a half years ago, when he said. “I estimate that 80 percent of the force’s members do not obey my orders.”

All of this raises again the important question of Moqtada al Sadr.  The New York Times has an article that discusses the divided loyalties of the Mahdi army, summarized by IraqSlogger:

“Every question about Mr. Sadr’s motives touches on a different facet of Iraq’s future,? Damien Cave writes in the Times. Most interesting in Cave’s important review of Sadr’s position is his description of the cleric’s complex relationship to Iran, which both enables and undermines Sadr by aiding him directly, while at the same time supporting lower tiers of the Sadrist organization, encouraging them to be more independent. Sadr has responded by protecting loyal members from the security clampdown and purging disloyal elements, going so far as withholding protection to them from the Iraqi or American forces. Cave’s article is by far the most important Iraq article of the day and should be required reading for all those war pundits who still write about Sadr’s organization as though it were a monolithic and unitary force in Iraqi politics. That may be Sadr’s goal, but it’s not the reality. In the midst of the security clampdown, the Sadrist current is undergoing a centralization campaign, and its complex relationships with both Iran and the Iraqi government include both rivalry and partnership.

We have known for some time that the Mahdi army is a loosely coupled organization, and it appears as if Sadr is willing to sacrifice some of the more delinquent elements of his organization to save the whole.  When the whole is thus saved, it will still be friendly to Iran.  Michael Ledeen has some interesting remarks concerning Sadr and the NYT article.

Iranian Activities Inside Iraq

Austrian 0.50 caliber sniper rifles have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi insurgents, these rifles being ordered from an Austrian firm by the Iranian government.

More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids.  The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.  This leaves approximately 700 more high-powered rifles potentially in the hands of insurgents, with direct responsibility attributed to Iran.  These rounds are not only easily capable of penetrating body armor, but also HMMWV armor as well (even up-armored HMMWVs).

Not limited to land, Iranian patrol boats have been probing Iraqi waters.  Iran has vowed not to ‘retreat one iota’ from its nuclear pursuit, and appears to be on course with the development of highly enriched Uranium for the purpose of a nuclear weapon.  The U.S. has contingency plans for an air strike on Iran, these plans making the British fearful.  Tony Blair has come out directly against military action, and Vice President Dick Cheney has refused to take the military option off of the table.

Unless the U.S. is in the region for years to come, it is doubtful that efforts to curb Iranian influence will be successful.  However, in spite of the lack of willingness to admit to the regional conflict in which we are now engaged, the situation may in fact force itself on the scene due to circumstances completely beyond our control.  Israel has asked the U.S. for permission to use Iraqi air space in an over-flight to target Iranian nuclear facilities.  Note well that Israel requested permission from the U.S., not Iraq.

The U.S. is under what the U.N. security council calls a ‘security partnership‘ with Iraq.  Sovereignty over the air space is questionable at this point if we have regard for the U.N. resolution (a position which I am not advocating).  But Israel, assuming that the U.S. will grant the permission, is on the clock.  They know that the troops will be coming home, and then there is no appeal.  The Iraqi government will not grant access to attack Iran.  In fact, they will warn Iran of the impending strike.  The current administration is in power for two more years, and Israel will not wait until after they leave office.  Olmert has likened Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon to a second holocaust, and he is relatively dovish compared to his possible successor Netanyahu.

The upshot of all of this is that in order for Israel to secure its future against a nuclear Iran, the next two years are not just vital.  They are literally determinative.  The next administration may not be the ally of Israel that this one is, and thus Olmert or his successor cannot entrust their security to the U.S. beyond the next two years.  The clock is ticking on a nuclear Iran and air strikes to stop them.


Every so often the issue of the M-16 comes up.  I published some thoughts on it in Kill Versus Wound — The M16A2 .22 Caliber Round.  I have been following the issue of the M16 and more discussion has occurred recently.  I also recently enjoyed shooting an M4 (actually, A-15, M4 mil specs) on a range in Pickens, S.C.  Eugene Stoner is universally regarded as a genius for the design of the Stoner system of armaments, and properly so.  The rifle I shot was light, tight, compact and accurate, and the sights could be trained on the target quickly due to the minimal recoil.  In my opinion it is a magnificent weapon (with one significant caveat).

The Strategy Page recently had informative article on the 5.56 mm round:

The debate over the merits of 7.62mm versus 5.56mm bullets has been going on since the M-16 was introduced in the 1960s. While each side has its proponents, only the “slow and heavy” crowd gets anything published, since only opposing the establishment is news. But there are plenty of supporters for the 5.56mm round. Many of them are in the US Army, and serving in combat.

Most of the complaints come from people who just like the larger (US or Russian) round, and their preference is more visceral than logical (as it is with many supporters of 5.56mm). The fact remains that soldiers would be able to carry fewer of the larger, 7.62mm, rounds. This is not a popular option among troops in the combat zone. Those combat troops know how to aim properly and take down the target, and find that the 5.56mm round does the job.

When a 5.56mm round hits one of those “slender” targets “that keep coming”, what nobody mentions is that the serious wound (the idea that they cause little damage is incorrect) means that the target is probably going to bleed out in not too long (unless he gets treatment from a medic, which takes him out of the fight). This is because the 5.56mm round is a “tumbler” and will “tumble” at very high velocity. This causes enormous flesh and organ damage.

Global Security documents the use of the M16A2 in Iraq, including some of its problems (such as barrel length, making it difficult for close quarters combat, and of course pointing to the M4 with its shorter barrel and retractable stock as the solution).  However — and here is the caveat to the magnificence of the Stoner system — it sustains frequent jams, and this is a problem that has had real consequences.  It is customarily asserted that weapon cleaning can prevent or reduce the frequency of jamming, but my experience is that jamming occurs as a result of ammunition and machining tolerances, and not necessarily having anything to do with weapon cleanliness.

The Marine Corps Times has an extensive article on a potential replacement for the M4/M16 initiated by special operations forces (followed on by a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal).  But this will likely not be available to be implemented large scale for some time.  Weapons, in this instance, are like body armor.  There is significant inertia associated with the Department of Defense, and fielding equipment that is seen as “better” is not customary.  Difficulties with funding, studies, procurement and QA programs, usually causes the delay in deployment of new equipment until all known liabilities have been perfectly rectified (or at least that is the intent).  This means that the M4/M16 will likely be in service for the foreseeable future.  I have heard reports from members of the armed forces that for the well-trained infantryman, any jam can be cleared in five seconds or less.  While I am certainly not capable of this, I don’t doubt that training decreases the down time from a weapons jam.  There isn’t much an NCO or officer can do about the defense budget.  But they can ensure well-trained infantrymen.

Speculation on Thermobaric Weapons in Iraq

I have access to information on my readers, including (but not limited to) type (repeat/new visitor), content they read, how long they stay, location, network domain, network location, and search words.  A high level military network domain visitor (I will not cite the domain) recently searched on the words “thermobaric weapons terror iraq,” and visited my article Thermobaric Weapons and Body ArmorDefense Tech had an article late in 2005 which claimed that the insurgents in Iraq had not gotten thermobaric weapons yet.  However, they correctly noted that the Russians have constructed thermobaric weapons for a long time, and some of these have made their way to the Chechen separatists.

Have the Chechens and their thermobaric weapons made their way to Iraq?  Have rogue weapons made their way from Russia to Iraq?  At this point it is merely speculation, but it is educated speculation.

The War After the War

The wounded.  Perhaps the most important link in this article.

A-10 Flyover Video

A-10 Flyover.  Enjoy.

Announcing the Intelligence Bulletin

BY Herschel Smith
10 years 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 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? because of its near-equal mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as Kurds – the country’s three major groups. At stake is a strategic region that extends from the northeastern gates of Baghdad to the border with Iran.  “I was here in 2004 and I don’t remember them ever attacking tanks in open daylight, but now that’s exactly what they’re doing,? said U.S. army Capt. Paul Carlock.  “There’s a big Sunni influx here and in the last month or so it’s been pretty violent.?  Some U.S. officers suspect the advance publicity for the Baghdad security plan may have encouraged extremists – both Sunnis and Shiites – to flee the capital for surrounding provinces, including Diyala, where fewer U.S. troops are stationed.

Similar to the Sunni insurgents, a large number of the Mahdi army senior leadership has fled the region to safe haven in Iran.  Sources in the “Ahwazian Revolution Information Center? have alleged the presence of Sadrist elements and cadres in the Ahwaz region of southwest Iran, which has a large ethnic Arab population.  In a statement, the center says its sources have observed some of the leadership of the Mahdi Army and its elements in the two border cities of Muhamra and Abadan, with the escort of Iranian guards, and under the auspices of the administrative area (qa’im maqama) of Abadan.  The Sadrists arrived in “not insignificant? numbers, the statement says, and their appearance was noticed on Sunday in these two cities on the border near Basra.  This area of Iran, also known as Khuzistan, has a large Arab population. The Ahwazian Revolution Information Center represents an ethnic Arab movement within Iran, and is opposed to the Iranian regime.  The Ahwazian Center’s statement alleges that the administrative area of Abadan prepared the facilities for the Sadrists travel in these two cities, and has supplied them with identification and Iranian permits, so that their presence can go unnoticed.  As predicted in The Enemy Reacts to the Surge, the Sadrists will wait out the current U.S. security operations and return when U.S. forces stand down (or leave).

So with the flight of the insurgents, be they Sunni or Shi’a, much of the opportunity to kill or capture them has been lost.  Further East back in the Anbar Province, “Americans find themselves taking on duties they had not expected. In Ramadi, an Army lieutenant colonel trained as an artillery officer spends his days trying to make sure Iraqi police get paid, lest they desert and join the insurgents. In Haditha, Marines patrol on foot, greeting Iraqis at a market, trying to win hearts and minds one at a time.  In numerous communities, including Saqlawiya, Marines listen to the complaints of Iraqis about war-damaged homes and businesses, making payments in cases where the damage was caused by Marines.”

But the Marines are frustrated, many with visions of OIF1 in their head.  Marines who have become experts at squad rushes and “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” are instead called to be social workers.  While the Marines can accomodate and adapt, the necessity to do this exists because the bumbling State Department has yet to engage in the global war on terror and thus hasn’t the people or infrastructure in place in Iraq to effect the vision of nation-building.

Interestingly, the LA Times article mentions Haditha, where Marines patrol on foot, greeting Iraqis.  It is time for that in Haditha, because as I pointed out in my article Security and WHAM: Getting the Order Right, the necessary security was put in place to enable WHAM – winning hearts and minds.  But sand berms cannot be constructed around every city in Iraq, and even if they could, the Sadrists will come back, while AQI and AAS will return from the Diyala Province (or simply remain there to wreak havoc).

If there was any doubt about the value of security, one can turn to the beginning example with water supply.  Turning to the Iraqis for their thoughts, “My four children are sick with chronic diarrhea. The doctor told me that it is because of contaminated water. I don’t know what to do because I cannot afford to buy bottles of clean water for my children,” said Sahira Saleh, 41, a resident of the Sadr City district of Baghdad.  “It is hard to say this but years ago I was praying for the death of [former president] Saddam Hussein, but today I wish he could come back to life and was in power again because at least in his time we used to have safe water, good sewage systems, had food to eat and our children never got diarrhoea,” she said.

The idea of occupying forces is repugnant to anyone.  But far worse is no potable water, no school for the children and no electricity, made that way due to the root case of it all — no security.  Torture houses trump WHAM, snipers still put rounds through Marines, and IEDs still cause double amputees to be sent back home to pick up the pieces of their lives.  Yet we will not unleash the American snipers, and enough of the enemy are left on the highways to create well-known interlocking fields of fire.  Artifacts and relics of the Vietnam experience are not particularly useful for combatting the jihadists who flow in from around the world, and with many Americans too interested in watching shameful television to worry about the notion of a war for the survival of the West.

11 Point Plan for Victory in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
10 years 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? most of the Sunni Tribal chieftans who we had been relying on as our major allies in fighting Al Qaeda in Al Anbar. The young chieftains were just absolutely no match for the superior Al Qaeda warriors, and outside of Ramadi their roles will be replaced by the new Baathist Generals brought into the mix. Al Qaeda had been going in for the kill on the Sunni tribes in the last few months, and we are employing such aggressive action to turn it around.”

I had been hopeful and patient with the advent of the tactic of combat operation posts, but with war of terror being successfully waged on the local population, and with the only way to defeat this vicious enemy being to bring immediate security to the cities, it’s simply going to take more than the tribes to pull off security in the al Anbar Province.  Ramadi certainly needs to be an exception to the pullout of troops.

Regarding the highly important point number 1, the border insecurity has been a theme with me for months.  But echoing again with the ideas I expressed in The Covert War with Iran, regime change will be necessary; since this is a regional conflict, it requires a regional solution.  Unless Syria and Iran are taken on and the essential nature of those regimes modified, terror will continue to be fomented by them inside Iraq.

The plan appears to track with and address many of the concerns I have discussed at length, except for these two: (1) treating OIF as part of a regional war (the plan only goes to the point of border security), and (2) the size and length of the surge.  More troops are needed, and that for a protracted period of time.

The Covert War with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
10 years 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? – Iran must be engaged in order to succeed in the pacification of an Iraq that is at least mildly to moderately an ally of the U.S. in the global war on terror.

So how should we engage Iran?  This engagement will not take the form of large-scale conventional operations.  It will necessarily involve special forces operators, intelligence assets, counterterrorism operations and politics.  And as I have earlier suggested, there is a budding insurgency in Iran, and we should be actively supporting this insurgency.  But the covert war with Iran has already begun, and it was started several decades ago by Iran.  The U.S. will fully engage this covert war or Operation Iraqi Freedom will fail.  Beyond the failure of OIF, Iran will be strengthened, the Middle East will go nuclear, and the world will face the worldview and vision of the radical Mullahs.

Finally, I have suggested Syrian and Iranian border incursions to destroy terrorist safe havens and networks.  This may be accomplished with the use of conventional forces (the U.S. Marines, half of which is currently on or near the Syrian border in the al Anbar Province).  But the administration continues its equivocation.  On the one hand, Secretary of State Rice has been evasive on whether Bush’s statements meant that U.S. military personnel could cross into Iran or Syria in pursuit of insurgent support networks, in apparent agreement with General Peter Pace.  On the other hand, this administration has not ruled out the possibility of striking across the Iranian border.

A large scale conventional war with Iran should only be considered after the strategy above has been pursued: border incursions, killing of the Quds forces, Mahdi army leadership and Badr Brigade, and closure of the border, along with air assets to destroy the enrichment sites inside Iran.  But talk of this is premature, since even though we know that OIF is doomed to failure without the engagement of Iran and Syria, we are not willing to do it.  Perhaps we could listen to the voices.  The ghosts of more than three thousand dead American warriors cry out for victory so that their deaths will not be in vain.

Security and WHAM: Getting the Order Right

BY Herschel Smith
10 years 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? actions to win the people, is dynamic.  As one insurgent is killed, another pops up in his place, coming not from any action the U.S. has or has not taken in Iraq, but rather, coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away due to a religious hatred that has been taught to him from birth.  The war in Iraq is both figuratively and quite literally a war without borders.

I continued by stating that David Galula’s classical philosophy of counterinsurgency, in vogue in military thinking, relied upon an artifact of his experience.  Galula stated that “The battle for the population is a major characteristic of the revolutionary war. . . . The objective being the population itself, the operations designed to win it over (for the insurgent) or to keep it at least submissive (for the counterinsurgent) are essentially of a political nature. . . . And so intricate is the interplay between the political and military actions that they cannot be tidily separated; on the contrary, every military move has to be weighed with regard to its political effects, and vice versa.?

But this is exactly the opposite of what has happened in Iraq.  The U.S. has been trying to win over the population, not keep it submissive, and the insurgents have been trying to keep them submissive, not win them over.  The insurgents have routinely used tactics of torture and intimidation to keep the population in submission, and this tactic has been remarkably successful. 

This campaign of torture and intimidation exemplifies brutality at its worst.  Iraqi police and Marines recently completed “Operation Three Swords? south of Fallujah, the purpose of which was to detain members of murder and intimidation cells within the rural area of Zaidon and the villages of Albu Hawa, Fuhaylat and Hasa.  During the operation, members of the Fallujah police Department and Coalition Forces discovered a torture house and rescued three individuals.  The house had blood-stained walls, and the torture devices included shackles, chains, syringes, rifles, knives, chord, clubs and a blow torch.  The condition of the torture victims was said to be dire.

Fallujah and Haditha are similar in terms of their situation.  The absence of security has made the so-called “nonkinetic operations” ineffective towards the claimed objective of our actions: to “win the hearts and minds” of the population.  WHAM.  When foreign fighters from around the world who are not subject to the temptations of U.S. largesse pour in across the porous borders, breaking the knee caps of or using power drills on anyone cooperating with the U.S. forces, the efforts at reconstruction and pacification simply cannot take hold and grow.  Giving the children backpacks to carry books doesn’t help when the classes are empty because of killings and kidnappings.

Enter the front end loaders and other heavy equipment.  Earthen berms were constructed around the city with manned points of ingress to and egress from the city.  The city was “locked down,” in order to stop the flow of foreign fighters into the city to cause terror.  Has this strategy worked?  Violence has dropped from seven to ten attacks per day to five per week.  To be sure, the fear of retaliation has not completely disappeared from the scene.  This could be seen in a recent meeting between the Marines and tribal leaders of Haditha:

While everyone who attended the meeting agreed the security of Haditha and the “Triad? region was paramount, there were no commitments to help strengthen the local Iraqi Police force, according to Lt. Col. Muhada Mahzir, Haditha Iraqi Police deputy commander.

“They (Sheikhs) say, ‘yes, you are right. We need security and we need police that are from this area’,? said Donnellan. “Then we ask, ‘OK, how many men in your tribe are willing to put forward?’ That’s when the room gets really quiet and everyone starts looking down at their feet? …

For years the contractors have been intimidated into not working with Coalition Forces, but recently some local business men have expressed that if peace continues to grow in this region they will be more likely to take a risk and begin building city projects such as schools, hospitals and roads.

So the Iraqis still fear the terrorists, and await the display of resolve by the U.S. forces.  Since relative security has been brought to Haditha, nonkinetic operations can now begin in earnest and with the expectation of success.  Now that the U.S. has shown itself in control of security, along with the local Iraqi government and police, the U.S. forces must be prepared to assist with real government.  A recent Multi-National Forces story gives us a feel for the current atmosphere of cooperation  between Haditha residents and the U.S. forces.

“Do you have any information about my son who was detained yesterday??

“Can you fix the damage that was done to my house when Marines were fighting ali-baba (what locals call insurgents)??

Citizens from this western Al Anbar city come to the U.S. Marines of the Virginia-based 4th Civil Affairs Group seeking answers for their many questions. Whether the CAG Marines were able to accommodate all the requests or not, they have built a strong rapport with the local population in the four months since their arrival through their tireless effort to help, according to Capt. William Parker, the CAG team leader.

The CAG acts as a link between the local Iraqi population and the infantry Marines of the Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who have been securing the Haditha “Triad? region since September 2006. The “Triad? region is home to 50,000 and consists of the cities of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwanah, which all sit on the banks of the Euphrates River.

While the Marines of 2nd Battalion hunt down insurgents, search for weapons caches and patrol the streets of these Euphrates River cities, the CAG Marines are busy building the foundation of a strong community, said Parker, a 36-year-old from Boston.

“Traditionally the CAG mission focuses on projects – building schools, hospitals and other infrastructure facilities,? Parker said. “The reasoning behind this is that these projects are built by local contractors, so you’re putting money back into the community and providing jobs.?

However, many local contractors are currently reluctant to work with the Coalition on building projects due to threats from the local insurgency. Undeterred by the insurgents’ murder and intimidation campaign, the CAG Marines here have tailored their operation to slowly build community support and involvement.

“Right now we’re doing smaller things on a more personal level,? Parker said. “We’re understanding who these people are, what their belief systems are, what their feelings towards the Coalition and insurgents are, what their goals are, and what they would like to see happen here.?

When Parker and his team of 12 Marines arrived in the triad in September 2006, the local population had minimal contact with the CAG Marines. In their first few weeks operating in the triad, they would be lucky to have five local Iraqis come into the Civil Military Operations Center, the hub for all CAG business, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Salvatore Rignola, the CAG’s senior enlisted adviser.

There was even talk of shutting down the CMOC because it was thought to be ineffective, said Parker. Instead, the CAG Marines began going on patrols with Marines from 2nd Battalion in an effort to talk to as many locals as possible and spread the word about what the CAG could do for them and their community.

“On the patrols the CAG mission never stopped,? Parker said. “It didn’t matter if there was a firefight going on outside, we kept talking to the people. The people saw that we were making a huge effort to reach out to the community and see what they were concerned about or what they needed.?

The word spread around to the entire triad that if any one had an issue concerning the Coalition or their own community, they should go to the CMOC and talk to the CAG Marines.

“When we first got here, the people of Haditha wouldn’t even talk to an American much less be seen going to the CMOC because they feared the insurgents would kill them,? said Rignola, a 46-year-old from New York City. “Now the CMOC is packed everyday.?

Master Gunnery Sgt. Salvatore Rignola, the CAG’s senior enlisted advisor, tries to get answers for a local Haditha citizen who has come to the Civil Military Operations Center to inquire about the whereabouts of a detained relative.

Of course, it is incorrect to suggest that this is a binary relationship, where suddenly security has occurred and then the transition to nonkinetic operations can ensue.  There is a dovetailing evident from the descriptions given in these reports.  Nonkinetic operations begin immediately, while strong kinetic counterinsurgency continued, and patrols still happen even though relative security has been brought to the city.

But the preconditions for success of the nonkinetic operations, the so-called “winning hearts and minds,” or WHAM operations, are present.  While there is much noise and fury associated with the Baghdad security plan, the United States Marines are slowly, deliberately and successfully pacifying the al Anbar Province.  They are doing it by bringing security first, followed on by WHAM.

No one ships earthmoving equipment half way across the world without there being a purpose, a plan and a procedure.  The purpose was to enable security.  The plan was to isolate Haditha from the foreign elements who wrought terror.  The procedure was to (1) bring security, (2) followed on by WHAM.

Earthen berms cannot be constructed around every city in Anbar.  The rogue elements entering from Syria must be stopped, and that in the very sanctuary they inhabit within the Syrian borders.  But Haditha is much more than an experiment.  It is a success story.  The United States Marines are doing it right in Haditha.

Al Sadr Flees to Iran

BY Herschel Smith
10 years 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 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? OP Firecracker.  The distance between the two locales is literally three blocks.  Former Marine Commandant General Charles Krulak, who predicted in 1999 what came to be called “the three-block war? in which Marines would be involved in different missions simultaneously, has proven to be a sound prognosticator.

If western Ramadi—the area near Hurricane Point—was a “safe area,? OP Firecracker was right in the heart of Mujahideen cowboy country.  I realized what Lieutenant Bunch meant by “safe? when he referred to western Ramadi.  The area near Camp Hurricane Point is Iraqi-controlled, and thus is seen as more secure.  That did not mean that we were safe from suicide attacks or IEDs.  Those could occur anywhere in Ramadi.  But at OP Firecracker, an ambush by al-Qaeda militants was a near-guarantee.

Strongpointing, at least with this unit in Ramadi, means placing your Victor in a vulnerable position in a deliberate effort to draw enemy fire.  As the William Wallace character in Braveheart might have said, we are goin’ to pick a fight.  And we are goin’ on our own.  The Iraqi army lacks the equipment, manpower, or requisite level of insanity necessary to handle these kinds of missions.

The RPG may or may not have been fired at our vehicle.  I can’t tell.  I do know it didn’t hit us.  My only clear field of vision is from the passenger window, which faces the traffic circle and a brick wall.

The vehicle commander, Corporal Ronnie Davis, is in front of me holding a pair of binos.  Three other Marines peer down a street where Mujahideen have been firing at us from multi-story buildings scarred by gunfire and explosions.  While we exchange fire with the Muj, other observation assets available to 1 st Battalion, 6th Marines are mapping enemy positions for future operations.

“That’s the same two guys.  They’ve crossed back and forth four times,? Corporal Davis announces, referring to a pair of unarmed Iraqis who have run for cover.  Because these men are unarmed, the Americans under the Rules of Engagement are not allowed to shoot at them—even though gunfire is coming at us from that direction.

Get the picture?  The insurgents know all about the ROE.  U.S. troops cannot return fire not only when the target could be in the proximity of non-combatants, but also when they are not actively sporting a weapon.  So how do they take advantage of this feature of the ROE?  Fire a pre-staged weapon, put it down, run across the street, fire another pre-staged weapon, run across the street … and so forth, until, in the worst case, a U.S. Marine has been shot by sniper fire and is bleeding from his neck, head or underarms, all places that are not protected by SAPI plates.  All the while, the ROE prevents the U.S. forces from returning fire.

This is not entirely dissimilar from the example of the guards in the watchtowers who could take no action against highly probable enemy scouts because they were not armed at the time.  In this instance, the enemy was allowed to gather intelligence on U.S. installations unimpeded, possibly redounding to the deaths of U.S. troops.

I subscribe neither to total war nor to just war.  My views of war generally are too complex to discuss within the context of this article.  I consider the state to be a minister of justice for and to the troops whom it deploys in its name.  Rules of engagement, in my view, should achieve this end and thus be issued for the protection of U.S. troops, as a ministry of mercy and justice, rather than become a set of shackles on the troops where they cannot conduct war in a manner conducive to victory.

This is a fairly comprehensive foundation upon which to build.  It allows for responsibility and accountability of the troops in that wanton violence towards innocents is morally costly to the troops themselves and is to be avoided.  In instances such as that described above (with insurgents mocking the U.S. troops by the use of pre-staged weapons and maneuvering without them), it would allow the U.S. troops to fire upon the insurgents.  It would allow the troops in the watchtower to detain and question or even to fire upon suspected enemy gathering intelligence on U.S. troops.  While this might seem draconian to some, it is doubtful to me that upon the shooting of any Iraqis who ignore the signs not to stop at the entrances to bases, there would be any further instances of automobiles “breaking down” just in front of U.S. military installations.  The first instance would probably be the last instance.  But in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “sometimes dogs do eat homework.”  If an automobile does happen to break down and the drivers and passengers quickly push the automobile off and flee the area, the ROE should not force U.S. troops to fire upon them.

In the end, it all focuses on force protection.  I have always believed that force protection on FOBs as opposed to active involvement with the population is a losing strategy.  On this, I agree with Petraeus.  Rather, I advocate force protection through the rules of engagement.  There is a not insignificant school of thought that holds that overbearing rules of engagement is counterproductive.  Col. Dan Smith strongly believes that ROE lost the war in Vietnam:

Ground fire by “Viet Cong” brought immediate and massive retaliation. And it was the perception that U.S. forces did not consider Vietnamese lives as of equal value to U.S. lives that lost Washington the battle for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and cost Vietnam another generation of its youth.

But surely he exaggerates the case.  A more levelheaded analysis would point to the attempts to prop up an inept, corrupt and dictatorial South Vietnamese regime as the reason that the war was lost – or at least partly so.  Yet if there are lessons to be learned about massive retaliation when innocents are present, then so be it.  The ROE should warn and teach and train and caution about this, giving command and even the enlisted man the right and responsibility to adapt on the spot.

And the reason for this adaptability of the ROE?  Again, the protection of the U.S. troops and the creation of a situation on the ground conducive to victory.  Based on the pre-theoretical commitment I have made, it is immoral to deploy troops with ROE that is anything less than perfectly aimed towards force protection and victory.  I am not convinced that the two goals I have outlined here, force protection and victory, are mutually exclusive.  I see no need to revel or take pride in U.S. troops never getting off a shot at snipers.  This is an exigency on the ground, not a strategic or tactical goal.  I am convinced that a few well-aimed shots at the insurgents that David Danelo discussed above – regardless of whether they were carrying weapons – would bring security and thus a safer situation for both U.S. troops and the population of Ramadi.

Finally, I am convinced that our so-called nonkinetic operations to “win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis” are a forlorn hope without security.  For this belief I turn not to any report from Iraq, but to any typical mother in America.  Reliable around-the-clock power is fine, good vegetables at the market a nice thing, and candy for children a pleasure.  But if children are in danger of getting shot or kidnapped when they leave the home to go to school, the mother doesn’t care about electrical power.  Reconstruction can prevent an insurgency from developing or redeveloping, but it cannot kill the insurgency.  Security must do that.

The reader can agree or disagree with my assessment, but which side s/he takes doesn’t really matter.  Following Aristotle, the western mind hates inconsistency.  My view of rules of engagement, whether the reader considers them “right” or “wrong,” are consistent with my pre-theoretical commitments.

It is too easy to talk about “leveling an AK-47″ at U.S. troops and behave as if things are exactly this clear and precise in Iraq.  It is gratuitous to discuss the easy stuff.  Anyone can do this.  General Caldwell’s press release adds nothing to the conversation, and the reader is left to develop his own view of rules of engagement.  In reality, the situation is a complex tapestry of concerns and issues.  For those who hold to the current or some modified ROE based on just war theory, it is, logically speaking, an intolerable sleight of hand later to change the strategy and appeal to the utilitarian view of what is ‘productive’ or ‘counterproductive’.  Starting from the base of just war, the proponent must develop an argument only from this base that it is appropriate to place troops on patrols to be shot at without ever returning fire, and proudly boasting of this fact to the press.  It is likely that the mothers of the dead marines will not be so proud, and more likely that support for the war will completely evaporate upon learning of this argument, should it hold the day.  The argument must persuade the reader that such a set of ROE is not an immoral thing to impose on our troops, and that there is actually a hope of victory using these tactics.  The argument must convince the reader that it is appropriate and moral to place troops on an FOB and then allow the enemy to gather intelligence unimpeded.

For those who hold to utilitarianism, among other things we have no time to outline, you must develop an argument that explains why wanton violence on the part of the insurgents has not caused an evaporation of support for the violence as it is alleged to do for the U.S. should we engage in more heavy-handed tactics.  Is there a set of ROE that causes the U.S. to fail but the insurgency to succeed?  If so, why?

I have not suggested in any of the above discussion that the U.S. engage in wanton violence, indiscriminately shoot unarmed non-combatants, or otherwise engage in any tactic that would redound to further difficulty down the road for the U.S.  Just the opposite: I have suggested an adaptability that accounts for the exigencies of the battlespace.  But I have advocated a more robust ROE, one that directly takes on an insurgency which has learned to use our own ROE against us.  The reader is allowed to disagree, but remember, disagreement alone is not enough.

Formulation of a comprehensive, logically coherent, and publicly compelling viewpoint is the next step.  A properly basic and foundational belief must be proposed, and, to use the words of Alvin Plantinga, a “noetic structure” of rules of engagement must then be constructed upon it.  Anything less than this is just carping.



The Petraeus Thinkers: Five Challenges

BY Herschel Smith
10 years 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,? should have been replaced by the question, “what have you done to provide security today??  Yet the questioning attitude has not stopped with Petraeus and the Mosul experience, but extended to the previous defensive strategy in Iraq (in Habitually Offensive Operations Against Guerrillas).  While it is laudable that the previous strategy has led to low casualties (i.e., the withdrawal to safe FOBs for force protection and reliance on patrols), the argument goes that not only is withdrawal to FOBs a losing strategy, but in the end it will be more costly in U.S. lives and treasure.

The Petraeus strategy holds the promise to be more population-centric, and while this strategy is more aggressive than the previous, the model has some significant hurdles to jump in order to be an effective means of long term pacification.  I have previously addressed problems with the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, as well as made recommendations for moving forward.  Those main ideas will be recast in this article to address the going-forward strategy in Iraq in terms of five challenges that the “Petraeus thinkers” face: [1] unmet expectations for Iraqi behavior, [2] small footprint model, [3] single insurgency focus of the COIN model versus realities on the ground, [4] ‘security first’ versus violence as an exclusive-use procedure by the insurgency, and finally [5] the dynamic battlespace.

Unmet Expectations for Iraqi Behavior

The “we will stand down when the Iraqis stand up” mantra has been pivotal in the way in which the U.S. has approached the Iraq counterinsurgency for most of the four years since cessation of conventional operations.  But because of religious affiliations, tribal loyalties and years of brutality under the previous regime, trust and responsibility are hard to come by in Iraq.  The prevailing opinion of the Iraqi troops currently engaged in the Baghdad security plan is that they are ill-trained, ill-equipped and unprofessional as compared to the U.S. forces.  Retired Iraqi officers are said to have been ‘shocked’ at their performance during recent operations.

In addition to the lack of military readiness of the Iraqi security forces, the recent Karbala attack and kidnappings show once again that the apparent should not be confused with the real, and that deception is a way of life in Iraq.  This issue might mark the most serious failure of the U.S. strategy since the start of the war.  A counterinsurgency strategy must take into account religious and societal characteristics of the population, and in fact, these might be as important as the military approach.  I have previously covered this in Iraq: Land of Lies and Deceipt, from which I quote a contractor’s view of the cultural norms in Iraq.

Are lies being told to obtain blood money payments? Some insight comes in this response to the collapse of the British trial by Stephan Holland, a Baghdad-based US contractor.

I’ve been in Iraq for about 18 months now performing construction management. It is simply not possible for me to exaggerate the massive amounts of lies we wade through every single day. There is no way – absolutely none – to determine facts from bulls*** ….

It is not even considered lying to them; it is more akin to being clever – like keeping your cards close to your chest. And they don’t just lie to westerners. They believe that appearances–saving face–are of paramount importance. They lie to each other all the time about anything in order to leverage others on a deal or manipulate an outcome of some sort or cover up some major or minor embarrassment. It’s just how they do things, period.

I’m not trying to disparage them here. I get along great with a lot of them. But even among those that I like, if something happens (on the job) I’ll get 50 wildly different stories, every time. There’s no comparison to it in any other part of the world where I’ve worked. The lying is ubiquitous and constant.

This well-known fact about the Iraqi culture caused one astute commenter in the discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal to remark, ” … it sounds like the local Iraqi Police and Army is heavily infiltrated with militias. Getting rid of FOBs and setting up strongpoints with the locals sounds great but I’m not sure I would like to be bunking up with them.”

In “Surging Doubts,” published by the National Journal, Frederick Kagan goes on record conveying doubts about both the size and length of the so-called “surge.”

Despite his support for the Bush strategy, Kagan worries that the administration has fallen short in two areas — sending troops into Baghdad for too short a time and relying too heavily on the Iraqis’ taking the lead. In their report, Kagan and Keane recommend a surge in U.S. force levels lasting 18 to 24 months, a timeline that many experts doubt is feasible given the lack of political backing at home.

“When I hear Bush administration officials talk about this being an Iraqi plan with Iraqis in the lead, it also raises a big red flag to me,” Kagan said. “Iraqi security forces have not been up to the task in the past, and this plan needs to succeed even if they fail again.”

It appears that the current plan does indeed rely on the Iraqis for success.

The Small Footprint Model

The small footprint model has been used throughout OIF.  Its roots stem from just war theory, and specifically the tenet of proportionate force.  Its strategic justification stems from post-Vietnam counterinsurgency doctrine that attempts to prevent forces from appearing to be an occupying army.  Its pragmatic justification stems from the fact that the U.S. cannot field more troops in the Iraq theater, whether because of the troops or the equipment to support them.

But the promulgation of the small footprint model has prevented the force size and force projection necessary to provide security in Iraq.  Even if the U.S. has not formally and officially acknowledged that the force size was inadequate, Australia’s General Michael Jeffery has, stating that “there weren’t enough soldiers to seal Baghdad off.  Because that didn’t take place everything went counter to the way the coalition and the Iraqi Government were hoping.  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.”

Further, force size is not equivalent to force projection, and I have pointed out that force projection is inversely proportional to the need to exercise that force.  For a reminder of the value of appropriate force projection, we can turn to Thomas Ricks again in his Making the Corps.

The diverse approaches of the Army and Marines to the use of force in the Somalia mission caused the two services to inflict casualties in ways that are counterintuitive … the Marines went into Mogadishu wielding firepower for all to see.  The Army tried to act more diplomatically.  Paradoxically, the Marines probably would up killing fewer than 500 Somalis, most shot by Marine snipers who were using force precisely, mainly to protect fellow Marines.  The Army was initially far more restrained, but then, as its mission fell apart, retaliated with greater firepower, using attack helicopters to fire on mobs in the alleyways of Mogadishu.  By some estimates, these tactics killed more than 5000 Somalis.

The contrasting approaches of the Marines and Army were noted by others on the ground, friend and foe.  Robert Oakley, the veteran U.S. diplomat who was the Bush administration’s special envoy to Somalia, observed that “the departure of the heavily armed, aggressively patrolling Marines from south Mogadishu obviously had a much greater psychological effect (sic) on the Somalis … than the continued presence of the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) from the (Army’s) 10th Mountain Division.?

The Small Wars Journal discussion thread mentioned above contains a query: will there be a surge-II?  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has hinted that the answer is no, and that forms the backdrop for the force size problems that the Petraeus thinkers have going forward.  The same small footprint model that at least in part led to the current lack of security in Iraq continues unabated as the going-forward strategy.  The “surge” is not large enough and does not last long enough.

The Single Insurgency Focus of Traditional Counterinsurgency Doctrine

The counterinsurgency doctrine outlined in FM 3-24 and flowing from the Vietnam experience is primarily tooled to address an insurgency.  That is, the current understanding of COIN addresses the insurgency as a monolith, subject to well-aimed and executed kinetic and nonkinetic operations to pacify the population.  As I have discussed in The Surge and Coming Operations in Iraq, contrary to the assertion by Gates that there were four wars going on in Iraq, I have asserted that there are no less than eight distinguishable wars:

  1. The sectarian violence in and around Baghdad, especially in areas where there are mixed religious traditions living together.
  2. The AQI war against U.S. and Iraqi forces.
  3. The AAS war against the same, coupled with the war between AQI and AAS for dominance in the region.
  4. The war of terrorism being waged by foreign fighters, jihadists whose suicide services are purchased by AQI and AAS from right across the Syrian border.
  5. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq (primarily in Anbar), populated by the Saddam Fedayeen and other diehard Baathists, coupled with internecine tribal warfare between tribes loyal to their own purposes and those loyal to AQI.
  6. The war between the Shi’a and Kurds for control of Kirkuk and its oil supply.
  7. The purported operations between the Turkish forces and the Kurds.
  8. The regional covert war being waged against the U.S. by Syria and Iran.

The difficulty with such battlefield chaos is that whether kinetic or nonkinetic operations, any action by the U.S. forces stands the risk of upsetting the balance within the region.  Some operations have consequences that are so upsetting to this balance that they attempt to achieve mutually exclusive goals.  What may weaken one group of insurgents serves to strengthen another.  The Shi’a applaud when U.S. forces target Sunnis, and AQI benefits as we take out AAS.

Security First

Continuing a long-standing theme, in Hope and Brutality in Anbar, I asserted once again that “so-called ‘nonkinetic’ operations to win the hearts and minds of the population (candy for the children, reconstruction for the adults, pedialyte for infants) are ineffectual when violence and torture win the day.  A piece of candy can’t compete with a few holes put into your rib cage with a power drill because you cooperated with the Americans … Security, i.e., a substantially defeated insurgency, is the antecedent for a successful Iraq.”  The insurgents and terrorists employ violence and torture as an exclusive-use procedure to keep the population in submission because it works.  They have not had to transition to government and caretaking of the population (as with traditional counterinsurgency doctrine) because their goal is not care of the population.  This concern is also raised in the aforementioned National Journal article.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in the effort to rebuild Iraq, in the view of some experts, was the belief that meaningful economic development was even possible absent a base level of security that was never met in Baghdad and in other parts of the country.

“Iraq today is essentially a failed state that cannot consistently enforce the rule of law, secure its own people, or even deliver services in the face of a violent civil war,” said Carlos Pascual, the former coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization at the State Department. “Frankly, in such an environment, it’s next to impossible to get governmental and nongovernmental civilians to come in and effectively establish programs to employ the tens of thousands of people who need jobs. If you look at Bosnia and other civil wars, what you find is that economic activities only take root after a peace accord is signed.”

Presupposing the accuracy of this view along with the salience of the first three challenges mentioned above, there may be too many insurgencies with too few U.S. troops and too many ill-prepared Iraqi troops to provide the needed security for Iraq to succeed.

The Dynamic Battlespace

In The Broader War: Redefining our Strategy for Iraq, I discussed the continual stream of insurgents crossing the border into Iraq, and the dynamic battlefield space that this creates, stating that “The battlefield, both for military actions and so-called “nonkinetic? actions to win the people, is dynamic. As one insurgent is killed, another pops up in his place, coming not from any action the U.S. has or has not taken in Iraq, but rather, coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away due to a religious hatred that has been taught to him from birth. The war in Iraq is both figuratively and quite literally a war without borders.?

It has been said, and correctly so, that the loss in Vietnam didn’t cause the enemy to follow us home, while a loss in Iraq will.  Counterinsurgency doctrine flowing from Vietnam was unprepared for jihad – holy war – against U.S. interests, including the homeland, flowing from religious indoctrination of children from their infancy all the way through to adulthood.  Pacification of cities in Iraq has usually suceeded due to the elimination of the foreign threat from the population.

It is a painful thing for the administration finally to face and admit the significance of the role of Iran in the affairs of Iraq (and in fact, in support for terror world wide).  But without addressing this threat, the thinkers are surely in the unenviable position of knowing that there is nothing that can be done to win the counterinsurgency in Iraq.  It is a regional war, and will require a regional solution.  There is a chorus of voices urging talk with Iran and Syria, but the thinkers surely know that twenty five years of talking has placed us precisely where we are at the moment.

Will the thinkers be able to persuade the administration that we must engage the regional war in order to win in Iraq?  The latest Strategic Forecasting intelligence report waxes bleak.  Concerning the Karbala attack and kidnapping, along with the kidnapping of the Iranian embassy official Jalal Sharafi, Friedman and Bokhari summarize a lengthy and sweeping report with the following assessment of the U.S. situation.

An action like the Sharafi abduction allows the signal to be sent, while still falling short of mounting overt military strikes against Iran — something for which the United States currently has little appetite or resources. A covert war is within the means of the United States, and the Americans might hope that their prosecution of that war will convince Iran they are serious and to back off. Therefore, even if the kidnapping had nothing to do with the United States and Iran misreads the incident, it still could serve American interests in signaling American resolve. Given the state of the U.S. position in Iraq, the strategy well might fail — but once again, it is one of the few cards the United States has left to play.

Stratfor may be right.  Even now an Iranian agent is active in the Iraqi parliament (h/t Blogs of War).

A man sentenced to death in Kuwait for the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies now sits in Iraq’s parliament as a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, according to U.S. military intelligence.

Jamal Jafaar Mohammed’s seat in parliament gives him immunity from prosecution. Washington says he supports Shiite insurgents and acts as an Iranian agent in Iraq.

U.S. military intelligence in Iraq has approached al-Maliki’s government with the allegations against Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, whom it says assists Iranian special forces in Iraq as “a conduit for weapons and political influence.?

This kind of open, blatant warring against Iraq and the U.S. interests suggests that there is more than just a covert war occurring, with the U.S. still not fully engaged.  But the importance of what is happening in Iraq cannot be underestimated.  Victor Davis Hanson has expressed it well, saying We are in a rare period in American political history, in which the battlefield alone will determine the next election, perhaps not seen since 1864. The economy, scandal, social issues, domestic spending, jobs, all these usual criteria and more pale in comparison to what happens in Iraq, where a few thousand brave American soldiers will determine our collective future.

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