Modern Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month 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

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Herschel Smith looks at the state of our counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq – and the state of affairs at home and doesn’t like what he sees:The idea of occupying forces is repugnant to anyone. But far worse is no potable……



Don’t know if you heard that Iran legally purchased an incredible 800 .50 cal sniper rifles from an Austrian firm, 100 of which were found in a cache in Iraq. That leaves something less than 700 that could be shipped to Iraq or are already there. As you know, not only would a .50 shred our body armor like two-ply toilet paper but it allows for shooting directly into the cab of a Humvee. The rifle also has an effective range of at least a mile, is highly accurate, and fires a round called an armour piercing incendiary, a bullet that the Iranians manufacture.

Our saving grace is that Iraqis can’t shoot for s**t, but then some of the foreigners like the Chechens are good shots. It certainly gives me the creeps.


My Two Cents: Horrible, Horrible Freedom…

…People who are used to having everything decided for them get used to it. Freedom – self-determination, personal responsibility – can be terrifying.
It’s often been said that the natural state of the soul is freedom – that inside every heart is….


I find it interesting that Iraqis are complaining that their children are afflicted with chronic diarrhea. Can they not even take the inititive to boil their water? (If they can cook their food, they can boil their water.) Are they simply too ignorant to do so, or is this just more of the pervading attitude of Inshallah fatalism?

Herschel Smith

Michael, as always, thanks for the comment. No, I hadn’t seen this story, and I see it as a very important development. Yours might be the most important comment ever left on this site. This is a stunning, and very troubling, development. I have lost sleep over it last night. Realist [the next time you post a comment, please leave a valid e-mail address], great question – not one that had slipped my mind. I suppose that when electricity is absent from the scene (or at least you have only a couple of hours a day of it because, true to the theme of the post, there is no security), and you live in the middle of a desert where there is no wood, you might have some trouble boiling the water. Also, I wonder about education of even the adults. Are they aware of the importance of killing micro-organisms? Finally, I wonder if killing micro-organisms would completely eliminate the threat? There are other pollutants to consider. If oil and gasoline runoff is contaminating the water supply (e.g., like it does with sewage in the U.S.), boiling it wouldn’t help.


You are currently reading "Modern Counterinsurgency", entry #470 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq and was published February 22nd, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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