Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

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

“The Surge” and Coming Operations in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

It has been reported that American and Iraqi forces posted north of Baghdad are preparing checkpoints to net any insurgents who flee Iraq’s capital city to avoid an expected anti-terrorist dragnet there.  But this action might be late, since much insurgent relocation activity has already been reported.  AQI was previously reported to have been leaving Baghdad on orders directly from Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who wanted the fighters to avoid a direct house-to-house battle with U.S. forces.

The Sadrists have been ordered to “lay low” and avoid direct confrontation with the U.S., and reportedly there have been a “large” number of militants who have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped and to await the outcome of the upcoming U.S. operations.  Relying on the people who are affected most deeply to know the situation on the ground, since Diyala politicians, tribal and religious figures have demanded that their province be included in Baghdad security plan, it appears conclusive that there has been a comprehensive enemy reaction to the security plan, this reaction primarily being relocation.

Just yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq issued a press release, one purpose of which was to communicate the desire to “consolidate … the Mujahideen under one banner.”  This might be more than a little wishful thinking.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that four wars are taking place in Iraq: [1] a Shi’a-Shi’a war in the south, [2] a sectarian war in Baghdad, [3] an insurgency against U.S. troops, and [4] a war with AQI.

This is a gratuitous estimation of the complexity of the situation.  There are no less that eight significant wars occurring within the borders of Iraq at the present.  First, there is the sectarian violence in and around Baghdad (locations where there is mixed religious tradition living together), and the Sunnis are losing that battle to the Shi’a.  Second, there is the war that AQI is waging against the U.S. and Iraqi security forces.  Third, there is the war that AAS is waging against the same, but there is the added complexity that AQI and AAS are warring with each other – especially in the Anbar province – with each group fighting for supremacy.  Fourth, there is the war of terrorism being waged by foreign fighters.  This war knows almost no boundaries, and most of the foreign fighters are purchased by the aforementioned groups to wage war on not only the U.S. and Iraqi security forces, but each other.  According to one well-placed source, most of these fighters are jihadists who will end their lives as suicide bombers (as opposed to snipers or IED-makers), and they are purchased from and through Syrian elements just across the border, elements that operate primarily as a money-making operation.  Fifth, there is the Sunni insurgency in Anbar, coupled with the tribal fight to deny them safe haven.

In Hope and Brutality in Anbar, I discussed the factious nature of the tribal elements and the fact that there is a criminal element to their policing of the region.  The Sunni insurgency is still dominated by Sunni diehards, Sadaam Fedayeen, and other Baathists who cannot accept that they are no longer in power in Iraq.  Some of these fighters are loyal to AQI or AAS, and some are not.  There is internecine warfare among the tribes, Sunni insurgents and other elements of the population in Anbar.  Sixth, there is the war between the Shi’a and Kurds for control of Kirkuk and its copious oil supply.  Seventh, there are ongoing operations between the Turkish forces and the Kurds, and finally, there is the larger, more macroscopic support system for all of the above in Syria and Iran.  In other words, Iran and Syria are at war with the U.S. through proxy fighters.

One of the detriments of living in an open society such as America is that because political support is necessary for war-making, even strategic decisions such as the Baghdad security plan become splattered across the front page of newspapers the world over.  This gives the enemy time to react and flee the coming crackdown.  On the other hand, it might be a better option to take the enemy on in Syria than in central Baghdad.  Accidentally (i.e., through no planning by the U.S.), there is a unparalleled opportunity that presents itself for incorporation into U.S. strategy for the coming security campaign.

I have gone on record suggesting that without border control with Syria and Iran, the counterinsurgency in Iraq cannot be won.  I have also gone on record saying that there aren’t enough U.S. troops to effect this border security (while I have also questioned the size of the so-called “surge”).  The answer (if there is one), I have suggested, is incursions across the border to destroy both the insurgents and their safe haven.  This is true now in the superlative degree with them congregating in collected locations.  Assuming that the U.S. has reliable human intelligence, the use of sensor fuzed weapons and other cluster munitions can be used to destroy entire encampments of terrorists.  This action would rely on air power, thus freeing ground forces to perform interdiction operations (and other border incursions that are necessary).  For these other, non-air asset border incursions, significant use can be made of the U.S. Marines, a significant portion of which is located in the Anbar Province, within hours of the Syrian border.

The terrorist and jihadist elements are also said to be coming across the border from Saudi Arabia and Jordan into Iraq.  However, these means of ingress are small compared to Syria.  Moreover, both of these regimes have a fundamentalist Islamic element within their borders that could easily be set off against their respective regimes.  Border incursions into Saudi Arabia and Jordan could undermine the current regimes which, while duplicitous at times towards the U.S., are friendlier than potential replacement regimes.

The situation we face with these two countries is not unlike the situation with Moqtada al Sadr.  My intelligence source indicates to me that the U.S. should have taken on al Sadr before the anti-Iranian forces inside Iraq had taken him on as their “poster child.”  Taking out al Sadr at the present would mean, paradoxically, removing one of the last Shi’a anti-Iranian influences in Iraq (and probably the most powerful).

This doesn’t mean that al Sadr, the supporter of Hezballah during the recent Isreal-Lebanon war, should not be taken on directly.  In fact, General Casey has indicated that U.S. forces will be stationed in Sadr City (although providing security is far different than taking out the leadership of the Sadrists, an action which I have advocated).  But to accomplish the above, i.e., border security with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, suppression of the Sadrists, will require more troops than are currently deployed to Iraq.  And hence the focus comes back to the force size.

Without the troops to effect the mission, the only option left to win OIF is extremely aggressive offensive operations against the insurgency, beginning with border incursions into Syria.  The next steps (e.g., the politically costly moves of border incursions into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, border incursions into Iran) will have to be decided based on exigencies on the ground.  Operations against the insurgents inside Syria might have such a strategical (in terms of numbers) and demoralizing affect that operations in Jordan become unnecessary.  With AQI and AAS denied access to jihadists and suicide bombers, continued operations by them becomes more dangerous.  They must then fight rather than hire someone to do it for them.

But without the first step of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” in Anbar and inside the Syrian borders, we aren’t taking the required steps in winning OIF, and therefore all other exigencies and potentialities become moot.  Without aggressive offensive operations, the enemy will wait out “the surge,” rendering it inconsequential.

Ultimately, the problem of Iran must be dealt with, and the notions discussed above are considered to be only a temporary amelioration of the problem.

“The Surge” and Coming Operations in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

It has been reported that American and Iraqi forces posted north of Baghdad are preparing checkpoints to net any insurgents who flee Iraq’s capital city to avoid an expected anti-terrorist dragnet there.  But this action might be late, since much insurgent relocation activity has already been reported.  AQI was previously reported to have been leaving Baghdad on orders directly from Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who wanted the fighters to avoid a direct house-to-house battle with U.S. forces.

The Sadrists have been ordered to “lay low” and avoid direct confrontation with the U.S., and reportedly there have been a “large” number of militants who have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped and to await the outcome of the upcoming U.S. operations.  Relying on the people who are affected most deeply to know the situation on the ground, since Diyala politicians, tribal and religious figures have demanded that their province be included in Baghdad security plan, it appears conclusive that there has been a comprehensive enemy reaction to the security plan, this reaction primarily being relocation.

Just yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq issued a press release, one purpose of which was to communicate the desire to “consolidate … the Mujahideen under one banner.”  This might be more than a little wishful thinking.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that four wars are taking place in Iraq: [1] a Shi’a-Shi’a war in the south, [2] a sectarian war in Baghdad, [3] an insurgency against U.S. troops, and [4] a war with AQI.

This is a gratuitous estimation of the complexity of the situation.  There are no less that eight significant wars occurring within the borders of Iraq at the present.  First, there is the sectarian violence in and around Baghdad (locations where there is mixed religious tradition living together), and the Sunnis are losing that battle to the Shi’a.  Second, there is the war that AQI is waging against the U.S. and Iraqi security forces.  Third, there is the war that AAS is waging against the same, but there is the added complexity that AQI and AAS are warring with each other – especially in the Anbar province – with each group fighting for supremacy.  Fourth, there is the war of terrorism being waged by foreign fighters.  This war knows almost no boundaries, and most of the foreign fighters are purchased by the aforementioned groups to wage war on not only the U.S. and Iraqi security forces, but each other.  According to one well-placed source, most of these fighters are jihadists who will end their lives as suicide bombers (as opposed to snipers or IED-makers), and they are purchased from and through Syrian elements just across the border, elements that operate primarily as a money-making operation.  Fifth, there is the Sunni insurgency in Anbar, coupled with the tribal fight to deny them safe haven.

In Hope and Brutality in Anbar, I discussed the factious nature of the tribal elements and the fact that there is a criminal element to their policing of the region.  The Sunni insurgency is still dominated by Sunni diehards, Sadaam Fedayeen, and other Baathists who cannot accept that they are no longer in power in Iraq.  Some of these fighters are loyal to AQI or AAS, and some are not.  There is internecine warfare among the tribes, Sunni insurgents and other elements of the population in Anbar.  Sixth, there is the war between the Shi’a and Kurds for control of Kirkuk and its copious oil supply.  Seventh, there are ongoing operations between the Turkish forces and the Kurds, and finally, there is the larger, more macroscopic support system for all of the above in Syria and Iran.  In other words, Iran and Syria are at war with the U.S. through proxy fighters.

One of the detriments of living in an open society such as America is that because political support is necessary for war-making, even strategic decisions such as the Baghdad security plan become splattered across the front page of newspapers the world over.  This gives the enemy time to react and flee the coming crackdown.  On the other hand, it might be a better option to take the enemy on in Syria than in central Baghdad.  Accidentally (i.e., through no planning by the U.S.), there is a unparalleled opportunity that presents itself for incorporation into U.S. strategy for the coming security campaign.

I have gone on record suggesting that without border control with Syria and Iran, the counterinsurgency in Iraq cannot be won.  I have also gone on record saying that there aren’t enough U.S. troops to effect this border security (while I have also questioned the size of the so-called “surge”).  The answer (if there is one), I have suggested, is incursions across the border to destroy both the insurgents and their safe haven.  This is true now in the superlative degree with them congregating in collected locations.  Assuming that the U.S. has reliable human intelligence, the use of sensor fuzed weapons and other cluster munitions can be used to destroy entire encampments of terrorists.  This action would rely on air power, thus freeing ground forces to perform interdiction operations (and other border incursions that are necessary).  For these other, non-air asset border incursions, significant use can be made of the U.S. Marines, a significant portion of which is located in the Anbar Province, within hours of the Syrian border.

The terrorist and jihadist elements are also said to be coming across the border from Saudi Arabia and Jordan into Iraq.  However, these means of ingress are small compared to Syria.  Moreover, both of these regimes have a fundamentalist Islamic element within their borders that could easily be set off against their respective regimes.  Border incursions into Saudi Arabia and Jordan could undermine the current regimes which, while duplicitous at times towards the U.S., are friendlier than potential replacement regimes.

The situation we face with these two countries is not unlike the situation with Moqtada al Sadr.  My intelligence source indicates to me that the U.S. should have taken on al Sadr before the anti-Iranian forces inside Iraq had taken him on as their “poster child.”  Taking out al Sadr at the present would mean, paradoxically, removing one of the last Shi’a anti-Iranian influences in Iraq (and probably the most powerful).

This doesn’t mean that al Sadr, the supporter of Hezballah during the recent Isreal-Lebanon war, should not be taken on directly.  In fact, General Casey has indicated that U.S. forces will be stationed in Sadr City (although providing security is far different than taking out the leadership of the Sadrists, an action which I have advocated).  But to accomplish the above, i.e., border security with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, suppression of the Sadrists, will require more troops than are currently deployed to Iraq.  And hence the focus comes back to the force size.

Without the troops to effect the mission, the only option left to win OIF is extremely aggressive offensive operations against the insurgency, beginning with border incursions into Syria.  The next steps (e.g., the politically costly moves of border incursions into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, border incursions into Iran) will have to be decided based on exigencies on the ground.  Operations against the insurgents inside Syria might have such a strategical (in terms of numbers) and demoralizing affect that operations in Jordan become unnecessary.  With AQI and AAS denied access to jihadists and suicide bombers, continued operations by them becomes more dangerous.  They must then fight rather than hire someone to do it for them.

But without the first step of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” in Anbar and inside the Syrian borders, we aren’t taking the required steps in winning OIF, and therefore all other exigencies and potentialities become moot.  Without aggressive offensive operations, the enemy will wait out “the surge,” rendering it inconsequential.

Ultimately, the problem of Iran must be dealt with, and the notions discussed above are considered to be only a temporary amelioration of the problem.

Hope and Brutality in Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

Anbar is a province where there is hope, but this hope seems a dim prospect when torture houses are still in existence.  Anbar is still a restive place, with corruption a way of life, the Syrian border still porous, suicide bombers still crossing into Iraq, and Mujahideen fighters still active in the cities.

From DoD

U.S. Marines assigned to Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, patrol through the streets of Haditha, Iraq, looking for weapons caches.

Reliable sources are indicating that the insurgency in and around Baghdad is slowly being defeated.  The composition of the insurgency is dynamic, and as the size of the various insurgent groups dwindles, al Qaeda, or rather, its successor organization, the “Islamic State of Iraq,” absorbs the radical and hard-core elements into its ranks.  The diehard Baathist elements are joining under the leadership of al Qaeda, and according to Major General Richard Zilmer, most insurgents who are battling U.S.-led forces in Iraq’s Anbar province are local Iraqis loyal to al Qaeda, and not foreign fighters.  These insurgents want to build a caliphate similar to the Taliban’s Afghanistan regime.

Taking on an increasingly important role in Anbar are the Sunni tribes.  While there is still a very active insurgency, tribal leaders were responsible for more than 2,000 men joining the police in recent months and turning the Al Qaim area near the Syrian border, once infested by al Qaeda, into a relatively secure location.  Yet even the increased cooperation of the local tribal leaders brings with it a mixture of blessing and curse.  With the increase in influence of tribal leaders comes corruption and the attendant largesse.

Some Iraqi politicians and Anbar residents who oppose the U.S. presence describe the confederation, known as the Awakening, as a divisive group that pits tribes against each other, uses police officers as armed guards to protect tribal territory and harnesses American support to consolidate its power.  One journalist describes the ‘Awakening’ as a group of gangsters, asserting that the Awakening’s leader, of the Sattar of the Albu Risha tribe, is reputed to have amassed a fortune as part of a criminal network that robbed travelers on the desert highways of Anbar.

The factious nature of the tribal elements creates an unstable basis for government, and leads ultimately to a divided defense against the insurgency.  The insurgency takes advantage of this and continues its campaign of intimidation and torture to suppress the population in Anbar while at the same time stirring up sectarian strife in and around Baghdad, thus causing more retaliation against the Sunnis by Shi’ite militia, and so the cycle goes.

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.

Torture, whether at the hands of the Sunnis or Shia, is a commonly practiced means to intimidate and brutalize the enemy in Iraq, and in fact, throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia.  Palestinians are fleeing Iraq, and probably for good reason.  More than 600 Palestinians are believed to have died at the hands of Shia militias since the war began in 2003, including at least 300 from the Baladiat area of Baghdad. Many were tortured with electric drills before they died.

The historically successful operations to pacify an area have included security as the primary consideration.  There has recently been a significant degree of success in the pacification of Haditha, but this success has required the construction of sand berms, with controlled checkpoints as a means of ingress into and egress from the city.  With focused leadership and isolation from the rogue elements coming across the border from Syria, cities can be pacified one by one.

While it has been strongly recommended that the borders with Syria and Iran be sealed because of the dynamic battlefield space created by open borders, it is also recognized that there are not enough troops to secure the borders.  Therefore, offensive operations against insurgent safe havens inside Syria are necessary to cause the cessation of the stream of fighters from Syria and other locations (Jordan, the ostensible ally of the U.S., presents a particular problem, as does Saudi Arabia, and border incursions by U.S. troops might be problematic).

A U.S. official recently acknowledged that the vast majority of suicide bombers came across the border from Syria, and that they received training for their task within Syria as well as inside Iraq itself.  The official further admitted that “We have been wholly unsuccessful in affecting Syrian behaviour with regard to the passage of these elements.”  There is a recent attempt to close the borders with Syria, but this effort might be more effective at stopping fleeing refugees than in stopping the flow of jihadists into Iraq.

Whether suicide bombers coming in from Syria, or co-opted Sunni mujahideen working for al Qaeda, the tactics are the same, and involve the intimidation of the local population.  The defeater for this intimidation has always been the removal of the rogue elements, and the affect of the battle between these two forces was recently manifested in a remarkable portrait of Iraqi life in a report directly from Iraq by Andrew Lubin.

Not unlike a meet-and-greet patrol, a census operation generally involves handing out candy to children, shaking hands with parents, and doing some generic waving and smiling. This one, into a slightly different part of the city than yesterday (but only 400 yards away), had a bad feel to it from the start.

Instead of approaching, the children actively waved us off as we offered candy. They held their hands in front of their faces so we could not photograph them. Parents and adults withdrew from the street and shut their doors, except for those who fixed us with hostile, threatening stares.

We pressed on.  In two houses, we visited Iraqis and performed the normal routine of census operations.

By the time the Marines got the third house, the reason for the apparent fear became obvious.  A census operation turned into a gunfight between Marines (along with Iraqi forces) and insurgents.

While two Marines and several IP’s stood guard in a courtyard, an insurgent in the adjacent courtyard tossed a hand grenade into ours. You could hear the hiss as it was lobbed in the air, and it landed in the lap of a seated Marine. Reacting quickly, he slapped it out of his lap, and as it rolled to his feet, it exploded.

Although protected by his body armor, shrapnel ripped into LCpl “Smith’s? legs and arms, severing an artery in his arm. The other Marine, LCpl “Jones? was peppered also, but his wounds were superficial. As the echo of the explosion died away, the 2nd Marine, Jones, began calling in a CASEVAC.  The Marines, IA’s, and IP’s all sprung into action and searched for targets. One IP in particular performed exceptionally well, as he laid down an accurate and savage suppressive fire from his AK-47 that later won him plaudits from the Marines.

Firing back with their M16’s and SAWs, and with the Iraq’s joining in with their AK-47’s, the din was deafening. Extraction by air was not possible, so as they readied the two wounded Marines to leave the house, another Marine popped smoke grenades, and the IP’s and Marines retrograded from the house under cover of both white and purple smoke.

Moving to the left, and then to the left again, our patrol jogged down the street under the watchful eyes of other Marines who had run to the rooftops of nearby homes in order to provide a security gauntlet. We hugged the sides of the road as we ran back to our 17th Street Station, and it was a relief to see the Humvees on the streets tracking our movement as we came back inside the wire.

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.

To be sure, nonkinetic operations will become an essential part of the Iraq reconstruction effort.  But pacification must come first.  Note the sentiments of one Iraqi citizen: “We got nothing out of elections. Our lives just got more miserable as none of those we elected is serving us,” said Ahmed Jabouri, a 39-year-old taxi driver.  “We need security and good services. We want to be treated like human beings who have access to good health care, potable water and electricity all day.”

Anbar is a province where there is hope, but this hope seems a dim prospect when torture houses are still in existence.  Anbar is still a restive place, with corruption a way of life, the Syrian border still porous, suicide bombers still crossing into Iraq, and Mujahideen fighters still active in the cities.  The value of nonkinetic operations will be directly proportional to the ability of the U.S. to find and kill the insurgents, the Iraqi security forces to continue to gain the trust of the people, and the police to put tribal loyalties behind province security.  Security, i.e., a substantially defeated insurgency, is the antecedent for a successful Iraq.


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