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]

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

There have been recent calls from members of the Senate for investigations into claims that Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin armor is better than the currently deployed body armor.  Response from the Army was swift and direct.  This article covers some recent history of body armor and the current “dust-up” in the media and Senate, and briefly examines claims and counter-claims.  A way forward is recommended for final disposition of the issues surrounding body armor.  This article has a companion article: Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines.

NBC News recently did an exposé on the Dragon Skin body armor, raising again the question whether it is superior to the currently deployed body armor (this issue has been followed for years by Soldiers for the Truth).  Before we examine the claims and counterclaims, some history must be rehearsed so that words and concepts and not read and discussed in a vacuum.

The Interceptor body armor system (IBA) was deployed during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The IBA consists mainly of an Outer Tactical Vest (the shell), soft armor panels, and Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI), hard ceramic plates designed to prevent penetration of the 7.62 mm round.  The soft armor is designed to prevent penetration of a 9 mm round and shrapnel from some explosive ordnance.  It covers approximately the entire surface area of the OTV.  There were initially two main SAPI plates, one for the front and the other for the back.

The ballistic capabilities of the SAPI were upgraded, and hence the currently deployed plate is referred to as ESAPI, for enhanced SAPI.  There are also side SAPI plates, and during the first – and sometimes the second – deployment of Soldiers and Marines to OIF, wearing the side SAPIs was optional.  Many Soldiers and Marines chose not to wear them, since as a carrier the IBA was not designed to hold the side SAPIs (I’m looking at the IBA shell as I write).  The side SAPIs were worn in conjunction with the original IBA with use of a molle system.

It was discovered that enemy snipers were aiming for gaps in the SAPI plate coverage (e.g., the side torso under the arms), and so wearing the side SAPIs eventually became mandatory.  The heavy battlefield weight, along with the lack of integration of the side SAPIs into the shell, caused the US Marine Corps to revise its body armor system to the Modular Tactical Vest, or MTV (the commercial version is the Spartan 2 Assault Vest, from Tactical Applications Group).  Having put on both the IBA and the MTV (or Spartan 2) I can attest to the improvements of the MTV over the Interceptor.  Some Marines are still being deployed with the IBA rather than the MTV, and are choosing to purchase the Spartan 2 shell themselves (and transfer the soft panels and SAPI plates to the new carrier).

If the reader recalls seeing video from Iraq, the vests that the soldiers are wearing always seem to be “hiked up” in the back (with very little lower back protection).  As one NCO in the 101st Airborne told me, “the front SAPI is low, the rear SAPI is high, and we hang equipment on the front of our vests using molle loops and carabiners.  Why do you think that we walk leaning backwards?  We’re trying to keep from falling over forwards.”  Battlefield weight (and weight distribution) is a huge deal.  This NCO told me that without the order to wear the side SAPIs, he would choose not to in spite of the increased risk.  More on battlefield weight later.

The new Marine MTV raises the SAPI in the front a little, lowers it in the back a little, and makes use of the soft armor panels more efficiently (it avoids doubling over of the soft armor in the shoulder area with the IBA and deploys the soft panels to their fullest extent).  It fully integrates the side SAPIs into the outer shell with a carrier for the plates, and it provides soft panel neck and groin protection.  Contrary to the IBA which places the full weight of the soft armor and SAPI plates on the shoulders, its design hugs the body and places the weight on the hips, much like an internal frame backpack.  Finally, the MTV has a quick release system, a system that is designed with a single pull cord that instantly disassembles the vest, typically used during escape situations when someone is trapped in a vehicle rollover or weighed down in deep water.  This feature is particularly popular with Marines and especially Navy Corpsmen who want to get injured Marines out of their gear quickly.  The Marines with whom I have talked have spoken very approvingly of the MTV (Spartan 2).  It is popular, the improved features are important and valuable, and it represents a quantifiable improvement over previous versions.

But in spite of the superiority of the MTV to the IBA, both systems use the same philosophical approach: an overall carrier, holding soft ballistic panels designed to stop very small arms (e.g., 9 mm and shrapnel) supplemented by SAPI plates of some finite surface area (in the front, back and sides) designed to stop 7.62 mm rounds from AK-47s.  Now comes Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin, with a completely different philosophical approach to body armor.

Dragon Skin uses an interconnected system of ballistic discs held together with adhesive.  The accolades are certainly impressive, but as soon as the NBC report was issued, the Department of Defense came to the defense of the IBA and leveled some significant criticisms against the Dragon Skin.

In response to a May 17 NBC News report challenging the Army’s use of Interceptor body armor vs. the newer “Dragon Skin? armor developed by Pinnacle Armor Inc., Brown today released information about the testing that ruled out Dragon Skin a year ago.

The tests were conducted May 16 to 19, 2006, at H.P. White labs near Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The Pinnacle armor was subjected to the same tests Interceptor body armor goes through, first being X-rayed and analyzed and then undergoing a series of live-fire tests, Brown said. The live-fire tests included room-temperature tests, harsh environment tests, and durability and drop tests.

Of the eight Pinnacle vests tested, four of them failed the tests, with 13 rounds penetrating completely on the first or second shot, Brown said. After the first complete penetration, the vests technically failed the test, but the Army continued the testing to be fair, he said.

The Pinnacle vests also were subjected to extreme temperature variations, from minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be a realistic cycle if the equipment was loaded onto a plane and flown to the Middle East, Brown said. These temperature tests caused the adhesive holding the Dragon Skin’s protective discs together to fail, and the discs gathered at the bottom of the vest, leaving gaps in protection, he said.

Brown also noted that the Dragon Skin vests are significantly heavier and thicker than the Interceptor vests. Dragon Skin vests in size extra large are 47.5 pounds and 1.7 to 1.9 inches thick; the Interceptor vests in size large, which offer an equivalent coverage area, weigh 28 pounds and are 1.3 inches thick.

“Bottom line is, it does not meet Army standards,? Brown said of the Pinnacle body armor.

Brown showed reporters videos of the tests, which were supervised by the chief executive officer of Pinnacle. He also displayed the actual vests that were tested, with markers showing the penetration sites.

The Army did not initially release the information about the tests because of possible security concerns, Brown said. “We are facing a very media-savvy enemy,? he said. “They’re not only media-savvy, they are Internet savvy. … Everything that we put out into the public domain, we pretty much assume that they get. We don’t like to discuss our vulnerabilities and our counters to the vulnerabilities in the open public.?

However, after the NBC report, Army leaders felt they needed to counter any doubts in the minds of servicemembers and their families, Brown said. “Our soldiers and, more importantly, the families – the wives, the children, the parents – have to have confidence that our soldiers have the best equipment in the world,? he said.

For the sake of clarity, with the addition of the soft panel groin protection and removable soft panel neck protection, the total weight of the MTV is over 30 lbs (similar to the current IBA, although the army plans on issuing revised sets that weigh less).  Slab at OpFor has a scathing response to the ‘Dragon Skin’ dust-up (and more here and here).  But the most powerful point made by OpFor is that of battlefield weight.  It must be remembered that body armor is not the only thing on the Soldier or Marine who is patrolling.  He also has: a hydration system (i.e., camelback), his weapon, ammunition (and the SAW gunners carry a heavier weapon and ammunition drums), and other gear.  This heavy battlefield weight has led to sprained and broken ankles, broken legs, sprained knees, and much pain and exhaustion.

But the problem with scathing critiques, claims by Pinnacle, counterclaims by the DoD, rebuttals and more counter-rebuttals, is that the public is left not knowing what or whom to believe.  The situation is left to appear as if someone is being dishonest (or at least, not forthcoming), and perhaps someone is.  Therefore, we recommend the following ‘going forward position’ regarding these issues.

Congress should specifically make the funds available (and the DoD should allocate them and support to the extent necessary) the hiring of a completely independent forensic and mechanical engineering consulting firm.  Among the contractural obligations of this firm would be at least (but not limited to) the following:

  1. The development of finite element models of the IBA/MTV soft panels and SAPI plates and the Dragon Skin armor systems.
  2. The use of these models to assess previous (and future) catastrophic through-wall failures.
  3. Development of a Monte Carlo analysis (based on previous actual shots to Soldiers and Marines) to assess the significance of surface area unprotected by SAPI plates and the risk involved with this body armor philosophy versus the Dragon Skin.
  4. Forensic engineering of previous testing failures of the Dragon Skin body armor.
  5. Modeling and testing of brittle fracture of ceramic SAPI plates upon being dropped or taking rounds.
  6. Statistical and engineering comparison and contrast of all test data for the Dragon Skin and IBA/MTV.
  7. A formal cost-benefit analysis of the body armor systems.
  8. If deemed necessary, further testing of the body armor systems under the supervision of the engineering consultants.
  9. An assessment of funtionality, ability to manufacture and deploy, and quality assurance programs associated with the body armor systems, to include perhaps the most important issue — battlefield weight.
  10. Finally, a report to be issued to the DoD and congress, with redacted versions made available in the public domain.

The Dragon Skin armor system might have been issued to body guards for high ranking officials and top military brass in Iraq, and it doesn’t matter whether these body guards were active duty military or private contractors like Blackwater.  Standing guard for finite periods of time in 48 lbs. of weight is not the same thing as living in your body armor around the clock with additional battlefield weight.  In the end, it will likely be battlefield weight that wins the day, and this conclusion will likely be substantiated and approved by the grunt in the field, MOS infantry.

But this conclusion needs to be formulated with independence and certified with a professional engineering seal.  Like our friends at US Cavalry On Point say, it is the Soldier and Marine who stand to gain.  An ancillary benefit is that a comprehensive and independent study would silence the moralistic and preening critics of the IBA/MTV.

Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

The United States Marine Corps is having gear and equipment problems, but the problems are not just with the gear and equipment.

Richard Lardner
Associated Press
Washington – The system for delivering badly needed gear to Marines in Iraq has failed to meet many urgent requests from troops in the field, according to an internal document obtained by the Associated Press.

Of more than 100 requests from deployed Marine units between February 2006 and February 2007, less than 10 percent have been fulfilled, the document says. It blamed the bureaucracy and a “risk-averse” approach by acquisition officials.

Among the items held up were a mine-resistant vehicle and a hand-held laser system.

“Process worship cripples operating forces,” according to the document. “Civilian middle management lacks technical and operational currency.”

The 32-page document – labeled “For Official Use Only” – was prepared by the staff of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force after they returned from Iraq in February.

The document was to be presented in March to senior officials in the Pentagon’s defense research and engineering office. The presentation was canceled by Marine Corps leaders because its contents were deemed too contentious, according to a defense official familiar with the document. The official spoke on condition of anonymity …

The document lists 24 examples of equipment urgently needed by Marines in Iraq’s Anbar province. One, the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, has received attention as a promising way to protect troops from roadside blasts, the leading killer of U.S. forces in Iraq.

After receiving a February 2005 urgent request approved by Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik – who was a commander in Iraq from June 2004 to February 2005 – for nearly 1,200 of the vehicles, the Marine Corps instead purchased improved versions of the ubiquitous Humvee.

The industrial capacity did not exist to quickly build the new mine-resistant vehicles, and the more heavily armored Humvees were viewed as a suitable solution, Marine Corps officials said.

That proved not to be the case as insurgent elements in Iraq developed more powerful bombs that could penetrate the Humvees. The mine-resistant vehicles are now a top priority for all the military branches, which plan to buy 7,774 of the carriers at a cost of $8.4 billion …

A second example cited is the compact high-power laser dazzler, an inexpensive, nonlethal tool for steering unwelcome vehicles away from U.S. checkpoints in Iraq.

The dazzler emits a powerful stream of green light that stops or redirects oncoming traffic by temporarily impairing the driver’s vision.

In June 2005, Marines stationed in western Iraq filed an urgent request for several hundred of the dazzlers, which are built by LE Systems, a small company in Hartford, Conn. The request was repeated nearly a year later.

“Timely purchase and employment of all systems bureaucratically stymied,” the document states.

But the Corps didn’t stop with failing to provide the necessary equipment.  The next step was to prohibit the direct commercial procurement of the equipment by the Marines who needed it.

Separate documents indicate the deployed Marines became so frustrated at the delays they bypassed normal acquisition procedures and used money from their own budget to buy 28 of the dazzlers directly from LE Systems.

But because the lasers had not passed a safety review process, authorities in the United State (sic) barred the Marines from using them.

In January, nearly 18 months after the first request, the Marines received a less powerful laser built by a different company.

Titus Casazza, president of LE Systems, criticized the Marine Corps acquisition process.

“The bureaucrats and lab rats sitting behind a desk stateside are making decisions on what will be given to our soldiers even if contrary to the specific requests of these soldiers and their commanding generals,” he said.

The stipulation to deploy and use only government-issued gear and equipment has been codified in a recent Marine Administrative Order, MARADMIN 262/07.

1.  THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS DIRECTS THE FOLLOWING POLICY FOR MARINES AND SAILORS ASSIGNED TO USMC AND JOINT COMMANDS, ON THE WEAR AND PURCHASE OF BODY ARMOR AND PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE).  PPE REFERS TO PROTECTIVE BODY ARMOR, HELMETS, GOGGLES, CLOTHING, AND OTHER GEAR DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE WEARER’S BODY FROM BATTLEFIELD INJURIES.  PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO, THE FOLLOWING ITEMS: OUTER TACTICAL VEST, MODULAR TACTICAL VEST, LIGHTWEIGHT HELMET, FULL-SPECTRUM BATTLE EQUIPMENT, MILITARY EYE PROTECTION SYSTEMS (ESS ICE SPECTACLES / ESS PROFILE NVG GOGGLES), ENHANCED SMALL ARMS PROTECTIVE INSERT PLATES, SIDE SMALL ARMS PROTECTIVE INSERT PLATES, BALLISTIC PLATE CARRIER, QUAD GUARD, FLAME RESISTANT ORGANIZATIONAL GEAR AND COMBAT ARMS EARPLUGS …
2.  MARINES/SAILORS DEPLOYED TO COMBAT ZONES WILL BE ISSUED MARINE CORPS APPROVED PPE, INCLUDING MODULAR BODY ARMOR SETS.
5. INDIVIDUAL MARINES/SAILORS MAY NOT USE COMMERCIAL PPE IN LIEU OF GOVERNMENT TESTED, APPROVED AND ISSUED PPE.  COMMANDERS MAY AUTHORIZE MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMANDS TO USE COMMERCIALLY PURCHASED PPE ITEMS IN ADDITION TO THOSE ISSUED BY THE GOVERNMENT, AS LONG AS ADDITIONS DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE FUNCTIONALITY OF APPROVED PPE.  INDIVIDUALLY PURCHASED COMMERCIAL PPE WILL NOT BE REIMBURSABLE BY COMMAND/UNIT (GOVERNMENT) FUNDS.

In fact, the much heralded Modular Tactical Vest, which was promised early in 2007, has yet to be deployed (the commercial version of the MTV is the Spartan 2 Assault Vest, which in form, fit and function, is exactly equivalent to the MTV).  This order prohibits the so-called Dragon Skin body armor, a prohibition which is probably permanent unless and until the manufacturer’s price comes down, the test protocol for the vest is clarified and a purchase order issued by the DoD.  What isn’t clear is whether this MARADMIN prohibits Marines from purchasing and using the Spartan 2.  Having put on both the IBA (Interceptor) and the Spartan 2, I can attest to the fact that the Spartan 2 (or MTV) lives up to its billing.

However, what is clear is that if the Marines would get control of the gear and equipment problems within its ranks, administrative orders such as this one would not have to be issued.  The mere existence of the order tells the story of the gear problems in the Corps.  The Marines have always been on the short end of the stick when it comes to their share of the DoD budget.  Reasons for this include the fact that they feel (with good cause) that if their share increases, along with the money will come political pressures and other meddling from which they are currently somewhat more insulated.  Of course, at the much more personal level, there are fundamental issues of fairness to be addressed that have nothing to do with the Marine’s share of the pie.  Why shouldn’t Marines be allowed to purchase and use commercially-available ballistic glasses if they meet or exceed military specifications?

But in terms of the supply and logistics bureaucracy, there is simply no excuse for failure to provide badly needed gear and equipment to the front.  Request for gear is not tantamount to griping and complaining, and critical reports to field grade officers or logistics higher-ups in the states is not the same thing as insubordination.  A more professional and open-minded approach is needed by those who should already be behaving that way.

Can the Air Force Contribute to Counterinsurgency?

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

At the Small Wars Journal Blog there is an article and comment thread concerning air power and counterinsurgency.  My readers (who are not also readers of the SWJ) should drop by and study the article and responses.  The article by Frank Hoffman argues that the air force has been ham-handed in its formulation of doctrine and its application of force in counterinsurgencies.  Major General Dunlap responded in the comments section, and as part of this lengthy comment he made an astute observation that led me to post a followup comment, reproduced in its entirely below.

Thank you for the post, and thanks also to Major General Dunlap for his thoughtful rejoinder.  May a pedestrian make an observation?

Beyond the main subject of the post, General Dunlap introduced an ancillary subject, which serves as the raison d’etre for the attention on air power in counterinsurgency.  Dunlap observed that:

My view is, however, that such a dedication of blood and treasure for that length of time is wildly unrealistic. I don’t think that the American people will sign up for that for Iraq. Although Frank and others invested in the notion of COIN as the future of warfare for the American armed forces may understandably disagree me (it is something about which reasonable people may disagree) my sense it that we won’t see U.S. troops deployed for any COIN effort anywhere near the current size of that for Iraq (let alone the 500,000 troops FM 3-24 demands), for a generation or more.

True, if denied that level of commitment, the ground forces could repeat the mantra of all defeated armies: “if only we got the resources we could have won.” (There is an interesting article in the October 2006 issue of the Journal of Military History that speaks to the civil-military implications of COIN).

In any event, I believe that the people will not support that level of treasure and – more importantly – blood for anywhere near that length of time. Accordingly, I don’t think that FM 3-24 offers offer decisionmakers a realistic solution.

This is a remarkably well-crafted objection to FM 3-24.  I, too, happen to believe that FM 3-24 makes significant contributions, but suffers from a significant flaw.  In a previous post here at the SWJ Blog, I commented that one problem with FM 3-24 was the:

Failure to address how protracted engagements affect troop morale and public sentiment at home (not, by the way, a failure of the Small Wars Manual as I have written about in “Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual”). I do not believe that the nation will ever again give us ten years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. To the extent that FM 3-24 assumes this, our proverbial heads are “in the sand.”

I followed up on these thoughts later, where I pointed out that the Marine Corps Commandant is worried about the same issue.

“The difference in the time we in uniform need for success in Iraq and the amount of time our countrymen are prepared to invest is a disconnect that’s troubling,? Conway said …

But he said insurgencies typically take nine to 10 years to defeat.

“I think there is less of an appetite in our country than we, the military, might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time. That’s the basic disconnect that I was talking about,? he said.

It seems that the FM 3-24 should have been approached as a paradigm or model.  Before the model can be constructed, the boundary conditions must be known.  What does this model accomplish? why does it exist? what are its resources? what are the constraints on it? and what are the boundaries beyond which it need not or cannot go (beyond which the model is no longer valid).

The model in FM 3-24 is constructed for the classical counterinsurgency of ten to twelve years in duration.  It may work in certain circumstances in which we have a shorter duration with which to work, but it may not and is not designed to.  Shorter COIN campaigns are outside the boundary conditions for the model.

But beyond anything that a military strategist can add, it only takes an astute observer of American politics to figure out that public sentiment and cultural milieu will never again give us ten to twelve years to conduct COIN.  It is simply a figment of our collective imaginations to believe that any amount of people reading FM 3-24 will have their minds changed into either allowing it or putting their political career on the line by publicly advocating it.  Without public commitment, FM 3-24 is merely theory.

While not exactly the subject of Hoffman’s post, this subject was raised by Dunlap’s response, and it is a salient and powerful point, one that I have made before.  This is why Dunlap’s project is so interesting and important.  I believe that respectful exchange is the order of the day, and this exchange here has the marks of a meaningful contribution.  I wish General Dunlap well in his project, and if the wise use of air power can be done differently and reduce the duration of counterinsurgencies, then it was an important endeavor.

Counterinsurgency: Know Thine Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

Bruce Hoffman, who has headed the counterinsurgency program at the Rand Corporation, recently gave an interview that essentially could have been titled “know thine enemy.”

ELEANOR HALL: You’ve written that the failure of the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq is the failure to know your enemy. What should the US and its allies like Australia be doing differently in order to know the enemy?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: I think we need a much more comprehensive and systematic effort to really understand this enemy than we’ve thus far undertaken. I think that in many instances we see the problem too much through a Western prism and a Western perspective that this has consequently led in some instances, to wishful thinking and other instance to conjecture.

And it entails a much more determined effort to really – I mean, it’s like during the Cold War where we understood not just the Soviet Union’s military capabilities, but we strove to understand their mindsets and to be fully knowledgeable of their culture as well. And I don’t think we’ve yet achieved that.

ELEANOR HALL: How do you go about doing that? I mean, is it just a matter of more intelligence?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well it’s not; it’s not just intelligence. It’s linguistic familiarity, cultural knowledge. It’s really basing our policies and approaches on a very firm and clear empirical base rather than on seeing things through our own perspective.

The Captain’s Journal has made the same points recently.  In The Enemy of My Enemy, we said:

… troops (most of the time) are given some basic instruction in Arabic as part of the training for deployment.  This training is based on the philosophy of phonetics (i.e., sounds, proper pronunciation).  With limited time, money and resources, this is the best approach and sure to yield the best possible results in the short term.  But proper planning for the long war needs to take the next step.  Immersion in Arabic (both spoken and written) needs to be part of the planning for not only officers, but enlisted men as well.  A better knowledge of Arabic would cause a remarkable step change in warfighting capabilities in Iraq (and throughout the Middle East) given the nature of COIN.

In response to this article, we received a communication from the Center for Security Policy concerning a new language corps.

The Department of Defense announces the implementation of a pilot “The Language Corps” over the next three years. The pilot will include no fewer than 1,000 members drawn from all sectors of the U.S. population. Members will have the opportunity to join a dedicated pool or a national pool of linguists.

The Language Corps, formerly the Civilian Linguist Reserve Corps, represents a vital new approach to address the nation’s needs for professionals with language skills. This is an integral component of the Defense Department’s comprehensive language roadmap and the President’s National Security Language Initiative.

These are good first steps, but more is needed, and in particular, for Soldiers and Marines, both officer and enlisted.  Concerning a general knowledge of the culture and religion of the population, in Smith Responds, we said:

… to send soldiers and marines to win hearts and minds of a population without at least some cursory understanding of the population is the equivalent of blinding them and then turning them loose with firearms.  Based on Smith’s premise, some Muslims will follow a hermeneutic that requires them to war on others to extend their faith (AQI and AAS would be examples).  This isn’t true of all Muslims, and in fact it may only be a small fraction.  Still others will not be amenable to negotiations with the U.S. armed forces or the political structure (this list may include, for example, Sadr, Sistani, the Mullahs in Iran, the Badr force, etc.).  Still others will be amenable to our efforts at WHAM (the Sunni tribes), and still others might be an ally in our struggles.  It pays to know your enemy.  It may pay even more to know those whose hearts and minds you wish to win.

The Rand Corporation (counterinsurgency program) and the Captain’s Journal are saying the same things, just in slightly different ways: know thine enemy (and those whose hearts and minds you wish to win).

The Summer War with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

The Guardian brings us a report on the coming summer war with Iran, intended to peak just prior to the report by General David Petraeus to congress in September.

Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal, US officials say.

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

The official said US commanders were bracing for a nationwide, Iranian-orchestrated summer offensive, linking al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents to Tehran’s Shia militia allies, that Iran hoped would trigger a political mutiny in Washington and a US retreat. “We expect that al-Qaida and Iran will both attempt to increase the propaganda and increase the violence prior to Petraeus’s report in September [when the US commander General David Petraeus will report to Congress on President George Bush's controversial, six-month security "surge" of 30,000 troop reinforcements],” the official said.

“Certainly it [the violence] is going to pick up from their side. There is significant latent capability in Iraq, especially Iranian-sponsored capability. They can turn it up whenever they want. You can see that from the pre-positioning that’s been going on and the huge stockpiles of Iranian weapons that we’ve turned up in the last couple of months. The relationships between Iran and groups like al-Qaida are very fluid,” the official said.

“It often comes down to individuals, and people constantly move around. For instance, the Sunni Arab so-called resistance groups use Salafi jihadist ideology for their own purposes. But the whole Iran- al-Qaida linkup is very sinister.”

Iran has maintained close links to Iraq’s Shia political parties and militias but has previously eschewed collaboration with al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents.

US officials now say they have firm evidence that Tehran has switched tack as it senses a chance of victory in Iraq. In a parallel development, they say they also have proof that Iran has reversed its previous policy in Afghanistan and is now supporting and supplying the Taliban’s campaign against US, British and other Nato forces.

Tehran’s strategy to discredit the US surge and foment a decisive congressional revolt against Mr Bush is national in scope and not confined to the Shia south, its traditional sphere of influence, the senior official in Baghdad said. It included stepped-up coordination with Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi as well as Syrian-backed Sunni Arab groups and al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, he added. Iran was also expanding contacts across the board with paramilitary forces and political groups, including Kurdish parties such as the PUK, a US ally.

“Their strategy takes into account all these various parties. Iran is playing all these different factions to maximise its future control and maximise US and British difficulties. Their co-conspirator is Syria which is allowing the takfirists [fundamentalist Salafi jihadis] to come across the border,” the official said.

Of course, there are longer term issues to deal with regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  In fact, it appears that the erstwhile problems with Uranium enrichment might not be as insurmountable for Iran as previously thought.

One year from now, Iran could possess the means of producing a nuclear bomb – that was the chilling message delivered by Ambassador Dore Gold during an interview with Ynetnews Tuesday.

Gold, who has written numerous books on the Middle East, is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), and has served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

He was responding to a statement released Tuesday morning by the International Atomic Energy’s Director (IAEA), Mohamed El-Baradei, who said Iran had made massive progress in creating uranium enrichment centrifuges, so much so the world should consider it a ‘fact that Iran can enrich uranium independently.

Gold said the information revealed by El-Baradei undercut previous estimates of when Iran could weaponize its nuclear process …

“If all Iran wanted to do was destroy the State of Israel, it would simply invest in the 1300 kilometer range Shihab – 3 missile, which which it already has,” Gold said, adding that Iran was however developing North Korean missiles with far great (sic) ranges.

The Iranian Mullahs have said that there will be absolutely no negotiation with the U.S., so the U.S. intent to chat Iran out of a nuclear program (following the counsel of the Baker Commission) is as likely to fail as the European effort over the last four years.

Whatever else happens, while Americans are frolicking at the beach and parks this summer, it is sure to be busy for Soldiers and Marines in Iraq, battling more than just Iraqi insurgents.  Then unfortunately, this will not end it.  The Long War continues.

Adaptability

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

During the Israel-Hezballah war, Hezballah used a strategy called distributed operations.  Small, self-sufficient teams of fighters with only low- to mid-level leadership conducted operations against the IDF, often cut off from communication, senior leadership and supplies.  The risks are great, but Hezballah could react organically rather than bureaucratically.

The insurgency in Iraq has taken this to the next level.  Distributed operations are the norm.  Insurgent snipers regularly stay cut off from their leadership for days.  Small teams of insurgents operate with near autonomy, yet the overall objective remains fairly well known and paramount.  The “membership rolls” of the insurgency can grow or shrink, depending upon any number of things.  An insurgent might be a respected worker by day and a fighter by night.

The insurgent makes use of any means available, such as high tech explosively formed projectiles transported in from Iran.  In the absence of a high tech weapon, they will make use of the lowest-tech weapon possible — ordnance delivered by humans, or suicide bombers.  Depending upon the needs, the insurgency can cluster or disperse, swarm or disappear, distribute largesse or threaten brutality, hide or relocate.

The single best word that describes this behavior is adaptability.

Let’s contrast this with a possible example from the U.S. Army.  Let’s suppose that there existed an NCO (non-commissioned officer) in a combat brigade who, after doing previous combat tours in support of OIF and training his subordinates to do the same for the next deployment, decided that he didn’t want to re-enlist for a full enlistment term, but also that he would like to deploy with the unit soon for another combat tour in support of OIF.  He decided this because he felt an obligation to the mission and his troops, and his troops wanted him to deploy with them.  So the intent was to stay in the Army until the combat tour was finished.

The problem is that the rules don’t allow it.  Our NCO has to re-enlist for the full term or leave the Army.  He decides to leave the Army, and so the Army loses a seasoned NCO who could have provided leadership to his troops in the upcoming deployment.  In this instance, adaptability has ceded the high ground to bureaucracy, and the insurgency wins one small encounter due to the unadaptability of the U.S. military.

Smith Responds

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

In Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen, Smith continued a conversation that Kilcullen started at the Small Wars Journal on the role of religion in the impetus for an insurgency.  Every now and again a dust-up develops over the web, and a response is necessary to set the record straight.  In this article Smith responds to the comment thread at the initial article at The Captain’s Journal and The Small Wars Manual.

Smith finds the discussion at least mildly amusing with the fabricated stories about what Smith believes or what surely must be the consequences of his reasoning, but beyond a little chuckle, the work of thinking clearly is serious business and requires us to roll our sleeves up and expend a little energy.  As one who has had some formal graduate level training in religion, Smith has something to offer to questions on the role of religion.

To rehearse Kilcullen’s article, he has it as his project to demonstrate that the traditional methods of winning hearts and minds in a counterinsurgency are useful for the Iraqi population, i.e., that religion doesn’t prevent traditional methods from producing fruit.  Insofar as the project is careful, judicious, and open-minded, this is a legitimate project.  But Kilcullen didn’t stop at a judicious conclusion.  The insurgency in Iraq, said he, was “entirely political.”  That is, there is no religious aspect to the insurgency.

Kilcullen’s error is one of attempting to use inductive evidence to prove a universal negative, or in other words, he committed a formal logical fallacy.  Or said in a bit more formal manner, a deduction with a universal conclusion must have two universal premises.  This formal error particulary preys upon people who begin the process of reasoning (or, if you will, the scientific process) with an emotional or ideological commitment to a premise that they want to prove.  Just for the sake of clarity, one could also say that Kilcullen commits the fallacy of composition, where one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.

At the discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal, Smith continued to outline the most egregious failures of the new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24.  Said Smith:

In summary, the two most important failures in FM 3-24 in my opinion are:

1. Failure to incorporate the things that religion can teach us in a counterinsurgency campaign, and

2. Failure to address how protracted engagements affect troop morale and public sentiment at home (not, by the way, a failure of the Small Wars Manual as I have written about in “Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual”). I do not believe that the nation will ever again give us ten years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. To the extent that FM 3-24 assumes this, our proverbial heads are “in the sand.”

Concerning the second point, the current Marine Commandant (apparently about simultaneously with Smith) warned that there was a disconnect between the needs of the classical counterinsurgency and what the nation would allow in terms of duration or longevity (see also here and here).

“The difference in the time we in uniform need for success in Iraq and the amount of time our countrymen are prepared to invest is a disconnect that’s troubling,” Conway said.

He pointed to progress in western al-Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency where some tribal leaders have recently turned against al-Qaeda extremists and joined forces with US troops.

The province was once considered the last in line to be turned over to Iraqi security forces because of the intensity of the insurgency, but Conway said that has changed with Sunnis joining the Iraqi army and police in large numbers.

US commanders will have to decide whether 4,000 additional marines that were supposed to deploy to the province as part of the surge will still be needed in Al-Anbar, he said.

Whether security for Al-Anbar can be turned over to Iraqis sooner is “very much an open question at this point, but I’m optimistic about all those things,” Conway said.

Conway argued that a US failure in Iraq would damage US credibility and leave the world “a less safe place.”

But he said insurgencies typically take nine to 10 years to defeat.

“I think there is less of an appetite in our country than we, the military, might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time. That’s the basic disconnect that I was talking about,” he said.

Smith’s initial article argued that religion was a fundamental motivator of men, and in order completely to understand man’s actions, religion had to be considered as at least one of the elements, if not the most important.  The comments on Smith’s views fell into logical errors, constructed straw men and fabricated stories about what Smith advocated.  First came “emjayinc.”  To emjayinc, religion as a motivator seems “too deterministic.”  How this is so is not explained, but his objection falls moot when he puts forward other deterministic motivators for man, including the procurement of resources.  For no reason that is explained, emjayinc favors the determinism of resource seeking over the determinism of religion.

The fallacy of using anecdotal evidence to make universal conclusions takes it next prey. emjayinc then makes a patently false statement in asserting that “religion … appears nowhere in most modern constructs of man’s motivating needs.”  Debunking this is difficult because Smith is left to wonder which single book, person, society or scholarly article to cite, when there are so many hundreds of thousands available.  In order to bring this to a more rapid conclusion we will leave emjayinc to consult with the Society of Christian Philosphers.

Next, emjayinc falls prey to the genetic fallacy when he appeals to the idea that “many people believe that men use religion to satisfy needs.”  What he alleges “many people” to believe is, for purposes of this argument, quite irrelevant.  Next comes emjayinc’s straw many to substitute for Smith’s real arguments.  Said he, “if it’s about religion, then its (sic) the Christians against the Muslims.”  Here emjayinc is pretending that Smith called for a holy war between Christians and Muslims.  This needn’t waste any more of our time, since this call for holy war was neither present in Smith’s article nor subsequent comments here or at the Small Wars Journal.

Next in line is “Kat-Missouri” (abbreviated here as “Kat”).  Kat engages us in a somewhat far-reaching discussion about what he feels to be how the U.S. might engage a culture in a counterinsurgency.  This discussion is moderately interesting, but again, quite irrelevant.  Kat has constructed a straw man.  The specific location at which believers might congregate a couple of hours a week is not germane to the argument, because Smith didn’t discussion Churches, Mosques or Synagogues.  Smith discussed religion.  All of the discussion on anything else is wasted insofar as it is intended to be a rebuttal of Smith.

Next, Kat falls into a non sequitur, saying after this discussion that ”emjay and Kilcullen would be correct in saying that politics, not religion, is the basis through which we should engage.”  The first problem with this conclusion is that it isn’t supported by any of the antecedent discussion.  The second problem with this conclusion is that the antecedent discussion is consumed with the Mosque, but the conclusion introduces a new subject: religion.  The two are not the same.  Power is indeed an insidious thing, ensnaring men who have it to keep it and obtain more of it.  Kat’s discussion on power structures — whether political or in the religious community — warrants its own study.  But Smith’s article didn’t touch on this issue.

Religion, or world view, far from being identified with institutions, is what orients and motivates a man’s life when he is not in public places of worship.  It has to do with world views, or belief- and value-systems.  This is true even of emjayinc’s and Kat’s position (even if for example they are humanists, Smith’s definition includes humanism within the scope of religion; for the right to do this, see Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, Chapter 1.)  Smith’s detractors make the case that men are motivated by anything but religion, and especially stuff; we might call it the “give them stuff and they will come” approach to counterinsurgency.  But of course, counterinsurgency is more difficult than merely giving people stuff, and rather than Smith it is his detractors who oversimplify the matter.  Religion is currently the basis for an insurgency in Thailand.

The violence in the south is increasingly directed more at Moslems, as the terrorists try to eliminate government informers, and non-Moslems increasingly organize death squads to carry out reprisal attacks. Most of the Moslem population wants all the violence to stop, as this sort of thing has happened before. Since the Moslem Sultanate was taken over by Thailand a century ago, there have been uprisings every few generations. In the past, these rebellions were put down with much violence by the Thai government. It’s not for nothing that Thailand is one of the few nations in the region to never be colonized. The Thais are tough, determined, and vicious if provoked. However, times have changed, and “vicious” doesn’t play as well as it used to. So the Thai government is telling the southerners to cool it, and is sending money and other economic aid as peace offerings. In times past, this might have worked. But this time around, it’s not just ethnic (the southerners are Malays) and religious (some 95 percent of Thais are Buddhists) differences, but the presence of Islamic radicals who want to convert all Thais to Islam …

The third problem with Kat’s conclusion is that it extends the scope of the conversation into areas previously uncharted.  Stricly speaking, the subject has been whether religion can be said to be a motivator of man and whether traditional WHAM tactics, techniques and procedures can be effective on those who are religiously motivated.  Kat extends this conversation to the point that it now encompasses an entirely new subject: whether we should engage religion at all in our counterinsurgency techniques, whatever the term “engage” is supposed to mean to Kat.

Kat ends his far ranging discussion with the following exaggeration: “To imagine that we should engage the religious nature of a community without the requisite moral authority, even as a proxy on its face, is the epitome of arrogance.”  Contrary to this view, to send soldiers and marines to win hearts and minds of a population without at least some cursory understanding of the population is the equivalent of blinding them and then turning them loose with firearms.  Based on Smith’s premise, some Muslims will follow a hermeneutic that requires them to war on others to extend their faith (AQI and AAS would be examples).  This isn’t true of all Muslims, and in fact it may only be a small fraction.  Still others will not be amenable to negotiations with the U.S. armed forces or the political structure (this list may include, for example, Sadr, Sistani, the Mullahs in Iran, the Badr force, etc.).  Still others will be amenable to our efforts at WHAM (the Sunni tribes), and still others might be an ally in our struggles.  It pays to know your enemy.  It may pay even more to know those whose hearts and minds you wish to win.

The responses to U.S. efforts will range across the spectrum, with a whole host of reasons for the various reactions, religion being among them.  Further, an understanding of the religious landscape means more than gaining a knowledge of motivations.  It also means being sensitive to U.S. tactics, techniques and procedures on the population and ensuring that TTPs that are inherently offensive are minimized to the extent practical (e.g., see Smith’s article Religious and Cultural Sensitivities in Counterinsurgency). Engaging the culture (despite the straw men set up by Smith’s detractors) doesn’t mean U.S. soldiers evangelizing Muslims, or attempting to tell them what their own religion expects of them, or expecting every adherent to be a radical militant.  Building straw men and then deconstructing them makes for good entertainment, but doesn’t add anythng meaningful to the conversation.

The Small Wars Manual, concerning engaging the religion of the locale in which U.S. forces are deployed, says:

1-31.d: Akin to politics is the subject of religion.  The people of many countries take their religion as seriously as their politics … 1.11: A failure to use tact when required or lack of firmness at a crucial moment might readily precipitate a situation that could have been avoided had the commander been familiar with the customs, religion, morals, and education of those with whom he was dealing.

Sometimes the best counsel is the oldest.  Smith’s argument concerning the duration of counterinsurgency and public sentiment is similar to that of the Marine Corps commandant (even if  somewhat unrelated to the initial subject of Kilcullen’s commentary).  Smith’s views on religion and counterinsurgency – far from being debunked – have not yet even been engaged.

Why There is No Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

In my judgment, it is inadvisable to speak in superlatives regarding a military engagement such as the one in which we are involved in Iraq, such as: “if we’ll just do this we can win,” or “if we do that we’ll lose,” or “the insurgency is comprised of exactly this group of people.”  This includes the idea that there is such a thing as a typical insurgency and the idea that Iraq is precisely at civil war.  As we have seen, the scene in Iraq is a nasty brew of many problems, including lack of reconciliation between competing political groups, 1000 or more years of hatred among religious sects, foreign fighters such as AQI and AAS, suicide bombers who have as their motivation religious commitments, and power grabs by legitimate tribal communities and illegitimate criminals, thugs and other rogue elements.  So it is with some suspicion that I initially read Stephen Biddle’s analysis of the situation in Iraq.  However, he makes some interesting points, and his commentary is worth studying.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Biddle, you just returned from a four week stay in Baghdad where you had been asked to advise General Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq. Did you come back with a sense that he has a workable idea on how to improve the situation in Iraq?

Stephen Biddle: I am very impressed with the general’s ability. I think he is an extremely able public servant. If anyone is able to make the best of this, it’s him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: General Petraeus is known to be an expert in counter insurgency. In fact the entire administration seems to think that this should be the focus. You on the other hand have argued that counter insurgency is not what is needed in Iraq. Why?

Biddle: A classical ideological insurgency is a war of ideas in which a sub-national group is challenging the ideas by which the government runs the country. In this kind of war of ideas, you can in principle win by changing people’s ideas. Given that, the classical strategy for waging counter insurgency is oriented around winning hearts and minds. You engage in a process of political reform in which you introduce democracy to make the government’s ideas legitimate. You engage in a campaign of economic development assistance. And you try and train an indigenous military to wage the war. All those strategies are what the Bush Administration’s approach to Iraq has been. They make some sense, if the problem you are trying to solve is a classical ideological insurgency. Except, Iraq is not.

Continue reading Stephen Biddle’s analysis at Spiegel Online: Why There is No Insurgency in Iraq

Religious and Cultural Sensitivities in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

In my article Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen (and associated comments), I responded to Dave Kilcullen’s article Religion and Insurgency at the Small Wars Journal.  In order to continue the conversation, let’s tackle a real life instance where cultural and religious sensitivities come to bear in the counterinsurgency campaign.  Whereas it might have been assumed that the only application to my claims was that of seeing the insurgent as a jihadist, religiously motivated and completely unamenable to our COIN efforts (certainly this is one application for some number of them), there are far more applications where a proper understanding of religion and culture would help frame the discussion.

A Stryker Colonel Talks About the Situation in Iraq:

FORT LEWIS – The commander says the loss of two soldiers hit everyone hard. We had a rare opportunity to speak with Col. Stephen Townsend from Baghdad Tuesday.

The 4,000 Fort Lewis-based soldiers have been there since last summer and now are in the hotspot, Baghdad.

“We feel pretty fortunate to be doing what we’re doing,” Col. Townsend said. “Right now, the Arrowhead Brigade is employed in a role that is ideally suited for a Stryker Brigade. We’re being very mobile. We’re going to where the tough jobs are. We’re helping out with both the Coalition and the Iraqi security forces there where the tough jobs are.

“We’re pretty fortunate about that. It’s pretty gratifying to see the progress the Iraqi security forces are making. In fact, the operation that we’re in now an Iraqi general is actually running the operation and I’m working for him rather than an American general.”

Col. Townsend and the 3rd Brigade have been to Iraq before, but this is their first time patrolling Baghdad.

Cpl. Jason Ratliff out on patrol says on video provided by the Army, “We always look for weapons and we try to see if people know anything.”

PFC Elizabeth Turan on patrol says, “It’s kind of scary because you don’t know if someone is going to pull a gun out. But it’s not that bad.”

‘Elizabeth’ is not one of those names that can be mistaken since it is not a gender-neutral name.  ‘Elizabeth’ is a woman, and she is on patrol in Baghdad.  We might make several observations about this.

For whatever reason (meeting recruitment goals, political pressures), the Pentagon wants women in combat.  Of course, there are practical matters with which to contend, including unit cohesion, lower torso strength of women, a higher rate of lower extremety injuries, etc. (in fact, the Russian campaign in Afghanistan saw a much higher rate of lower extremity injuries in women).  But leaving behind the practical effect on U.S. forces, has anyone stopped to consider what we are communicating to those whose hearts and minds we want to win?

In the heavily patristic and tribal society that is Iraq (and in fact the whole Middle East), family and tribe function to a great extent by providing protection and security.  This is codified into the religious framework of the region by Islam.  The very notion of accepting security from women would be seen as scandalous, humiliating and repugnant to the head of a family or tribal elder.  But in our so-called “security plan,” accepting security from women is precisely what we are offering (and in fact demanding) from men who cannot accept this offer.

We routinely offer up rhetorical flourish on winning hearts and minds, while Elizabeth is on patrol in Baghdad.  And no one stops to ponder the question “just what are the consequences of these actions?”

Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

On April 15, 2007, Dave Kilcullen authored a commentary on Edward Luttwak’s commentary entitled Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice.  Kilcullen invokes this discussion in his most recent commentary entitled Religion and Insurgency at the Small Wars Journal; Kilcullen puts forward a series of interesting thoughts on the role (or lack thereof) of religion in the current insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Without studying these articles, my commentary will be read in a vacuum.  It is recommended that you spend the time necessary to understand Kilcullen’s arguments before tackling my response.  In the lengthy article that follows, Smith responds to Kilcullen; first to his views concerning the relationship of Islam and the insurgency in Iraq, second to his views concerning the Peters / Luttwak position, and finally the current state of affairs concerning rules of engagement and the Petraeus letter to the troops concerning the same.

The three central theses of Kilcullen’s commentary follow:

First, there is solid field evidence that modern counterinsurgency methods, properly updated for the new environment, actually are effective against current insurgencies. Second, insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq are not actually particularly religious — certainly, they are no more religious than the societies they are attacking. Indeed, there is an empirical problem with the whole notion of a “religious? insurgency, since almost all historical insurgencies have included a strong religious dimension, so that it is not clear that discrete “religious insurgencies? actually exist as observable phenomena. And third, doctrinal publications are not templates, but generic expositions of principle; not cookbooks, but frameworks. Practitioners must populate these frameworks with current, locally accurate, deeply understood insights into the societies where they operate. There is simply no substitute for what we might call “conflict ethnography?: a deep, situation-specific understanding of the human, social and cultural dimensions of a conflict, understood not by analogy with some other conflict, but in its own terms.

As I have pointed out, the real insurgency, while routintely blamed on AQI by both the U.S. and competing forces inside Iraq, is a mixture of rogue elements, from criminal gangs to Ba’athists to Fedayeen Saddam.  In Kirkuk, for example, it is observed that “Most, if not all, the terrorists are the old Baath Party members,? Mam Rostam said. “They changed their names and became an Islamist party. But they are the same guys. They have unified with some Sunnis around the Southwest of Kirkuk because they are living in this area. They are making these attacks to make this democratic experiment after Saddam fail.?  In attributing so many incidents to al Qaeda or AQI-linked insurgents, the Multi-National Force press releases have added to the perception that the insurgency is excusively religious.  Kilcullen makes a powerful case with substantial arguments that there is a strong non-religious, or even irreligious part of the insurgency.  He summarizes by saying that “Islam is invoked by all sides as a rallying cry, not solely by the insurgents. And in fact the conflict is entirely political.” (italics mine)

But Kilcullen says too much and proves too little, and his own commentary contains the defeater for his position.  He says, “I have seen former Iraqi insurgents break down in bitter tears when they realized that guerrilla leaders they believed were true Muslims were actually tattooed habitual criminals with links to organized crime, murder-for-profit gangs and the old Ba’athist oligarchy.”  If religious devotion was not at least some part of the insurgency, this statement makes no sense and has no context.  The apparent fallacy here is one of affirming the consequent.  Kilcullen’s argument is:

  1. If there are irreligious aspects to the insurgency, then the insurgency is irreligious.
  2. Evidence shows that there are irreligious aspects to the current insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  3. Therefore, the insurgencies are irreligous.

Arguments of this form are invalid.  On a deeper level, in the intellectual wasteland of post-modern America, it has become easy to treat religion as a subset or category of anthropology or sociology.  In the wake of Rudolph Bultmann and his ilk, orthodoxy has been jettisoned and belief systems are empty.  Paul Tillich, upon inauguration as the Chair of Theology at the University of Chicago’s divinity school, in a remarkable testimony to the fact that post-modernism had nothing left to say to society or mankind in general, famously denied that theology existed.  But in a war in which we are trying to understand “hearts and minds,” the final arbiter is not largesse.  The difference between Vietnam and the jihadists, it has been said, is that the Viet Cong didn’t follow us home.  This is true, and no mere appeal to criminality, goon-ism or thugery can fully explain why men would train their whole lives in order to fly aircraft into buildings, any more than it can explain why suicide bombers still cross from Syria into Iraq.  No appeal to political power can explain the vision of the radical Mullahs in Iran who continue to supply weapons and personnel into the insurgency in Iraq.  The fact that not all of the data points to religion as the impetus and first cause doesn’t change the fact that some of it does.

To see an essentially religious element in all of man’s endeavors, in fact, is not inconsistent with the best thinkers alive today.  Alvin Plantinga, in his Advice to Christian Philosophers, says:

So the Christian philosopher has his own topics and projects to think about; and when he thinks about the topics of current concern in the broader philosophical world, he will think about them in his own way, which may be a different way. He may have to reject certain currently fashionable assumptions about the philosophic enterprise-he may have to reject widely accepted assumptions as to what are the proper starting points and procedures for philosophical endeavor. And-and this is crucially important-the Christian philosopher has a perfect right to the point of view and prephilosophical assumptions he brings to philosophic work; the fact that these are not widely shared outside the Christian or theistic community is interesting but fundamentally irrelevant … the Christian philosopher has a right (I should say a duty) to work at his own projects-projects set by the beliefs of the Christian community of which he is a part. The Christian philosophical community must work out the answers to its questions; and both the questions and the appropriate ways of working out their answers may presuppose beliefs rejected at most of the leading centers of philosophy. But the Christian is proceeding quite properly in starting from these beliefs, even if they are so rejected. He is under no obligation to confine his research projects to those pursued at those centers, or to pursue his own projects on the basis of the assumptions that prevail there.

I have pointed out before that the Armed Forces currently has a deep problem with Chaplains and even the mere idea of universal, invariant truth.  But this obscene dance with political correctness doesn’t change the fact that the deepest, most compelling cause of action in mankind remains religion, and justly so.  Until our military doctrine properly grapples with this fact and incorporates the deliverances of this category of thought, our counterinsurgency will remain barren as it regards what the data proves to be a non-trivial actor in the struggle.

Without laboring over a detailed response to Kilcullen’s views on Luttwak, I think that it is very important not to oversell the idea that Luttwak misreads history.  It is tempting to take Luttwak on tet a tet through the details of each historical lesson, and such an approach is, in my humble opinion, wrongheaded and doomed to failure.  One such example would be the Romans and their TTPs.  Luke 17 gives us a brief glimpse into the nature of Roman control over the Middle East, a glimpse that can be fleshed out by reading the writings of the first century Jewish historian Josephus.  I had initially intended to pile up quotes and facts from my history books, but this is not necessary, and it is likely that no one (save the incorrigible history buff) would read it.  In lieu of this, let me simple assert that the Roman legions were extremely brutal in their suppression of insurgents.  In fact, to say that they were extremely brutal doesn’t do justice to their behavior, but throwing superlatives around would take us far afield.  There was an insurgency in the time of Christ, and it should be remembered that the idea of a crucifixion was not new, and existed before and during the life of Christ for insurgents, lawbreakers and other rogue elements (to be used later against people because of religious persuasion).  The Roman brutality was remarkably successful in the supression of the insurgency.  The Romans exercised brutality especially during the third Punic war.  This prepared them for the times that lay ahead, and set the course for the nature of their brutality.  They had found something that worked, and they would continue to use it.

Further, while I have pointed out in the past that acts of brutality has worked against the aims of insurgents (the very ones who perpetrate them), it would be incorrect to assert that severe punishment for offenders doesn’t do the job of supression of the insurgency.  Take for example the recent New York Times article 3 Suspects Talk After Iraqi Soldiers Do Dirty Work.  This article catalogues an extremely effective Iraqi unit in their “questioning” of insurgents, this questioning undoubtedly saving Iraqi and U.S. lives.  Says one Iraqi commanding officer, “If the Americans used this way, the way we use, nobody would shoot the Americans at all,? Captain Hassan said. “But they are easy with them, and they have made it easy for the terrorists.?  Other examples can be cited, where the so-called Salvation Front in Anbar, ally of the U.S., has used TTPs that do not comport with U.S. rules of engagement.

In my opinion, the far better way to argue against Luttwak’s position is that it is morally wrong (when inflicted upon an innocent population), not that it doesn’t work (or that it doesn’t comport with the historical facts, a dubious claim anyway).  Again, rather than argue from the perspective of a utilitarian (subject to the next example that might contradict your own thesis), it is best to argue from a deontological perspective.  A well constructed argument never needs to be revisited, as long as your world view and value system remains unchanged.  Additionally, utilitarian arguments that brutality works or doesn’t work are inductive anyway, subject to the exigencies of the situation on the ground, and hence are always necessarily soft.  Hard arguments are deductive, and befitting of this weighty subject matter.  It should also be pointed out that even if such a thing (brutality against innocents) were ever codified into law, given the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which American was founded, the armed forces would (correctly) normally refuse to implement such a policy.  However, regarding known insurgents, I have always advocated tougher measures than we currently employ, and while any other policy gives its adherent the opportunity to preen over his moral superiority, this person has to consider the moral detriment to his soul when lack of a tougher policy costs a mother her son or a wife her husband.

But by using the term moral (or right or wrong, a term which Kilcullen uses), we are entering another domain.  For those who believe that death essentially means that the body cools to ambient temperature, there is little that they can do to define “moral” or “ethical.”  But we have used the term, and applied it to behavior of men in uniform at the behest of the U.S. government.  These are necessarily religious terms, and they have no moorings or meaning unless a religious framework is posited.

War can and should be seen in terms of a ministry, and it is possible (and required) to apply a moral framework not only to when but how we wage it.  But it should be remembered that if it is a ministry, the first ones to whom ministry belongs is the fighting man — our own warriors.  To that end I have argued in my commentaries on rules of engagement (and most particularly in Rules of Engagement and Pre-Theoretical Commitments) for a robust set of ROE that first protects the American fighting man, while secondly attempting to minimize non-combatant casualties, and in that order.  For instance, David Danelo has documented instances where insurgents learn and use our ROE against us, by firing pre-deployed weapons, relocating, firing again, and so forth, all the while being under watch by U.S. troops who cannot return fire because of the ROE (i.e., dropping the weapon before running across the street).  Michael Fumento has posted in the comments section of my article The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement that minarets were always a thing of fear to him because snipers “hung out” there.  When he recommended that the U.S. or Iraqi troops station sentries in order to prohibit the entry of men with sniper rifles, the response came back a resounding ‘no’.  For this would not win hearts and minds.  In the same article NCOs have documented cases where strict adherence to the ROE has cost American lives.  I have also documented cases where gaurds could not act, even when cars allegedly “broke down” at the entrances to FOBs with known insurgents scouting the area for weaknesses while someone else “repaired” the car.  Again, these instances demonstrate that the insurgent is adaptable and willing and able to use our ROE against us, while our ROE are unable to be adapted.  Such is the picture that is painted when the JAGs are trusted more than the NCOs.

It is not hard, then, to imagine a deleterious affect on troop morale.  In response to this, General Petraeus issued the following statement upon taking over OIF:

I am concerned about the unintended consequences of our efforts over thepast two years to reduce injury and death to innocents within the framework of escalation of force (EOF) situations. The intentions of these efforts have been absolutely correct; however, it appears that the results, in some cases, have led to establishment of procedures that have, in effect, changed the rules of engagement for our troopers. Let me be clear: (1) No one may issue supplementary guidance that forecloses the judgment of an individual facing a split-second and independent decision whether to engage a threat. Persons committing hostile acts or exhibiting hostile intent may be engaged with all necessary force without progress through EOF measures — though, of course, progressing though EOF measures should be the case when the situation allows. (2) Leaders should strive to shape situations so that coalition forces are not pressed into making snap judgments under questionable circumstances. Warning equipment, barrier materials, and nonlethal weapons, as well as signs — well-lighted at night and understandable to Iraqis — must continue to be issued to our troops. This is easier written than done, I recognize, but we must strive to minimize the situations that result in split-second decisions when we can. (3) To remain true to our nations’ values and maintain our discipline, commanders will investigate engagements resulting in death, injury requiring hospitalization, or substantial property loss to a civilian. Other incidents will be reported according to unit standards and may be investigated at local commanders’ discretion. Despite our best efforts to minimize them — efforts that are very important-there will be EOF incidents. Learn from them, conduct the AARs that are the hallmark of a professional force, train on the lessons brought to light, and share these lessons. Your chain of command will stand with you.

These words likely ring hollow when juxtaposed with the more recent advice to turn in fellow warriors for violations of the rules.  This most recent communication was the wrong one, done at the wrong time, by the wrong person.  If something had to be communicated, it should have been done by Chaplains, and couched in terms of prevention, morality and “good wars” rather than legalities.  The goal should have been instruction and counsel, but with this letter will come a likely pall over troop morale, with warriors wondering when the next investigation will be started and by whom for what.

The more sophisticated thinkers are working towards prevention rather than prosecution.  Finally, upon disclosure of such violations, amelioration (for both the noncombatant and the warrior) is superior to retribution.  Such should be the aims of the man who thinks morally about war, what it does to the ones we war upon, and what it does to our warriors.

This article has been updated with Smith Responds (where Smith responds to his critics concerning this article).


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