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]

Recon by Fire

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

My coverage of rules of engagement has been sweeping and continues to get traffic, especially The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement, and Rules of Engagement and Pre-Theoretical Commitments. I have argued for more robust rules of engagement, but I have nowhere argued that the lack of robust ROE is felt throughout Iraq in every unit and in every engagement. In the comments section to the later article, I responded to Charlie B. of OpFor that:

… those individuals who have had good experiences with the ROE will tend to side with you, while those individuals who have been in specific circumstances where the ROE have let them down will tend to agree with my article (some to greater and some to lesser degrees).

Second, I still believe that our pre-theoretical commitments determine the outcome of our thought. For instance, suppose that we began the discussion by asking the question, “why does such a thing as ROE need to exist?? The answer to that will differ per person, one saying something like “in order to comport with the LOAC,? another (like Victor David Hanson) saying something like “so that we do not lose momentum in our combat such as happened with the withdrawal from Fallujah the first time and as occurred with the failure to shoot looters.? When the Iraqis saw that we would not / could not protect their assets, they had to consider militias. Yet another person may respond on utilitarian grounds (the potential consequences of overreaction are more important than anything else). There are other potential answers.

… the discussion MUST begin on pre-theoretical grounds. One must know why an individual believes that ROE should exist before he can know how that person wants the ROE to look. The two are that connected. They are inseparable.

I do not purvey or traffic in propaganda. If there is another side I want to show it. There is one particulary poignant example of robust rules of engagement that is interesting, and the video is worth watching completely. The reporter is somewhat propagandistic, but if you ignore the reporter and focus on the facts, this is a worthwhile example to consider and discuss.

There are only three choices: (1) engage in recon by fire, (2) send Marines into the thicket with a high likelihood of taking casualties, or (3) allow the shooter to escape, living to kill Marines another day. Which choice would you have made?

Settling with the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

In U.S. Presses for Amnesty for Insurgents, October of 2006, I discussed the press towards a broad-based amnesty program for the Sunni insurgents, observing that:

This is without question an attempt to quell the violence in al Anbar, and the hope appears to be that the tribes in al Anbar will root out al Qaeda (and other foreign elements), while a deal with the former Saddam loyalists will end the bloodshed associated with the insurgency.

But a deal will without doubt create many personal and emotional wounds with mothers and fathers of Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines who have died in Iraq fighting the insurgency.  There are still difficult times ahead.  Either these emotional wounds are created – probably never to heal – or the fight continues, with an uncertain end.

More than simple amnesty, U.S. forces are making allies of former insurgents, in spite of the unease that this creates with the Shi’a and Kurds.

Shi’ite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations yesterday about the new US military strategy to partner with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“They are trusting terrorists,” said Ali Al Adeeb, a prominent Shi’ite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

Throughout Iraq, a growing number of Sunni groups profess to have turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq because of its indiscriminate killing and repressive version of Islam. In some areas, these groups have provided information to Americans about Al Qaeda members or the deadly explosives that target the soldiers.

The collaboration has progressed furthest in the western province of Anbar, where US military commanders enlisted the help of Sunni tribal leaders to funnel their kinsmen into the police force by the thousands. In other areas, Sunnis have not been fully incorporated into the security services and exist as local militias.

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs, and direct assistance from US soldiers. In Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood, a local group of Sunnis, the Baghdad Patriots, were driven around earlier this month in American and Iraqi vehicles and given approval by US forces to arrest suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members.

In Fallujah, Regimental Combat Team 6 is training former insurgents to fight al Qaeda.

Marine Sgt. Tony Storey doesn’t like to think about what-ifs as he watches the young Iraqis he is helping to train take target practice. He recalls one man who was a natural with his AK47.

“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” Storey asked.

“Insurgent,” the man said with a smile.

“Was he joking?” Storey asked while surveying the 50 men from the Albu Issa tribe firing their weapons at a distant target. “I don’t know.”

For the men of Regimental Combat Team 6, who are training members of Anbar province tribes to fight Al Qaeda, Storey’s question isn’t simple curiosity. Less than a year ago, the tribes viewed Al Qaeda in Iraq as an ally in their effort to push Americans out of the province.

Now, the tribes see Al Qaeda as a threat to their society and their businesses — many of them dependent on illegal smuggling — and they’ve turned to the U.S. military for help.

This model is also being implemented in the Diyala province.  The alliance goes to the point of arming the Sunnis to manage security in their own geographical areas.  After some aborted starts at a coherent reply to this, Prime Minister Maliki who initially repudiated this idea later claimed credit for it.

Maliki, representing the Shi’a, doesn’t appreciate the new alliance with and arming of the Sunni no matter what he claims, and there is a tense relationship between him and General Petraeus.  But the point goes far deeper than interpersonal relationships between U.S. generals and Iraqi politicians.  The alliance being implemented in Iraq is a high-risk / high payoff strategy that must be successful if Iraq is to be pacified, Maliki’s objections notwithstanding.

When the U.S. forces begin to stand down and withdraw, to remove the U.S. men and materiel in Iraq will take more than a year.  Withdrawal will be slow and deliberate.  Furthermore, it is likely that complete withdrawal will not happen for a long time.  More likely is that the U.S. will re-deploy to the North in Kurdistan, assisting the Iraqi army and police with kinetic operations upon request, while also serving as a stabilizer for the Middle East and border security for Iraq.

But it is just as likely that U.S. forces will not be performing constabulary operations for much longer.  The counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24, was written based on the presupposition that the U.S. has the ten to twelve years necessary to conduct the classical counterinsurgency campaign.  This was never true, is not true now, and will not be true in the future.  Military needs aside, the public – by the power of the vote – has the right and prerogative within the American system to make the policy decision on the conduct of war.  Asking the American pubic to support a counterinsurgency campaign over three consecutive presidential administrations is expecting the impossible, no matter how well the administration communicates the conditions of the campaign to the public.

All wars must end.  The end of Operation Iraqi Freedom necessitates settling with the enemy, a high stakes strategy, absent which there is only loss of the counterinsurgency campaign.

Losing the Intelligence and Information War

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

 Sun Tzu — “If I am able to determine the enemy’s dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own then I can concentrate and he must divide.  And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his? (The Art of War, VI.13).

While the Department of Defense wastes time and effort on policy for military blogging, MySpace, pictures and e-mail, we are losing the intelligence and information war.  The national debate on the so-called “surge” warned the enemy that new and robust kinetic operations were coming, and specifically, to Baghdad.  Discussing the surge, we pointed out that AQI was previously reported to have been leaving Baghdad and heading for the Diyala province 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 enemy are students of American politics, and the fact and timetable of the surge were bandied about in open forums and by politicians so long that they couldn’t possibly miss the fact that Baghdad was first and of primary importance.  Rather than die, they fled to fight another day.  Now it appears that we are watching Baghdad surge redux in Baquba.

U.S. troops hoping to directly confront al Qaeda militants in a major offensive in the Iraqi city of Baquba instead found themselves “swimming through a minefield”, a senior officer said on Sunday.

The operation in and around Baquba, capital of volatile Diyala province, is in its sixth day and is a major part of one of the biggest offensives by U.S. and Iraqi forces against the Sunni Islamist group in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Some U.S. officers said they believed the initial combat phase of the offensive is nearly complete and any militants left could be confronted in the next 24 hours. Hundreds of militants were thought to be still holed up in Baquba’s western districts.

But others believe many al Qaeda fighters left Baquba after getting clear signals from U.S. commanders who have said for some time that the city was high on their list of priorities.

“It’s frustrating. You set up something that you know will work … now we know that most of the al Qaeda enemy got away,” said Captain Julian Kemper. “Our purpose was not to push them out somewhere else. It was to end it here.”

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq, has said there was little doubt al Qaeda knew that a major offensive was coming.

They watched the news. They understood we had a surge, they understood Baquba was designated as a problem area,” he told Pentagon journalists on Friday.

Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, said the latest intelligence indicated some fighters were still inside an American cordon, which has been steadily tightened since the operation began.

The campaign in Diyala, north of Baghdad, as well as offensives in other regions around the capital, is expected to last several weeks.

After heavy street fighting on the first day, Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba has shifted to the slow and dangerous job of clearing scores of buried bombs and booby-trapped houses.

A U.S. jet dropped a precision-guided bomb on one booby-trapped house, setting off a massive secondary explosion.

“Even though we’re not fighting an enemy soldier, we are swimming through his minefield,” Townsend told Reuters.

He expected the combat phase of the operation in Baquba to be over in the next 24 to 48 hours as his men re-checked areas to make sure they had not missed any concealed bombs.

Barriers and checkpoints, manned by Iraqi security forces, were being put up around three of the most troubled districts in west Baquba to prevent al Qaeda slipping back into the city.

Baquba is an al Qaeda stronghold that has also become a sanctuary for militants escaping a security crackdown launched in Baghdad in February.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are engaged in the simultaneous offensives in and around Baghdad to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in farmlands and towns from where they launch car bombs and other attacks in the capital and elsewhere.

In Operation Marne Torch, an offensive targeting al Qaeda in Baghdad’s southern “beltlands”, Major-General Rick Lynch said 12 insurgents had been killed and 142 detained.

U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed 90 al Qaeda fighters around Baghdad, 55 of them in the Baquba operation.

With more U.S. soldiers engaged in offensives around the country the death toll for U.S. forces has begun to rise in June after hitting a two-and-a-half year monthly high in May of 126, the third highest monthly total since the start of the war.

Eighty U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in June, 28 of them in the past week.

Worse than simply missing some of the AQI leadership, we are now wading through a landscape littered with IEDs.  The knowledge the enemy had of our actions will redound to real casualties of American troops.  Until America learns to have a national conversation without invoking our military strategy, we will educate the enemy with our open deliberations.

Despite the World War II adage “loose lips sinks ships,” focus on blogs, MySpace, pictures, e-mail and telephone discussions is misplaced and wasteful.  The enemy doesn’t need to mine our personal communications to ascertain our strategy.  He only needs to listen to our public discourse.

Proxy Wars and Incomplete Counterinsurgency Doctrine

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

In The Covert War with Iran, we discussed the ongoing intelligence war and weapons trafficing in which Iran was engaging throughout Iraq and the broader Middle East, as well as the distributed operations by the Quds force.  Later in The Summer War with Iran we discussed how this would intensify due to the surge and security plan.  This intensification has occurred, as Iranian conventional forces have been seen crossing over the border into Iraq.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces have been spotted by British troops crossing the border into southern Iraq, The Sun tabloid reported on Tuesday.
Britain’s defence ministry would not confirm or deny the report, with a spokesman declining to comment on “intelligence matters”.

An unidentified intelligence source told the tabloid: “It is an extremely alarming development and raises the stakes considerably. In effect, it means we are in a full on war with Iran — but nobody has officially declared it.”

“We have hard proof that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have crossed the border to attack us. It is very hard for us to strike back. All we can do is try to defend ourselves. We are badly on the back foot.”

The Sun said that radar sightings of Iranian helicopters crossing into the Iraqi desert were confirmed to it by very senior military sources.

In response to the report, a British defence ministry spokesman said: “There is evidence that explosive devices used against our troops in southern Iraq originated in Iran.”

“Any Iranian link to armed militias in Iraq either through weapons supply, training or funding are unacceptable.”

See also a related article at The Sun.  We are in a proxy war orchestrated out of Tehran, Damascus and to some extent Riyadh.  This assertion doesn’t deny that there is an insurgency created out of and supported by the disaffected Ba’athists, Fedayeen Saddam, and other criminal and rogue elements in Iraq.  But it does fill in the complete picture and highlight the international war that is occuring in Iraq.

To the extent to which there is an international war occuring, counterinsurgency doctrine, e.g., winning hearts and minds, proper governing (viz. David Galula), and even largesse, reconstruction, and reconciliation efforts, will be to no avail.  These tactics target a different element who fights for a different reason and in a different way.  Prescribing the wrong medicine is dangerous not only because it can harm the patient, but also because it can give the illusion of progress, safety and security while letting the disease grow worse.

Infantry Belongs on Foot, Sir!

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

In the summer of 2005, fourteen Marines were tragically lost near Haditha while being transported in an Amphibious Assault Vehicle.  Soon after this event I had the opportunity to discuss it with a seasoned Marine Staff Sergeant, and I complained vigorously about the idea of running an Amphibious Assault Vehicle down a desert road in Iraq.  It lacked the armor for its mission, it wasn’t designed to do what was being demanded of it, and it is particularly susceptible to ordnance from the side (here is a picture of what this vehicle looked like after the IED attack).  The seasoned Sergeant waited patiently until I was finished and said, “Infantry belongs on foot, sir!”

The Strategy Page has an analysis of infantry, IEDs and travel on foot.

June 21, 2007:  Roadside bombs in Iraq now cause over 70 percent of the U.S. casualties. Moreover, most of the bomb casualties  now are combat troops, not the guys and gals who run the supply convoys up from Kuwait, and to dozens of bases in Iraq. Those routes are close watched and well patrolled. The danger comes when combat troops move into a n new area and have to patrol a lot of roads that are not closely watched for people setting up bombs. Not only are there more bombs to be encountered in these areas, but the troops naturally spend more time looking for them as they drive around on patrol. They should be looking for the bad guys and suspicious activity, but self-defense must come first.

To lower the bomb threat, many infantry commanders are resorting to an ancient practice; walking. This eliminates nearly all contact with roadside bombs. Troops can’t always accomplish their missions on foot, but many jobs can be done that way. If a raid is on a location a kilometer or so from the base, walking is no problem. Many such raids are usually carried out early in the morning, in order to take the suspects by surprise. Going in by foot in these situations is not a problem.

Another major activity, patrolling, is usually done in the vicinity of the base. You can see a lot more on foot, and have more opportunities to get information from the locals (who are increasingly willing to give it.) Even with all the heat, the troops appreciate the opportunity to amble about. Normally, the only work done on foot is frantic scrambling in combat, after dismounting from an armored vehicle. But whether the troops like to hike cross country or not, they all quickly come to appreciate the decline in roadside bomb casualties, or the anxiety that one may be just down the road.

This is the reason that Marines train to “hump” twenty miles at a time with full gear.  In an area the size of Fallujah, there isn’t any reason that foot transport cannot carry them from one side of the city to the other (and even South into the Euphrates River valley area).  Of course, heavy battlefield weight becomes a significant concern, an issue we have discussed in Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, and Body Armor Goes Political.  Battlefield weight must be reduced, an important aim of next generation technology for the warrior.

**** UPDATE ****

A few hours after I published this article, the L.A. Times published an extensive article on EFPs, walking and infantry.

U.S. troops working the streets of the capital fear one Iraqi weapon more than others — a copper-plated explosive that can penetrate armor and has proved devastating to Humvees and even capable of severely damaging tanks.

The power of what the military calls an EFP — for explosively formed penetrator, or projectile — to spray molten metal balls that punch through the armor on vehicles has some American troops rethinking their tactics. They are asking whether the U.S. should give up its reliance on making constant improvements to vehicle defenses.

Instead, these troops think, it is time to leave the armor behind — and get out and walk.

“In our area, the biggest threat for us is EFPs. When you are in the vehicles, you are a big target,” said Army Staff Sgt. Cavin Moskwa, 33, of Hawaii, who patrols Baghdad’s Zafraniya neighborhood with the Bravo Battery of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment. “But when you are dismounted … you are a lot safer.”

In the last three days, 15 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, nine of them in two powerful roadside bomb blasts. The military does not publicly identify the kind of weapon used in improvised explosive attacks, but the deadly nature of the blasts Wednesday and Thursday suggested that EFPs may have been used.

Read the entire article by the L.A. Times.

Constabulary Operations and Prison Overcrowding

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

A consistent theme presents itself in Multinational Force press releases when raids and other kinetic operations are discussed.  Many insurgents choose to die rather than surrender, and when they make this choice, they die.  When they surrender, the Multinational Forces have captured ”high value targets and remanded them for prosecution” through whatever judicial process Iraq can claim to have.  Or perhaps not.

Azzaman is routinely propagandistic, contextually biasing the facts on the ground in Iraq by their coverage.  But when the reader can see through the propaganda, the facts are useful.  I began monitoring the prison situation in Iraq some months ago, and this interest peaked when I read the March 17, 2007, account by Azzaman of the current situation of the prisons.

The population of prisons in Iraq has soared in recent months with tens of thousands of Iraqis currently in U.S. custody without trial.

U.S. troops and Iraqi government are investing heavily in the construction of prisons in the country with more than 100,000 Iraqis currently behind bars.

A parliamentary investigation commission has found that U.S. troops alone now detain more than 61,000 Iraqis and the figure is expected to swell as the Americans press ahead with their military operations.

More than 50,000 Iraqis were reported to have been arrested in the past four weeks as part of the joint U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to subdue Baghdad.

U.S. troops detain Iraqis merely on suspicion. Once detained, Iraqis may stay indefinitely as they are denied access to lawyers and Iraqi courts and government have no right to question U.S. troops’ actions.

Even Iraqi troops operations and activities now fall beyond the Iraqi judicial system as the country has been placed under emergency rule under which the courts have no power to question what the security forces do.

The last two paragraphs are false.  On June 15, 2007, Owen and Bing West had an insightful and hard hitting commentary in the New York Times on these issues.  They began by criticizing the strategy.

WHILE waiting to see if the Iraq surge strategy pays off, President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have shown Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the door and brought in Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as the new White House “war czar.? Well, they can shift senior leadership all they want, but unless they give our troops patrolling the streets the tools they need, our leaders are going to see this strategy fizzle.

Part of the problem was that when the military surge was announced, it became commonplace for officials to assert that political compromise, not military force, would determine the outcome of the war. This vacuous idea would startle George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, to mention only a few unlikely bedfellows who forged success during an insurgency.

Buying time with American lives is not a military mission. No platoon commander tells his soldiers to go out and tread water so the politicians can talk. The goal of American soldiers is to identify and kill or capture the Shiite death squads and Sunni insurgents.

Here Owen and Bing West, whether intentionally or not, call into question the whole notion of constabulary operations as part of counterinsurgency.  They point to kinetic operations against the enemy as the key to success.  By constabulary operations I am discussing here the mission of policing the population on a daily basis rather than the conduct of war, whether small or large wars, raids and room clearing or calling in air strikes.  After focusing much needed attention on census taking, population identification and control of the urban terrain, the West’s continue:

The other major defect we’ve seen in our military strategy is the consistent release of captured insurgents. Imprisonment is the dominant military weapon for quelling this insurgency. Vietnam was a shooting war; Iraq is a police arrest war. The insurgents learned years ago not to engage in firefights with American troops. American troops in Vietnam in 1968, for example, found that they killed 13 enemies for every one captured; in Iraq, one enemy is killed for every 10 captured.

Yet, according to Pentagon records, more than 85 percent of the suspected Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen detained are soon set free. The troops call it “catch and release.? The American and Iraqi jails now hold about 40,000 prisoners — by some estimates just half the number Saddam Hussein released from prison in the mass exodus of 2002. Texas, with a smaller population, has more than 170,000 in jail …

In our experience, it has worked this way: After an arrest, two soldiers must file affidavits, together with physical evidence and digital pictures, and then an American lawyer decides if the package is strong enough to withstand further review. About half of all detainees are released within 18 hours; the others are sent from battalion level to brigade level, where the evidence is re-examined, resulting in more releases.

Those detainees remaining are sent to a detention center where a combined board reviews the evidence again, and releases still more. After that, every six months a United States board must re-review the evidence in each case. Lastly, the detainee appears before an Iraqi judge, who in turn dismisses about half of the cases.

As for follow-up, before a detainee walks free, the American command sends notification to the battalion in the area where he was apprehended. But because many of the battalions have rotated back to the United States by this time, a new unit has to deal with the detainee.

Worse, there remains steady clamoring from both high-level Iraqi and American officials for yet another mass release (there have been several since 2003). To his credit, General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, has resisted, and the result is prison overcrowding since the surge began. Yet neither the American government, mindful of the criticism of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, nor the Iraqi government wants to take the political heat of building more prisons.

Sorry, but we can’t let old mistakes be the cause of new ones. The scale of imprisonment must be doubled or tripled if we are serious about prevailing. There is no deterrence in Iraq today because most captured insurgents are released. We will never defeat an insurgency we allow to regenerate.

If we are going to engage in constabulary operations such as this, along with the detestable involvement of lawyers, then to neglect to furnish the troops with the necessary prisons to properly detain the captured insurgents is contrary to established moral principles.

Body Armor Goes Political

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

**** SCROLL FOR UPDATES **** 

Discussions on body armor for Soldiers and Marines can be highly technical, and most of them have been, right up until recently.  Senators are now winning political points by talking about body armor that will never be deployed because it is too heavy to wear on the battlefield; the Government Accountability Office is performing investigations that fail to address government accountability; the Army refuses even to consider assistance to its testing program by an independent engineering consultant; and all the while Marines are still being denied the equipment that they need.  Body armor has gone political.

Introduction & Background

In Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, we gave a primer on the features and characteristics of the currently deployed body armor (the Interceptor Body Armor and the Modular Tactical Vest, or Spartan 2 Assault Vest), and expanded the investigation into the claims and counterclaims of Pinnacle, and the Army, respectively, concerning the Dragon Skin body armor.  Finally, we outlined a way forward for all concerned parties, this way being the best solution for the Soldier and Marine irrespective of how other parties feel about it.  The recommendations included but were not limited to the development of analytical models of the body armor types, a re-examination of the testing protocol, a review of the test data and more testing as deemed appropriate, and real world input from Soldiers and Marines concerning ‘wearability’ and heavy battlefield weight.  This was to be led by an independent engineering consultant to the Department of Defense.

There were political machinations at work prior to our article on body armor wars, but these wars are becoming increasingly political and less oriented towards technical substance and reviewer independence.  Shrill voices who have never put on body armor are now weighing in, clearly attempting to gain political points.

Survey of the Debate

Below we catalog recent articles which bear on the issue of body armor and the Dragon Skin versus the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) / MTV (Modular Tactical Vest, or Spartan 2).

On April 26, 2007, the Government Accountability Office published their preliminary findings in Defense Logistics: Army and Marine Corps’s Individual Body Armor System Issues, as GAO-07-662R.  Other than standardization of test protocol for soft ballistic panels, the GAO reported a substantial amount of detail to Congress concerning their findings, none of which were worthy of mention as problems.  The study and report focused on meeting theater requirements and body armor availability, testing protocol, post-deployment inspections and information sharing between the Army and Marine Corps.  A comparison of the IBA/MTV with the Dragon Skin (or an assessment of claims made by Pinnacle) was not within the scope of the study.

On May 2, 2007, OpFor published the summary of the GAO’s investigation into the body armor testing, and reported “sorry Pinnacle, no government conspiracy.”  OpFor followed up this article with two more articles: May 21, 2007 and May 22, 2007, both of which were extremely critical of the Dragon Skin and the claims by Pinnacle.

On May 18, 2007, Senators Clinton and Webb issued a press release in which they “called on Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker to initiate a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to reassess the body armor systems currently being issued by all the military services and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness and reliability against the threats facing U.S. troops in combat.”  Note that this press release recommends a different GAO investigation, one that focuses on the currently deployed systems versus the Dragon Skin.

On May 20, 2007, two days after Senators Clinton and Webb issued their press release, NBC published an article on the Dragon Skin body armor entitled Are U.S. Soldiers Wearing the Best Body Armor?  In addition to conducting their own tests after which they call into question the Army test results, they NBC slips in their summary statement up front, saying that “the Army’s Interceptor uses four rigid plates to stop the most lethal bullets, leaving some vital organs unprotected. Dragon Skin — with discs that interconnect like Medieval chainmail — can wrap most of a soldier’s torso, providing a greater area of maximum protection.”

Also on May 20, 2007, Jeff Huber of Pen and Sword published an article that was highly critical of the Army’s handling of the body armor situation.  The article at Pen and Sword presupposes the superiority of the Dragon Skin to the IBA/MTV.

On May 28, 2007, The Captain’s Journal published Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward.  In this article we sided with OpFor concerning battlefield weight, although we decidedly favored completely independent testing and analysis by a mechanical and forensic engineering firm, as well as review of all DoD testing protocols of body armor.  We provided a list of ten recommendations for such a project.  On the same day, Blackfive published a list of useful links to the body armor controversy, and concurred with our opinion regarding independent testing and analysis.

On June 5, 2007, DefenseTech published an article entitled The Dragon Skin Circus Begins.  Defense Tech received an advance copy of testimony before congress and supplied some technical analysis and criticism, and using an extensive history of coverage of this body armor issue, raised a number of technical issues associated with both the Dragon Skin testing and the testimony before Congress.

On June 6, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the controversy, and ranking member Duncan Hunter, whose son is a Marine who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, issued a statement both warning on the one hand of the necessity to test in high temperature conditions, and on the other of the need for retesting of the body armor systems.  Despite the requests, Army officials declined to retest the body armor systems under any other protocol than a new contract.  On June 7, 2007, DefenseTech published a post-mortem on the Dragon Skin Congressional hearing.

On June 7, 2007, Daily Kos weighed in with the most vitriolic and shrill article yet on body armor.  The article sees an evil administration at every turn, refusing to consider the safety of the troops.  This insightful comment sits at the end of the responses to the article for those readers patient enough to endure the beating: “Dragon Skin’s attempt to disguise lobbying as concern for the troops isn’t terribly creative.”

On June 11, Air Force contracting officials sought to prohibit Pinnacle Armor from signing new contracts with the U.S. Government, alleging false claims by Pinnacle to have met ballistic standards that in fact they did not.  On June 14, the Navy issued the same order that the Marines did, banning personally purchased body armor.

Even more recently, American Legion Post 735, which spent $6000 for Spartan 2 Vests (commercial equivalent to the Modular Tactical Vest) for Marines soon to be deployed to the Anbar province, have had their equipment retired and denied use by Marines due to Marine administrative order MARADMIN 262/07 that we discussed in Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines.  Be careful not to confuse this with the debate about Dragon Skin body armor, since New York Congressman Brian Higgins, albeit with the best of intentions, has made this mistake and issued a press release asking for the same independent probe that Senators Clinton and Webb have requested.

Assessment & Evaluation

The chorus of voices discussing body armor has become so loud that clarity and precision are languishing … and body armor has gone political.  Senator Clinton, while standing to gain political points, is at least ignorant of body armor issues.  Senator Webb is not ignorant of body armor issues, and knows full well that the U.S. cannot put Soldiers and Marines in the Dragon Skin’s 48 lbs. of weight (compared to 32 for the Interceptor or MTV).  It must be remembered that the warrior carries not only his body armor, but a hydration system, weapon, ammunition, sometimes communication gear, and often other supplies.  The heavy battlefield weight has led to ankle and knee injuries that incapacitate fighters on the battlefield, thus endangering their lives.  There is currently a push by the Army and Marines to decrease battlefield weight, not increase it.  “Anecdotal evidence is streaming back from the battlefield about Marines breaking their ankles while jumping off of trucks because of the weight they are carrying … Maj. Gen. William D. Catto, commanding officer, Marine Corps Systems Command, during the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition April 6, 2006, said that the “current body armor system is ‘too heavy’.  Catto went on to call for industry “pinheads? to help develop lighter armor because the “lightest guy in the platoon going across the line of departure is wearing 80 pounds of gear.?

Senator Webb knows this, and he is merely trying to gain political points.  In fact, the question should be considered how Pinnacle’s body armor system even justified testing by the Army given its heavy weight.  It cannot be deployed as is, and its weight must be reduced by a fraction of at least 32/48 = 0.667, or 2/3, before it can be considered equivalent to the currently deployed body armor, regardless of coverage area.  This is a nontrivial amount of weight.

Yet there are troubling issues.  Questions have arisen concerning the rigid restraint of the Dragon Skin during testing, the angle of incidence of the projectile, and other issues of testing protocol and interpretation of results.  This matters for one simple reason: proof of principle.  If flexible, full coverage body armor is to be in the future of the Army and Marines, these questions must be answered.  The Army is being profoundly unhelpful by refusing any independent consultative support for their testing and analysis engineering.

The Marines have their own problems.  The Modular Tactical Vest, which represents a substantial improvement over the IBA, was supposed to be deployed in February of this year, and all Marines deployed to Iraq were supposed to have this armor carrier (with the same ESAPI plates and soft armor panels – see Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, for an explanation of improved features of the new carrier).  Since it has been delayed in manufacture and deployment, it has become common practice for Marines at Camp LeJeune to drive down the road a mile or two to Tactical Applications Group and spend the money to purchase their own vest.  This is what American Legion Post 735 purchased for their adopted Marines, only to be denied its use by a field grade officer who is not being innovative and taking advantage of the fact that the Spartan 2 is the exact duplicate in form, fit and function as the Modular Tactical Vest.

Finally, the Government Accountability Office sent too many investigators to Quantico to talk to Marine Corps officers, and not enough to Camp LeJeune to talk to Lance Corporals who could have told them that talk of the MTV was a smoke screen and a ruse since the MTV has not yet been issued.  To be named the GAO, this office gives little confidence that there is much “accountability,” whether in the GAO or elsewhere.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Given the lack of confidence inspired by the federal government, independent consultative support is necessary to restore the public confidence in the system.  Support, that is, who doesn’t stand gain from whatever conclusions that are reached.  This is necessary for not only proof of principle for future body armor designs, but for currently deployed armor we well.

The politicians who stand to gain by demanding new GAO investigations of the Dragon Skin should stand down and align themselves with the House Armed Services Committee, because when politics rears its ugly head, science rarely wins, and government accountability is a rare commodity.

We are advocating the same thing that Representative Duncan Hunter is: independent testing and consultative support — yet with a full view to the comprehensive requirements under which the body armor system must perform, including temperature and battlefield weight.

**** UPDATE ****

This article was published on June 18, 2007.  On June 20, 2007, the Strategy Page weighed in on body armor weight:

June 20, 2007: While politicians and pundits make a lot of noise about getting the troops better body armor, the troops are asking for less, or at least lighter and less bulky, armor. Anyone who has been in combat will tell you that survival depends, first of all,  on speed and mobility. Body armor helps when you do get hit, but the latest body armor often slows troops down and makes them vulnerable to hits in unarmored areas (the face, and limbs). Troops traveling in vehicles find the body armor a major obstacle to getting out quickly. This can be a matter of life and death. Another problem is fatigue and heat. The heavy armor is cumbersome, and wearing it in action wears you out more quickly.

SOCOM troops have a lot of discretion, and sometimes prefer to go into action without their body armor. But regular soldiers and marines must wear the body armor at all times, and they are not happy with the no-win situation they are often put in because of this requirement. The politicians are really paying attention, and the troops are not happy with the results. No one, except the troops who wear the stuff, appear to realize how critical weight and bulk is.

One (sort of) bright spot is that the enemy often obtains body armor, either Russian stuff, or police grade protective vests. This does give them some protection, but it also slows them down and wears them down more quickly. In some situations, when Taliban gunmen are being pursued, they have been seen abandoning their body armor, in order to increase their chances of getting away.

Of course, the solution is not to make use of discretion to jettison body armor.  It is for the designers of the ceramic ESAPI plates to come up with something lighter.

China Supplies Weapons to Insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

From Bill Gertz of The Washington Times:

New intelligence reveals China is covertly supplying large quantities of small arms and weapons to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban militia in Afghanistan, through Iran.

U.S. government appeals to China to check some of the arms shipments in advance were met with stonewalling by Beijing, which insisted it knew nothing about the shipments and asked for additional intelligence on the transfers. The ploy has been used in the past by China to hide its arms-proliferation activities from the United States, according to U.S. officials with access to the intelligence reports.

Some arms were sent by aircraft directly from Chinese factories to Afghanistan and included large-caliber sniper rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and components for roadside bombs, as well as other small arms.

The Washington Times reported June 5 that Chinese-made HN-5 anti-aircraft missiles were being used by the Taliban.

According to the officials, the Iranians, in buying the arms, asked Chinese state-run suppliers to expedite the transfers and to remove serial numbers to prevent tracing their origin. China, for its part, offered to transport the weapons in order to prevent the weapons from being interdicted.

The weapons were described as “late-model” arms that have not been seen in the field before and were not left over from Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq.

U.S. Army specialists suspect the weapons were transferred within the past three months.

The Bush administration has been trying to hide or downplay the intelligence reports to protect its pro-business policies toward China, and to continue to claim that China is helping the United States in the war on terrorism. U.S. officials have openly criticized Iran for the arms transfers but so far there has been no mention that China is a main supplier.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that the flow of Iranian arms to Afghanistan is “fairly substantial” and that it is likely taking place with the help of the Iranian government.

Defense officials are upset that Chinese weapons are being used to kill Americans. “Americans are being killed by Chinese-supplied weapons, with the full knowledge and understanding of Beijing where these weapons are going,” one official said.

The arms shipments show that the idea that China is helping the United States in the war on terrorism is “utter nonsense,” the official said.

John Tkacik, a former State Department official now with the Heritage Foundation, said the Chinese arms influx “continues 10 years of willful blindness in both Republican and Democrat administrations to China’s contribution to severe instability in the Middle East and South Asia.”

Mr. Tkacik said the administration should be candid with the American people about China’s arms shipments, including Beijing’s provision of man-portable air-defense missiles through Iran and Syria to warring factions in Lebanon and Gaza.

The Bush administration hides the destabilizing influence of China in the Middle East because they are “pro-business.”  In China, anyone – Chinese citizen or visitor to the country – can legally purchase any piece of software for $5 or less because of the pirating being done in China, with the full approval of the Chinese government.  There is China’s pro-business policy for you.  It costs U.S. software developers and code writers billions of dollars each year.  China has always been and is currently a nation run by a band of criminals.

With each passing day, new evidence emerges that indicates that this administration doesn’t want to win the war.

Ratio of Support to Infantry

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

The Strategy Page has an interesting article on combat support troops.

Even in Iraq, most of the troops are combat support, and many work regular shifts, under pretty comfortable conditions. This makes it possible for them to do what American troops have been doing overseas for over half a century, take college courses. Many are conducted in classrooms, via instructors hired by the University of Maryland, which has been handling the program since the 1950s. But an increasing number of schools allow courses to be conducted via computer (and before that by mail). The Internet based courses are very popular. There’s no count on exactly how many troops are taking college courses in Iraq, but it’s believed to be several thousand. Most troops spend all their time in heavily fortified bases (FOBs, or Forward Operating Bases), and while there are plenty of other ways to spend your time, many see the studies as a worthwhile way to deal with off-duty time. However, combat units, and some on-call combat support units, leave little off-duty time for anything but eating, sleeping, getting ready for the next mission, and maybe a little X-Box.

I have raised the issue before of the bloated ratio of combat support to infantry.  Completely aside from strategy, force size, supplies, logistics and equipment, unless and until the U.S. learns to utilize the force by leveraging their time and presence on the battlefield, the U.S. will not be able to conduct efficient counterinsurgency.  This is true regardless of whether one considers the kinetic or nonkinetic aspects of counterinsurgency.  Troops who have time to learn calculus are not contributing to the conduct of the campaign (comparatively), and the fault lies not with them, but leadership which lacks innovation and adaptability.

Furthermore, there is a difference between meeting recruitment goals, and having a ratio of support to infantry that is small enough to be effective.  It is profoundly unhelpful to meet recruitment goals in supply, logistics, ordnance, etc., where the utilization of these troops gives them time to attend college while deployed.

The potential solutions to this problem are numerous.  We could grant additional pay for earning the combat action ribbon, based on a ratio to troops who have not earned this distinction, this ratio never being able to be removed from a Soldier’s or Marine’s pay scale.  Or, we could utilize the support troops so effectively that there would be voluntary transfers to infantry.  Or, assignments could be made rotational.  Each solution, however, would require the willingness to buck the system, so no solution is likely to be forthcoming.

Whether constabulary actions or reconstruction, since boots on the ground among the people are necessary to conduct counterinsurgency, we have shown that we are not yet truly committed to the COIN campaign in Iraq.  If we are not going to commit, it is best to withdraw.

More on Dave Kilcullen vs. Smith

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

My very astute reader, Dominique, has left a smart and sweeping comment on my article Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen (which is followed up by article Smith Responds).  The response is important enought to warrant its own article.  The comment is published here entirely.

Just for the sake of clarity, let’s continue this a bit further.  I do not advocate – and have never advocated in anything I have published – that we expend attention, resources, effort, largesse, or the time of our armed forces to attempt to (a) change the minds of adherents of Islam, (b) tell Muslims what the Quran says, (c) evangelize Muslims, or (d) war against Muslims because they are adherents to Islam.  I am not charging you with this misunderstanding, but some of the commenters have made this error, failing to read my prose with a clear head and open mind.

My basic presupposition has been that there are some insurgents who are religiously motivated, mainly because they have told us so (and this, not in communications to us, but communications to themselves such as the letter from al Qaeda high command to Zarqawi that we intercepted).  This fraction is less than unity, but greater than zero.  For the sake of argument, I am willing, even, to grant my detractors the point that this fraction (FR, or fraction that is religiously motivated) is less than unity by a non-trivial amount, even though I am not sure that this is the case.  For this fraction FR, whether right or wrong, their hermeneutic forces them to do what they do under the rubric of religion.  For FR, religious commitment is more important than security or largesse.  Therefore, FR will not be amenable to our efforts at WHAM (winning hearts and minds).

The other insurgents (fraction not religiously motivated), FNR = 1 – FR, will be amenable to WHAM under this formulation.  It pays to understand enough about the culture and religion to know how to ascertain which schools of thought the fraction FR represents and how we might identify these subsets up front.  For example, given the religious motivation of Ansar al Sunna, it is a good bet that they are in the category of FR.

This is a simple formulation, and one that I think makes good common sense.  The readers and commenters who think I am calling for a holy war are reactionary, stolid and mentally dense.  Again, Dominique, you are not in this category, but some of my readers have been.  For those readers who are in this category, I can only say, please, try to keep up with me as the conversation advances and moves forward.  You’re slowing the train down.

Kilcullen, on the other hand, has proposed that there are no insurgents who are religiously motivated, and thus arrives at the conclusion that all insurgents will be amenable to efforts at WHAM.

The differences are fairly clear, and the reader can make up his or her own mind.  In the future, I will publish another article that discusses the published U.S. military doctrine concerning religion and insurgency and how this changed in favor of the more secular view after the events of 9/11.


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