AR-15 Ammunition And Barrel Twist Rate

Herschel Smith · 19 Feb 2017 · 7 Comments

There are a lot of articles and discussion forum threads on barrel twist rate for AR-15s.  So why am I writing one?  Well, some of the information on the web is very wrong.  Additionally, this closes out comment threads we've had here touching on this topic, EMail exchanges I've had with readers, and personal conversations I've had with shooters and friends about this subject.  It's natural to put this down in case anyone else can benefit from the information.  Or you may not benefit at…… [read more]

Mosques, Snipers and Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month ago

Michael Totten is in Baghdad, and while his (most recent) entire report is both interesting and highly worth reading, I want to focus in on the following words:

“They have a little bunker up there,

Marines, Uniforms and Morale Killers

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month ago

In a jaw-dropping move, the Marines have cracked down on none other than wearing uniform (from the Strategy Page).

The U.S. Marine Corps has decided that it is not good for the image of the Marine Corps for marines to wear their combat (“utility”) uniform off base. New regulations nullify many exceptions to this rule that had been established by the commanders of many marine bases. The new rule allows marines to wear their cammies (camouflage) uniform while driving form (sic) their off-base home to and from work.

In the next revelation, we sit in wonder at the DoD actually paying people to spend time crafting the caveats, stipulations and qualifications. Hold onto your cover.

But they may not get out of their vehicle while wearing cammies unless it is an emergency (an accident, or some matter of life-and-death importance.) Marines may not get out of their car to gas up their vehicle while wearing cammies. If they run out of gas, they may then exit their car to deal with that. Marines are advised to pay attention to the fuel status of their private vehicles, and to carry a set of civilian clothes, or a marine service uniform, in their vehicle, in case they have to get out. The only exception is for marines driving military vehicles for long distances. Marines may exit their vehicles to use the toilet, but this must be done as quickly as possible.

On the bright side, tax advisors believe this new rule will allow marines to deduct the cost of their work uniforms from their taxes. In the past, the IRS had ruled that the cost of utilities, fatigues and BDUs were not deductible as they could be worn off base. The IRS reasoned that, if you could go into a store or restaurant, your uniform was not limited to the workplace, and was therefore not deductible. The high tech camies worn today are not cheap, and a marine can go through several hundred dollars worth a year.

Again, this is absolutely jaw-dropping. Here we have the Marine Corps weighing in on how quickly a Marine can use the bathroom during travel, and stipulating that if it isn’t fast enough, he will have to strip down inside the automobile to change into his service alphas (but only if he is traveling long distances and assuming he has either placed a pair in his car or has purchased an additional pair for his automobile).

The pittance that is saved on taxes each year will be outweighed by the additional purchase of clothing, placing additional civilian clothing at work, and the aggravation of considering these rules and trying to adhere to them. At a time when the Marine Corps is trying to increase its size and retain experienced personnel, it is things like this that will cause them to bolt for the civilian world.

Finally, the Marine Corps has just handed the Army a recruiting victory on a platter. Now when the little boy in the airport, at the gas station or simply out at the mall or in the city asks mom, “who is that?” she can answer, “Son, that is a brave Soldier.” The U.S. Marine Corps now forces all of its warriors to go through the public square incognito.

Sometimes one can only shake his head and move on to other things. There is no explanation.

The Long Range Iraq Plan and its Critics

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

The broad outlines of the long range plan being formalized by senior military leadership was divulged several days ago.  The plan includes an extension of force deployment in Iraq to provide security, along with pressure on the government and various political and religious factions to resolve differences.

Fred Kaplan weighed in on the plan at Slate in an article entitled Interesting But Doomed: Why Petraeus’ Ingtriguing New Iraq Strategy Will Probably Fail.  The plan has numerous critics, but Kaplan’s most recent article warrants close study, including (we think) at the same time both misperception and compelling argument.  In order to mine his complex thoughts on the matter, his article will be cited at length, followed up by commentary and analysis.  Kaplan writes:

If the U.S. military had, say, 100,000 more troops to send and another 10 years to keep them there; if the Iraqi security forces (especially the Iraqi police) were as skilled and, more important, as loyal to the Iraqi nation (as opposed to their ethnic sects) as many had hoped they would be by now; if the Iraqi government were a governing entity, as opposed to a ramshackle assemblage that can barely form a quorum—then maybe, maybe, this plan might have a chance.

But under the circumstances, it seems unlikely. One officer who’s familiar with Iraq planning put it this way to me: “No one who understands the situation is optimistic. I think the division among those who have thought deeply about the situation is mainly between those who are still fighting and trying to influence the outcome and those who have concluded that the principal objective must now become disengagement.”

Kaplan outlines in broad form the known problems with the Iraqi government and culture, and then summarizes his opening remarks by citing bleak insider views about the situation.  Then he gets specific.

First, to define “localized security” as including “Baghdad and other areas” is to finesse the major challenge. Securing Baghdad and securing “other areas” have long been considered two separate goals. The former involves pacifying the capital, to give the national politicians enough “breathing room” to make their deals. The latter involves keeping the rest of the country—or at least the major cities—sufficiently secure that democratic politics can function from the ground up as well as from the top down. Ever since late last year, when President Bush ordered the “surge” and hired Gen. Petraeus to create a counterinsurgency strategy, the plan has involved securing the capital and the provinces simultaneously.

The problem—a familiar one—is that we don’t have enough troops to do this all at once. No one who has seriously analyzed the problem ever believed that a “surge” of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. combat troops would be sufficient. It was assumed from the outset that at least two or three times that many would have to come from the Iraqi army (whose soldiers, furthermore, would have to take the lead in many operations) and the Iraqi police (who would need to maintain order once the troops seized new territory).

Yet Iraqi forces have not materialized in anything like the necessary numbers. Many army units are infiltrated with sectarian militiamen. Many, if not most, police units are thoroughly corrupted.

The second, “intermediate” phase of the plan is more intriguing, but ultimately unpersuasive. For a few months now, U.S. field commanders have formed alliances with Sunni tribesmen, especially in Anbar province, for the common goal of crushing jihadists. The new plan, as the Times puts it, is “to stitch together such local arrangements to establish a broader sense of security on a nationwide basis.”

But in these alliances, we’re dealing with tribesmen who are cooperating with us for a common goal. It is not at all clear on what basis these various local Sunni factions can be stitched together into some seamless security quilt—or why, because they’ve agreed to help us kill jihadists, they might suddenly agree to stop killing Shiites, compromise their larger ambitions, redirect their passions into peaceful politics, and settle into a minority party’s status within a unified government.

Kaplan has within a few words hit on three salient themes: (1) force size, (2) ‘whack-a-mole’ counterinsurgency, and (3) the inability to utilize Iraqi security forces and police to assist in the COIN campaign due to corruption and sectarian divisions.  Kaplan then targets the strategy of alliance with the Anbar tribal leaders and explains why he believes that this ultimately will fail (or at least, most probably will fail).

Alliances of convenience rarely outlive their immediate aims. Josef Stalin formed an alliance with the United States and Britain for the purpose of defeating Nazi Germany. But once the war was over, he had no interest in integrating the Soviet Union into the Western economic system.

The idea of extending the alliances may have come, in part, from Stephen Biddle, a military historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who, according to the Times, was a member of the “Joint Strategic Assessment Team” that helped conceive the new U.S. strategy.

In a July 12 interview at the Council, conducted by Bernard Gwertzman, Biddle said that the only way to secure all of Iraq is “to negotiate a series of cease-fire deals with Iraq’s current combatants in which, even though they retain the ability to fight, they decide it’s in their own self-interest to … decline to fight.”

He referred to Anbar as “a model” for this concept, and added, “There are now similar negotiations ongoing in a variety of other places around Iraq.” In Anbar, he said, the alliance “dropped into our lap”; the Sunni sheiks came to us and asked for help. “If it’s going to happen elsewhere, we’re going to have to take a more proactive role. … We have to start using the military not as a device to secure everything uniformly but as a device for creating incentives and disincentives—sticks and carrots—to push along the process of local cease-fires with particular factions.” For instance, he said, we would have to tell each faction: “We will defend you if you cooperate; if you don’t cooperate, we will attack you” …

Some set of “sticks and carrots” could conceivably extend the alliances of convenience into a sustained cease-fire of normal democratic politics. But if so, the deal would have to be hammered out by a recognized government in Baghdad. Neither Gen. Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker (nor, for that matter, President Bush) has the political authority to make such a deal—much less the military firepower to enforce it.

Analysis &  Commentary

Stephen Biddle notwithstanding, reconciliation with the indigenous insurgency in Anbar has been ongoing for quite a while.  It is absurd to claim that the peace between the Anbar tribes and U.S. forces merely “dropped into our lap.”  As we observed in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq:

… terrorization of the population (and competing groups) managed to achieve its goal of keeping the population in submission, at least until the Marines prevailed over the course of several years at hunting down and killing many of the rogue elements.  It has been observed that  

A Few Good Men — or Not

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

It seems as if half of the blog-0-sphere has spilled ink on the issue of young Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his ugly charges: mass graves in Baghdad (in my city we call these ‘cemeteries’), mental abuse of IED victims, and other such things (see here, here, here, here and here).  I have resisted as long as I can, and feel that I should have shared my thoughts long ago.  So now, TCJ weighs in on the young Private.

I think we should have an investigation.  The PAOs and lawyers could lead it.  Perhaps we should transfer Beauchamp.  Yes I suppose that’s right.  I suppose that’s the thing to do.  Wait.  Wait.  I’ve got a better idea.  Let’s transfer the whole squad off the base.  Let’s — on second thought, the whole division … let’s transfer ’em off the base.  Go on out there and get those boys down off the fence, they’re packing their bags.

Get me the President on the phone; tell him we’re surrendering our position in Baghdad.  Wait a minute.  We won’t call the President just yet.  Perhaps we ought to consider this a second.  Maybe we have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals.  Yes.  I’m certain I once read that somewhere.  And now I’m thinking that our idea of investigations and hand wringing and surrender, while expeditious, and certainly painless, might not be in a manner of speaking, the American way.

Young Private Beauchamp has had a lot of extra time on his hands.  He has had time to send e-mail, make telephone calls, and perhaps even eat ice cream.  After all, they have a dining hall, a place to actually sit and eat chow.  After considering surrender, I have changed my mind and I advocate training young Beauchamp.  Yes, that’s it!  There are Marines in Combat Outposts in Fallujah who have no chance to eat ice cream in dining halls.  They take showers by using baby wipes, and they have to burn their human waste in pits of stinking fire.  They have no electrical power, and no amenities.  They certainly don’t write e-mails home to use as articles for or against anything.  They are busy 20 hours out of the day, and sometimes 24 hours out of the day.

Young Beauchamp needs to be trained.  He badly needs to stay busy.  Young Beauchamp needs to be on patrol, picking up a rifle and standing a post, and contributing to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Let’s send him out to the Combat Outposts where he will learn to work.  His unit badly needs discipline and motivation.  The United States of America has an obligation to instill these things and train young Private Beauchamp.  I am certain that I read that somewhere.

A Few Good Men — or Not

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

It seems as if half of the blog-0-sphere has spilled ink on the issue of young Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his ugly charges: mass graves in Baghdad (in my city we call these ‘cemeteries’), mental abuse of IED victims, and other such things (see here, here, here, here and here).  I have resisted as long as I can, and feel that I should have shared my thoughts long ago.  So now, TCJ weighs in on the young Private.

I think we should have an investigation.  The PAOs and lawyers could lead it.  Perhaps we should transfer Beauchamp.  Yes I suppose that’s right.  I suppose that’s the thing to do.  Wait.  Wait.  I’ve got a better idea.  Let’s transfer the whole squad off the base.  Let’s — on second thought, the whole division … let’s transfer ’em off the base.  Go on out there and get those boys down off the fence, they’re packing their bags.

Get me the President on the phone; tell him we’re surrendering our position in Baghdad.  Wait a minute.  We won’t call the President just yet.  Perhaps we ought to consider this a second.  Maybe we have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals.  Yes.  I’m certain I once read that somewhere.  And now I’m thinking that our idea of investigations and hand wringing and surrender, while expeditious, and certainly painless, might not be in a manner of speaking, the American way.

Young Private Beauchamp has had a lot of extra time on his hands.  He has had time to send e-mail, make telephone calls, and perhaps even eat ice cream.  After all, they have a dining hall, a place to actually sit and eat chow.  After considering surrender, I have changed my mind and I advocate training young Beauchamp.  Yes, that’s it!  There are Marines in Combat Outposts in Fallujah who have no chance to eat ice cream in dining halls.  They take showers by using baby wipes, and they have to burn their human waste in pits of stinking fire.  They have no electrical power, and no amenities.  They certainly don’t write e-mails home to use as articles for or against anything.  They are busy 20 hours out of the day, and sometimes 24 hours out of the day.

Young Beauchamp needs to be trained.  He badly needs to stay busy.  Young Beauchamp needs to be on patrol, picking up a rifle and standing a post, and contributing to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Let’s send him out to the Combat Outposts where he will learn to work.  His unit badly needs discipline and motivation.  The United States of America has an obligation to instill these things and train young Private Beauchamp.  I am certain that I read that somewhere.

A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

In Can the Air Force Contribute to Counterinsurgency, I reiterated some of the exchange that Major General Dunlap and I had concerning air power and counterinsurgency over a commentary at the Small Wars Journal Blog.  I concurred with Dunlap’s opinions, and have encouraged the consideration of the increased use of air power in small wars in order to effect the kinetic part of counterinsurgency more rapidly and efficiently.  Of course, on cue, the objection came that the increased involvement of air power would lead to greater collateral damage.

In Air Power in Small Wars, I extended this discussion to include accounts that despite the tardy debates back home in the states, the Air Force was already finding a way to contribute to the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq.  I also linked video showing anecdotal evidence of the hazards associated with the use of stand-off weapons such as artillery, pointing out that the objection to the use of the Air Force was equivalent to an objection to any stand-off weapon, whether Air Force or Marine and Army artillery.

Even this discussion is a bit tardy.  In A-10s Support Marines in Anbar, I discussed the fact that as of January 2007, the A-10 (438th Air Expeditionary Group) was going back into action to provide close air support for Marines in the Anbar Province.  This relationship with the A-10s to assist with counterinsurgency might be about to become more formal (h/t SWJ).  The USAF is considering a new A-10 COIN Squadron.

Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley has told Jane’s he is considering the creation of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) squadron of A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

Gen Moseley said he is mulling the possibility of putting a squadron of A-10A close-support aircraft inside AFSOC to serve the Special Operations Command, which has the lead engagement role in the US-declared global war on terrorism.

“There’s a variety of … counterinsurgency aircraft and other things out there that we’ve been looking at that would facilitate AFSOC’s partnership with the Special Operations Command,

Scenes from Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

From Iraq by an AFP stringer:

scene1.jpg

Another scene from an AFP stringer:

scene2.jpg

These pictures were taken during combat operations with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, fighting in Fallujah, and were available in the public domain via Yahoo.  Yet, I have a personal connection to these photographs.

Final Disposition of the Charges Against the Haditha Marines

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

The Investigating Officer’s Report on accused Marine Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt contains more than mere assessment of the charges against Sharratt.  The following conclusion is transcribed from the report.

Due to the disparate accounts, it is tempting to simply conclude that this case should be tried to either exonerate LCpl Sharratt or convict him of a crime.  However, to adopt the government’s position that because there are two differing accounts, a general court-martial is warranted is an abdication of the necessary process of determining whether reasonable grounds exist to warrant a court-martial.  It is not as simple as stating there are two accounts so a trial is necessary.  Analysis of these two versions must provide reasonable grounds that the Government version of events may be true.  In analyzing the evidence, I read several hundred pages of interviews, documents and statements, (IE 33-105).  Ultimately, there is only one statement by an eye witness to the events, LCpl Sharratt, and his version of events is strongly corroborated by independent forensic analysis of the death scene.  The government version is unsupported by independent evidence and while each statement has within it corroboration, several factors together reduces the credibility of such statements to incredible.  In addition, the statements of the Iraqis are unclear, contradictory in part, and simply state self-interested conclusion as to what occurred within house 4.  Finally, to believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary and sets a dangerous precedent that, in my opinion, may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and mission in Iraq.  Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy.

Much effort during the Article 32 focused on whether the victims were insurgents.  Although determining if they were may have some bearing on the credibility of the Iraqi witnesses and may support that LCpl Sharratt did perceive a hostile situation within house 4, such determinations are not necessary to conclude that LCpl Sharratt is truthful in his account.  From as early as February 2006 LCpl Sharratt’s statements are supported by the forensic evidence.  It is likely that members of the Ahmed family were either insurgents on 19 November 2005, or that they were attempting to defend their house and family when Marines entered house 4 uninvited and unannounced.  On that fateful afternoon, Jasib heard someone enter house 4.  He investigated with his AK-47 in his hands.  LCpl Sharratt saw him and perceived him as a threat.  Using his training he responded instinctively, assaulting into the room emptying his pistol.  Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, LCpl Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force.

A reading of the document reveals that investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware obviously doesn’t believe the government’s version of events.  He points to many inconsistent reports, only two of which are outlined below:

  • LCpl. Sharratt’s SAW jammed upon engagement of the men in house 4.  Jamming is a known problem in the M16A2/M4/SAW, as I have discussed before (after shooting an M16 and dealing with this problem).  The use of a 9 mm pistol to “perform an execution” means that a group of Marines decided to use the least powerful weapon in their arsenal, Lt. Col. Ware says, concluding that this is not credible.  As an editorial comment, I would add that I know a highly skilled SAW gunner who tells me that he can undo the effects of a jam in his SAW within 5 seconds or less.  To believe that a gangland style execution occurred while a SAW gunner left his weapon jammed and used his pistol is so ridiculous that one wonders why the government lawyers would have actually put such an idea in print before a military tribunal.  This surely must be embarrassing for them.
  • The Iraqis reported that the “one with the pistol” was “in charge.”  But the problem is that the one with the pistol was Lance Corporal Sharratt, and with him were a Corporal and a Staff Sergeant.  How many readers who are either former or active duty military believe that a Corporal and Staff Sergeant would take orders from a Lance Corporal?  Again, this surely must be embarrassing for the prosecuting attorney.

The relatives of the deceased Iraqis didn’t want the bodies exhumed for forensic analysis, but would rather “forgive” the Marines.  In Iraq: Land of Lies and Deceipt (a press report concerning a similar British trial), I noted a contractor’s report about his experiences with Iraqis and honesty.

In Islamic and Arab traditions, blood money is the money paid by the killer or his family or clan to the family or the clan of the victim. It is unlawful for a believer to kill a believer except if it happens by accident. And he who kills a believer accidentally must free one Muslim slave and pay ‘Diyat’ to the heirs of the victim except if they forgive him. The tradition finds repeated endorsement in Islamic tradition; several instances are recorded in the Hadith, which are the acts of the Prophet Mohammad.

The Blood – Money tradition has found its way into legislation in several Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Some of these countries also define, by lawful legislation, a hierarchy of (cash) rates for the lives of people….

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

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

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

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

Lt. Col. Ware has suspicion for the Iraqi testimony as evidenced by the report.  At the end of the investigating officer’s report, Lt. Col. Ware makes the recommendation to drop the charges, and that Lance Corporal Sharratt be given testimonial immunity and ordered to cooperate with any ongoing investigations.  This last part might be pro forma and routine.  If Lt. Col. Ware believes his account and disbelieves the government’s account, then he believes that LCpl Sharratt will not bring anything forward that would call his assessment into question.

Why?  Lt. Col. Ware goes further than merely saying that there is no case against LCpl Sharratt.  His insightful report destroys the government’s case in general, not just with respect to LCpl Sharratt.  It does not seem possible to me that after this rebuke of the government, the cases against the remaining Haditha Marines would proceed.  As defense attorney, the first thing I would do would be to trot out the report by Lt. Col. Ware and demand that his assessment be answered line by line.

This report should end the case against the Haditha Marines, but given that the prosecution was willing to embarrass themselves with the prosecution of Sharratt to begin with, anything can happen.

Strategic Hardness of Heart

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

This is just in from the New York Times.

While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

Soon after the invasion of Iraq, some thought that the British presence in Basra might very well join the short but remarkable catalog of counterinsurgency victories in history.  The British did what they have always done, including implementation of “soft” rules of engagement.  More than a little ridicule has been wasted and ink has been spilled in the excoriation of U.S. rules of engagement, which even though seen by us as lacking the robustness to win OIF at times, are “harder” than the British ROE.  Juan Cole gives us a preening communication from a British reservist from July of 2005.  “One aspect that is rarely discussed is the vast difference between the British and American rules of engagement. You will quickly respond by saying ‘oh but things are so much safer in the South because it is predominantly Shia’. Yes but if we used the American rules of engagement then I am positive that there would be far far more attacks against us. It is ridiculous for British soldiers to be ordered not to overtake any of the huge American convoys on the Kuwait-Baghdad motorway because they risk being shot at by the Americans!”

This optimism continued until the forcible rescue of two British special forces operators who had been arrested by the Iraqi police in Basra.  But the proud British ROE may have been part of the problem.

At home, Britons were stunned by the graphic footage of their soldiers being assaulted in a city thought to be “safe,” especially in comparison to the blood-soaked urban areas of the Sunni Triangle which dominate news coverage emanating out of Iraq. The violent imagery was only the latest and most troubling indication of the British military’s failure in Basra and its environs, a disastrous turn of events which seemed unthinkable two years ago, when British troops were welcomed into Basra with relatively open arms.

The root of this failure stems from the very strategy that was once lauded as the antidote for insurgent violence. Known as the “soft approach,” the British strategy in southern Iraq centered on non-aggressive, nearly passive responses to violent flare-ups. Instead of raids and street battles, the British concentrated on building relationships with local leaders and fostering consensus among Iraqi politicos. In Basra, the British were quick to build and expand training programs for a city police force. As a symbol of their faith in stability-by-civility, the British military took to donning the soft beret while on patrol, avoiding the connotations of war supposedly raised by the American-style Kevlar helmets.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this “soft” approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media — ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms — energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could “take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra.” Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane’s, asserted: “The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the ‘softly-softly’ approach.”

The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the “major obstacle” in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.

It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed “armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon — and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature.” Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning — borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance — tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.

AS A RESULT OF THE EFFUSIVE media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.” As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.” According to other unnamed British military officials, America had “a poor record” at keeping the peace while Basra only reinforced the assertion that the British maintain “the best urban peacekeeping force in the world.”

Not too long after this incident and due to the degradation in security in Basra, the British consulate was evacuated in January of 2006.

The British consulate in Basra will evacuate its heavily defended building in the next 24 hours over concerns for the safety of its staff.

Despite a large British military presence at the headquarters in Basra Palace, a private security assessment has advised the consul general and her staff to leave the building after experiencing regular mortar attacks in the last two months.

The move will be seen as a huge blow to progress in Iraq and has infuriated senior military commanders. They say it sends a message to the insurgents that they are winning the battle in pushing the British out of the southern Iraqi capital, where several British soldiers have died and dozens have been injured.

British troop levels have dropped precipitously through Operation Iraq Freedom, from around 45,000 in March and April of 2003, to less than 20,000 by May of 2003, and then to around 7000 by the end of 2006.  The British announced another pullback from Basra in February of 2007, conveying their intent to reduce forces to approximately 5,500 by the end of the summer.  The pullback was not announced in a vacuum.  The situation in Basra was calamitous as reported by NPR.

“The problem is, in most of these four provinces, the British essentially gave up,” says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Cordesman says U.K. forces lost control of two key provinces — Basra and Maisan — after elections in early 2005 and 2006 that brought a Shiite majority to power.

“Once they came under control, the Shiites firmly were in charge of virtually the entire area and there was little the British could do about it,” Cordesman says.

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

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

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

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

This is indicative of many parts of southern Iraq, says Wayne White, a former State department middle east intelligence officer. White says the south is riddled with rival Shiite groups vying for power, and roving criminal gangs because there’s nothing to stop them.

“There’s virtually nothing down there in the way of governance that answers to Baghdad in an effective way,” White says. “There are mayors, there are police but in many cases these people have no loyalty to Baghdad, operate along with the militias, have sympathy with them.”

We must disagree with part of this assessment (” … little the British could do about it,” and ” … there’s nothing to stop them”).  The U.S. forces are responsible for Anbar, home of the Sunnis deposed from power in the invasion.  The British, while left with fewer troops with which to work, were responsible for control of the area in which the new power lived – the Shi’a, saved from the tyranny of the previous regime.  In a clearer statement concerning the British effort and its affects, Anthony Cordesman of The Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a study entitled The British Defeat in the South, speaks openly about the situation in Basra.

The British announcement of force cuts in Southern Iraq reflects a set of realities on the ground that has dominated southeastern Iraq for more than two years. Southeastern Iraq has long been under the de facto control of SCIRI and Sadr factions. The British effectively lost any opportunity to shape a secular and nationalist Basra in the summer of 2003, and the US defeat of the Sadr militia in March and April 2004 never extended to the southeast and Basra area.

The British won some tactical clashes in Maysan and Basra in May-November 2004, but Operation Telic’s tactical victories over the Sadrists did not stop Islamists from taking steadily more local political power and controlling security at the neighborhood level when British troops were not present.

Two problems have become apparent: force size, and rules of engagement.  The calls for complete withdrawal of British forces have gotten more voiciferous, declaring that “The British troops’ withdrawal rate “should be determined not by the security situation – which allows militias and insurgents to determine our withdrawal – but by the state of training of the Iraqi forces,” said the commission, which was formed in the manner of the U.S. Baker-Hamilton commission, also known as the Iraq Study Group (ISG), which submitted a similar report to U.S. President George W. Bush in December 2006, urging Washington to change course on Iraq.  The report further added that there were “no good options left” in Iraq, indicating that the British government has to “redefine its objectives.”

The redefinition of objectives will likely involve focus on force protection, as British fatalities per unit has increased above U.S. fatalities per unit.

For the first time since the war began, British soldiers are being killed in Iraq at a proportionally greater rate than U.S. soldiers, it was reported.

The Royal Statistical Society analyzed death rates for the two armies between Feb. 5 and June 24, reported The Sunday Telegraph. During that time, Britain lost 23 of its 5,500 soldiers, while the United States lost 463 of its 165,000 soldiers, the newspaper reported.

Increased violence in the southern city of Basra, where most of the British troops are serving, was responsible for the proportional increase in deaths, said Society spokeswoman Sheila Bird.

The findings have led to more calls for the British government to withdraw its troops from Iraq, the newspaper reported.

British military and political leaders have come to regard the war in Iraq as a “lost cause,” a senior British army commander told the British newspaper.

By May of 2007 the violence had reached a fevered pitch, with rival Shi’a gangs fighting for control of the oil-rich city.

Basra, the richest city in Iraq and gateway to the Gulf, could erupt into all-out war between rival Shia groups seeking control of its vast oil wealth as British forces prepare to draw down.

The power struggle between factions of the Shia majority that has dominated Iraqi politics since the first post-war general elections in 2005 threatens to affect oil exports accounting for virtually all of Iraq’s income.

In the latest development of a turf war that has all the ingredients of a gangster movie set in 1920s Chicago, rivals of the provincial governor fell one vote short of voting him out of office last month but have pledged to keep up the standoff.

Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, is more or less free of the car bombs and the violence between Shias and Sunni Arabs raging in central Iraq, but it has descended into a chaos of its own. Sporadic militia battles, endemic corruption and death threats now scar the once tranquil port.

“Everyone’s trying to grab resources and make a quick profit without considering a long-term programme or attempting to establish a power base for the future,


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