The Totalitarians Among Us

Herschel Smith · 03 Mar 2014 · 15 Comments

Victor Davis Hanson observes: In short, Obama will always poll around 45 percent. That core support is his lasting legacy. In a mere five years, by the vast expansion of federal spending, by the demonizing rhetoric of his partisan bully pulpit, and by executive orders and bizarre appointments, Obama has so divided the nation that he has created a permanent constituency that will never care as much about what he does as it cares about what he says and represents. For elite rich liberals…… [read more]

On Leaving Iraq and The Long War

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The press reports are repleat with analyses about the exodus from Iraq and what that might look like.  Most of them are poorly reasoned reports, but some are insightful and informative.  I had previously predicted that it would require more than a year to remove all men and materiel from Iraq.  It looks like this prediction is gratuitous.  The Director of CENTCOM Logistics Operations Center weighs in on just what is going to be necessary to pull off redeployment from Iraq.

Political and public demand for a quick withdrawal is rising. But nothing about withdrawal will be quick.

The 20 ground combat brigades deployed here will fill 10,000 flatbed trucks and will take a year to move, logistics experts say. A full withdrawal, shipping home some 200,000 Americans and thousands of tons of equipment, dismantling dozens of American bases and disposing of tons of accumulated toxic waste, will take 20 months or longer, they estimate.

Yet the administration, long intent on avoiding what it once called a “cut and run” retreat from Iraq, has done little to lay the groundwork for withdrawal, officials here said.

“We don’t have the plan in detail yet. We’re seriously engaged in trying to figure this out,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Gray Payne, director of the U.S. Central Command’s logistics operations center.

Even with the benefit of a detailed plan, Payne said, “this is going to be an enormous challenge.”

Extricating combat forces during an active war is a tricky military maneuver under the best of circumstances, according to interviews with senior military officers and dozens of tactical and strategic military planners and logistics experts in Iraq and at U.S. military facilities across the region.

A hastier departure could find military convoys stalled on roads cratered by roadside bombs, interrupted by blown bridges and clogged with fleeing refugees; heavy cargo planes jammed with troops could labor into skies dark with smoke rising from abandoned American bases.

How the United States manages to disentangle itself from Iraq, whether in a graceful redeployment that strengthens stability or in a more chaotic retreat, will have profound repercussions for American power and prestige in the region, military and civilian strategists said.

Indeed, even though the word withdrawal has become this summer’s most shopworn term in Washington, few have grasped the staggering difficulty, time and cost of actually carrying it out.

“It’s going to be mind-boggling – like picking up the city of Los Angeles and putting all the pieces somewhere else,” said an official of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, which will oversee much of the work.

Indeed, American power and prestige in the Middle East is an important parameter by which to perform planning for redeployment.  Time gives us a description of the strategic planning problems presented by redeployment in How to Leave Iraq, followed by my own recommendations.

The reality is that it’s difficult to get out fast. It took the Soviets nine months to pull 120,000 troops out of Afghanistan. They were simply going next door, and they still lost more than 500 men on the way out. Pulling out 10 combat brigades — roughly 30,000 troops, along with their gear and support personnel — would take at least 10 months, Pentagon officials say. And that’s only part of the picture. There are civilians who would probably want to head for the exit when GIs started packing. They include some 50,000 U.S. contractors and tens of thousands of Iraqis who might need protection if we left the country.

Slowing things down further is the sheer volume of stuff that we would have to take with us — or destroy if we couldn’t. Military officials recently told Congress that 45,000 ground-combat vehicles — a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and humvees — are now in Iraq. They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. These items have to be taken back home or destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of one faction or another. Pentagon officials will try to bring back as much of the downtime gear as possible — dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters. William (Gus) Pagonis, the Army logistics chief who directed the flood of supplies to Saudi Arabia for the 1991 Gulf War and their orderly withdrawal from the region, cites one more often overlooked hurdle: U.S. agricultural inspectors insist that, before it re-enters the U.S., Army equipment be free of any microscopic disease that, as Pagonis puts it, “can wipe out flocks of chickens and stuff like that.”

Once the U.S. decides to pull its forces back, the security risks to troops leaving the battlefield would increase, and the faster the U.S. withdraws, the greater the dangers. Departing troops lose their focus and become easy targets, says Pagonis. Local militias usually try to prove their mettle by firing at departing columns. “It would be ugly,” says retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, who supports a partial withdrawal. “You’d burn or blow up a lot of your equipment or hand it over to the Iraqis. You’d be subject to attack on your way down to the coast because on the way, people would say, ‘We can either throw rose petals or shoot at ‘em,’ and they’d shoot at us.” A gradual exit rather than an immediate one isn’t merely the wiser course; it’s the only course.

A reduction in the U.S. combat presence would probably produce one clear benefit: a lower U.S. casualty rate. But a chilling truth is that as the U.S. death toll declined, the Iraqi one would almost surely soar. Just how many Iraqis would die if the U.S. withdrew is anyone’s guess, but almost everyone who has studied it believes the current rate of more than a thousand a month would spike dramatically. It might not resemble Rwanda, where more than half a million people were slaughtered in six months in 1994. But Iraq could bleed like the former Yugoslavia did from 1992 to 1995, when 250,000 perished.

There is no debate about why: in the wake of an American pullout, Baghdad would be quickly dominated by Shi’ite militias largely unbloodied by the American campaign. Already, well-armed security forces that pose as independent are riddled with militiamen who take direction from Shi’ite leaders. Death-squad killings of Sunnis would rise. Against such emboldened forces, Sunni insurgents and elements of Saddam Hussein’s former regime would retaliate with their weapon of choice: car-bomb attacks against Shi’ite markets, shrines, police stations and recruiting depots.

One result of the military’s “surge” strategy is that the U.S. has handed over to Sunni tribal sheiks much greater responsibility for their security — and even the weapons to back it up — in exchange for severing their links to al-Qaeda. That’s a manageable risk while U.S. forces are nearby; if they depart, it becomes tinder in a dry forest. The danger would be not just sectarian slaughter but outright anarchy as well. “Our immediate concern,” says a senior Arab diplomat, “is that sending a signal of complete withdrawal could encourage some elements in every faction in every political group that they can now impose their own agenda. It would be not only Shi’ite versus Sunni … but [war] inside each community itself. The worst case is a Somalia-ization of Iraq.”

Consistent with the thematic presentation here at TCJ, we believe that we are in the “long war.”  It is past time to jettison old paradigms of global conflict from fifty years ago when we were planning to protect Europe from The Soviet Union and the Far East from China, and enter the twenty first century.  The Far East has come of age, and it is time for Taiwan, Japan and South Korea to prepare for its own self defense.  It is simply too costly, both in wealth and in misdirection of U.S. resources from the real conflicts of the future, to continue to defend the Far East.

We favor a redeployment as soon as possible, but one from Germany, Japan, South Korea and Okinawa to the Middle East.  The idea that after expending such blood and wealth to secure a toehold in the Middle East we would relinquish it to be burned and used against us as we depart is not only sickening and psychologically debilitating, but dangerous and inadvisable.  It does not comport with our understanding of the conflict in which we are engaged.

Of course, it will be necessary to reformulate the model.  FOBs and combat outposts in Anbar will eventually go away, much to the delight of the U.S. Marines.  It is doubtful that the Shi’a will acquiesce to British presence for the long term, a problem we will address in upcoming articles.  But make no mistake.  U.S. deployment in some fashion – perhaps to the Kurdish region, for Iraq/Iran and Iraq/Syria border security, assistance with specialized kinetic operations, training of Iraqi troops and police, etc. – is necessary and good for the foreseeable future.  We should be in the Middle East for a long, long time.  The intractable myth that our presence in the Middle East is merely a recruiting tool for the Salafists is nothing more than pitiful hand-wringing.  The U.S. should become one of the most powerful “tribes” in the Middle East.

The way to avoid the paradoxes associated with redeployment of our entire military back to the U.S. is to avoid redeployment to begin with.  It will save the deployment costs associated with the next Small War in which we engage in the Middle East.

Warring the Narrative

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

Bing West has another good commentary at the Small Wars Journal Blog entitled Winning the Narrative.  There are two categories of Iraq observers, says West.  The first is the anti-terror camp.  This camp believes that the indigenous Sunnis rejected al Qaeda’s religious extremism when it became obvious that they could not wrest power from the Shi’a, and didn’t want proponents of radical religious ideas as their rulers.  West observes:

It’s conventional wisdom now to say that Anbar improved because the Sunni tribes aligned against al Qaeda. True enough, but an incomplete explanation. With inadequate manpower, the Marines and Army National Guard and active duty soldiers persisted year after year with gritty, relentless patrolling that convinced the tribes the American military was, as one tribal leader said to me, “the strongest tribe”. Hence the tribes could turn against al Qaeda, knowing they had the strongest tribe standing behind them.

West echoes my sentiments in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, where I said that:

The coup is not merely that the tribal chiefs and their people are cooperating with U.S. forces.  It is larger than that.  The coup is that the insurgency, properly defined as indigenous fighters rather than terrorists and foreign fighters - those who were previously pointing a gun towards U.S. troops – are now pointing them at the terrorists.  Not only have many of them made peace with the U.S., but in a development just as important, the U.S. forces have made peace with them.  This has been accomplished with the new difficulty introduced by globalization (foreign fighters), and the new difficulty introduced by religious fanaticism (suicide bombers), and the new difficulty introduced by technology (stand off weapons such as roadside bombs).  This is a counterinsurgency tour de force, and as time judges this victory it will take its rightful place in the great military campaigns of world history.

The second is the sectarian camp, which believes that intransigent hostility between Shi’ites and Sunnis has caused a civil war, or more correctly, will blow up into a fully realized civil war upon the departure of U.S. troops, whenever that is.  Terrorism is still a major problem, but underneath this lies a current of sectarian animosity the depth and strength of which is not completely known (The Strategy Page has an article up on the possibility of an all-out civil war if the U.S. leaves.  Civil war has not happened yet, though it could).

The narrative, says West, has been inconsistent thus far, leading to the failure to support a single narrative.  To this, we respond the following.

The problem to which Mr. West alludes is greater than he credits in his insightful analysis.  Only hours after authoring Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, in which I claimed that the majority of the insurgency in Anbar had been indigenous Sunnis (while also discussing the nuances of the superimposition of terrorism by al Qaeda in Mesopotamia), and in which I claimed that the counterinsurgency victory by the Marines in Anbar would go down as the greatest in military history, an intelligence specialist wrote me to concur with the piece, saying that “if anyone thinks that al Qaeda controls more than 10% of the insurgency they’re crazy.”

Yet we have our Commander in Chief saying that the people we’re fighting in Iraq are the same people who were responsible for 9/11 (an assertion that correctly gets no traction with the American public), and the Multinational Force PAO office issuing thousands of press releases, many of which refer to degrading the ability of al Qaeda to conduct operations, and some of which should have been discussing the Iraqi insurgency or AAS.  Al Qaeda has become a surrogate for all of the enemy, and clear narrative has been sacrificed on the altar of convenience.  It is too difficult to explain what we are doing to the American people, or so it must be believed.

Think Aaron Copland and his brilliant “Americana” style compositions.  The majestic, broad, moving, sweeping, engaging and unforgettable movements of instruments together to create the emotional experience of literally hearing his thoughts.  We need this in our narrative, and it has been absent for so long that it may be irrecoverable.  But there is more.  We need the narrative to be smart, intelligent and sophisticated.  We need a national narrative to explain the “long war” to the American public.  I would even settle for pragmatic at this point, straight from Ralph Peters.  In the event of a precipitous departure, the following would occur:

  1. After suffering a strategic defeat, al-Qaeda-in-Iraq comes back from the dead …
  2. Iran establishes hegemony over Iraq’s southern oil fields and menaces the other Persian Gulf producers.
  3. Our troops will have died in vain.
  4. A slaughter of the innocents.

I recently attended a funeral for an elderly person, and the elderly there counted many World War II veterans.  Each one wanted to know my son’s location, billet, MOS, and unit.  As they talked, each one said to me that although my son may be coming home soon, God willing that is, the war will not be over for a long, long time.  And they were not referring to the war in Iraq.  They knew.  In their eyes you could tell.  They knew that we are in the “long war.”

Our national narrative has failed to match the magnitude and stakes in the long war.  But rest assurred, the enemy’s narrative has no such weakness.  Not all of the future enemies of America in the long war will fight for religious reasons, and perhaps not even the majority.  I have gone on record saying that the insurgency in Anbar was primarily indigenous Sunni, and that the strategy to settle with them was brilliant and will go down as the template for future COIN campaigns.  But for some of the enemy, the narrative is clear, and it is powerful.

“With al Qaeda, we are in a global fight between two worlds,” he said. “Al Qaeda is not a territorial organization. It’s not Hamas, it’s not Hizballah and it’s not the Taliban.”

Instead, it should be compared to the Marxist revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s that attracted young Westerners to fight in places like the jungles of South America. Al Qaeda, Roy said, is in fact part of a global revolutionary tradition.

“Today the narrative of the revolt is religious. Forty years ago it was Marxist. Today it is religious and particularly Muslim. But we are still in a global revolt against the system, without having a clear vision of an alternative system,” he said.

Roy contended that al Qaeda members are anti-American only because America incarnates the “world order” — and this “world order is perceived as unjust.”

Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a specialist on the Middle East from the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris (IFRI), identified al Qaeda terrorists as “people who don’t think they have their place in globalization.”

Bing has written a smart commentary that is “gilding the lilly.”  Before we can even hope to develop a narrative of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we need to develop a national narrative.  National leadership is needed, and so far it has not been forthcoming.

Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The insurgency in the Anbar Province, while being called ”al Qaeda” in hundreds of press releases, has had a significant part indigenous Sunni fighters.   Before pacification of Anbar could occur, the following two things were necessary: (a) robust kinetic operations to rout al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunna, and (b) settling with erstwhile indigenous insurgents, formerly enemies of U.S. forces, and forthwith allies in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Sources from Anbar are cited specifying the ‘breakdown’ of the insurgency; the counterinsurgency ’tour de force’ involved in the pacification of Anbar is discussed, and Shi’a refusal to reconcile is discussed as the largest remaining hurdle to ending OIF.

At the Small Wars Journal blog, Malcolm Nance has a provocative article entitled Al Qaeda in Iraq – Heros, Boogeymen or Puppets?   Nance’s article has been highly criticized as has a recent opinion piece at the New York Times.  These articles are part of a “renewed push by the antiwar crowd to discredit the idea that the war in Iraq has any real connection to the war on terror,” it has been said.

At TCJ we understand The Long War, but believe that motive cannot be ascribed to these articles based on our reading of the content.  The schema presented in them is either right or wrong (or perhaps wrong but containing nuggets of truth), and it is important to ascertain who the enemy is and determine the appropriate strategy based on identification of the enemy.  High strung reactions to probing questions and alternative viewpoints do not significantly add to our understanding, and are thus not very helpful.

We agree with much the core of Nance’s assessment of the insurgency (with qualifications and caveats, and with insurgency differentiated from the terrorists, an important distinction that will be discussed later), while holding that the solution he proffers is a false dilemma.  The entire article is worth reading, but the core of his analysis is contained in these few paragraphs.

It is well documented that the Sunni insurgency is composed of three wings of insurgents. It is composed of the nationalist Former Regime Loyalists (FRLs) and their former military elements (FREs). This force may be upwards to 29,000 active combatants carrying out over 100 unconventional attacks per day using improvised explosive devices, rockets and automatic weapons ambushes. The FRL-originated Jaysh al-Mujahideen is composed of former Saddam Fedayeen, Special Republican Guard intelligence officers, former-Ba’athists, Sunni volunteers and their families. The second wing is the nationalist Iraqi Religious Extremists (IREs). These are forces including the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and other smaller groups, which may total approximately 5,000 fighters, sprinkled throughout western, central and northern Iraq. On occasion come into the conversation when one of their attacks is particularly daring or when the coalition claims it is negotiating their departure from the battlefront. Inevitably these “lesser? insurgent groups are portrayed as bit players on the sidelines of the epic.

Finally, the foreign fighters of the Al Qaeda in Iraq and its umbrella group the Islamic Emirate of Iraq (aka Islamic State of Iraq) may be as few as 1,500 fighters and supporters and may also have direct links to the two other tiers. Overwhelming evidence exists that that the FRLs have been waging the lion’s share of the insurgency. Until 2004 they were considered a separate part of the insurgency but recently they have been called ‘Al Qaeda-associated’ because AQI was operating in their area of operations … by 2007 it wasn’t hard for Washington to make a semantic and rhetorical leap to refer to all insurgency forces as “Al Qaeda.?

This is an error worth remembering. For over four years the FRLs (especially the paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen and Special Republican Guard) almost exclusively carries out IED, indirect fire (IDF), sniping, aircraft shoot downs and ambush attacks with conventional weapons with alarming regularity which account for the lion share of the US forces’ 3,500 KIAs. The smaller IREs did the same type of attacks but occasionally peppered their missions with Suicide bombings. AQI almost exclusively perform carries out suicide car bombings and suicide vest bombings (SVBIED/SPBIED). They occasionally perform IED, rocket, MANPAD and even a few impressive massed infantry attacks on Iraqi Police and government buildings (such as the symbolic assault on Abu Ghraieb prison in 2005). In fact, AQI’s impact on US forces is actually quite small in comparison to the FRLs and IREs …

AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) and AAS (Ansar al Sunna) have indeed brought into Iraq funding, experience and religious commitment that at least some of the indigenous Sunni insurgency didn’t have.  Thus they have been involved in a disproportionate level of high profile violence.   However, on the whole TCJ will concur with Nance’s basic thesis.  Based on press reports and discussions with a well informed and strategically placed military contact (in Anbar), the picture of AQI being put out by the Multinational Force web site began to make little sense to us, and In Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq, TCJ offered the following analysis:

There appears to be a paradigm shift in the counterinsurgency strategy being employed by the U.S. forces in Iraq.  This shift goes further than the changes associated with the security plan of which many observers are aware (e.g., deployment out of Forward Operating Bases into the cities to combat operation posts).  The changes point to a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. sees the battle for Iraq.

The schema until now seems to have been focused on the notion that the Iraqi people, separated from the rogue elements in their midst, long for freedom and self-determination, with al Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al Sunna, and foreign suicide bombers standing in their way.  Defeating the insurgents has primarily been seen as defeating AQI.  One need only to go back through the Multi-National force press releases to see how many references there are to AQI.  But it is becoming increasingly clear that this schema bears little resemblance to the realities on the ground in Iraq.

With AQI and AAS standing only at several thousand, for a country the size of Iraq, there simply aren’t enough to pull off destabilization of a country.  There are more gang members in most medium size American cities than there are al Qaeda in Iraq. Until recently, the Sunni militants were seen in the role of assisting AQI, but the view seems to be changing to one of the disaffected Sunnis (i.e., Fedayeen Saddam, former Iraq security police, former senior Iraqi army leadership and hard line Baathists) being primarily in the lead with AQI and AAS being secondary in their affect and power …

The much-heralded tribal split with al Qaeda is a positive sign in the Anbar Province, but it must be remembered that even if AQI loses in this showdown, the insurgency is not defeated.  One side of the insurgency has merely gained supremacy over the other.  This modified schema of seeing the insurgency as being primarily borne on the shoulders of disaffected Sunnis is supported in this informative and interesting report by Michael Totten from Kirkuk (Patrick Laswell has an equally interesting report from Kirkuk).

“Most, if not all, the terrorists are the old Baath Party members,? Mam Rostam said. “They changed their names and became an Islamist party. But they are the same guys. They have unified with some Sunnis around the Southwest of Kirkuk because they are living in this area. They are making these attacks to make this democratic experiment after Saddam fail.?

This difference in understanding we have of the insurgency in Anbar came as a result more than just of press releases.  Around the time of the worst Ramadi violence, TCJ communicated with a contact in the Anbar Province, who gave the following view of the insurgency (we haven’t divulged the contents of this communication until now; (1) it is somewhat dated and thus less sensitive, and (2) it is still ‘scrubbed down’ to remove remaining sensitive information).

There is Al Qaeda in Iraq, lead by a couple non Iraqis with a few highly place Iraqi leaders as well.  The are situated outside Ramadi (mainly East and North of the city).  They conduct their operations in Ramadi, Habiniyah and Khalidiyah, but for the most part use the Ramadi area as an R and R area.  In fact most attacks in those areas that are Al Qaeda attacks are locals paid to conduct the attacks.  They are one of the two the big dogs in town because of their small but well trained and ruthless core of foreign fighters.  These FF are used to kill competitors, not Americans.

Ansar Al Sunnah is the other big dog in town.  Most of the individuals identified as Al Qaeda in Ramadi were most likely actually AAS.  These guys are lead almost entirely by Iraqis Arabs Sunnis.  (By the way the connectiveness of Ansar Al Sunnah and Ansar Al Islam is more a result of similar name and wishful thinking then reality on the ground … [parts redacted]).  These are the guys that operated in the central part of Ramadi.  The Hospital was controlled by them (as opposed to Al Qaeda).  These guys have excellent access to suicide bombers (not sure if you realize it, but the vast majority of FF in Iraq are only there as suicide bombers.  Organizations (not particularly associated with Al Qaeda) based in Syria and Jordan “sell” them to Iraqi insurgents).  The reason we see these guys as Al Qaeda is because the info we have proving they are Al Qaeda is paid for, and we pay more for info about Al Qaeda.

Local Iraqi Insurgents.  Although they are comprised of a number of groups I think of them as the Islamic Army in Iraq.  The strength is to the North West and South West near Ramadi, North of the River near Khallidiyah and then East towards Fallujah and Bagdad.  We chased these guys before and during the time I was there under the impression they were Al Qaeda associated, even though nearly every time we caught one we found out otherwise (look up Nu’Man Brigade and Muhammad Daham, or the Butcher of Ramadi).

Upon the capture of Muhammad Daham in May of 2005, the Multinational Force – West PAO issued a press release in which they mentioned his possible link to the AMZ network, and upon capture of his successor (and leader of the Nu’man Brigade) in September of 2005, the Multinational Force specifically mentioned capturing an al Qaeda leader, and filled in the end of the press release with the words that would become so common in future press releases: “We are degrading the overall effectiveness of the Al-Qaida in Iraq terror network and its ability to conduct operations in Iraq.”  Continuing with our communication:

Daham turned out to be very anti-Al Qaeda, and although not mentioned the Butcher turned out to be a low level, local insurgent with no ties to Al Qaeda. These guys will actually call American Intel and report other local insurgents as Al Qaeda in order to knock off competitors.  Many of these groups are actually just thieves and thugs looking for a few bucks.  They will at times work with AAS or AQI, or depending on the groups fighting against them.

The last groups is the Iraqi criminal organizations.  They are also very closely linked to many of the local insurgent groups.  Daham was actually one of these guys originally.  The leader of this group currently in Ramadi is … [redacted].  [Other parts redacted].  These groups will sometimes work with AAS or Al Qaeda or locals.  They go back and forth.  They also kidnap people for ransom, or for political reasons if paid to do so [parts redacted].

Al Qaeda isn’t “IN” Ramadi.  They stay out for safety reasons.  AAS is in Ramadi, but some of their leaders live in “Safe” zones (i.e. near the Marines base at Hurricane Point.)  Others have been trained to not fight, but rather pretend to be “good” Iraqis when we came raiding.  IEDs and snipers are their speciality (they have the best sniper in town, an ex-Iraqi special forces sniper). They might pay local kids to attack the Americans during the push, but they will hide and try to stay safe.  The locals are just that, and the more we kill the worse it will get.

Returning to the seminal article at the SWJ Blog, Nance concludes that this mischaracterization of the insurgency as entirely al Qaeda adversely affects the going-forward strategy.

Still some classify any Iraqi insurgent support of AQI objectives, active or passive, is often pointed to as a reason to classify all insurgent groups as Al Qaeda. This reading of the enemy does not take into account the diverse strategies, goals, personalities and political linkages of the other insurgents. It lumps them all into one pot and uses the same hammer to try to smash them. Hammering this particular insurgency is like smashing a ball of mercury with your palm. You may get a little of it under your control (and the toxins that come with it) but the rest will disperse, roll away and reform as they please.

But Nance’s article, his many vocal critics, and this present article may be behind the times.  The going-forward strategy has already been developed and is in stages of implementation.  The so-called “Anbar Awakening” is about more than just enlisting the assistance of the tribal Sheiks.  The magnitude and brilliance of this coup by U.S. forces should not be underestimated.  To assert that AQI was the only enemy in Anbar belittles the scope of the accomplishment and ignores the intricate military, political, religious and anthropological machinations that were involved to pull off this coup.  Regardless of the disposition of OIF, the pacification of Anbar by the United States Marines will go down as the greatest counterinsurgency campaign in history and will be studied in professional war college classrooms for generations to come.  Contrary to Nance’s suggestion, requesting that Syria or Iran fake cooperation with the U.S. is not necessary.

With respect to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other foreign elements (e.g., suicide bombers and Ansar al Sunna), their members and actions never met the classical definition of insurgency because they were not aiming to govern or provide for the population.  Rather, they brutalized the population with torture, houses of horror, beatings, bombings and other tactics aimed at forcing the population into submission.  They terrorized the population because they are terrorists.  It was not uncustomary to find electric drills used to put holes through each rib in the ribcage of some poor victim.

This 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  ”Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.”

When the population observed that the Marines had no intention of retreat and never lost a military engagement, and also when the tribal leaders saw that the rogue elements were subsuming their role as chieftans and leaders of their people, the storied alliance developed.  This alliance may have been strategic and convenient at first, but is now pivotal and absolutely essential to the success of pacification of Anbar.

The coup is not merely that the tribal chiefs and their people are cooperating with U.S. forces.  It is larger than that.  The coup is that the insurgency, properly defined as indigenous fighters rather than terrorists and foreign fighters - those who were previously pointing a gun towards U.S. troops – are now pointing them at the terrorists.  Not only have many of them made peace with the U.S., but in a development just as important, the U.S. forces have made peace with them.  This has been accomplished with the new difficulty introduced by globalization (foreign fighters), and the new difficulty introduced by religious fanaticism (suicide bombers), and the new difficulty introduced by technology (stand off weapons such as roadside bombs).  This is a counterinsurgency tour de force, and as time judges this victory it will take its rightful place in the great military campaigns of world history.

In Settling with the Enemy, we discussed the reports of U.S. forces making allies of erstwhile enemies.

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? …

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 AQI and AAS.

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.

An analogous strategy is being implemented in the Diyala Province, where erstwhile enemy fighters are being used to rout the terrorist elements in their midst.

The situation is so desperate that U.S. forces over the last month decided to seek uncomfortable alliances with some of the groups that have killed Americans but now say they hate the group Al Qaeda in Iraq even more, and are willing to fight it.

Members of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a Sunni resistance group that is dedicated to the expulsion of U.S. forces and takes its name from the revolt that pushed out the British occupation, are among those newly granted the right to patrol with U.S.-supplied uniforms and be exempt from AK-47 weapons seizures, said Lt. Col. James D. George, the acting American commander in the province.

Just a year ago, this region appeared to be nearly pacified. Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi was killed just outside Baqubah, and U.S. commanders decided the province was ripe for the transfer of primary responsibility for security to Iraqi forces.

Instead, Al Qaeda quickly regained a sanctuary in the province and imposed its extremist interpretation of Islam. U.S. and Iraqi security forces scarcely venture into west Baqubah, where smoking is prohibited, as is the sale of women’s clothing by men. Even placing a cucumber next to a tomato in the markets is forbidden because they have been gendered male and female …

U.S. forces in Diyala are looking past the Iraqi police and army for help driving Al Qaeda from the province. Dozens of militia members have been outfitted by American troops with brown T-shirts spray-painted with numbers and will soon be provided with cards identifying them as members of “the Concerned Local Nationals.”

The gunmen are allowed large caches of AK-47s and ammunition, and they are promised eventual positions in the Baqubah police force.

George said the group included members of the 1920 Revolution Brigade and other fighters who have engaged in violent battles with Americans, but he said no one on a “high-value target” list would be able to evade American capture.

“Since we came here, the No. 1 priority has been to drive a wedge between insurgents and terrorists, and this is one of the only ways to do that,” George said.

The delineation that Lt. Col. George makes between “insurgents” and “terrorists” is precise and highly technical, and comports exactly with the understanding we have.  The Maliki administration understands exactly what the U.S. is doing and has done, and has voiced their displeasure.

… one of  Al-Maliki top aides, Hassan al-Suneid, was quoted as saying the U.S. was treating Iraq like “an experiment in an American laboratory.” He sharply criticised the U.S. military, saying it was committing human rights violations, embarassing the Iraqi government with its tactics and cooperating with “gangs of killers” in its campaign against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Suneid, a Shiite lawmaker close to al-Maliki, told The Associated Press that al-Maliki has problems with the top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus, who works along a “purely American vision.” He criticized U.S. overtures to Sunni groups in Anbar and Diyala, encouraging former “insurgents” to join the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. “These are gangs of killers,” he said.

Of course they’re gangs of killers.  This was the strategy.  The difference between them and the Shi’ite militias is that they have shown a willingness to reconcile and settle, while the Mahdi army and Sadrists have shown a hardening of their position over the past months.  Because of refusal to reconcile (mainly on the part of the Shi’a), along with lack of oil revenue sharing legislation, Iraqi politics is at a standstill.  Couple this with the U.S. allowing Moqtada al Sadr to go unmolested, free to disrupt Iraqi politics and security, and the result is a witch’s brew of present and future problems.

Here at TCJ, we have chided the Multinational Force for allowing Sadr to go unmolested (and have recommended his ‘strategic disappearance’), as has Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model.  When recently pressed during a blogger’s interview with Tony Snow about Sadr, laughing, Snow said “we do not engage in assassinations.”  But while America preens and fluffs its moralistic feathers and struts its righteousness in front of the world, there have been and currently are indigenous Iraqi elements who would prevent success in Iraq.  The Sunnis have shown a willingness to reconcile, and are actively helping to rout rogue elements in Anbar.

The hard work has been done with the the Sunnis.  The question remains whether the U.S. will do the hard work and take the hard actions with the Shi’a that will finally be necessary to finish the job in Iraq.  If not, the lives of U.S. troops in OIF will have been to no avail.

Postscript

On July 16, 2007, the New York Times published an interesting and informative article that clearly substantiates our position, both with respect to the indigenous Sunni fighters, their new cooperation with U.S. forces, and the recalcitrance of the Shi’a army.

Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.

A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam’s men, even using a stolen membership list to single them out for wrongful detention.

General Nassir, a 37-year-old former special forces officer, denies that, but says he has strict orders not to support “unofficial? groups and to arrest armed men, no matter who they are. He says he supports those who join the security forces but objects to “those who have Iraqi blood on their hands and who kill our soldiers.?

The gulf between Abu Azzam’s men and the Iraqi soldiers remains vast, with American troops sometimes having to physically intercede. And it is an unmistakable caution that the full depths of the problems facing Iraq cannot be measured in the statistics about insurgent attacks and sectarian killings that carry so much weight in Washington.

The United States has placed great hope in its deepening ties with Sunni leaders like Abu Azzam who have vowed to fight Islamist militants. But his mostly Sunni group, the Volunteers, is different from the American-allied tribes in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province, in part because it patrols only 40 minutes from central Baghdad and close to large Shiite districts. So American commanders view this as a crucial test case for whether Shiite leaders will tolerate new alliances with Sunni groups.

If General Nassir’s unit, the Muthanna Brigade, is any indication, the outlook is not promising, said Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, a 41-year-old California native who has spent the past months cultivating his relationship with Abu Azzam.

About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area. He cites a pattern of aggression by Iraqi troops toward Abu Azzam’s men and other Sunnis, who he believes are often detained for no reason.

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,? Colonel Pinkerton said.

A few weeks ago, he said, a Sunni detainee was beaten to death while in custody of the Muthanna Brigade. And in the past year, he said, Muthanna soldiers detained two of Abu Azzam’s brothers, both of whom said they were abused, and raided Abu Azzam’s house.

Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,? he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers.?

He credits the Volunteers for taking on Sunni extremists, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that claims loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s principles. Abu Azzam’s men, including some local Shiites, have been lining up by the hundreds every day to submit to retina scans and fingerprinting so they can apply to join the Iraqi police. Some already stand guard, with loaded Kalashnikov rifles, alongside American troops.

Read the whole New York Times article.

Anniversary of the Blog and 2/6 Marines Golf Company

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The July 14, 2007 edition of the WSJ  had a tribute to blogs, one section in which Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner discussed Milblogs.  Matthew Burden at Blackfive links this up with some blogs he likes to read.  There are many good resources listed in his post, but one of the links Matthew gives is The Captain’s Journal.  We are certainly undeserving of this kindness, but a word or two about Blackfive is appropriate.  In a world in which people and institutions are seldom worthy of the power or attention they are given, Blackfive is the most influential Milblog, and they are in the rarefied air of deserving this influence and attention.  They are tops.

On an slightly unrelated issue (but still pertaining to Milblogs), by Googling “Forward Operating Base Reaper” I stumbled across a new Milblogger named Jim Spiri, associated with the Philadelphia Inquirer, who has been embedded for five weeks with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Golf Company, and intends to be with them again soon.

Golf Company has seen the lion’s share of combat in Fallujah over the last three months, and is responsible for controlling the entire Southern half of Fallujah.  After talking some with Jim, he piped in, “I know your son.”  It is a blessing from God to talk a bit with a person who has been there recently and seen your son and his fire team.

I would embed if I had the funding, and although I thought that the funding was potentially available from an outside source, the opportunity seems to have dried up.  In lieu of reporting myself from Iraq, its nice to have friends there.

ROE Experiences in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

I have tried to report the good and bad concerning rules of engagement, and most recently reported on an instance of what I consider to be robust ROE, entitled Recon by Fire.  In keeping with the main theme of comprehensive honesty, we should briefly discuss a recent contrary viewpoint reported in the Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) IV, Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07, Final Report, 17 November 2006, Office of the Surgeon, Multi-National Force Iraq, and Office of the Surgeon General, United States Army Medical Command.

More than one third of all Soldiers and Marines continue to report being in threatening situations where they were unable to respond due to Rules of Engagement (ROE).  In interviews, Soldiers reported that Iraqis would throw gasoline-filled bottles (i.e., Molotov Cocktails) at their vehicles, yet they were prohibited from responding with force for nearly a month until the ROE were changed.  Soldiers also reported they are still not allowed to respond with force when Iraqis drop large chunks of concrete blocks from second story buildings or overpasses on them when they drive by.  Every groups of Soldiers and Marines interviewed reported that they felt the existing ROE tied their hands, preventing them from doing what needed to be done to win the war (pages 13 – 14).

The entire report is worth serious study by professional military and policy-makers.  To be precise, I do not believe that the rules of engagement were “changed” to allow the engagement of insurgents who hurled Molotov Cocktails at them.  The most recent version is CJCSI 3121.01B, and it is more likely than not that a field grade officer felt that he could not make the decision on principles of application of the existing ROE and a JAG had to be consulted.

And also to be precise, I would not have consulted a JAG if I had been that field grade officer.

Combat Outposts: Are They Working or Failing?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

**** SCROLL FOR UPDATES **** 

In an interesting discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal, an LA Times article is linked that examines the effectiveness of combat outposts.

The neighborhood outposts that the U.S. military launched with great fanfare in Baghdad early this year were supposed to put more American patrols on the streets and make residents feel safer. But some soldiers stationed at the posts and Iraqis who live nearby say they are doing the opposite.

The outposts, along with joint U.S.-Iraqi security stations, form a cornerstone of the current Iraq strategy. Following a classic counterinsurgency tenet, military planners are trying to take U.S. forces out of their distant, sprawling military bases and into the day-to-day lives of Iraqis.

Here there is an unspoken problem that they are trying to address with this tactic, and it is the Ratio of Support to Infantry.  Infantry has always been out on patrol, raids, peacekeeping, nonkinetic operations, constabulary operations, etc.  The overgrown fraction of support troops, at least many of them, have not made it off of FOBs.  Combat outposts will not solve that problem.  Continuing:

Although senior U.S. commanders and mid-level officers say they believe the bases are starting to work, many soldiers stationed at the outposts are doubtful, arguing that the burden of protecting the bases means they spend less time on the streets.

“They say we are spending more time ‘in sector,’ which we are doing — we live here,” said Spc. Tyrone Richardson, 24, a member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, that operates in the east Baghdad neighborhood of Ubaidi, outside Sadr City. “But we aren’t spending the time patrolling.”

Iraqis who live nearby say they feel less safe now, because many of the bases have quickly become magnets for rocket and mortar attacks. When attacks miss the troops, they often hit Iraqi civilians.

For some, the risk of rocket attacks might be worth it if the Americans were driving away Shiite Muslim militias that many say act as death squads. But some junior soldiers say that Al Mahdi militiamen loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr are able to conduct more “patrols” of the area than can the U.S. Army.

“The Mahdi army goes around to the houses more than we do,” said Pfc. John Evans, 21, a member of 1-8 Cavalry’s Alpha Company.

When advocates of the current troop buildup pushed the U.S. to more aggressively adopt counterinsurgency tactics, their main criticism was directed at the sprawling bases where troops were stationed.

Moving soldiers to smaller bases inside Baghdad, according to the counterinsurgency experts, would allow them to spend more time interacting with the population. Regular contact with U.S. troops would make people feel safer, the main mission of counterinsurgency operations.

In practice, however, the outpost strategy has a key flaw: As many as half of the soldiers there at any one time are dedicated to protecting the outpost.

Here we may observe a fundamental law of geometry.  Let’s take a cube, 4 X 4 X 4 units.  Its volume is 64 cubic units.  Its surface area is computed to be 96 square units.  Now take the same volume, except divided into 1 X 1 X 1 units, and the surface area for the same volume is computed to be 384 square units, four times the previous surface area.  This is why ice melts faster when crushed into smaller pieces.  An analogous point can be made about the perimeter, where the perimeter of the contiguous square is 16 units, and the perimeter of the divided area (1 X 1) is 64 units, or four times the circumference for the contiguous area.  The point is that there is an economy of scale.  The same volume (or area) divided into smaller units gives a larger surface area to volume ratio (or circumference to area ratio).  The larger FOBs require less to provide force protection than smaller combat outposts.  On the other hand, the situation is worse than described by this little mathematical example, since the FOBs are not shut down with the emergence of the combat outposts.  Force protection is made extemely difficult with the emergence of combat outposts.  Continuing:

“In my tactical opinion, the combat outpost hasn’t worked,” said one junior officer stationed in east Baghdad. “It’s not a bad idea, but we are doing it wrong. We have a bigger presence but we have less boots on the ground. You only have one platoon that can maneuver tactically at a time.”

Many of the soldiers interviewed asked to speak anonymously because senior officers disapprove of noncommissioned officers and junior officers questioning military strategy.

Many of the large bases outside the city are protected by support soldiers or security units not available for the outposts.

Before the outposts were created, some companies maintained a constant presence on the streets, with each of their platoons doing two eight-hour patrols a day.

“Before, we would do two patrols a day, of six to eight hours a day. There was almost always a patrol on the street. Now we patrol just 12 times in a month,” an experienced noncommissioned officer said. “That’s not a lot of interaction with the people. And it’s problematic if the intent of this strategy is to interact with locals.”

As a result of the decrease in the number of patrols, some officers say, they are not even able to keep militia elements out of the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the outposts.

“I just know it’s not much different than it was seven months ago,” said one junior officer in east Baghdad. “We are retaking the same ground every day.”

David Kilcullen, the senior counterinsurgency advisor for the U.S. military command in Iraq, said not all the outposts were being used correctly. The outposts, he said, should not be mini-camps but rather a patrol base used for breaks between walking the neighborhood.

“You should not think of it as a nest where you retreat to and hunker down in,” said Kilcullen, a lieutenant colonel in the Australian army reserves.

On balance, he said, the concept is working and is helping to protect Iraqi neighborhoods.

“We are covering an area continuously rather than just visiting it,” Kilcullen said. “If you do not provide continuous coverage, that creates opportunities for insurgents to come in and kill the population.”

Still, other problems remain. Although one purpose of the outposts is to allow Iraqis to walk up to Americans and give them tips, the little bases are generally imposing structures ringed by machine-gun nests and high concrete walls.

1st Lt. Luis Marin, 31, Charlie Company’s executive officer, acknowledges that the need to put many of the soldiers on guard duty and erect high walls around the outposts presents challenges. But he says it is unavoidable.

“The No. 1 priority has to be to protect the outpost, and you have to use soldiers for force protection,” he said. “It almost looks like we are pushing people away, and that is not what we want to do.”

There is no doubt the outposts face threats. When what GIs ironically call “Happy Hour” begins each afternoon in east Baghdad, the soldiers of the 1-8 Cavalry seek cover in a concrete building from the rocket and mortar fire from Shiite militias.

Because the rockets are not accurate, after each attack soldiers check to see whether any residents have been hurt.

Charlie Company has been delivering fuel and water to a man who was seriously injured in an attack. After a recent visit to the injured man, Sgt. 1st Class Alberto Gordillo, 31, was confronted by another resident who lived near the site from which militants were firing rockets at the post.

“Why are you shooting at my house? Why shoot at us? We are not shooting at you,” the man said. Gordillo tried to calm him, and explain what had happened.

“If they shoot mortar rounds at us, if we positively ID them, we will shoot back. If we don’t, they won’t stop,” he said. “But we are not aiming at your house.”

In some Sunni neighborhoods in west Baghdad, such as Ghazaliya, some residents who were initially excited about the outposts and joint security stations have grown disgruntled. They believe the Americans are doing too little to stop attacks by Shiite militias and are intent on targeting only Sunni insurgents.

“The Americans won’t come out to help unless they have orders,” said Abdul Rahman, 29, a chemist. “They don’t prevent the Mahdi army from attacking us.”

In Shiite neighborhoods, residents say the opposite, arguing that the outposts are targeting Shiite militias, prompting militants to strike back.

“Since they started firing mortar rounds at the outpost, it has become very chaotic,” said Ali Bahadli, a clothing salesman in his 20s who lives near the U.S. outpost in the Baladiyat neighborhood of east Baghdad. “When the Americans go out, I say, ‘Here comes trouble.’

“Some hate the Americans for the mortars. Others hate the Mahdi army,” he said. “I blame the Americans. These mortars start when they go out and arrest someone.”

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sauer, the commander of the 1-8 Cavalry, said the benefit of the troops’ presence is seen in the increased numbers of warnings of possible roadside bombs and information about suspected insurgents that is being called in to the tip lines.

“Six months ago, my ability to gain intelligence in the neighborhoods was very minimal,” Sauer said. Now, based on “information provided to my soldiers on patrol, information through the tips line,” he said, “I have between 10 and 20 good pieces of information a day. That is a significant difference.”

To some of the soldiers, however, the quality of the intelligence seems thin. They say many of the tips are actually traps aimed at hitting them with bombs as they leave the post to check out the information.

Soldiers who defend the use of the outposts say their chief advantage is cutting down the time it takes to help patrols that have been hit in roadside bombings.

“The theory was to get us more hands-on with the people, more face time, and reduce our response time. That has been beneficial — when the unit is hit, we can respond quickly,” said Sgt. Scott Snyder, 36, of Charlie Company. “But as far as face time, we still get the same amount.”

There is further recommended reading on combat outposts:

  1. Ramadi Combat Outposts
  2. Combat Outpost Vulnerabilities
  3. Recent Combat Outposts Built in Anbar (more here)
  4. Combat Outposts Built in Baghdad to Accomodate the “Surge”
  5. The Earlier Days of Combat Outposts in Anbar

Combat outposts were initially used in Anbar to take urban terrain which had essentially seen no Marine.  In Baghdad, this is not the case, and the parallel application of combat outposts might be dubious.  There are pros and cons associated with the use of this tactic, and it should be used circumspectly and wisely.

**** UPDATE ****

I am reminded by Michael Fumento’s comment that he authored a good and ground-breaking piece on this very subject from an embed in Ramadi.  Parts of it follow, and it helps to set the context for the proper use of COPs.

The capital of al Anbar Province, Ramadi remains for U.S. troops the most violent city in Iraq. Yet as I reported in my November 27th “Return to Ramadi? Weekly Standard article, we seem finally to be gaining ground there against the insurgents and al Qaeda in Iraq. And COPs – Combat Operation Posts – may be one of the most important reasons.

Historically, successful counterinsurgency efforts have involved pacifying areas by plopping small garrisons with interlocking communications into enemy territory and sending out patrols to gather information and engage the enemy. Perhaps the most famous example of such garrison use was that of King Edward I of England (the guy who gutted Braveheart) who used castles to consolidate his hold on Wales. More recently U.S. Army Special Forces established Civilian Irregular Defense Group camps in South Vietnam, manned primarily by indigenous tribes or South Vietnamese with a core of Special Forces soldiers. These were considered one of the most effective strategies of that war.

There’s no set size for a COP, but in the Ramadi area it’s an undersized company of four platoons, or about 80 soldiers. 1st Brigade Combat Team, which overseas Coalition Forces in Ramadi, put in 11 COPs so far and is going to install more. The first in Ramadi was created in June. These garrisons are tiny offshoots from much-larger forward operating bases, which have about 1,000 men. The COP in which I was embedded, COP Anvil in northern Ramadi, comprises just two concrete houses commandeered and leased from Iraqi civilians.

Anvil was commanded by Capt. Don Sapp of A Company, 1/6 Infantry when I was there although he rotated out right after I left. It has an oversized company of more than 120 men from three American platoons and one Iraqi platoon. Anvil also has four M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles attached to it, giving it real firepower. Anvil also draws support from Forward Operating Base Blue Diamond, which in turn draws support from Camp Ramadi.

The military refers to COP use as “the inkblot strategy.” One dot spreads into a bigger spot. Further, the troops are practically forced to work with the locals. That means building up networks of indigenous people who know the terrain, culture, and other people better than any forces – even one from the same country but another province – ever could. All of this creates a force multiplier. Since we simply don’t have enough troops in the Anbar, this ability to make better use of troops without weakening the forward operating bases from which they’re drawn is vital. Another value of the Ramadi COPs over the FOBs and Camp Ramadi is that we’re fighting an enemy that relies primarily on roadway bombs – whether IEDs, vehicle-borne IEDs, or suicide-vehicle borne IEDs (driven vehicles) – to inflict casualties and damage, with the potential for greatly restricting movement. But missions from COPs are inherently short-range; you’re always almost there. That’s less road to be on and hence fewer explosives and ambushes to worry about. COPs also have no chance of being overrun both because of the inability of the enemy to fight skillfully or mass in large numbers and because of the multilayered defenses.

The entire article is highly recommended.

DoD Inefficiency and Unintended Consequences

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The Strategy Page has a piece up on China ordering digital camouflage.

China is spending over a billion dollars to buy new combat uniforms for its troops. The new uniforms use a digital camouflage pattern similar to the one used by American soldiers and marines for the past four years.

Digital camouflage uses “pixels” (little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely), instead of just splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called “digital camouflage” when it was first invented three decades ago. This pattern proved considerably more effective at hiding troops than older methods. For example, in tests, it was found that soldiers wearing digital pattern uniforms were 50 percent more likely to escape detection by other troops. What made the digital pattern work was the way the human brain processed information. The small “pixels” of color on the cloth makes the human brain see vegetation and terrain, not people. One could provide a more technical explanation, but the “brain processing” one pretty much says it all.

Another advantage of the digital patterns is that they can also fool troops using night vision scopes. American troops are increasingly running up against opponents who have night optics, so wearing a camouflage pattern that looks like vegetation to someone with a night scope, is useful.

China will take two years to get nearly two million troops equipped with the new uniforms. There are four camouflage patterns (urban, forest, desert and ocean), although the woodland pattern  also works in urban areas, just not as well as the special urban pattern. The new uniforms have a lot of other improvements, based on feedback from the troops. The new uniforms are also sturdier, and are able to survive 700 washings, versus about 140 with the current uniforms.

The U.S. Army developed digital camouflage in the 1970s. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R. O’Neill, a West Point professor of engineering psychology, had first noted the “digital camouflage effect.” It was never adopted for use in uniforms, but was used for a camouflage pattern on armored vehicles of the U.S. Army 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Europe from 1978 to the early 1980s. Why hadn’t the army adopted it for uniforms back in the 1970s? It seems that the key army people (uniformed and civilian) deciding such things in the 1970s could not grasp the concept of how digital camouflage worked on the human brain, and were not swayed by field tests. Strange, but true, and it’s happened before. In 2003, the U.S. Army decided to use digital camouflage patterns for their new field uniforms. A few years after that, China expressed an interest in the concept, for their new field uniforms.

More interesting than the article is a comment associated with the article.

I tend to be a little dubious about ‘the next big thing’ in camouflage patterns.  It’s been my experience that once you strap on all your gear and get covered in dust and mud, no one can see what your uniform looks like anyway.  Durability and more convenient pocket placement is far more important.

Here we have an interesting anecdotal piece of evidence for Department of Defense inefficiency.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and vice versa.  Below is a pitcure of Marines being outfitted with the new Modular Tactical Vest that I have covered in Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, and Body Armor Goes Political.

The intent of digital camies is to provide stealth.  The intent of body armor is to protect against penetration of deadly rounds.  The body armor outer tactical vest (the carrier for the soft ballistic panels and ESAPI plates) is not constructed of digital camouflage, and yet the system covers all of the upper torso (protecting the whole body organs) and some of the groin, thereby negating the effects of the digital camouflage blouse (and the picture above is not of desert camies which would be worse in comparison).

Commercial industry struggles with miscommunication and lack of coordination as well.  No one intends for this to happen, but the end result is that the body armor system and the digital camouflage are not compatible, in that the digital pattern of the camies (or more correctly the lack of pattern) is broken with the armor system.  The same is true of other gear, whether radios, carriers for ammunition drums for SAW gunners, or other things that the warrior needs to carry on his mission.

The solution for this disconnect involves two things: (a) more money for the DoD, and (b) better coordination among the planners, engineers and procurement specialists.

Repeating the Success of Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

Hopes are high that the success of the Anbar Province can be repeated in Diyala and other provinces.

Sunni merchants watched warily from behind neat stacks of fruit and vegetables as Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno walked with a platoon of bodyguards through the Qatana bazaar here one recent afternoon. At last, one leathery-faced trader glanced furtively up and down the narrow, refuse-strewn street to check who might be listening, then broke the silence.

“America good! Al Qaeda bad!” he said in halting English, flashing a thumb’s-up in the direction of the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq.

Until only a few months ago, the Central Street bazaar was enemy territory, watched over by U.S. machine-gunners in sandbagged bunkers on the roof of the governor’s building across the road. Ramadi was the most dangerous city in Iraq, and the area around the building the deadliest place in Ramadi.

Now, a pact between local tribal sheiks and U.S. commanders has sent thousands of young Iraqis from Anbar Province into the fight against extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The deal has all but ended the fighting in Ramadi and recast the city as a symbol of hope that the tide of the war may yet be reversed to favor the Americans and their Iraqi allies …

… the question is whether the Anbar experience can be “exported” to other combat zones, as Bush suggested, by arming tribally based local security forces and recruiting thousands of young Sunnis, including former members of Baathist insurgent groups, into Iraq’s army and police force.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who leads the Shiite-dominated national government, has backed the tribal outreach in Anbar as a way to strengthen Sunni moderates against Sunni extremists there. But he has warned that replicating the pattern elsewhere could arm Sunni militias for a civil war with Shiites.

Anbar has been a war zone now for four years, and the Americans are as much a part of life as the blasting summer heat.

Ramadi, which lies on the edge of a desert that reaches west from the city to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, had a population of 400,000 in Saddam Hussein’s time. That was before the insurgents – a patchwork of Qaeda-linked militants, die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party and other resistance groups fighting to oust U.S. forces from Iraq – coalesced in a terrorist campaign that turned much of the city into a ghost town, and much of Anbar into a cauldron for U.S. troops.

Last year, a leaked U.S. Marine intelligence report conceded that the war in Anbar was effectively lost and that the province was on course to becoming the seat of the Islamic militants’ plans to establish a new caliphate in Iraq.

The key to turning that around was the shift in allegiance by tribal sheiks. But the sheiks turned only after a prolonged offensive by U.S. and Iraqi forces, starting in November, that put Qaeda groups on the run, in Ramadi and elsewhere across western Anbar.

Not for the first time, the Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power …

“We couldn’t go more than 200 meters from this base when I arrived,” said Captain Ian Brooks, a Marine officer at one new neighborhood base. “Now, I can walk the streets without any problem.”

The change that made all the others possible, U.S. officers say, was the alliance with the sheiks. In Ramadi, 23 tribal leaders approached the Americans and offered to fight the extremists by forming “provincial security battalions,” neighborhood police auxiliaries, and by sending volunteers to the Iraqi Army and the police.

Across Anbar, the 3,500 police officers in October jumped to 21,500 by June. In Ramadi, where there were fewer than 100 police officers last year, there are now 3,500.

Many recruits, U.S. officers acknowledge, were previously insurgents. “There’s a lot of guys wearing blue shirts out there who were shooting at us last year,” Charlton said.

In Settling with the Enemy I discussed the necessity to put erstwhile Sunni insurgents to work ensuring security.  But it was more than enlisting the insurgents to work for us that has at least partially pacified the Anbar province.  There have been four years of hard work by the Marines to effect security.  The past regime ensured that the population, accustomed to acquiescing in the face of brutality, and who had seen much of it over the past several years, would come ever so slowly to the U.S. and Iraqi side.

The insurgents with whom no settlement could be reached were foreigners who came to Iraq to fight jihad, along with a radical religious element which had begun within Iraq in the last decade or two of the prior regime.

By the late 1980s it had become clear that secular pan-Arabism fused with socialist ideas was no longer a source of inspiration for some Ba’th Party activists. Many young Sunni Arabs adopted an alternative ideology, namely, fundamentalist Islam based essentially on the thought of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. A minority even moved toward the more extreme Salafi, and even Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam. The regime was reluctant to repress such trends violently, even when it came to Wahhabis, for the simple reason that these Iraqi Wahhabis were anti-Saudi: much like the ultraradical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia, they, too, saw the Saudi regime as deviating from its original Wahhabi convictions by succumbing to Western cultural influences and aligning itself with the Christian imperialist United States. This anti-Saudi trend served the Iraqi regime’s political purposes.

This element, along with the foreign jihadists, would never settle with the U.S. forces and had to be rooted out and killed or captured.  The insurgents who would settle with the U.S. were upstarts who were disenfranchised and out of work men who felt power drain away as Shi’ite supremecy took its toll on Anbar.  These things (i.e., killing the hard line insurgents and settling with those who would do so) was necessary in order to effect security, and the so-called Anbar awakening where tribes began cooperation with the U.S. should not be seen without context.  Its proper context is the blood of U.S. warriors who fought to provide security for a people whom they didn’t know.  The hope is that the seeds of this effort do not lie fallow, but rather, produce fruit ten-fold and expand to the balance of Iraq.

Sadr in Iran Again, Maliki Ready for Vote of No Confidence

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

In Iraqi Government on the Verge of Powerlessness, I rehearsed my counsel to effect what I called the “strategic disappearance” of Moqtada al Sadr.  Sadr’s presence on the political and religious scene will not only cause radical Islamic forces to have sway, but will undermine the pitiful Maliki government as well as give Iran forces deployed throughout the region.  Then I linked Omar Fadhil who, after giving us brilliant prose concerning the situation in Iraq, summarized the affect that Sadr has on Iraq, saying:

While Al-Qaeda poses a serious security challenge in some provinces, Sadr threatens the future of the whole country. He can paralyze or disrupt the proper functioning of whole ministries and provinces.

Omar concludes with his recommendations, similar to my own:

Sadr is not simply an outlaw; he represents Iran’s project in Iraq just like Hamas and Nasrallah represent it in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. These are the three arms of Iran in the Middle East that have worked consistently to ruin every emerging democratic project. And these arms must be cut off sooner rather than later.

I had lamented the return of Sadr from Iran the first time he left Iraq, believing his reapperance to be the end of our opportunity to effect his disappearance from the scene in Iraq.  As it turns out, Sadr has presented us with another such golden opportunity; according to U.S. military sources, he has returned to Iran.

Maliki has attempted to enlist the help of the Sunnis and crack down on the Shi’ite militias, while Sadr has made a public ruse of joining the political process.  Maliki’s job is tenous, where he attempts to hold accountable the very bloc that put him in office.  There is a growing rift between Sadr and Maliki.

A powerful Shia bloc lashed out at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki today after he accused it of failing to take a clear stance on violence, signalling a deepening rift between Maliki and a former backer.

Followers from the movement of anti-American Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support propelled Maliki into the prime minister’s office last year, also held street protests in Baghdad in the wake of the Iraqi leader’s comments yesterday.

“This government is at the edge of an abyss. It will collapse,” said Ahmed al-Shaibany, a prominent cleric and member of Sadr’s inner circle of advisers.

“Maliki … wants to send a message to the (US) occupiers: ‘I can implement your requests’ … We tell you that you are committing a mistake,” he said in a statement. Another top Sadr aide made similar comments in a statement. Maliki, himself a Shia, yesterday demanded the Sadr bloc take a clear stance against rogue elements within the movement’s Mehdi Army militia that Washington blames for killing US troops.

The Sunni politicians had already begun a boycott of the Maliki government, and now a vote of no confidence looms over Maliki’s administration.

For four years, Iraqis have been waiting in lines at gas stations in Baghdad, waiting for their lives to get better. But, as CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports, the situation has gotten worse and their government is now in crisis.

That has led senior Iraqi leaders to demand drastic change. CBS News has learned that on July 15, they plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Even those closest to the Iraqi prime minister, from his own party, admit the political situation is desperate.

“I feel there is no strategy, so the people become hopeless,” said Faliy al Fayadh, an MP from the Dawa Party. “You can live without petrol, without electricity, but you can’t live without hope.”

Iraq’s prime minister is facing his most serious challenge yet. The no-confidence vote will be requested by the largest block of Sunni politicians, who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project. What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty.

The Iraq Project is known to the highest levels of the U.S. government. CBS News has learned it was discussed in detail on Vice President Dick Cheney’s most recent visit to Baghdad, when he met with the Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

Al-Maliki has announced his own alliance to try save his government, but even his vice president says that’s little more than a short-term fix.

“Cosmetic change is not going to serve the interests of Iraqis is not going to stabilize, is not going to improve security , what we need is much bigger that that,” said al Hashimi, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Leaders of the Iraq Project claim they have the necessary votes to force al-Maliki to resign, but that has yet to be tested in parliament. For now, the U.S. is still standing by the Iraqi leader – publicly at least.

Maliki cannot give control fast enough to the bloc that put him into power (including driving the U.S. forces from Iraq which will likely lead to a bloodbath by the Sunnis at the hands of the Shi’a).  They are dissatisfied, but so are the Sunnis who are coming out on the short end of the stick regarding hospitals, reconstruction, funds, oil revenue sharing, and all of the other things that should be split according to population.

This is an extremely problematic development.  Unless and until the blocs in Iraq can enact power and revenue sharing as well as empower the government to govern, population security from the “surge” will be temporary.  And the U.S. still has a chance to effect the “strategic disapperance” of Moqtada al Sadr, catalyst for much of the turmoil, without which there will be no peace in Iraq.

Globalization, Religious Commitment and Non-State Actors

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The recent British airport bombing suspect, a highly-educated doctor, was also an eager religious radical, calling into question again the paradigm of disenfranchisement as the motivation behind such terrorists.

Armed with off-the-charts intelligence, Bilal Abdullah entered this world with the kind of family pedigree and privilege few Iraqis enjoy.

But he may have intended to leave this world a martyr in the name of radical Islam.

On Saturday, Abdullah was charged with planting two car bombs in London and riding shotgun in the botched suicide car-bomb attack on Glasgow International Airport late last month.

Investigators in Britain and Australia are questioning seven other suspects in custody.

The case may further dispel a still widely held Western perception that Islamic radicalism is the province of the disenfranchised and uneducated.

Shouts of ‘Allah, Allah’ could be heard as the suspects were apprehended.  The view that poverty, disenfranchisement and dislocation is beind global “jihad” is popular and in vogue.  The issue of religious motivation is behind the dispute discussed in (1) Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen, (2) Smith Responds, and (3) More on Dave Kilcullen vs. Smith.  Kilcullen claims that the insurgency in Iraq is “entirely political.”  I have argued to the contrary, i.e., that there are at least some of the insurgents who fight due to religious motivation.  The seminal thesis that guides Kilcullen’s thinking was outlined several years ago in a monograph entitled Complex Warfighting.

Globalisation, during the last decades of the twentieth century, has created winners and losers.  A global economy and an embryonic global cultural are developing, but this has not been universally beneficial.  Poverty, disease and inequality remain major problems for much of the world, and the global economy has been seen as favouring the West while failing developing nations.  The developing global culture is perceived as a form of Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism: corroding religious beliefs, eroding the fabric of traditional societies, and leading to social, spiritual and cultural dislocation.  This has created a class of actors – often non-state actors – who oppose globalisation, its beneficiaries (the developed nations of the ‘West’) and, particularly, the U.S.

But the problem with this view is the same as the one with the claim by Congressman Ron Paul who believes that American hegemony, imperialism and interventionism led to the events of 9/11.  It simply doesn’t comport with the facts.  Prior to 9/11 U.S. forces had armed the Muslims in Afghanistan to enable them to drive the Soviet Union from their midst, saved the Muslims in Bosnia from extermination, assisted the Shi’a in the south of Iraq (due to the Southern no-fly zone), and saved the Kurdish Muslims in Northern Iraq from extermination (due to the Northern no-fly zone).

In an interesting discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal, the subject of religion comes up again, except in (first) pejorative terms, and then in clearer terms.  First, commenter Mark O’Neill on justification of Operation Iraqi Freedom as being Jesus telling us to “help the poor and downtrodden.”

I wonder what the large number of non-christian Americans would think about this as a justification for national policy or strategic planning? You wouldn’t last 10 seconds in Australia trying it.

Thankfully, I have never seen anyone successfully argue a conops in our Army or security policy establishment on the basis that “Jesus would want me to do it”. Our mob tend to be a bit secular and stick to the more mundane, rather than the divine… you know, good old fashion simple things like sound military strategic planning principles.

Each man has a right to his own value-system, and O’Neill should study Good Wars by Professor Darrel Cole and expand his horizons a bit.  But the comment is tantamount to saying that either (a) there has never been a national conversation in Australia about just war theory or the justification for sending troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, or (b) there have been such discussions, but O’Neill (and Australia) would allow any value-system into the fray but Christianity, a rather bigoted position.  In either case, this is a barren world view.  Finally, military strategy is not related to just war theory.  It is possible to engage in a discussion of both, O’Neill’s position notwithstanding.

But Steve Metz gets it.  Mr. Metz might now claim that he is misunderstood, or had a bad day, or had a little too much wine at the time, but the comment cannot be undone, and his prose is raw, thoughtful and informative.

… that illustrates what I think is THE key dilemma of the “war of ideas” against Islamic extremism: our enemies are offering their followers eternal bliss and we’re offering satellite television. But if we cannot compete in a LTG Boykinesque religious-ideological war because we are multi-faith/multi-cultural nations.

It’s really depressing, but the only long term solution I can see is radical action to wean overselves off of petroleum, disengagement from the Islamic world, and treating people from that region like we treated Soviets during the Cold War, i.e. with no expectation of unfettered rights. We haven’t reached the point of taking such admittedly adverse steps yet, but I think we’re one WMD terrorism incident away from doing so.

Ron Paul believes that we can trade with Iran, Syria and the rest of the Islamic world.  But it isn’t about Christianity, per se.  Whether the export is pure Christianity, the unadulterated smut and filth of Hollywood, democracy, satellite television or female suffrage, there isn’t any Western export that is acceptable to radical Islam.  Not a single one.

It doesn’t have to be about religion to Western eyes for at least part of the conflict to be about religion (or a radicalized form of it).  In this case, it doesn’t take two to Tango.  It only takes one.  Metz is right.  For the Ron Paul vision of the world to work, total disengagement (viz. Patrick Buchanan) would have to occur in order to prevent all Western exports, not just religion.  While Kilcullen has gotten it wrong about jihad being exclusively about poverty, he has gotten it right about globalization.


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