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]

The Swing of the Pendulum

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In 1942, Russia was fully engaged in a battle for its very survival along the Eastern front.  Stalin was demanding that the Allies open a second front in the West.  Britain had tried day bombing, but it had proven too difficult to protect its pilots in the daylight, and many pilots and aircraft were lost.  Neither Britain nor the United States was anywhere near ready to conduct a land invasion of Europe, but both nations might offer such aid as an air attack might bring.

At the end of 1942, the British Chiefs of Staff called for “the progessive destruction and dislocation of the enemy’s war industrial and economic system, and the undermining of his morale to a point where his capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”  No fleet of bombers could yet accurately deliver enough high explosives to raze a city.  But if the bombloads were incendiary, then massed aircraft might combine their destructiveness.

On July 24, 1943, the bombing of Hamburg began.  As noted by Richard Rhodes in The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a flight lieutenant remarks of the scene (pg 473):

The burning of Hamburg that night was remarkable in that I saw not many fires but one.  Set in the darkness was a turbulent dome of bright red fire, lighted and ignited like the glowing heart of a vast brazier.  I saw no flames, no outlines of buildings, only brighter fires which flared like yellow torches against a background of bright red ash.  Above the city was a misty red haze.  I looked down, fascinated but aghast, satisfied yet horrified.  I had never seen a fire like that before and was never to see its like again.

Roads melted, and some people were seen stuck in the melted asphalt, having put their hands out to try to get out, only to get their hands stuck as well.  Many were seen on fire, eventually melting in their own fat.  Eight square miles of Hamburg were completely burned out that night, killing 45,000 Germans.

Here Richard Rhodes is setting up the discussion at the end of the book in which the reader engages in the ethical choice to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, or commit 200,000 men to a land invasion of Japan, possibly losing many or even a majority of them.  This book is a technical, sobering and difficult read, but highly recommended.  It is meant only for the serious thinker.

The pendulum has swung to its apex in the opposite direction.  A recent Washington Times commentary gives us food for thought concerning application of rules of engagement in combat action in Afghanistan.

Now that Marcus Luttrell’s book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10″ is a national bestseller, maybe Americans are ready to start discussing the core issue his story brings to light: the inverted morality, even insanity, of the American military’s rules of engagement (ROE).

On a stark mountaintop in Afghanistan in 2005, Leading Petty Officer Luttrell and three Navy SEAL teammates found themselves having just such a discussion. Dropped behind enemy lines to kill or capture a Taliban kingpin who commanded between 150-200 fighters, the SEAL team was unexpectedly discovered in the early stages of a mission whose success, of course, depended on secrecy. Three unarmed Afghan goatherds, one a teenager, had stumbled across the Americans’ position.

This presented the soldiers with an urgent dilemma: What should they do? If they let the Afghans go, they would probably alert the Taliban to the their whereabouts. This would mean a battle in which the Americans were outnumbered by at least 35 to 1. “Little Big Horn in turbans,” as Marcus Luttrell would describe it. If the Americans didn’t let the goatherds go — if they killed them, there being no way to hold them — the Americans would avoid detection and, most likely, leave the area safely. On a treeless mountainscape far from home, four of our bravest patriots came to the ghastly conclusion that the only way to save themselves was forbidden by the rules of engagement. Such an action would set off a media firestorm, and lead to murder charges for all.

It is agonizing to read their tense debate as Mr. Luttrell recounts it, the “lone survivor” of the disastrous mission. Each of the SEALs was aware of “the strictly correct military decision” — namely, that it would be suicide to let the goatherds live. But they were also aware that their own country, for which they were fighting, would ultimately turn on them if they made that decision. It was as if committing suicide had become the only politically correct option. For fighting men ordered behind enemy lines, such rules are not only insane. They’re immoral.

The SEALs sent the goatherds on their way. One hour later, a sizeable Taliban force attacked, beginning a horrendous battle that resulted not only in the deaths of Mr. Luttrell’s three SEAL teammates, but also the deaths of 16 would-be rescuers — eight additional SEALS and eight Army special operations soldiers whose helicopter was shot down by a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade.

“Look at me right now in my story,” Mr. Luttrell writes. “Helpless, tortured, shot, blown up, my best buddies all dead, and all because we were afraid of the liberals back home, afraid to do what was necessary to save our own lives. Afraid of American civilian lawyers. I have only one piece of advice for what it’s worth: If you don’t want to get into a war where things go wrong, where the wrong people sometimes get killed, where innocent people sometimes have to die, then stay the hell out of it in the first place.”

It might have been that firing on the goatherds would have divulged their position to the enemy.  But assuming the accuracy of the scenario given to us above, i.e., it is possible for Luttrell and his team to have killed the goatherds and avoided the combat caused by divulging their position, then a different choice should have been made in this instance.

Another complicating factor is that the Luttrells’s team could only surmise that the goatherds would give away their position.  They could not know with absolute certainty.  In the end, they were right in their suspicion, but either way, the moral of the story is that in such situations certainty is not possible and thus should not be required.

No one wants to see civilians burning in streets of melted asphalt.  Similarly, no one wants to see teams of U.S. forces hamstrung by rules that are made out to be rigid and inflexible when taught to them, but which cannot possibly be applied that way in a broken and complex world.  Latitude and professional judgment should be the order of the day.  A pendulum that isn’t swinging is the best approach.

Postscript: This article has elicited a visceral reaction.  Just to cover a few basics, (1) yes, I know what the LOAC is, (2) no, I am not advocating changing it, or even the written ROE, necessarily, (3) my position is somewhat more nuanced than that, with greater emphasis on judgment during battle, and more discrete judicial and prosecutorial temperament, and finally (4) no, allowing the killing of U.S. troops didn’t “win hearts and minds” in Afghanistan.

In Defense of the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The world over, the word Marine defines something more than a soldier.  It arouses the image of a warrior on the boundlessness of the oceans, coming from the mystique of the sea onto the land – an amphibian, a soldier of the sea.  The aura is of one who is different and of whom more is expected … This is The Corps, the strongest brotherhood in the world (The Marines).

Michael Yon is a clearheaded reporter and diligent – even relentless – embedded blogger.  Every article he writes is worth reading, and then reading again.  But permit us a spirited response to one of his statements in The Ghosts of Anbar, Part II of IV (actually, Michael is quoting others at this point).

Arrowhead Ripper was merely the latest experience that underlines the Army’s rapidly-growing expertise. Yet the Marines have adapted faster and seem poised to win the war in their battle space. In fact, it’s been Army officers who have told me repeatedly over the past several years that nobody is successfully morphing to meet this war faster than the Marines. Of course, Army officers who compliment Marines always say, “But that didn’t come from me.?

While a nice-sounding compliment, it completely misses the point, similar to the commendations of strategy change under General Petraeus.  With all due respect, whether under the command of General Abizaid or General Petraeus, the Marines have done their own thing from the very beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Marines have essentially won Anbar in spite of the obstacles created by the administration.  The pullback from the first battle for Fallujah is now roundly criticized as a strategic blunder, but the Marines had no such desire to pull back, and were incredulous at such an idea.  Yet upon being offered responsibility for the province with the worst security situation on the planet, the Marines accepted without hesitation.  For approximately four years now, half of the United States Marine Corps has been deployed in the Anbar Province, taking sniper fire, enduring IEDs, and battling both al Qaeda and indigenous insurgents.

There hasn’t been so much as a hint of pullback from duties, and instead of cloistering in safe Forward Operating Bases and hunkering down behind barriers, they took the fight to the enemy from combat outposts.  The Marines had tested the strategy of combat outposts in Anbar before Petraeus ever changed the strategy for the Army.  Contrary to the British who falsely believed that a ‘softer’ approach would win hearts and minds, they knew that before a terrorized population could trust them, the fight must be taken to the insurgency with heavy kinetic operations.

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.

This work set the foundation in place for the so-called Anbar Awakening, or the turning of the tribes against al Qaeda.  The Awakening cannot and must not be seen in the abstract without the proper framework.  The framework was built by three prior years of operations by Marines.

Upon this change in Anbar, the Marines knew that constabulary operations and reconstruction were necessary to completely win the security, and relationships with the population were of the utmost importance.  Thus, field grade officers worked hard behind the scenes for years to cultivate friendships with tribal sheiks and community leaders.

There is nothing spurious (the tribes suddenly awakened) or accidental about the victory in Anbar.  It was planned and executed with precision by the United States Marine Corps.  As for the idea of the Marines ”morphing” into an effective counterinsurgency force, those who have followed history find this to be slightly amusing.  The Marines have been fighting and winning small wars in over 300 engagements since their birthday of 10 November 1775.

From General Lejeune’s Marine Corps Birthday Message:

“On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date, many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them, it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the Birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of it’s existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the nations foes. From the battle of Trenton to the Argonne. Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home. Generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term Marine has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.”

Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, we interviewed Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who gave us a realistic but positive report on the accomplishments of the Marines in Fallujah.  As expected, we received e-mail from detractors (is Fallujah really this much better off?).  There are also reports that take the same facts and turn them into a completely different interpretation than the one we published.

We have also published extensively on the calamity in Basra, the British having essentially lost the military struggle for Basra and surrounding areas.  True to form, this assessment has also been questioned by detractors.  But even the British are finally managing to turn their gaze towards just how bad the situation is in Basra.

Like Donald Rumsfeld, the man British commentators love to hate, we never sent enough troops to Iraq. At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra. That small force must protect itself, must continue training the 10th Iraqi Division.

The U.S. has also begun to divulge the sensitivity of the situation.

“This is less an insurgency issue than it is criminal, a borderline Mafia kind of situation. You’ve got competing criminal interests looking for territory down there,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary.

“So that has certainly complicated matters for the Brits down there, and it certainly remains a concern for us,” he told reporters.

Britain has 5,500 troops in Basra but almost all have been pulled back to the airport where they are training Iraqi forces.

This admission may be gratuitous. Beyond criminal activity, three strong, competing Shi’a factions are at war with one another and openly demanding protection money from the population: Jaish al Mahdi, the Fadhila Party, and SIIC (Badr).

So what is the relationship between Basra and Anbar, and is there any acendotal evidence to back up these analyses?  The best on-the-scene evidence comes from Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model, who assesses the reversal of roles between the Shi’a south and the Sunni West in Crossing Anbar.

We’ve been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs across the province.

The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq’s second “port” in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high.

But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I’m convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…

This is good not only for Iraq’s economy and traveling but also for the American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.

Back to the story; there are two travel plans for passenger SUV’s and buses from Damascus to Baghdad; one includes leaving Damascus between 10 pm and midnight, reaching the Syrian border control before dawn, entering the Iraqi border control at 8 am and arriving in Baghdad around sunset. A total of approximately 20 hours with 6 to 7 hours lost in waiting and passport control.

The second plan includes leaving Damascus at noon and here convoys carrying the passengers continue to move all the way until a short distance northwest of Ramadi. At this point the time would be between midnight and 2 am and since that’s within curfew hours in Baghdad, the drivers park their vehicles and everyone gets to sleep 3 or 4 hours and wait for the sun to rise and then the journey would continue.

Now the first plan sounds predictable, safe and well planned given the distance and necessary stops. But look at the second one carefully and try to picture the scene; dozens of passenger SUV’s (GMC trucks mostly) and buses parking in he middle of nowhere in a zone that was until recently the heart of al-Qaeda’s Islamic state! Obviously the drivers and families feel safe enough that they know they won’t be robbed and slaughtered by cold-blooded terrorists. Even more interesting, this parking and resting zone was not designated nor protected by the Iraqi or American forces but simply an arrangement the drivers managed on their own perhaps with cooperation from the local tribes.

I still laugh every time I think of this incredible change and I honestly wouldn’t have believed it if the story teller wasn’t my father.

This sign of positive progress brings to my mind a sad irony. Back in 2004 when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist, I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times without any fear.

Now, I’m ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the militia infested land is something I’d never dare do at this stage.

The reports on the pacification of Anbar are indeed correct, and sadly, the British failure in Basra has made Operation Iraqi Freedom much more complicated.

Prior:

Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In Instructions on How to Repair the Electrical Grid in Iraq, we made the case that the electrical grid was too delicate, complicated and far-flunge to be amenable to protection against insurgents (in this case it was the Jaish al Mahdi who was targeting the electrical grid, destroying parts of it and in other cases hijacking the power for local use).  Another example of this same tactic comes to us from a different region of Iraq; this time the example comes from the Diyala Province, and is likely perpetrated by al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

The US military says its troops have killed 33 insurgents in a joint operation with Iraqi troops 80km (50 miles) north of Baghdad.  It said several hundred US and Iraqi soldiers took part in the operation on Monday to reopen the water supply to the town of Khalis.

Residents say al-Qaeda fighters have a strong presence in the area.

Insurgents cut water supplies to Khalis several days ago by shovelling earth into an irrigation canal.

The US military said a joint assault force of US and Iraqi troops – which landed by helicopter – killed 13 insurgents. It said fire from attack aircraft killed 20 others.

It is not possible to deploy enough troops to protect all infrastructure when making it dysfunctional simply involves shovelling dirt into an irrigation canal (most likely a weir type of structure).  There are too many kilometers of canals to protect.  This isn’t to deny that there is a complex interplay between the availability of goods, services, security and government, and the population informing on insurgent identities and locations.  Counterinsurgency remains a difficult venture.

But it is to say that when the impossible presents itself (i.e., protect all infrastructure, whether electrical grids, water supplies, or other utilities such as sewage, in order to win the population), the stipulations are unacceptable and the game must be reformulated.  Coalition forces implemented the correct tactic to restore basic services.

They targeted those who targeted the infrastructure.

Counterinsurgency: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed how most of the insurgency in Kirkuk was comprised of left-over Ba’athists, and the cooperation with the 1920 Revolution Brigade in Anbar had spread to Baghdad.  Yet in Fallujah proper, as we discussed in Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, this approach was not only not necessary in Fallujah proper, but would not have worked.

As for the awakening, that is more of a tribal thing.  Tribes have little influence inside Fallujah because of how mixed up the population is.  They are all solidly against AQI though, because they want nothing to do with their extremist agenda and are appalled by the tactics AQI is using … I am sure that there are former insurgents in the police and neighborhood watch – which is why I tell my guys that we can never completely trust them – but we have not had a single instance where we took a known insurgent and turned him to our side.  We continue to target them heavily and most have either been detained, or fled the city.  The ones remaining spend a lot of time trying to keep from being detained instead of planning on how they will attack us.  We keep the pressure on them to keep them off balance and on the run.  That is having the best effect in the city.

Rather than this approach, the more classical approach of gated communities was used to partition the battle space and interdict insurgents.  Yet the use of former insurgents is still a strategy that is being employed in the Anbar Province.  Michael Yon observes that it is in use in Falahat.

The men of MiTT 8 are living along with their Iraqi protégées in filthy shipping containers on a highway. Several months ago they were attacked by a car bomb. But at about 0900, while I was traveling to their location with Marines in a Humvee (with sparkling glass) some Falahat villagers went to the new police station to report the presence of a culprit they knew to emplace bombs on the road.

It happened that quickly.

Within mere days of opening the station, people spoke up. The Iraqi Police (some of whom freely admitted to having been recent insurgents) called the tip into the Iraqi Army who were living with the Marines of MiTT 8 …

As we have observed before, the U.S. forces have tried to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the terrorists, a highly technical parsing of terms.  Reuters continues this reporting on the Diyala Province and the use of former insurgents.

U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term “concerned local nationals” to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.

The updated vocabulary for referring to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, described by a U.S. commander on Saturday, is a sign of the abrupt change in tactics that has seen U.S. forces cooperate with former Sunni Arab enemies.

The 1920 Revolution Brigade was one of the main anti-American Sunni Arab insurgent groups in Iraq in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has claimed responsibility for killing scores of U.S. troops in ambushes and bomb attacks.

But for the past several months its members have cooperated with U.S. forces to help drive the strict al Qaeda Islamists out of Sunni Arab areas, part of a new U.S. tactic of cooperating with former Sunni Arab foes against al Qaeda.

Colonel David Sutherland, the U.S. commander in Diyala Province, said his men prefer not to call the group by its name.

“The 1920s as they’re called, we call them ‘the Baquba Guardians’, we call them the ‘concerned local nationals’,” he said. Baquba is the provincial capital.

“These are patriots who have come forward and have joined the security process. They are working with my soldiers and they are working with the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Al Qaeda’s adherence to a hardline form of Sunni Islam and indiscriminate attacks has isolated it from Sunni Arabs and nationalist insurgent groups.

Sutherland said the 1920 Revolution Brigade name was now being used widely to refer to local pro-government militia and not anti-American insurgents. Some Shi’ite elders were asking if they too could recruit “1920s,” he said, a sign the Sunni Arab group’s name was no longer seen as sectarian.

“It has become a name, a catch-all phrase for these concerned local nationals throughout the province,” he told a news conference by video link to Baghdad.

His forces “do not deal with terrorists, and if we have information on individuals then we will act accordingly,” Sutherland said. “The individuals we are working with…. I have confidence in them and I have confidence in their leadership.”

One size doesn’t fit all in counterinsurgency.

Counterinsurgency: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed how most of the insurgency in Kirkuk was comprised of left-over Ba’athists, and the cooperation with the 1920 Revolution Brigade in Anbar had spread to Baghdad.  Yet in Fallujah proper, as we discussed in Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, this approach was not only not necessary in Fallujah proper, but would not have worked.

As for the awakening, that is more of a tribal thing.  Tribes have little influence inside Fallujah because of how mixed up the population is.  They are all solidly against AQI though, because they want nothing to do with their extremist agenda and are appalled by the tactics AQI is using … I am sure that there are former insurgents in the police and neighborhood watch – which is why I tell my guys that we can never completely trust them – but we have not had a single instance where we took a known insurgent and turned him to our side.  We continue to target them heavily and most have either been detained, or fled the city.  The ones remaining spend a lot of time trying to keep from being detained instead of planning on how they will attack us.  We keep the pressure on them to keep them off balance and on the run.  That is having the best effect in the city.

Rather than this approach, the more classical approach of gated communities was used to partition the battle space and interdict insurgents.  Yet the use of former insurgents is still a strategy that is being employed in the Anbar Province.  Michael Yon observes that it is in use in Falahat.

The men of MiTT 8 are living along with their Iraqi protégées in filthy shipping containers on a highway. Several months ago they were attacked by a car bomb. But at about 0900, while I was traveling to their location with Marines in a Humvee (with sparkling glass) some Falahat villagers went to the new police station to report the presence of a culprit they knew to emplace bombs on the road.

It happened that quickly.

Within mere days of opening the station, people spoke up. The Iraqi Police (some of whom freely admitted to having been recent insurgents) called the tip into the Iraqi Army who were living with the Marines of MiTT 8 …

As we have observed before, the U.S. forces have tried to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the terrorists, a highly technical parsing of terms.  Reuters continues this reporting on the Diyala Province and the use of former insurgents.

U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term “concerned local nationals” to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.

The updated vocabulary for referring to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, described by a U.S. commander on Saturday, is a sign of the abrupt change in tactics that has seen U.S. forces cooperate with former Sunni Arab enemies.

The 1920 Revolution Brigade was one of the main anti-American Sunni Arab insurgent groups in Iraq in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has claimed responsibility for killing scores of U.S. troops in ambushes and bomb attacks.

But for the past several months its members have cooperated with U.S. forces to help drive the strict al Qaeda Islamists out of Sunni Arab areas, part of a new U.S. tactic of cooperating with former Sunni Arab foes against al Qaeda.

Colonel David Sutherland, the U.S. commander in Diyala Province, said his men prefer not to call the group by its name.

“The 1920s as they’re called, we call them ‘the Baquba Guardians’, we call them the ‘concerned local nationals’,” he said. Baquba is the provincial capital.

“These are patriots who have come forward and have joined the security process. They are working with my soldiers and they are working with the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Al Qaeda’s adherence to a hardline form of Sunni Islam and indiscriminate attacks has isolated it from Sunni Arabs and nationalist insurgent groups.

Sutherland said the 1920 Revolution Brigade name was now being used widely to refer to local pro-government militia and not anti-American insurgents. Some Shi’ite elders were asking if they too could recruit “1920s,” he said, a sign the Sunni Arab group’s name was no longer seen as sectarian.

“It has become a name, a catch-all phrase for these concerned local nationals throughout the province,” he told a news conference by video link to Baghdad.

His forces “do not deal with terrorists, and if we have information on individuals then we will act accordingly,” Sutherland said. “The individuals we are working with…. I have confidence in them and I have confidence in their leadership.”

One size doesn’t fit all in counterinsurgency.

Faster Kill Chain

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency, we discussed the new role being contemplated for A-10s.  The storied tank-killer has a new mission, i.e., that of aiding and assisting in counterinsurgency, or so it was being planned (debates on this can be seen in Air Power and Small Wars, and Warfare and Lawfare: An Unstable Alchemy).  Perhaps as a test for this mission, the A-10 (438th Air Expeditionary Group) went back into action to provide close air support for Marines in the Anbar Province.  Not long after this deployment, it was announced that the The USAF was considering a new A-10 COIN Squadron.  The consideration and debates have been concluded, and the decision has been made to upgrade the “Warthog” to the A-10C, with improved electronics, avionics and weapons controls, consistent with our observation that “redeployment of this beautiful aircraft will require the involvement of engineering.”

The deployment of the newly upgraded Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II bomber-attack aircraft in Iraq next month will make it easier for the US Air Force (USAF) to provide close air support to ground troops, according to the commander of USAF’s Air Combat Command, General Ronald Keys.

However, more extensive upgrades are still needed to keep the aircraft on top of its game, he said.

General Keys said the USAF’s modernisation plans for the A-10 ‘Wart Hog’ have been held back from their full potential by bureaucratic wrangling and congressional resistance.

“This is not the super Hog we envisioned but this is a better-than-average Hog,” Gen Keys said during a ceremony to announce initial operational capability of the A-10C at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia on 21 August.

“The hardest wars we fight are not on the battlefield but the wars we fight in the halls of Congress, they are fought in the Pentagon, they are fought in these programmes, to make sure the money is paid and eventually the programme is operating.”

Despite voicing frustration with the overall pace of A-10 modernisation, Gen Keys said the USAF was off to a good start with the USAF’s Precision Engagement programme, which aims to upgrade all 356 aircraft to the A-10C configuration by 2011.

The modifications to the A-10C were significant.

The A-10′s enhancements included, among other modifications, new sensors that allow the fighter to “identify and strike targets from higher altitudes and greater distances,” according to the Air Force.

New color displays were added in the cockpit and the throttle and stick were upgraded to increase “situational awareness of the pilot and the ability to perform most tasks without removing his or her hands from the throttle or the stick.”

Courtesy of Dailypress.com.  We only disagree on one count: ugly aircraft!  Nay, and in the superlative degree.  She’s a beauty!  Watch it all.  Faster kill chain.  Just so.

Instructions on How to Repair the Electrical Grid in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The New York Times brings us a story about the electrical system in Iraq, its unreliability, and the nexus with militias and gang control of the countryside.

Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.

That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.

The development adds to existing electricity problems in Baghdad, which has been struggling to provide power for more than a few hours a day because insurgents regularly blow up the towers that carry power lines into the city.

The government lost the ability to control the grid centrally after the American-led invasion in 2003, when looters destroyed electrical dispatch centers, the minister, Karim Wahid, said in a news briefing attended also by United States military officials.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here.

But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.

Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches.

But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.

This kind of manipulation can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts, sometimes seriously damaging the generating plants that the United States has paid millions of dollars to repair.

The temptation in response to this is to contemplate ways to make the electrical grid more reliable.  But the story has what lawyers call a misdirect at the very beginning: ” … antiquated switching stations.”  This point is entirely out of context, and in fact not very meaningful or important.  All electrical grids are designed the same way.  They are interconnected, have thousands of miles of unprotected high voltage cable, important switching stations, step up and step down transformers, protective relaying, and breakers to isolate ground faults.  They are by their very nature finicky and touchy things, and while the grid in Iraq may be antiquated, the real problem is not the grid.  It is those who target the grid.

In The Rise of the JAM, we documented the rise of the Jaish al Mahdi to prominence in much of Iraq, detailing incidents where U.S. forces simply refused to engage the Mahdi militia for fear of it creating a “political problem.”  We followed up this article with Danger Signs in Shi’ite Country, where we observed that “the U.S. will choose to deal a blow to the JAM and thereby allow reconciliation among the more peaceful of the population, or it will cower to the arrogant, undisciplined teenagers roaming the streets as thugs and criminals, taking and harming whatever and whomever they wish.  The first choice means stability and security for Iraq.  The second means a complete, chaotic disaster.”

Obviously, we have chosen chaotic disaster rather than security for Iraq.  No amount of money on reconstruction will accomplish anything good as long as rogue elements are left unmolested.  Also, we are proud to bring you the news and analysis here at The Captain’s Journal before others do, and without air brushing it first.  With respect to the issue of the JAM being comprised of “arrogant, undisciplined teenagers roaming the streets as thugs and criminals,” the Washington Post brings us a story about how many in Iraq see the JAM: “They control people’s lives,” said one resident of Hurriyah, a Shiite government employee who would give his name only as Abu Mahdi, 36, because he feared Mahdi militia reprisals. Scornfully calling them uneducated, bullying teenagers, he said: “They are worse than the Baathists” - the party that held total authority under the rule of Saddam Hussein.”

The Iraqi electrical grid problems are unrelated to engineering.  To be sure, as soon as security has been restored to Iraq, we can turn loose the electrical transmission engineers who would love to reconstruct the system.  But this step awaits security.  The moral of the Iraqi story on electrical grids is just this: let’s let the electrical engineers work on the electrical system.  Let’s let the U.S. Army and Marines work on targeting the enemy, which includes the JAM, whether we want to admit it or not.

Sometimes our efforts at counterinsurgency by winning hearts and minds simply have to go through kinetic operations — in this case, combat action — to “close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.”  There are no easy ways to do this, and we cannot throw enough money at or deploy enough engineers on this problem to make it go away.

Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who commands the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (currently at Forward Operating Base Reaper on the South side of Fallujah), gives us an exclusive look into Operation Alljah and what has been accomplished in Fallujah.  His discussion is both informative and interesting, and points to modifications and adjustments to the template used in the Anbar Province.  Every city and engagement has been a unique experience, but the adaptability of the United States Marine Corps has proven to be one of the most effective weapons in their arsenal.

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Marines take fingerprints, iris scans and other information from Iraqi citizens using the Biometrics Automated Toolset in an Iraqi Police precinct in Fallujah on July 19.

Interview with Lt. Col. William F. Mullen

TCJ: Lt. Col. Mullen, thanks for the chance to interview you on the hard work and accomplishments of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines in Fallujah. Operation Alljah seems to have had multiple phases.  For instance, the Multi-National Force issued press releases on June 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th on kinetic operations against the insurgency and terrorists.  Can you describe this part of the operation for us?  For instance,  since the so-called Anbar Awakening came somewhat late to Fallujah compared to Ramadi, how did 2/6 identify the insurgents?

Lt. Col. Mullen: Well, to help clarify, many times MNF-W identifies attacks or kinetic events as happening in Fallujah, but they mean the Fallujah area.  There has been a great deal going on in the smaller towns outside of the city to curtail enemy activities out there and keep them from trying to return to the city.  We have had some small events in the city, but overall, it has been very quiet.  The latest big event we had was on June 2nd when we conducted a raid with the police that killed 7 enemy, captured 8, found two truck bombs before they went off, IED making material and other enemy supplies.  Three of the dead enemy had suicide vests on and they were killed before they could set off the vests.  This was a great operation based off of intelligence that the police had gained.  We have also been conducting quiet little cordons and searches on houses based off of more tips from the civilian population and are picking off the enemy one or two at a time.  They never fight when we do this because we are too strong for them and this is having a serious demoralizing effect on the enemy.  We had a serious sniper problem in the city when we first took over and it is gone for all intents and purposes now.  We detained 11 suspected snipers and killed two.  They now operate well away from the city.  As for the awakening, that is more of a tribal thing.  Tribes have little influence inside Fallujah because of how mixed up the population is.  They are all solidly against AQI though, because they want nothing to do with their extremist agenda and are appalled by the tactics AQI is using.  As just one example, in an area NE of the city, AQI herded 12 women and children, all relatives of a prominent area Sheik who had declared himself against AQI, into a building and blew it up on them killing them all.  That is the type of rabid dog enemy we all face out here.  They are cutting off their nose to spite their face and the average Iraqi wants nothing to do with them.

TCJ: It seems as if the police of Fallujah have managed to assist and work together in the pacification of Fallujah, with the Marines doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the way of combat operations in the initial stages of Operation Alljah.  Can you describe the working relationship between the Marines and the police?

Lt. Col. Mullen: The relationship between us and the police is very good.  At the start of ALLJAH, they were centrally located in the HQ in the middle of the city.  They were afraid to go home in uniform, some never went home at all, IP houses were getting blown up or burned down, some would get assassinated on their front doorsteps, etc.  When they went out to do a raid, they went out in force and scared to death.  Now they are spread all over the city in precincts supported by over 1400 neighborhood watch personnel.  They not only go home now, they do so in uniform proudly. They used to always wear masks over their face so they would not be recognized and targeted off duty – few do that now.  They have a lot of logistical support issues, but we are working hard to iron them out and make them self sufficient.  They are brave (at last count they had lost over 200 police since they were reestablished in mid 2005) and genuinely want to restore security to their city.  They are well on their way.  We know they have corruption issues – it is a cultural thing that is much more acceptable to them than it is to us – and they are infiltrated by the enemy, but all of these things are issues they are specifically working on.  Given the track record of our own police departments, I’d say they are doing pretty well.  We implemented a professional development program for them using actual American Police officers that have come over to train police here and it is starting to reap positive results.  They have a long way to go, but are moving with a purpose in the right direction.

TCJ: Working with erstwhile insurgents to turn them against the insurgency and terrorists has been called a risky strategy by some, and of course, any strategy comes with risks.  But it would seem that working with the insurgents and using their services against the very violence they at one time perpetrated is part of the genius of the approach.  Can you describe how this has occurred in Fallujah?

Lt. Col. Mullen: We aren’t really doing that here in the city.  I am sure that there are former insurgents in the police and neighborhood watch – which is why I tell my guys that we can never completely trust them – but we have not had a single instance where we took a known insurgent and turned him to our side.  We continue to target them heavily and most have either been detained, or fled the city.  The ones remaining spend a lot of time trying to keep from being detained instead of planning on how they will attack us.  We keep the pressure on them to keep them off balance and on the run.  That is having the best effect in the city.

TCJ: It appears that you have made signficant use of the concept of “gated communities” in Fallujah in order to bring security.  I noted that there is also a temporary ban on vehicle traffic that will be lifted soon.  Can you describe how the ban has helped and what the role of the gated communities has been?  How successful has this tactic been?

Lt. Col. Mullen: The gated community idea was implemented because the enemy uses cars almost exclusively to conduct their attacks.  The barriers emplaced allow the citizens of each precinct to choose who they want to come into their area, and makes it difficult for the enemy to move around and escape in a vehicle.  The vehicle curfew was implemented by the Mayor and Police chief due to several suicide vehicle bomb attacks, one of which was particularly horrific.  There was a funeral for an Iraqi that had been fighting AQI and AQI had a suicide bomber drive right into the funeral procession and blow himself up.  20 civilians were killed and 17 were injured.  This was a watershed event here in Fallujah.  We were not confident that a vehicle curfew could be implemented, but it has been, almost solely by the police and in conjunction with the barriers we have been emplacing, and it has resulted in a three-fold decrease in enemy attacks.  The people do not like the barriers or the curfew, but they do like the security and indicate they are willing to put up with them to keep the security.

TCJ: To what extent have you utilized COPS (variously called Combat Outposts and Combat Operation Posts) as part of Operation Alljah versus the more traditional military doctrine of force protection?

Lt. Col. Mullen: We do use Combat Outposts, but in this case, we call them Joint Security Stations.  We have Marines partnered with IP at every precinct HQ.  Force Protection is a constant, so we make sure each site is protected against suicide bombers and sniper fire, but we also ensure that the HQ is accessible to people on foot.  It is a difficult balance, but it is absolutely necessary.  Being out amongst the population is the only way to finish this fight.  Driving to work means you miss a lot.  Also, at least initially, the police would only stay in the precincts if we were there with them.  They were pretty intimidated.  This is no longer the case.  They know we have their back while they grow stronger by the day.

TCJ: It appears that the transition to nonkinetic operations was fairly stark.  Press reports about combat operations stopped and press reports about construction of police precincts started.  In a professional military academic climate that claims that standard counterinsurgency takes ten to twelve years, how did the Marines of 2/6 manage to pull this off?

Lt. Col. Mullen: We got the citizens of the city involved in providing their own security through the neighborhood watch system.  We pay them a pittance of $50 a month (only a part time job as an extra set of eyeballs for the police – they are not police) and we authorize them to carry a weapon if they have one for their own protection.  As I said above, the result has been a three-fold decrease in enemy attacks.  We also give the people a serious reason to stay on this side of the fence – we call it the “What’s in it for me?” program.  We have a heavy civil affairs emphasis that is changing the face of Fallujah.  In addition to the essential infrastructure improvements noted above, we are hiring them to pick up rubble and garbage, to paint cement barriers and school walls with murals (negates graffiti) and we are putting them to work in every way we can think of so they can put food on the table for their families.  Progress has been astounding and whenever we measure atmospherics (several times a week) all indications are that we are having a tremendous amount of success.  We have tied all of this to the improvements in the security situation and we tell them that if they want it to continue, then the enemy has the be driven out completely and kept out.  They understand and are providing a great deal more tips than they used to.  The enemy has not been able to do much of anything of late and we just passed the three month mark without having a single casualty from this battalion as a result of enemy action.  That is unheard of in Fallujah.

TCJ: In the accelerated environment in which the Marines work, how concerned should we be about the potential stand down of U.S. forces in Fallujah in 2008?  How soon will the police be trained, funded, cohesive and able to work alone in the security of Fallujah?

Lt. Col. Mullen: The police are watching activity in the US as much as we are.  They are getting better, but if we pull out early, it could have a serious detrimental effect.  I think they will manage to remain in control, but it will not be pretty.  They have a way of muddling through that makes us cringe, but it does work for them.  We certainly need to finish what we started, but pulling out would not be an unmitigated disaster here in Fallujah.  Neither the police nor the citizens want us to leave any time soon because they fully recognize what is happening around them and want it to continue.

TCJ: How badly has the lack of political reconciliation harmed the efforts to pacify the Anbar Province and in particular Fallujah?  It seems that there is still much animosity between Fallujah and Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Mullen: I cannot comment too much on the political situation in Baghdad, but the people here do not like the Iraqi Government and blame them for all the shortcomings in fuel, food and essential services.  I will say also though that things are rarely as bad as the Iraqi’s make them out to be. They are prone to serious over exaggeration and always want to blame someone else.  It is never their fault.  For example, fuel arrives in the city, but to make extra money, the truck drivers sell it to “free enterprise” folks that then sell it curbside from plastic jugs – it is known as black market fuel where we come from.  They charge much more than normal and keep the fuel from getting to the gas stations and city government in enough amounts to keep them open and operating.  They also tap into electrical and water lines illegally to get better service, all of which seriously degrades the overall service provided.  The city government is working on these things, but they all contribute to the problems Fallujah is having, and the Fallujans blame it all on the “Iranians” who make up the current government.  In the general opinion here, only Sunni can run a country properly, as they have until the past few years.  You also have a hard time convincing them that they are a minority.  The things they come up with really are amazing at times.  It is only a semi-literate society though so word of mouth, despite how illogical or ridiculous the rumor, has a big impact – especially if it is along the lines of what they want to believe.

TCJ: Can you describe any actions by NGOs or U.S. forces to help the people of Fallujah with utilities (e.g., power and water)?

Lt. Col. Mullen: Our Civil Affairs, the US Army Corps of Engineers and USAID have all teamed up to restore basic infrastructure in the city of Fallujah.  They have been trying to do this for several years now, but the security situation was not conducive to making much progress.  Major projects stalled due to the lack of security and both electricity and water were becoming scarce in the city.  Complaints were frequent and fully justified.  All of this has been turned around due to Operation ALLJAH.  All major projects have been restarted, the electricity and water services are being restored and people are very appreciative.  As a recent example, one of our patrols was trying to get some atmospherics in one of the neighborhoods of Fallujah and could not find anyone out on the streets.  This is normally a bad sign.  They knocked on some doors and found that everyone was inside enjoying the air conditioning and satellite TV because they had reliable electricity.  It isn’t on 24 hours a day (they never had this even before Saddam was toppled) but we are working towards that.  Water is plentiful now also as you can see cars and sidewalks getting washed, vegetation getting watered, and children playing in the water from hoses.

TCJ: I have called the the counterinsurgency campaign by the Marines in the Anbar Province one of the greatest in history.  I believe that it will be discussed and taught as part of advanced warfighting for years or even decades to come.  How much attention has Operation Alljah received, and how do the Marines of 2/6 feel about their accomplishments?

Lt. Col. Mullen: I’d say that the jury is still out on the claim to be the greatest counterinsurgency campaign in history, especially because we cannot say that we have won it yet.  It looks that way, but a lot can happen between now and when we leave.  Even more can happen after we leave.  These types of wars cannot be properly judged until many years later.  If Iraq pulls itself together and rejoins the community of nations as a well respected and contributing member, then we have been successful.  If it collapses in civil war or anarchy and we end up with a situation like there was in Afghanistan under the Taliban, then no matter how well 2/6 did, we will have failed overall.  ALLJAH has gotten some attention at some pretty high levels as an example of something that could work in other places in Iraq and this is always good.  As for how we feel, we are amazed by the progress and greatly encouraged by it.  Whereas last year, the battalion returned from a difficult 7 month deployment where they lost 12 of their comrades and had many wounded with precious little evident progress to show for it, this time we have taken few casualties and the progress is incredible.  All of the Marines and Sailors see it and are proud of what we have been able to do to date.  They all comment on it when I talk to them and it is very encouraging.  We have frequent high level visitors and they all comment on how well we have done here in Fallujah.  It is obvious to all who see it in person.

Other Information

Prior at TCJ:

Other Milblogs:

Main Stream Media:

Military Links:

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Combat action in Fallujah in June, 2007, AFP Photograph 

Short List of Accomplishments

Here is a rundown of a few of the accomplishments of the 2/6 Marines in the past several months:

 - Enemy attacks have gone from a high of 72 in April when we first took over, to only 21 last month
 - We have discovered and destroyed 40 different enemy weapons caches
 - We have captured 64 suspected enemy and taken them off the streets of Fallujah
 - We have distributed close to 10,000 food bags (each feeds a family of 4 for 2-3 days) throughout the city
 - We have made marked progress in restoring electricity, water and sewage services all ravaged by 4 years of fighting
 - We have removed tons of trash and rubble from the streets
 - We are sponsoring mural painting on school walls and cement barriers all over the city 
 - We are building soccer fields all over the city (their national team just won the Asia Cup and they all went nuts!) and are sponsoring teams and tournaments
 - We are installing solar powered street lights along the main street

The British Flight from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, we pointed out that the British had essentially been militarily defeated in Basra.

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.

In this article we cited Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies) who began openly discussing the situation by calling it a defeat in a white paper entitled The British Defeat in the South and the Uncertain Bush Strategy in Iraq.  In response to Cordesman there is a row in Britian over the idea that there has been a defeat.  On August 12, the Scotsman published an article containing responses to Cordesman.

STRAINED relations between Washington and London were stretched still further over Iraq last night, as a senior American official condemned Britain’s “failure” in its mission to bring peace to the south of the war-torn country.

Defence chiefs reacted with fury after right-wing commentator and adviser Anthony Cordesman weighed into the row over the UK’s contribution to the post-Saddam operation with a withering claim that Britain had effectively handed control of its zone to local “mafiosi”.

More significantly, Cordesman claimed the British “failure” had allowed Iran to gain a toehold, which it was using to increase its influence over its neighbour. The damning accusations, made after a fact-finding visit to Iraq, increase the pressure over the continuing dilemma confronting coalition leaders, amid expectations that Gordon Brown is poised to pull British troops out within the next few months.

In a report completed following his return from Iraq last week, Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said: “British weakness and failure in the south has both encouraged Shi’ite extremism and partially opened the door to Iran.

“The struggle for each major shrine city has become messy and local in the south, and the British defeat in the four provinces in the south-east – particularly Basra – has created the equivalent of rival Shi’ite mafias, whose religious pretensions in no way mean they are not the equivalent of the kind of rival gangs that dominated many American cities during prohibition. Young street thugs wander much of the area, stealing and bullying in the name of God.”

But the dismal assessment of the security situation in the British-controlled zone was angrily refuted by British officials and military experts.

“This bears no resemblance to what we know to be the case,” a senior source at the Ministry of Defence said last night. “If Mr Cordesman had actually been to Basra during his visit, he would have seen that the British forces have a lot more control than he suggests. We have never suggested that every-thing was perfectly peaceful, but this is terribly unfair on the hard work that our armed forces are doing every day.”

The indignation seems genuine enough and the notion of British success seems to be believed.  But subsequent reports of the calamity in Basra surface, betraying the British claims and re-telling the story of three competing Shi’a militias in Southern Iraq: the Fadhila Party, the SIIC (i.e., Badr organization) and the JAM.

Then in a stark admission of the reality of Basra, senior U.S. and British military analysts and officers weigh in on just how bad the British pullout from Basra could get.

An adviser to the U.S. military said that British troops face an “ugly and embarrassing” withdrawal from southern Iraq in the coming months, a British newspaper reported.

Stephen Biddle, a member of a group that advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq last year, told the Sunday Times that insurgents and militia groups were likely to target British soldiers with ambushes, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades as they leave.

“It will be a hard withdrawal. They want the image of a British defeat,” Biddle told the paper. “It will be ugly and embarrassing.”

The Sunday Times also quoted a senior British officer as saying that British troops have lost control of the main southern city of Basra.

“I regret to say that the Basra experience is set to become a major blunder in terms of military history,” the officer was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “The insurgents are calling the shots … and in a worst-case scenario will chase us out of southern Iraq.”

As we have pointed out before, alignment with the Badr organization simply because they have joined the government is a deal with the devil because it empowers Iran, and failing to confront the JAM leaves arrogant, violent teenagers in charge of the richest city in Iraq.  And the British failure might have left the U.S. in the situation of cleaning up the mess.


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