Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

Mike Vanderboegh: You know the Founders were as suspicious of unrestrained democracy as they were of absolute monarchy. Both can be tyrannical. Both can be deadly. Both are threats to life and liberty and property. This is why they crafted a constitutional republic. The Founders knew that the mob could be manipulated by cynical elites to rob other citizens of their liberty, their property and their lives – cynical elites, wealthy men, powerful men, with unceasing appetites for more and more…… [read more]

Operations in Northern Iraq: Hard Times for the Terrorists

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

Having been driven out of Anbar and with Baghdad being much more difficult terrain than a mere year ago, the loosely coupled and sometimes competing terrorist organizations al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna and others, have headed to the North of Iraq to conduct operations.  “Despite a decline in violence in Iraq, northern Iraq has become more violent than other regions as al-Qaida and other militants move there to avoid coalition operations elsewhere, the region’s top U.S. commander said Monday. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said al-Qaida cells still operate in all the key cities in the north.  “What you’re seeing is the enemy shifting,” Hertling told Pentagon reporters in a video conference from outside Tikrit in northern Iraq.”  In fact, the terrorists are claiming credit for a series of recent attacks in this region.

An al-Qaida-linked militant group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks it says it had launched in northern Iraq, including a suicide bombing last week that killed six people and seriously wounded a top Kurdish policeman in the city of Kirkuk.

In claims of responsibility posted on militant Internet sites Sunday and Monday, Ansar al-Sunnah said it also was behind attacks in the cities of Tikrit and Mosul north of Baghdad.

Strictly speaking and contrary to this report,  Ansar al Sunna is not affiliated with al Qaeda, but is in competition with them.  Continuing:

Ansar al-Sunnah identified the Kurdish policeman in Kirkuk as Brig. Gen. Khattab Omar, saying he was the commander of the police’s “Quick Response Force” in the city.  It said eight of his guards were killed in the suicide car bombing.

Police in Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, have said a suicide bomber rammed his car into a police patrol Nov. 15, killing six people and wounding more than 20 — many of them children walking to school. They said the bomber’s apparent target was Omar’s six-car convoy. Three of the commander’s officers were killed, along with three civilians, they said, but the commander survived with serious injuries to his chest and head.

Kirkuk has been seeing a spike in violence in recent weeks as tensions rise between the city’s Kurdish, Arab and Turkomen communities ahead of a possible referendum to decide the fate of the region. Iraq’s Kurds claim the city as their own and want to annex it to their self-rule region, but Kikruk’s Arab and Turkomen — ethnic Turks — dispute the Kurdish claim.

In another attack in Tikrit, Ansar al-Sunnah said it had used a “unique and unparalleled” technique when it bombed a police station Sunday by using a roadside bomb buried in a fake device. It gave no further details, but police in the city said a policeman was killed and two others, including a lieutenant colonel, when they tried to defuse a roadside bomb they took inside the city’s police forensic laboratory after retrieving it from the street outside …

In Mosul, it said its fighters on Nov. 4 attacked the headquarters of the city’s “Awakening Council” — the name given to the command of tribal forces which joined the U.S. and Iraqi forces in the fight against al-Qaida.

But rather than controlling regions (such as Anbar), cities (such as Ramadi or Fallujah) or thoroughfares, the terrorists are reduced to discussing individual attacks at great length in order to publicize their exploits.  The standard has been lowered. Morever, Coalition forces are finding a target rich area in Tikrit where Operation Iron Hammer is underway.

Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Division – North Soldiers have made significant progress against al-Qaeda in four provinces in northern Iraq after two weeks of Operation Iron Hammer.  The operation to disrupt al-Qaeda involves three U.S. brigade combat teams and four Iraqi Army divisions.

During the operation, Coalition Forces and ISF have undermined al-Qaeda operations and discovered more than 50 caches across the Multi-National Division-North area of operations. The caches have contained more than 500 mortar and artillery rounds, three tons of homemade explosives, countless IED-making materials, hundreds of anti-tank and personnel mines and more than 100 machine guns.  Beyond the weapons found, CF and ISF discovered various documents and related information material.  CF and ISF have also detained hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda members.

Operation Iron Hammer consists of three U.S. brigade combat teams and four Iraq Army divisions … as many as 200 insurgents have been detained in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk, Mosul and Salaheddin. Officials said Iraqi and U.S. troops retrieved Al Qaida documents that outlined the insurgency network.  The operations have also netted some high value targets.  “During operations In Mosul, Coalition forces killed a wanted individual believed to have been a senior leader in Mosul’s terrorist security network. Reports indicate the wanted individual planned attacks against Iraqi Security and Coalition forces, which included multiple suicide car-bombing attacks.  Reports also indicate he purchased weapons and explosives for the terrorist network.”

Al Qaeda is about as far North as they can reasonably go.  Kurdish territory will be extremely inhospitable to them, where the Peshmerga - the “first to die” – would quickly capture or kill them due to the lack of willingness of the Kurdish population to abide their presence (this is even true of Ansar al Sunna which has historical ties with the Kurds).  At The Captain’s Journal we have discussed and strongly advocated payment to concerned citizens and neighborhood watch programs and even sheikhs as a means to assist heads of household to support their families.  While some or even most of the foreign fighters in Iraq come for religious motivation from Africa, Chechnya and Western China, many of the locals fight for money to feed their family.  But there is indication that the terrorist’s resources are drying up.

Abu Nawall, a captured al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, said he didn’t join the Sunni insurgent group here to kill Americans or to form a Muslim caliphate. He signed up for the cash.

“I was out of work and needed the money,” said Abu Nawall, the nom de guerre of an unemployed metal worker who was paid as much as $1,300 a month as an insurgent. He spoke in a phone interview from an Iraqi military base where he is being detained. “How else could I support my family?”

U.S. military commanders say that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology and that a growing number of insurgent cells, struggling to pay recruits, are turning to gangster-style racketeering operations.

U.S. military officials have responded by launching a major campaign to disrupt al-Qaeda in Iraq’s financial networks and spread propaganda that portrays its leaders as greedy thugs, an effort the officials describe as a key factor in their recent success beating down the insurgency.

“I tell a lot of my soldiers: A good way to prepare for operations in Iraq is to watch the sixth season of ‘The Sopranos,’ ” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in central Iraq, referring to the hit HBO series about the mob. “You’re seeing a lot of Mafioso kind of activity.”

In Mosul, a northern city of 2 million people that straddles the Tigris River, U.S. officials are also spending money to buoy the Iraqi economy — including handing out microgrants sometimes as small as several hundred dollars — to reduce the soaring unemployment that can turn young Iraqi men into insurgents-for-hire.

Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of U.S. forces in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province, said the dismantling of insurgent financing networks is the primary reason that violent attacks here have dropped from about 18 a day last year to about eight a day now.

“We’re starting to hear a lot of chatter about the insurgents running out of money,” said Twitty, of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “They are not able to get money to pay people for operations.”

With the available hospitable terrain for al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunna decreasing along with the resources drying up, the ability to conduct major operations is decreasing due to such factors as the surge of U.S. forces, the tribal alliances to fight the terrorists, the expenditure of largesse by the coalition, and the return of functioning local and regional security apparatus.  These are hard times for the terrorists in Iraq.

Al Qaeda Quagmire: A Little Attribution, Please?

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

On October 9, 2007, I published Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.  It got plenty of traffic, especially since Glenn Reynolds linked it at Instapundit.  In fact, a Google search on the words “al qaeda quagmire” or “iraq al qaeda quagmire” puts this post right at the top.

On October 29, 2007, the New York Post published an editorial entitled “Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.”  On November 18, 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial entitled “It’s True: Iraq is a Quagmire.”  In both of these editorials the main theme was similar or equivalent to the theme of my article, and at least the New York Post’s title line was approximately the same.  Neither editorial supplied any attribution whatsoever to The Captain’s Journal.

What is really sad is that the main stream media has to wait on a blogger to break the ice and tell the truth.  It doesn’t take a genius to do this sort of thing.  It takes work, diligence and an open mind.  It takes time to wade through the Department of Defense data on “what extremists are saying” to glean the meaningful data out of the letter from al Qaeda high command to Zarqawi and begin to weave a narrative together.  One must follow the various kinetic and nonkinetic operations in Iraq, and then when other letters from al Qaeda commanders in Iraq are captured and said to read that al Qaeda is “surrounded, communications have been cut, and that they are desperate for help,” the letter has some context and makes some sense.

Again, it merely requires some work and diligence, work that apparently, for the most part, only bloggers are willing to do (perhaps some in the main stream media are reluctant to publish this sort of thing even when it become apparent to them).  As for my remuneration for prose, ideas and title lines taken without attribution, if the New York Post or the Post-Gazette sends a check my way, I will try to be kind to my favorite Marine Corps charity.

British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

Attacks perpetrated against the British in and near Basra are way down, as are attacks perpetrated against the Marines in Anbar.  There is currently a debate at the highest levels of military leadership as to why this has occurred and how these seemingly contradictory metrics are related to strategy.  The British have de-escalated, while the U.S. has escalated – or so the problem is posed.  But before we engage this debate, some background information is necessary to set the stage for the discussion as it applies to Afghanistan where the British are struggling.  Far from a merely academic fancy for military strategists and historians, the answers to this dilemma not only develops the narrative for history, but this narrative also trains future military leadership.  The answers also may literally decide whether the campaign in Afghanistan can be successful.

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British narrative of Basra was laced with more than a little bit of denunciation of American tactics, and Basra was hailed as the picture of successful counterinsurgency.

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

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

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

As a result of the effusive media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.‿ As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.‿

While the British took to wearing soft covers and working “softly” with the population, the security situation degraded little by little until the British public was eventually stunned by the capture of their soldiers by the Basra police and eventual rescue by military operations, leading to demonstrations, threats, angry denunciations and general ill-will between both the British and population of Basra.

The situation continued to degrade, and what at one time was seemingly a land of paradise had now become forbidding terrain.

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

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

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

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

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

Some of the Basrans believe that the British forces are part of the problem rather than the solution.  “The British are very patient — they didn’t know how to deal with the militias,” said a 50-year-old Assyrian Christian who would identify herself only as Mrs. Mansour. “Some people think it would be better if the Americans came instead of the British. They would be harder on the militias.”  Still another perspective is that the Iraqi security forces cannot effectively work the area.  “Soldiers from Basra can’t fight against militias,” said Capt Ali Modar, of the new 14th Iraqi Division, which has taken over responsibility for security in the city. “It is difficult to overcome them. We need people to come from other parts of Iraq. Soldiers from Basra know that if they arrest anyone they will be killed, or their families will be killed.”

This failure, combined with the tendency to study assessments from a year or two ago that don’t reflect the vastly improved security situation in Iraq (other than Basra), has caused Theo Farrell, Professor in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, simply to stop reading literature about Iraq because it is so depressing.  But Michael Yon has stated that “Basra is not in chaos. In fact, crime and violence are way down and there has not been a British combat death in over a month.”  So why the difference in narratives concerning Southern Iraq?  What causes such disparate views?

Metrics can be used to prove a lot of things, some true, others a mixture of truth and falsehood with stipulations and caveats, and still others plainly false.  The mere absence of attacks on British troops does not mean the same thing as the absence of attacks on Marines in Anbar.  The Marines continue to be all over the Anbar Province, patrolling, embedded with the Iraqi Police in combined combat outposts / Iraqi Police precincts, and on neighborhood diplomacy missions.  But it cannot be forgotten that these civil affairs and neighborhood diplomacy missions cannot exist in a vacuum or without pretext.  They are follow-on activities to kinetic operations to rid the area of insurgents (at least for the most part).

But the British have crafted a different narrative.  It is the British themselves who were causing the violence towards them.

Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said.

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone.

“We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?’” Binns said.

Britain’s 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra’s heart in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city’s edge. Since that pullback, there’s been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks,” Binns said.

“The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets,” he said.

And in this explanation lies the answer to the questions posed above.  If the U.S. “heavy hand” was to blame for the violence, then the security situation would not be as good as it is today in Anbar.  Further, the Anbaris desire for the U.S. to stay long term.  It might be tempting to assign the Anbari desire for a long term relationship with the U.S. versus the Shi’a desire to be rid of the British to the presence of oil in Basra and a war over its wealth.  But this explanation suffers a quick death when it is recalled that significant oil reserves have been found in Anbar (see also IHT).

The explanation for the decrease in violence against the British in Basra is simply that the British are no longer there (while British headlines wax positive about the “Tide turning in Basra”).  They are at the airport waiting to be relieved and “training” with the Iraqi security forces.  Along with the absence of the British, there are other developments in Basra.  The police chief has recently survived his second assassination attempt, and militant Shi’a gangs and other thugs are still active in the city, engaging in kidnapping and dumping of dead bodies in the streets and at the city square.

It is true that part of the U.S. strategy has been payment to concerned citizens, participants in neighborhood watch programs, and even sheikhs.  We have strongly advocated this approach as anthropologically sound and morally upright.   However, there is a huge difference between turning over authority to a functioning, legitimate government and security apparatus, and leaving an area of operations because of the violence being perpetrated against your troops.  In the example of Anbar, U.S. forces want to leave more thoroughly and quickly that the Anbaris want, and in the example of Basra, the city is a no-go zone for British troops and the Iraqi security forces are powerless because of danger to family members.  Anbar is stable, while Basra is under the control of teenage gangs, religious militia (Jaish al Mahdi), and combatants (Quds and Badr) dispatched directly from Iran.

The British must surely regret their hard work to obtain the release of Moqtada al Sadr, who was in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004 and was held for three days before the Marines were ordered to release him (for the role of the British in the release of Sadr, see Charlie Rose interview of John Burns, approximately 17:20 into the interview).  But it seems that some lessons are learned the hard way, or perhaps not at all.

The British are struggling in Afghanistan, and have pulled back from some engagements.  “Over the past two months British soldiers have come under sustained attack defending a remote mud-walled government outpost in the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. Eight have been killed there. It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same.”  But Musa Qala has become a central training ground for terrorists (courtesy of Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media).  But more “negotiations” of the same kind that caused Musa Qala to become a training ground for terrorists might be on the way.

British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means. Following a wide-ranging policy review accompanying Gordon Brown’s arrival in Downing Street, a decision was taken to put a much greater focus on courting “moderate” Taliban leaders as well as “tier two” footsoldiers, who fight more for money and out of a sense of tribal obligation than for the Taliban’s ideology. Such a shift has put Britain and the Karzai government at odds with hawks in Washington, who are wary of Whitehall’s enthusiasm for talks with what they see as a monolithic terrorist group. But a British official said: “Some Americans are coming around to our way of seeing this.”

New atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban should convince the British that their “moderate Taliban” are more than likely phantoms.  Negotiations with the Taliban is fundamentally a bad idea no matter how it is couched (“moderate leaders”).  At The Captain’s Journal, this is why we have recommended that the U.S. Marines be deployed to Afghanistan.  But as for Basra, along with Mrs. Mansour who desires the U.S. tactics in lieu of the British, there are other voices calling for looking beyond the numbers.  We have watched Al-Zaman for a while now, and while decidedly anti-Maliki (and this has not changed), there has been a shift in the tone of the editorials from this important Iraq daily.  Once virulently anti-American, they now seem to see the landscape more deeply and with a larger field of vision.

On November 10, the Iraqi daily Al-Zaman published an article about the meddling of the Iranian regime in Iraqi affairs and wrote: “In the first 3 months of the occupation of Iraq, the Iranian regime dispatched 32,000 of its proxies who were on their payroll into this country. Most of these people hold Ministerial, Parliamentarian and other high position in various Iraqi offices. Of these people 1500 are placed in very sensitive posts and 490 are spread all over Iraq as the representatives of the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Al-Zaman noted the infiltration of the Qods force in the Iraqi government as well as murder and terror of the Iraqi nationalist forces. It continued: “We ask the political groups to demand from the occupying forces to prosecute the members of the IRGC in Iraq to demonstrate their resolve in terrorist designation. They should detain and prosecute these elements according to the laws. Based on international treaties, maintaining security in Iraq is the responsibility of the occupying forces, therefore eradicating Iraq of terrorism, especially the terrorism by the IRGC is their job.

Pro-Iranian Shi’a militia are in control of Basra and much of Southern Iraq.  Metrics can fool anyone and the data behind the metrics must be analyzed to prevent being duped by numbers.  It is about seeing behind the scenes and understanding the local as well as regional terrain.  Powerpoint overheads and viewgraphs that display decreasing violence perpetrated against the British in Basra are correct and totally misleading and irrelevant.  The narrative for Anbar, written in the sweat, tears and blood of United States Marines (along with some Army and National Guard) well before the surge of troops, is cast in history as a counterinsurgency victory.  The U.S. won in Anbar not because of the surge, but because we were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis opted to side with a winner.  It is critical to get the Basra narrative correct, because the regional strategy is at stake, affecting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole region - and our future.

Other resources:

The Problem of Musa Qala: Afghanistan’s Terror University Town, Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media
Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast, TCJ
Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles, TCJ
The Rise of the JAM, TCJ
Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, TCJ
Has the British Strategy in Southern Iraq Failed?, Richard Fernandez, Pajamas Media

Window of Opportunity in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

In the spirit of The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency, Victor Davis Hanson, who recently won the National Humanities Medal, observed of the turning of the Anbari tribes to the U.S.:

… the US military has eliminated a large number of terrorists, insurgents and general terrorists since 2003. Given the noxious fumes of Vietnam-era “body-counts? we don’t mention this. But many of the sheiks suffered horrendous losses among their tribes to the US in the past four years that led to some demoralization and the simple absence of their more skilled and veteran fighters. So, when they weighed the odds—increasing oil-generated wealth on the one hand versus being mowed down by the US on the other—the choice was to join us.

I we have said previously, “the insurgency was defeated for a number of ancillary and contributing reasons, including tribal cooperation, security, money and largesse paid directly to concerned citizens and the sheikhs, and other factors.  But the primary reason that the U.S. forces have succeeded was that they were the stronger horse.  The Iraqis saw this and sided with a winner.”

But there is the issue of political reconciliation to address, and thus far, the progress being made in Iraq is ground up by design, due in no small part to the ineptitude and intransigence of the Maliki administration.  Progress still continues to be made in the Anbar province, even as the Anbar schema is applied to the balance of Iraq.  In the operational update with Col. Stacy Clardy III, Commander, RCT-2, Multinational Force West, we learned that the mayor who recently took over Haditha met with more than 200 sheikhs and tribal leaders (previously it would have been remarkable to get 30 in one place), and told them that “if you stand with the Americans, it’s just like if you stood with the Americans after World War II, in terms of Japan and Germany; you can see where they led them down the road to prosperity.  And if you look at those countries today, that is what we want here in Iraq.”

The Anbaris do indeed want this for themselves and Iraq.  They believe, though, that the Sunnis are more capable than the Shi’a at running a government, and at least in Iraq at the present time, and with the point of comparison being Maliki, they are likely correct.  But given the inexplicable and irrational commitment of the State Department to Maliki and the weak parliamentary system that was imposed on Iraq, the power sharing situation is unlikely to change in the near future.  For all of the good will, faith and rhetorical flourish of our friend the mayor of Haditha, sadly, his vision probably requires a U.S. presence and investment that is unlikely to come to pass unless progress is made on the national front.

As for Maliki and his handlers, there is a window of opportunity.  Thomas Ricks, reporter for the Washington Post, has written a clear-headed expose on the current thinking in the leadership of the Multinational Force concerning the administration and efforts (or lack thereof) at reconciliation and power sharing.  He opens:

Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government’s failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but “it’s unclear how long that window is going to be open.”

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements. And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer? “If that doesn’t happen,” Odierno said, “we’re going to have to review our strategy.”

Thomas Ricks is an extraordinary reporter, but of course was working towards this particular story.  It is quite possible that rather than some stunning and remarkable step change in the political climate in Iraq, there is slow progress towards a stable nation-state while at the same time living with a low level of violence throughout the region.  Time will tell the story.  But at The Captain’s Journal we hold General Odierno in high regard, and concur that this window of opportunity not only must be utilized to the fullest extent, but also has been paid for by the tears, sweat, sacrifice and blood of American warriors.  The State Department should stand up and take note that it is just as immoral for the U.S. authorities to fail to pressure the Maliki administration for change as it is for the Maliki administration to remain unchanged.

Other resources:

Last Call: An Opportunity is a Terrible Thing to Waste, The Small Wars Journal Blog.

Anbar, Buffoons and the Daily Kos

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

The best open source analysts on Iraq are Nibras Kazimi of Hudson Institute (and Talisman Gate), and Mohammed and Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model.  Without planning or warning, from time to time their collective wits and powers of analysis will dovetail, and it’s a wonderful thing to watch as they deconstruct lies and propaganda.

Kazimi recently turned his guns on a New Yorker article which relied on an interview with an alleged sheikh Zaidan al-Awad, and the “sheikh” had this to say:

I asked Zaidan what sort of deal had led to the Sunni Awakening. “It’s not a deal,? he said, bristling. “People have come to realize that our fate is tied to the Americans’, and theirs to ours. If they are successful in Iraq, it will depend on Anbar. We always said this. Time was lost. America was lost, but now it’s woken up; it now holds a thread in its hand. For the first time, they’re doing something right.?

Zaidan said that Anbar’s Sunni tribes no longer had any need to exact blood vengeance on U.S. forces. “We’ve already taken our revenge,? he said. “We’re the ones who’ve made them crawl on their stomachs, and now we’re the ones to pick them up.? He added, “Once Anbar is settled, we must take control of Baghdad, and we will.? There would have to be a lot more fighting before the capital was taken back from the Shiites, he said. “The Anbaris will take charge of the purge. What the whole world failed to do in Anbar, we have done overnight. Baghdad will be a lot easier.?

The sheikh goes on to say how with a little help from the Americans, the Sunni will soon finish off the Shi’a and Iranians.  Replies Kazimi,

Powerful stuff, except that Zaidan al-Awad is misidentified as “a prominent Sunni tribal leader from Anbar.? Zaidan’s elevated social and tribal status was also implied when he was featured by Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey in June 2006. But don’t blame these reporters or their fixer—even gorgeous, elegant and smart Jordanian fixers get it wrong once in a while—for not spotting a tribal charlatan as he makes the media rounds.

According to several knowledgeable sources I’ve spoken to, Zaidan is regarded as nothing more than a buffoon.

Zaidan Khalaf al-Awad is not the tribal chief of the Albu Jaber ‘tribe’, and even if he were, then the Albu Jaber qualify as the least significant of all of Anbar’s 200-plus tribes and clans—as trivial as the low-born Slubba or the Swatreh—since they number around 200 men. Furthermore, Zaidan’s father was a sirkal, or headman responsible for cultivation, for the Ali Al-Suleiman family around the Khaldiyyah area; he’s not of ‘sheikhly’ ancestry …

why not quote the bum on the street who’s been warning us that the ‘End is Near’?

But are these laughable charges of making the Americans “crawl on their stomachs” and “picking them up” in Anbar restricted to buffoons in the Middle East?  The U.S. version of this can be found in a recent Daily Kos posting by Brandon Friedman.

As U.S. casualties have continued to drop, many people on the anti-Bush side of the aisle have begun to quietly panic in recent days over this question: “Could George W. Bush and Frederick Kagan have possibly been right about the surge?”

Simply put, the answer is no.  The surge is not working and George W. Bush and Frederick Kagan were not right.  Despite what right-wing blogs are saying, and despite what conservative observers are noting, the plunge in violence is actually the result of an Iraqi political decision made by and implemented by Iraqis—and the drop has little to do with the “surge”—an infusion of 30,000 troops (which wouldn’t fill a Major League stadium) into Baghdad, a city of six million people.

The “Shiite militants” described by the New York Times were, in fact, members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.  And, as we all saw this past summer, Muqtada’s fighters were really doing a job on American forces—despite the troop increase which began earlier in the year.

Far from “really doing a job” on American forces, the Jaish al Mahdi have run from every engagement with U.S. forces.  But in breaking down the success in Iraq, Friedman makes a fatal and irrecoverable error and thus completely misses the point of the strategy.  The so-called surge of forces went into effect in order to continue and enhance a strategy that was already in place in the Anbar province, i.e., expand this strategy in space and time to the balance of Iraq.  Anbar was won without the surge.  Let’s put it another way.  The surge didn’t win Anbar.  The strategy in Anbar was proof of principle for the specific focus and strategy, and thus caused the surge.  Friedman and the Daily Kos have gotten it exactly backwards.

Mohammed of ITM has a recent analysis that drives home this point.

The formation of a so called political council for Iraqi resistance was met by different reactions from the public and the politicians who are now divided into proponents and opponents. Whereas the Accord Front called for mediation between the council and the government some parties in the UIA see that the council cannot be negotiated with and declared it a continuation of the former regime.

What is important in my opinion regarding this development and aside from whether to negotiate with it or not, is the very announcement of forming this new political entity.

It consists of remnants of the former regime and it had led the violent campaign against the change and now its leaders announce the transformation into a political entity seeking negotiations with the government. This represents an admission of the failure of the insurgency. The statement made was dignified with a triumphant tone but this is not the Baath we know. We never saw the Baath triumphant and seeking negotiations at the same time. The former regime never recognized the idea of negotiations and peaceful settlements and this is exactly what led the country to numerous conflicts with the neighbors or with inside adversaries.

Saddam accepted dialogue and negotiations only after he had met defeat. Power always came first in the ideology of the Baath and the cruelty with which Saddam oppressed his domestic adversaries reminds us that searching for negotiations means that the regime, or those who represent its way of thinking, are incapable of sustaining meaningful resistance.

The call for negotiations reflects the failure of the Baath’s military option. This failure can be attributed to a number of reasons, the most significant of which is the determination of the Iraqi people and American administration to continue the march in spite of the pain involved in doing so. It became evident with time for the “resistance” that for the average Iraqis, going back to totalitarian rule is not an option and that an American pullout is not visible in the horizon.

Brandon Friedman and the other buffoons at the Daily Kos have been duped by the arguments of the buffoons in the Middle East who believe that the Sunni made the Americans crawl on their stomachs, the same Sunnis who will one day take back control of Iraq and then defeat Iran.  The buffoons in the Middle East are amusing — the buffoons at the Kos are pathetic.

The insurgency was defeated for a number of ancillary and contributing reasons, including tribal cooperation, security, money and largesse paid directly to concerned citizens and the sheikhs, and other factors.  But the primary reason that the U.S. forces have succeeded was that they were the stronger horse.  The Iraqis saw this and sided with a winner.

Awakening in the Balance of Iraq: Insurgents Turned Constable

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

In Are We Bribing the Sheikhs? and Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?, I discussed the expansion of one aspect of the Anbar model into the balance of Iraq, this aspect specifically being settling with the enemy and using his services to maintain regional or local stability and security.  South of Baghdad this model is having success, but it has potential pitfalls which might have to be be addressed in the future.

JURF AL-SAKHR, Iraq; In this desolate tiny town in what was once called the Triangle of Death, signs of the violent past mix oddly with evidence of today’s more tranquil life.

Large plots of land emptied by car bombs sit next to refurbished buildings. A new water treatment plant looks out to blast walls that have not been necessary for months. A newly opened clothes shop is next to one that has been shut for ages.

The U.S. calls this former al-Qaida stronghold a paragon of post-surge Iraq. Violence has come to a near standstill. Yet the government that has emerged is far from the democratic republic once promised.

The town is run by deals among its anointed leaders, nearly all of them former Sunni Muslim insurgents. None was elected. No one pays any mind to what might be happening in Iraq’s Shiite-dominated Parliament in Baghdad. Residents assume that the elected central government will never help them.

Instead, the insurgents-turned-leaders depend on an influx of money from the U.S. or from the provincial government to keep Islamic extremists from dominating the town again. So far, the U.S. military has spent $1 million, the cost of one of the military’s newest armored vehicles, on reconstruction projects and salaries for residents to secure the town and its surrounding area — 30,000 people in all. If the U.S. plan works, the next million will come from the Shiite-led provincial government.

U.S. officials acknowledge that their approach is tenuous, but one that so far has produced a big drop in violence. No U.S. soldier has been attacked since June, and they can now walk with some assurance of safety.

Residents reopened more than 40 shops and are sending their children to school. Townspeople are no longer locked in their homes.

But everyone agrees a major bombing, the assassination of a key figure or a lack of money could break the deal.

And it raises questions of what role the central government will have in Iraq. If residents reject that government, can Iraq stay together? Or will it become a series of fiefdoms run by unelected leaders backed by the United States?

U.S. commanders hail the turnaround here, saying they approached it in an Iraqi way.

“This place is about all kinds of agreements,? said Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. “The central government right now is too far removed. I mean, if these people were to rely on the central government, they don’t see any hope there. So what we are doing is bringing government from the ground up.?

This is no grassroots democracy, however.

Once the U.S. swept the area and reduced the militants’ hold on the town early on in the troop surge, it turned to the tribal sheik of the Islamic Army, the secular Sunni insurgency, to run the town. His name is Sabah al-Janabi.

Unlike the more homogenous Anbar province, Jurf al-Sakhr is south of Baghdad and sits on the Shiite-Sunni fault line. For Sheik Sabah, as he is called, to be a legitimate leader, the nearest Shiite town, Musayyib, would have to approve.

Accompanied by Balcavage, Sheik Sabah traveled there to seek the approval of the local commander of the Mahdi Army militia, a Shiite group loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; the head of the police; and the local Shiite tribal leader. They agreed. The sheik would be responsible for Jurf al-Sakhr and its people, and he’d make sure that his Shiite neighbors no longer felt threatened.

Armed with that agreement, the sheik then went to the provincial government. Once approved, he received his mayoral salary from the province, his first legitimate pay since the fall of Hussein’s regime.

With that, the U.S. reached its next deal. It agreed to employ Sheik Sabah’s fellow tribesmen and former insurgents as concerned local citizens, as the U.S. calls the local security forces it has been creating.

The members of the new security force would earn $375 a month, and it would be up to Sheik Sabah to distribute the funds. Some of their salaries would go toward buying weapons; another part was presumed to go to Sheik Sabah. And it would be up to him to secure the town.

“What we are really trying to do is employ heads of household now so that they can participate in the local economy and have hope,? said Capt. Henry Moltz, of A Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, who is in charge of the town.

When the money was doled out, the violence dropped immediately. The U.S. military had offered the residents a better deal than the Islamists had. The former insurgents were now paid to be the town’s guardians.

As more residents earned paychecks, more shops opened, and, Moltz said, fewer people depended on the U.S. salaries. An economic system developed.

Sheik Sabah said that if the U.S. support were to stop, “al-Qaida would return.?

And while residents might not attack U.S. soldiers anymore, their disdain remains. As U.S. troops walked up to Sheik Sabah’s office last week, his young son, Ahmad, sneered, “Go away,? in Arabic.

Moltz said he did not care: “I don’t have anyone lying to me anymore. I don’t have anyone bombing me anymore.?

And he rejected suggestions that Sheik Sabah or his backers would turn and embrace their former insurgent lifestyle. “Why would they? They couldn’t walk through their streets then.?

Every situation is different.  Bill Ardolino reports that the Southern area of Fallujah was very amenable to Marine presence, with waves and smiles from the population, while the Northern part of Fallujah was less hospitable.  Ramadi, where the origins of the tribal awakening occurred, are easy terrain for the Marines.  Where there are mixed Sunni-Shi’a communities, or where the Sunni population has not had the constant kinetic operations resulting from a Marine presence, the situation is less amenable to niceties.

Arming and organizing the Sunni insurgency to provide security and stability, while aligning with tested anthropological doctrine as I have previously suggested (heads of households providing sustenance for their families), is fraught with possible unintended consequences.  But at the present, as Dave Dilegge of the Small Wars Journal suggests, this is our only and best option:

I personally favor a bottom-up approach to COIN, especially in the absence of any national political reconciliation. The clock, especially the “Washington Clock” is running out and right now this approach is probably our only option. It may be blessing in disguise. You are right though, this does come with risks, and COIN is all about risks and long-term commitment. While the advantages of a “bottom-up” approach to COIN is arguable; solid tactics, executed correctly and uniformly, provide a solid base while the “top” (host nation or otherwise) sorts itself out.

But settle we are, whether the Sunnis like their new station (deposed along with Saddam) or not.  The future is uncertain.  If this approach is successful, a paradox presents itself to senior leadership, this paradox being unrelated to Iraq, per se.  We will continue to send Marines to Mohave Viper to train prior to deployment, yet it appears that their mission will be one primarily of neighborhood diplomacy and constabulary operations, perhaps to the detriment of morale among at least some of the troops (e.g., after heavy kinetic operations by 2/6, concerning the transition to food bags and neighborhood diplomacy, Bill Ardolino observes that some Marines are bored with civil affairs missions, some embrace them; and some Marines complain about the “boring” nature of the civil affairs focus, while others embrace it.)

These are good and necessary missions, but are they the ones that should be assigned to Marines?

Are We Bribing the Sheikhs?

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

In Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?, we evaluated the notion of payments to armed neighborhood watch participants and so-called “concerned citizens” for their services.  This approach is effective, anthropologically sound (helping heads of household to support their families) and simply the right thing to do (assist families in earning sustenance since their civilization has effectively collapsed).  Later we followed up this article with another account of successful transplant of this model to areas in and around Baghdad.  But this program focuses on concerned citizens, neighborhood watches, and family units as well as the community at the local level.  The chorus of voices continues to grow questioning this tactic, and more so since it is now being applied to higher levels of Iraqi society.

Since June, Mr. Hassani, who claims to be one of the princes of the legendary Shammar tribe, which numbers nearly 7 million across the Arab world, says he has received at least $100,000 in cash and numerous perks from the US military and the Iraqi government.

With his help, at least $1 million has also been distributed to other tribal sheikhs who have joined his Salahaddin Province “support council,” according to US officers. Together, they have assembled an armed force of about 3,000 tribesmen dubbed the “sahwa [awakening] folks.”

All of these enticements serve one goal: To rally Sunni tribes and their multitude of followers to support coalition forces.

The payments are a drop in the bucket given the billions spent annually in Iraq by the United States. And paying tribes to keep the peace is nothing new. It was one of Mr. Hussein’s tools in his selective patronage system designed to weaken and control all institutions outside his Baath party. The British also tried it when they ruled Iraq last century.

But the strategy is fraught with risks, including the serious potential for wars among the tribes themselves and the creation of militias in die-hard Sunni Arab lands where many continue to question the legitimacy and authority of the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad.

“[The US military] threw money at [the sheiks],” says Col. David Hsu, who heads a team advising Iraq’s armed forces in Salahaddin, Saddam’s home province. He shows recent digital photographs he captured of smiling sheikhs holding bundles of cash as they posed with US military officers. “You are basically paying civilians to turn in terrorists. Money was an expedient way to try to get results.”

US military officers on the ground say there is tremendous pressure from high above to replicate the successes of the so-called “awakening” against Al Qaeda in the western Anbar Province. The drive reached its apex in the run-up to the September testimonies to Congress by the top US military commander and diplomat in Iraq, US officers say.

“In order to turn the intent of [Lt.] Gen. [Raymond] Odierno for reconciliation into action, the coalition forces on the ground basically started recruiting leaders to try to turn other civilians against the insurgents,” says Colonel Hsu, a native of Hawaii. General Odierno is the No. 2 commander of US forces in Iraq.

To begin with, this assessment ignores the fact that most of the security in Iraq has been brought about by kinetic operations to kill the foreign terrorists and indigenous insurgents.  Next, the last two paragraphs of this Christian Science Monitor article are a cheap shot at General Odierno, and make it seem as if he is merely looking for an expedient way of creating the appearance of results.  General Odierno’s son, Captain Anthony Odierno, lost an arm due to combat in Iraq (see also General Odierno in August of 2007 on his son’s loss).  To imply that General Odierno desires or would support anything except legitimate stabilization of Iraq is implausible.  But this leads next to the root question: are payments legitimate and will they lead to stabilization of Iraq?  We have departed from payments to citizens and entered into bribery when we pay Sheikhs to side with the U.S. forces, some would claim.  But have we, and what if this definition holds true?

Nibras Kazimi, no insignificant thinker on matters of Iraq, believes that with the focus on tribes, there is a fear that Americans are trying to resuscitate a clannish social system that had withered away in Iraq … turning it into a power in and of itself.  Perhaps.  But with a dysfunctional central government in Iraq led by Maliki, beholden to and a puppet at the same time of Iran, al Sadr and Sistani, Anbaris and others cannot trust the central government.

Continuing with the CSM article, it is impossible to ignore the improvement in Iraq.

And the push seems to have paid off. Both the number of explosions and US military fatalities in October dropped to almost half their September levels in the Multinational Division-North area, which comprises of Diyala, Salahaddin, Tamim (Kirkuk), and Ninevah Provinces, according to military figures.

A senior official in the Shiite coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defends the wisdom of partnering with Sunni Arab tribes. Humam Hamoudi, a member of parliament from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council party, says the tribes may ultimately make better political allies than the Sunni political bloc that quit the government in June and has boycotted it since July.

But, he warns, Baghdad has to have more oversight over the tribal outreach project, otherwise the Sunni Arab tribes could turn against the government once the American presence diminishes.

“They need to have dialogue with the government,” says Mr. Hamoudi of the tribes. “If their connection remains only to the Americans, then they are a time bomb. In the future they may become enemies of the democratic project.”

These last two paragraphs are crafted for the main stream media and the State Department.  Maliki’s government is being bypassed in the bottom-up reconciliation going on in Iraq, a necessary exigency due to their incompetence.  U.S. presence will indeed be necessary for some time into the future (and besides, the Anbaris want the U.S. to stay).  “For his part, Hassani praises the US support and says he’s gotten only “empty promises” from Baghdad. He says if US forces were ever to leave the province he would be in the lead of their departing convoy. As tribes got down to settling scores, he says, there would be a ‘bloodbath.’ ”

Indeed, as we discussed in A Call for Global Strategic Thinking, it is difficult to make the case that either the American public or the military establishment is committed to the campaign in Iraq given the heavy deployment of troops in South Korea and Europe, while European command argues for an increased troop presence in Germany.  Counterinsurgency takes a more committed effort than what we have given it thus far.

As to the payments to concerned citizens and Sheikhs?  It isn’t our domain to question the method by which society operates in Iraq.  Tribe functions not only as paternal bond, but also as a guarantor of work and sustenance, as well as the adjudicator of right and wrong, and community and family disputes.  For the tribe to be wealthy and influential, the Sheikh must be the same.

In theory, there is little difference between payment to concerned citizens or even Sheikhs and payment to police, fire fighters or the armed forces.  Moses (Deuteronomy 25:4) and Paul (1 Timothy 5:18) tell us not to “muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”  Beyond national commitment to the mission, the only question is “how fast and efficiently can we make the payments and bring them over to our side?”

**** UPDATE ****

Grim of Blackfive sends me his link from 2003 where he points out that he took the position to “Pay the black mail.  It’s all to the good, in the end.”  Grim has an excellent analysis, well worth the time to study it.

Upgraded A-10s Prove Worth in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

A-10 at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq

Senior Airman Daniel Young marshals in an A-10 Thunderbolt II for munitions disarming after an Oct. 28 mission at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.

The only problem with the title for the Air Force article is that of assuming that the A-10 is in need of proof of its worth.  For those of use who know about the A-10, it has proven its worth since its creation and continues to do so.  From Al Asad Air Base, Iraq:

A new version of the A-10 Thunderbolt II has been flying over Iraq providing close-air support for the ground troops from Al Asad Air Base for nearly two months.

As part of the Precision Engagement Upgrade Program, the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing has been converting it’s A-10s from A to C models.

“We are the first A-10C model squadron to deploy to combat,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Smith, the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. “We just transitioned to the aircraft six months prior to coming here, and the C-model was officially declared combat ready just two weeks before we deployed. I am very proud of our unit. We’ve put in a monumental effort, as individuals and as a group to get to this point.”

The A-10C might look the same on the outside, but the recent upgrades have turned the aircraft, which was originally designed to battle Russian tanks during the Cold War, into an even more lethal and precise close-air-support weapons system.

A few of the key upgrades are a “first ever” for the aircraft, said Capt. Rich Hunt, a 104th EFS A-10C pilot. One of them is the situational awareness data link.

“Previously, for me to keep track of all the other airplanes that are around me or to help us perform the mission, I would literally have to write those down with a grease pencil inside my canopy or write them down on a white piece of paper on my knee board in order to keep track of all that,” Captain Hunt said.

“Now I have a color display that has all of the other airplanes that are up supporting the same mission across all of Iraq right now,” he said. And they are all digitally displayed through that data link on my map. So now, especially at night when awareness is a little bit lower, I can look at that beautiful map display and know exactly what other airplanes are around me.”

The new system also provides the pilot with other critical information, such as what the other airplanes might be targeting, what munitions they have on board and fuel levels.

“That awareness provides us with a ton of valuable information in a very user-friendly manner,” the captain said. “(It allows us) to do our mission with a lot clearer understanding of exactly what is going on around us in the battle space and what our wingmen may be targeting” …

Something else the new C-model provides to the pilots is the integration of advanced targeting pods, which have also been upgraded. The new pods include long-range TV and infrared cameras with zoom capabilities and a laser target designator.

“Primarily, we still use the pods for weapons strikes,” Captain Hunt said. “However, in Iraq we find ourselves supporting the troops on the ground by doing a lot of counter improvised explosive devices missions.”

The pods infrared capability can be used to detect buried IEDs by picking up on their heat signature.

The new targeting pods have also been outfitted with the ROVER downlink capability, allowing the aircraft to transmit the live video feed to a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. This allows for more precise strikes with less chance of a chance for collateral damage.

“In Iraq that is especially important because it’s a very difficult situation when we provide close-air support in such a densely urban environment,” the captain said. “By the controller being able to look through my targeting pod real time, we can compare exactly what we are looking at and make sure we have an absolutely 100 percent positive identification of the target.”

Another upgrade that increases the A-10′s precision is that it can now employ the Global Positioning System-guided joint direct attack munitions.

“Sometimes we find ourselves where we have to destroy a terrorist stronghold location. But in the house across the street are friendly Iraqi civilians,” Captain Hunt said. “We know we have to destroy the stronghold, but we don’t want to cause any collateral damage whatsoever. So the JDAM has been outstanding for us. We’ve had unbelievable success where we’ve been able to strike the stronghold without causing any damage to the houses around it.

“Between the situational awareness data link, the targeting pod with the ROVER down link to the controller on the ground and the JDAM, the A-10C on this deployment has been an amazing success for us,” the captain said.

The A-10 has been around the Air Force since the 1970s and with these new upgrades will remain well into the future.

“As technology moved further ahead, we stayed pretty far behind,” Colonel Smith said. “And now, all over sudden, we have leapfrogged all the way pretty much to the front edge of all the technology for everybody.”

But the colonel also said while they are the first unit to fly the C-model in combat, their main focus is not on the upgrades.

“In our minds we are just flying like we normally do,” Colonel Smith said. “We don’t see ourselves as the first A-10C model in combat, we see ourselves as A-10 pilots out helping the guy on the ground. I have great respect for the men and women on the ground. They are the ones who are really putting their lives on the line when they are out there. Our job is to ride shotgun for them — to sit there in position, and ready for them when they need us. And now we have more tools available to do it faster and more precisely.”

Prior at The Captain’s Journal:

Faster Kill Chain
A-10 Update and Pictures
A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency
Air Power in Small Wars

Just for fun, A-10 Flyover.

Profiles in Courage

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

While most of America is working on a computer, talking on a phone, watching television or at the mall, these brave warriors get up every morning and face something more difficult than most of us will ever know our whole lives.  You should take a minute today and visit the story below (ignoring the politics in it, as always) about badly burned or maimed veterans attempting to recover from their wounds and go on with their lives.  And then say a long prayer for them and their families, and thank God that He gave us men like them.

Profiles in Courage.

Shoes that Shine, the Commandant, and Birthday of the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

Making it through boot camp at Parris Island creates a special warrior.  There is time later for training in speciality, weapons and tactics, but boot camp teaches a Marine how to be a Marine: how to honor fellow warriors, personal obligation, unit obligation, honor, code, history, and the consequences of personal or unit failure.  The pits, the sand fleas, the austere conditions – all go into making the Island what it is.  Sitting at attention on benches the week of lecture on targeting at the range drives home the necessity to qualify with the rifle at 500 yards, the longest distance of any branch in any armed forces in the world.

Many stories come from boot camp, and these are followed by stories of School of Infantry and the fleet, followed on by stories of Marines from horrible and epic battles in Fallujah and other places where they are deployed.  These stories can never be written down and fully captured, but just as surely must be told with timbre, inflection and context to be understood.  But these stories travel, and people remember.  They know all about the Marines and what it takes to be considered among the greatest warriors on earth.

I know a certain Marine who left his dress shoes with me to take to a repair shop several months ago, and upon picking them up, the owner said “these are nice shoes, where can I get a pair of these?”  I responded by saying that the shoes were purchased on Parris Island.  He and I stood without response for a while, and a man whom I didn’t know in line behind me ended the standoff by yelling to the owner “Sir, you don’t buy those shoes.  You have to earn them!”

And to all who have earned the right to carry the title United States Marine in life and after, happy birthday, 10 November 1775.

Other sources:

Happy Birthday, Marines!, Human Events (h/t Tom Smith at The Tank)

Marine Corps Birthday Message, USMC

232 Years and Counting, US Cavalry On Point

Marines at Landstuhl celebrate Corps’ birthday, Stars and Stripes

Hotel Tango (H/T) to our friend Smitten Eagle, here is the Commandant’s birthday message.  It is made even better by the fact that my favorite actor, Sam Elliot, helps to narrate it.


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