Archive for the 'Constabulary Actions' Category



Awakening in the Balance of Iraq: Insurgents Turned Constable

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months 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?

The Use of Militias and Iraqi Army Unreadiness

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

In Settling with The Enemy we discussed the turn of many of the former Sunni insurgents, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades, against al Qeada and in favor of cooperation with U.S. forces.  This Anbar Province model has taken root to the Northeast in the Diyala Province.

BAQOUBA, Iraq — Two months ago, a dozen Sunni insurgents — haggard, hungry and in handcuffs — stepped tentatively into a U.S.-Iraqi combat outpost near Baqouba and asked to speak to the commander: “We’re out of ammunition, but we want to help you fight al-Qaida.”

Now hundreds of fighters from the 1920s Revolution Brigades, an erstwhile Sunni insurgent group, work as scouts and gather intelligence for the 10,000-strong American force in the fifth day of its mission to remove al-Qaida gunmen and bomb makers from the Diyala provincial capital.

Little so well illustrates the Middle Eastern dictum: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

And as it struggles in the raging heat and violence of central Iraq, the U.S. military appears to have bought into the tactic in its struggle to pull what victory it can from the increasingly troubled American mission in Iraq, under congressional pressure for a troop pullout and a presidential election campaign already in the minds of voters.

Each U.S. Army company in Baqouba, an hour’s drive northeast of Baghdad, has a scout from the Brigades, others have become a ragtag intelligence network and still others fight, said Capt. Ricardo Ortega, a 34-year-old Puerto Rico native of the 2nd Infantry Division.

The Army has given some of the one-time insurgents special clothing — football-style jerseys with numbers on the chest — to mark them as American allies.

U.S. commanders say help from the Brigades operatives was key to planning and executing the Baqouba operation, one of a quartet of U.S. offensives against al-Qaida on the flanks of the Iraqi capital.

The informants have given the American troops exact coordinates of suspected al-Qaida safe houses, with details down to the color of the gate out front, said Lt. Col. Avanulas Smiley, 40, commander of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment and a Tacoma, Wash., native.

Most of the Brigades members, whom U.S. officials call “concerned local nationals,” hail from eastern Baqouba, while the bulk of the fighting has so far raged in western Baqouba.

But with contacts among fellow Sunni fighters on the city’s west side, they have fed American soldiers critical information about al-Qaida positions.

The use of militias will be necessary in the future in part because the Iraqi army is not ready for performance of duties upon turnover of control.

American military commanders now seriously doubt that Iraqi security forces will be able to hold the ground that U.S. troops are fighting to clear _ gloomy predictions that strike at the heart of Washington’s key strategy to turn the tide in Iraq.

Several senior American officers have warned in recent days that Iraqi soldiers and police are still incapable of maintaining security on their own in the most crucial areas, including Baghdad and the recently reclaimed districts around Baqouba to the north.

Iraqi units are supposed to be moving into position to take the baton from the Pentagon. This was the backbone of the plan President Bush announced in January when he ordered to five more U.S. brigades, or about 30,000 soldiers, to Iraq. The goal is to reduce the violence to a level where the Iraqis can cope so that Americans can begin to go home.

But that outcome is looking ever more elusive. The fear is that U.S. troops will pay for territory with their lives _ only to have Iraqi forces lose control once the Americans move on.

Unless Iraqis can step up, the United States will face tough choices in months ahead as pressure mounts in the Democratic-controlled Congress to draw down the nearly 160,000-strong U.S. force.

Iraqi forces may be able to handle security in the Kurdish north and parts of the Shiite south. But that would face huge challenges in Baghdad and surrounding provinces where Sunni insurgents are deeply entrenched. The Americans then would face the dilemma of maintaining substantial forces in Iraq for years _ perhaps a politically untenable option _ or risk the turmoil spreading to other parts of the Middle East.

“The challenge now is: How do you hold onto the terrain you’ve cleared?” said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, the operations chief of the current offensive in Baqouba, where Sunni insurgents have taken root in recent months. He said this week that U.S. forces have control of much of Baqouba.

“You have to do that shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi security forces. And they’re not quite up to the job yet,” Bednarek said.

The Brigadier General is being gratuitous in saying that “they’re not quite up to the job yet.”  They are nowhere near ready for turnover.  This assessment doesn’t differ from that of David Danelo in his stunning piece in Parade Magazine in March of 2007, but one must study Danelo’s piece to understand how fully and remarkably different the Iraqi army is from a disciplined Western army.

This difference is cultural, and has to do with a number of things: officer elitism and bifurcation from their troops, mistreatment of enlisted men, lack of an effective non-commissioned officer corps, educational problems, and many other things.  An important study was published entitled Why Arabs Lose Wars, by Norvell B. De Atkine.  The introduction is a worthy tease for the reader.

ARABIC-SPEAKING ARMIES have been generally ineffective in the modern era. Egyptian regular forces did poorly against Yemeni irregulars in the 1960s. Syrians could only impose their will in Lebanon during the mid-1970s by the use of overwhelming weaponry and numbers. Iraqis showed ineptness against an Iranian military ripped apart by revolutionary turmoil in the 1980s and could not win a three-decades-long war against the Kurds. The Arab military performance on both sides of the 1990 Kuwait war was mediocre. And the Arabs have done poorly in nearly all the military confrontations with Israel. Why this unimpressive record? There are many factors — economic, ideological, technical — but perhaps the most important has to do with culture and certain societal attributes which inhibit Arabs from producing an effective military force.

This study should be required reading for all officers and NCOs, and serves to remind us of just why we are where we are in Iraq.  It is significant that a major tenet upon which the U.S. strategy was built, i.e., capture the terrain and turn it over to Iraqi forces, has become unhinged.  The reasons for this are deeply rooted and cause the problem to be intractable in the short term.  The use of militias and erstwhile insurgents in not just an expediency.  It is an adaptation and adjustment, and is necessary to hold ground that U.S. forces have captured.

Constabulary Operations and Prison Overcrowding

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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