Archive for the 'Policy' Category

The Pakistan Border and Covert Operations

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 8 months ago

An unusually clear-headed letter appeared in Pakistan’s The Post concerning the Pakistan-Afghan border, ending with the following observation.

Ordinarily, coalition partners should not be concerned about border issues when they have a common objective and Former Ambassador Zafar Hilaly made a valid point that the enemy neither respects nor recognises borders, and yet the nation quibbles about border violations. The fact that militancy found a willing stronghold within the tribal belt shows how easily these people surrendered their ‘sovereignty’ to the enemy. Those who vow to defend our territorial integrity against the ‘Farangi’ invader forfeited the right when the first Taliban crossed over to Pakistan after 2001. But someone needs to clean up this mess and it is preferable to have Pakistan at the helm only because our national pride will not permit otherwise. If Pakistan can convince the Americans that they can sort out their side of the border, they must then convince this nation to let them.

For the last four years Pakistan has been gaming the campaign against extremists in order to continue to procure money from the U.S. They shoot at empty buildings, pretend to engage the Taliban fighters, and then “make agreements” with them through jirgas. Although the recent bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad has been called Pakistan’s 9/11, The Captain’s Journal is still skeptical. It is more than just the Pashtuns who have given up their right to defend Pakistan from U.S. incursions. The Pakistan Army’s gaming of operations against the Taliban for U.S. dollars has also lost them the credibility to conduct real operations against the Taliban or complain when the U.S. does.

The U.S. must take whatever action deemed appropriate by CENTCOM and its new head General Petraeus. But regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we do not advocate treating the campaign as a counterterrorism campaign against high value targets. Special forces, we have claimed, cannot win a counterinsurgency. This requires infantry. Steve Coll of The New Yorker recently made an analogous observation concerning covert policy.

On television shows and in the movies, we romanticize covert action of this kind as bold and daring, but military history suggests that it is usually of very limited strategic value. It is usually most effective, as it was during the Second World War, when it serves as a kind of extension or multiplier of a successful overt policy. This may have been the case, too, with the covert action arm of the “surge,” which Bob Woodward has highlighted in his recent book. But covert action fails, as at the Bay of Pigs, when frustrated and desperate Presidents seize on secret war as a substitute for a successful declared or open policy that also involves diplomacy, economic measures, and so forth. The problem with covert U.S. raids in the Pakistani tribal territories today is not that they are unjustified—the Taliban and Al Qaeda are vicious adversaries, and they pose what the national-security lawyers call a “clear and present danger” to the United States and to Pakistan. The problem is that in the attenuating months of the Bush Administration, covert policy has dominated U.S. policy, and often controlled it—and it obviously isn’t working.

As an editorial note, we don’t necessarily agree with Woodward’s characterization of anything concerning Operation Iraqi Freedom. Also, Coll’s assessment that more diplomacy and money are needed in order to consider our actions “policy” is amusing. Diplomacy and money – along with covert special forces and CIA operations – have been the cornerstone of our policy in Pakistan from the beginning.

Standing Up the Iraqi Army

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 5 months ago

” … the evidence indicates that the Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to secure Iraqi borders against conventional military threats in the near term … the ISF will be unable to fulfil their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months,” Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq [1].

“Restoring Iraq to military self-sufficiency will require at least a decade.  For that alone, Iraq will remain an American protectorate well into the next decade …”  John Pike, [2].

If only the issues with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could be summed up by saying that they needed to learn to do calisthenics better or target with their rifles, training the ISF would take several months.  Undoubtedly, this is what the uninitiated think when the administration talks of “standing down when the Iraqis stand up.”  How long can it take to train a soldier?  Even if one includes consideration beyond individual training to unit level tactics such as satellite patrols, squads rushes, flanking maneuvers, room clearing, and so forth, this would add months – maybe a year at the most.

But the almost insurmountable problems with the ISF present themselves under three rubrics.  The first has to do with the nation-state of Iraq, and the degree to which it can function without the sectarian divides that have hindered the progress of the government thus far.  After all, the military is not immune from society’s ills any more than other institutions.

These sectarian divides have actually evolved not only to sectarian taunts but to shooting between various units in the ISF.  In summer of 2006, Kurdish fighters who had joined the ISF were targets of Shi’a members of the ISF.

Early this year, a 700-strong Kurdish Iraqi army battalion, originally from the northern city of Sulaymaniyah, deployed to Balad, 50 miles northwest of Baghdad, to bolster a single Shi’ite battalion mustered from local residents.

The large Sunni minority living around Balad protested the Kurdish unit’s presence, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Coffey, a member of an ad-hoc Military Transition Team that was helping train the Kurdish battalion. Residents including some Iraqi military personnel fired at patrolling Kurdish troops, and on at least one occasion, the Kurds fired back — one of the few recorded incidents of fighting within Iraqi Army ranks.

Yet by the summer of 2007 this had all been turned on this head.  Kurdish fighters were seen as savior for at least one Sunni family.

Bristling with weapons, the men arrived on the back of three pick-up trucks, then surrounded the modest house in the once “mixed” suburb of al-Amel, in western Baghdad. A black-clad gunman jumped down and hammered on the thin metal gate. There were “bad people” on the loose, he shouted to the residents cowering inside. They should pack up and go and live “among your own people—for your own protection”. He and his men would helpfully put their belongings on the back of the trucks. For safety’s sake, the family should go immediately. As this ultimatum was being given to the terrified Sunni Arab family by the Shia gunmen, a group of Iraqi policemen, also Shias, leant on a police car and idly puffed away on their cigarettes, just 50 yards up the street, indifferent to the crime of sectarian cleansing being perpetrated under their noses.

That scene has become all too common in al-Amel—and in many other mixed districts. Since the bombing of the Shias’ shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in February last year, many mixed and middle-class areas have become either mostly Shia or mostly Sunni, depending on which side of the main road you live.

Yet on the occasion described above the Sunni family managed to sit tight, in the house they had built some 30 years ago in what was then a palm grove. They were saved by the arrival, in the nick of time, of a contingent of about 100 Kurdish soldiers, some of the 3,000-odd former Peshmerga fighters (literally, “those who face death”) who have joined Iraq’s national army and have been controversially deployed in Baghdad as part of the “surge” of troops, mainly American ones, to beef up security in the bloody capital.

As they neared the besieged house, the Kurdish soldiers shot over the heads of the Shia gunmen, identified by locals as members of the Mahdi militia loyal to a Shia firebrand, Muqtada al-Sadr, and told them to leave the area. They swiftly complied. There was no American soldier in sight.

The Shi’a within the ISF have increasingly caused problems with the Sunni population, failing to engender trust.  The surge also allowed U.S. troops to provide adequate coverage when this had been missing from earlier in the campaign.  U.S. troops are now also seen as protectors against Shi’a ISF members in areas in which they previously didn’t have the manpower to patrol.

As the Americans patrol the Sunni Arab neighborhood of Azamiyah, people keep turning to them for help. One man asks them to bring in a fuel truck stopped by Iraqi troops. Another complains that Iraqi soldiers just beat up his brother.

The Americans used to be loathed in Azamiyah, a longtime stronghold of insurgents and the last place where Saddam Hussein appeared in public. Now the animosity has given way to a grudging acceptance, because the people of this northern neighborhood want American protection from a foe they hate and fear even more: the mainly Shiite Iraqi army.

“We feel safe when the Americans are around,” says a computer engineer who gave his name only as Abu Fahd. He stopped going to work because of his fear of militiamen at the Shiite-dominated Health Ministry and now makes a living selling clothes.

“When we see the Iraqi army, we just stay home or close our shops.”

The altercations and lack of trust doesn’t just affect the population.  In Western Iraq – Sunni territory between Baghdad and Fallujah, the ISF have had altercations with not only the Sunni “awakening” (e.g., 1920s Brigade), but U.S. forces as well.  Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, a 41-year-old California native who has spent the previous months cultivating his relationship with Abu Azzam (an “awakening” leader), managed to de-escalate just such an encounter in June of 2007 between his friend the Sunni leader and an ISF Brigade.

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

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

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said … Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

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

The second problematic area has to do with broad, general corruption across the entire ISF.  Earlier in the 2007, “American units that patrolled with Iraqi forces in west and east Baghdad found that Iraqi officers sold new uniforms meant for their troops, and that their soldiers wore plastic shower sandals while manning checkpoints, abused prisoners and solicited bribes to free suspects they’d captured.”

Interviews with U.S. soldiers, and reporting from accompanying them on patrols, made it clear that there are profound problems with the Iraqi troops, ranging from worries that they’re operating on behalf of Shiite death squads to aggravation with their refusal to carry out basic tasks such as wearing flak vests.

In a west Baghdad neighborhood where bodies often turn up beside the road, facedown on the pavement with bullets in their heads, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brendan Griswold looked on last week as Iraqi soldiers patted down three men at a checkpoint and thumbed through their documents. The Iraqi soldiers found a fake Iraqi passport on one of the men, whom they suspected was Jordanian and possibly an insurgent.

Griswold didn’t stir, determined to let the Iraqis conduct the search on their own.

“I like going out with some of them. But some of the others are hard to control; they run away when things happen,” said the 24-year-old 1st Cavalry Division platoon commander from Leavenworth, Kan.

An Iraqi soldier approached him. “Where do we put them?” he asked.

Griswold pointed to the Iraqi army Humvees in front of him. Iraqi soldiers grabbed the three men, opened the back trunks of their Humvees and started to stuff them inside.

“No, not in there,” Griswold yelled, as he cussed under his breath and walked over to supervise.

After he made sure the detainees were seated in the Humvees, the convoy drove to an Iraqi army intelligence office. The Iraqi troops led the three men into what looked like a darkened closet. Griswold asked the Iraqis not to abuse the detainees, then shook hands and said goodbye. As he left the intelligence building, he asked his interpreter what the Iraqi troops would do to the detainees.

“They were asking them how much they would pay to be released,” the interpreter replied with a grin.

The third problematic area has to do with Middle Eastern culture and what it brings (and doesn’t bring) to its armed forces.  Norvell B. De Atkine has written an analysis entitled “Why Arabs Lose Wars” that should be required reading for every field grade officer who deploys to Iraq, and perhaps Non-commissioned officers as well [3].  The problems are numerous, but De Atkine focuses in on officers and the cultural tendency for over-centralization, discouraging initiative, lack of flexibility, manipulation of information, and the discouragement of leadership at the junior officer level.  Stepping down in the chain of command, De Atkine then focuses in on one major difference that separates Western armed forces from the rest of the world.

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men’s sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military’s effectiveness. With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective.

De Atkine summarizes the perceptive analysis with this sobering comment.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the cultural gulf separating American and Arab military cultures. In every significant area, American military advisors find students who enthusiastically take in their lessons and then resolutely fail to apply them. The culture they return to — the culture of their own armies in their own countries — defeats the intentions with which they took leave of their American instructors. Arab officers are not concerned about the welfare and safety of their men. The Arab military mind does not encourage initiative on the part of junior officers, or any officers for that matter. Responsibility is avoided and deflected, not sought and assumed. Political paranoia and operational hermeticism, rather than openness and team effort, are the rules of advancement (and survival) in the Arab military establishments. These are not issues of genetics, of course, but matters of historical and political culture.

An interesting and more personal account of the nature of the society and how it impacts the ISF is given to us by David J. Danelo [4].

When jundis sign up to serve in the Iraqi Army, they do not enlist for any length of time. There’s no such thing as a one-, two- or four-year commitment, because it would be both impractical and unenforceable, given the current state of Iraq … An accurate count of Iraqi soldiers is almost impossible. “When they go home on leave, we have no idea how many are going to come back,” says one U.S. military adviser to the Iraqi Army. “Some are kidnapped or killed. Some just run away” … Lieutenant Muhammad: “I Haven’t Been Paid In 10 Months” … Warrant Officer Omar: “No One in My Family Knows I’m in the Army” …

And so the story goes, from corruption, to desertion, to lack of family support for ISF members, to poor or no pay, to sectarian differences, to poor training, to the lack of an NCO corps.  The story is about cultural differences and sectarian divides rather than the ability to perform with a firearm.  The project in which the United States is engaged with respect to the ISF is no less than one of cultural transition – a change of paradigm.

Going forward, it is in the interest of the United States to have an “enduring strategic partnership … one of the follow-up items that both the Iraqis and the Americans need to work on to make sure that we can have a presence there that helps continue to support the region and helps the burgeoning democracy in the heart of the Middle East,” as stated in the White House press release.  But the Iraqi government is prepared to allow the US a long-term troop presence in the country and preferential treatment for American investments in return for a guarantee of security including defence against internal coups.  Due in no small part to the state of the ISF, a strategic relationship is in the interests of the Iraqi people as well.


1. The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, General James L. Jones, USMC (Ret.), Chairman.
2. Experts Say Iraqi Forces Not Ready,
3. Why Arabs Lose Wars, Norvell B. De Atkine, Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, Vol. 6, No. 2
4. Is the Iraqi Army Ready?,, David J. Danelo.

Settling with the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

In U.S. Presses for Amnesty for Insurgents, October of 2006, I discussed the press towards a broad-based amnesty program for the Sunni insurgents, observing that:

This is without question an attempt to quell the violence in al Anbar, and the hope appears to be that the tribes in al Anbar will root out al Qaeda (and other foreign elements), while a deal with the former Saddam loyalists will end the bloodshed associated with the insurgency.

But a deal will without doubt create many personal and emotional wounds with mothers and fathers of Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines who have died in Iraq fighting the insurgency.  There are still difficult times ahead.  Either these emotional wounds are created – probably never to heal – or the fight continues, with an uncertain end.

More than simple amnesty, U.S. forces are making allies of former insurgents, in spite of the unease that this creates with the Shi’a and Kurds.

Shi’ite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations yesterday about the new US military strategy to partner with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“They are trusting terrorists,” said Ali Al Adeeb, a prominent Shi’ite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

Throughout Iraq, a growing number of Sunni groups profess to have turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq because of its indiscriminate killing and repressive version of Islam. In some areas, these groups have provided information to Americans about Al Qaeda members or the deadly explosives that target the soldiers.

The collaboration has progressed furthest in the western province of Anbar, where US military commanders enlisted the help of Sunni tribal leaders to funnel their kinsmen into the police force by the thousands. In other areas, Sunnis have not been fully incorporated into the security services and exist as local militias.

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs, and direct assistance from US soldiers. In Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood, a local group of Sunnis, the Baghdad Patriots, were driven around earlier this month in American and Iraqi vehicles and given approval by US forces to arrest suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members.

In Fallujah, Regimental Combat Team 6 is training former insurgents to fight al Qaeda.

Marine Sgt. Tony Storey doesn’t like to think about what-ifs as he watches the young Iraqis he is helping to train take target practice. He recalls one man who was a natural with his AK47.

“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” Storey asked.

“Insurgent,” the man said with a smile.

“Was he joking?” Storey asked while surveying the 50 men from the Albu Issa tribe firing their weapons at a distant target. “I don’t know.”

For the men of Regimental Combat Team 6, who are training members of Anbar province tribes to fight Al Qaeda, Storey’s question isn’t simple curiosity. Less than a year ago, the tribes viewed Al Qaeda in Iraq as an ally in their effort to push Americans out of the province.

Now, the tribes see Al Qaeda as a threat to their society and their businesses — many of them dependent on illegal smuggling — and they’ve turned to the U.S. military for help.

This model is also being implemented in the Diyala province.  The alliance goes to the point of arming the Sunnis to manage security in their own geographical areas.  After some aborted starts at a coherent reply to this, Prime Minister Maliki who initially repudiated this idea later claimed credit for it.

Maliki, representing the Shi’a, doesn’t appreciate the new alliance with and arming of the Sunni no matter what he claims, and there is a tense relationship between him and General Petraeus.  But the point goes far deeper than interpersonal relationships between U.S. generals and Iraqi politicians.  The alliance being implemented in Iraq is a high-risk / high payoff strategy that must be successful if Iraq is to be pacified, Maliki’s objections notwithstanding.

When the U.S. forces begin to stand down and withdraw, to remove the U.S. men and materiel in Iraq will take more than a year.  Withdrawal will be slow and deliberate.  Furthermore, it is likely that complete withdrawal will not happen for a long time.  More likely is that the U.S. will re-deploy to the North in Kurdistan, assisting the Iraqi army and police with kinetic operations upon request, while also serving as a stabilizer for the Middle East and border security for Iraq.

But it is just as likely that U.S. forces will not be performing constabulary operations for much longer.  The counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24, was written based on the presupposition that the U.S. has the ten to twelve years necessary to conduct the classical counterinsurgency campaign.  This was never true, is not true now, and will not be true in the future.  Military needs aside, the public – by the power of the vote – has the right and prerogative within the American system to make the policy decision on the conduct of war.  Asking the American pubic to support a counterinsurgency campaign over three consecutive presidential administrations is expecting the impossible, no matter how well the administration communicates the conditions of the campaign to the public.

All wars must end.  The end of Operation Iraqi Freedom necessitates settling with the enemy, a high stakes strategy, absent which there is only loss of the counterinsurgency campaign.

Rules of Engagement and Pre-Theoretical Commitments

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 3 months ago

I have extensively covered and commented on rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I doubt that there are any other weblogs for which seven articles have been published under the subject tag.  The comments (totaling in the hundreds now) range across the spectrum, but one thing has become clear.  The commenters (and this author) are talking past each other because of failure to engage the discussion at its root: pre-theoretical commitments.

Permit me a bit of philosophical meandering, and forgive me for what will be a long article.  The problem lies not in whether the ROE are “right” or “wrong,” as there are NCOs, officers, and civilians who, regardless of the so-called “evidence” that there are problems, will deny it and assert with full confidence that the ROE are fine, or regardless of the testimony in favor of the current ROE, will assert that there are problems.  This is not surprising, and points to commitments or beliefs that philosopher Alvin Plantinga would call properly foundational or basic, not being subject to “proof” since they are in fact used as axioms or presuppositions to prove the consequent(s).

So that we don’t remain in the realm of the incomprehensible to most people, let’s tackle a couple of examples, the first coming from my sniper coverage.  There has been an evolution even during OIF in how the sniper threat is treated when potential non-combatants are in the vicinity.  The first example comes from Camp Habbaniyah and Lt. Col. Desgrosseilliers’ Battalion after it had sustained a sniper attack.

Within eight minutes, the jump team slid to a stop in front of the surgical unit at an air base near Camp Habbaniyah. Desgrosseilliers joined several jump-team Marines and orderlies in carrying the wounded man inside on a stretcher.

After a few minutes, Grant came out, blood all over his jumpsuit, and sat on the ground, wordless.

Later a doctor came out and told Navy corpsman George Grant it looked as if the Marine would live, that he’d been stabilized and would be flown to a larger hospital. 

Desgrosseilliers emerged and stood silent as Mueller gathered the members of the jump team in a circle and told them that they’d done a good job and he was glad they were safe.

Earlier in the war, maybe, or under a different commander, the Marines might have returned heavy fire in the general direction of the sniper to make him stop.

This time, they hadn’t fired, not even once. No one could see exactly where the shots were coming from, and a stream of bullets into the town could have hit innocent civilians and seriously damaged Desgrosseilliers’ plan to calm the area.

Back in camp, he said he was proud of his men for being so disciplined.

“I think the insurgency is trying to get us off our message by getting us to return fire and maybe kill some innocent people,” Desgrosseilliers said. “But it’s just not going to work.”

The second example describes a soldier’s reaction to a non-lethal standoff weapon that causes the skin to feel as if it is at a very high temperature – the “ray gun.”

Airman Blaine Pernell, 22, said he could have used the system during his four tours in Iraq, where he manned watchtowers around a base near Kirkuk. He said Iraqis often pulled up and faked car problems so they could scout U.S. forces (italics mine).

“All we could do is watch them,” he said. But if they had the ray gun, troops “could have dispersed them.”

Before we query ourselves concerning these examples, there are a few interesting revelations that have developed over the last few weeks concerning ROE.  First, a Washington Times commentary appeared on January 26th, entitled Untie military hands, which I discussed in my last article on ROE and in which Admiral James A. Lyons outlined a set of conditions that must be met before the enemy could be engaged.  Since I have discussed this I will not rehearse the arguments here.  Subsequently to this (beginning on the next day and extending until just recently), there has been a flurry of activity on this web site from military network domains.  Some of this activity came from repeat visitors and came in from referrals or direct access, but of the ones that came in via “organic” means (e.g., Google), it is possible to see the word searches that brought the readers to my site, what articles they read and how long they stayed (among other things such as network location, information about their computer, etc.).

Since I believe that denoting the specific network domains, locations and keywords that were used could possibly be divulging information that should remain undisclosed, I will not publish that information.  However, I can say that rules of engagement has been a top interest of serious readers for a couple of weeks, and the readers didn’t quickly leave this site.  Some serious time was spent studying the issues of ROE.  The culmination seems to be seen in a recent press release by Major General William B. Caldwell.  In this press release, Caldwell takes direct aim at the Washington Times commentaries:

Two separate articles from Jan. 26 editions of The Washington Times offer contradictory assertions concerning rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Iraq. The first article asserts that the rules are too specific and demanding, placing troops at risk. The second article argues that the rules are vague and confusing, endangering troops who must make life and death decisions in an instant.

Both assertions are wrong.

Contrary to the claim in “Untie military hands,” the rules of engagement in Iraq do not require U.S. service members to satisfy seven steps prior to using force. Instead, the overriding rule for all service members is that nothing in our rules of engagement prevents our troops from using necessary and proportional force to defend themselves.

This foundational concept of U.S. rules of engagement (ROE) is provided to every service member on a pocket-size ROE card. More important, service members are trained to understand this rule and its application in life or death situations. While I cannot rule out the possibility that a leader at a lower level may have issued the restrictive guidance stated in the article, such guidance is in direct conflict with both current ROE and command policy.

The law of armed conflict requires that, to use force, “combatants” must distinguish individuals presenting a threat from innocent civilians. This basic principle is accepted by all disciplined militaries. In the counterinsurgency we are now fighting, disciplined application of force is even more critical because our enemies camouflage themselves in the civilian population. Our success in Iraq depends on our ability to treat the civilian population with humanity and dignity, even as we remain ready to immediately defend ourselves or Iraqi civilians when a threat is detected.

If someone levels an AK-47 at our troops, or if our forces receive hostile fire, the current ROE unambiguously allow our troops to fire immediately in self-defense. In either situation, our forces are trained to recognize the threat and respond with appropriate force to eliminate it. This does not mean “firing wildly”; instead, the individual perceiving the threat identifies the source of that threat, and engages with disciplined shots. “Positive identification” of a threat has nothing to do with membership in a particular ethnic or sectarian group, and has everything to do with recognizing hostile intent. U.S.Iraq have never had limitations beyond that.

“Vague rules,” on the other hand, asserts that vague rules of engagement endanger our troops. The article focuses on the words “use minimum force necessary to decisively eliminate the threat.” Although this phrase articulates the self-defense principles of necessity and proportionality — principles that are especially relevant in the current counterinsurgency fight — it neither appears nor is discussed on the ROE card issued to U.S. service members in Iraq.

We (the public) seem to be in the middle of a bare-knuckles brawl between the Washington Times commentaries and OIF command.  It would seem that at least some of the brawling is targeted towards gaining the understanding and sympathy of the civilian population (as is the case with some of the word searches I cited).  Let’s think a bit about the examples I give above and the Multi-National Force web site press release on ROE.

Regarding the charge of “firing wildly” at perceived threats, a better example of this than the U.S. forces might be the Iraqi troops.  The now deceased Marine Captain Robert Secher describes this for us in one exchange with an enemy sniper.

Anytime an American fires a weapon there has to be an investigation into why there was an escalation of force. That wouldn’t have stopped us from firing, but it prevents us from just firing indiscriminately. We have to have positively identified targets. That is why I am now a big fan of having the Iraqis with us. They can fire at whatever the hell they want, we call it the “Iraqi Death Blossom.” These guys receive one shot and the whole unit fires at everything in sight until the attached American unit gets them to control their fire. That’s fine with me.

Apparently, Captain Secher felt safer with the Iraqis and their ROE than he did with his own.  Note that in an instance such as this the U.S. ROE prevents even the firing in the direction of the sniper shots for fear of civilian casualties.    Note also that when it is understood that the ROE places U.S. troops in an environment that is less safe than otherwise would be the case if we adopted more Iraqi-like ROE, the discussion usually shifts from what is perceived as “right” to a more utilitarian approach.  When the discussion shifts to the utility of the ROE (e.g., heavy-handed tactics that creates more insurgents than you kill, failure to “win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis,” etc.), the conversation is advanced, because at least the pre-theoretical commitments are laid bare.  If the focus of the discussion becomes what works or doesn’t work versus what is right or wrong, at least there is clarity.

Leaving this instance for a moment and turning to an instance that may be clearer than this one, another observation about Caldwell’s press release is that it focuses on the neat, clean, decisive action of “distinguishing” the enemy.  For the mathematically inclined, it is the Heaviside step function in Caldwell’s equation.  It is a one or zero.  It is on or off.  Either the enemy has been clearly identified and is leveling an AK-47 at you, or they are non-combatants worthy of protection.  It is as simple as that.  Or is it?

In my opinion, the best, clearest, most informative and most compelling war reporting from Iraq is coming from Michael YonBill Ardolino, and David Danelo and Andrew Lubin of US Cavalry On Point.  Turning at the moment to David Danelo’s recent article A Day in Ramadi:

The patrol left Camp Hurricane Point an hour ago.  We have two missions; pass out candy in a friendly neighborhood and “strongpoint? OP Firecracker.  The distance between the two locales is literally three blocks.  Former Marine Commandant General Charles Krulak, who predicted in 1999 what came to be called “the three-block war? in which Marines would be involved in different missions simultaneously, has proven to be a sound prognosticator.

If western Ramadi—the area near Hurricane Point—was a “safe area,? OP Firecracker was right in the heart of Mujahideen cowboy country.  I realized what Lieutenant Bunch meant by “safe? when he referred to western Ramadi.  The area near Camp Hurricane Point is Iraqi-controlled, and thus is seen as more secure.  That did not mean that we were safe from suicide attacks or IEDs.  Those could occur anywhere in Ramadi.  But at OP Firecracker, an ambush by al-Qaeda militants was a near-guarantee.

Strongpointing, at least with this unit in Ramadi, means placing your Victor in a vulnerable position in a deliberate effort to draw enemy fire.  As the William Wallace character in Braveheart might have said, we are goin’ to pick a fight.  And we are goin’ on our own.  The Iraqi army lacks the equipment, manpower, or requisite level of insanity necessary to handle these kinds of missions.

The RPG may or may not have been fired at our vehicle.  I can’t tell.  I do know it didn’t hit us.  My only clear field of vision is from the passenger window, which faces the traffic circle and a brick wall.

The vehicle commander, Corporal Ronnie Davis, is in front of me holding a pair of binos.  Three other Marines peer down a street where Mujahideen have been firing at us from multi-story buildings scarred by gunfire and explosions.  While we exchange fire with the Muj, other observation assets available to 1 st Battalion, 6th Marines are mapping enemy positions for future operations.

“That’s the same two guys.  They’ve crossed back and forth four times,? Corporal Davis announces, referring to a pair of unarmed Iraqis who have run for cover.  Because these men are unarmed, the Americans under the Rules of Engagement are not allowed to shoot at them—even though gunfire is coming at us from that direction.

Get the picture?  The insurgents know all about the ROE.  U.S. troops cannot return fire not only when the target could be in the proximity of non-combatants, but also when they are not actively sporting a weapon.  So how do they take advantage of this feature of the ROE?  Fire a pre-staged weapon, put it down, run across the street, fire another pre-staged weapon, run across the street … and so forth, until, in the worst case, a U.S. Marine has been shot by sniper fire and is bleeding from his neck, head or underarms, all places that are not protected by SAPI plates.  All the while, the ROE prevents the U.S. forces from returning fire.

This is not entirely dissimilar from the example of the guards in the watchtowers who could take no action against highly probable enemy scouts because they were not armed at the time.  In this instance, the enemy was allowed to gather intelligence on U.S. installations unimpeded, possibly redounding to the deaths of U.S. troops.

I subscribe neither to total war nor to just war.  My views of war generally are too complex to discuss within the context of this article.  I consider the state to be a minister of justice for and to the troops whom it deploys in its name.  Rules of engagement, in my view, should achieve this end and thus be issued for the protection of U.S. troops, as a ministry of mercy and justice, rather than become a set of shackles on the troops where they cannot conduct war in a manner conducive to victory.

This is a fairly comprehensive foundation upon which to build.  It allows for responsibility and accountability of the troops in that wanton violence towards innocents is morally costly to the troops themselves and is to be avoided.  In instances such as that described above (with insurgents mocking the U.S. troops by the use of pre-staged weapons and maneuvering without them), it would allow the U.S. troops to fire upon the insurgents.  It would allow the troops in the watchtower to detain and question or even to fire upon suspected enemy gathering intelligence on U.S. troops.  While this might seem draconian to some, it is doubtful to me that upon the shooting of any Iraqis who ignore the signs not to stop at the entrances to bases, there would be any further instances of automobiles “breaking down” just in front of U.S. military installations.  The first instance would probably be the last instance.  But in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “sometimes dogs do eat homework.”  If an automobile does happen to break down and the drivers and passengers quickly push the automobile off and flee the area, the ROE should not force U.S. troops to fire upon them.

In the end, it all focuses on force protection.  I have always believed that force protection on FOBs as opposed to active involvement with the population is a losing strategy.  On this, I agree with Petraeus.  Rather, I advocate force protection through the rules of engagement.  There is a not insignificant school of thought that holds that overbearing rules of engagement is counterproductive.  Col. Dan Smith strongly believes that ROE lost the war in Vietnam:

Ground fire by “Viet Cong” brought immediate and massive retaliation. And it was the perception that U.S. forces did not consider Vietnamese lives as of equal value to U.S. lives that lost Washington the battle for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and cost Vietnam another generation of its youth.

But surely he exaggerates the case.  A more levelheaded analysis would point to the attempts to prop up an inept, corrupt and dictatorial South Vietnamese regime as the reason that the war was lost – or at least partly so.  Yet if there are lessons to be learned about massive retaliation when innocents are present, then so be it.  The ROE should warn and teach and train and caution about this, giving command and even the enlisted man the right and responsibility to adapt on the spot.

And the reason for this adaptability of the ROE?  Again, the protection of the U.S. troops and the creation of a situation on the ground conducive to victory.  Based on the pre-theoretical commitment I have made, it is immoral to deploy troops with ROE that is anything less than perfectly aimed towards force protection and victory.  I am not convinced that the two goals I have outlined here, force protection and victory, are mutually exclusive.  I see no need to revel or take pride in U.S. troops never getting off a shot at snipers.  This is an exigency on the ground, not a strategic or tactical goal.  I am convinced that a few well-aimed shots at the insurgents that David Danelo discussed above – regardless of whether they were carrying weapons – would bring security and thus a safer situation for both U.S. troops and the population of Ramadi.

Finally, I am convinced that our so-called nonkinetic operations to “win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis” are a forlorn hope without security.  For this belief I turn not to any report from Iraq, but to any typical mother in America.  Reliable around-the-clock power is fine, good vegetables at the market a nice thing, and candy for children a pleasure.  But if children are in danger of getting shot or kidnapped when they leave the home to go to school, the mother doesn’t care about electrical power.  Reconstruction can prevent an insurgency from developing or redeveloping, but it cannot kill the insurgency.  Security must do that.

The reader can agree or disagree with my assessment, but which side s/he takes doesn’t really matter.  Following Aristotle, the western mind hates inconsistency.  My view of rules of engagement, whether the reader considers them “right” or “wrong,” are consistent with my pre-theoretical commitments.

It is too easy to talk about “leveling an AK-47″ at U.S. troops and behave as if things are exactly this clear and precise in Iraq.  It is gratuitous to discuss the easy stuff.  Anyone can do this.  General Caldwell’s press release adds nothing to the conversation, and the reader is left to develop his own view of rules of engagement.  In reality, the situation is a complex tapestry of concerns and issues.  For those who hold to the current or some modified ROE based on just war theory, it is, logically speaking, an intolerable sleight of hand later to change the strategy and appeal to the utilitarian view of what is ‘productive’ or ‘counterproductive’.  Starting from the base of just war, the proponent must develop an argument only from this base that it is appropriate to place troops on patrols to be shot at without ever returning fire, and proudly boasting of this fact to the press.  It is likely that the mothers of the dead marines will not be so proud, and more likely that support for the war will completely evaporate upon learning of this argument, should it hold the day.  The argument must persuade the reader that such a set of ROE is not an immoral thing to impose on our troops, and that there is actually a hope of victory using these tactics.  The argument must convince the reader that it is appropriate and moral to place troops on an FOB and then allow the enemy to gather intelligence unimpeded.

For those who hold to utilitarianism, among other things we have no time to outline, you must develop an argument that explains why wanton violence on the part of the insurgents has not caused an evaporation of support for the violence as it is alleged to do for the U.S. should we engage in more heavy-handed tactics.  Is there a set of ROE that causes the U.S. to fail but the insurgency to succeed?  If so, why?

I have not suggested in any of the above discussion that the U.S. engage in wanton violence, indiscriminately shoot unarmed non-combatants, or otherwise engage in any tactic that would redound to further difficulty down the road for the U.S.  Just the opposite: I have suggested an adaptability that accounts for the exigencies of the battlespace.  But I have advocated a more robust ROE, one that directly takes on an insurgency which has learned to use our own ROE against us.  The reader is allowed to disagree, but remember, disagreement alone is not enough.

Formulation of a comprehensive, logically coherent, and publicly compelling viewpoint is the next step.  A properly basic and foundational belief must be proposed, and, to use the words of Alvin Plantinga, a “noetic structure” of rules of engagement must then be constructed upon it.  Anything less than this is just carping.



Baathists Make Overture to U.S. Now What?

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

From IHT, we learn that Ibrahim al-Shimmari of the Islamic Army of Iraq is alleged to have made an overture to the U.S.

BAGHDAD, Iraq A purported spokesman for a Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, offered to open negotiations with the Americans in an audiotape aired by Al-Jazeera television on Thursday.

The tape was said to be from Ibrahim al-Shimmari, whose name has appeared in past statements by the group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings against civilians and attacks on U.S. troops.

The tape’s authenticity could not be independently confirmed.

“We are prepared for any negotiations, whether secret or public, on the condition only that they are sincere. We have no objection to mediators with international credentials, and it is possible to exchange letters,” the speaker in the tape said.

Al-Shimmari has offered such negotiations in past statements. He did not elaborate on the goal of any talks.

The Islamic Army in Iraq is believed to include former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, his intelligence service and former army officers. It rejected a call from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki earlier this year for insurgents to join the political process, saying it would not participate until there was a timetable for withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

In sections of the tape not aired, the speaker on the tape said Iraq faces occupation by two powers — “the Crusader Americans and the Iranians … and the latter is the more dangerous,” Al-Jazeera reported.

He said his group was allied to former al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed June by a U.S. airstrike. But the speaker criticized al-Zarqawi, saying he “committed some mistakes,” including the killing of four Russian embassy workers who were kidnapped, then slain in late June.

In contrast to the Islamic Army, al-Qaida in Iraq is believed largely made up of Arab Islamic militants, though the group has tried to ally itself with Iraqi insurgents.

U.S. policy will soon have to consider the disposition of the remaining Baathists in the al Anbar province.  The foreign fighters such as al Qaeda pose an easy decision.  They are dedicated to the overthrow of the current regime by violent means as shown by the recently released letter from al Qaeda senior leadership to Zarqawi.  They will have to be killed.

But as the Strategy Page discusses, the issue of the Sunni insurgents is a more problematic situation.

When it comes to fighting the terrorists, tribal ties still matter. In central Iraq, three Sunni tribes are particularly linked to the Sunni Arab violence; the Bulaym, Janabi, and Shammar Jarba. They were mainstays of the old Saddam Hussein regime, providing many recruits for the secret police and Republican Guard. Tribal politics for these three is all about either regaining control of the government, or getting amnesty. The government has been discussing amnesty deals with many of the tribal leaders. The problem is that the tribes want amnesty for more people than the government believes it can get away with. Attempts to give amnesty to those known to have been involved in killing Americans, blew up when Americans got wind of it. Same thing happened in Iraq when the government proposed giving amnesty to Sunni Arab tribal officials who had participated in attacks on Kurds and Shia Arabs both before, and after, the fall of Saddam in 2003. What it comes down to is that there are thousands of prominent Sunni Arabs who have to be either pardoned, captured or killed, before there can be peace in Iraq.

High sounding phrases such as helping the Iraqis to “secure Ramadi,” and “winning the hearts and minds of the people,” might sound impressive in a hot-off-the-press master’s thesis, but are sometimes not very useful for formulating policy or doctrine.  The fact is that the U.S. administration will have to make a difficult decision.  Either we kill or capture the remaining Baathist elements in the al Anbar Province, or we formulate some sort of treaty, pact or agreement with them to secure the surrender of their weapons and the standdown of their armies, while stopping short of killing or incarcerating them.  These are the only two options.

If we decide for the former option, there is much work remaining, and it will be hard and bloody work.  There is no “winning the hearts and minds” of those for whom you have made it clear that you intend to kill them.  There is absolutely no reason for a person with a sure and certain death sentence to surrender.  If we decide for the later option, the objections from the U.S. will be understandably loud and emotional.

How can we make peace with those who have killed our sons?  But if we do not, how many more sons will we lose?

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