Archive for the 'Small Wars' Category



Why are we succeeding in Iraq – or are we?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

For all those readers who care about counterinsurgency – how to wage it, what we have done wrong in Iraq, what we have done (and are doing) right in Iraq, and what the campaign in Iraq does for our doctrine – there is a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal that in our opinion is the most important one that has been started.  Without hesitation and in no holds barred fashion, it became a fascinating and most useful strategic slug-fest of competing ideas and narrative accounts of the campaign in Iraq.  If the main stream media reports have become boring and repetitious and the blogs have become outlets for talking points, this kind of discussion is at the same time professional, honest, forthright and intellectually complex, and should be engaged by all professional military who want to learn about both making war and peace.  This dialogue should be studied in war college classrooms across the nation.  We are linking it here (and also providing comments concerning this thread) because we have a number of readers who do not routinely traffic the Small Wars Journal.  While we will give some background, for the comments here to be in their proper context, the discussion thread must be studied.

The discussion began when the Small Wars Journal editor linked a commentary by Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, who is currently on staff at the United States Military Academy, and who also commanded a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006.  Gentile’s commentary was entitled Our Troops Did Not Fail in 2006, as was the Small Wars Council dicussion thread.  Gentile says:

During the year I commanded a combat battalion in West Baghdad in 2006, some of the soldiers in our outfit were wounded and some were killed, but we did not fail. In my opinion we succeeded.

We cleaned up garbage, started to establish neighborhood security forces, rebuilt schools and killed or captured hostile insurgents, both Shiite and Sunni. Our fundamental mission was to protect the people. Other combat outfits we served alongside did the same.

In this sense there is little difference between what American combat soldiers did in 2006 and what they are now doing as part of the “surge.” The only significant change is that, as part of the surge strategy, nearly 100,000 Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, were induced to stop attacking Americans and were put on the U.S. government payroll as allies against Al Qaeda.

This cash-for-cooperation tactic with our former enemies in no way diminishes the contribution of the soldiers and marines who are on the ground now. On the contrary, soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains are struggling harder than ever to bring stability and peace to a complex society scarred by years of brutal violence.

Much talk has come from expert analysts, army officers and U.S. presidential candidates touting the success of the effort implemented by General David Patraeus. Many of these individuals compare the success of the surge in 2007 with what they see as the failure of American forces in Iraq in 2006.

One proponent of the surge, the neoconservative writer Clifford May, has written that by 2006, American forces had pretty much quit the country and were “cooped up in well-guarded Forward Operating Bases” – FOBS in military jargon – while “foreign terrorists slaughtered innocents” and the Iraq civil war raged around them. A senior officer who this past summer was a staff member for a very senior American leader in Iraq matter-of-factly characterized the nature of American forces in Iraq in 2006 as “Fob Rats.” Senator John McCain, now running for president, wrote in a recent opinion article that, prior to the surge, American strategy at the highest levels in Iraq was “mismanaged.”

But the combat battalion that I commanded in the 4th Infantry Division was a part of that so-called mismanagement, or what other, perhaps more direct critics, have referred to as failure.

On one level, my response to such statements is admittedly raw and visceral: If I was hunkered down on Fobs and if I and my men had pretty much quit the country in 2006, then how did soldiers under my command “just get dead?” What now am I to tell their families?

I remember a medic in our battalion, his combat patrol hit by multiple roadside bombs, moving under potential enemy fire to save the life of a local Iraqi man who had been seriously wounded in the attack. This medic was decorated for valor. He understood our primary purpose in Iraq was to protect the people.

I know from experience that the accuracy of reports that tout differences between counterinsurgency methods in 2006 and in 2007 are mostly off the mark …

The main difference was a decision by senior American leaders in 2007 to pay large amounts of money to Sunni insurgents to stop attacking Americans and join the fight against Al Qaeda. Coupled with this was the decision by the Shiite militia leader, Moktada al-Sadr, to refrain from attacking coalition forces.  The dramatic drop in violence, especially toward Americans, that occurred in Baghdad from June to July 2007 can mainly be explained by these new conditions …

But we should call a spade a spade and acknowledge why violence has dropped. Politicians and political analysts may make false comparisons.

The political motivations for such assertions are obvious. Yet American soldiers who fought bravely and bled in Iraq in in the years before the surge have become victims of American politics. We deserve fairer treatment.

LTC Gian Gentile, squadron commander, 8th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, inspects Iraqi checkpoint operations in Southwest Baghdad. The Iraqi Security Forces working the checkpoint outside the Al Amarriya Mulhalla, or neighborhood, are dealing with Anti-Iraqi Forces attempting to disrupt security in their area by using snipers and planting Improvised Explosive Devices in the local communities. U.S. and Iraqi Forces are working together in South and Central Baghdad, conducting combined patrols in efforts to maintain security for the communities and defeat AIF activity in Baghdad. Pic: SSG Brent Williams

The responses in the discussion thread have a broad range, beginning with the short and (we think) correct observation by Professor Steve Metz that “the position that U.S. troops are now doing something different than before is a minority one. What I hear is that most people who know anything about Iraq recognize that by 2005 at the latest, our units were doing the right things. There just wasn’t enough of them.”  This is an important comment, and one to which we will return later.

The very next comment in this thread is also smart, saying in part that “I think that beyond the simple increase of troop numbers, the surge represented a political statement of will to continue the fight in Iraq at a time when we were signalling transition and withdrawal.  Contrary to many accounts, the Sunni awakening and the emergence of CLCs (“concerned Local Citizens”) was not merely a case of us buying off Iraqi tribes. If it were just a matter of money, we could simply keep paying for a long time. The cost-benefit case could be easily made between paying them and maintaining troops here. There were multiple reasons for this phenomenon, among them: extremists overplaying their hands, the relentless pressure of Coalition and Iraqi military operations (current efforts build off of previous efforts), and the signal from the surge that we were not leaving anytime soon (commitment to stay in Iraq).”

From here the discussion takes on a more spirited nature, with points and counterpoints being made by both commenters and Lt. Col. Gian Gentile.  One significant point is made that perhaps Lt. Col. Gentile’s unit wasn’t affected by the previous strategy, but his own unit was, that affect being FOB consolidation rather than in being near to or with the population.  Gentile later responds again with a lengthy rejoinder, including this gem: “Getting at the primary mechansim for the lowering of violence in Summer 2007 is absolutely critical here. Most assume that it was American military power using new doctrine and more troops that did it.”

At the Captain’s Journal we also hold the truth in high regard, and because there has been such disagreement on the Anbar campaign, we started the category Anbar Narrative.  In order to address some of Gentile’s points, we will use an operation with which we are intimately familiar: Operation Alljah, begun in April and essentially ending in October of 2007 with the return of 2/6 (although officially ending prior to that).

The middle and subsequent phases of the operation used many modern techniques to inhibit the insurgency, such as gated communities, biometrics (retinal scans, fingerprints), and census taking.  However, it is clear that the early stages of the operation and going into the middle stages involved heavy kinetic operations and force projection.  To be absolutely clear, military power set the pretext for the campaign and allowed the balance of the methods to be successful.  The force projection included combat operations, intelligence-driven raids, constant dismounted patrols, heavy contact with, questioning and deposing of the population, and high visibility within Fallujah proper and the Euphrates river basin towards Baghdad.

Prior to Operation Alljah there had been moderate to significant success in counterinsurgency efforts in the balance of Anbar, depending upon the location.  Foreign fighters (Arabs, Africans, Chechens and Far Eastern fighters) and some indigenous insurgents had been driven to Fallujah as the last relatively safe place for them in Anbar.  They owned the streets of Fallujah in the first quarter of 2007 and were protecting a very large weapons cache in the industrial area (which included small arms, heavier weapons and chlorine).  They were also using Fallujah as a base of operations from which to launch operations into Baghdad.  The unit 2/6 replaced had flatly stated that Fallujah could not be won.

Into this came the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.  As Bill Ardolino cites from the Marines he interviewed, the Marines with 2/6 came in hard (“the whole persona of the 2/6 [Marines], the way they’re running operations, is to provide for the citizens. The IPs [Iraqi Police] are like that too, they’re out there engaging the people. They [used to get] attacked so much that they were a military force, doing military-type operations. When they showed up, they showed up hard. Now it’s more ‘Hey what’s going on? How are you doing? What can we do for you?’ It’s yielded huge gains.”).  They found transition to food bags and civil affairs missions hard and boring, but made the change and eventually turned over a relatively stable and safe city to their replacements.  The indigenous insurgents went home (many to Lt. Col. Bohm’s AO in Western Anbar), and the foreign fighters – the ones who weren’t killed by the Marines – made their way North to Mosul, Kirkuk and other areas of the Diyala Province.  The deployment of 2/6 to Fallujah was planned prior to the so-called surge, and yet contrary to the well worn notion of tribal leaders, Operation Alljah didn’t make use of or have any reference to tribes.  The Marines made significant use of the muktars, or city leaders and block captains.

The populist understanding of the campaign in Anbar involves tribes “flipping” to support the U.S.  A Google search on the words “sheikhs turn against al Qaeda” yields more than 300,000 sources, and the year 2007 is rich with main stream media reports of the Anbar awakening.  To be sure, the tribal revolt against al Qaeda was important, and without it, Anbar may not be as safe as it is today.  Another (still incomplete) narrative of the Anbar campaign involves what Gentile discusses – the U.S. implemented a strategy to pay off the indigenous insurgents.  This narrative is only slightly more sophisticated than the populist version, and sees the strategy to pay the indigenous fighters as without pretext and disconnected from the previous two or three years of combat operations.

Even in areas in which tribal leaders were important, e.g., Ramadi, there was force projection and combat operations as the pretext for the awakening.  As we have stated before at the SWJ Blog:

It has become in vogue to characterize the Anbar narrative as the “awakening,” and nothing more than this, as if it was all about getting a tribe to “flip.” To be sure, we needed Captain Travis Patriquin’s observations sooner than we got them, and I have argued almost nonstop for greater language training before deployment and payment to so-called “concerned citizens” and other erstwhile insurgents. You can qualify expert on the rifle range, but if you can’t speak the language, you’re going in ‘blind’ (to play on words).

But just to make it clear, to see the Anbar narrative as all about tribes “flipping” is an impoverished view of the campaign. It’s a Johnny-come-lately view. Hard and costly kinetic operations laid the groundwork for the tribal realignments. Sheikh Sattar had to have his smuggling lines cut and dismembered by specially assigned units conducting kinetic operations in order to ‘see the light’ and align with U.S. forces. Then, a tank had to be parked outside his residence to provide protection against the insurgents in order to keep him alive and aligned with the U.S.

The pundits talk about the tribes, but the Marines talk about kinetic operations inside Ramadi to provide the window of opportunity for the tribes to realign their allegiance.

Costa … dedicated a portion of his time to cracking the insurgents’ methods of communication.

“Generally there was a guy putting up gang signs, which could either send a rocket-propelled grenade through your window or some other attack your way,” said Costa, who began to realize the significance of unarmed people on Ramadi’s streets providing information via visual cues.

“You’re watching something on the street like that happening, and you’re like, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’” he recalled. “And then the next thing you know, insurgents start coming out of the woodwork.”

“Signalers” — the eyes and ears of insurgent leaders — informed the insurgent strategists who commanded armed fighters by using hand and arm gestures. “You could see the signaler commanding troops,” Costa recalled. “He just doesn’t have a weapon.”

To curb insurgents’ ability to communicate, Costa decided on a revolutionary move: He and his unit would dismantle the enemy’s communication lines by neutralizing the threat from signalers. Sparing no time, he set a tone in Ramadi that signalers would be dealt with no differently from their weapon-wielding insurgent comrades.

“We called it in that we heard guys were signaling, and the battalion would advise from there,” he said, recalling the first day of the new strategy. “We locked that road down pretty well that day.”

In ensuing weeks, coalition forces coordinated efforts to dismember the insurgent signal patterns entrenched in Ramadi. This helped tamp down violence and create political breathing room, which in turn allowed the forging of key alliances between local tribal sheiks and coalition operators. The subsequent progress was later dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” a societal purging of extremism by Anbaris that ushered in a level of stability unprecedented since U.S. operations in Iraq began.

“In the end, it turned out that Ramadi did a complete 180,” Costa said. “I got pictures in September from the unit that had relieved us, and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I was looking at the same city.”

Ironically, in Ramadi — the city formerly paralyzed by insurgents, where Costa was unable to set foot in public during daylight hours upon arrival — citizens participated in a 5K “Fun Run” in September.

Regarding the payment to concerned citizens, a tactic we have strongly advocated here, it wasn’t as if U.S. strategists awoke one day and realized that payment might help to pacify their area of operations.  Rather, as observed by one commenter to this discussion thread, “relentless pressure” by coalition troops and the psychological affect of the surge (to convince them that the U.S. had no intention of leaving) were pre-conditions to successful implementation of this strategy.  While payment to sheikhs is larger, the payment to individual citizen’s watch members is no more than a pittance.

Whether tribal leaders, muktars, payment to concerned citizens, or operations from a combat outpost or FOB, there are many narratives coming from OIF.  Even when the 2/6 Marines pushed al Qaeda from Fallujah, there was still some degree of “whack-a-mole” counterinsurgency as they deployed to Diyala.  And hence, we are back to the comment left by Steve Metz at the beginning.  We never had enough troops to successfully implement counterinsurgency across Iraq.  In many ways the Marines in Anbar didn’t either, and took the losses associated with this lack of forces.

Intelligence-driven raids, close contact with the population, and constant dismounted patrols can be implemented from FOBs or combat outposts.  The location where Marines or Soldiers live takes on secondary or even tertiary importance to intelligence-driven operations, intensive contact with the population and enemy, and force projection.  Gentile is correct if his objection to the populist narrative is that it should not be seen as an exclusive narrative.  The campaign is much more complex than that.  However, before long in the discussion thread, Gentile digresses into a common meme over which we have engaged (that Iraq is in a civil war).  We have the utmost respect for Gentile, but if there can be no comprehensive and all-inclusive narrative for the campaign for him and his reports, then the comprehensive narrative of civil war cannot apply either.

There is no doubt that there was a low grade civil war in Gentile’s AO, and perhaps there still is in parts of Iraq.  Perhaps upon the eventual drawdown of U.S. troops there will be a return to factious warfare.  Then again, perhaps not.  But as for Anbar, there never was and is not now a civil war.  Of the many Marines we have debriefed following Operation Alljah, the consistent report is that “We killed Chechens, Africans, and men with slanted eyes – we don’t know where they were from.  But we didn’t kill a single Iraqi.”  Lt. Col. Gentile’s battalion was engaged in combat operations and protection of the population, no matter the populist narrative of troops sitting at FOBs eating ice cream.  Payment to concerned citizens and tribal participation in their own defense required a pretext and are good and wholesome and anthropologically sound tactics, no matter that the populist narrative chides the U.S. for “buying off” insurgents.  Civil war can describe parts of Iraq, but certainly not all of it.  The AOs are too diverse, and after all, the campaign for Iraq remains a complex affair that has proven unfriendly to populist narratives.

Prior:

The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

The Anbar Narrative (category)

Can the Anbar Strategy Work in Pakistan?

The Role of Force Projection in Counterinsurgency

Major General Benjamin Mixon Reports on Counterinsurgency

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Will the State Department Play Along?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates made a provocative speech today at Kansas State University. It was sweeping and far reaching in terms of the mobilization and leveraging of symbiotic power of the United States as a complete, holistic nation state, to effect and achieve its ends, those ends being most particularly the security of the same. This symbiotic power couples multiple power centers (diplomacy, monetary, military, etc.) in a way that makes the combination of them more potent than the particulars taken separately, or so the vision goes. At The Captain’s Journal we have been hard on the State Department and their lack of participation in such endeavors, but Gates has laid down the gauntlet. In part, Gates said:

… my message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power and for better integrating it with hard power …We can expect that asymmetric warfare will be the mainstay of the contemporary battlefield for some time. These conflicts will be fundamentally political in nature, and require the application of all elements of national power. Success will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping behavior of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Most assuredly, the State Department will jump at the opportunity to spend more money, but the real question is this: will the State Department play along? As an observer of the vacillation, prevarication and recalcitrance of the State Department for years, I remain to be convinced that the so-called “lifers” in the department can be persuaded to actively support and participate in war in general and counterinsurgencies in particular. In order to apply this “soft” power, the department must effect the national policy set forth by the executive branch, and this doesn’t mean the “lifers” in the State Department. Two short examples will suffice to warn the reader that we may be expecting too much from the State Department as currently constituted.When the administration declared the Iranian Quds force a terrorist organization, Michael Ledeen dryly observed that:

The only real mystery is why anyone in the government felt that it was necessary to have a formal decision to declare the IRGC a bunch of terrorists. I guess that would be the lawyers, for whom it wasn’t sufficient to know that the entire Islamic Republic had been branded a sponsor of terrorism, and hence (a normal person would say) any part of it is ipso facto culpable of terrorist activity, and it’s particularly true of the IRGC, which directly kills people, both inside and outside Iran.

The point Ledeen makes is not that Quds should not have been designated a sponsor of terror. The point is that it is merely pro forma, a recognition of what has been the case for twenty years. But the same advocates of waiting on this declaration have advocated talking with Iran while it has almost gone nuclear. This soft power has never been coupled with hard power specifically because the State Department doesn’t work that way and doesn’t believe in it.This leads to the second example showing how many of the employees see in their mission, whatever that mission is. In an overlooked and almost silent murder, the State Department recently worked directly against both the objectives of the executive branch of the government and the security interests of the United States by killing a program that would have aided democracy in Iran.

The former director of President Bush’s flagship democracy program for the Middle East is saying that the State Department has “effectively killed” a program to disburse millions of dollars to Iran’s liberal opposition.In an interview yesterday, Scott Carpenter said a recent decision to move the $75 million annual aid program for Iranian democrats to the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs would effectively neuter an initiative the president had intended to spur democracy inside the Islamic Republic.”In my view, this pretty much kills the Iran democracy program,” Mr. Carpenter said of the decision by the State Department to subsume the program. “There is not the expertise, there is not the energy for it. The Iran office is worried about the bilateral policy. I think they are not committed to this anymore.”Mr. Carpenter, who headed the Middle East Partnership Initiative and was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs until he left the Bush administration this summer, predicted the $20 million devoted to supporting the activities inside the Islamic Republic would be relegated to what he called “safe initiatives” such as student exchange programs, and not the more daring projects he and his deputy, David Denehy, funded, such as training for Web site operators to evade Internet censorship, political polling, and training on increasing recruitment for civil society groups.

We have advocated monies and support for the budding insurgency in Iran, so support for bloggers is mild compared to our recommendations; support for student exchange programs is wasteful, and if this is the kind of program that the State Department foresees with its increased funding, then the speech by Secretary Gates will have been to no avail. These were nice words describing nice ideas, but unfortunately they will conflict with the agendas of the “lifers” at the State Department. On to the next idea … Mr. Secretary.

British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months 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

Are We Bribing the Sheikhs?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months 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.

A Call for Global Strategic Thinking

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Having been a strong proponent of the wise and strategic use of air power in small wars, The Captain’s Journal continues to advocate both retooling and rethinking not only the Air Force proper, but air assets in the Navy, Army and Marines.  The order of the day seems to be small wars and counterinsurgency, and any air support of the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are bound to be highly visible.  The Air Force knows this, and the Multinational Force cooperates with the need to publicize the many accomplishments of air power in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  MNF press releases routinely include air power summaries, whether involving precision-guided munitions, A-10 engagements, helicopter gunship engagements, or flyovers to cause a “show of force.”

This advocacy for involvement in small wars on our part can be misconstrued, however, to intend the diminution of the Air Force proper, and some analysts have gone on record advocating not just the diminishing of the Air Force, but the complete reorganization of this branch into the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, in a role subservient to the needs of the specific branch to which the assets have been assigned.  But are these calls for busting up the Air Force really strategic, and if so, how forward reaching is the underlying strategy?

In terms of global strategic thinking, Pentagon senior leadership has bigger problems than what to do with the Air Force.  In a stark admission of what repeated and protracted (15 month) deployments have done to the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen weighed in on his view of the current state of the ground forces: “Are the ground forces broken? Absolutely not,? Mullen told the audience at the Center for a New American Security here. “Are they breakable? They are. And I will do everything I can to prevent them from breaking.?

There are also the materiel problems associated with the heavy duty demanded of it in the two campaigns.  After his most recent visit to Iraq, Victor Davis Hanson observed:

The number of vehicles, arms, bases, and American infrastructure in Iraq is staggering. And the wear and tear on it all is evident everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised that 30% of our equipment is worn out to the degree that it wouldn’t make sense hauling it back, and would be better off left to help transition the Iraqis. Humvees have sprung doors, broken glass, missing pieces, well in addition to the wear from sand and heat. I think the American people should accept that after Iraq we have an enormous tab to pay to reequip the air force, marines, and army. When you ride in a Ch-46 Frog marine helicopter, or a chugging Humvee or see banged up looking semis, you get some idea of the huge refitting job awaiting us after this is over, I’d say $30-40 billion at least.

Yet in light of the hardship to both man and machine caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a tip of the hat to half-century old unrepentant cold war thinking, U.S. NATO Command is arguing for an increased troop presence in Europe.

U.S. military commanders have asked the Pentagon to keep more combat forces stationed in Europe to respond to a rising Russia and other potential threats, according to senior military officials.

Plans to cut the number of soldiers based in Europe will leave commanders with too few troops to protect and train with allies on the continent and to stand ready for deployment to hot spots elsewhere, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gen. David McKiernan, head of Army forces in Europe.

“In this era of persistent conflict, we have some fault lines that are there in the European Command (area of responsibility) that we have to pay attention to,” McKiernan said on Thursday.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of a resurgent Russia,” he said in Washington.

For all of the magnificence of the A-10 – and it is indeed magnificent with its redundant controls, titanium bathtub around the pilot, ability to loiter over the battle space, forward mounted Gatling gun, durability and ability to support counterinsurgency as well as kill tanks – there is a big difference between domination of the local battle space and domination of the regional air space.  The former assists in winning wars, while the later makes the wars possible to begin with.  It is rightly said that the U.S. has enjoyed air superiority for so long that we have forgotten what it is like not to have this superiority on which to rely.

Upon Rumsfeld’s resignation, John Noonan of OpFor had what should go down as the most succinct, deadly accurate assessment of the Rumsfeld era in a large catalog of assessments throughout the military:

To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld’s baby. The Pentagon’s “bridge to the 21st century.? And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

And that’s when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation’s real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvees and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

Rumsfeld made a serious error in creating an armed forces modeled upon the notion that air power, special forces operators and high tech gadgets can win ground campaigns.  But it is a category error equally as serious to assume that Soldiers and Marines can control the sea and air.  The Russians are making no such errors, with plans for advanced submarine technology and plans to design and build a fighter superior to the F-22.  Ironically for U.S. forces in the European theater, we assume that their presence is a deterrent to a “resurgent Russia,” while Russia makes plans to construct more fighter aircraft.

When thinking seriously about the deployment of U.S. forces across the globe, the paradoxes abound.  The U.S. supports tens of thousands of troops to deploy in a region in which there is no war (Europe) and in which the best deterrent would probably be more air power, while Soldiers in Operation Iraqi freedom are in theater for fifteen months at a time.  Similarly, we position U.S. troops in South Korea allowing that country to pursue their  “sunshine diplomacy” with North Korea for half a century at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.  We promise Japan and Taiwan that they are under the umbrella of U.S. protection in order to dissuade them from the development of a nuclear program, while questions arise in the United States concerning the real value of the Air Force and Navy since they are not “contributing” to the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The thinking concerning the future of the Air Force cannot be seen in a vacuum.  It is a part of the larger penchant for empire building within the ranks, and paucity of global strategic thinking at the highest levels of the Pentagon.  It is the same kind of thinking that led to Paul Wolfowitz having the freedom to bully General Eric Shinseki out of his position when he argued for more troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  At its root it is a failure to listen and learn and think in an analytical, questioning and forward looking manner.  This root has omniscience as its arrogant presupposition.

The Armed Forces of the United Stated faces high hurdles and challenges to assure victory in the campaigns currently underway.  The long war is far from concluded, and it is predicted that it will require more than ten years in order for the Afghan forces to be fully capable of national security.  Additionally, these campaigns must be engaged while ameliorating and reversing the effects of aging and wear on existing arms and equipment.

These campaigns are part of more global strategic interests involving the air and sea, as well as expansion of the size of the Army and Marines, all of which requires the application and expenditure of wealth.  Given that it is unlikely that either this or the next Congress will allocate the funds necessary to meet the needs of every perceived armed forces program, moderation and wisdom will become valuable commodities.

Instead of the holy grail of the real-time satellite-connected warrior who knows the locations and engagements of all assets in his battle space, U.S. Joint Forces Command might have to settle for tactical solutions such as innovative adaptations on satellite patrols and better body armor including lighter SAPI plates that have a larger surface area or scalar armor; instead of the number of new destroyers that the Navy would like to have, they might have to settle for the number they need; the Air Force might have to sacrifice a few fighters to refit and refurbish more A-10s to support the current campaigns; the Army might have to realize that their new UAV program will not control the air space for the Persian Gulf; the European command might have to acquiesce to the idea that training with Iraqi troops is better than training with German troops and being deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Qatar (the future home of CENTCOM) is more regionally and globally strategic than being deployed in Germany; and this will all have to be done while advancing weapons systems and programs in order to keep ahead of the various enemies of the state.

Empire building and self-preservation is the enemy of efficiency, and leadership, wisdom and foresight must come first from the highest levels of the Pentagon.  For the first time in history, military blogs are read and digested by professional military, and actually have a role to play concerning open communication over everything from global strategy to unit tactics and equipment.

Globally strategic thinking is required, smartly applied to a collection of complex, symbiotic organizations.  Thus far, the best that this community has been able to come up with is to bust up the Air Force and order them to report to the Army.  We are off to a sorry and pitiful start.

Related Sources:

Body Armor Goes Political, TCJ

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, TCJ

Time Slams the V-22 Osprey, TCJ

V-22 Osprey Deploys, TCJ

Faster Kill Chain, TCJ

A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency, TCJ

Air Power in Small Wars, TCJ

Can the Navy Afford the New Destroyers?, TCJ

Abolish the Air Force, The American Prospect

More on the Relevance of the U.S. Air Force, The Tank

Kill the Air Force, OpFor

Disband the DC Punditocracy, Aviation Week

Abolish the Air Force, Small Wars Council Discussion Thread

The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In the Saturday, October 20, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Michael Ledeen wrote an interesting and compelling commentary entitled Victory is Within Reach in Iraq, in which he quote me from an article here at TCJ entitled Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq: “There is no point in fighting forces (U.S. Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away.”

On January 23, 2004, a letter was captured in a safe house in Baghdad from Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi to senior al Qaeda leadership, in which he said (in part) that “America, however, has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor how bloody it becomes.  It is looking to a near future, when it will remain safe in its bases, while handing over control of Iraq to a bastard government.”  While Zarqawi’s letter pointed to strategical problems he observed of the U.S. forces at the time, this letter might have sounded somewhat different if he had written it after the Marines were handed responsibility for Anbar.

Following this handover was the first and second battles for Fallujah, dangerous and deadly kinetic operations in the balance of Anbar, tribal negotiations in Ramadi, sand berms around Haditha, and integral to it all, combat outposts everywhere the Marines were to ensure the sustaining of risk along with the population.  Nibras Kazimi has commented of the tribal awakening in Anbar that “tribes are a barometer of power; they swarm around whoever has the upper hand.”  The so-called “awakening” didn’t happen in a vacuum.  Its backdrop involved blood and toil on the part of the Marines and Soldiers in Anbar, and just the right set of circumstances to persuade the population and tribal leadership that al Qaeda was a loser.

Bill Ardolino had a recent interview with an interpreter for the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines in Fallujah, the last significant battle for Anbar (Operation Alljah).  The interpreter had this interesting observation about the Marines with whom he had spent much of the last seven months of his life: “They are so patient. And they can fight outside of their country overseas, and I don’t think al Qaeda or someone else can fight like Marines, overseas and so distant from home.”

Ledeen concludes his perspective on the reasons for the winning strategy in Anbar, by saying that “We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it.”  Ledeen is not merely bragging about the capabilities or accomplishments of the Marines in Anbar, although there are plenty of reasons to do that.  The point goes further, and is the hinge upon which all of counterinsurgency turns.  Winning hearts and minds has to be about showing and using the strength to pacify a population, bring security to its people, and surgically defeat the enemies amongst them.

Other sources, Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal Blog, Hearts and Minds:

The components of “Hearts” and “Minds”:

Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.

Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.

Essential to these two components is the perceived self-interest of the population, not about whether the population likes COIN forces / government. The principle emotive content is respect, not affection. Support based on liking does not survive when the enemy applies fear, intimidation trumps affection. Disappointment, unreliability, failure and defeat are deadly – preserving prestige and popular respect through proven reliability, honoring promises and following through, is key. Smacking the enemy hard (kinetic operations), publicly, when feasible (and no innocents are targeted) is also key. The enemy’s two key assets are cultural understanding of the target population, and longevity (he will be around when we leave).

Exporting the Anbar Model: An Exercise in Nuance

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

James Janega with the Chicago Tribune follows up the reporting that I and Bill Ardolino have done on the campaign in and around Fallujah area of operations.

The last car bomb in Fallujah exploded in May.

On that warm evening, insurgents drove a vehicle packed with explosives into mourners for a slain local tribal leader as they wound through a ramshackle corner of the city, killing 20. The next day, Fallujah’s mayor banned all vehicles from city streets.

If there were no cars, reasoned Mayor Saad Awad Rashid, there could be no car bombs.

“It stopped,” said Lt. Col. William Mullen, commander of a shrinking force of U.S. Marines in the city who have watched the insurgency melt into the encircling countryside. “The ‘significant events’ in the city stopped. I think a lot of [the insurgents] left.”

The Americans are not far behind: After surrounding the city with walls and improving security on its streets, the Marines are pulling back from the one-time insurgent bastion of Fallujah. They are redeploying to surrounding areas as the U.S. troop “surge” allows them to consolidate progress made largely by tribal leaders and local officials in security and civil works.

They leave behind a city devastated by years of fighting and starved for reconstruction, as well as questions about whether Fallujah — a place infamous for the 2004 mob killings of four American contractors and two resulting U.S. offensives — can now serve as a model of stability for a wider American troop withdrawal from Iraq in the months and years to come.

It has been a workable but messy solution, with successes like the reduction in car bombings coming as much from the mayor’s spur-of-the-moment decisions as any military planning.

A partially trained Iraqi police force and bands of armed volunteers now work under American supervision, carefully preserving peace on streets covered by years of trash and rubble. To live under this new protection, most of Fallujah’s 250,000 residents submitted fingerprints and retina scans to get identification cards that let them stay in the city.

As a point of fact, Lt. Col. Mullen is now a Colonel, one of thirty two promoted to Colonel effective October 1, 2007, prior to the publication of the Tribune article.  Also, there aren’t a quarter of a million residents left in Fallujah.  The article does go to show that the Marines in the Fallujah area of operations are currently primarily engaged in reconstruction, rebuilding and public affairs.  The article also reminds the reader that more work needs to be done.

It is a place under 24-hour lockdown, surrounded by berms and barbed wire. But that’s a price Fallujah’s war-weary residents say they are willing to pay for now.

“The last four months, things have been going better,” said Khamis Auda Najim, a 38-year-old cabinet-maker in Fallujah’s Andalus neighborhood. “But the changes are just on the security side. The street surfaces, the sewage, the electricity, the water? Those aren’t as good.”

U.S. forces promise those services are coming, along with U.S.-funded reconstruction projects and more money from the federal and provincial governments. But nothing in Fallujah moves quickly. As they face impatient city residents, the Americans are learning that everything is important now.

“I’ve been an infantry officer for 10 years. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned more about water treatment and sewage than I’ve ever wanted to know,” said Marine Capt. Jeff Scott McCormack, 32, a company commander from Oak Forest, Ill.

Quick transitions have been made from the U.S. forces that established security to civilian Iraqi forces deployed to preserve it. The last Iraqi army troops left a month ago; the streets are now in the hands of 1,500 volunteers and police officers, some of whom have completed abbreviated training courses.

Heavy kinetic operations in May and June of 2007 were followed on by gated communities and biometrics, and involvement of the local Iraqi police along with paid individuals engaged in community watch.  Marines filled sand bags and constructed joint combat outposts – Police Precincts, and patrolled with Iraqi Police in order to give them confidence.  With the comparative irrelevance of tribal leaders in the Fallujah area, Muktars were engaged to provide leadership of and communication with the communities.

Upon pacification of Hit, Haditha, and Ramadi (all by different means, Haditha with sand berms, curfew and a ban on vehicular  traffic, Ramadi with tribal engagement), the insurgency fled to Fallujah, where kinetic operations routed them from the area in the second quarter of 2007.  Many of them left and went home to Lt. Col. Bohm’s area of operation, where they are being carefully assimilated back into society.

Col. Richard Simcock who commands Regimental Combat Team 6 is measured and careful, yet honest with where he believes Anbar currently stands.

U.S. Marine Colonel Richard Simcock, who commands the 6th Marine Regiment, says his forces have successfully routed the insurgents in Anbar province.

“There are still attacks in Fallujah and surrounding areas,” said Colonel Simcock. “We have not killed or captured every single al-Qaida member that is here. But their capabilities are greatly diminished. I would characterize them as a defeated force from my perspective.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington via satellite from Iraq, Colonel Simcock says the surge of more U.S. forces in Anbar and Baghdad has allowed Marines to stay in areas where al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists have fled to prevent insurgents from returning.

He also credits the cooperation of the Iraqi army and police, as well as local tribal leaders in the effort to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq and bring security to Anbar.

“That has been the building block that has allowed the people to come out and participate in governance,” he said. “But, probably more importantly, it allows them to come out and do the things that a lot of the citizens here in al-Anbar have not been able to do because of murder and intimidation that al-Qaida was doing. We have made great strides in regards to that, and we are very, very pleased with the progress that we are making.”

Measured, careful and honest.  There are still attacks – we have not killed or captured every single AQI member – but they are a defeated force.  Exporting this model is complicated and nuanced, and involves more than just the participation and approval of tribal shiekhs, no matter what the current narrative says.  Nibras Kazimi has crafted a smart analysis of tribes and their saliency in Iraq for the New York Sun.

Does it really matter, whether tribes were the primary factor in defeating Al Qaeda or not, given that the story coming out of Iraq is more and more hopeful? Yes it does: the implication is that if you don’t know why and how you’ve won, then you won’t be able to replicate victory. The tribes, like the American troop surge, were catalysts that sped up the demise of the insurgency, but they did not trigger the process the insurgency’s failure predated the surge and any tribal strategies.

I believe the insurgency failed because it had bad ideas and unrealistic expectations. When the price paid by the local population for these ideas and expectations — fighting the Shiites and re-establishing Sunni hegemony — became too steep, Sunnis turned against the insurgents and tried to find shelter, yet again, under the central government This latter trend is the one that should be reinforced: Sunnis should be encouraged to throw in their lot with the New Iraq, rather than falling back into the tribal identities of Iraq’s past.

Once tribal leaders realized that Al Qaeda was losing, they turned towards Baghdad for guidance. As one Iraq observer put it to me, “Tribes are a barometer of power; they swarm around whoever has the upper hand.” The danger now is that Americans are trying to resuscitate a clannish social system that had withered away in Iraq, and turning it into a power in of itself.

We agree with Kazimi.  Nonetheless, the U.S. has worked with tribes where it suited our needs, and community Muktars where it suited our needs.  Given the constricted time frame that the U.S. public will allow for this counterinsurgency campaign, efficacy and expediency is the order of the day.  Thus, following the model in Fallujah, do we see retinal scans being taken by Army troopers south of Baghdad.

troopers_taking_scan.jpg

The Christian Science Monitor has an article in which they examine the export of the Anbar model to Shi’ite parts of Iraq.

Forward Operating Base Iskan, Iraq – The violence has dropped dramatically, say US commanders, in the towns surrounding this base in northern Babil Province, south of Baghdad.

In May, four improvised explosive device (IED) attacks targeted the battalion; none in August, says Maj. Craig Whiteside, executive officer of the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment. Fewer undetonated IEDs have been found – five in May and two in August. Indirect fire and small-arms violence have also dropped from about a dozen incidents in May to less than three in August.

The reason, they say, is that the same approach that won success in Anbar Province, where the Marines gained support of Sunni tribesmen against Al Qaeda, is taking hold in mixed-sectarian areas. But here, Americans have enlisted Shiites frustrated with extremists from such groups as the Mahdi Army, run by Moqtada al-Sadr.

Across the Euphrates River Valley, known to the military as the southern belts of Baghdad, about 14,000 Shiite and Sunni “concerned citizens” are being paid to man checkpoints and patrol roads in an effort to prevent attacks from violent extremism of either sect.

Largely untrained and armed with weapons they already own, the citizens wear armbands and monitor traffic along the roads, keeping watch to ensure no outsiders or other extremist elements come through to bury roadside bombs. If they fail to keep violence out, they could lose their monthly paycheck. Ultimately, the idea is that they will become members of the Iraq security forces.

“They are making their community safe,” says Army Capt. Charles Levine, one of the company commanders here. His battalion has recruited more than 1,300 participants since mid-September. A little less than half of them are Shiite.

Concerned citizens and turnover to the local communities is the key to the current counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.  If the hope is that people are taking responsibility for reasons other than their tribal Shiekh says to do so, this strategy is seeing some success.

A 72-year-old man stopped a suspected suicide bomber from detonating himself at a checkpoint in Arab Jabour Oct. 14.

The man approached a checkpoint where Mudhehr Fayadh Baresh was standing guard, but did not make it very far.

Baresh, a tribal commissioner and member of the Arab Jabour Concerned Citizens program, said he ordered the man to lift his shirt – using training received from Coalition Forces – when he did not recognize him as a local villager. 

The suspect refused to lift his shirt.  Baresh repeated the command again, and the suspect exposed his suicide vest, running toward the checkpoint.

Baresh opened fire which caused the vest to detonate, killing the suspect.

“I did it for the honor of my family and the honor of my country,? said Baresh, when he met with Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

All counterinsurgency is local, and whether it is for family, tribe, remuneration or simply for personal safety, the enemy is being defeated in Iraq.  There are fights remaining, and a precipitous departure of U.S. forces might turn a positive situation into a negative one.  Yet it is impossible to ignore the gains on the ground in Iraq.

Other sources:

TCJ, Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame.

TCJ, Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq.

TCJ, Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.

TCJ, Al Qaeda’s Miscalculation.

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

Bill Ardolino, Operation Alljah: The Swarm.

Bill Ardolino, Confidence is Key: The Evolution of the Fallujah Police Department.

Bill Ardolino: Shuffling Paperwork to Victory: The Evolution of the Fallujah Police Department.

Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Because of the slow progress of reconciliation at the top echelons of government in Iraq, the strategy has had to rely on bottom up efforts.  Maliki has claimed that Iraq is still capable of reconciliation, but it has been suggested that Maliki is himself in need of an awakening before he can lead the nation to reconciliation.

This bottom up strategy has involved groups of “concerned citizens” (and in some cases variants of this concept such as armed neighborhood watches or assistants to the Iraqi Police, such as in Fallujah).  This strategy came under fire today by the French press.

“Tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you.” The US general is opening his proverbial chequebook to leaders of Iraq’s concerned citizens groups.

“Tell me how I can help you,” asks Major General Rick Lynch, commander of US-led forces in central Iraq.

US commanders are unashamedly buying the loyalty (italics mine) of Iraqi tribal leaders and junior officials, a strategy they trumpet as a major success but which critics fear will lead to hidden costs in terms of militia and sectarian strife.

These low-level Iraqi leaders from the Madain area south of Baghdad are meeting top US military brass for the second time in four days.

Their first gathering featured the overall commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus — proof that concerned citizens are now right at the forefront of the US war effort.

A Sunni sheikh who lost his son to an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber tells Lynch he needs more bodyguards as he has hardly left his house in three months for fear of attack. Others list money, drinkable water, more uniforms, more projects.

One mentions weapons, but the general insists: “I can give you money to work in terms of improving the area. What I cannot do — this is very important — is give you weapons.”

The gravity of the war council in a tent at the US forward operating base at Camp Assasssin is suspended for a few moments as one of the local Iraqi leaders says jokingly but knowingly: “Don’t worry! Weapons are cheap in Iraq.”

“That’s right, that’s exactly right,” laughs Lynch in reply.

But Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would not be laughing. While the US generals view the groups as a bulwark against extremism, Maliki and others steeped in the logic of sectarian conflict fear they are an armed Sunni opposition in the making.

His concern is not surprising — the bulk of US money and support for these groups is going to Sunnis, whose heartlands around the capital the military so desperately needs to turn around.

“Right now I’ve got 34 concerned citizen groups under contract and that is costing me 7.5 million dollars every 60-90 days,” Lynch tells AFP, adding that 25 groups are Sunni, nine Shiite …

“I now have more concerned citizens than coalition troops,” boasts Lynch, who reckons his present cast of more than 21,000 concerned citizens will “exponentially grow.”

Under the scheme, local people are allowed to arm themselves and are paid up to 300 dollars a month to handle their own security by manning checkpoints and patrolling, while the military receives tip offs on insurgents’ activities.

“They know that after you clear out the insurgents, infrastructure projects start coming,” says Lieutenant-Colonel John Kolasheski.

“People start to see the visible improvement then it becomes more difficult for extremists to get back in there because the people realise: ‘right now the coalition is focused on us making things better’.”

Lynch puts it to them more succinctly: “We can clear, then you can hold.”

Concerned citizens groups were born out of the everyday hell created by Al-Qaeda and warring militias and the Americans cleverly offered a positive alternative to fill that vacuum.

In what ends up being a fairly informative article on the strategy (not published here in its entirety), the article lapses into editorializing on the U.S. “unashamedly buying the loyalty of citizens.”  This editorializing lacks any context whatsoever, and has no argument to support the seeming inference that there should be shame in such an approach.

We have gone on record numerous times casting our lot with payment for intelligence and other services, and on one specific occasion suggested that failure might await Operation Iraqi Freedom for refusal to remunerate our allies in Iraq.

The 20-year-old is part of a ragtag collection of former Sunni insurgents – some even from the al-Qaida ranks – who have thrown their support behind U.S.-led security forces under pacts of mutual convenience …

The Sunni militiamen have grown leery of al-Qaida in Iraq and its ambitions, including self-proclaimed aims of establishing an Islamic state. The Pentagon, in turn, has latched onto its most successful strategy in months: partnering with former extremists who have the local know-how to help root out al-Qaida in Iraq.

Abed … does not earn a salary for working with U.S. forces, and the military does not provide him with weapons, equipment or safe haven …

“(Al-Qaida) is trying to get me or my family. I’m constantly changing locations – not staying in one place longer than a few hours – and moving my children,? said Abu Abed, who also refused to comment on his own insurgent past.

American military officials acknowledge that Abed’s group is in danger because of its cooperation with U.S. forces. But – as former insurgents – the fighters are not eligible for services provided to civilians or legitimate Iraqi security forces.

We suggested that these circumstances are a perfect catalyst for the Sunnis to conclude that the deal they struck with the Americans wasn’t so good after all.  But this is, after all, a rather pragmatic way of looking at the issue, and it is appropriate to expand this to cover the justification for the bottom-up approach.

First, this approach is effective.  It was used in Fallujah (a variant of it), and use of this strategy has proven to reduce crime, violence, and increase local control over communities.  Its expansion into Baghdad and surrounding areas has reduced the available terrain in which the insurgency can operate.

Second, this approach is anthropologically sound.  A search of scholarly works pointing to the role of head of house as the income-earner and supporter of the family unit yields so many results that it is utterly impossible to digest it all.  We’ll let the theologians, sociologists and anthropologists debate the genesis for this, but if we can stipulate the premise, we can advance the argument forward and review the data.

In some African refugee camps, women often find that their caregivers, i.e., the United Nations, are better providers than their husbands, which often causes the loss of respect for their husband.  In a Rwandan refugee camp, studies have shown that men become sick from being unable to care for their families and will take on dangerous jobs to remedy the situation.

Living in the refugee camp where only a few jobs were available, many refugee men described having ‘hands and force’ but no jobs.  They described being bored and often feeling sick because they ‘think too much and do too little’ … as a result of unemployment, many men were forced to make difficult choices.  They either accepted dangerous work, or they travelled to Kigali for temporary work, which the men claimed placed them at high risk for being infected with malaria or HIV.

Giveaway programs and inability among men to support their families is dishonorable.  More honorable, however, is the earning of income for services rendered.

Third and finally, it is the right thing to do.  Men and women both are searching for a way to support and provide for their families in the wake of collapse of their civilization.  Payment isn’t about purchasing loyalty.  It is about honoring work that has been accomplished.  The strategy is not shameful, no matter what the French press may infer.  Whether the strategy is genius is for the military strategists and historians to decide.  Our position is that it is simply the right thing to do.

Other sources:

Reconciliation in Iraq Goes Local

Granny in Iraq: Armed and Dangerous

How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy

Small Wars are Still Wars

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile published an article entitled Eating Soup with a Spoon.  The entire article is highly recommended reading, but the quotes below fairly well capture the mood as Gentile responds to current counterinsurgency doctrine published in FM 3-24.  He argues that the revised doctrine:

… removed a fundamental aspect of counterinsurgency warfare that I had experienced throughout my year as a tactical battalion commander in Iraq: fighting. And by removing the fundamental reality of fighting from counterinsurgency warfare, the manual removes the problem of maintaining initiative, morale and offensive spirit among combat soldiers who will operate in a place such as Iraq … maybe we should stop, in a metaphorical sense, trying to eat soup with a knife in Iraq and instead go back to the basics and try eating it with a spoon. War is not clean and precise; it is blunt and violent and dirty because, at its essence, it is fighting, and fighting causes misery and death. The authors of the Army’s 1986 AirLand Battle doctrine premised their manual on fighting as the essence of war. Fighting gave the 1986 manual a coherence that reflected the true nature of war. The Army’s new COIN manual’s tragic flaw is that the essence of war fighting is missing from its pages.

I cannot possibly hope to recapitulate the breadth or depth of discussion in the thread at the Small Wars Council, but would hasten to point out several things concerning the discussion now that the subject has become a little more ripe and the argument is slowing.  First, I agree wholeheartedly with Gentile’s rebuke of the notion that counterinsurgency is “armed social science.”  Second, concerning Dr. Metz’s statement that “we treat counterinsurgency as a variant of war not because that is the most strategically effective approach, but because we have been unable to transcend Cold War thinking,” I respond that counterinsurgency has been a variant of war since at least the Roman empire (which faced a Jewish insurgency in Jerusalem), or even before.  In recent history, all one needs for proof of principle is the Small Wars Manual, published in 1940, well before the cold war.

Every successful counterinsurgency operation in the Anbar Province has at least begun with heavy kinetic operations.  Examples of kinetic and security operations preceeding reconstruction and rebuilding could be cataloged for weeks, but in the interest of brevity, only three will be given.

  1. When asked by Michael Totten what the battles in Ramadi were like near the first of the year, Lt. Col. Mike Silverman stated that “It would only be a mild exaggeration if I compared it to the battle of Stalingrad. We engaged in kinetic firefights that lasted for hours. Every single day they attacked us with AK-47s, sniper rifles, RPGs, IEDs, and car bombs … I expected a huge kinetic fight, and that’s what we got.”
  2. Before Operation Alljah could fully engage Fallujah, approximately two months of kinetic operations producing many dead and detained insurgents was necessary in the outlying areas.  Only after robust kinetic operations were completed could gated communities and biometrics be implemented.
  3. RCT-6 is still actively attempting to rid Karmah of insurgents with kinetic operations, tie communications and relations back to Fallujah, and from Fallujah to Ramadi.  “Capt. Quintin D. Jones, the commanding officer of Company L, said ’We are transitioning away from the kinetic fight and trying to help the local governance.  On one end I’m fighting, and on the other end I’m disputing between tribal leaders. The other part (is) trying to stimulate the economy. So, it’s a three-block war here and it’s very, very dynamic’.”  The tribal leaders in Karmah say that the Marines are the “glue holding things together,” and they are hoping that the ”Marines will stick around until all the bad guys are captured.”

The Small Wars Manual has no such weakness (i.e., failing to consider warfare as part of war).  There are so many references to infantry patrols, cash disbursements for intelligence gathering, distributed operations (independent patrols operating without communication with command), census information and knowledge of prominent citizens that they are too numerous to list.  To have discussed distributed operations (although not called that by name) so early in doctrinal development of small wars is remarkable indeed!

While dated (discussing the use of mules for transporting materiel), the Small Wars Manual proves itself to be perhaps more contemporary than the currently in vogue counterinsurgency doctrine, because after all, conducting war still means invoking warfare.  Lt. Col. Gentile knows this; is he trying to bring the professional counterinsurgency community back from the brink of complete irrelevance with Marines and Soldiers who are fighting in their own battle space by moderating the influence of the “armed social scientists?”

The Sniper of Tarmiyah

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In a Multinational Force update on Friday, September 21, 2007, Rear Admiral Mark Fox conveyed positive developments in Tarmiyah.

Earlier this month Iraqi Security and Coalition Forces conducted operations in the area discovering two (2) large weapons caches and detaining two (2) Al-Qaida terrorists.  Among the material found in the caches were ten (10) tons of ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil, eleven (11) fifty-five (55) gallon drums of fuel oil and various other explosives such as artillery rounds, rocket propelled grenades, as well as fully assembled improvised explosive devices.  One of the individuals detained was Mu’ayyad ‘Ali Husayn Sulayman al-Bayyati, who helped establish terrorist cells in the village.  Allegedly, murdered citizens in the main intersection of Tarmiyah and tortured young men in the area.  Al-Bayyati also known, as Abu Wathiq and the “executioner? will face now…will now face justice.  In an impressive local response to the improved security conditions in Tarmiyah, more than twelve hundred (1,200) men have volunteered to join the Iraqi Security Force.

But however positive these developments are, they are not the whole story, and these developments have come at a high price.   Noah Shachtman of Danger Room was recently in Tarmiyah, where 4-9th infantry is garrisoned.

We’re in an ugly, overgrown village called Tarmiyah, about 25 kilometers north of Baghdad.  It is an extremely bad place.  A professional-grade sniper has been terrorizing the town, killing two members of the 4-9th Infantry Regiment stationed here, and wounding seven more.  4-9’s Comanche company, primarily responsible for holding the town, has handed out 25 Purple Hearts in just five months.  That’s about a fifth of the men in the company.  To keep from handing out more Purple Hearts, the soldiers here go out as little as possible during the day.  They do their work at night.  And they sometimes take over local houses to crash out, in between missions.

A few months ago it was reported that if the Americans spend longer than 10 minutes in one place, a sniper will track them down and begin shooting.  “It is getting to the point where we really can’t interact with the people,” says Lt. Cody Wallace, executive officer of the unit that patrols the city. Even the local police chief who oversees the area that includes Tarmiyah refuses to set foot in the town.

If U.S. forces cannot interact with the people, then effective counterinsurgency cannot be realized.  The 4-9th has a complex challenge ahead in Tarmiyah, according the Captain Patrick Roddy.

The predominantly Sunni town – only about five percent of the population is Shia – harbors resentment for the Shia-run government in Baghdad. Insurgents favor the town for its prime location, with links to supply routes that run to Mosul, far north, and Baqubah to the east. The town is just 30 miles north of Baghdad. “It’s a good place to funnel weapons, fighters and equipment for use in Baghdad,” Roddy said. The town also has a large homeless Sunni population pushed out of Baghdad by Shia militias, said Roddy.

Meeting the challenge of professional grade snipers requires several things in which, despite advancements in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and practice, there is room for improvement in the military establishment - or for which there are inadequate resources.

Force Projection

There probably aren’t enough troops to cause the perception among the population that U.S. forces can defeat the enemy and secure the noncombatants.  Increased troop numbers along with increased presence on the ground in Tarmiyah – both day and night – will increase the likelihood of tactical successes during combat actions with the enemy.

Cash Payoffs for Intelligence

Cash for intelligence has been a staple of counterterrorism for years now, but this tactic faces cuts in Congress.  The Defense Department is urging Congress to extend a counterterrorism tool that gives the Green Berets and Navy SEALs up to $25 million a year to pay for information, buy guns for allied forces and hire fighters willing to battle al-Qaida.  The House and Senate are split, however, over whether to renew that authority because of questions about how productive the tool has been for the special operations military groups.

As for forces in Iraq in the day to day grind of counterinsurgency, there is little more than Army and Marine general funds from which to withdraw to pay a pittance to part-time neighborhood watch and police officers.  This is hardly meaningful financial support for the effort, and purchasing good intelligence will cost more than we have contributed thus far.  The cost will have to be proportional to the risk borne by the informant.

Distributed Operations

In Unleash the Snipers! and other articles I made several recommendations for distributed operations that could assist in the defeat of covert enemy operations.  Simply put, professional military establishments rely on chain of command, command and control, communication, logistical connectivity, and all the other things that keep a large force in the battle space and functioning.

Hezbollah proved that this could all be frustrated in the recent war with the Israeli Defense Forces by dispatching small (two- or three-man) teams, separated from their command and having been granted maximum latitude to engage in whatever means deemed appropriate at the time.  Despite the fear that this leads to chaos, this proved to lead not only to frustration of the IDF, but symbiotic battle space connectivity and fluidity of tactics.

This tactic brings increased risk, but deployment of small teams of infantry, countersnipers and special forces operators may be necessary to chase this sniper on the round-the-clock basis that is needed to secure Tarmiyah.

Robust Application of the Rules of Engagement

I covered snipers and rules of engagement in Concerning Snipers, Rules of Engagement and General Kearney.  With the support of the American people and enough will by the military establishment, the ROE can be made to be more accomodating, as they were during the second battle for Fallujah.

Eighteen elite Special Operations snipers hid inside the city, picking targets and reporting back on enemy movements. Polish snipers working alongside U.S. forces had been given less restrictive rules of engagement by their government, said a senior U.S. intelligence official with direct access to information about them. “The Poles could kill people we couldn’t,” he said. For example, he said, American snipers couldn’t shoot unless they saw a weapon in the target’s hands, while the Poles were allowed to fire at anyone on the streets of Fallujah holding a cell phone after 8:00 p.m. “They had an eighty percent kill rate at six hundred yards,” the intelligence official said. “That’s incredible range.”

Note especially above that although the U.S. would not allow Soldiers or Marines the latitude that the Polish military did, we would “work alongside” the Poles.  Such hypocrisy wins no friends among the U.S. military or the Iraqis.

Tarmiyah 2007 is not Fallujah 2004.  Nonetheless, if U.S. forces allow stipulations such as currently “brandishing a weapon” or actively “engaged in hostile acts” to prevent their killing of this sniper, more American casualties are on the horizon.

Conclusion

The perpetrator of death in Tarmiyah needs to be a marked man.  He needs to have a target painted on him; to be watched, to be scared, to lapse into a state of paranoia because of the men hunting him down, day and night, relentlessly and without emotion or remorse.  He is right now the one who chases.  He should the one who is chased.

The sniper of Tarmiyah will not live forever.  He will die one day at the hands of a U.S. Soldier or Marine, by a round fired from a U.S. service rifle.  The only question is “how many more sons of America will die before we go after this man and kill him?”


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