Archive for the 'Small Wars' Category



Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

In the News Blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Petitioners Urge Anthropologists to Stop Working with Pentagon in Iraq War, we read that there is a dustup over what anthropologists do with their knowledge.

“Anthropologists should not engage in research and other activities that contribute to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the ‘war on terror.’

All Counterinsurgency is Local

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

A tribe is a social group existing before or outside of the state, usually defined by kinship, clan, lineage, culture and dialect.  It is heavily patristic, usually with a tribal leader in addition to tribal elders.  Tribes have historically existed for protection, economic stability, cultural and religious instruction, and identification.  Ralph Peters observes that “We are witnessing the return of the tribes – a global phenomenon, but the antithesis of globalization as described by pop bestsellers.  The twin tribal identities, ethnic and religious brotherhood, are once again armed and dangerous”  (Wars of Blood and Faith, page 356).

Bing West recounts the circumstances surrounding the turning of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha to the U.S. forces.

In September 2006, AQI killed one too many, and a young, mid-ranking sheikh, Abdul Sattar, also called Abu Risha, set out to avenge his murdered relatives. Outgunned in one encounter, he was facing an unpleasant end, when an American Army unit suddenly entered the fray with guns blazing. A quick learner, Sattar proposed a partnership with his rescuers: he would provide tribesmen willing to fight if the Americans would provide firepower and government sanction. Sattar proved to be the Sunni leader we desperately needed in Anbar. Once his own tribal lands were cleared of AQI, nearby tribes joined his movement; the Americans parked a tank outside his house as a display of support and power. Over the next year, attacks in Anbar dropped from 400 to 100 per month.

So at Asad Air Base in early September, the provincial governor, Mamoon Rashid, gave young Sattar the place of honor next to President Bush. The meeting was intended to honor the Sunni sheikhs who had driven out al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was also a not-subtle nudge to Maliki to get on with Sunni reconciliation. Maliki was scheduled to visit the province two days later to deliver an eagerly awaited supplement to the provincial budget. Nursing an eye infection, he was none too pleased by the peremptory summons.

For most of the previous two years, Maliki’s host, Governor Mamoon, had been marooned in the sandbagged government center in downtown Ramadi, kept alive by Marine sharpshooters who fired through mouse holes in the hallway above his office and defecated in plastic bags because the sewer line had been blown up, leaving a stinking lake outside the front door. Mamoon had survived three assassination attempts and gone weeks at a time without a single Iraqi visitor to his “office.

U.S. Marines Turn to Belfast Constabulary Model: An Analysis

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

Preamble & Introduction

The progress in pacification of Ramadi is well worn news now, and the next largest city in Anbar was a hard city to tame because of different culture (heavy reliance on the Mukhtars as opposed to Sheiks for leadership), but even Fallujah has in large measure been pacified.  The Iraqi security forces have withdrawn from Fallujah, and the security of Fallujah is primarily an Iraqi police operation in concert with the U.S. Marines.  The face of Anbar is changing to one of constabulary operations.

Even the lamentable assassination of Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha seems to have brought unintended consequences to al Qaeda, as the tribes have vowed to fight them until the “last child of Anbar.”

For the future, as part of their pre-deployment training, U.S. Marines are interested in how the Belfast police work with the military in Northern Ireland.

The US Marines are being sent to Belfast – to learn more about how police and the military can work effectively alongside each other in Iraq.

According to a senior PSNI officer who helped produce a major report on Iraqi security forces for the US Congress, the Marines hope to apply the lessons of Northern Ireland in Anbar province.

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland, who is in charge of Belfast, said a delegation of US Marines will visit Northern Ireland next month.

Mr McCausland was the only non-American who was a member of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, which inspected the Iraqi military and police this summer and reported to the US Congress just before General David Petraeus.

Mr McCausland said the US Marines, who have helped transform the security situation in Anbar province, are interested in how the RUC and PSNI worked with the British Army and want “to look at some of the aspects we’re involved in”.

Analysis & Commentary

This is indeed a strange experiment.  The British have lost Basra as we have previously discussed.  We argued that the loss was due in large part to the British soft cover, tepid rules of engagement, and especially the minimal force projection.  Since Anbar is probably the safest province in Iraq while Basra has taken Anbar’s place as the most dangerous province in Iraq, it might be argued that the U.S. could learn a “softer approach” much like the British forces in Northern Ireland in order to embed with the Iraqi Police effectively.

But this argument misses the point, and in the superlative degree.  The British – some of them – have managed to see the problem with their Basra experience.

At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra.

Iraq had been brutalized by the savagery of more than two decades under Saddam Hussein, had suffered eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, was divided by religious sect and tribal allegiance, and was sitting on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves in Basra, ripe for criminal gangs, thugs, thieves and greedy sheiks to assert power and become wealthy.  Into this the British brought an approach that they had used before.

The message received by the British public was that this softly-softly approach would – thanks to experience in Northern Ireland and elsewhere – succeed in a peacekeeping mission where the Americans’ heavy-handed tactics would fail.

It was a view held almost universally in the British army. “British military guys can be totally insufferable about this,” says one retired US general who advises the Bush administration on Iraq … But the days of soft hats and handing sweets to children are now long gone.

The real problem was not soft cover, tepid rules of engagement, or minimal force projection.  This model worked in other locales for the British in their history.  The real problem was one of cultural ignorance and inexperience that led to these things.  Northern Ireland is not the Anbar Provincce any more than it is the Basra Province, and this conflation of tactics has led to Basra being the utter disaster area that it is today.  “Children are afraid to go to school,” said Ali Kareem, media officer for the Secretary of Education at Basra provincial council. “And there is a shortage of teachers because many female teachers have quit due to the violence.”

But there is a better way to train for counterinsurgency.  We have previously argued that cultural sensitivity and relevance is important in counterinsurgency.  We have earlier observed that:

… troops (most of the time) are given some basic instruction in Arabic as part of the training for deployment.  This training is based on the philosophy of phonetics (i.e., sounds, proper pronunciation).  With limited time, money and resources, this is the best approach and sure to yield the best possible results in the short term.  But proper planning for the long war needs to take the next step.  Immersion in Arabic (both spoken and written) needs to be part of the planning for not only officers, but enlisted men as well.  A better knowledge of Arabic would cause a remarkable step change in warfighting capabilities in Iraq (and throughout the Middle East) given the nature of COIN.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., recounts a recent experience from Anbar that informs our discussion on cultural awareness and its value.

Whenever Col. Bohm and other officers met with an Iraqi, it was always with an ever-so slight bow, a right hand over the heart followed by an extended right hand; a warm smile and a greeting, “Salam alikom, (peace unto you), my friend.

Classical Counterinsurgency with a Twist

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

Anbar has been a classical counterinsurgency campaign with a twist.  But in order to set the stage for the discussion, shall we consider the remote areas in the mountains of North and South Carolina?  Any boy who has been raised to drive the backroads and traipse the winding trails through these mountains knows that there are certain places one doesn’t go, and certain things one doesn’t do.

There remain moonshine stills, people avoiding revenue collectors, and general rogue elements who like to go to the little local bar and clean their shotguns while they drink.  Actually, they aren’t avoiding revenue collectors.  The collectors just don’t go up there, and they shouldn’t.  The adventuresome young one learns not to look too hard for trouble, and generally know who belongs where, and when.  Anything or anyone out of place means trouble – time to go for the gun and let the dogs loose.

It is probably the same way in the sprawling urban areas, and this concept is important for considerations in classical counterinsurgency doctrine.  An insurgency simply cannot survive without the willing acquiescence of the population, or at least the important and more powerful elements of the population.

Common sense, along with trusted communications from military personnel in the Anbar Province, convinced me to write Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, in which I claimed that much, if not most, of the insurgency was indigenous to Anbar.  Bill Ardolino gives us an interesting interview of an interpreter working with the U.S. forces, reporting directly from Anbar.  One interesting exchange took place that is relevant to this issue:

INDC: When I speak to Fallujans, many say that it was all outsiders causing the insurgency, but a lot of it was certainly driven by locals. What portion of the insurgency was really local? Most of it?

Leo: Yes.

INDC: So why are people afraid to say, “Yeah, we used to fight the Americans?

Thoughts on Brains and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

Newsweek leads us into the new week discussing brains and counterinsurgency strategy:

Sept. 17, 2007  issue – Dripping with sweat in the Baghdad summer heat, surrounded by armed Sunnis who not long ago might gladly have killed him, Gen. David Petraeus smiled. He listened as a former insurgent leader, a onetime member of Saddam Hussein’s security forces, listed the grievances that brought him over to the Americans’ side against the jihadists—the senseless killings of garbagemen and shopkeepers, the booby-trapped corpses in the streets, the indiscriminate IED attacks. When the man finished, Petraeus invited him to air his complaints publicly; minutes later the ex-insurgent was being interviewed on an Arabic satellite channel, and the top U.S. officer in Iraq strode off through the dust while his entourage scrambled to keep up. “Now this is counterinsurgency, by God!” he later declared.

Is it? Petraeus should know, as the man who pulled together The Book on it: the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 4-23). There’s just one problem—Iraq doesn’t follow the book. The manual—highly touted as the basis upon which the surge of U.S. forces this year would be organized—deals with threats to a functioning government that enjoys broad-based legitimacy. That’s scarcely what exists in Baghdad, says Sarah Sewall, director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights. A devout believer in winning hearts and minds, she worked closely with Petraeus on producing FM 4-23. “I would argue that Petraeus has done as good a job as humanly possible,” she says. “But by the time he got to Iraq, I think the war was no longer fightable ac-cording (sic) to the counterinsurgency doctrine we drafted.”

At this point I stopped reading the Newsweek analysis.  Not that I refuse to listen to yet another analysis on the complexity of Iraq and how we were unprepared for it.  I have written myself too many times on this same subject.  Also, I agree with Petraeus that given the option of having someone shoot a camera or a firearm at another person, I’d prefer the camera any day.  But I have been critical of other aspects of the new counterinsurgency field manual.  For instance, I have advocated a return to the wisdom of the Small Wars Manual concerning disarming the population, wisdom we implemented with vigor with the Sunnis (allowing them to keep only a single firearm for family protection but not to form militias except under U.S. supervision), but refused to implement with the Badr Corps, Jaish al Mahdi and other armed factions in the balance of Iraq, even though they are armed, supported, trained, funded, equipped and encouraged by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Quds).  There are more examples I could cite on which I have opined, but will spare the reader.

I stopped reading the Newsweek analysis because, well, I guess I’m just old-fashioned.  If you are going to critique or report on something as an objective analyst, you had better get the name of the thing you’re going to critique right.  After twice seeing the designator for the field manual as FM 4-23 rather than FM 3-24, I figured that they didn’t have much to teach me.

The Warrior Scholar

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

Kinetic operations against rogue elements – terrorists and insurgents – are the foundation upon which nonkinetic operations is built.  Without security, so I have argued, reconstruction is meaningless.  Candy and pediolyte for the children and babies and footballs for the teenagers doesn’t compare to holes drilled into ribs with a power drill at the hands of a terrorist.  I have watched over months and years as the Marines have deliberately and methodically rooted rogue elements from Anbar and slowly but surely ensured a military defeat for al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna and other groups intent on fundamentalist Islamic tyranny and domination.

This hard work over four years set the stage for the tribal alliance with U.S. forces, but even here, given that the tribes were not as strong in Fallujah as in the balance of Anbar, different flavors of COIN were employed and other more classical counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures had to be applied to win the security (such as gated communities, see Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment).  Yet upon the sure success of a determined United States Marine Corps, the final stages do come, heralding the advent of the warrior-scholar.

When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood.

As insurgent violence continues to decrease in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar Province – an improvement that President Bush heralded in his visit to Al Asad Air Base Monday as one sign of progress in the war – the conversation is shifting in Anbar. Where sheikhs and tribal leaders once only asked the US to protect them from Sunni extremists, now they want to know how to get their streets cleaned and where to buy generators.

“Security dominated everything, and we weren’t able to get anything done,” says Colonel Mullen, battalion commander here.

It’s been six months since the so-called Anbar Awakening, when Sunni sheikhs joined US Marines in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni extremists may still have a presence here, but US military officials say that with the help of the expanding Iraqi security forces, they’ve driven most of what remains of Al Qaeda from the urban areas.

Violence has stayed down, dropping from 2,000 attacks in March to about 450 last month – as the number of Iraqi security forces has increased, from around 24,000 this spring to nearly 40,000 today.

The changes here have allowed provincial and local governments to get established over the past few months, US officials here say. And now, true to the tribal culture that permeates Iraqi society, Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.

Handling such situations as presented to the Marines in Anbar at the moment requires greater managerial skill than most state-side executives will ever be required to exercise in their entire careers.  The successful field grade officer in counterinsurgency must be an anthropologist, psychologist, theologian, manager, tactician, logistician, arbiter, lawyer and politician.  He must exemplify the warrior poet … in a different era.

Almost simultaneously with Lt. Col. William Mullen’s city council appearance was another by Lt. Col. Jason Bohm in al Qaim, who was dealing with an ethical, legal and political situation.  Each officer does what he must in the situation in which he finds himself, while upholding the honor of the United States and the Marine Corps.

But the scholarship isn’t just displayed at the highest levels of leadership.  Michael Yon observes of the grunts:

Now I started to understand why the Army officers had been telling me the Marines are more advanced in counterinsurgency. Normal Marines have morphed into doing vintage Special Forces work. Many of our Army units are excellent at this work, but the Marines, at least these particular Marines, did seem to have an edge for it.

They were even studying Arabic in their filthy little compound. Lightweight study, but they were showing the Iraqis they were making the effort. The Iraqis appreciated it. I have yet to see an Army unit undertake such a clear effort to learn Arabic.

The Marines there live in disgusting conditions. They have two toilets. One is a tube. For more serious business, there are the small plastic baggies called WAG bags. Do your business, seal it up and put it into a garbage can. They don’t complain.

The professional counterinsurgency community wants to prematurely deploy this phase of the campaign.  This is a mistake – it is misplaced emphasis.  But the hard work has been done in Anbar: the security has been won, and the insurgency has been militarily defeated, as least in the main.  Now is the time for winning hearts and minds.  It is the time of the warrior-scholar, and the Marines are proving up to the task.

Death from Above

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

In Air Power in Small Wars and A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency we discussed the controversial topic of air power in so-called “small wars.”  In reality, the issue of collateral damage is a straw man, as has been demonstrated by recent history in Iraq.  Several recent examples involve combat action near Karmah in the Anbar Province, in which both air power and artillery were used:

Marines from Regimental Combat Team 6 observed and engaged an armed group of al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists killing 12 and destroying two vehicles near the town of Karmah Aug. 29.

A group of three men was seen loading objects into a bongo truck from a nearby growth of weeds 11 kilometers northeast of Fallujah, in an area known to be a historical weapons cache site. A second group of four men arrived in another bongo truck, followed by a third group of six men on foot through the reeds.

A team of Marines was dispatched to better observe the scene and a third cargo truck carrying three men waving weapons and wearing ski masks approached the group a few moments later.

The Marines called for air support and a section of AV-8B Harrier jets dropped two precision-guided bombs, destroying the initial two cargo trucks. Marines called for artillery fire on the dismounted enemy personnel immediately following the air attack.

Twelve members of al Qaeda were found dead upon investigation of the scene… Numerous weapons and roadside bomb making materials were also found.

The example below is in an urban setting, and collateral damage was completely avoided.

Task Force Marne attack helicopter crews destroyed an al-Qaeda safe house in Arab Jabour Sept. 2.

Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were told by local concerned citizens that al –Qaeda was killing civilians behind the Qhurfar Mosque. The family of a man killed by al-Qaeda reported the insurgents went to a nearby house.

An air weapons team was called and engaged the house in two separate runs. A total of two hellfire missiles, seven rockets and one burst of .50 cal fire were expended on the house.

The mosque incurred no damage.

There is no question that the final stages of counterinsurgency involve a heavy emphasis on nonkinetic operations.  However, combat against rogue elements remains an essential part of small wars, and these operations can rely heavily on air power.

Missing the Point of the New Strategy in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

Think Progress, a liberal web site, has a short commentary on the “surge,” the success in Anbar, and how the facts on the ground allegedly bebunk the relationship between the two.  Says the commentary:

Today, President Bush held the Anbar province up as an example of his escalation’s success and justification for why the troop buildup should not be cut short:

In Anbar you’re seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure. … You see Sunnis who once fought side by side with al-Qaida against coalition troops now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al-Qaida.

But as the AP points out, “In truth, the progress in Anbar was initiated by the Iraqis themselves, a point Gates himself made, saying the Sunni tribes decided to fight and retake control from al-Qaida many months before Bush decided to send an extra 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of his troop buildup.

The Pacification of Fallujah: Is it Fake?

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

John Robb has a post entitled Potemkin Pacification, in which he writes:

Indications of calm and tranquility in the “pacified cities” of Iraq is at the expense of viability. Essentially, to pacify urban areas we have destroyed the basic levels of connectivity that make them work. For example, Fallujah residents are disconnected…

  • from the country. A wall around the city with biometric entry points.
  • from each other. The city is divided into 10 walled districts with few entry/exit points. Each is guarded by a combination of neighborhood militias, police and US soldiers.
  • from basic mobility. The city has been under a vehicle ban since May 2007.

The natural result is zero economic activity. Its industrial area is closed since it is a security risk. The city suffers from 80 percent unemployment with the bulk of the remainder of those employed are either working in militias or with the police. There are chronic shortages of basic necessities like food and fuel. Reconstruction is nearly at a stand-still (in part due to a complete lack of support from the central government).

By invoking the word Potemkin, Robb is suggesting that whether intentionally or accidentally, the pacification of Fallujah is fake.

Rehearsing what I said about this post from Robb at a discussion thread at the Small Wars Council:

I like to keep up with John Robb. Without studying analyses that run counter to your own one can become rather closed-minded. But what were the conditions like in Fallujah prior to this? I had interviewed Lt. Col. William Mullen concerning the conditions in Fallujah in this article: Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.

And so I knew full well what we have had to do to pacify Fallujah. The tribal influence is much weaker in Fallujah, so more traditional counterinsurgency TTPs have been required, such as gated communities.

But is Robb seriously claiming that this has hindered true progress or otherwise caused conditions in Fallujah that are worse than they were prior to these actions? Is he seriously claiming that our efforts have caused unemployment or the lack of communication with the balance of Iraq?

He misses the point. The unemployment was already there, because it was the last major city in Anbar to undergo pacification. I claim exactly the opposite of Robb. Now … and only now … can Fallujah BEGIN its communication with the rest of Iraq.

More on Biometrics here from Noah Shachtman: Iraq diary: Anbar’s Boys in Blue.

Of course, the lifting of the vehicle ban will bring uninvited danger compared to the past few months, and there will certainly be bumps in the road.  Kinetic events can always happen — after all, it is still a counterinsurgency.  But Robb’s post makes it sound as if the typical Fallujan could object, “We had it all.  Fallujah was the tourism and vacation hot spot of Iraq, we were all employed and wealthy, had power and water 100% of the time, and then came the daffy Americans with their counterinsurgency tactics.  Sure wish for the good ole’ days.”

I have come to expect better and more challenging commentary and analysis from John Robb.  This is simply poor, and the pacification of Fallujah is real.  The question is, “Can it be maintained at the current level or some level greater than prior to these tactics being implemented?”

My bet is on the Marines and Fallujans.

Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 8 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They targeted those who targeted the infrastructure.


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