Archive for the 'The Long War' Category

Al Qaeda Withdrawal from Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 10 months ago

In Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda we relied on the CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point to show that there had begun a steady redeployment of al Qaeda and foreign fighters away from Iraq and to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  “By 2007, jihadist websites from Chechnya to Turkey to the Arab world began to feature recruitment ads calling on the “Lions of Islam” to come fight in Afghanistan. It appears that many heeded the call. This was especially true after the Anbar Awakening of anti-al-Qa`ida tribal leaders and General David Petraeus’ “surge strategy” made Iraq less hospitable for foreign volunteers.”

This steady drain of fighters away from Iraq has increased lately as reported by the Gulf News.

Some groups of Al Qaida terror network in Iraq have started leaving the country towards other hot spots in Africa like Sudan and Somalia, security sources tell Gulf News.

A key reason behind the change in strategy by the so-called Al Qaida Organisation in Mesopotamia is the intensity of the latest military strikes launched by Iraqi and US forces against the network, which has been the major challenge to restoring the stability of Iraq, the sources said.

“Our intelligence information indicates the withdrawal of certain groups of Al Qaida fromIraq because of the military strikes. Many of them have escaped through the borders with Syria and Iran to hotter zones such as Somalia and Sudan,” Major General Hussain Ali Kamal, head of the Investigation and Information Agency at the Interior Ministry, told Gulf News.

“I believe this is the beginning of the complete withdrawal of Al Qaida from Iraqi territory.”

A source at Iraqi Ministry of National Security said that documents and letters found in hideouts of “some elements of Al Qaida” during search operations in Sunni suburbs in Baghdad, which were previously under the control of Al Qaida, “prove these elements left Iraq for Somalia and Sudan”.

The sources for this article are mistaken that al Qaeda has “started leaving the country.”  They had started during the campaign for Anbar and later during the initial stages of the security plan for Baghdad.  The pace has apparently increased according to intelligence obtained directly from al Qaeda.  This is very good news for Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the vigilance must not wane.  Al Qaeda left Iraq and headed for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now Somalia and the Sudan (among other countries – AQ was already present in Libya).

The Captain’s Journal has previously recommended that the U.S. Marines be deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom, and Somali and Sudan and other countries in Africa and the Middle East will need our attention.  While Iraq must be made secure and stable, we must not forget that the long war is against a transnational insurgency which has no recognition of borders as important or even existent with respect to its ideology.

Triple Play

BY Jim Spiri
7 years, 11 months ago

Baseball is a wonderful sport. Field of Dreams is among the best movies ever made. There is a correlation between life on the diamond and life in the real world; there are many parallels. But among the best plays ever, which happens on very rare occasions, is the triple play. As a teen, I was able to experience it only a couple of times during summer league. In the real world lately, it seems as though we are on the verge of a big time triple play. Only this is not a game.

I thought it fitting this week to call this article “Triple Play.” It’s been a busy three days around here. Just so all of you know what I’m talking about, my son and his wife became the parents of three boys on Monday the 23rd. That’s right, triplets. Jesse, Jacob and James arrived between 1018 hrs and 1022 hrs on Monday morning. They came early, but it was expected that would happen. My son, the US Army Helicopter pilot and his wife are rather beside themselves at what now is a daunting task ahead of them. But with much care, assistance from family, and lots of prayer, all will be fine. It is just a long road ahead that will be traveled one step at a time.

In other news this week….the Bush administration seemed to have upped the tempo a bit about going for its own triple play. As things heat up continually in Afghanistan, most recently due to the blazing jail house attack that freed 1100 or so “bad guys” including around 400 Taliban fighters, lots of attention has been in that direction by the media. And, just as Iraq is being reported to sustain immense security improvements  in the past year, and definitely such is the case, only last night more casualties were reported with the loss of three US Army soldiers in Mosul by IED. And still yet, another report this week told of meetings between US and Israeli officials who were said to have discussed the option of attacking Iran. Israel has recently been doing high profile maneuvers and letting the word out that it has no intention of letting Iran have nuclear capabilities. US officials are said to have been urging restraint on Israel’s part, however most observers have concluded that joint planning for such an attack is already in the works. And there you have it folks, out at first, out at second, and perhaps out at third. We’ll see.

But for the record, my job as a catcher was to cover home plate, no matter what the consequences.  What I enjoyed most about being a catcher on the field was that I had to know every possible scenario for each and every pitch that was thrown to the batter. I had to know it before it was thrown, and be prepared for whatever transpired. As I mentioned earlier, there are many parallels between baseball and real life. And herein lies the point of this writing.

I’ve never forgotten about how it was that we went into Afghanistan back in 2001, which seems like a life-time ago. It was the first time as a father I experienced having my own son sent to war. It was only a couple of months after having just lost our oldest son, a Marine. Things were still very raw. Then, in 2003, the nation saw fit to go back into Iraq and finish something that had twelve years earlier been incomplete. It was the second time as a father I saw my son off to war. And now, it’s mid 2008, and I look towards the horizon and see storm clouds brewing once again, only the target is Iran. I know once again, should the commander in chief tell my son to “saddle up,” my son would be ready in a heartbeat for his fifth deployment in the past seven years, only this time, the next generation on deck, would be awaiting his return.

It is a very difficult play, the triple play, but it can be pulled off, but not without perfect coordination and excellent timing. And remember, it is very rarely pulled off successfully, something akin to triplet boys being born naturally without using any artificial measures.

Covering home plate, the catcher must be willing to hold onto the ball and never drop it, even when some opponent is barreling around third racing to plow into the catcher as he awaits the throw from his teammates to tag the runner out before he scores. Never let the opponent score and the last line of defense is the one covering home plate. Such is the case in this global triple play that is possibly about to take place. There were lots of errors leading up to the events of 9/11. After the disaster of the twin towers, we as a nation, and rightly so, embarked upon an “easy out” on first. Come to find out, the cave dwellers weren’t so stupid as we suspected, errors were made at Tora Bora, and just when we thought the bottom of the ninth was going to end the game, we’ve all been witness to many extra innings.

There were severe errors made leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, at least that is what many believe these days in 2008. Then, once again, when we all thought the bottom of the 9th was in view, like the banner telling us, “Mission Accomplished,” it became clear that it had gone into extra innings.  That brings us to today.

I remember living in Australia for a few years when my kids were little. They learned the sports games down under, which I never could actually figure out completely. The closest thing to baseball was cricket. What I couldn’t stand about cricket was the fact that the game took an unbelievable amount of time to play, sometimes days, just for one game. It made no sense to me. I think I can speak for the rest of the fans covering home plate across the nation when I say, “if we’re going to another game, I hope it does not go into extra innings.”

A good catcher hones his skills by learning from all the errors made in previous games. I figure that’s one reason there’s 162 games in a professional baseball season. There is a real possibility that Iran has pushed the envelope too damn far. In many respects, I feel they’ve crossed the line way more than once. I don’t want to see extra innings anymore. I love having triplet grandsons now. And I always liked being a part of a successful triple play as a young baseball player. But if we go to war directly with Iran, even though we’ve already been fighting them in the streets of Iraq for many years, those in charge, all the way up the chain of command, better execute it perfectly this time, for if they don’t, there just may not be a next season.  I for one will cover home plate with my entire body, soul and spirit, whatever betides.

Jim Spiri

The Effects of the Long War on Military Readiness

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

We have previously argued for properly resourcing the long war.  This argument was primarily based on multiple deployments and the affect that they have on warrior morale.  Said a different way, consider Ernie Pyle.  For a generation that has been raised on video games, World of Warcraft and rap, Ernie Pyle is unknown.  Yet his prose serves as some of the best philosophical analysis of war that has ever been published, and should be required reading in professional military programs.  Pyle had previously described the belief of World War II veterans that the only way home was through Germany.  Winning the war meant going home, and permanently so.  Going home for modern day warriors means being deployed again in a year with all of the stress and strain on troops and their families.

There is currently a debate within professional military circles regarding a somewhat different concern, that being that prosecution of counterinsurgency taking the focus off of more conventional operations, one of which is artillery (h/t Small Wars Journal Blog).  Three active duty Army Colonels weigh in with a white paper entitled The Impending Crisis in Field Artillery’s Ability to Provide Fire Support to Maneuver Commanders.  In it they argue that the practice of field artillery has languished with the exclusive practice of counterinsurgency.

Professor Lt. Col. Gian Gentile argues the same in “Breaking the American Army.”

Six years of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has atrophied the Army’s ability to fight conventional battles like the kind fought in the first Gulf War against Iraq.

Recent analyses of the Israeli army’s performance in southern Lebanon in summer 2006 show that its skill at conventional fighting atrophied because of many years of conducting counterinsurgency operations in the Palestinian territories. In southern Lebanon the Israeli army suffered a significant battlefield defeat at the hands of Hezbollah militants who fought them tenaciously and ferociously using tactics reminiscent of the way the World War II German army fought the Americans in the hedgerows of Normandy in the summer of 1944. When Hezbollah fighters attacked Israeli armored and infantry columns in 2006, the Israeli army had severe difficulties at simple command and control and coordination between tanks and infantry.

The American army is in a similar condition today and the American people and their political leaders should be worried. For example, when combat brigades return from Iraq or Afghanistan and are looking at only a year or so back home before heading back the short amount of training time almost guarantees that the brigades will train almost exclusively on counterinsurgency operations.

Last summer a group of combat soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division wrote critically in a New York Times opinion article about Iraq and the long-term effects that continued American military presence would produce. Although these soldiers were doubtful of American military power solving Iraq’s deep-rooted problems, they acknowledged that as soldiers they would carry on despite their doubts about the mission. They said: “we need not talk of morale, as committed soldiers we will see this mission through.”

Those words by battle-hardened, combat soldiers from the 82nd Airborne reflect the ethic and commitment of the American army to accomplishing the assigned mission, even if it means breaking the Army in the process. Just as our political leaders can employ the American army as they see fit, so, too, can they keep it from breaking.

The Captain’s Journal will not weigh in on a solution to this dilemma.  However, properly resourcing the long war, as we have argued for multiple times (basing this argument on the mental health of our warriors) would go a long way towards solving this problem as well.  Morality must undepin our prosecution of the long war, this morality being applicable to our very own warriors and how we treat them, whether concern for their hearts or concern for their skills.

Conservative Versus Liberal: The War Over the Wars

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

The demarcation between “conservative” and “liberal” over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has not only made for strange bedfellows in recent months and years, it has caused the twisting and spinning of evidence and data to fit into a political model, this model being derived by political party operatives not for purposes of clear delineation and advocacy of strategy and tactics regarding the global war on terror, but rather for purposes of victory in the U.S. electoral college.

In the discussion that follows, we will provide three examples of this phenomenon and then an analysis of these examples to show how the traditional boundary conditions of “conservative” and “liberal” no longer suffice as an adequate explanation or descriptor of the positions advocated by an individual or party.


The first example pertains to whether the Sunni insurgency was primarily indigenous Sunnis or al Qaeda.  On or about July 2007, we released Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq.  The primary point of this article was not to berate the talking points of the administration or Multinational Force, but rather to point out that much of what had been called al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was actually indigenous Iraqi Sunnis.

The next example pertains to the state of the U.S. Army and Marines.  Mid-2007, Gen. Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducted his own review of our military posture and concluded that there has been an overall decline in military readiness and that there is a significant risk that the U.S. military would not be able to respond effectively if it were confronted with another crisis.  Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen gave warning in October of 2007 that the Army and Marines were weary.  Speaking of his visits to soldiers and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan … Mullen said: “They’re tired. They’ve been doing unbelievably great work for our country. And we need to make sure we take care of them and their families.” Regarding prolonged and repeated deployments for the ground forces in Iran and Afghanistan, he said, “The ground forces are not broken, but they are breakable.”

General Pace above was cited in the testimony of Lawrence J. Kord of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.  But W. Thomas Smith, Jr., an analyst who can hardly be called liberal, recently authored an analysis which calls the Army and Marines “war-weary” and “worn thin,” both in terms of human and materiel exhaustion.  This assessment is disputed by Major General Bob Scales, a Foxnews contributor, who uses re-enlistment statistics and other intangibles to conclude that the Army and Marines are resilient rather than broken.  Scales’ view is disputed in the superlative by General Richard A. Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, who said that the heavy deployments are inflicting “incredible stress” on soldiers and families and that they pose “a significant risk” to the nation’s all-volunteer military; and General Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, who called the current pace of operations “unsustainable.”

The final example is Basra, and prior and recent operations there to bring peace and stability.  For all the attention given to Basra in recent days, we’ll note that most analysts are Johnny come lately compared to The Captain’s Journal.  TCJ has been covering Basra beginning mid-2007 with Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement and The Rise of the JAM, recently with Continued Chaos in Basra and ending with As the Smoke Clears Over Basra.  The spin of victory is unrelenting.  One analyst is commenting that the Iraqi Army performance in Basra was good enough that it might be a model that points to a U.S. exit strategy.

Discussion and Analysis

An administration talking point during Operation Iraqi Freedom has been the battle with al Qaeda, and properly so.  But the term “al Qaeda” became a surrogate for a much larger campaign involving Ansar al Sunna, hard line Ba’athists, the Fedayeen, and indigenous fighters among other rogue elements.  The focus on al Qaeda neglected the strategy necessary to effect progress.  That is, insurgents who fight primarily (or at least partially) for religious reasons must be dealt with in a different way than indigenous insurgents.  For this reason The Captain’s Journal has been supportive of the concerned citizens program (now called sons of Iraq) for indigenous Sunnis, and exclusively kinetic operations against al Qaeda.  But balance is necessary, and we have also discussed Iraq as a watershed moment for al Qaeda, and the significant loss that al Qaeda has suffered as a result of sending so many of its fighters to die in Iraq.  In fact, as we had pointed out in Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda, by early to mid-2007, there was a paradigm shift concerning the recruitment of jihadists across the globe.  Iraq was and is becoming increasingly seen as a losing proposition for al Qaeda and the deployments of fighters is now primarily to Pakistan and Afghanistan rather than Iraq.

Over the course of this debate over al Qaeda, “conservatives” and “liberals” have become strange bedfellows.  Commentators on the right have argued for seeing the robust presence of al Qaeda in Iraq.  Commentators on the left find themselves in the hard position of having to relinquish their narrative that the U.S. is embroiled exclusively in a civil war in order to refute the conservative narrative.  We must leave Iraq immediately, says the left, because it is our mere presence there which is drawing jihadists from across the globe.  We must stay, says the right, because jihadists from across the globe are in Iraq and will cause a destabilizing presence if we leave.  Both narratives are shortsighted.  The exclusive focus by the right on al Qaeda missed the counterinsurgency strategy pressed by General Odierno to bring the indigenous fighters into the Iraqi fold.  The narrative on the left misses the role that a stable Iraq will play in the region over the next century, and assumes that al Qaeda has no regional or worldwide ambitions, contrary to its stated intent.

The current state of the U.S. military also brings the differences (and similarities) between the right and left into sharp focus.  The left has known for quite some time that the present pace of operations is unsustainable with the current military.  This has become a powerful talking point for withdrawal from at least one theater of operations, and this usually has been Iraq with most commentators.  In order to counter this point, some conservative commentators (including blogs and running up through retired generals) actually argue that the armed forces are – contrary to the specific, repeated, documented and insistent pronouncements by active duty generals – just fine.

But there is a problem with this narrative.  Tooling America for the long war is not something that either political party is ready to consider because of two reasons.  First, for the left, tooling for the long war would require acquiescence to the notion that there is such a thing.  Second, for the right, it would require the political courage to put before the American people that the time had come to go on a war footing.  Max Boot gives us a short picture of just how far we currently are from this footing.  “The overall size of our economy is $13.1 trillion. So the Iraq War is costing us less than 1% of GDP (0.91% to be exact). Even if you add in the entire defense budget that still only gets us to roughly 4% of GDP—roughly half of what we spent on average during the Cold War, to say nothing of previous “hot” wars such as World War II (34.5% of GDP), Korea (11.7%), and Vietnam (8.9%).”

The final example is interesting insofar as it unmasks the pretensions of the conservative narrative that the armed forces are having no problems with the current pace of operations.  This example is Basra.  If the U.S. Army and Marines can sustain the current pace of operations indefinitely without morale and materiel problems, then there is no need to see Basra as the exit strategy.

We must toe a balanced and careful line in these matters.  The campaign for Iraq is complex and requires patience, and measured words and doctrine, including full-orbed implementation of counterinsurgency involving both the hard and soft power of the government.  When a conservative takes the situation in Basra – where women have been beheaded by the hundreds, members of the the Iraqi Army deserted to the Mahdi militia, units in the Iraqi police were told not to shoot at the Mahdi militia even if shot at by them, and the Iranians had the power to broker the ceasefire – and turns this data on its head to conclude that this is some sort of victory for the Iraqi Army, then the conservative knows that he is on the wrong side of the data.  Pointing out failure is not the same thing as demanding retreat.  Max Boot, hardly having a history of advocacy for retreat, has one of the best analyses of Basra, and yet sees multiple failures on the part of the Iraqi army.

When a conservative finds himself ignoring the very real strain on the U.S. Army and Marines, he should know that he is on the wrong side of the data.  Usually supportive of the armed forces, when conservatives side with political talking points against the troops, the conservative soul has been lost.  The Captain’s Journal has good and well-sourced reason to believe that the recent resignation of CENTCOM commander Admiral William J. Fallon had little to do with any specific campaign, present or future, but rather, was focused more on whether the country itself is prepared to go on a war footing in order to tool the armed forces of the United States with the men and materiel it needs to conduct the long war.

The people of the United States will ultimately decide if and how to conduct the long war.  Issuing forth spin and fact-denial in the name of advocacy of that war (or for those on the left, advocacy against that war) creates an evolving narrative that changes as rapidly as the latest political soundbite, and places conservatives in truly dark company, unwittingly arguing for the diminution of the military.  Advocacy for winning the long war requires truth-telling.  It is always the best policy.  As part of this truth-telling, the need to increase the size and budget of the armed forces goes without question.  Going on a war footing to conduct the global war in which we now find ourselves should have been a point of contention in the new media for years.  Unfortunately, much of the new media is too wrapped up in talking points to engage the most significant issue of the century.

Kurds Desire Long Term U.S. Presence

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 5 months ago

In Standing up the Iraqi Army, we made the case that the state of the Iraqi army necessitated the long term presence of U.S. forces in order to protect Iraqi borders and ensure national sovereignty.  The U.N. recently extended the security agreement for U.S. forces in Iraq through the end of 2008.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for one year, a move that Iraq’s prime minister said would be his nation’s “final request” for help.

Authorization for the 160,000-strong multinational force was extended until the end of 2008 because “the threat in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,” according to the resolution.

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati called it a historic day for the country because the council renewed the mandate “for the last time” after long and hard negotiation. He expressed hope that the council would deal with Iraq without any military authorizations after 2008.

“We realize that Iraq still needs more time and intensive efforts to enable our armed forces to take over the security responsibilities all over Iraq from the multinational forces,” he said, noting that Iraqi forces took responsibility for Basra two days ago and now control nine provinces.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad formally introduced the resolution Tuesday afternoon and soon after the council met to approve it.

After the 15-0 vote, Khalilzad cited “positive developments in Iraq” including reduced violence. He welcomed the council’s support for the Iraqi government’s desire “to sustain this momentum” and keep the force in the country.

The resolution requires a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government or by June 15, 2008. It reiterates a provision of past resolutions that the council “will terminate this mandate earlier” if Iraq requests that.

It also says the Security Council would have to consider Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s request, in a letter on Dec. 7 to the Security Council’s president, that “this is to be the final request … for the extension of the mandate” for the U.S.-led force.

Asked whether the United States wanted to keep the door open to maintaining its troops in Iraq longer, Khalilzad said the extension is at the request of the Iraqi government “representing the will of the Iraqi people.”

“We hope that … with progress in Iraqi security capabilities that Iraq’s goal of self-reliance can be achieved as soon as possible,” he said.

Permanent bases have seemingly been rejected by the Iraq national security advisor.  “We need the United States in our war against terrorism, we need them to guard our border sometimes, we need them for economic support and we need them for diplomatic and political support,” Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said.  “But I say one thing, permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi,” he told Dubai-based al Arabiya television.

Strong words, these are.  But the Kurds see things a little differently.

A top Iraqi Kurdish leader Tuesday said the Kurds want a deal with Washington that would protect their rights as well ensure long term American troops presence in the country.

On his arrival from a visit to Washington, Omar Fatah, deputy prime minister of Iraq’s northern Kurdish government, said they want a “strategic agreement with the Americans” similar to the one between Washington and Baghdad signed last month (editorial note: this refers to the Maliki agreement with and Iraqi cabinet approval of the petition before the U.N. referred to above).

That was for a long-term economic and political agreement that would also keep U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2008.

“We expressed our pleasure about the agreement between Washington and Baghdad, ” said Fatah, adding Iraqi Kurds want a similar deal. “We want an agreement that would see that Kurds are not oppressed again,” he said, referring to atrocities committed by the former regime against them.

Fatah said during his visit he also told U.S. leaders the Kurds were in favor of a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq.

U.S. forces will be required long beyond 2008, and the Kurdish north is the likely beneficiary of the money and work that will flow as a result of this presence.  Another benefit of this arrangement is the role that U.S. forces will play in regional stabilization.

Regional Flux and the Long War

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 6 months ago

Former Commander of CENTCOM General John Philip Abizaid, born to a Christian Lebanese-American father and fluent in Arabic and knowledgeable in Middle Eastern culture, coined the phrase long war to describe the conflict with extremist Islamic groups such as al Qaeda.  This phrase was dropped by Admiral William J. Fallon, but the idea is the same and the conflict will not go away because the phrase isn’t used at CENTCOM any more.

Michael Yon has posted an interesting and well-supported article entitled Al Qaeda is Defeated.  He documents the perspective of a powerful South Baghdad tribe concerning al Qaeda violence in their city.

Sheik Omar, who has gained the respect of American combat leaders for his intelligence and organizational skills, said the tough line against al Qaeda is also enforced at the tribal level. According to Sheik Omar, the Jabouri tribe, too, is actively committed to destroying al Qaeda. So much so, that Jabouri tribal leaders have decided they would “kill their own sons? if any aided al Qaeda. To underscore the point, he went on to say that about 70 Jabouri “sons? had been killed by the Jabouri tribe so far.

This perspective is not dissimilar from the Anbar tribes after the assassination of Awakening leader shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha by a roadside bomb.  His brother Ahmed vowed to fight al Qaeda to the last child in Anbar.  Soon after this The Captain’s Journal discussed the idea that Iraq was al Qaeda’s quagmire, a title line that was later used for an editorial by the New York Post.  But we also pointed out that al Qaeda would be able to pull off spectacular bombings, and the battle was not yet finished.  This moderation seems to coincide with comments by General Petraeus, when he said that al Qaeda was reeling and their presence was significantly reduced, but also that “al-Qaida remains a very dangerous and very lethal enemy of Iraq. We must maintain contact with them and not allow them to establish sanctuaries or re-establish sanctuaries in places where they were before.?

The flux or movement of fighers not only within Iraq but within the region suggests that there is mutual cooperation, communication and support within the network of jihadists throughout the region.  In fact, as al Qaeda is gradually defeated in Iraq, this same class of fighters is seen entering Afghanistan to conduct combat against coalition forces.

Afghan police officers working a highway checkpoint near here noticed something odd recently about a passenger in a red pickup truck. Though covered head to toe in a burqa, the traditional veil worn by Afghan women, she was unusually tall. When the police asked her questions, she refused to answer.

When the veil was eventually removed, the police found not a woman at all, but Andre Vladimirovich Bataloff, a 27-year-old man from Siberia with a flowing red beard, pasty skin and piercing blue eyes. Inside the truck was 1,000 pounds of explosives.

Afghan and American officials say the Siberian intended to be a suicide bomber, one of several hundred foreign militants who have gravitated to the region to fight alongside the Taliban this year, the largest influx since 2001.

The foreign fighters are not only bolstering the ranks of the insurgency. They are more violent, uncontrollable and extreme than even their locally bred allies, officials on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border warn.

They are also helping to change the face of the Taliban from a movement of hard-line Afghan religious students into a loose network that now includes a growing number of foreign militants as well as disgruntled Afghans and drug traffickers.

Foreign fighters are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries and perhaps also Turkey and western China, Afghan and American officials say.

Fighters of Chechen, African and Far Eastern descent have also been recently killed in Fallujah, and if any have lived through the Iraq campaign, there is no doubt that there is some relocation from Iraq to Afghanistan.  This isn’t to say that the Iraq campaign is finished, but that the battle space is fluid and dynamic.  Taliban commanders in Afghanistan say that they communicate with al Qaeda leadership in Iraq.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published a sobering commentary for the prospects of the region when the U.S. withdraws.

This is the main problem. America will leave the region and we will find ourselves opening a new chapter that is no better than where we are today. After Iraq and Lebanon are devoured by Iran and Syria, the Gulf region will [find itself] under the siege of the Islamic revolution and under pressure from Syrian meddling. In this case, [our only option will be] to welcome the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, which will establish their own branches in many Arab countries with Iranian sponsorship and Syrian support.

It is then that we will see many Khaled Mash’als, Hassan Nasrallahs, and Rustum Ghazalis, as well as [numerous] armed forces whose names will begin with ‘Jerusalem,’ and we do not know where all this will end. Therefore, in light of the American withdrawal and the lack of Arab action, the region will witness its second downfall – but this time, it will be at the hand of Tehran and Damascus.

Further West, Afghan forces could be as many as ten years from being able fully to take over security for their nation.  It is important to report and analyze the positive news, and as we have stated here before, al Qaeda is in a quagmire in Iraq.  But it is just as important not to prematurely declare victory and stand down.  Al Qaeda still has life in Iraq and must be completely rooted out.  Afghanistan is the forgotten war which must be re-engaged, and sooner rather than later.  Finally, Syria and Iran are bitter roots within the region and there will be no stability as long as their current regimes are in power.  The long war is not finished.

Iranians Proud to be Terrorists

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 9 months ago

The U.S. administration intends to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (or perhaps better known as the Quds force) as a specially designated global terrorist group.  “The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities.”

Ralph Peters adds that “The real reason for the move is to set up a legal basis for airstrikes or special operations raids on the Guard’s bases in Iran.  Our policy is that we reserve the right to whack terrorists anywhere in the world. Now we have newly designated terrorists. And we know exactly where they are.”  Of course as Michael Ledeen points out, the Quds force is a terrorist organization simply because they are an arm of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terror.

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.

And indeed, the Iranians are proud of it.  A more preening, arrogant, self-important dance-strut is hard to imagine.  Think end-zone dance during a football game.  This is the picture of the “Holy Man” of Iran dancing to the sound that the U.S. declares his nation’s special forces to be a terrorist organization.

Provisional Friday Prayer Leader of Tehran said here Friday the US decision to include the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in the list of international terrorist organizations is another golden page in the IRGC’s history.

Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami added, “As in the nuclear case, the Iranian nation and government would never leave alone their revolutionary offsprings.”

Two leading US dailies, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported in their Wednesday edition about US officials intention to survey adding the name of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to the list of the international organs involved in terrorist acts.

According to IRNA Political Desk reporter, Ayatollah Khatami in his second sermon, addressed to thousands of Tehrani worshipers at central campus of Tehran University, congratulated the IRGC on blessed birth anniversary of the Third Shi’a Imam, Husain ibn Ali (PBUH), that is marked as the Islamic Guards Day.

He said, “The IRGC has truly shined well during the 28-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, both in confronting foreign enemies and foiling domestic plots.”

Khatami said, “Among the prides of the IRGC we can refer to the late founder of the Islamic Republic’s words about the Guard Corps, where he said he was pleased with the IRGC, and that he would never think negatively about them.

He added, “The late Imam also said that there would have been no Islamic Republic of Iran if there were no IRGC; I love the IRGC very dearly; My entire hope lies in IRGC’s conduct;” and “There is nothing in the records of the IRGC, save serving Islam.”

Ayatollah Khatami said, “Therefore, the US State Department’s decision to include IRGC in its list of world terror organs is merely another golden point in the records of IRGC pride.

A senior Iranian cleric also warns the U.S. not to pick on the Guards. ““Americans should know that in this field, as with nuclear energy, they are dealing with the whole nation. And the great nation of Iran will never abandon its revolutionary people,? Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Friday prayers in Teheran.”

A clearer indication of the intentions of the state of Iran is not needed.  It is not just that the Quds force is a terrorist organization.  More than that, the state of Iran is an international sponsor of terror.  Hence, its official international machinations must be seen as those of terrorists.  Iran and sponsors of terror is a global problem, and until a global solution is implemented, the U.S. will likely lose the local skirmishes that occur, including Operation Iraqi Freeedom.  Each and every military engagement in Iraq will be a victory for the U.S., and yet the final result will be a loss or statemate with the global forces of terror.  That is, until we think and act globally.

**** UPDATE ****

Quds threatens to “punch” the U.S.:

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said they would not bow to pressure and threatened to “punch” the U.S., in their first response to Washington’s plan to list them as a terrorist organization, newspapers reported Saturday.

Local press in the Iranian capital of Tehran quoted Revolutionary Guards leader Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi saying that he could understand Washington’s ire toward the group because of their “leverage” against the U.S.

“America will receive a heavier punch from the guards in the future,” he was quoted as saying in the conservative daily Kayhan. “We will never remain silent in the face of U.S. pressure and we will use our leverage against them.”

There was no elaboration on what Safavi meant by the punch or the organization’s “leverage.”

Read the story here.

The Long Range Iraq Plan and its Critics

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 10 months ago

The broad outlines of the long range plan being formalized by senior military leadership was divulged several days ago.  The plan includes an extension of force deployment in Iraq to provide security, along with pressure on the government and various political and religious factions to resolve differences.

Fred Kaplan weighed in on the plan at Slate in an article entitled Interesting But Doomed: Why Petraeus’ Ingtriguing New Iraq Strategy Will Probably Fail.  The plan has numerous critics, but Kaplan’s most recent article warrants close study, including (we think) at the same time both misperception and compelling argument.  In order to mine his complex thoughts on the matter, his article will be cited at length, followed up by commentary and analysis.  Kaplan writes:

If the U.S. military had, say, 100,000 more troops to send and another 10 years to keep them there; if the Iraqi security forces (especially the Iraqi police) were as skilled and, more important, as loyal to the Iraqi nation (as opposed to their ethnic sects) as many had hoped they would be by now; if the Iraqi government were a governing entity, as opposed to a ramshackle assemblage that can barely form a quorum—then maybe, maybe, this plan might have a chance.

But under the circumstances, it seems unlikely. One officer who’s familiar with Iraq planning put it this way to me: “No one who understands the situation is optimistic. I think the division among those who have thought deeply about the situation is mainly between those who are still fighting and trying to influence the outcome and those who have concluded that the principal objective must now become disengagement.”

Kaplan outlines in broad form the known problems with the Iraqi government and culture, and then summarizes his opening remarks by citing bleak insider views about the situation.  Then he gets specific.

First, to define “localized security” as including “Baghdad and other areas” is to finesse the major challenge. Securing Baghdad and securing “other areas” have long been considered two separate goals. The former involves pacifying the capital, to give the national politicians enough “breathing room” to make their deals. The latter involves keeping the rest of the country—or at least the major cities—sufficiently secure that democratic politics can function from the ground up as well as from the top down. Ever since late last year, when President Bush ordered the “surge” and hired Gen. Petraeus to create a counterinsurgency strategy, the plan has involved securing the capital and the provinces simultaneously.

The problem—a familiar one—is that we don’t have enough troops to do this all at once. No one who has seriously analyzed the problem ever believed that a “surge” of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. combat troops would be sufficient. It was assumed from the outset that at least two or three times that many would have to come from the Iraqi army (whose soldiers, furthermore, would have to take the lead in many operations) and the Iraqi police (who would need to maintain order once the troops seized new territory).

Yet Iraqi forces have not materialized in anything like the necessary numbers. Many army units are infiltrated with sectarian militiamen. Many, if not most, police units are thoroughly corrupted.

The second, “intermediate” phase of the plan is more intriguing, but ultimately unpersuasive. For a few months now, U.S. field commanders have formed alliances with Sunni tribesmen, especially in Anbar province, for the common goal of crushing jihadists. The new plan, as the Times puts it, is “to stitch together such local arrangements to establish a broader sense of security on a nationwide basis.”

But in these alliances, we’re dealing with tribesmen who are cooperating with us for a common goal. It is not at all clear on what basis these various local Sunni factions can be stitched together into some seamless security quilt—or why, because they’ve agreed to help us kill jihadists, they might suddenly agree to stop killing Shiites, compromise their larger ambitions, redirect their passions into peaceful politics, and settle into a minority party’s status within a unified government.

Kaplan has within a few words hit on three salient themes: (1) force size, (2) ‘whack-a-mole’ counterinsurgency, and (3) the inability to utilize Iraqi security forces and police to assist in the COIN campaign due to corruption and sectarian divisions.  Kaplan then targets the strategy of alliance with the Anbar tribal leaders and explains why he believes that this ultimately will fail (or at least, most probably will fail).

Alliances of convenience rarely outlive their immediate aims. Josef Stalin formed an alliance with the United States and Britain for the purpose of defeating Nazi Germany. But once the war was over, he had no interest in integrating the Soviet Union into the Western economic system.

The idea of extending the alliances may have come, in part, from Stephen Biddle, a military historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who, according to the Times, was a member of the “Joint Strategic Assessment Team” that helped conceive the new U.S. strategy.

In a July 12 interview at the Council, conducted by Bernard Gwertzman, Biddle said that the only way to secure all of Iraq is “to negotiate a series of cease-fire deals with Iraq’s current combatants in which, even though they retain the ability to fight, they decide it’s in their own self-interest to … decline to fight.”

He referred to Anbar as “a model” for this concept, and added, “There are now similar negotiations ongoing in a variety of other places around Iraq.” In Anbar, he said, the alliance “dropped into our lap”; the Sunni sheiks came to us and asked for help. “If it’s going to happen elsewhere, we’re going to have to take a more proactive role. … We have to start using the military not as a device to secure everything uniformly but as a device for creating incentives and disincentives—sticks and carrots—to push along the process of local cease-fires with particular factions.” For instance, he said, we would have to tell each faction: “We will defend you if you cooperate; if you don’t cooperate, we will attack you” …

Some set of “sticks and carrots” could conceivably extend the alliances of convenience into a sustained cease-fire of normal democratic politics. But if so, the deal would have to be hammered out by a recognized government in Baghdad. Neither Gen. Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker (nor, for that matter, President Bush) has the political authority to make such a deal—much less the military firepower to enforce it.

Analysis &  Commentary

Stephen Biddle notwithstanding, reconciliation with the indigenous insurgency in Anbar has been ongoing for quite a while.  It is absurd to claim that the peace between the Anbar tribes and U.S. forces merely “dropped into our lap.”  As we observed in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq:

… terrorization of the population (and competing groups) managed to achieve its goal of keeping the population in submission, at least until the Marines prevailed over the course of several years at hunting down and killing many of the rogue elements.  It has been observed that  ?Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.?

When the population observed that the Marines had no intention of retreat and never lost a military engagement, and also when the tribal leaders saw that the rogue elements were subsuming their role as chieftans and leaders of their people, the storied alliance developed.  This alliance may have been strategic and convenient at first, but is now pivotal and absolutely essential to the success of pacification of Anbar.

The coup is not merely that the tribal chiefs and their people are cooperating with U.S. forces.  It is larger than that.  The coup is that the insurgency, properly defined as indigenous fighters rather than terrorists and foreign fighters – those who were previously pointing a gun towards U.S. troops – are now pointing them at the terrorists.  Not only have many of them made peace with the U.S., but in a development just as important, the U.S. forces have made peace with them.  This has been accomplished with the new difficulty introduced by globalization (foreign fighters), and the new difficulty introduced by religious fanaticism (suicide bombers), and the new difficulty introduced by technology (stand off weapons such as roadside bombs).  This is a counterinsurgency tour de force, and as time judges this victory it will take its rightful place in the great military campaigns of world history.

This alliance was necessary for several reasons, including the corruption and sectarian division that Kaplan mentions.  We have pointed out before (The Use of Miltias and Iraqi Army Unreadiness) by citing the scholarly work entitled Why Arabs Lose Wars, that the weakness of Middle Eastern armies runs even deeper than Kaplan charges.  The alliance with the Anbar tribes didn’t just “drop into our lap,” and the plan was necessary for more reasons that sectarian divisions and corruption, although these counted as major contributors.

But Kaplan’s assessment concerning the risk is important.  For insurgents who only saw U.S. Marines from far away and without the aid of really understanding what they were doing and why they were doing it, they will become a dangerous enemy if after watching (or even participating in) satellite patrols and other TTPs they now revert to being enemies of the U.S. again.  This must not happen.

But there is indeed a clear and present danger that the Sunni / Shi’ite divide is getting worse instead of better.  Electrical power is still sporadic in Anbar, and the promised reconstruction has not been forthcoming from the Shi’ite controlled government.  Hence, in protest, the Sunni bloc recently walked out of the government.  There has been a low-grade civil war for years now, and Michael Yon recently weighed in on the pressure it brings to bear on the situation.

… the civil war continues to exert pressure here. As AQI is run off or bashed down, one of the larger concerns is that the Shia JAM militias will fill the power vacuum. Even as LTC Johnson and others were arranging food drop-offs in late June, the politics of whether to drop supplies to Sunni or Shia first became acute and gave rise to arguments. Soldiers don’t want to be seen as killing al Qaeda only to pump up JAM, which exists to “protect? Shia, usually by attacking Sunnis before they can attack first.

Kaplan’s point about force size is a theme that has been reiterated here, and while U.S. forces are now patrolling with former Sunni insurgents in Anbar and training the police, they are battling Shi’ite insurgents elsewhere.

Kaplan fails to mention two of the more thorny problems for Operation Iraqi Freedom and any possible success of long range security.  First, it will be impossible to reconcile the Sunni and Shi’ite factions with militants like Moqtada al Sadr being left unmolested.  Second, while the U.S. forces have battled indigenous insurgents in Anbar, the battle for Iraq is more than the classical counterinsurgency as we have previously discussed.  There is very much a global aspect to the struggle.  Iranian involvement to destabilize Iraq is well known.  But it is becoming clear that Iraq is becoming a locale for proxy wars of all kinds (such as Iran v. U.S., al Qaeda v. U.S., Sunni v. Shi’a and vice versa).

The role of Saudi Arabia in Iraq is only now being protested.

Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

Iraq has become a battlespace for a war between the Shi’a and Sunni, between Iran and the balance of the Middle East (except Syria and Lebanon).  There are a whole host of complex problems with OIF, from force size, to proxy wars, to porous borders.  Only time will tell if the U.S. engages this battle as one of many to come in the long war, or loses its first encounter with militant Islam and global rogue terrorist elements.  In the mean time, the long range plan for Iraq suffers from insufficient force size, lack of support at home, and a lack of willingness of senior military leadership to admit the global nature of the conflict to the American public.

On Leaving Iraq and The Long War

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 10 months ago

The press reports are repleat with analyses about the exodus from Iraq and what that might look like.  Most of them are poorly reasoned reports, but some are insightful and informative.  I had previously predicted that it would require more than a year to remove all men and materiel from Iraq.  It looks like this prediction is gratuitous.  The Director of CENTCOM Logistics Operations Center weighs in on just what is going to be necessary to pull off redeployment from Iraq.

Political and public demand for a quick withdrawal is rising. But nothing about withdrawal will be quick.

The 20 ground combat brigades deployed here will fill 10,000 flatbed trucks and will take a year to move, logistics experts say. A full withdrawal, shipping home some 200,000 Americans and thousands of tons of equipment, dismantling dozens of American bases and disposing of tons of accumulated toxic waste, will take 20 months or longer, they estimate.

Yet the administration, long intent on avoiding what it once called a “cut and run” retreat from Iraq, has done little to lay the groundwork for withdrawal, officials here said.

“We don’t have the plan in detail yet. We’re seriously engaged in trying to figure this out,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Gray Payne, director of the U.S. Central Command’s logistics operations center.

Even with the benefit of a detailed plan, Payne said, “this is going to be an enormous challenge.”

Extricating combat forces during an active war is a tricky military maneuver under the best of circumstances, according to interviews with senior military officers and dozens of tactical and strategic military planners and logistics experts in Iraq and at U.S. military facilities across the region.

A hastier departure could find military convoys stalled on roads cratered by roadside bombs, interrupted by blown bridges and clogged with fleeing refugees; heavy cargo planes jammed with troops could labor into skies dark with smoke rising from abandoned American bases.

How the United States manages to disentangle itself from Iraq, whether in a graceful redeployment that strengthens stability or in a more chaotic retreat, will have profound repercussions for American power and prestige in the region, military and civilian strategists said.

Indeed, even though the word withdrawal has become this summer’s most shopworn term in Washington, few have grasped the staggering difficulty, time and cost of actually carrying it out.

“It’s going to be mind-boggling – like picking up the city of Los Angeles and putting all the pieces somewhere else,” said an official of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, which will oversee much of the work.

Indeed, American power and prestige in the Middle East is an important parameter by which to perform planning for redeployment.  Time gives us a description of the strategic planning problems presented by redeployment in How to Leave Iraq, followed by my own recommendations.

The reality is that it’s difficult to get out fast. It took the Soviets nine months to pull 120,000 troops out of Afghanistan. They were simply going next door, and they still lost more than 500 men on the way out. Pulling out 10 combat brigades — roughly 30,000 troops, along with their gear and support personnel — would take at least 10 months, Pentagon officials say. And that’s only part of the picture. There are civilians who would probably want to head for the exit when GIs started packing. They include some 50,000 U.S. contractors and tens of thousands of Iraqis who might need protection if we left the country.

Slowing things down further is the sheer volume of stuff that we would have to take with us — or destroy if we couldn’t. Military officials recently told Congress that 45,000 ground-combat vehicles — a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and humvees — are now in Iraq. They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. These items have to be taken back home or destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of one faction or another. Pentagon officials will try to bring back as much of the downtime gear as possible — dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters. William (Gus) Pagonis, the Army logistics chief who directed the flood of supplies to Saudi Arabia for the 1991 Gulf War and their orderly withdrawal from the region, cites one more often overlooked hurdle: U.S. agricultural inspectors insist that, before it re-enters the U.S., Army equipment be free of any microscopic disease that, as Pagonis puts it, “can wipe out flocks of chickens and stuff like that.”

Once the U.S. decides to pull its forces back, the security risks to troops leaving the battlefield would increase, and the faster the U.S. withdraws, the greater the dangers. Departing troops lose their focus and become easy targets, says Pagonis. Local militias usually try to prove their mettle by firing at departing columns. “It would be ugly,” says retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, who supports a partial withdrawal. “You’d burn or blow up a lot of your equipment or hand it over to the Iraqis. You’d be subject to attack on your way down to the coast because on the way, people would say, ‘We can either throw rose petals or shoot at ‘em,’ and they’d shoot at us.” A gradual exit rather than an immediate one isn’t merely the wiser course; it’s the only course.

A reduction in the U.S. combat presence would probably produce one clear benefit: a lower U.S. casualty rate. But a chilling truth is that as the U.S. death toll declined, the Iraqi one would almost surely soar. Just how many Iraqis would die if the U.S. withdrew is anyone’s guess, but almost everyone who has studied it believes the current rate of more than a thousand a month would spike dramatically. It might not resemble Rwanda, where more than half a million people were slaughtered in six months in 1994. But Iraq could bleed like the former Yugoslavia did from 1992 to 1995, when 250,000 perished.

There is no debate about why: in the wake of an American pullout, Baghdad would be quickly dominated by Shi’ite militias largely unbloodied by the American campaign. Already, well-armed security forces that pose as independent are riddled with militiamen who take direction from Shi’ite leaders. Death-squad killings of Sunnis would rise. Against such emboldened forces, Sunni insurgents and elements of Saddam Hussein’s former regime would retaliate with their weapon of choice: car-bomb attacks against Shi’ite markets, shrines, police stations and recruiting depots.

One result of the military’s “surge” strategy is that the U.S. has handed over to Sunni tribal sheiks much greater responsibility for their security — and even the weapons to back it up — in exchange for severing their links to al-Qaeda. That’s a manageable risk while U.S. forces are nearby; if they depart, it becomes tinder in a dry forest. The danger would be not just sectarian slaughter but outright anarchy as well. “Our immediate concern,” says a senior Arab diplomat, “is that sending a signal of complete withdrawal could encourage some elements in every faction in every political group that they can now impose their own agenda. It would be not only Shi’ite versus Sunni … but [war] inside each community itself. The worst case is a Somalia-ization of Iraq.”

Consistent with the thematic presentation here at TCJ, we believe that we are in the “long war.”  It is past time to jettison old paradigms of global conflict from fifty years ago when we were planning to protect Europe from The Soviet Union and the Far East from China, and enter the twenty first century.  The Far East has come of age, and it is time for Taiwan, Japan and South Korea to prepare for its own self defense.  It is simply too costly, both in wealth and in misdirection of U.S. resources from the real conflicts of the future, to continue to defend the Far East.

We favor a redeployment as soon as possible, but one from Germany, Japan, South Korea and Okinawa to the Middle East.  The idea that after expending such blood and wealth to secure a toehold in the Middle East we would relinquish it to be burned and used against us as we depart is not only sickening and psychologically debilitating, but dangerous and inadvisable.  It does not comport with our understanding of the conflict in which we are engaged.

Of course, it will be necessary to reformulate the model.  FOBs and combat outposts in Anbar will eventually go away, much to the delight of the U.S. Marines.  It is doubtful that the Shi’a will acquiesce to British presence for the long term, a problem we will address in upcoming articles.  But make no mistake.  U.S. deployment in some fashion – perhaps to the Kurdish region, for Iraq/Iran and Iraq/Syria border security, assistance with specialized kinetic operations, training of Iraqi troops and police, etc. – is necessary and good for the foreseeable future.  We should be in the Middle East for a long, long time.  The intractable myth that our presence in the Middle East is merely a recruiting tool for the Salafists is nothing more than pitiful hand-wringing.  The U.S. should become one of the most powerful “tribes” in the Middle East.

The way to avoid the paradoxes associated with redeployment of our entire military back to the U.S. is to avoid redeployment to begin with.  It will save the deployment costs associated with the next Small War in which we engage in the Middle East.

Warring the Narrative

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 10 months ago

Bing West has another good commentary at the Small Wars Journal Blog entitled Winning the Narrative.  There are two categories of Iraq observers, says West.  The first is the anti-terror camp.  This camp believes that the indigenous Sunnis rejected al Qaeda’s religious extremism when it became obvious that they could not wrest power from the Shi’a, and didn’t want proponents of radical religious ideas as their rulers.  West observes:

It’s conventional wisdom now to say that Anbar improved because the Sunni tribes aligned against al Qaeda. True enough, but an incomplete explanation. With inadequate manpower, the Marines and Army National Guard and active duty soldiers persisted year after year with gritty, relentless patrolling that convinced the tribes the American military was, as one tribal leader said to me, “the strongest tribe”. Hence the tribes could turn against al Qaeda, knowing they had the strongest tribe standing behind them.

West echoes my sentiments in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, where I said that:

The coup is not merely that the tribal chiefs and their people are cooperating with U.S. forces.  It is larger than that.  The coup is that the insurgency, properly defined as indigenous fighters rather than terrorists and foreign fighters – those who were previously pointing a gun towards U.S. troops – are now pointing them at the terrorists.  Not only have many of them made peace with the U.S., but in a development just as important, the U.S. forces have made peace with them.  This has been accomplished with the new difficulty introduced by globalization (foreign fighters), and the new difficulty introduced by religious fanaticism (suicide bombers), and the new difficulty introduced by technology (stand off weapons such as roadside bombs).  This is a counterinsurgency tour de force, and as time judges this victory it will take its rightful place in the great military campaigns of world history.

The second is the sectarian camp, which believes that intransigent hostility between Shi’ites and Sunnis has caused a civil war, or more correctly, will blow up into a fully realized civil war upon the departure of U.S. troops, whenever that is.  Terrorism is still a major problem, but underneath this lies a current of sectarian animosity the depth and strength of which is not completely known (The Strategy Page has an article up on the possibility of an all-out civil war if the U.S. leaves.  Civil war has not happened yet, though it could).

The narrative, says West, has been inconsistent thus far, leading to the failure to support a single narrative.  To this, we respond the following.

The problem to which Mr. West alludes is greater than he credits in his insightful analysis.  Only hours after authoring Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, in which I claimed that the majority of the insurgency in Anbar had been indigenous Sunnis (while also discussing the nuances of the superimposition of terrorism by al Qaeda in Mesopotamia), and in which I claimed that the counterinsurgency victory by the Marines in Anbar would go down as the greatest in military history, an intelligence specialist wrote me to concur with the piece, saying that “if anyone thinks that al Qaeda controls more than 10% of the insurgency they’re crazy.”

Yet we have our Commander in Chief saying that the people we’re fighting in Iraq are the same people who were responsible for 9/11 (an assertion that correctly gets no traction with the American public), and the Multinational Force PAO office issuing thousands of press releases, many of which refer to degrading the ability of al Qaeda to conduct operations, and some of which should have been discussing the Iraqi insurgency or AAS.  Al Qaeda has become a surrogate for all of the enemy, and clear narrative has been sacrificed on the altar of convenience.  It is too difficult to explain what we are doing to the American people, or so it must be believed.

Think Aaron Copland and his brilliant “Americana” style compositions.  The majestic, broad, moving, sweeping, engaging and unforgettable movements of instruments together to create the emotional experience of literally hearing his thoughts.  We need this in our narrative, and it has been absent for so long that it may be irrecoverable.  But there is more.  We need the narrative to be smart, intelligent and sophisticated.  We need a national narrative to explain the “long war” to the American public.  I would even settle for pragmatic at this point, straight from Ralph Peters.  In the event of a precipitous departure, the following would occur:

  1. After suffering a strategic defeat, al-Qaeda-in-Iraq comes back from the dead …
  2. Iran establishes hegemony over Iraq’s southern oil fields and menaces the other Persian Gulf producers.
  3. Our troops will have died in vain.
  4. A slaughter of the innocents.

I recently attended a funeral for an elderly person, and the elderly there counted many World War II veterans.  Each one wanted to know my son’s location, billet, MOS, and unit.  As they talked, each one said to me that although my son may be coming home soon, God willing that is, the war will not be over for a long, long time.  And they were not referring to the war in Iraq.  They knew.  In their eyes you could tell.  They knew that we are in the “long war.”

Our national narrative has failed to match the magnitude and stakes in the long war.  But rest assurred, the enemy’s narrative has no such weakness.  Not all of the future enemies of America in the long war will fight for religious reasons, and perhaps not even the majority.  I have gone on record saying that the insurgency in Anbar was primarily indigenous Sunni, and that the strategy to settle with them was brilliant and will go down as the template for future COIN campaigns.  But for some of the enemy, the narrative is clear, and it is powerful.

“With al Qaeda, we are in a global fight between two worlds,” he said. “Al Qaeda is not a territorial organization. It’s not Hamas, it’s not Hizballah and it’s not the Taliban.”

Instead, it should be compared to the Marxist revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s that attracted young Westerners to fight in places like the jungles of South America. Al Qaeda, Roy said, is in fact part of a global revolutionary tradition.

“Today the narrative of the revolt is religious. Forty years ago it was Marxist. Today it is religious and particularly Muslim. But we are still in a global revolt against the system, without having a clear vision of an alternative system,” he said.

Roy contended that al Qaeda members are anti-American only because America incarnates the “world order” — and this “world order is perceived as unjust.”

Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a specialist on the Middle East from the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris (IFRI), identified al Qaeda terrorists as “people who don’t think they have their place in globalization.”

Bing has written a smart commentary that is “gilding the lilly.”  Before we can even hope to develop a narrative of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we need to develop a national narrative.  National leadership is needed, and so far it has not been forthcoming.

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