Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Regional Flux and the Long War

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 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.

The Sniper Threat and USA Today Hit Piece

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

IEDs have received their due attention, but with the exception of web sites like this one, sniper attacks have been somewhat overlooked in the press in terms of troop risk and force protection.  The Department of Defense knows about the risk, and has requested supplemental funding to decrease the risk for fiscal year 2008.

The dangers from enemy sniper attacks have increased steadily during the past year, with the number of attacks quadrupling. These attacks have not only caused numerous casualties, but have had an adverse psychological effect on both Coalition forces and the Iraqi civilian populace. Victims in sniper incidents have a fatality rate of over 70 percent. A shift in enemy tactics that increases the number of sniper attacks could potentially inflict even more casualties than IEDs. To guard against such a shift, the Amendment includes $1.4 billion for a full suite of counter-sniper capabilities designed to prevent, survive, and react to sniper attacks. This includes enhanced optics, soldier protection, active sniper defeat systems, sensors, concealment, and development of new tactics.

Tens of millions of people were walking to work a few days after this was released and glanced over at the newspaper stands seeing USA Today charge the Pentagon with falsification of data regarding the sniper threat in Iraq.

The Pentagon has asked Congress for $1.4 billion in emergency spending to combat a growing threat of sniper attacks in Iraq based on an overstated assessment of the extent of the attacks, its records show.

In last week’s spending request, the Pentagon said sniper attacks have quadrupled in the past year and, if unchecked, the attacks could eclipse roadside bombs as the top killer of U.S. troops. However, the rate of sniper attacks has dropped slightly in 2007 and fallen dramatically in the past four months, according to military records given to USA TODAY.

Pentagon officials acknowledged the mistake Monday after questions about the data were raised by USA TODAY.

“The term quadrupled will be removed from the justification because it is simply incorrect,” said Dave Patterson, deputy undersecretary of Defense.

In 2006, there were 386 sniper attacks on coalition forces, according to data from the Multi-National Force-Iraq headquarters in Iraq. Through Oct. 26 of this year, there were 269 sniper attacks, the figures show.

Noah Shachtman at Danger Room responded to his initial discussion of this with nevermind, and various left leaning blogs jumped on the opportunity to charge the Pentagon with dishonesty.  But should Noah have stuck to his guns, and do the left leaning blogs have something to crow about?  The answer is certainly not nevermind.

Spook at In From the Cold has an interesting analysis of the data given to USA Today.

First, let’s examine the so-called “rate of attacks” cited by the paper. In 2007, the military reported 386 sniper attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, an average of just over one per day. Through 26 October of this year, there have been 269 sniper attacks, an average of less than one a day. But the paper also acknowledges that there has been a dramatic drop over the last four months–without acknowledging the apparent reason for the decrease, i.e., the troop surge (emphasis mine). Mistake #1.

USA Today’s second error is failing to compute the surge’s impact on the decrease in sniper attacks. Without the drop that occurred between July and October, what would the numbers look like? While it’s highly unlikely that the difference would equal a four-fold increase, it is reasonable to assume that without the surge (and the recent drop in violence), the number of sniper attacks would be on pace with last year’s total–or perhaps slightly higher. That would provide additional justification for sniper mitigation programs.

This is true, and while it calls into question the USA Today model for understanding the data, and while it is tempting to go down this analysis rabbit trail, it neglects the fundamental flaws in the article.  Consider the number again: 269 sniper attacks.  So precisely what constitutes a sniper attack, according to the Multinational Force data?  Deaths of U.S. servicemen is routinely reported as something like “Multinational Force West forces attacked,” for example.  If attacks means deaths or casualties, then the data necessitates consideration of a host of things other than sniper risk, such as the success of the surge, overall success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, combat operations, both planned and intelligence-driven, etc.  Any Soldier or Marine in a hot spot in Iraq knows that the value of 269 doesn’t come close to representing the number of shots taken by an individual Platoon or Company during deployment, much less the entirety of the U.S. forces in Iraq.  This number is so low that even the USA Today reporter should have questioned the use of it to prove anything, much less the extent of the sniper threat in Iraq.

Moreover, while it is easy to define an IED, we may ask the question “how do we define a sniper attack?”  Would the definition of “fire received from a position of concealment with U.S. forces lacking positive identification (PID) of the enemy” suffice?  If so, then the vast majority of small arms fire in Iraq is sniper fire, at least initially, given the military operations on urban terrain (MOUT).

Semantics cloud the issue and precise definitions elude us.  It is simple enough to parse U.S. risk into two cause categories: IEDs and small arms fire (whether they immediately redound to casualties or not).  The Department of Defense, although lethargic to respond, now has a robust program of MRAPs and other equipment to address the IED problem.  While there are various gadgets that the DoD is investigating, the solution to the sniper problem seems to have three avenues of approach: time, distance and shielding.  Distance is a difficult tactic to leverage to our advantage, since urban terrain presents the closest combat operations anywhere on earth.  The two remaining avenues are time and shielding.

Time may be dealt with at the tactical level by maneuvers such as satellite patrols, modifications and variations on satellite patrols, rapid movement, concealment, etc.  But regardless of how small a Soldier or Marine makes himself, small arms fire is a difficult problem, and as we have covered here, shooters have learned to aim for areas not covered by ceramic ballistic plates (head, neck, and armpits just above the side ESAPI plate, especially if it is sagging because of being hung with Molle straps).  Terry Nickelson, previously embedded with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, reported recently from Fallujah.

Movement – and staying behind cover — is the best defense against snipers.  They dash across intersections and run across fields and vacant lots filled with rubble all the while zigging and zagging, bobbing and weaving, and turning and pivoting to make themselves as difficult targets as possible.  With all the extra movement – and weight – crossing a 100 meter vacant lot can become a 200 meter broken field lung-burster …

It was during a similar patrol a week or so earlier that a Marine from Golf Company was on the roof of a similar house and — with a sudden,  small spark as a bullet flew through the back of his kevlar helmet –  was killed.  According to his friends, he was what he wanted to be – a Marine …

One insurgent sniper has a signature shot: the bullet piercing both the neck and the mouth of his targets.  He is credited with several kills.  Intelligence officers believe that a rogue American has trained him and other insurgents.

Body armor is heavy, and an Australian soldier was recently killed in Afghanistan because the mission stipulated quick maneuverability.  Shielding requires that the warrior wear the armor, and it requires maneuverability, something suffering under the weight of 32 pounds of armor with the current system.  Moreover, ballistic plate coverage needs to be larger, but this requires investment and research in order to keep the weight down so that the warrior can physically move in the battlespace.

And thus we are back to where we started.  In order to formulate an article on funding for countersniper measures, USA Today likely threatened to complete the paperwork for a freedom of information act request.  They summed a few numbers supplied by Multinational Force command, and proceeded to craft a hit piece to put in front of millions of people.  Yet the definitions are imprecise, the data close to meaningless, and the article is without research.  The author of the article has likely never worn body armor, or taken fire from a concealed location, or stepped into a street filled with fire to run for the next domicile, or stood on the roof of a house firing a squad automatic weapon to provide suppressing fire for his fire team or squad to escape danger.

The article’s author – Tom Vanden Brook – knows nothing of being in the line of fire.  It would be appropriate for him to grab a camera, put on some body armor, and report from the field before he implies that U.S. warriors are not suffering from a “sniper” problem or that funds are not needed.  Even if the Pentagon goofed on the data (which we have stated to be irrelevant to the case in point), fire from concealment will be a problem into the future not only in Iraq, but in the forgotten war, Afghanistan.  In the mean time, the USA Today article is worthless until Tom goes into the field to get his facts straight.


TCJ, Snipers.

TCJ, Body Armor.

Target: Jamal al-Badawi

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing has either been released by authorities in Yemen, or is soon to be released.

The United States is dismayed over what officials said was Yemen’s failure to cooperate in the war against Al Qaida.

The Bush administration expressed disappointment with Yemen’s decision to release the man regarded as the mastermind of the Al Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Aden in 2000.

“The United States is dismayed and deeply disappointed in the government of Yemen’s decision not to imprison [Al] Badawi,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. “This action is inconsistent with a deepening of our bilateral counterterrorism cooperation.”

Officials said Sanaa has largely failed to respond to a significant U.S. investment in Yemen’s military and security forces. They pointed to about $100 million in U.S. military and security assistance since 2004, which included the formation of Yemen’s coast guard.
“We have communicated our displeasure to Yemeni officials and will work with the Yemeni government to ensure Al Badawi is held accountable for his past terrorist actions,” Johndroe said on Oct. 26.

In 2004, Al Badawi was convicted of plotting and conducting the bombing of the USS Cole. A Yemeni court condemned Al Badawi to death, but the sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison.

Still, officials said, Yemen has failed to keep Al Badawi and other Al Qaida operatives behind bars. He escaped prison twice since 2004, allegedly with help of Yemeni jailers. The FBI has offered $5 million for information that would lead to his arrest.

Officials said the release of Jamal Al Badawi violated a pledge to capture and prosecute those behind the suicide attack in which 17 American sailors were killed. In mid-October, Al Badawi surrendered to Yemeni authorities in an arrangement that allowed him to return home to Aden. Al Badawi, officials said, pledged loyalty to the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Sunday, Yemen asserted that Al Badawi was still in detention. But the Yemeni Interior Ministry would not elaborate.

It is a truism that the best developed plans will come to naught at times when the predicate for the plans is the honor of other men and nations.  The U.S. must negotiate and purchase and obtain agreement and all of the things that the State Department works at, but in the end, we must be prepared to be alone in the pursuit of our own national security interests.

But when other countries fail us, what is the recourse?  The Small Wars Journal Blog is currently hopping with interesting debate about the moral viability of torture – or lack thereof – and while this debate is salient for future detainees, we face a situation in which a major terrorist is about to be released into the global population with the knowledge and consent of the host country.

So will there be a well-aimed sniper round targeted at Badawi, or a neatly devised car bomb set to detonate at exactly the right time?  Will U.S. black operations be his undoing, or will he live to perpetrate yet another disaster on U.S. troops somewhere else in the world?  Mind you, this isn’t a low level actor; this is a major player in the world of jihadist terror.

The answer is a bit involved.  Even if Badawi was on the physical field of battle, there is question as to whether the rules of engagement allow the targeting of even a known enemy if said enemy is not currently brandishing a weapon and currently a threat to U.S. forces.  But this situation is even more murky and complex, and this complexity explains the consternation of U.S. diplomats at the release of Badawi.

Some background.  First in U.S. jurisprudence there is the constitution.  Its liberties and strictures guides the making of laws.  Second comes law, and of course this requires the approval of the Senate and House of Representatives, along with the approval of the President unless there is an override of a veto.  Next comes regulations.  This is where is becomes murky, because the executive branch takes the laws that have been passed by the Congress and interprets them and adds to the law in order to make something actually able to be enforced, i.e., regulations.  At this level, challenge can be brought in court, and negotiations pursued with the proper authorities regarding code compliance.

This process is ugly and tedious, much like making saugage.  It involves thousands of lawyers, federal register notices, comments, incorporation of comments, and ultimately the approval of yet more lawyers resulting in revisions to the federal code.  It probably gives far too much power to the executive branch of the government, but given the dysfunction of the legislative branch of the government, it is understandable.  When one branch abdicates its responsibilities, the others swarm into the gap.

Next comes an even murkier and lower level regulation, the so-called “executive order.”  Effective March 1, 1976, President Ford issued the following executive order: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”  And there is the crux of the issue, and in large part the reason for the panic at the State Department.

No sitting President wants to be the one who reverses this order, and yet no sitting President wants to be responsible for allowing a high level terrorist back into the global population to cause further harm to U.S. forces and assets around the world.  But this executive order is in serious need of revisiting and revision, unless of course, the U.S. is just fine with releasing Jamal al-Badawi to perpetrate his wares.


BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

A son comes home from war, a crucial campaign has been won in Fallujah, and the homecoming of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Golf Company, a unit which has performed heroically in Iraq, is as remarkable for who didn’t show up as who did.

In answer to ten thousand prayers, our son, who has earned the Combat Action Ribbon, has come home safely from Fallujah. 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Golf Company, arrived home on Tuesday, October 16th, from Fallujah, Iraq. Families were ecstatic to see the busses finally arriving at Camp Lejeune from Cherry Point.


The busses arrive at Camp Lejeune from Cherry Point, to waiting family, most of whom had been there for two or more hours.

I had what I believed to be a reliable offer to embed with the Marines and report from Fallujah, but this offer dried up, and I was left with the wonderful reporting by Jim Spiri and Bill Ardolino, along with some of my own research, all of which was better than any report from the main stream media.

It has been a hard ride for me as father of a warrior. Upon the inevitable reports of deaths of Marines in Anbar (without names being released as is the practice), I found myself unable to sleep many nights, and I spent some amount of time at the front door waiting on that visit from Marine officers that thankfully never came. I will find a way to embed with 2/6 the next time they deploy, God willing.

But it has been a productive seven months for the Marines in Fallujah. With the advances against the insurgency in Ramadi and other parts of Anbar, Fallujah (and the surrounding area) had become a safe haven for rogue elements and a veritable witch’s brew of foreign terrorists and indigenous insurgents who were using this area of operations as a launching point not only for attacks in Fallujah, but Baghdad and other areas. It was the last stronghold of the enemy in the Anbar Province, and without pacification of Fallujah, Anbar could have been turned against coalition forces and the tribal “awakening.”

Upon arrival at Forward Operating Base Reaper by 2/6, the security situation had badly degraded in Fallujah, but due in no small part to the bravery and hard work of the 2/6 Marines, it has been reported that last week there was not a single military casualty — Iraqi or U.S. — in Anbar.

The 2/6 Marines (and in particular, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon), engaged in more kinetic operations than reported in the main stream media or the Multinational Force, and 2/6 engaged in more reconstruction and rebuilding activity than reported. From intense fire fights and endless patrols, to gated communities and biometrics and sewage system reconstruction, Fallujah is a model for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. It occurred at an accelerated pace, as if counterinsurgency on speed and steroids. It will be studied in war college classrooms for decades to come – or at least, it should be.

We stayed on Emerald Island, the Southernmost island of the Outer Banks, 20 miles from Camp Lejeune and an extremely well-kept secret and absolutely lovely and wonderful place. The next evening after receiving our son home, we fed him and six other Marines steak and all of the sides. They ate an enormous amount of beef that night, and we listened to stories until very late. It was a good time, and we knew that we were in the company of heros of Operation Iraqi Freedom, brothers to Marines who preceeded them in the great battles of the South Pacific – men, 21 and 22 years old, who had already played a pivotal role in something more important than most people will ever experience in an entire lifetime.

The day 2/6 Golf Company arrived home, only I (as a Milblogger) and Terry Nickelson were there to report on it (Terry embedded with 2/6, and is doing what he hopes to be a PBS special on Chaplains). For the next few days I monitored both the Jacksonville Daily News, and the Camp Lejeune news (The Globe), and there were no reports of 2/6 coming home.

Victor Davis Hanson observed approximately a year ago of the brave troops in battle in Iraq that “The safety of millions of brave Iraqi reformers, the prestige of the United States and its military, the policy of fostering democratic reform in the Middle East, the end to the nexus between failed autocracies and scapegoating the West through terrorists; success of the Bush Administration; the effectiveness of the Democratic opposition; the divide between Europe and America; the attitude toward the United States of the Middle East autocracies; the reputation of the Islamic terrorists — all that will be adjudicated by the verdict in Iraq. Rarely have so many ideologies, so much politics, so many reputations been predicated on just a few thousand American combat soldiers and their Iraq allies.”

Indeed. Those brave warriors recently returned to the States, and only their loved ones were there to greet them. I can recall not too long ago the press reports in the main stream media of returning warriors, their accomplishments, and their losses. It has all become so very passé, now, and few pay attention to the details. This attitude prevents us from feeling the grief that parents feel from the losses of Lance Corporal Dale G. Peterson, Lance Corporal Walter K. O’Haire, and Lance Corporal Jonathan E. Kirk; it prevents us from experiencing the joy that others feel upon the safe arrival of their sons or husbands; and it prevents us from being reminded of why we sent these men to war.

The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

The components of “Hearts” and “Minds”:

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

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

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

Marines Take, Army Holds?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

From the North County Times:

CAMP PENDLETON —- As Pentagon planners wrestle with a proposal that the Marine Corps take the lead in Afghanistan and leave Iraq largely in the hands of the Army, troops at Camp Pendleton say the idea makes sense.

Several officers and enlisted men spoke to the North County Times last week about the proposal on the condition their names not be used, saying they didn’t want to run afoul of their commanders.

“People are talking it about it all the time,” a lieutenant colonel said of the idea that the Marines be shifted to a new mission. “We go in, we kick ass and we turn it over to the Army. We’re not supposed to be a long-term occupying force.”

A base master sergeant said the idea recently floated by Marine Corps Commandant James Conway is a “hot topic” in staff sessions.

“People are saying it makes sense,” the sergeant said. “We’re not supposed to be in Iraq as a security force. We’re an expeditionary fighting force that trains for combat, not civil affairs.”

Conway has said that he made the proposal because security is improving in Iraq. He said his troops should be serving in a quick-reaction combat role, rather than as an occupying force bogged down by civil affairs work.

Army leaders have declined to comment on Conway’s suggestion, which will ultimately be decided by the White House and by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

On Thursday, Gates threw cold water on the idea.

“I would say if that if it happens, it’ll be long after I’m secretary of defense,” he told reporters during a news conference in Washington.

There is the crux of the issue, isn’t it?  The Marines are an expeditionary force, fighters with an ethos of battle.  Gates may indeed push back against the idea.  However, is his statement more an observation of the inertia in a large bureaucracy with respect to planning and change?  Is he saying that he doubts that the Marines can make the plans and obtain agreement from the other branches of the Armed Forces in the time remaining on his watch?  If so, it would seem that he has set the gauntlet in place, and it is time for the Corps to respond.


The Future of the Marines

Marines or State Department: Who Does Afghanistan?

Exporting the Anbar Model: An Exercise in Nuance

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

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

The last car bomb in Fallujah exploded in May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other sources:

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

TCJ, Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq.

TCJ, Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.

TCJ, Al Qaeda’s Miscalculation.

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

Bill Ardolino, Operation Alljah: The Swarm.

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

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

Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other sources:

Reconciliation in Iraq Goes Local

Granny in Iraq: Armed and Dangerous

How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy

Scenes from Iraq II

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago



The Future of the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In Marines or State Department: Who Does Afghanistan?, we discussed the newest thinking of the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps: Afghanistan.  He has floated the idea of replacing the Army under NATO command and taking full charge of the combat operations there.

This proposal has ruffled some feathers and turned some heads.

Generals in the Army and on the Joint Staff reacted with surprise at a Marine Corps move to assume the Army’s combat role in Afghanistan and expressed doubt that the Corps could handle the mission without substantial support from the larger ground service …

“This is not going to go down well with the Army,? said a general on the Joint Staff, adding that the issue “is going to be more contentious and sensitive than many people outside of the inside team realize.?

The Joint Staff officer was one of several generals who spoke only on the condition of anonymity and said the Marine initiative to supplant the Army in Afghanistan runs counter to the U.S. military’s increasingly joint approach to warfare.

“We’re seeking joint solutions to most of the challenges we face today, to include Afghanistan and Iraq,? he said. “A single service approach? Holy smokes. Why would we ever go back to that way of war fighting, particularly when it doesn’t give you any advantage over your enemy and in fact complicates life tremendously in terms of sorting out how you’re going to support all of this??

A retired Army general with Afghanistan experience agreed. “The fact that a service would propose somehow that their service would take over a war seems to me to fly in the face of everything that’s been done since Goldwater-Nichols was passed in 1986,? he said, referring to legislation mandating integration of the capabilities of the military services.

Yes, this is true, and with General James Mattis, a Marine, selected to head U.S. Joint Forces Command, we should expect a renewed push in this area.  However, joint solutions doesn’t necessarily mean that both services are combined in the same strengths at the same location at the same time for the same purposes.  Furthermore, 1986 was a long time ago, and the world has changed since then, with the Army reeling from 15 months deployments and in need of recuperation.  Continuing, the detractors answer their own questions.

However, he said, “there’s going to be a tremendous number of Army soldiers out there, even if, quote unquote, the Marines take over the mission,? because the Marines would have to rely on the Army for support in Afghanistan.

“There are some extraordinarily obvious flaws in this,? the retired Army general said. “The Marines don’t bring any of the infrastructure, logistics, aviation, all of the other enablers that are necessary to fight in this environment successfully.?

The Joint Staff general noted that although the Marine combat formations are organized on deployments into Marine air-ground task forces, or MAGTFs (pronounced mag-taffs), which combine ground maneuver forces with fixed-wing air support. “The MAGTF is not designed to do sustained operations inland without any extensive Army support as well as Navy support,? he said

Marine units are designed to be self-sustaining for up to 30 days in the case of a Marine expeditionary unit and 60 days in the case of a Marine expeditionary brigade, he said. For longer deployments, the Army is obliged “by law? to provide logistical support to the Marines, he added.

Again, yes, just like the Army supported Regimental Combat Team 6 in the Fallujah area  of operations with transport, medical, intelligence, public affairs, and administration (integrated into RCT-6), they will likely be integrated into any long term operation in which the Marines engage.  The question is one of primary role in combat operations.  Who will own it?  Will the Army better recuperate in (increasingly) soft counterinsurgency operations in Iraq with the addition of the troops from the Afghanistan theater?  This is the question to be answered.

Yet in an interesting and untimely (or timely?) recent revelation, the Marine Corps Commandant says that he is afraid that the Corps is growing heavy.

Commandant Gen. James Conway said Monday he is concerned about the Marines Corps’ ability to respond to security flare-ups around the world on short notice because of the demands put on it by the Iraq war.

In recent years, the Marine Corps has emerged as a “second land Army” tasked with securing Iraq and must buy heavy equipment, including a fleet of 3,700 mine-resistant vehicles, to protect its personnel from roadside bombs, Conway said.

“I’m a little bit concerned about us keeping our expeditionary flavor. … We are much heavier than ever before,” he said at a lunch sponsored by the Center for New American Security.

Afghanistan would be a change, with the emphasis being placed on cold weather and mountain combat rather than 125 degree F heat and urban terrain.  Perhaps General Conway doesn’t want the Corps to become too complacent and accustomed to one locale and one type of operation.

Exactly where Conway wants the Corps to go is not entirely clear at this moment.  The Marines go through this every few years or so, and emerge better than before.  In addition to being the greatest combat force in the world, they are a soul searching organization.  We expect Conway eventually to clear this up and give his reports coordinates for the future.

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