The Paradox and Absurdities of Carbon-Fretting and Rewilding

Herschel Smith · 28 Jan 2024 · 4 Comments

The Bureau of Land Management is planning a truly boneheaded move, angering some conservationists over the affects to herd populations and migration routes.  From Field & Stream. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft plan outlining potential solar energy development in the West. The proposal is an update of the BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan. It adds five new states—Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming—to a list of 11 western states already earmarked…… [read more]

Pentagon Supercomputer Powers IED-Hunting

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

Popular Mechanics tells us about a Pentagon program that couples advanced computer technology with UAVs to aid in IED-hunting.  The program relies on physical terrain mapping by the use of UAVs along with a Cray supercomputer to utilize the information gleaned from the survey data.  These two things, when combined with “learning” algorithms (i.e., artificial intelligence), are intended to produce knowledge of the battle space for the warrior thousands of miles away.

Half a world away from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, nestled near the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, a 34-year-old electrical engineer is wielding one of the planet’s most powerful computers to lend a virtual helping hand to American soldiers. Joshua Fairley’s detailed 3D modeling of warzone scenes, based at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Miss., has vastly improved the effectiveness of airborne sensors in scoping out deadly ground-based threats.Deployed in space or on aircraft—often in UAVs—electro-optical and infrared sensors scan urban and rural terrain for explosive devices. Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) algorithms then digitally decipher the fuzzy images, picking out the mines from the manholes and the bombs from the bushes. At least that’s the hope, with visual clutter triggering regular false alarms. One very time-consuming and expensive way to improve the sensors would be to fly the systems repeatedly, performing case study after case study. Instead, Fairley and his team have used the ERDC’s Cray XT3, the Defense Department’s second most powerful supercomputer, capable of 40 trillion computations per second, to simulate landscapes from combat and do the case studies in a lab on American soil.What makes the work stand out is the level of detail they are achieving: By taking into account soil types, plant distribution, species of plants and even the distinct characteristics of those species, Fairley says his team has processed data “literally down to the weeds.” Soon, the Army Corps researchers hope to model beneath the ground. Why? “Each plant takes up a certain amount of moisture through its roots,” explains Fairley, who once designed sensors for Lockheed Martin. “That moisture could affect localized temperature, which affects the ability to detect a threat.” Fairley then uses the sensors to scan these “synthetic images” for potential hazards, taking note of how well the sensors function under certain weather conditions, at certain times of year and even different times of day. That way he can write complex new algorithms to “teach” the sensors, some of which take thermal readings, to distinguish harmless objects from threats. In one case study, he cut the false alarm rate by 75 percent. Results like that, he says, “will benefit the well-being and health of our warfighters, which is a reason why I get up in morning and come to work.”

While the best intelligence is still human, in a campaign that has seen its fair share of unpreparedness for the enemy tactics, this is welcome advancement.  The technology is basically one of finding what is out of place – the old game of “what doesn’t belong in this picture?”  As long as the UAV coverage is sufficient, the computing should be able to cope.  Still … Crays?  I thought that the Cray had disappeared with the dinosaur?  I thought most supercomputing was done now with multiple RISC processors communicating via message passing (MPI), similar to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Blue Mountain computer?

As it turns out, Cray has apparently kept up with technology, or so they say, and the “vector processor of the Cray XT5h system has unique global addressing capabilities programmable by Co-Array Fortran and Unified Parallel C (UPC), which can solve problems beyond the capabilities of MPI.”

It would have been nice if Popular Mechanics had followed this story up with a discussion on the type of computer being used and why the choice had been made.  In any case, this is good leveraging of our technological advantage to aid in the campaign in Iraq, even if the timing is later than desirable.  A followup article should be issued in the future to report on the effectiveness of this program.  Theory is good, but results are proof of principle.

Sunni Solidarity with U.S. and Demand for Integration into Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

The Sunnis in the Anbar Province have taken a rapid ride from enemy of the United States, to tepid ally, to strong ally, and finally to full partner.  In Operations in Northern Iraq we discussed the movement of the last of al Qaeda North to Mosul, Tikrit and outlying areas.  In Last Stand in Mosul we expanded this discussion to include the diehard Ba’athists and Fedayeen Saddam who will not reconcile; they also have retreated to the North.  In light of these developments, it is important that the “awakening” has finally expanded to the North.

HAWIJA, Iraq (AP) – Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance—called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began—covers the “last gateway” for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias—mainly Sunnis—that had turned again al-Qaida and other groups.

Extremists have sought new footholds in northern areas once loyal to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party as the U.S.-led gains have mounted across central regions …

The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by dozen sheiks—each draped in black robes trimmed with gold braiding—who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq.

For about $275 a month—nearly the salary for the typical Iraqi policeman—the tribesmen will man about 200 security checkpoints beginning Dec. 7, supplementing hundreds of Iraqi forces already in the area.

But a cautionary note is in order.  We have strongly advocated and supported the strategy of “concerned citizens” and paid neighborhood watch and auxiliary police, but they must eventually be integrated into the the Iraqi government – either police or Iraqi Security Forces.  Anthony Cordesman states.

A change in US tactics, and the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar province, have sharply reduced the level of violence in some important parts of Iraq. The violence and numbers of dead are down to the levels of spring 2006, before the escalation of civil violence that tore the country apart. The worst fighting is now concentrated in and around the mixed areas in Diyala. Large parts of Baghdad and many formerly hostile towns in the west are relatively secure. The number of improvised explosive device attacks has also declined. How much of that is due to Iranian restraint, improved US tactics and technology or less active Shia hostility to coalition forces is as unclear as how long the drop will last.

US and Iraqi forces are scoring important, if regional, tactical victories. However, these cover only western and central Iraq and may well be temporary. For all the claims that the “surge” worked, it is clear that it did not work purely on its own. The build-up of US forces and change in tactics from staying in bases to “win and hold” have accomplished a great deal. However, it was only the combination of the tribal uprising in Anbar, the build-up of troops and the change in US tactics that prevented al-Qaeda and its supporters from dispersing to the areas around Baghdad and intensifying the fighting in central Iraq.

The US team in Iraq deserves great credit for reacting to the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar, supporting and co-opting it and broadening it to other areas. But that effort may be wasted if the Iraqi government continues to equivocate in allowing the Sunnis to join the police and security services, and if Iraq’s factions cannot agree on how to share the nation’s power and wealth. Everything depends on converting a US-led military success into Iraqi political accommodation.

Cordesman’s words echoes the sentiments of the Sunnis.  An eerie warning was recently issued by a top Sunni cleric concerning the fate of the Sunni fighters who sided with the U.S.

A top Iraqi Sunni cleric called on Wednesday for the tens of thousands of Sunni Arab militants allied to US forces in the fight against Al-Qaeda to be integrated into the regular security forces.

Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarraie, head of the Sunni endowment, told AFP that the fate of around 70,000 Sunni Arab men fighting against Al-Qaeda in Iraq militants must be decided by Baghdad soon.

The fate of these 70,000 men is not defined and it must be decided soon,” said Samarraie, whose organisation oversees the management of all Sunni shrines across Iraq.

“These fighters must be integrated into the police and army,” he said.

It is clear that the Anbaris in particular desire a long term U.S. presence in terms of investment and financing.  It is also clear that they desire the eventual departure of U.S. forces – at least in terms of military authority, even if a force presence is kept for years to ensure the security of Iraq (perhaps with bases in the Kurdish region).  What is not clear is just how long the surge can be maintained or troops can continue to patrol through the streets without being seen as the occupier rather than the ally.

The situation is proceeding apace in Iraq, and the government has an opportunity to integrate the Sunni forces into the nation-state.  Failure to do so may bring catastrophy, but success will bring a stand down of a significant number of U.S. forces in Iraq and their possible redeployment to Afghanistan.

Last Stand in Mosul

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

We have carefully noted the difference between indigenous insurgents in Iraq and foreign fighters who perpetrate terror, as well as the gradual defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, which is comprised of fighters from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Chechnya, Africa, Western China, and other locations across the globe, those fighters battling the U.S. for religious reasons, among others.  Why is it important to make the delineation between the two categories?  Because one must know the enemy before he can know what approach to use.  It has meant everything to the battle for Anbar to know the parties to the struggle.  Some local insurgents, upon watching the defeat of the foreigners in the battle that the 2/6 Marines conducted for Fallujah in Operation Alljah, simply stood down and went home to Al-Qaim, a far Western Province of Anbar, where they were carefully reintegrated into society.  Yet a foreign fighter who has travelled half way across the globe to fight America and who has injected himself with Epinephrine isn’t likely to stand down because you offer him a promise, a paycheck and peace.  Knowing the human terrain means everything in counterinsurgency.

Yet there is a hard core element of indigenous insurgents who will not reconcile with the current government, whether regional or national.  Azzaman reports that they have congregated in Mosul.

A split in the ranks of the Islamic Army of Iraq is certain to reverse the successes U.S. occupation troops allege to have made in the country in the past few months.

The Mosul sector has severed ties with the Islamic Army whose leaders have agreed to cooperate with U.S. troops and turn their guns against Qaeda fighters and elements in the country.

The Mosul sector is one of the most effective and battle hardened of the insurgent group which once claimed the execution of almost daily attacks on U.S. troops.

Mosul –  Iraq’s second largest city and the districts within the borders of the Province of Nineveh, of which the city is the capital –  was the hometown of army generals and senior officers of former leader Saddam Hussein’s armed forces.

From Mosul came the largest number of volunteers of the former Republican Guards, Saddam Hussein’s elite forces, the Special Security and intelligence.

These disgruntled officers and security and army personnel are the commanders of the Islamic Army and the split of Mosul is bound to complicate matters for both the U.S. an the Iraq government.

While the Islamic Army has pledged to suspend all operations against U.S. troops, its Mosul sector has vowed to proceed ahead with anti-U.S. operations.

For the past three days, hundreds of leaflets have been distributed in Mosul, confirming the split and declaring that the city and its environs no longer receive their instructions form (sic) the leaders of the Islamic Army.

The Islamic Army combatants have given themselves a new name al-fatih al-Mubeen and the leaflets said the new formation had nothing to do with the alliances the Islamic Army has entered into recently.

Recall that when al Qaeda utilized brutality to subjugate the population thus engendering hatred for them and what they stood for, various other groups parted ways with them.  Al Qaeda reorganized into what they call the Islamic State of Iraq, while the hard core Ba’athists, Fedayeen Saddam and other Sunni fighters from the previous regime who refused to reconcile created what they call the Islamic Army of Iraq (more than likely a surrogate name for many of them since they didn’t start their fight for religious motivation).  The Islamic State of Iraq (al Qaeda) and Islamic Army of Iraq are not only enemies of the current state of Iraq along with the U.S., but of each other as well.

Azzaman cannot but let its bias be put on display with every commentary they author (anti-Maliki, anti-U.S.), as with the comment about “the successes U.S. occupation troops allege to have made in the country.”  Yet when the bias can be effectively ignored, they have proven accurate in much of their reporting on Iraq.  Assuming the accuracy of this report, the diehard holdouts from the former regime appear to be making their last stand in Mosul (they cannot move further North into Kurdish territory, and Mosul itself is large part Kurdish).  The irony of this is not wasted.  Mosul is where General David Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division had so much success in 2003.  General Petraeus will get his chance very soon to finally stamp out the Ba’athists and provide what might be a lasting security for the people of Mosul.

Will the State Department Play Along?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intelligence Relational Database?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

Captain Tim Hsia, U.S. Army, has written a thoughtful and provocative article at the Small Wars Journal Blog entitled Intelligence Collection and Sharing. Captain Hsia begins by cataloging the sundy reasons for the paucity of good local and regional intelligence and other information.

When a unit assumes battle space within Iraq the first thing that a commander receives from his higher headquarters is a plethora of maps detailing major avenues of approach, religious divides, key figures, demographics, key infrastructure, etc. However, much of the intelligence is outdated or watered down, and the source of this data is often unattributed. The source of this intelligence is necessary in order to winnow the chaff from the wheat. The intelligence received from higher headquarters can come from multiple sources, which oftentimes can be suspect and unverifiable. For example, is this intelligence derived from an Iraqi Army soldier, Iraqi policeman, neighborhood councils, street vendor, coalition signal assets, or from the previous military units who have operated within the current Area of Operations? Additionally, this initial trove of intelligence oftentimes provides just the basics and does not delve into more important issues that commanders need to know, such as the amount of money U.S. forces have spent developing the local infrastructure, the number of discontinued projects and reasons for their discontinuance, the quality of local leaders, and the attitudes of those leaders toward the U.S. military.Counterinsurgencies are not won by more soldiers, cutting edge technology, or more lethal weapon systems. Rather insurgents are defeated when the pacifying force fully understands the local citizenry, when the people identify with the pacifying force, and when there is an abundance of timely information which allows the pacifying force to apply their intelligence to operations that result in overturning and disrupting insurgent activity. Despite the great advances in the U.S. military’s ability to leverage technology to gain intelligence, it has been less successful in storing and synchronizing the historical data compiled during the past several years in its campaigns in the Middle East.

When a unit redeploys to the states they usually dump all of their electronic files to their counterparts in no systematic or coherent manner. This is the ideal situation, though if they are on a more limited timeline they might just pass off the most essential information. With units being continually shifted around Iraq with little or no notice to respond to increased violence in different areas, it has been almost impossible for units to properly pass off their intelligence to the next battle space owner or more importantly to future units that will operate in their sector. At best the problem a commander faces is an abundance of information that is improperly cataloged. Oftentimes however it is the worse case scenario in which commanders and diplomats encounter, a difficult situation where they have little to no information regarding a region or locale

As a sidebar note, if Captain Hsia is arguing for a small footprint model of counterinsurgency, he has history with which to contend (the problems in Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III caused by inadequate force size and force projection, as well as the problems in Afghanistan from the same). But continuing with the point of his article, he advocates a rather remarkable solution to this problem.

A way to remedy the chaotic state of intelligence management is to create a central intelligence collection platform that will allow any unit to upload operation summaries, economic analysis, tribal networks, environmental analysis, and graphical overlays into a central site that future commanders can access when they assume an assigned battle space. Currently all military units in Iraq and Afghanistan have access to a worldwide SIPR (secure Internet protocol router) network which allows them to access, view, and transmit secret information. Expanding this network to encompass a more centralized program of data sharing would not require any additional hardware. A fusion of geography and intelligence within a centralized network can ensure that commanders arrive at any location with the necessary intelligence derived from years of work by previous agencies and military units that have already provided a framework for understanding the enemy and the people in his assigned area. Commanders could then be spared the countless man hours recollecting data that has already been captured thru blood, sweat, and tears. A solution to the current intelligence blackhole would be to collect, store, and sift this data into a intel site organized in a manner replicating stock market data.

The appeal for such a system is strong. I started the category The Anbar Narrative in order to begin to capture snippets of perspectives and information regarding the campaign in Anbar in its various manifestations. I have exchanged perspectives with Lt. Col. Gian Gentile at the Small Wars Journal in which I have taken the position that the campaign in Iraq can be at least partially categorized as a counterinsurgency, while he has clearly said multiple times that it is only a civil war. Gentile’s perspective doesn’t affect the Anbar narrative, but it does go to show that the region and locale within Iraq can deeply affect the way a participant sees the situation. In Anbar and to the East around Ramadi, the Anbar narrative became all about tribes “flipping.” In Fallujah, tribal sheikhs were irrelevant and kinetic operations, gated communities and biometrics were the order of the day, and the muktars were much more important than the sheikhs. To the West in Haditha, fighters from Syria were problematic and earthern berms were necessary to isolate the area from outside influences. In Basra, the story is one of competing Shi’a gangs and thugs in a struggle for power. In Kirkuk there is a mixed Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish population, and like Baghdad, civil war might be a better description of the circumstances. No single narrative fully explains the complexity of the Iraq experience. Combined with personalities, monies spent successfully and wasted, and other exigencies of the battle space, one can easily be overwhelmed by the data and information. And if we cannot even get our history right while the campaign is ongoing, how can we expect to pass on more particular and detailed information with precision?But the solution Captain Hsia profers is overwhelming as well. Note well what is being advocated. Graphical overlays, potential enemy information, (probably) census information, operational summaries, and on the list goes. All of this would have to be in a database, searchable on name (enemy), operational details (e.g., what were the locations and patrol sizes when IEDs were encountered, were distributed operations successful against enemy snipers, etc.). This means that such a database would have to be a relational database. This means that those who enter the information and access the information would have to be trained in this relational database (search query criteria, required entry information and formatting, etc.). This means that in order to deploy such a system across the armed forces in a consistent manner, a defense contractor will be at work for years to develop such a system and training for its operation would be implemented only over subsequent years in order to put it to use.We have noted with lament that the U.S. armed forces is at war, and the public has not yet mobilized for this war. Defense Secretary Gates is having trouble deciding to wean the Army off of a fifty year old cold war by re-deploying from the European theater, and the Afghanistan campaign suffers from a lack of force projection. And yet we are discussing millions and years more to deploy an integrated relational database for battle space intelligence!We like the idea, but we are realistic about it. It pays to profer the idea when its need is seen, but it also pays to point out the scope of the project. This scope is likely to kill the project before it ever gets off the ground.

The Special Forces Plan for Pakistan: Mistaking the Anbar Narrative

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

While the campaign in Iraq continues and the Afghanistan campaign continues to suffer from a lack of adequate force projection, Pakistan remains fertile soil for making jihadists. Concerning the going-forward U.S. strategy for addressing the problem, the New York Times is the recipient of leaked preliminary strategy plans for counterinsurgency in Pakistan.

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States now has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach.

The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships, to be forged in this case by Pakistani troops backed by the United States, can be made without a significant American military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes, some of which are working with Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

Altogether, the broader strategic move toward more local support is being accelerated because of concern about instability in Pakistan and the weakness of the Pakistani government, as well as fears that extremists with havens in the tribal areas could escalate their attacks on allied troops in Afghanistan. Just in recent weeks, Islamic militants sympathetic to Al Qaeda and the Taliban have already extended their reach beyond the frontier areas into more settled areas, most notably the mountainous region of Swat …

The tribal proposal, a strategy paper prepared by staff members of the United States Special Operations Command, has been circulated to counterterrorism experts but has not yet been formally approved by the commandand headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Some other elements of the campaign have been approved in principle by the Americans and Pakistanis and await financing, like $350 million over several years to help train and equip the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that has about 85,000 members and is recruited from border tribes … Historically, American Special Forces have gone into foreign countries to work with local militaries to improve the security of those countries in ways that help American interests. Under this new approach, the number of advisers would increase, officials said.

There are several analyses of this approach, the two most significant being from John Robb at Global Guerrillas, and Bill Roggio writing for Weekly Standard. First, of the proposed strategy in Pakistan, John Robb customarily notes three problems facing the proposal (without giving any solutions), but then observes:

The use of a plethora of militias to fight a global open source insurgency from Nigeria to Mexico to Iraq to Pakistan is effective within a grand strategy of delay (it holds disorder at bay while allowing globalization to work). Most beneficially, it eliminates the need for nation-building, massive conventional troop deployments, and other forms of excess. Some questions remain: can the US manage something this complex or this messy? Will the rest of the US military/contractors sit idle (and as a result fall victim to budget cuts) while light weight special operations forces (and their allied private military corporations) take center stage?

Note here that Robb points to ‘globalization’ being allowed to work as a solution to the global open source insurgency, while earlier he has pointed to globalization as a catalyst for insurgencies: “9-11 is a great example of how the underlying dynamics of globalization make a radical acceleration in conflict possible. Small groups can now produce results from actions that far exceed anything in history. However, this isn’t restricted to Islamic terrorists. Warfare is evolving is across the board at a rapid rate. I see it everywhere from Brazil to Columbia to Nigeria and Iraq.”

How globalization can be both the catalyst and solution for insurgencies Robb doesn’t say, but his prose gives the impression of well-studied ethereal thoughts full of sound and fury but without concrete application. A review of Robb’s literature leaves the feeling that no solution to any problem in any counterinsurgency campaign can ever be solved and all solutions lead inevitably to failure, or worse, making the insurgency more potent. More telling in his rebuttal to the Pakistan plan is what he doesn’t give as a reason for his opposition to it, i.e., that the Anbar experience was a failure. It wasn’t too long ago that one could find talk of defeat, retreat and redeployment out of Iraq from Robb. It seems that even Robb has now taken note of the successes in Anbar.

Next, Bill Roggio is clearer concerning his opposition to the proposed Pakistan strategy.

The conflicts in Iraq’s Anbar province and Pakistan’s tribal areas are fundamentally different, and while both provinces are dominated by a strong tribal culture, al Qaeda’s draws support in each for different reasons. In Anbar, the tribes and insurgent groups aligned themselves with al Qaeda in Iraq largely because they viewed al Qaeda as an ally in the fight against American occupation. However, they turned on the terror group once it became clear that al Qaeda threatened their very existence. In Pakistan, the Pashtun tribes have by and large openly supported the Taliban and al Qaeda since the groups first formed. The Taliban, with the help of the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence agency, was born in the Pashtun tribal belts, and al Qaeda fighters and its senior commanders are welcomed among the Taliban supporting tribes there … Also, the counterinsurgency campaign proposed for Pakistan is not at all similar to that executed in Anbar province. In Anbar, the tribes organized to fight al Qaeda only after they realized the error they had made in aligning with them. And the tribes openly fought al Qaeda of their own accord before seeking help from the U.S. Marine and Army units in Ramadi. Only later would U.S. troops play a significant role by nurturing the tribal movement, known as the Anbar Awakening, which ultimately formed the core of local resistance to al Qaeda. The U.S. military provided funding, helped organize local tribal security forces, encouraged the Iraqi government and military to allow Sunni tribesmen to join the army and police, and had the tribal security forces integrated into the military by reorganizing the units into Provincial Security Forces.

Roggio concludes with his prescription for success in Pakistan, and a warning concerning failure based on what it took for the Anbar “awakening” to succeed.

The Awakening was only able to survive the al Qaeda onslaught with the direct support of the U.S. Marines and soldiers based in Anbar. U.S. forces provided protection for the group’s leaders, as well as air support, financing, and communications and other equipment to bolster its efforts … arming anti-al Qaeda and anti-Taliban tribes and bolstering the Frontier Corps without solid support from both the Pakistani and the American military would be a death sentence for any tribe foolish enough to join the fight.

We hold to a slight to moderately different narrative of the Anbar campaign than Roggio does. It is tempting to see the Anbar awakening outside of the context of the U.S. kinetic operations that caused and encouraged it, but this approach is incomplete. Much has been made, for instance, of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha and his leadership of the coalition of tribes, but it is lesser known and publicized that before this significant tribal leader was turned against al Qaeda and towards the U.S., a unit was specifically designated to conduct kinetic operations to shut down his smuggling lines into Syria, that unit having operated with significant success. Another good example of the pretext for the awakening being U.S. force projection and kinetic operations comes from Marine Staff Sgt. John Costa.

When Marine Staff Sgt. John Costa arrived in Ramadi, Iraq, in August 2006, U.S. troops walked the city streets in daylight at their peril. “The place was one of the worst cities in Iraq, if not the worst. You could not conduct foot-borne operations during the day,” said Costa, who served as a chief scout with the Scout Sniper Platoon, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. “It would be a like a group of insurgents trying to walk down the main street in Camp Lejeune at 8 in the morning,” he said, referring to the Marine Corps base in North Carolina. “They’re not going to get far” …

“There were multiple buildings that are like five-, six-, seven-, eight-story apartment buildings — huge, and totally empty,” he said. You’d walk into a house and everything’s there: There’s food in the fridge; there’s clothes in the dresser. The people just moved.”

The staff sergeant soon realized why residents had abandoned their homes. Insurgents in Ramadi, a majority Sunni Muslim city, were violently attacking local citizens. In the midst of intense fighting, they extorted shop owners’ profits. They hiked prices at gas stations and skimmed sales revenues …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This account from Ramadi should be coupled with the recent example of Operation Alljah from Fallujah. The insurgency and foreign fighters (Chechens, Africans, Western Chinese and others) had congregated in Fallujah in the spring of 2007. They were not only in complete control of Fallujah, but were using it to launch terrorist operations into Baghdad. The previous command had declared Fallujah “unwinnable.” Into this debacle came 2nd, Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, initiating heavy kinetic operations from the outset to find and capture or kill the insurgents. Later, gated communities, biometrics, and concerned citizens neighborhood watch programs were implemented to restrict the access of the insurgents to the population. Governance was accomplished via a return to a concept implemented during the Saddam era: the Muktars, or area leaders/representatives. Tribal sheikhs were all but irrelevant in the most recent Fallujah operations. The Anbar narrative is complex and varied, and includes much more than a tribal leader “flipping.”

Nibras Kazimi, no insignificant observer and analyst of Iraqi culture and politics, has commented of the tribal awakening in Anbar that “tribes are a barometer of power; they swarm around whoever has the upper hand.” It is a hard lesson to learn for the military complex and the public alike regarding the U.S. special forces: they cannot win her wars. They are specialized, have received training in specialty billets, and can be tasked do things that other troops cannot (such as communicate with indigenous peoples with their language training). But in operations in the Anbar province involving Marine snipers, most snipers have been escorted to and from their post by squad-sized and sometimes platoon-sized infantry patrols. Nothing lays metal down range like Marine infantry, and no amount of specialized training can accommodate for the lack of this force projection.

Roggio’s analysis of the differences in tribal beliefs and life in Anbar versus Pakistan serves as a warning against relying too heavily on the tribes as help against a global militancy that has its origins high in the rugged mountains of Pakistan. The tribes in Pakistan are much more fundamentalist than in Anbar. In Anbar, it is not uncommon to find the internet, television, games in the streets and children and adults alike watching soccer. In Pakistan these things are banned in many places. Sheikh Sattar, widely regarded as father of the awakening in Anbar as we discussed earlier, was a chain smoker and would likely have his hands cut off in Pakistan in order to stop his smoking. In Iraq, use of strong Turkish tobacco is the order of the day.

But the problem goes deeper than this. If the Pakistani tribes are convinced that the U.S. is the stronger horse in the region, they might be persuaded to assist the U.S. or even declare themselves allies. But Rumsfeld’s bold new paradigm involved war by special forces and proxy fighters. Airmen guiding JDAMs to target using satellite uplinks, money paid to previously unknown tribal elders, and special forces operators chasing high value targets – these were the elements of the initial phases of the Afghanistan campaign. Yet al Qaeda command escaped, NATO remains involved in counterinsurgency years after toppling the Taliban regime, and the British are proposing negotiations with “moderate” Taliban and withdrawal from some areas.

There is little reason to believe that tribes who are otherwise at least moderately sympathetic to al Qaeda would be persuaded to evict them from the region when the U.S. has shown no will thus far to complete even the Afghanistan campaign, much less enter into one in Pakistan. If nothing else has been learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom Phases II and III, the small footprint model is a losing strategy in this region of the world and fighting this sort of counterinsurgency. Force projection is not merely a catch-phrase. It is the cornerstone upon which counterinsurgency of this kind is built. Along with the Commandant, we have recommended that the United States Marines be deployed to Afghanistan. Regardless of the disposition of this proposal, dispatching “dozens” of special forces operators to Pakistan to court the tribes means the deaths of dozens of special forces operators. It will accomplish nothing, and means the delay of the inevitable showdown with al Qaeda and the Taliban in which force projection will win the day.

We have pointed out that U.S. interests are not served by the continued deployment of troops in Germany, but Gates has called a halt to the reduction of troops in Europe. Hard decisions must be made, and both the strategy and force size in Afghanistan must be revisited. Afghanistan is the starting line for the race to address problems in Pakistan. It is time for the Rumsfeld model to come to an end.

Site Redesign

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

Joshua Smith of Stemwinder Productions has almost completed a site redesign for The Captain’s Journal. I found that I was inhibited from writing posts because some were succinct and pithy, while others contained sweeping linkage and analysis. I didn’t want the shorter posts to supersede the long analyses, but in a linear format, this is what happens. Further, while I called this a news and commentary website, the news part was lacking.

Joshua solved all of those problems. I can post more pithy articles now, under what continues to be a linear formating, but leave a previous article up front as a “feature” if I wish. Also, there is a new feature called “clippings.” It will contain links to news and information that I have read and thought my readers would be interested in, but didn’t wish to supply commentary to go with the article. Check out the seamless transition from one page of clippings to another (without having to reload the home web page).

I have also thrown away all previous pictures and populated the new archive of pictures with A-10s, Ospreys, other aircraft, and photos from the deployment to Fallujah of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (from the deployed website). I will add to the photo archives as time goes by. I promise to steal all good photos from my friends at OpFor and Blackfive and continue to populate my archive. So if there is a photo you recall and wish to see again, just refresh the page and another will appear (some photos are a little truncated at the top / bottom).

One problem remains to correct (that of removing the clippings from the archives). I hope you like the redesign (reader Dominique R. Poirier does), and I hope it causes you to visit more often. I might not have a new feature, but a short post may have been made. Or, I might not have a new feature or post, but I may have linked two or three new articles for your perusal.

I appreciate your patronage. As friend Michael Ledeen tells me, the object of writing is to change someone’s mind – we know not who. Finally, there are many readers who have registered to make comments, but who have yet to weigh in. Please do so soon.

Interview on WTIC Newstalk 1080 out of Hartford Connecticut

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

Jim Vicevich on WTIC Newstalk 1080, out of Hartford, Connecticut, interviews me for about ten minutes on the campaign in Iraq. We discussed the thoughts that went into calling Iraq a quagmire for al Qaeda, among other things (current bombing in Baghdad, strategy of the enemy in light of their losses, etc.).

I haven’t listened to the interview. I didn’t know the format or protocol and for the first minute I was quite nervous. After that I settled in and enjoyed the conversation with Jim, but still have no idea how well I did. Jim, on the other hand, is a first rate host, knowledgeable, quick, seamless and interesting.

Interview feed.

Iranian Militias Continue to Conduct Operations in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

The U.S. strategy in the Anbar province (and in Baghdad and Northern Iraq since Petraeus took over OIF) has relied on force projection as the pretext to successful implementation of concerned citizens, armed neighborhood watches and ad hoc police to provide local security. Contrary to the U.S. model, the British failure in the South continues to haunt the efforts at stabilizing Iraq. Iranian-backed militia still conduct operations not just in the South but in and around Baghdad.

Four members of an Iranian-backed Shiite cell confessed to bombing a public market in central Baghdad, a U.S. spokesman said Saturday. He also blamed Shiites for recent attacks on U.S. bases, raising fears that a three-month truce by the most feared Shiite militia may be at an end.

The blast Friday in the al-Ghazl pet market killed at least 15 people, wounded 56 and shattered a growing sense of public confidence that has emerged following a sharp decline in the bombings and shootings that once rattled the Iraqi capital daily.

During overnight raids, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers arrested four members of an unidentified Shiite “special groups cell,” who confessed to the bombing, U.S. spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith told reporters.

“Based on subsequent confessions, forensics and other intelligence, the bombing was the work of an Iranian-backed special groups cell operating here in Baghdad,” Smith said, adding that he was not accusing Iran itself of ordering the blast.

The market is located in a Shiite area and has been targeted before by Sunni extremists. But Smith said the attackers wanted people to believe that the bomb, packed with ball-bearings to maximize casualties, was the work of al-Qaida in Iraq so that residents would turn to Shiite militias for protection.

He also said Shiite “special groups” were believed responsible for a series of rocket and mortar attacks against American bases in eastern Baghdad on Nov. 18.

Even Shi’ite leaders know the destabilizing role that Iranian forces (Quds) and Iran-backed miltia plays in Iraq, and propose complete eviction of these militias as the only solution to Iraq’s problems.

The leader of a prominent group representing tribes in southern Iraq is calling for “the eviction of the Iranian regime from our homeland.”

Sheik Jasim al-Kadhim, president of the Association of Nationalist and Independent Iraqi Tribes from the south, condemned what he called Iran’s meddling in Iraq by those affiliated with Quds Force, an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The United States accuses the Quds Force of aiding Shiite militias in Iraq and has designated it as a terrorist group.

Al-Kadhim, speaking by phone Friday, said evicting the Iranian regime — in particular from the southern Iraqi provinces — is “the only solution and hopeful prospect for Iraq.”

Al-Kadhim’s comments represent another kink in the relationship between the two nations, who share the Shiite faith and whose friendliness toward each other has raised U.S. concerns.

Additionally, 300,000-plus Iraqi Shiites signed a petition calling for an end to what they call “Iranian terrorist interferences” and demanding the United Nations investigate the Islamic republic’s involvement in Iraq.

It was a fool’s errand to trust Sadr as the British did, and equally a fool’s errand to force the 3/2 Marines to release Sadr in 2004 as Paul Bremer did at the behest of the British. The Badr corps is so deeply embedded into the government of Iraq that it will be difficult to excise them regardless of whether the will is mustered to do so. But these things are necessary for the peace and stability of Iraq.

Anthropologists at War

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 6 months ago

In Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them, I addressed in summary fashion the issue of the petition before the AAA (American Anthropological Association) for the association to denounce professional anthropologists who participate in the Human Terrain System (HTS), or at least, denounce the HTS program, with those who participate then being forced to “violate” the standards of their professional organization if they choose to participate.

As it turns out, the AAA has indeed denounced the HTS program initiated by the Department of Defense:  ” … the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association concludes (i) that the HTS program creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and (ii) that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study.   Thus the Executive Board expresses its disapproval of the HTS program.”

Ann Marlowe at Weekly Standard has a article also denouncing the HTS program for reasons that seem scattered and inconsistent, so I won’t address her objections since they make little or no sense to me.  Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal Blog has done a good job of explaining why her objections make no sense and need to be reformulated before a meaningful retort can be crafted.  But I would like to take a different approach to this alleged problem by interacting with friend of The Captain’s Journal, Dr. Marcus B. Griffin who is currently performing anthropological research in Iraq and who blogs at From an Anthropological Perspective.

I have exchanged mail with Dr. Griffin and find him to be a researcher of the highest character who performs research with the highest ethical boundaries.  Concerning the AAA position statement, Dr. Griffin responds concerning ethical concern #2:

Obligations to one’s employer, in this case the US Army, is assumed to conflict with being an advocate of the subject population, or if not being an advocate then at least not harming the people being studied. The root of this concern hinges on the purpose of research conducted. If I am studying reciprocity and the cultural construct of obligation and indebtedness, how might this harm the subject population? Of course, if I was studying the social network of Al Qaeda leaders or Jayish Al Mahdi leaders in order to discern kingpins, there would be an ethical problem. But I’m not studying that or anything like it. What is more, no one is asking me to. This ethical concern grows out of an ignorance of military operations and staff specialization.

While I don’t wish to presume upon Dr. Griffin and question his professional obligations, here I take issue with Dr. Griffin’s response to the AAA because I believe that it fundamentally ignores the unstated presuppositions in the AAA statement.  Let’s say it a different way.  I believe in such a thing as Good Wars (1).  The degree to which Operation Iraqi Freedom comports with the requirements for Dr. Darrell Cole of William and Mary to declare it a “good war” is quite irrelevant to our point.  The AAA objects not only to Dr. Griffin’s participation in OIF, but to any anthropological participation in war: “… the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.”

And therein lies the crux of the issue.  The nexus of the AAA objection and the constraints they place on their fellows has to do with the conduct of war itself (or counterinsurgency), not how anthropology might be used in said war (or COIN).  In that anthropology pertains to the study of man, his social systems, obligations and expectations, morays, family structures, religious institutions, and public behavior, every man, woman and child engages in the practice of anthropology almost every day.  Professional anthropologists generally do so with more rigor, system, discipline, and research, but they are not the only ones who practice their profession.  Anthropology is like the culinary arts.  Some people grill hot dogs and others grill steak and asparagus and make Bearnaise sauce.  But everyone eats to live (and some live to eat).

From the Lance Corporal to the Lt. Colonel, societal customs and expectations are part of not only the conduct of day to day operations but also the understanding of the enemy and his ways and means.  The debate isn’t really about anthropology and its entry to the battle space.  It’s there anyway, and has been since mankind first engaged in battle.  The AAA presumes to speak for all humankind when they declare anthropology off limits for consideration in the battle space.  Man can no more bifurcate his knowledge of humans and combat tactics and maneuvers when conducting battle than he can his own emotions and feelings.  The AAA has presented an impossible and preposterous obligation to its members and the armed forces (and it is this later implication that they have failed to see).

One example of this stands out to me as one of the most important nuggets of knowledge concerning Arabic armies that I have ever run across.  It was sent to me by an Army Colonel who has befriended me and who is a thinking man of extraordinary proportions (and who will remain unnamed since he is active duty) (2).  It should be studied by every field grade officer in every branch of the armed forces.  De Atkine assesses numerous failures of Arab armies, including the tendency to hoard information, over-centralize control and inhibit and discourage innovation, and then lands on an interesting point that in truth separates the U.S. armed forces from the rest of the world.

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

This observation is entirely an anthropological one, and the prescription for amelioration is the same.  If ever the U.S. hopes to create a viable army in Iraq, it will require an understanding of the society and its people to make a viable NCO corps.  This can no more be removed from the task than can small arms with which to fire rounds at the enemy.

And thus I believe that Dr. Griffin’s objection, while heartfelt and professional, misses the point.  Studying al Qaeda and JAM leaders would be an entirely legitimate use of anthropology.  Lance Corporals and Lt. Colonels do it every day, from questioning the population and ensuring their security to concerning themselves with the support of families by the distribution of payment to concerned citizens and community watch programs (3) so that heads of families can support their children.

The AAA’s real objection is that they don’t want their members to have the latitude to make their own moral judgments concerning the application and use of their work.  Doctors, engineers and nurses make moral decisions every day.  The architect who designed the world trade center, and who later committed suicide, felt the weight of the human condition as much as Dr. Griffin in Iraq.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are concerned with the taking of human life (and the preserving of it) in the superlative degree, but it is an extension of the same concern for the human condition that they will employ throughout the balance of their lives.  There are tens of thousands of anthropologists at war every day.  Anthropology can no more be divorced from war than it can be from life.

1. Good Wars, First Things, Professor Darrell Cole.

2. Why Arabs Lose Wars, Norvell B. De Atkine.

3. Are we Bribing the Sheikhs?, Herschel Smith

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