Archive for the 'The Anbar Narrative' Category

Abu Ahmed and the Fight for Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

There are many (sometimes competing) versions of the campaign for Anbar, which is why The Captain’s Journal has a category for The Anbar Narrative.  We hope to bring some clarity to this part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  While we have covered many nuances of the campaign in Western Iraq, one theme is irrefutable, consistent and prominent. It is that security trumps everything else in counterinsurgency. An important account from the very Western reaches of Anbar was recently published by AFP entitled Abu Ahmed, a ‘sheriff’ in Iraq’s far west.

AL-QAIM, Iraq (AFP) — The midday sun turns the dusty streets of the Iraqi frontier town of Al-Qaim into a furnace. It’s a heat that keeps many people inside, but it fails to deter the man known as “the sheriff” on whom a fragile peace seems to depend.

Wearing a saffron-coloured shirt, a 16-shot Beretta strapped to his hip and a shaved head, Abu Ahmed patrols Al-Qaim in a new Japanese all-terrain vehicle, surrounded by bodyguards toting assault rifles.

“The law here is the law of the tribes,” he said. “The rule of the tribes is stronger than that of Baghdad.”

Abu Ahmed belongs to the Bou Mahal, the most powerful clan in this isolated region of Iraq, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital. Exclusively Sunni, the tribe controls the nearby porous frontier with Syria — a kingdom for those who smuggle cigarettes, fuel and weapons.

“We are ready to respect the law of Baghdad, but the government has to represent the people,” he said in a scarcely veiled criticism of the central power, dominated by Shiites.

This reticence to acknowledge the state as the legitimate centre of authority and power illustrates the fragility of a nation in which people prefer to put their trust in the hands of men like Abu Ahmed.

The 40-year-old is a hero to the 50,000 residents of Al-Qaim for having chased Al-Qaeda from the agricultural centre where houses line the green and blue waters of the Euphrates.

In the main street, with its fruit and vegetable stalls, its workshops and restaurants, men with pistols in their belts approach Abu Ahmed to kiss his cheek and right shoulder in a mark of respect.

It was not always this way.

He tells how one evening in May 2005 he decided that the disciples of Osama bin Laden went too far — they killed his cousin Jamaa Mahal.

“I started shooting in the air and throughout the town bursts of gunfire echoed across the sky. My family understood that the time had come. And we started the war against Al-Qaeda.”

It took three battles in the streets of Al-Qaim — in June, in July and then in November 2005 — to finish off the extremists who had come from Arab countries to fight the Americans.

Abu Ahmed, initially defeated by better equipped forces, had to flee to the desert region of Akashat, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Al-Qaim. There he sought help from the US Marines.

“With their help we were able to liberate Al-Qaim,” he said, sitting in his house with its maroon tiled facade.

This alliance between a Sunni tribe and American troops was to be the first, and it give birth to a strategy of other US-paid Sunni fighters ready to mobilise against Al-Qaeda.

It resulted in the Sunni province of Al-Anbar being pacified in two years.

The US military, which since it led the Spring 2003 invasion of Iraq had sought to control the frontier with Syria, found in the men of Abu Ahmed an auxiliary force completely au fait with all the routes used by the smugglers.

And while Abu Ahmed has been able to receive the homage and rewards which are seen as his right as a warlord, he is very aware that the current calm is a fragile one.

“I’ve drawn up my will several times,” he said. “I expect to die.”

Notice that the Marines needed Abu Ahmed, and Ahmed needed the Marines. Without involvement with the population, resilience and persistence of the Marines in kinetic operations, and coupling with the leaders to ensure security, Anbar wouldn’t have been won. Ahmed was initially defeated, a similar story to the one delivered by Colonel Sean MacFarland concerning Ramadi.

Not coincidentally, this message is also the same one delivered by the people of Afghanistan. “We don’t want food, we don’t want schools, we want security!” said one woman council member.” The force projection necessary to bring security will be necessary in Afghanistan just as it was in Anbar. It’s a proven recipe, and there are no replacements or substitutes.

Marines in Helmand IV

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 8 months ago

Report (from the New York Times)

United States marines pushed the Taliban out of this village and the surrounding district in southern Helmand Province so quickly in recent weeks that they called the operation a “catastrophic success.”

Yet, NATO troops had conducted similar operations here in 2006 and 2007, and the Taliban had returned soon after they left. The marines, drawing on lessons from Iraq, say they know what to do to keep the Taliban at bay if they are given the time.

“There is definitely someone thinking out there,” said Capt. John Moder, commander of Company C of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, speaking of the Taliban. “That’s why we need these people to be at least neutral to us,” he said, gesturing to the farmers who have been slowly filtering back to harvest their fields.

Originally sent to Garmser District on a three-day operation to open a road, the marines have been here a month and are likely to stay longer. The extension of the operation reflects the evolving tactics of the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, building on the knowledge accumulated in recent years in Anbar Province in Iraq.

The district of Garmser, a fertile valley along the Helmand River, had been under control of the Taliban and members of Al Qaeda for most of the last two years and much of it had become a war zone, as the Taliban traded fire with British troops based in the district center. One of the largest poppy-growing areas in the country, Garmser District has been an important infiltration route for the insurgents, sending weapons and reinforcements to the north and drug shipments to the south to the border with Pakistan.

Previous operations by NATO forces to clear the area of Taliban had yielded short-lived successes, as the Taliban have re-established control each time, Afghans from the area said. It is a strategy the insurgents have employed all over Afghanistan, using roadside and suicide bombs as well as executions to terrorize the people and undermine the authority of foreign forces and fledgling local governments.

In Garmser those with the means gave up and fled to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Interviewed there by telephone, they said they had been living as refugees for almost two years and were still afraid to return — and to be identified, for fear of retribution from the Taliban.

But Company C served in Anbar Province, once one of the most intractably violent areas of Iraq, which quieted last year under a new strategy of empowering local groups called Awakening Councils, which now provide security. The marines were confident they could put that experience to good use here.

Only when you win over a critical balance of the local population and empower them to stand up to the insurgents can you turn the situation around, several marines said.

First Lt. Mark Matzke led a platoon for nine months last year in the Anbar city of Ramadi, where he said he got to know every character in a small neighborhood, both the troublemakers and the power brokers. But it was only when he sneaked in after dark and listened to people’s grievances in private that he was able to work out a strategy for protecting them from the insurgents.

“Through listening to their grievances, you could figure out that the people did not like the insurgents,” he said. But their biggest fear was that the marines would pull out, he said, leaving them at the mercy of insurgents who would treat them as collaborators.

As trust was built up, the people began to side with the marines and started to tip them off about who the insurgents were and where to find them. “You just need to give them confidence,” he said.

In this village, only the poorest laborers and farmers have started filtering back, Lieutenant Matzke said, adding, “These people are completely broken.” They refused all assistance at first, he said, but after talking for a couple of hours they admitted they could use the help, but were afraid to accept it for fear of the Taliban.

The people were glad when the Taliban were driven away, the marines said, and that is a sentiment they need to nurture. “We need to convince the people we are here to help, and to exploit the fact that we can help,” Captain Moder said.

As a first step, the marines promised to provide a strong security cordon so those villagers who had fled could return without fear to rebuild their homes and reopen the bazaar.

When on patrol, the marines carry a small gadget the size of an old Polaroid camera that takes fingerprints, photos and an iris scan of people they meet. It is used to build a database of the residents so they can easily spot strangers, the marines say. The Afghans accepted the imposition without protest.

Observation on the ground, information from the populace and control of key commerce and transportation routes are all ways to prevent the Taliban from seeping back into the area, Col. Peter Petronzio, commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said in an interview.

“You need physically to be there,” he said. “You need to continue to move about the population, let your presence be known, but do it in a way so that you are not smothering and overwhelming. You have got to let life go on.”

But the villagers remain scared, uncertain how long the marines will stay and who will follow in their wake.

“I don’t think I will go back until complete peace and security comes,” said one elder, who said he had heard his house had collapsed under bombardment. “This is not the first time we have suffered. Several times we have seen such operations against the Taliban, and after some time the forces leave the area and so the Taliban find a way to return.”

“If NATO really wants to bring peace and make us free from harm from the Taliban,” he said, “they must make a plan for a long-term stay, secure the border area, install security checkpoints along the border area, deploy more Afghan National Army to secure the towns and villages, and then the people will be able to help them with security.”

Analysis & Commentary

The statement about Anbar being quieted by empowering local groups is a bit of a dumbed down version of the Anbar campaign, and doesn’t do justice to the kinetic fight against both al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency.  It also doesn’t do justice to the fight between the Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda even before being empowered by the U.S. (much later in the campaign).  Its continual repetition implies that all NATO has to do is have a few meetings with tribal elders and arm their sons, and the Taliban problem will suddently be over.  It is doltish.

The Sunnis in Anbar are stubborn people (according to Iraqis with whom we have spoken), and much more secular that the al Qaeda jihadists who flooded from across the globe to fight (Shiekh Abdul Sattar abu Risha was a chain smoker).  Al Qaeda’s brutality, U.S. kinetic operations, relationships built with tribal leaders (viz. Captain Travis Patriquin), a string of combat outposts in Ramadi, biometrics and gated communities in Fallujah, sand berms around Haditha, and a complex puzzle of other factors made up the campaign in Anbar.  The Anbar narrative is too complex to throw a few words at it in an article about Afghanistan.  If a journalist cannot draw this out in a single article, they s/he shouldn’t try.

Nonetheless, security does play a premier role in the discussion above, and in earlier reports about the Marines in Helmand it had been stated that the Marines were to continue through Afghanistan on a NATO command wish list of chores.  Apparently the idea of secure, hold and build has dawned on command and they are allowing the Marines to stay as they should.

It’s just not correct to say that the COIN tactics are evolving in Afghanistan.  U.S. Army units have been at combat outposts for quite a while, and the Marines are simply conducting well-rehearsed and finely-tuned COIN learned in the school of hard knocks in Anbar.  For the most part NATO forces are still conducting force protection at FOBs, with each country’s forces undermanned.  As for evolving tactics, there is no comprehensively agreed to strategy or set of tactics or even rules of engagement; there is merely an aggregate of disparate missions and strategies thrown together into a messy brew.

It is interesting that biometrics is being used – albeit on a small scale – in a tip of the hat to Operation Alljah.  Without biometric and census data the Marines won’t know who is who, and without the Marines, biometric data is useless.

The people have spoken to let us know what will be necessary to return en masse to their homes and rebuild society.  Security.  It is a theme we have discussed before, and shows once again that long term force projection is required.

Finally, it really is annoying to see ‘marines’ misspelled (a capital M should be used), and since the article is not discussing marine life in the sea and the spelling rules are fairly simple, it is profoundly poor that this kind of mistake continually makes it through journalists and editors.

Prior: Marines in Helmand

RAND Study on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 8 months ago

Seth G. Jones of RAND National Defense Research Institute has published Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.  It will required several assessments to analyze the entirety of the paper, and in lieu of attempting to assess the paper chronologically, we will address it thematically.  Several quotes will be supplied (mainly from Chapter 2 which is entitled Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare).  The last quote is from the recommendations section at the end of the paper.

RAND Study

One of the key challenges in waging effective counterinsurgency operations is understanding the variables that impact their success (or failure).  Most assessments of counterinsurgency operations tend to ignore or downplay the role of indigenous forces and mistakenly focus on how to improve the capabilities of outside forces to directly defeat insurgents. This might include revising the U.S. military’s organizationalstructure or increasing external resources (such as troops) to directly counterinsurgents. This approach assumes the recipe for a successful counterinsurgency is adapting the U.S. military’scapabilities so it can win the support of the local population and defeat insurgents. The problem with this approach is that it ignores or underestimates the most critical actor in a counterinsurgency campaign: the indigenous government and its security forces.

This mistake is common in the counterinsurgency literature. John Nagl argues, for example, that success in counterinsurgency operations is largely a function of an external military’s ability to adapt its organizational structure and strategy to win the support of the local population and directly defeat insurgents. But he largely ignores the role of the indigenous government and its security forces.

This focus on winning counterinsurgency campaigns by improving the capabilities of external actors has become conventional wisdom among numerous military officials and counterinsurgency experts. However, such a strategy is misplaced. While improving the U.S. military’sability to directly counter insurgents may be necessary to a successful counterinsurgency campaign, it is not sufficient. In particular, it underestimates the importance of indigenous forces: Most counterinsurgency campaigns are not won or lost by external forces, but by indigenous forces. The quality of indigenous forces and government has significantly impacted the outcome of past counterinsurgencies.

Indeed, there are dangers in focusing too heavily on a lead U.S. role and improving U.S. military capabilities to directly act against insurgents. First, U.S. forces are unlikely to remain for the duration of any counterinsurgency effort, at least as a major combatant force.  Insurgencies are usually of short duration only if the indigenous government collapses at an early stage. An analysis of all insurgencies since 1945 shows that successful counterinsurgency campaigns last for an average of 14 years, and unsuccessful ones last for an average of 11years. Many also end in a draw, with neither side winning. Insurgencies can also have long tails: Approximately 25 percent of insurgencies won by the government and 11 percent won by insurgents last more than 20 years.  Since indigenous forces eventually have to win the war on their own, they must develop the capacity to do so. If they do not develop this capacity, indigenous forces are likely to lose the war once international assistance ends.  Second, indigenous forces usually know the population and terrain better than external actors and are better able to gather intelligence. Third, a lead U.S. role may be interpreted by the population as an occupation, eliciting nationalist reactions that impede success.  Fourth, a lead indigenous role can provide a focus for national aspirations and show the population that they—and not foreign forces—control their destiny. Competent governments that can provide services to their population in a timely manner can best prevent and overcome insurgencies.

Recommendations section: Where possible, U.S. counterinsurgency forces should be kept to a minimum and supported with civil-affairs and psychological operations units.

Analysis & Commentary

Jones is obviously well-studied and presents the data clearly, and the citations above are all the more remarkable because of these facts.  Without even a careful reading of the text, Jones is calling for the small footprint model of counterinsurgency.

Jones presents data and analysis to support a number of self-evident truths, such as the need to stand up the country’s own counterinsurgency forces as U.S. forces stand down, the need for a government essentially without corruption, and so forth.  But the leap from these truths to the necessity for a small footprint is not obviously or logically a necessary one.

More to the point, it is remarkable that this analysis was written in 2008.  General Abizaid and his successors were under orders to train the Iraqi Security Forces, and while some forces were deployed in the field conducting regular counterinsurgency operations, many weren’t until the security plan.

The Marines didn’t pay much attention to things going on outside of the Anbar Province, having had that AO turned over to them in 2004.  After a halting start in Fallujah, al Fajr set the stage for things to come in the province.  To rehearse an old theme, the tribal turn against al Qaeda and the insurgency didn’t occur in a vacuum.  Not only did al Qaeda’s brutality aid the turning, Shiekh Abdul Abu Sattar Risha had smuggling lines completely cut by U.S. kinetic operations.  Al Qaeda had become brutal, but the U.S. was an impediment to the welfare of his tribe.  He chose to fight al Qaeda, and even after beginning this part of the awakening a U.S. tank was parked in his front yard to protect his home and family.  The Sunnis turned on al Qaeda and sided with the U.S. because it was advantageous to do so.

Force projection was the hallmark of the Marine campaign in Anbar, with constant contact with both the enemy and population.  The small footprint or minimal force projection model was not applied in Anbar.  Subsequently after implementation of the security plan in and around Baghdad, it is simply impossible to argue that the small footprint model was used by Petraeus.

In fact, the opposite is true.  If there is any legacy of the small footprint model it is that in part it led to the necessity for the surge and security plan.  The notion of standing up the Iraqi Army suffered in the wake of cultural differences (e.g., the foreign idea of NCOs) as well as porous borders and a transnational insurgency.  Without a heavier footprint than in the early phases of OIF, the institutions couldn’t stand up and become disentangled from corruption (and still haven’t completely).

Turning East to Operation Enduring Freedom, it is no secret that the campaign is under-resourced by a wide margin, as the retiring General McNeill has said so.  The strategy planned for the future of Afghanistan is to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of weakness rather than from a position of strength as was done with the Sunni insurgency in Anbar.  The desperation is obvious, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai while offering peace talks has said he would personally go and talk to the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he knew his whereabouts or “his phone number.”  This last point should be reconsidered for its power and pedagogical value.  Karzai is talking about making peace with (and thus legitimizing) the very forces which made safe haven for al Qaeda prior to 9/11.

The most recent success in Afghanistan, the Helmand Province, is a success because of force projection by U.S. Marines.  Security is the necessary precondition for standing up the institutions that Jones wants to rely upon.  As one tribal elder in Garmser said to the Marines after entering, “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you.”

This protection doesn’t come with the small footprint model of COIN.  The two most recent insurgencies in history, involving not only radicalized elements but also transnational engagement, are evidence that the large footprint model for COIN is a winner.  Seth Jones has made a number of salient observations concerning COIN in the RAND paper, but almost-failed-nation-states which are vulnerable to criminals and transnational insurgents require nontrivial force size and obvious force projection (such as was the case in Anbar).  Whatever good might come from Jones’ study, his paper, at least on this point, seems badly dated and out of context given the recent conduct of COIN in OIF and OEF.

Further reading:

International Herald Tribune, U.S. think tank: Pakistan helped train Taliban, gave info on U.S. troops

MSNBC, U.S. think tank: Pakistan officials help Taliban

Winning Anbar: Diplomacy with a Gun

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 9 months ago

It remains as important today as it was a year ago to understand why counterinsurgency was successful in the Anbar Province.  The tribal “awakening” was attempted in other parts of Iraq, most notably in the South with the release of Moqtada al Sadr in 2004 at the behest of Sistani and the British, in the hopes that he would lead his Shi’a faction into peace.  Why the difference in results?  The National Journal recently carried an article entitled Chess with the Sheiks that, while far reaching and sweeping in terms of our understanding of the importance of tribe, gives us an insight into the success in Anbar.  This is the money quote.

Westerners tend to think of fighting and negotiating as incompatible. Arabs tend to see them as complementary. The West’s great military theoretician, the 19th-century Prussian Carl von Clausewitz, is often quoted as saying, “War is a continuation of politics by other means,” as if normal politicking suddenly switched off when violence switched on. But Clausewitz’s actual point is more nuanced and more applicable to Iraq: “War is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with an admixture of other means.” American military officers reared on the short form of Clausewitz’s maxim are now learning the full principle and how to blend their two approaches to Iraq: the one they call “kinetic” — bullets and bombs — and the one they call “nonkinetic” — negotiations and deal-making.

This is not necessarily a kinder and gentler way of war. Although negotiation can sometimes forestall violence, in Iraq it is more often the case that violence is a necessary form of negotiation. “Of the seven or eight tribes in my area,” said Maj. Morgan Mann, a Marine reservist who commanded a company in Babil province, south of Baghdad, in 2004-05, “one was the primary financiers and coordinators of most of the enemy activity.” Much as Capt. Bout did a few months later, Mann targeted the leaders of the “enemy tribe” with relentless house searches, heavy patrolling, cordon-and-search operations that shut down entire neighborhoods, and “very aggressive counterfire” — that is, shooting back intensely at attacking insurgents. “It culminated in my arresting the grand sheik of this tribe,” Mann said. “That was one of the no-no’s, supposedly. But as a result of that, we were able to get that sheik and about 20 or 30 of the sub-sheiks of this large tribe into a meeting in Baghdad to discuss how we were going to work together.” One of the subordinate sheiks put it bluntly to Mann: “I’m not your friend, but it doesn’t make sense for me to fight you” — for now.

“It quieted down the zone considerably for the duration I was there,” Mann said, “which unfortunately was only about another month.” When Mann’s unit went home, its personal relationships and hardball tactics did not carry over to the follow-on unit. The result was a resumption of violence.

This resumption of violence occurred in Fallujah as well after the clearing operations in 2004, up until Operation Alljah in 2007 when it was finally put to rest.  The primary point here is that the picture painted above doesn’t exactly comport with that painted in FM 3-24.  Yet it was remarkably successful, and Anbar is the model province for peace today in Iraq.  Diplomacy with a gun was practiced throughout the Anbar province by the U.S. Marines.  In other words, the picture painted above by Major Mann is consistent with operations for three years and throughout the terrain in Anbar.  This model is sensitive to the fact that this region of the world had learned to respect diplomacy only when it was coupled with power, something missed in the South where counterinsurgency followed the approach laid out in Northern Ireland.

Why are we succeeding in Iraq – or are we?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

The Anbar Narrative (category)

Can the Anbar Strategy Work in Pakistan?

The Role of Force Projection in Counterinsurgency

Major General Benjamin Mixon Reports on Counterinsurgency

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Can the Anbar Strategy Work in Pakistan?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

At the Small Wars Journal Blog there is an article by the same subject title.  This article is by Clint Watts and is another excellent warning to the Pentagon thinkers and planners.  It is commended to the reader, and I supplied the following comment.

I have argued similarly in the post:

The Special Forces Plan for Pakistan: Mistaking the Anbar Narrative

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

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

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

Marine Staff Sergeant Helps Awaken Anbar

To be sure, the tribal alliance is a large part of the Anbar victory, but force projection (not force protection) was the pretext for the Anbar awakening. We simply cannot do COIN on the cheap. I hope that no one exists who believes that we could have waltzed into Anbar three years ago, without the pretext of force projection, and sat down with the tribes and verbally persuaded them to join “the cause?” Perhaps we could have done it (won) sooner (perhaps two years), and perhaps we could have done it without quite the heavy losses (if we had been prepared for IEDs and snipers a little better), and perhaps it could have been more efficient had we understood the culture and language better. But make no mistake. The strong horse gets the bet. There is no value in weakness in this part of the world. And the Anbar campaign must not be seen as the consequent of any revised strategy or the surge. It did not result from any of this, but was ongoing for three years separate from what happened in the balance of Iraq.

Export the strategy? Of course, but an understanding of the strategy is necessary in order to export it. SF operators and talk didn’t win Anbar. Force projection won Anbar.

COIN in Pakistan begins in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan / Afghanistan border. Unless and until we devote the troops and effect the force projection to let the people in these AOs know that we are serious about the campaign, there will be no success. The troops needed to conduct COIN in this campaign are currently in Anbar, or at Camp’s LeJeune or Pendleton.

Conclusion: This is a good article, and serves as yet another warning to the Pentagon thinkers and planners that there are no strings to pull, no buttons to push, and no magic words to speak. ‘Abracadabra’ plus the right formula just doesn’t work, and leaves us where we were before. COIN requires boots on the ground. How many more warnings will have to be issued?

Force projection + COIN =  A winning strategy.

The Special Forces Plan for Pakistan: Mistaking the Anbar Narrative

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 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.

British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Attacks perpetrated against the British in and near Basra are way down, as are attacks perpetrated against the Marines in Anbar.  There is currently a debate at the highest levels of military leadership as to why this has occurred and how these seemingly contradictory metrics are related to strategy.  The British have de-escalated, while the U.S. has escalated – or so the problem is posed.  But before we engage this debate, some background information is necessary to set the stage for the discussion as it applies to Afghanistan where the British are struggling.  Far from a merely academic fancy for military strategists and historians, the answers to this dilemma not only develops the narrative for history, but this narrative also trains future military leadership.  The answers also may literally decide whether the campaign in Afghanistan can be successful.

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British narrative of Basra was laced with more than a little bit of denunciation of American tactics, and Basra was hailed as the picture of successful counterinsurgency.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this “soft” approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media — ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms — energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could “take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra.” Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane’s, asserted: “The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the ’softly-softly’ approach.”

The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the “major obstacle” in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.

It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed “armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon — and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature.” Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning — borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance — tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.

As a result of the effusive media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.‿ As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.‿

While the British took to wearing soft covers and working “softly” with the population, the security situation degraded little by little until the British public was eventually stunned by the capture of their soldiers by the Basra police and eventual rescue by military operations, leading to demonstrations, threats, angry denunciations and general ill-will between both the British and population of Basra.

The situation continued to degrade, and what at one time was seemingly a land of paradise had now become forbidding terrain.

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,” he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

This is indicative of many parts of southern Iraq, says Wayne White, a former State department middle east intelligence officer. White says the south is riddled with rival Shiite groups vying for power, and roving criminal gangs because there’s nothing to stop them.

Some of the Basrans believe that the British forces are part of the problem rather than the solution.  “The British are very patient — they didn’t know how to deal with the militias,” said a 50-year-old Assyrian Christian who would identify herself only as Mrs. Mansour. “Some people think it would be better if the Americans came instead of the British. They would be harder on the militias.”  Still another perspective is that the Iraqi security forces cannot effectively work the area.  “Soldiers from Basra can’t fight against militias,” said Capt Ali Modar, of the new 14th Iraqi Division, which has taken over responsibility for security in the city. “It is difficult to overcome them. We need people to come from other parts of Iraq. Soldiers from Basra know that if they arrest anyone they will be killed, or their families will be killed.”

This failure, combined with the tendency to study assessments from a year or two ago that don’t reflect the vastly improved security situation in Iraq (other than Basra), has caused Theo Farrell, Professor in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, simply to stop reading literature about Iraq because it is so depressing.  But Michael Yon has stated that “Basra is not in chaos. In fact, crime and violence are way down and there has not been a British combat death in over a month.”  So why the difference in narratives concerning Southern Iraq?  What causes such disparate views?

Metrics can be used to prove a lot of things, some true, others a mixture of truth and falsehood with stipulations and caveats, and still others plainly false.  The mere absence of attacks on British troops does not mean the same thing as the absence of attacks on Marines in Anbar.  The Marines continue to be all over the Anbar Province, patrolling, embedded with the Iraqi Police in combined combat outposts / Iraqi Police precincts, and on neighborhood diplomacy missions.  But it cannot be forgotten that these civil affairs and neighborhood diplomacy missions cannot exist in a vacuum or without pretext.  They are follow-on activities to kinetic operations to rid the area of insurgents (at least for the most part).

But the British have crafted a different narrative.  It is the British themselves who were causing the violence towards them.

Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said.

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone.

“We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?'” Binns said.

Britain’s 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra’s heart in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city’s edge. Since that pullback, there’s been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks,” Binns said.

“The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets,” he said.

And in this explanation lies the answer to the questions posed above.  If the U.S. “heavy hand” was to blame for the violence, then the security situation would not be as good as it is today in Anbar.  Further, the Anbaris desire for the U.S. to stay long term.  It might be tempting to assign the Anbari desire for a long term relationship with the U.S. versus the Shi’a desire to be rid of the British to the presence of oil in Basra and a war over its wealth.  But this explanation suffers a quick death when it is recalled that significant oil reserves have been found in Anbar (see also IHT).

The explanation for the decrease in violence against the British in Basra is simply that the British are no longer there (while British headlines wax positive about the “Tide turning in Basra”).  They are at the airport waiting to be relieved and “training” with the Iraqi security forces.  Along with the absence of the British, there are other developments in Basra.  The police chief has recently survived his second assassination attempt, and militant Shi’a gangs and other thugs are still active in the city, engaging in kidnapping and dumping of dead bodies in the streets and at the city square.

It is true that part of the U.S. strategy has been payment to concerned citizens, participants in neighborhood watch programs, and even sheikhs.  We have strongly advocated this approach as anthropologically sound and morally upright.   However, there is a huge difference between turning over authority to a functioning, legitimate government and security apparatus, and leaving an area of operations because of the violence being perpetrated against your troops.  In the example of Anbar, U.S. forces want to leave more thoroughly and quickly that the Anbaris want, and in the example of Basra, the city is a no-go zone for British troops and the Iraqi security forces are powerless because of danger to family members.  Anbar is stable, while Basra is under the control of teenage gangs, religious militia (Jaish al Mahdi), and combatants (Quds and Badr) dispatched directly from Iran.

The British must surely regret their hard work to obtain the release of Moqtada al Sadr, who was in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004 and was held for three days before the Marines were ordered to release him (for the role of the British in the release of Sadr, see Charlie Rose interview of John Burns, approximately 17:20 into the interview).  But it seems that some lessons are learned the hard way, or perhaps not at all.

The British are struggling in Afghanistan, and have pulled back from some engagements.  “Over the past two months British soldiers have come under sustained attack defending a remote mud-walled government outpost in the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. Eight have been killed there. It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same.”  But Musa Qala has become a central training ground for terrorists (courtesy of Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media).  But more “negotiations” of the same kind that caused Musa Qala to become a training ground for terrorists might be on the way.

British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means. Following a wide-ranging policy review accompanying Gordon Brown’s arrival in Downing Street, a decision was taken to put a much greater focus on courting “moderate” Taliban leaders as well as “tier two” footsoldiers, who fight more for money and out of a sense of tribal obligation than for the Taliban’s ideology. Such a shift has put Britain and the Karzai government at odds with hawks in Washington, who are wary of Whitehall’s enthusiasm for talks with what they see as a monolithic terrorist group. But a British official said: “Some Americans are coming around to our way of seeing this.”

New atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban should convince the British that their “moderate Taliban” are more than likely phantoms.  Negotiations with the Taliban is fundamentally a bad idea no matter how it is couched (“moderate leaders”).  At The Captain’s Journal, this is why we have recommended that the U.S. Marines be deployed to Afghanistan.  But as for Basra, along with Mrs. Mansour who desires the U.S. tactics in lieu of the British, there are other voices calling for looking beyond the numbers.  We have watched Al-Zaman for a while now, and while decidedly anti-Maliki (and this has not changed), there has been a shift in the tone of the editorials from this important Iraq daily.  Once virulently anti-American, they now seem to see the landscape more deeply and with a larger field of vision.

On November 10, the Iraqi daily Al-Zaman published an article about the meddling of the Iranian regime in Iraqi affairs and wrote: “In the first 3 months of the occupation of Iraq, the Iranian regime dispatched 32,000 of its proxies who were on their payroll into this country. Most of these people hold Ministerial, Parliamentarian and other high position in various Iraqi offices. Of these people 1500 are placed in very sensitive posts and 490 are spread all over Iraq as the representatives of the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Al-Zaman noted the infiltration of the Qods force in the Iraqi government as well as murder and terror of the Iraqi nationalist forces. It continued: “We ask the political groups to demand from the occupying forces to prosecute the members of the IRGC in Iraq to demonstrate their resolve in terrorist designation. They should detain and prosecute these elements according to the laws. Based on international treaties, maintaining security in Iraq is the responsibility of the occupying forces, therefore eradicating Iraq of terrorism, especially the terrorism by the IRGC is their job.

Pro-Iranian Shi’a militia are in control of Basra and much of Southern Iraq.  Metrics can fool anyone and the data behind the metrics must be analyzed to prevent being duped by numbers.  It is about seeing behind the scenes and understanding the local as well as regional terrain.  Powerpoint overheads and viewgraphs that display decreasing violence perpetrated against the British in Basra are correct and totally misleading and irrelevant.  The narrative for Anbar, written in the sweat, tears and blood of United States Marines (along with some Army and National Guard) well before the surge of troops, is cast in history as a counterinsurgency victory.  The U.S. won in Anbar not because of the surge, but because we were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis opted to side with a winner.  It is critical to get the Basra narrative correct, because the regional strategy is at stake, affecting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole region – and our future.

Other resources:

The Problem of Musa Qala: Afghanistan’s Terror University Town, Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media
Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast, TCJ
Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles, TCJ
The Rise of the JAM, TCJ
Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, TCJ
Has the British Strategy in Southern Iraq Failed?, Richard Fernandez, Pajamas Media

Anbar, Buffoons and the Daily Kos

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

The best open source analysts on Iraq are Nibras Kazimi of Hudson Institute (and Talisman Gate), and Mohammed and Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model.  Without planning or warning, from time to time their collective wits and powers of analysis will dovetail, and it’s a wonderful thing to watch as they deconstruct lies and propaganda.

Kazimi recently turned his guns on a New Yorker article which relied on an interview with an alleged sheikh Zaidan al-Awad, and the “sheikh” had this to say:

I asked Zaidan what sort of deal had led to the Sunni Awakening. “It’s not a deal,

Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Much discussion has ensued on Eastern Anbar in and around Fallujah, but RCT-2 is seeing steady improvement in Western Anbar Province.

Marines have seen a 75 percent plunge in “enemy incidents

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