Thursday, June 21, 2007

Iraq: The Cat Stampede Continues

Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times tells us that after four years of playing whack-a-mole, in which insurgents and terrorists sneak away live to fight another day, U.S. forces are changing tactics. It seems they figured out that taking the fight to al-Qaeda in Anbar province didn't destroy them; it just chased them up to Baquba, the capital of Diyala province.

But now that they've got al-Qaeda pinned down in the west end of Baquba, boy, they're going to keep them pinned down. The planners of the current operation, Arrowhead Ripper, want to block the escape routes. The way Gordon writes this story, you get the impression that Army commanders are proud of the fact that it only took them four years to figure out that maybe letting the bad guys run away wasn't a good idea. He quotes Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of a Stryker brigade team in Baquba as saying, “Rather than let the problem export to some other place and then have to fight them again, my goal is to isolate this thing and cordon it off.”

Isolate and cordon off. What a concept. It's been around since Sun Tzu reported to boot camp.

Someone Please Explain

There are, of course, complications. The al-Qaeda fighters have fortified their positions and show no signs of giving up. That could lead to some ferocious fighting, made even bloodier (and more complicated) by the fact that thousands of civilians have remained in the city. If the fighters decide not to fight, they don't necessarily have to slip away. They can hide their weapons and fade into the general population.

U.S. forces have measures designed to keep this from happening: taking biometrics of potential militants, relying on locals to identify insurgents and so on. That'll work great if the militants cooperate in giving their biometrics and the locals agree to risk their lives by identifying the militants.

Gordon says that al-Qaeda strength in western Baquba is estimated between 300 and 500. According to John Ward Anderson and Salih Dehima of the Washington Post, Operation Arrowhead Ripper involves roughly 10,000 American troops.

Someone in the mainstream press or Army public affairs please clarify this for me. Did we really go into this operation with a force advantage of 20 to one or greater? If so, why is there any question of any of the bad guys getting away? And what's to worry about if they stand and fight?

Friday Dump

As the week ends, we learn that the "surge" deployments are complete, but the surge itself is a bust. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, is gone, but his legacy is still with us. The Taliban have launched their spring offensive in Afghanistan, and the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq is just another train. 14 U.S. troops died in Baghdad's Green Zone on Thursday in an attack on the mayor's office. And oh, yeah, we're handing arms out to Sunni militant groups.

The reactions to the announcement that Pace would step down were mixed. I didn't hear or see too much of "Good, let the bastard burn in hell." A lot of voices decried that Pace hadn't done a thing wrong, and was being made the fall guy for other people's sins. My take was that, more or less as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, nobody in the administration wanted Pace under oath in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I think that would have turned into a pre-war intelligence fishing expedition in a heartbeat.

As to Pace's culpability in losing two wars, my take is that while he wasn't in the combatant chain of command, he was the president's senior military adviser, and he either failed to give his boss good advice or failed to make him listen to it. Pace also had a penchant for exaggerating successes in Iraq, which to me is the leading cause of our failures there. Granted, Paces predecessor, Air Force General Richard Myers was a lot worse with the malarkey that Pace was. Myers was the administration's best echo chamberlain.

Part of our problem is that the wartime roles of politicians and generals have reversed since George S. Patton's heyday. Today, politicians micromanage wars and generals play politics. Even the war fighters are spin doctors first, war winners second (if ever). As chief of Central Command, John Abizaid was the one who came up with "If we withdraw, they will follow us here." Abizaid knows "they" can't follow us "here" in significant numbers. "They" don't have a navy and it's too far to swim. And Abizaid's commander in Iraq, George Casey, boasted that "the men and women of the armed forces here have never lost a battle in over three years of war; that is a fact unprecedented in military history," a statement both false and irrelevant. Vietnam War apologists said that the Army was never defeated in the field in over a decade of conflict in that country, but like the old saying goes, you can win a thousand battles and still lose the war.

Part of the problem with today's general and flag officer community is that its members started their careers toward the end of the Vietnam conflict, and over the years they have come to embrace the false mantra that says we lost that war on the home front. That's utter bunker mentality bunk. We lost the Vietnam War in Vietnam. The "liberal" media and the Democrats and Jane Fonda did not lose the war for us. Our commanders in chief and their key advisers and generals lost the war for us.

Today's commander in chief and his advisers and generals are trying to pull the same con job on us. They're working overtime to shift blame for their incompetence to the "hostile press," Iran and Syria, Pelosi and Reid, Catholics who voted for John Kerry and whatever other scapegoats make themselves handy.

I really hope I'm wrong about this, but David Petraeus, our new commander in Iraq, is starting to look like he's cut from the same bolt of polyester as Bush era four-star spinsters like Abizaid and Casey. He was sold as a brilliant officer who wrote the new Army field manual on counter-insurgency operations. Based on reports we're getting, it sounds like he wrote the field manual titled Chinese Fire Drills.

It may be that the reports we're getting from journalists like Michael R. Gordon aren't very accurate. Keep in mind, though, that Gordon has a hard earned reputation for being Bush administration friendly. By most accounts, he helped Judith Miller push the White House's pre-Iraq invasion propaganda through the New York Times, so it seems unlikely he'd go out of his way to make Petraeus look bad.

No, folks, I'm afraid the dogs are in charge of the kennel, and all the opposable thumb types have run away in fear or resigned in disgust.

#

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

23 comments:

  1. "If the fighters decide not to fight, they don't necessarily have to slip away. They can hide their weapons and fade into the general population."
    ***************
    No joke, no uniforms, no dog tags, no I.D. cards and I know someone will say this is racist but damn, they all DO look alike, especially in full garb...
    ---------------------
    ---------------------

    "Gordon says that al-Qaeda strength in western Baquba is estimated between 300 and 500. According to John Ward Anderson and Salih Dehima of the Washington Post, Operation Arrowhead Ripper involves roughly 10,000 American troops.

    Someone in the mainstream press or Army public affairs please clarify this for me. Did we really go into this operation with a force advantage of 20 to one or greater? If so, why is there any question of any of the bad guys getting away? And what's to worry about if they stand and fight?"
    *******************
    And you know as well as I do, when you go into battle with a force superiority that great, well... Unless, they may be being forced to fight the "George Bush War of Political Correctness", that method of battle where no one gets hurt except OUR guys and the enemy never gets offended...
    ----------------------
    ----------------------


    "As the week ends, we learn that the "surge" deployments are complete, but the surge itself is a bust. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, is gone, but his legacy is still with us. The Taliban have launched their spring offensive in Afghanistan, and the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq is just another train."
    ********************
    And again I say, we had NO business going to Iraq to begin with, Bush was exercising his authority and ego, that's ALL it was, he had no plan going in and he has NO clue as we type... Iraq itself, and Baghdad in particular are without a doubt, the biggest clusterf**k we've been engaged in for quite some time...

    Are you Navy guys familiar with that descriptive terminology or is that a Marine thing??

    Great story Jeff, as always, Semper Fi Sir...

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  2. The British have the unique distinction after WW II of being the only power to ever have successfully defeated an insurgency in the field.

    Rather that reading Gen. Petraeus's FM, I suggest anyone who is serious about the matter pick up a copy of the British Field Manual for Malayasia. This Army "guy" has done so several times, but I'm sure you can count the number of flag and star ranked officer who have read it on one hand. And sometimes I doubt anyone in the White House besides Mrs. Bush is literate.

    To summarize it's contents:

    1) core principle: separate the people from the insurgents;

    2) how to: continuous dismounted operations by long range patrols of no more than 10 personnel whose priorities are to kill, capture, and starve the insurgents.

    Notice the lack of "cordon" and "isolate." Cordon and isolate are police terms used by very reluctant combatants. An Army (and Marine Corps) that can't say "kill or capture" has a flag and star-ranked leadership that has gone soft in the head.

    Granted, some adaption to the unique circumstances of Iraq and Afghanistan is necessary. But it takes very little imagination to conclude that we're making negligible progress if we can't even "kill or capture" the bastards as they cross the border.

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  3. semper fubar5:14 PM

    I really hope I'm wrong about this, but David Petraeus, our new commander in Iraq, is starting to look like he's cut from the same bolt of polyester as Bush era four-star spinsters like Abizaid and Casey.

    You're not actally surprised by this, are you? 1) Bush would never, never appoint someone who wasn't cut from the same bolt of cloth. and 2) if you weren't cut from the same bolt of cloth -- ready to pander and spin and lie to Congress, the press and the American people -- would you accept the command at this point?

    I can't see any person with integrity signing onto this disgraceful debacle, so I have to assume that anyone who does is just another piece of flotsam floating around the top of the toilet tank.

    I have no doubt that Bush, Cheney and what's left of the military brass have absolutely no problem extending this mess indefinitely. It's pretty clear that they could not care less about the military or the will of the people.

    The only question is how long will we citizens put up with this. Will we flush money and lives down this rat-hole forever?

    Bush & Cheney are counting on us putting up with it until january 2009.

    I have no clue what the motives are of the republicans running for office - surely they can't believe we'll just stay there forever, and it's very clear that not one of the presidential candidates (Democrats included) have any real plan at all to end this thing, except maybe Gravel, Kucinich and Paul, who would pull out now and hope the wound someday heals all on its own.

    This isn't going to end until we make it end. Sadly, I don't think we're there yet as a country, but we might get there eventually. Maybe if we had 10+ times the casualties, like we did at a similar point in the Vietnam war, we'd be pushing to an endpoint with more fervor. 3500 dead just isn't enough to get real upset about, I guess.

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  4. An Army (and Marine Corps) that can't say "kill or capture" has a flag and star-ranked leadership that has gone soft in the head.

    - john

    Our capture/kill in Iraq is @ 10/1. A third to a half of the 10 are subsequently released through the Iraqi judicial system. (So much for holding EPWs for the duration.) Catch and Release is no myth.

    You'd better kill 'em, because they're no nicer the second time around.

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  5. The ratio is unimportant. If our opponent is not compelled to do our will, then 100:1 would not be good enough.

    I'm also innately distrustful of anonymous bodies. I want pictures, finger prints, genetic samples, and positive ID coupled with scratching the bastard off of a targeting list.

    I also want to bribe as many turn-coats as possible into being meaningful informants. This process is made infinitely easier if they know they're on a list . . . and their name is coming up soon.

    I also want any Iraqi who cooperates with us to know that his or her sacrifice will not be in vain, and when he/she can no longer stay in country, we will remember their service to us honorably.

    Finally, I want 4 to 6 reliable agents at every single meeting of every single group who feels they can resist us in the field. And when the time comes, I want the leadership of each and every one of these groups decapitated from the top down.

    None of these things is happening on a significant scale in Iraq. If tactical imagination consists of "isolate" and "cordon," then our leadership is soft in the head.

    P.S. The motives of the Republican hopefuls (with a few quaint exceptions) are simple--Republican Primaries and Caucuses are one or lost by pandering to the hard core (read, the Religious Right and the Neo-Conservatives). If a Republican doesn't pander (read, embrace W's War), then nomination is a DNE phenomenon (Does Not Exist). Damn the Country, full speed ahead to Iowa!

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  6. The fact that they're released, john, and not under our adjudication, is extremely important. The revolving door is an old and serious problem. They're not being cut loose to report back.

    Prisoners don't provide the bonanza; our best sources are come by otherwise.

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  7. And I must emphasize the relative ease with which recruitment was done in Viet Nam, for instance (you mentioned Phoenix), compared to Iraq. Viet Nam offered a far more permissive operating environment.

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  8. Yes, losing PW's that way would be a very bad on a number of fronts. But one doesn't need to turn every prisoner (assuming, obviously that they're in your control), one just needs to maintain a constant effort to recruit some of them. Likewise not every known operative for the OPFOR will turn at our inducements, but if no attempt is made, failure is guaranteed.

    I will concede that the factional situation in Vietnam was not nearly so complex as it is in Iraq/Afghanistan, but in a very real sense, that's a bed of our own making. Our tactics, operations, and overall strategy would need to focus on keeping inter-factional complexity to a minimum. I suspect that if we had either kept the Iraqi Army in-being or had properly disarmed it, that that would have been a serious step in that direction. But every family should have a right to an AKM and an RPG-7? :)

    As I reflect on your statements, Iraq is even worse than I thought. Since when do we get off turning over prisoners to civil authorities? It's been a long time since there were men and women any where in the world who would honor such a parole.

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  9. "It's been a long time since there were men and women any where in the world who would honor such a parole."

    No sh*t.

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  10. John, I don't think you realize how hard it is to just to get out and stay there among the people in Iraq. I don't think you realize how hard it is for our sources to do the same.

    There is no Saigon.

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  11. I never claimed it was easy. Nor looking back at history, was the best recruiting done in Saigon. However, if it cannot be done, then our cause on the ground is without hope.

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  12. I'm loving the discussion, gang. Keep it coming.

    Jeff

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  13. "The British have the unique distinction after WW II of being the only power to ever have successfully defeated an insurgency in the field."

    Claptrap.

    It wasn't an insurgency in the usual sense. The British arbitrated in a low level civil war between Malaysia's two main ethnic groups; to gloss over the racial aspects of their intervention, and sell it to the world at large during the Cold War, they euphemistically billed it as a Communist insurgency. The "insurgents" were mostly found among the disenfranchised among Malaysia's Chinese minority. The Malay majority had few Communist inclinations.

    The only way that you can force your will onto a majority not inclined to do your bidding is with concentration camps that physically erect barriers between the compliant and non-compliant and, if you so wish, summary executions. This is what the British did with the Boers. International law has a few things to say about the treatment of occupied territories.

    Americans, with the possible exception of the anthropoid rapture maniacs and their ilk, will not stand for American run concentration camps and summary executions.

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  14. I am also learning Chinese language by a special and innovative service in Beijing Chinese School. I like to learn in live class with teachers from Beijing directly. I also like to practice Chinese with volunteers freely everyday. Watching Chinese learning TV on CLTV is also interesting and helpful to practice listening and learn more about Chinese culture.

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  15. semper fubar7:58 AM

    The solution for us in Iraq is not to be in Iraq. We have no business there. Trish & John, the two of you are discussing tactics that are completely innapropriate to the situation, and it's thinking like that which is creating an ever spiralling downward disaster in Iraq.

    If you can't put yourself in the shoes of the typical Iraqi -- whose country has been invaded by a foreign power, whose cities have been bombed, whose government (however distasteful to us here) was dismantled, and whose economy has been wrecked -- and think through how YOU would react in such a situation, you are suffering from a lack of imagination. Would you "cooperate?" Would you aid the occupiers?

    Taken to its logical conclusion, essentially, you're talking about rounding up every last one of the Iraqis, throwing them all in prison camps, and killing or permanently detaining them all. And to what end? So we can force our will upon them? Is this what you think American policy should be?

    What is exactly our "cause on the ground" anyway? No, seriously, I want to hear what it is.

    Don't give me any BS about "freedom" and "terrorism" and "fighting them there so we don't fight them here." Any sentient being knows that's a bunch of crap served up to justify an illegal invasion.

    What is our cause on the ground?

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  16. semper fubar,

    We're discussing it because we ARE there. Whether we should be or not has already been addressed by me.

    I won't give you any BS about "freedom" and "terrorism" and "fighting them there so we don't fight them here" if you don't give me any BS about "rounding up every last Iraqi."

    Fair enough?

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  17. Can't say how much I'm enjoying this thread.

    Play nice, everybody.

    Best,

    Jeff

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  18. semper fubar12:31 PM

    I guess my point is, trish, that capturing, detaining and killing Iraqis doesn't seem to be a particularly great strategy. (And by many reports makes the situation worse) Unless the goal is to ultimately kill and capture enough of them that they no longer resist being occupied by us. I would guess that would take some mighty big internment camps and lifelong detainment of a significant percentage of the population - are we willing to do that?

    Talking about capture/kill ratios, as if we could get to some appropriate ratio wherein we "win," recruiting informants to our side, decapititating insurgent groups,etc etc seems absurd to me. It doesn't address the problem, because our presence there is the problem.

    Yes, you are right - regardless of how we got there, we ARE there now. What is our cause on the ground NOW?

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  19. When I say "cause on the ground," I'm trying to be dispassionate. I have never been excited about invading Iraq. I do not, and never have, supported the political rationales for the invasion. I'm trying to look at it from the point of view of me on the ground left to fight this war whether I like it or not. That is admittedly difficult, but I am trying. So, please don't align me with the Administration. At the same time, I'm not a pacifist and military action is sometimes necessary to achieve political ends. For example, I believe we were right to invade Afghanistan; where we have failed is in devoting the resources actually necessary for success, and in diluting our efforts by side-tracking to Iraq.

    Yes, I'm well aware of the unique circumstances of Malaysia (they are dealt with at length by the British field manual). Moreover, it is very true that Iraq is not Malaysia. But that is just a different way of restating the overarching challenge of studying military history--what lessons do you learn, and how do you apply them. Only the naive compare wars or battles and claim they are "identical."

    Concentration camps are not effective. They were used in this country against the mining strikes between 1890 and 1905. Every male living in the Silver Valley (including a fair number directly related to me) were confined to concentration camps for a year after the IWW dynamited the mine works. There were more IWW members after the concentration camps, and both the union and the Communist Party had greater penetration among the workers, than before the internments. There were also quite a few deaths in the camps from disease.

    The situation in the Silver Valley was not calmed until the New Deal brought better wages and safer working conditions. The IWW and the Communist Party receded from whence they came to be replaced the United Mine Workers and the Steel Workers.

    The lesson here for Iraq is that reconstruction and economic improvements for the average citizen can be very effective "weapons" too.

    Now, I know it's more complicated than that . . .

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  20. From a purely military point of view, concentration camps can work. Look at Namibia.

    Had they locked up every single potential militant (read American) and imported Chinese labor (as was done to build the railroads) or Tamils (as was done in Malaysia) it would have worked. And if pathetic sanitary conditions decimate the prisoners, having less prisoners to feed is not only bad.

    My point was that Americans will never stand for such ruthlessness.

    In Malaysia, the 55% or so that were Malay were almost 100% behind the gov't, as were the 10% or so that were of East Indian extraction, and many of the 30% or so of the Chinese.

    In Iraq, absent a huge hearts and mind campaign, you had the Sunnis who were going to be against the war virtually to the last man, the Shi'a who would not have stood for the sort of production sharing "agreement" that Cheney-Bush are foisting, and the Kurds, who were keen on the occupation. The catch with them was that the Turks, Syrians, Iranians and Sunnis were all something between hellbent and resolutely opposed to Kurdish independence. Kurdistan, incidentally, is much closer to a feudal state than a democracy.

    You can't compare the taming of 5% the population bereft of much outside support which took MORE THAN TEN YEARS to intimidating 65% of the population with deep grudges and many friends in neighboring lands.

    Ultimately the engagement in Iraq is part of a wider political problem which requires a political solution; to pretend otherwise is hallucinatory and doomed to failure.

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  21. To your last paragraph, I agree. Nevertheless, lessons can and should be learned from history. To say that every war is unique (which it is) just results in a collective throwing up of hands; or worse, an endless repetition of mistakes.

    Meanwhile, I'll be out of the loop for a few days while I pretend to be a Teamster and move from the East Coast to the West Coast.

    Until the 'morrow . . .

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  22. P.S. They did replace the miners. The mines were operated by workers imported from outside of Idaho (I'd have to look up the nationalities) and operated under the rifles of the "Colored" unit based at Ft. Wright in what is now Spokane Falls Community College. Hard rock mining with dynamite (the Sunshine Mine went more than a mile down even then) is dangerous enough in the best of times, and apparently there was considerable difficulty keeping the "scabs" around under the conditions of the times.

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