Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thank you, Hitch

This is, necessarily, a non-political blog. I, like every other military officer of whatever political persuasion, will faithfully discharge my duties under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, regardless of his political party. When he is sworn on on 20 JAN, President Obama will be the fifth Commander-in-Chief I have served.
Still, I have to say, I find a lot of the vitriol and venom directed at our current Commander-in-Chief to be disheartening. I have no qualm with anyone who has a problem with any of his policies. There are some of his policies that I have disagreed with over the years. But the constant personal attacks against President Bush are unseemly and uncalled for. And none of the attacks are more so than those which call the President stupid. I'm not an extremely well-read guy. Okay, discount books by Louis L'amour and Mickey Spillane, and I'm really, really not well-read. But I respect people who are, and the President is. He's well read, smart, and principled, and he has had to make some incredibly difficult choices during some of country's most trying times. Calling him stupid is beyond the pale. Maybe he's not the most well-spoken politician on the face of the planet, but public speaking can sometimes be, you know, difficult--despite an Ivy League pedigree.
So, I'm glad that Christopher Hitchens said this.

h/t Blackfive

Dear Bill Gates

Dude, unfuck yourself.

Oh, my

Didn't know this when I started Mongo's Montreaux. Definition #1. Okay, I think it's growing on me.

What about Tap, Nap, or Snap?

The Economist has an article out articulating what President-Elect Obama can learn about the Mid-East Peace Process from the Clinton years. Couple things about it:
Mr Clinton faced far riper circumstances in the 1990s than Mr Obama inherits today. He had in Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, a visionary leader willing to return the Golan Heights to Syria and negotiate directly with Yasser Arafat, whom previous Israeli leaders considered an incorrigible terrorist.

Uh, that's because Yasser Arafat was, in fact, an incorrigible terrorist. Granted, he was what Ralph Peters would call a "rational terrorist," unlike our current Al Qaeda cabal, but now we're differentiating between cockroaches and maggots.
Second, the article (which promulgates advice teased from a book by Martin Indyk called Innocent Abroad) asks:
Should the next president pile greater pressure on Israel? For all Rabin’s courage, notes Mr Indyk, he was “deeply cautious” towards the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories because he wanted to preserve his domestic political capital. Mr Indyk now thinks America should stand up to Israeli leaders when they plead political trouble at home to fend off pressure to curb settlements.

How about (ain't gonna happen, but one must ask) piling greater pressure on the Palestinians? In fact, given the recent events in Gaza, how about we tell the Palestinians "look, we'd really like to help you out, but until you stop your terror attacks on Israel, we are, in fact, going to encourage the Israelis to keep knocking the snot out of you. We endorse the kinetic solutions that the Israelis are taking to make themselves more secure, if not actually safe. We regret any loss of innocent life that result from Israel's actions, but if innocent life were truly one of your concerns, you wouldn't place your rocket launchers in schools, hospitals, and residential neighborhoods. Until you act like adult fucking members of the world community, we are going to encourage Israel to keep spanking you. Maybe, someday, you'll grow up."
Also, I recall reading somewhere that a good percentage of the Hamas rocket launchers were located in former Israeli settlements in Gaza. Sheesh.
Of course, that'll never happen. Everyone is going to keep kissing the Palestinians' asses and acting like they've got a legitimate beef (which, this generally pro-Palestinian article demonstrates they do not) and everyone will keep criticizing and "piling pressure on" Israel, which bends over backwards to avoid the collateral damage that the Palestinians take such glee in fomenting.

Using Precise Terms Precisely

The Vatican has released the names of this year's Christian martyrs. Man, it's been a long time since I've heard about Christian martyrs. And check it out: unlike some other religions I could mention, none of the Christian martyrs expired by blowing a suicide vest in a crowded market, or ramming a VBIED into a bunch of school kids (Pull Quote: "A surveillance video shows that the bomber could have waited for the children to walk past but decided instead to detonate his explosives, U.S. officials said. A Taliban spokesman was quoted calling the bomber a martyr."). Wow, a list where "martyr" doesn't equate to "murderer." It's a little disconcerting.

A Christmas Tragedy

We took indirect fire on Christmas morning. Through the day, the details trickled in, and we knew in short order that we (US Forces, not Mungadai) had taken casualties. For the Mungadai, Christmas was, more or less, just another workday. We heard and felt the blasts, but as the fire wasn't impacting right on us and it was sporadic, we just drove on with our day. Although we didn't really get the full story until a day or two after Christmas, we knew pretty quickly that one US Soldier died, two were wounded.

The doctor who was killed is survived by his wife and three children. Every Soldier lost is a tragedy--this is a phrase used so much that one could consider it a cliche, if it weren't so heart-rending. The saddest part of the whole thing is that his poor kids have not only lost a Father, but will forever be reminded of it on Christmas, a day which should be about joy, fellowship, and eternal hope. Our prayers go out to the Pryors.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Israeli Spokesman on Iraqi TV

Had lunch with the Knights' Raid Commander today. Per usual Iraqi luncheon operations, we huddled up over a big plate of chicken and rice with various veggies and sauce bowls piled around the edges and dug in (with hands). Being a southpaw, this is kind of a bitch for me, as I've got to use my right hand for most of the tearing and sundering going on in the middle of the plate.
The news was on while we ate. Not sure which station (whether it was an indig Iraqi program or from some other Arab state). The show's anchor had a young IDF officer on to discuss Israel's retaliatory strikes into Gaza. The young man was bright and articulate; his Arabic was, as far as I could tell, flawless MSA (I'm not a subject matter expert, here, I'm only qualified to give my impression). Interestingly, the spokesman was an Arab Israeli. The discussion between the Muslim anchorman and the IDF spokesman was measured, congenial, and truly looked like a no shit dialogue. Never expected that.
Later, the anchor cut to Hezbullah's Nasrallah stating that Israel had better not try to export its shenanigens to LH and southern Lebanon and protesting that Israel's "indiscriminate" attacks had killed three girls in the Gaza strip. Around our chow (the cadence of which is best described as grab, rend, scoop, squeeze, stuff) both of my lunch companions, one a Sunni Kurd, the other a Shi'i Arab, expressed these sentiments:
-That fat asshole, children get blown up here all the time by "Muslims" and I don't hear him saying anything.
-Yeah, I'd like to beat that fucker like a dog in a mosque.
Interesting. My counterparts aren't shy about voicing thier criticisms of the US, the nascent Iraqi political system, Iranian interference in Iraq, or any other subject. Some of their opinions are wildly off base, some hit pretty close to the mark, and all are delivered with the passionate yelling and gesticulations that invariably accompany any Iraqi conversation. At no point during the newscast was there any vehemence or vitriol directed at Israel.
There are itty-bitty, teeny-tiny cracks appearing in my own perception of Monolithic Bloc Muslim anti-semitism.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Me Too! Me Too!

Outstanding evening/morning of night raids last night. After a couple hours of sleep, I had some shopping to do; Baby Bro Mongo recently got hisself a Jag. That's unacceptable, he's supposed to be trying to catch up to me (guess his tastes don't run to big-ass pickup trucks). So, not to be outdone, the Mungadai went out an procured a Jag, too. Hey, new tires, new windshield, and some spackle over all the bullet holes (or some whatever it is with which one repairs bullet holes), and we'll be stylin' and profilin'.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Essential Elements of Information

Okay, chances are that this guy is totally wrong, and that his acts were thoroughly detestable and unjustified; but how do we know?

The newspaper leaves out the most critical piece of information needed for the reader to make an informed decision: What was the movie?

If it was a Disney movie or some other family fare, then the guy was way, way out of line. If it was, say, a Tarantino holiday film fest, then the victim should've fuckin' known better.

I'm just saying, actions have consequences.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Man's Cold Oatmeal

My biggest criticism of the GEN(R) McCaffrey report on his most recent trip to Iraq was of his statement that one of the mistakes we made in the war was that we had
issued illegal orders which resulted during the initial years in the systematic widespread mistreatment (and occasional torture) of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan detainees under our control.

My objection was that the US military does not and will not systemically direct nor tolerate torture, abuse, or mistreatment. When individuals do act in a manner that would be categorized as such, the military demonstrates--quickly--that it can and does police itself. One of the problems of discussing abuse/torture is the wide variance of definitions, and the spectrum of interpretations as to what is, and is not, permissible under international law, the US law of land warfare, and the Geneva conventions with regards to the treatment of detainees, prisoners, and prisoners of war.
The National Review published the best article I've seen yet as to the muddying of the waters on the torture dialogue. I guess that one man's cold oatmeal is another man's torture.
You can identify abuse or mistreatment anywhere, if your predisposed to find it. Sometimes, prisoners are "mistreated" because it is not physically possible to care for them any better. My counterpart's current detention facility is pretty austere, dirty, dark and gloomy--as are the barracks, offices, and common areas. The detainees are housed as well as the police, is that good enough?
Ironically, I think that under the current (hysterical) definitions of mistreatment of detainees/prisoners, you could make an argument that the 24th ID--commanded by then-MG McCafferey-- mistreated prisoners during the first Gulf War. We cared for them as well as we could while we continued to prosecute our mission. Had I deferred mission accomplishment in order to ensure that our prisoners were warmer, dryer, better fed, and all around more comfy-cosie than we were, MG McCafferey would've been the first to dig into my ass--and rightfully so.
One of the problems our military faces today is the highly partisan nature of the scrutiny of detainee/prisoner operations. The rules used to pass the common sense test, but now that the rules are being parsed in the rarefied air of partisan politics, common sense (guided by the experience and judgment of military professionals) is out the window. Our system is now insane (see Boumediene v. Bush).
The Geneva Conventions and the US' Law of Land Warfare were inspired specifically "by the desire to diminish the evils of war." These covenants unambiguously forbid the
manner in which Al Qaeda wages war, and are meant to encourage warring parties to kill each other in a civilized manner.
Prior to 9/11, I would have said that if I came across my enemy on the battlefield dressed as a civilian and wantonly killing non-combatants, it would be perfectly legal to execute him on the spot. That I wouldn't do so would be as a matter of military policy and procedure, not law. Were I to take him into custody, I would treat him IAW the Geneva Conventions because that is what we are wont to do (we're the good guys), not what we are mandated to do.
I get the feeling that the extraordinary protections accorded US prisoners/detainees are a result of the fact that we are sitting fat and happy, and secure because of the lack of follow-on attacks since 9/11. Following another (as or more pernicious) attack, those who scream the loudest about the brutality of our military/security forces will be the ones screaming loudest that we haven't done enough.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Airman up for Medal of Honor for Actions in Laos, 1968

CMSgt Richard Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his valorous actions at the destruction of Lima Site 85 in Laos in 1968. 40 years later, the request to upgrade his award to the Medal of Honor is on Secretary of Defense Gates' desk. The link goes to a site detailing the story; the AF lost 11 of 19 men at the site, the largest loss of AF personnel during a single engagement in the Vietnam War. As is too often the case, the loss of life was preventable but for bureaucratic friction. These guys were at the sharp, shitty end of the stick.
Etchberger's sons only ever knew that there father died in a helicopter accident. I can't access the Army Times story on-line (yet) but one thing that stood out was
For 14 years Etchberger's sons didn't know the truth of their father's death, Cory Etchberger said.
His mother was briefed on the mission when she went to DC with her husband [before the mission], but was sworn to secrecy. Not until the mission was declassified did she tell her sons about what their father did in Laos.

That's hardcore.
The citation for Etchberger's Air Force Cross reads
On 11 March 1968, Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger was manning a defensive position when the base was overrun by an enemy ground force.

The enemy was able to deliver sustained and withering fire directly upon this position from higher ground.

His entire crew dead or wounded, Chief Etchberger continued to return the enemy's fire thus denying them access to the position.

During this entire period, Chief Etchberger continued to direct air strikes and call for air rescue on his emergency radio, thereby enabling the air evacuation force to locate the surrounded friendly element.

When air rescue arrived, Chief Etchberger deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to place his three surviving wounded comrades in the rescue slings permitting them to be airlifted to safety.

As Chief Etchberger was finally being rescued, he was fatally wounded, by enemy ground fire. His fierce defense which culminated in the supreme sacrifice of his life, saved not only the lives of his three comrades but provided for the successful evacuation of the remaining survivors of the base.

Sounds like a Medal of Honor to me.

The Mungadai salute CMSgt Etchberger, his family, and all the Airmen who gave their last full measure on that hilltop in 1968 and their families.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back in the Saddle

The week of the Hajj is over. The week of home station celebrating by everyone who didn't get to Mecca tamped down attacks (despite the SVIED attack at the restaurant in Kirkuk). The week is over, the celebrations ended, so we can expect to see an uptick in both OPTEMPO and attacks.

The slow week was a good break, but I'm looking forward to resuming our normal (insane) OPTEMPO. At least then I've got an excuse for not catching up on paperwork, doing admin, going to the gym,etc.

I'm just saying, is all...

Soldiers bitch. They're great at it. I marvel everyday at the incredible support we get here, and derive great amusement from listening to Soldiers bitching anyway. Oh, sorry troop, was your lobster overcooked again? War is hell.
I had to go to the PX today, and wandered down the book/magazine aisle. Who procures for AAFES and decides what to sell to the guys? Case in point, they're selling Robin Cook's Coma. Nothing against the book, but it came out in 1977. What in the world makes someone think that there will be a market for it in the Mosul PX? I've seen that book in paperback aisles for as long as I've been looking at books in paperback aisles; what, is AAFES trying to introduce a new generation to the medical thriller?


The AAFES folks can ensure I can get my hands on a 30-year old paperback, but they run out of Copenhagen? And it's the plastic canned Cope, so it's not even like it'll go stale. It's an Army PX in Mosul, for crying out loud, are you afraid you're going to order too much friggin' Copenhagen?

I'm just saying...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What The...?

Man, I didn't even know this was going on. What the hell...I didn't even know his damn tomb was in Mosul...or that the tomb was missing a damn whale tooth.

Guess I need to check out BlackFive more often to find out what's happening in my own backyard. I suck.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Counterinsurgency, Infrastructure, and the Rule of Law

About two nights ago (they kind of seem to run together, sometimes) we spent the evening with the Knights checking the occupants of local hotels. That is, we ran up, secured the street, secured the building, then brought all the guests downstairs for interviews and ID card checks while the Knights checked the rooms, primarily for people hiding.
I'm not going to critique the various TTP on display, that's for Knight and the Mungadai internal consumption. But, what struck me was:
How, exactly, does one impose the rule of law when civil infrastructure is almost zero?
The biggest infrastructure issue that we've bumped up against previously is the leave policy. At any given time, a quarter of the ISF is on leave. They take leave because, once they get paid, they've got to go home and pay the bills. No banks, no internet for wire deposits, no checking accounts, no direct deposit. The troops get paid in cold cash, and then go home to pay the bills and take care of Momma and give her enough money to get through until the next pay day. And, because ISF at some point have to devolve from a unit taking leave and going out the gates together to individuals splitting off to go home, the troops are often incredibly vulnerable when they go home, susceptible to ambush, kidnap, and assassination. My last deployment to Iraq (05), the Iraqi chain of command would mandate that the troops leave the base in uniform. The troops were afraid to even carry their uniforms off base in a shopping bag, so we had to constantly replace uniforms that wound up in a ditch somewhere between point A and point B.

The problem here and now, in Mosul, is that the National Police (for that matter, all the ISF) are trying to segue from military operations to a combination of military and law enforcement activities, with the goal being to end up having to perform only law enforcement. As the rest of Iraq settles down, the rule of law becomes more and more important. The Iraqi Government needs to enforce and--more importantly, follow--the rule of law in order to gain and maintain its credibility and legitimacy. The hard part is doing that in an area like Mosul, where there is little to no infrastructure. I'm defining "infrastructure" here as all the shit that happens back home that we don't even have to think about. The hotel checks were an object lesson in the friction between the rule of law and social infrastructure.
How does one verify an address when there are no addresses? An Iraqi will generally say something like "I live near Haifa Street, in Baghdad" or "I live near the Zangeli traffic circle." There aren't any building or residential numbers, and a lot of the streets are not named.
How does one check a phone number when landlines are virtually nonexistent? You can check a guy's cell phone call log (if he hasn't erased it), but so what, unless you know the numbers on the register. In the US, the police need a warrant to get someone's call history from the cell phone company. Here, they are striving for the same standard, but what is the probable cause for the warrant? That the guy looks fishy?
The police were suspicious of all the hotel guests; they were from out of town, and who the hell decides to visit Mosul now? One guy had a huge wad of cash--suspicious. But Iraq is a cash-only economy right now. One guy had numerous sets of car keys on him, and stated that he was in the business of buying and selling cars. The National Police (and the Coalition) have been hit hard by VBIEDs the last couple of weeks, and anyone with access to multiple cars needs to be thoroughly investigated. But investigation equals more than interrogation, and without a sound infrastructure against which to check facts, gathering evidence becomes problematic.
We often hear references that Mosul (or at least parts thereof) are "like the Wild West." That's especially true when it comes to law enforcement. However, there is a definite difference between the imposition of a lawman's will and what we would think of as the "rule of law." Let's not forget that the men who "tamed the West" would probably suffer some pretty bad PR these days. From a law enforcement point of view, the Iraqi National Police are walking a tight rope--while people are shooting at them.

Movie Comments

Due to time constraints and OPTEMPO, I end up watching any movie in about a week-long series of 10-20 minute increments. As anyone who knows me knows, this drives me absolutely nuts. Still, it's better than putting a TV in my room (some of the guys have bought "garage sale" televisions from re-deploying troops; we procured an AFN dish and--boom--we're cooking with gas. I've abjured the television option, as I know myself well enough to know that if it's on, I won't be doing something productive that I should be doing. This approach will be modified when AFN starts broadcasting the new season of 24; at that point I'll be hanging out in Top's or Buddha's room for an hour a week--and yes, Voodoo, same thing whenever AFN puts a Chuck Norris flick on). Two movies that supplied something worth commentary were:
The Hulk: the new one with Edward Norton. Okay, liked it better than the first, and enjoyed the inclusion of Brazilian JiuJitsu into the screenplay. Tim Roth (much as I like the guy) was sort of miscast as the Bad Ass Operator that volunteers to take on the Hulk through similar treatments as those that transformed Bruce Banner. Roth looked reasonably kick-ass all kitted out in black; he probably could have pulled it off if the screenplay hadn't called for him taking off his shirt. After years of being an Operator in the Royal Marines, wearing full kit, the dude has to have developed something resembling traps, right?
So, when offered the opportunity to participate in the "Bio Tech Force Enhancement"--Super Soldier--program, he tells LTG Ross:
If I could take what I know now, put it in the body I had ten years ago...that would be somebody I wouldn't want to fight.
Isn't that the perpetual lament of professional soldiers everywhere, through history? That, when one finally reaches the apogee of technical and tactical proficiency, one has to perform despite the bum knee, the fused vertebrae, and/or the shredded rotator cuff? A good example of Hollywood accidentally stumbling on the truth when making a movie (despite the speaker of the truth being an unshaven Royal Marine wearing the US Army Class A uniform).

Equilibrium: Not too shabby. One has to swallow some wild improbabilities to get to the story, but okay, used to that. The one thing I appreciated, though, was the introduction of the "gun kata." I'm sure that, like me, most folks who have spent innumerable hours over the years training and adapting the Weaver stance (or modified Weaver stance), and concentrating on breathing, site picture, and trigger squeeze in order to deveolop a functionally sound and reliable handgunning capability, are driven to distraction by the point-the-weapon-anywhere-while-rolling-around-and-still-hit-the-target nature of shoot 'em up movies. At least this movie gave a plausible explanation for wild assed firing techniques and showed people actually having to train it. Kudos. Like any skill worth having, shooting takes practice, practice, and more practice.
Note to Hollywood: if you still want to strip out realism and keep showing movie characters shooting their pistols one-handed while holding the weapon lateral to the ground to the people (terrorists, insurgents, criminals) I may have to engage one day, by all means, feel free.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


We all know that Mungadai and knives go together like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, blood and guts...
And no one makes a better knife than Relentless.
So we'd like to congratulate Relentless Knives on Hollywood's selection of the Relentless M4X as the blade-of-choice for Frank Castle in the new Punisher movie.
The Mungadai have a great affinity for The Punisher; he adheres to exacting standards, asks no less of anyone else than he would ask of himself, and metes out the appropriate measure of justice to those members of society who cannot or will not follow the basic precepts of the social contract.
If you go to the Relentless Knives ENewsletter, you'll see some friends of Relentless patrolling the streets of Mosul.

PS-For all the Mungababes out there, nothing says "I love you, Poopsie" like a Relentless Knife. It's the gift that keeps on Al Qaeda, to the Mahdi Army, to the Badr Corps, to the Quds Force...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mumbai I: Radicalizing Moderates

One of my ongoing frustrations about the dialogue on the War on Terror is the assertion that when we (generally The West, particularly the United States) don't develop a perfect Course of Action that will appease the Islamic masses while we surgically cull the psychotically violent Islamist extremists, we radicalize the moderates and "create more terrorists." The two main branches of this theory are:
1. There is some type of moral equivalency between the actions of the United States, which takes measured, rational approaches to employing force, often limiting our actions and effectiveness and assuming greater risk for our troops in order to attenuate collateral damage, and the Islamists, who--as evidenced by Mumbai--prefer to take the Mad Dog Killer approach to their tactics.
2. While the Mad Dog Killers' actions are extreme, they are rational reactions to legitimate grievances over the policies of the United States, which has subjected the Islamic masses to all sorts of indignities (basically because, in short, we do stuff that they don't like).
Thus, the Mad Dog Killers of the Islamic Extremist set are justified in their passions and grievances, if not their actions, and it is incumbent upon the United States to address these grievances so that we don't continue to "make more terrorists" by radicalizing Muslims who would prefer to be moderates, but just can't overlook the indignities heaped upon them by the United States and therefore become terrorists.
Some big-brain thinkers, like Deepok Chopra think that we need to employ a Marshall Plan for Muslims in order to keep good Mohommadens from going bad, and that much of the Islamic terrorism the US has been subjected to over the years is the result of our not executing such a plan earlier.
My response to that? Fuck you.
Anyone who could be swayed to strap on a bomb and blow himself up at a school bus stop, or a market place, or a hospital is a fundamentally flawed sociopath. Ditto for those who finacially or materially support such people. Actually, the facilitators are even worse. Anyone who could be swayed to overtly target innocent non-combatants is not a moderate forced into terrorism out of desperation, he's a psycho who finally found an excuse. Can anyone imagine an American condoning the actions of a terrorist because, well, you know, he was responding to really egregious poliitcal policies?
Timothy McVeigh is reviled by every one of the disparate segments of US society, and rightfully so. Any apologist who tried to argue that he had legitimate grievances that need to be addressed by the US Government, that we, as a people bear some responsibility for his actions because of our failure to reform ourselves in order to allay the "root causes" that made him park that car bomb outside the Murrah Federal Building would be unanimously shouted out of the public square, and rightfully so.
The victims taken hostage in Mumbai were horrifically tortured before they were executed. No social, political, cultural, ethnic, or religious grievance justifies this. To all those Muslim "moderates" who faintly damn this type of atrocity with "yes, but..." there are no buts.
To all those who think that the US should change its evil ways in order to prevent otherwise moderate Muslims from turning to terrorism as a last-ditch effort to right a wrong, I've got a counter proposal: let's ramp up our OPTEMPO and get these fledgling terrorists radicalized now, in order to sooner get them on the target list.

*As an aside, I'm reasonably sure that, given his personal philosophy and fondness for the Bhagavad Gita, ol' Deepok, in a world where the US wasn't protecting his sorry ass, would find his head separated from his body by a rusty hacksaw blade wielded by a Muslim inspired by a host of "root causes." I note that Deepok hawks his New Age-ism from the US and not from, say, Karachi...or Mumbai.


The terror attacks in Mumbai require a whole host of posts. I've read some good commentary and analysis on the attacks, and their place in the War on Terror. A whole lot has been written about the attacks, and I'm not certain whether I can add anything new. As soon as I get done thinkin', and start writin', I'll do a series on them.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ah, Memories

Y'know, sometimes I miss Ft. Bragg, and all the great training I did there. And then again, sometimes I don't.

h/t Blackfive

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I had forgotten... much I hate the fucking flies in Iraq.
And, for those who've never been here, no, that's not a gratuitous "fucking."

Outside Looking In

I thought this article, written by a French soldier serving with the 101st in Afghanistan, was pretty cool. We often forget the military culture shock that foreign military professionals have when they get a close-up view of the US military and our troops. In a way, the deep impression that we make is a double-edged sword; while the impression is almost always singularly positive, it creates the impression that we can do anything, from a tactical/operational point of view. This sometimes generates resentment when we don't produce results right away, because of the mindset that "they could easily do it if they really wanted to, so they must be blowing us off."
The Mungadai are butting up against this in our advisory role. We're so rich, so tactically capable and logistically "fat" in comparison to our Iraqi brethren, that failures to produce results on the most outlandish requests is viewed as a willful disregard of our counterparts' priorities.
Some of the French author's views are chuckleworthy:
Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.
I'm sure that most people are shocked when they discover that the top priority for the vast majority of US troops, when given some downtime, is to hit the gym. The greatest source of frustration for most of the guys serving in remote COPs is the lack of PT venues. Still, no one is so built that
Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest.
Obviously, the Army gets a "T" in training training troops on the principle of "shut up and suck it up." I don't think any of our guys lack for discomfort after putting in 12-16 hours in full battle rattle. I start the day at right around 6' tall, I end it at about 5'7". At the end of the day, when I take off the kit, my decompressing back sounds like the pneumatic pump of the MRAP door.

To our outside observer, the support of the American people for their troops is preeminently evident:
Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission.
Some of our author's comments would be considered a left-handed compliment:
And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all
Hmmm. Not sure too many of our senior NCOs would concur with that, as they constantly remind our troops that "you ain't Rambo, knucklehead."

I remember that Jean Larteguy, French paratrooper and war correspondent, author of The Centurions, wrote in his autobiography that the French soldier will heal from his wounds much faster than his American counterpart, because the Frenchman knows that he has no one to really depend on but himself, while the American knows that he can wait for his military to help him heal. Not sure why that quote popped into my mind on reading the article; probably because I don't read a whole lot of literature authored by French soldiers.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, reeeaaallllyy?

I am so going to rip into this piece of shit when I get time...

Another Mongo Critique

I agree with US News & World Report's assessment of our current generation of company grade officers, but I think that they've left something out: the superlative competence of our NCOs, without which the officer cadre's potential would never be realized.
When I came on board as a 2LT, the last of the NCOs that had acquired their battlefield prowess in Vietnam were getting ready to retire. Organizational Darwinism (not to mention Battlefield Darwinism) had culled the substandard performers, and every Platoon Leader/Company Commander prayed for a hoary, tested veteran in his unit to impart his lessons-learned.
Quickly, the VOLAR NCOs stepped up to fill the void as the Vietnam vets cycled out. The military's Reagan Rennaissance provided NCOs with outstanding professional military education and developed an NCO Corps that was professional, committed to excellence, and motivated.
Now, Company Commanders and Platoon Leaders have the best of both worlds: multiple-tour combat veteran NCOs who have been through the Army's nonpareil education and professional development.
While today's junior officers have earned each and every kudo they get, it's their NCOs that allow them to succeed to the extent that they do.

Decent Article on Mosul

This article describes the events covered in the "another night of raids" post. CPT Harper is right, it did turn into a circus, which is why BG H and I took off on our walking (well, running) tour of Mosul.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

GEN McCafferey's Assessment

GEN (Retired) McCafferey was my CG in the first Gulf War. I’ve got enormous respect for the man; he’s a hard-nosed straight shooter who commands and demands extraordinary results from his people. Now, as an adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy, he’s published his findings of his recent (NOV 08) visit to Iraq.

For the most part, I agree with his assessment (I’m sure he is breathing a huge sigh of relief). The bottom line is that Iraq is now ours to lose, and every day the Iraqis continue to consolidate their security gains and the credibility and legitimacy of their representative democratic government.

His assessment of Mosul, though, is more dire than for the rest of the country:

The war waiting in the wings is the “War of the Kurds and the Arabs.” Mosul, Kirkuk, and the expansive and aggressive Kurdish line-of-demarcation is a kerosene pit waiting for a spark. The Turks are prepared to pounce and subdue a separatist Kurdish state fueled and resourced by the massive oil potential of the Kirkuk basin. The Sunnis (20% of the population) see themselves as isolated and impoverished in the western deserts if separated from the petroleum of the Kurdish north and the Shia south. Mosul -- the home of the Saddam General Officer Corps is now dominated by the Kurds. Much of the western part of Mosul (Route Tampa) looks like Beirut on a bad day in the 80’s ---and is a study in ethic hatred and struggle among the Turkic, Kurdish, and Arab populations. Only the moderation of a historically immoderate group of Kurdish and Arab politicians ---and a US diplomatic resolve to defer decisions on all critical political questions in the north--- can prevent all out war.

From the Mungadai perspective, then, what will most effect Mosul is those actions happening within the Area of Interest, not the Area of Operations. Military and Security Force operations will supply the tourniquet that will keep the patient from bleeding out, but the surgical application of political power—infrastructure refurbishment, collaborative power sharing in an ethnic and religious salient—will actually save the patient’s life. I’m not sure that the outlook is as grim as GEN McCafferey’s assessment portends, because the same elements of irreconcilability were present in Baghdad, Basra, and the other regions where the war is now considered “won.” Still, there is a jarring cognitive disconnect between reading that we are on the verge of victory and then operating on the streets of Mosul. I never saw Beirut on a bad day in the 80’s, but driving MSR Tampa does resemble a set from a post-apocalyptic Road Warrior movie.

The forecasted “War of the Kurds and the Arabs” is leaving out a key player: The Turks. I think that the Turks would be happy to link up with the Arab Iraqis in order to disrupt the development of a de facto Kurdistan; the Turks have already conducted some cross-border operations into Iraq. This may be a bold assumption, but the Kurds long suffering should have left them with a healthy sense of pragmatism. I would think the Kurds are smart enough to avoid a two-front war. Help from the US wouldn’t be a guarantee, as we wouldn’t be real happy with the Kurds upsetting the applecart, and who else is going to assist the Kurds? The Iranians? The improvement in Kurdish northern Iraq between now and what US forces saw during PROVIDE COMFORT is staggering; I think the Kurds could be swayed to “hold what they got.” Of course, never underestimate the potential of someone from this region eschewing a good 90% of the pie in favor of a mad gamble to get the whole thing. So, while the Kurds have an interest in keeping Mosul unstable in the short term, I think they can be swayed from opposing stability in Ninewa in the long term. But the Kurds aren’t the only factor stimulating unrest in Mosul.

All of the politicians and security forces here are players with their own agendas, which do not always have the pacification of Mosul as a primary goal. The local populace distrusts all the elements of state power, and will not participate in efforts to achieve some sort of normality until they assess that agents of the state will not frustrate their efforts—or have them killed outright. In trying to gain popular support and engender reliable HUMINT, BG H has been banging his head against the classic counter-insurgent’s conundrum: the people won’t participate until they can be assured of some level of security, and we cannot achieve some level of security until the people begin to participate. So the objective is to try to provide an incremental increase in security, enough so that the local populace begins trusting us enough to talk to us, after which we can, Inshah’allah, generate cascading effects with security operations in Mosul.

Overall, I think that the assessment is a solid piece of work. I do think that some of the Iraq War mistakes catalogued in the assessment are off base. They span the gamut from those about which I disagree with the analysis to those which are simply recycled inaccurate boilerplate. Two mistakes listed has helping extend the war and stymie success share the same fundamental flaw in analysis:

-If we had not dismissed the Iraqi Army and thrown thousands of Saddam’s penniless officers out on the streets.

-If we had not dismissed the Baathist cadres in the government, academia, the Iraqi Armed Forces, and business -- leaving the state rudderless.

The argument here is that the ejection of Baathists from both the IA and the government provided a pool of trained and motivated insurgents while crippling the development of the Iraqi government because of the requirement to re-build the government and state security apparatus from zero. I think this is a case of 20/20 hindsight with some slight astygmatism. Stripping the military and the government motivated the Sunni minority to initiate an insurgency against the Coalition and the nascent Iraqi government. However, leaving them in place may well have resulted in the Shiites and Kurds repudiating the political process, generating a much larger insurgency and giving Iran, whose intervention McCafferey describes as “relentless, lethal, and implacably hostile to US interests--- but [which] has to a great extent alienated the southern Iraqi Shia and been largely ineffective” a far greater opportunity to interfere in Iraqi political development. The retention of military and governmental Baathists may well have engendered the popular belief that the Tikriti thugocracy would be able to maintain its dominance of the Iraqi political system. The alternate history comprising the alienation of Shi’a and Kurd by leaving Baathists in place could have made the Iraqi security situation as bad as—or worse than—the insurgency we actually faced. I’m not saying that I flatly disagree with this finding as much as I think the position needs more thorough analysis before I buy off on the fact that it was an egregious mistake which extended the war. It may have been a bad decision at a time when the only two options were "bad" and "worse."

The listed mistake with which I do take issue is:

If we had not issued illegal orders which resulted during the initial years in the systematic widespread mistreatment (and occasional torture) of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan detainees under our control. (This shameful situation has now been completely corrected.)

I’m throwing the bullshit flag on this one. First, show me the illegal orders. Second, show me the “systemic widespread mistreatment.” Finally, show me the torture, which the sentence structure implies was part of the systematic mistreatment. The use of “systematic” communicates that mistreatment and occasional torture was a purposeful, overt component of Coalition detention operations. I vehemently disagree and want to see some references—and anyone using Abu Ghraib as evidence automatically loses the credibility to participate in the dialogue. Abu G was an anomaly, an aberration on which the Army initiated the steps to investigate and administer justice long before the news hit the media. As to the “illegal” orders, I’ve yet to receive or hear of an “illegal order” issued establishing a system that directs, let alone allows, detainee mistreatment or torture. To posit that such a system was willfully established demeans every troop associated with detainee operations, in that it presupposes that the officers and soldiers, individually and collectively, would stand for it.

One finding with which I wholeheartedly agree is:

The courage and effectiveness of US combat units are remarkable and inspirational... the bottom line is that the operational effectiveness of these Joint US Forces is simply unbelievable. Their leadership at company command and battalion command is powerful.

The sheer competence of the Officers, NCOs and Soldiers of the US Army in Iraq is awe inspiring. The easy facility with which ground combat leaders appropriately apply combined arms and joint capabilities is amazing. However much multiple OIF rotations hurt the Army through wearing out men and equipment, the gains in sheer battlefield competence in our commissioned and non-commissioned leadership will serve us in good stead in the years to come.

UPDATE: Looking back, I don't think I was very clear: GEN McCafferey does take the Turks into account in assessing the "War of the Kurds and the Arabs." What I meant was that the Kurdish people have spent enough time as a stateless punching bag to recognize that if they get froggy, there are just a whole lot of people willing to band together and thump on them. While the Pesh Murga are formidable, they can't protect the Kurdish territiories from both the Iraqis and the Turks (with the Iranians trying to get their licks in where they can) in open warfare. One would hope that pragmatism and experience will temper Kurdish impulses to destabilize Iraq or to provoke conflict pursuant to realization of Kurdistan. Enough countries in the region are ready, willing, and able to keep the Kurds down that I don't think that they can orchestrate a war solely between the Kurds and the Arabs. If history is indicator of future action, even the powers in the region that don't necessarily want to see a free, stable, and democratic Iraq would take time out to fuck up the Kurds; that whole "enemy of my enemy" thing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Night of Raids

Another series of night hits last night. Little less lean and mean this time, as the primary OBJ, a suspected IED factory, drew all sorts of attention. The division CDR rolled out, with his advisory team, a full BN provided the cordon--with their advisory team--and coalition forces out of Thunder Squadron back us up with some armor and infantry. The Blue Force Tracker looked like coalition forces thought it was nickel pitcher night at the Mosul Hooters.
MG M showed up on scene and took charge, as is his wont, as soon as the dilapidated house that served as a "factory" was secured. BG H decided that too many cooks were about to spoil the stew and grabbed his raiders, a couple of the informants, me and my terps, and headed out. We basically spent the night/morning sprinting through the city on foot looking for persons of interest that the informers could point out. Good time, and we netted some no-shit bad guys, but we generated some serious fodder for our (Mungadai team internal) AAR.
First, because we are a small battlefield element, and because they don't augment Transition Teams with any infantrymen up here in Mosul, my PSD consists of a couple guys (or a single guy) from the team. Unfortunately, they also pull crew duties in other vehicles. I didn't have time to dismount them and get them oriented if I was going to keep up with BG H. Although BG H rolls with his PSD, and they're pretty good, none of them have any night-vision or -firing technology, so if I didn't stick with him, he was significantly more vulnerable. I made the decision to haul ass and try to keep the team up on my location via FM coms.

That didn't work out so well. Comms were intermittent, and when they did work the loudest sound in the ville was my radio breaking squelch. I turned down the volume enough so that we weren't announcing our presence on each city block we ran through, but that meant I couldn't hear anything over my labored breathing (hey, I weigh about 310 lbs. with armor, weapons, ammo, radio, and NVGs. BG H operates at his normal weight, plus shoulder-holstered pistol. I had put out some effort to keep up the city-wide sprint. Get off my back, okay?).

So, from now on my PSD rides with me, period. I was pretty comfortable with the situation, as I've operated similarly in other situations, but some of the Mungadai were expressing a wee bit of consternation at the extreme, uh, fluidity of the situation. Actually, fluidity isn't the word used, but the word used did start with an F.

So, we're working on getting more tactically agile vehicles for night raids, the PSD will always travel on my victor, and I need to procure a better/bigger radio for dismount operations (for my PSD to carry. Heh.).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rolling Direct Action

Spent last night/this morning doing a rolling DA hit with the KR raid company. These guys are outstanding.

A rolling Direct Action mission consists of taking actionable intelligence and hitting a target, exploiting the captured target/initial objective area, and moving on to the next, recently revealed target.

We rolled up in excess of 10 notable bad guys last night following this methodology. It was a great display of capability by our KR brethren. Oft times, the daylight bread and butter missions (cordon and search, cordon and knock) are unwieldy and ponderous; the cordon will often have holes and the search teams seem to have a rather haphazard methodology for deciding what's important enough to deserve a detailed search and what gets glossed over. Not so on the night raids.

The KR Raiders move out fast through mostly darkened streets. They kill their vehicle lights a couple hundred meters/city blocks from the target, swoop in, and hit the OBJ hard, fast, and for the most part silently. They exploit the target (averaged about 15 minutes on the OBJ per target last night) and move out to the next hit, often with the last detainee sitting up front to guide the raiders to the house of the guy that just got dimed out.

One serious problem with accompanying the KR on these type missions is the MRAP. While I love the damn beast, it's just too much of a monster to be practicable on these operations. The MRAP is highly survivable, but the trade-off is that it's big, slow, and has a turning radius that's too wide by an order of magnitude to respond quickly or effectively to course changes and corrections in the narrow, rubble filled streets and alleys of Mosul.

The tactical requirements for success of the KR raiders is to move fast; because they don't know where they'll be going next when they hit a target, pulling off the OBJ and moving on often requires fast U-turns upon move out. Pluse, once the raiders start making hits, the clock is running. Someone aligned with the bad guys will at some point pick up a cell phone and start working through his alert roster.

We had four significant (i.e., total) breaks in contact last night. The first two we were able to recover from by having US rotary wing assets talk us back on to the raiders' main body. The third we regained contact by sheer luck. The fourth we were out of Schlitz, and had to move back to the COP to await the Knights' return.

We've got three readily apparent courses of action to resolve the MRAP problem:
1. We don't go on raid missions anymore. (Not feasible, this is where, as advisers, we can really make our money)
2. We procure, probably at the Division Advisory Team level (note how I slough off the hard stuff to Divsion, lo siento mi hermanos), some Humvees that we keep for all the subordinate teams to use when they get this type of mission.
3. We get some kind of waiver and send a smaller, split team with the raiders in KR vehicles.

Personally, I favor #3, but can see up front that there'll be a whole lot of folks averse to this solution, and a whole lot of bureaucratic wickets to negotiate before we can make it happen.

Couldn't be prouder of the Mungadai. We'd been up since 0400. The team OPTEMPO the last couple of days has been significant. Both our counterparts and the Mungadai had decided that we would take a "no roll" day the next day for refit and recovery. At 2200 (just before I hit the rack) the call came in that the KR raiders had a hot tip and would be rolling within the hour. The Mungadai got cocked, locked and ready to rock in about 20 minutes--this included full-up PCI on all of our night-vision and -firing equipment as well as the usual, plus a no frills but fundamentally sound MCP brief--and we were rolling out the gate within 30. Outstanding performance. I was so proud, I'd've gotten choked up and had a tear in my eye if, you know, I was the type of guy that cried. Ever.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mongo Time

Okay, I opened up Mungadai Days IOT keep all the wives and family members of Mungadai informed during our deployment. Necessarily, it's a family-friendly blog; which pretty much means I won't let anyone publish a post with the word "fuck" in it. That's more of a challenge than one would think, with the Mungadai.

Anyway, since starting the initial blog a host of topics occurred that weren't really suitable for the Mungadai Days, partly because the wives and family would find them boring, partly because a significant percentage of the Mungadai would find them boring (hey sir, that's Officer Shit), and partly because some of said topics applied to me, personally, rather than the Mungadai in toto.

So this one is my personal rant space. The title comes from a) my Mongo call sign is a dimunitive of Mungadai, and b) Led Zeppelin's John Bonham drum solo, Bonzo's Montreaux, which always seems to be running through my head every time we roll outside the wire.