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.