Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There is no black and white...only shades of gray.

It is rare that one gets to see the lessons of counter insurgency (COIN for you civilians reading at home) while deployed in a COIN environment. That may seem odd since we are conducting daily COIN operations here in Diyala, but what I am getting at is that you rarely, if ever, see it up close and blantantly obvious.

In a standard deployment, towards the end anyway, you may see a drop in attacks or a more friendly attitude towards your patrols if you conduct proper COIN by assisting the economy, fixing or upgrading the infrastructure, meeting with local leaders to discuss their needs, etc. You may even see the benefits after only a few months of COIN operations. On the opposite spectrum, if you operate in the area like you own it, break things, disrupt people's lives, are generally hostile and agressive, etc...you will eventually see an increase in attacks, a hostile attitude (the look of pure hatred is quite an interesting look), and a far from professional attitude from your local security partners.

However, on occasion, you get to experience a COIN lesson in a single moment. One of those situations where you think to yourself..."crikey, we really screwed this one up."

There is a certain individual who my squadron has been targeting almost since we got here. An interesting note, my brigade was actually targeting him last deployment as well, during our lovely adventure up to Baqubah in '07. He's the one guy I wanted to take down before we left...

...he was recently captured in Baghdad...and there was much rejoicing.

The rejoicing was tempered a bit when I learned why he become an insurgent/terrorist/criminal, which he was (murderer, extortionist, intimidator). He claims that he began attacking Americans back in 2004 when his father, aunt, and a few other family members were killed by Americans. Our heavy hand made this man an insurgent.

Had we used proper COIN back in 2004, or at the very least been less trigger happy, this man's family likely would still be alive. This man would likely not have begun attacking Americans. How many other men am I targeting are wanted only because we forced them to be wanted men? How much of this is our fault?

I almost feel sorry for the man, hell, he's about my age...I would probably have started attacking us too if put in his situation.

But we all make choices...he made his and I made mine.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No attractive cheerleaders though...

There is a side of Iraq that I thought I would never get to see, a situation that would be present long after I stopped coming to the place...normalcy.

In 1-14 CAV we have a yearly tradition around Thanksgiving, the Turkey Bowl. Each Troop puts together a football team or two and a tournament is held with the winners getting a large trophy. The Squadron Commander of course wasn't about to let this tradition slip by just because we were in Iraq so on Thanksgiving football was played on both COP COBRA and FOB CALDWELL between cavalry troops, engineers, and Marine military training teams. Victors were declared and the championship game was held that Saturday...

...at a sports stadium...

...in Khanaqin.

That's right, we played the championship game in an Iraqi city with no issues and no attacks. I never thought I would see the day. There is now an American football in the display case of the Khanaqin Stadium symbolizing the first ever American football game played there. Feels good to be a part of something like that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A leader's worst nightmare becomes reality...

In May 2004 I sat in SEATAC airport waiting for my flight to Baltimore and utimately Iraq. It was my first deployment and one of the primary thoughts was what would I do if one of my soldiers died.

Late June 2006 beginning my second deployment I had the same thought...what am I going to do if one of my soldiers dies?

July 2009 that same thought inched its way forward into my mind.

4 November 2009 I suddenly had to face the question. My human intelligence collection NCO, SSG Amy Tirador, was found dead of non combat related injuries on FOB Caldwell.

SSG Tirador had joined the Army as a medic and had saved a soldier's life during her first deployment in 2004. She changed MOS's and become an intelligence NCO and soon joined 3-2 SBCT where she was assigned to the 209th MICO. During the deployment she was attached to 1-14 CAV and my section as my human intelligence collection NCO.

I still don't have an answer to that question I feared to face. Sometimes life punches you in the face and it takes a little while to get up. Thousands of miles away from my usual support structure it may take me awhile.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Interesting opinion piece

I saw this opinion piece on the Early Bird News that came out of the New York Times and I thought it was a very interesting discussion about what can be done back in the US during these conflicts.

The country is not be asked to sacrifice like it did in WWI, WWII, or the Vietnam war. Nothing is really be asked of the common citizen and unless you know somebody deployed, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan really affects the average citizen.

In my opinion the State Department should do more, or at least expand. The military can't do things on its own as we saw in Iraq from 2004-2007. A lot of it was the politics of the time, but a civilian force who comes in after major combat has ended would go a long way to help stabilizing a country.

I also like that the authors mentioned that those fighting the wars are seen as victims. They are not, they are warriors who have chosen this profession.

We may gripe a lot about being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, but at the end of the day we did volunteer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another update on what is going on...

So what exactly am I doing here in the Diyala Province?

Stepping on "cultural landmines" apparently.

Pretty cool that I made it into Stars and Stripes. Better circumstances would have been nice but I'll take what I can get.

I was taken out of context. Nothing I said upset them, it was a mistranslated slide that got the Iraqi Security Force officers upset. A slide translated by a very bitter Chaldean I might point out. The meeting also did not abruptly end, it lasted another hour or so. Everyone chatted afterword and I meet most of the leaders quite often and none of them really took offense. They understand we suck at translation.

Overall it's a good read and highlights some of what my squadron is doing out here in Diyala.

But if civil war or ethnic cleansing breaks out, go ahead and blame me. I'm currently figuring out ways to offend everyone next meeting.

Landmine 2 signing off...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reflections from a tired staffer...

There's a lot of talk in the media about troop increases in Afghanistan and troop decreases in Iraq. It's a bit amusing to see so many bases in Iraq drawing down while we attempt to build up a base here on the edge of nowhere. The drawdown has its advantages, more stuff in which to acquire for our base. As well as its disadvantages, being very low on priority for a limited amount of intelligence assets.

Afghanistan troop increases, plus the continued presence in Iraq means shorter dwell time back at home station. The "peace time" Army that I was anticipating upon redeployment most likely will not be the case. A time at home station of maybe a year is becoming the norm.

The failure to see any light at the end of the tunnel is driving me increasingly toward a decision that I did not think I was ready to face. I'm not sure how the Army expects to keep its mid level NCOs and officers if all we ever know is deployments every other year.

A strategic intel assignment, or even a NATO slot, or European Command position, or possibly Africa Command does not even look appealing when a trip to Afghanistan 2 years later is a likely outcome.

Positive note: despite lack of personnel and assets, I'm still enjoying the job.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Ghosts Come Knocking...in Diyala

I wish I had the time to update this thing more often and I wish I was allowed to discuss all the things I would like to discuss but when you are running on 2 hours of sleep and all your operations are classified, you are kind of limited.

I will say this...despite the dry piece of turkey I had for dinner, despite the 2 hours of restless sleep, and despite the one functional toilet in the headquarters right now...I'm excited for the rest of this deployment and I truely enjoyed today.

I've been here for over a month and 1-14 has been officially in charge for about a week now. We are running operations differently than the last unit and it showed today. Let's just say that the same issue I was having with targets at NTC, I may end up having here. This is due to the great working relationship we have with both the more "elite" American unit here on COP Cobra and the 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division here.

Let's do this thing! Warhorse!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All eyes on the Cavalry

So what exactly is 1-14 CAV...TF (Task Force) Warhorse now...doing while we spend up to a year here in lovely Eastern Diyala?

Well...watching this closely and figuring out how we do this.

Think Bosnia in the mid '90s and that's pretty much our problem set. Sunni insurgents are still a threat, but more of a thorn in our side at this point. Ensuring that the Arab/Kurd disputed zone doesn't break out into open warfare is the primary issue.

CSZ's (combined security zones), DIB's (disputed internal boundaries), and CCC's (combined coordination centers) are the acronyms of the planning cell these days. The Squadron will have all eyes on it as we figure this puzzle out.

The only thing that could make this area more volatile was if there was $3 trillion worth of oil and natural gas under it...oh wait, there is. I'll give you one guess as to where the line of control runs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What keeps me up at night...

A few things that have been wandering around my head lately:

1. Is the government of Iraq, or at least the Ministry of Defense, conducting attacks, or allowing attacks to occur, in the vicinity of the green line between the Arabs and the Kurds in order to have a reason to bring more Iraqi Army soldiers into the area and push the Peshmerga out?

2. Is the government of Kurdistan allowing attacks to occur in the vicinity of the green line, or even harboring Al Qaida or New Ba'ath Party insurgents, in order to have a reason to bring more Peshmerga forces into the area and gain control over more territory?

3. I am eligible for the FY '10 major's board. My first "below zone" look. Am I ready to be a major?

4. I am most likely next in line for one of the MI commands in the brigade...209th MICO or D Troop/1-14 CAV. Am I ready to be a company commander?

All 2 of my readers, please discuss.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The smell is what I always forget...

There are few times in your life you will get a standing ovation, unless of course you are in the entertainment business. The morning after my arrival to FOB Caldwell my analysts and I walking out of the S2 office shortly after everybody else on staff had arrived. There was an immediate shout of "that's the patch we want to see!"

Followed by everyone in the operations center getting up and clapping. You have to love moments like that. They were not cheering me, I realize that, but these tired soldiers were cheering the concept my two analysts and I represent...freedom from the Hell that is a year long deployment.

Flew into Iraq in usual glorious fashion on a C-130 crewed by the Flying Vikings. Not sure how the Vikings of old would feel about their name being used by a group of what is essentially a flying bus service. Flying Greyhounds would make more sense...and be a bit more amusing.

Landed at one of the massive bases in Iraq and then after a short time boarded a "Catfish Air" Blackhawk flight that would take me and my two guys on a ring route to multiple smaller FOBs to our final destination at FOB Caldwell in between the cities of Balad Ruz and Mandali. Unfortunately, it was night so I couldn't see too much from the Blackhawk, although illumination was pretty good. I also grabbed the worst spot on the bird...rear right. Stupid prop blast.

Currently chilling at COP Cobra in between Sadiyah and Jalula checking out how the unit here conducts operations before I (hopefully) head back to Caldwell and greet the rest of my Squadron as they arrive.

I've missed riding hatch in a Stryker seeing a whole other world close up. Even saw the mountains of Iran today. How many people can say that?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Annoying organizations in Diyala

I do not like terrorists. I also do not particularly like communists. Being the lazy person I am, I like to be able to direct my anger at organizations that are both communists and terrorists. Luckily, one such group exists in Iraq, the Mujahedin-e-Kharq or MeK for short.

Flag of the evil nazi commies...I mean, commie terrorists

For those of you not paying attention at home, the MeK is an organization founded in Iran back in the 60's who opposed the Shah. They assisted in the 1979 Islamic Revolution despite being communists but soon became violent against the Islamist regime. Iran kicked their asses out where they quickly settled in Iraq who just so happened to be at war with Iran at the time. Saddam gave them weapons, equipment, and bases in Iraq and used the MeK to conduct attacks against the Iranian Army. After the war, the MeK conducted assasination attempts and terrorist attacks within Iran. Saddam even used the MeK to help suppress the Kurdish and Shia uprisings that occured after the Gulf War.

Upon the US invasion in 2003, the MeK quickly surrendered and despite having been labeled a terrorist organization it was announced by Donald Rumsfeld that the MeK were protected persons under the Geneva Conventions and all personnel were moved to Camp Ashraf just north of Baqubah. They were placed under guard by US as well as Bulgarian forces and were later used as intelligence sources on the Iranian nuclear program.

Let's recap:

1) Iranians living in Iraq

2) terrorists

3) communists

4) anti-American...I forgot to mention that didn't I?

5) had a lot of tanks, and female fighters...not that there is anything wrong with that, but it scares me for some reason

A nightmare...or a turn on, I can't decide

This year US forces turned over control of the MeK compound to the Iraqi government, who has made it quite clear they wanted to remove these pesky Iranians from there country...which makes sense. Iran wanted them back, probably to prosecute them, and nobody else would take them in, shocking.
Iraqi forces moved into the compound this week, sparking riots which of course led to violence, people wounded and probably some MeK folks dead. To be perfectly honest, I'm surprised it took Iraq this long to go in. Government officials are saying they only want to establish a police station within the compound but everyone knows this is just a preliminary step to removing the MeK altogether.
The MeK don't like this.
Too bad, you don't belong in Iraq.
Maybe I'm just cold hearted, but I find it tough to feel any sympathy for a group of anti-American, terrorist, communist, Iranians who assisted in cracking down on legitimate Iraqi uprisings. I also don't like that my government was involved in shady dealings and intelligence gathering with this group while at the same time using them as pawns against the Iranians. We have better ways of dealing with the Iranians, we shouldn't be looking at terrrorists for assistance, not to mention wasting valuable military assets to guard them.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Can I just go north to the bad place already?

If there is such a place as purgatory on Earth I am convinced that it must be Kuwait. I really have nothing against the country itself or the hospitality of its people, but this place just sucks...but the suckiness is more the fault of my fellow Americans than anything else...well, the weather is also to blame.

When I first got off the plane I was expecting the usual "holy crap I'm in a giant oven" feeling, but that wasn't the case. Even at 10pm at night this place usually has that "standing in front of a giant hair dryer" feeling to it but I guess Kuwait was seeing a bit of cold spell and it was only 100 degrees when we landed.

The temperature has since increased since we got here. The wind has also picked up which of course brings with it the sand/dust. Describing the drive from the airport to the camp plus what the camp looks like is difficult so I'll just use pictures. Here I am on the trip to the camp...

Yeah, that's totally me

And here's a pretty good picture of what Kuwait looks like...

Oh wait, that's the NICE part

And here's the lovely litte corner of Kuwait we're staying in...

This may be a slight exageration

In all honesty, I'm convinced that Kuwait is set up in such a way that you actually want to get up to Iraq as quickly as possible to escape the heat, sand, and silliness that is this place. I will refrain from discussing the assine rules and ideas that people have come up with here just in case someone from the Army reads this and tries to shut me down.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The adventure begins...or continues

This blog will now be shifting gears to one less about world events or links I find of interest to one more about the daily happenings in 1-14 CAV and 3-2 SBCT during our deployment to Iraq. I may still find the time to link to sites/articles I find of interest but I'm not sure how much free time I will have. Due to the current SOFA agreement with Iraq this has the potential to be either an extremely boring deployment with lots of free time or an extremely busy one in which my squadron jumps around a lot to hotspots where the Iraqi security forces have lost control.

I don't think I'll be lucky enough for the boring deployment.

Short history of the Iraq deployments of 3-2 SBCT:

OCT/NOV 2003-OCT 2004...3-2 SBCT started around Samarra in the infamous "Sunni Triangle". Tactics were developed and the Stryker was pushed to see what it could really do in urban combat. After only a couple of months, 3-2 was sent north to Mosul to replace the entire 101st Airborne Division. 1-14 CAV was sent to the west of Mosul to the area around Tal Afar. Near the end of the deployment, the brigade began to be split up with 1-14 going to the Taji area to conduct convoy protection along RTE Tampa and 1-23 IN being sent south of Baghdad to an area that would become known as the "Triangle of Death" (you get a lot of these "triangle" nicknames in Iraq) to clear out areas and help establish new bases. Unfortunately, I was not in the brigade at this time, but was instead wasting my career in the 502nd MI BN.

July 2006-SEP 2007...3-2 SBCT hit Kuwait knowing it would have some of its units split off from the brigade. 1-23 IN as well as 1-14 CAV would go to Baghdad while the rest of the brigade would head back to Mosul and gain 2-37 AR and later 3-4 CAV. Task organization is often confusing and a bitch. 3-2 would spend its first 5 months in Mosul before being replaced by the 4th brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. 3-2 was ordered south to Baghdad to replace 172nd SBCT, a unit we had already replaced in Mosul and had their deployment extended 4 months in order to try and save Baghdad which was falling apart. In Baghdad, 3-2 regained 1-23 IN but lost 1-37 FA, its field artillery battalion. 3-2 would become the Corps reserve and move through each neighborhood of Baghdad clearing the battlespace. It felt like a giant game of whack-a-mole. Being the Corps reserve also meant 3-2 had to have a battalion ready to go at any time to deal with emergencies, and each of the infantry battalions would get its emergency mission. 5-20 IN would be sent to Baqubah to help pacify that city; 2-3 IN went to Karbala to help find some MiTT soldiers who went missing and ended up in a 24 hour firefight with an apocalyptic cult; and 1-23 IN was ordered to the "Triangle of Death" to find soldiers from 2/10 Mountain Division who had been captured. It was during this time in Baghdad that it was announced all units in Iraq would be extended from 12 month deployments to 15 months. Eventually, 1-23 IN along with the brigade headquarters and the support battalion would join 5-20 in Baqubah spending the last 3 months of the deployment defeating Al Qaida in what was supposed to be that organizations last stronghold. I would spend my time first as the S2 for 296 BSB and then the assistant S2 for 1-23 IN.

Aug 2009-???...3-2 SBCT once again sets out for Baqubah and the Diyala province. Or so we are being told right now. My squadron commander (who has been in the brigade for years) is in the habit of telling us that he has never left Kuwait going to the same location he originally thought he was going.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wandering, but not lost

Not that anyone would notice, but I'll be in Europe for the next 2 weeks and may not be updating very much...because I've been obviously updating this thing regularly.

There may be postings of cool pictures from Europe...or not. I will do my best not to get so drunk I leave my battle buddy and get captured by the Taliban.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Insurgency is easy, it's the counter insurgency that's hard

Somalia, a place I know almost nothing about and what I do know comes mostly from Blackhawk Down and the occasional article or open source blurb. Still, the place absolutely fascinates me. The history show a tribal society that is in constant conflict with itself until some poor foreign element arrives and finds all guns turned on it. Nothing brings a warring society together like the distraction of a foreign invader, be it Italians, Brits, Ethiopians, or Americans.

I bring Somalia up because of one reason: I was bored and looking through some of my old notes from the MICCC last summer. I found myself reading my notes from a homework assignment (voluntary assignment I might add) given to us by one of the instructors. Our task was to choose an insurgency somewhere in the world and, after a nights worth of open source research, describe how we would either end that insurgency or help it along. I, being the anti-authority, punk wannabe that I am, chose the latter.

Here are my notes (unedited, I promise):

- Advance insurgent cause - Council of Islamic Courts, al-Shabaab militia
- Delegitimize the government - Transitional Federal Government
- IED and RPG attacks against government facilities
- convoys
- government members and workers
- threaten security forces
- Avoid larger conflict
- no large scale attacks
- avoid intervention by Ethiopia and/or the US
- Continue relationship w/ Eritrea
- if Ethiopia goes to war w/ Eritrea, expand attacks
- drive Somali government to Baidoa
- begin recruitment and small attacks in northern Somalia
- capture ports
- recruit by claiming government is a tool of foreign powers (Ethiopia)
- disrupt elections in 2009 thru intimidation and bombings

So there's my plan from last summer in a nutshell. Here's a link to what has happened recently in Somalia. Ethiopia has re-entered the country, but not in the scale, both in occupation areas and force, of 2006. The African Union is useless in quelling the violence. The Islamic Courts group has actually taken over and is the legit government and is now fighting the Shabaab. Last October, attacks spread to northern Somalia and one suicide bomber was actually recruited in Minnesota. Some of my scenario came true, some did not; but I love that part of my job.

Red teaming is the shit.

On a side note. Here's a link to a site offering cruises to the coast of Somalia where you can hunt Somali pirates. Part of the sick, twisted, adventure seeking side of me would totally do this. The other, more rational side says that it's a joke website since there is no phone number or email address where you can contact the company to book a cruise. Still, I think that would be a great business idea.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The grass is always greener under the giant glacier...

Greenland has been given self rule by Denmark, a move that will most likely lead to complete independence in a few years. Part of me says good for Greenland and part of me is a bit concerned. Most of Greenland's resources are still buried under quite a bit of ice and glacier which means that Greenland's autonomy is based on the knowledge that the ice will melt and access to those resources will be easier. The last paragraph of the article essentially makes my point:

"Greenland currently relies heavily on subsidies from the Danish government - which provide 30% of its GDP."

Pictured: Greenland's resources

So if Greenland were to gain independence right now they would be unable to support themselves as a country without a large amount of help from Denmark, or would need global warming to hurry up and melt that ice so all those wonderful resources can be mined. What a depressing scenerio, which leads me to the second to last paragraph:

"Newly elected Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist has vowed to concentrate on tackling big social problems, such as alcoholism, domestic violence and a high suicide rate."

If I lived in Greenland I'd probably be a suicidal alcoholic as well.

Just wait until the civil war between the green and red houses breaks out

I'm all for colonies and peoples wanting independence from foreign domination, such as the United States, Cuba, and all of Africa; but there is a point where independence is probably not your best option, and it's not like Denmark is stripping the resources of Greenland and enslaving its people. It's Denmark for pete's sake. Not to mention the area around the Arctic circle has the potential to become a major flash point of conflict between world powers as the ice melts and the (suspected) natural resources are more easily obtainable. The only reason this region didn't get discussed in my "Top 10" from a few posts back is because 2 of the nations which will most likely be involved in any conflict in this region are Canada and Denmark...it's Denmark (and Canada)for pete's sake. I could see US, Norwegian, and Russian forces postering around each other attempting to claim territory only to have Denmark and Canada build oil rigs while no one is paying attention.

Do you really want to become an independent nation only to have your autonomy infringed upon by world powers? Hmm, gain freedom only to lose it to Russia or the US or stay with Denmark but with self rule? I know what I would chose, it's Denmark for pete's sake.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Revolution will NOT be Twittered

Apparently something is going on in Iran. Somewhere along the lines of up to 500,000 people, many of them youth/university students, have taken to the streets to protest the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Similar to what happened in Moldova a view months ago (I will admit I had no idea what had happened in Moldova until I read about it today, in my defense I was getting ready for NTC), many of the young people are using technology to show the world what is going on. Utilizing the internet as well as an obsessive use of Twitter.

Some great pictures of the "Green Revolution" can be found on the Boston Globe's website. Pictures 28 and 29 were especially moving for me. A police officer has had the snot beaten out of him by the protestors and yet even though a few minutes ago he was most likely attacking the protestors, a few of them after he was injured moved him to safety. I doubt you would see that in the States. You look into the eyes of your enemy and sometimes you just see a man.

But anyway, my point is that despite some evidence of election fraud, I don't think Mir Hossein Mousavi won and I firmly believe that Ahmandinejad won fairly...despite all the mounting evidence to the contrary. Mousavi was not supposed to win and it was only a week before the election that his popularity suddenly shot up and he had a chance at winning. Ahmandinejad might be a little crazy, but he's pretty popular in Iran and I am not surprised that a majority of Iranians voted for him. I believe the problem is coming from the university students and others who feel that because all their friends voted for Mousavi then Mousavi was clearly the winner and all other scenarios clearly indicate a fix.

I noticed the same thing with the election of George Bush. "Well I didn't vote for him and no one I know voted for him so that means the election was stolen."

No, it means you need a more diverse group of friends. Hell, if we took this model then Senator McCain should have won the last election because where I was at I knew of only 1 or 2 people who voted for now President Obama.

As usual I have obligatory links to both Abu Muqawama and Wired/Danger Room both discussing the use of technology such as Twitter and how it affects our perception of current events. Just because we can see ourselves in the t-shirt and jean clad students making up the "Green Revolution" does not mean those protestors are part of a majority of Iranians who seek change. Although, I do admit I like the use of a color to show solidarity amongst your fellow protestors, much like Ukranians and their "Orange Revolution" (Why oh why did they use orange??? I hate orange. Clearly I need to be in on the discussion on color choices of revolutions).

To sum things up: there is no "Green Revolution". Even if Mousavi was elected it will change nothing in Iran that is controlled by the Ayatollahs. But I may be mistaken, 500,000 people in the streets can't all be wrong. One asshole blogging about it from thousands of miles away very well could be.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Things were so simple back when we were fighting the Soviets

Two important things to remember as you read this blog:

1. I try to keep myself as confused as possible in case I am captured by the enemy.

2. All my information comes from unclassified "open source". If I have an idea I want to present or want to discuss something I saw over on "SIPR" I make sure I can find information and links about it on the regular internet.

That being said...

This confuses the hell out of me. A Taliban commander was killed in western Afghanistan who happened to have ties to the Iranian Qods Force (The Iranian special forces). Now, I'm not naive enough to think that just because Iran is a Shia country and Al Qaida/Taliban is a Sunni organization that they will have nothing to do with eachother. However, Iran gave passive support to the United States and NATO to go ahead and defeat the Taliban/Al Qaida in Afghanistan back in 2001. I realize a lot has happened since then (a little adventure in Iraq comes to mind), but is all that really enough to push Iran to assist an organization that wishes to destroy all Shia?

Douglas Farah seems to think so. Senator McCain also mentioned something about Iran assisting Al Qaida but was forced to retract his statements and was made out to look like a confused old man.

Is there some grand Iranian-Al Qaida alliance? No, but Iran is facing US military forces on two of its borders and I have no doubt would make some deals and supply weapons and possibly a few safe zones for groups aligned with Al Qaida. Let's not forget that Al Qaida is really nothing more than an umbrella organization for different groups conducting attacks or attempting to conduct attacks around the world with a few guys at the top pulling some strings to eventually reach the goal of bankrupting/destroying the west, taking over corrupt Sunni governments, eliminating the Shia, and re-forming the Caliphate. Supplying some machine guns and RPGs to a band of ruffians in north eastern Iraq as well as some EFPs to some Taliban commander in Afghanistan is not likely to bring about the global change that Al Qaida seeks, but it will annoy the hell out of the United States and keep us occupied.

Let us not forget that there is some evidence that the United States/CIA is assisting a terrorist group with ties to Al Qaida. The Jundullah organization operates out of Pakistan and conducts attacks in Iran. This group appears to be affliated with other groups/organizations that are affliated with Al Qaida...yeah, you see how complex these things can get?

I am a bit amused that while doing some research on this, most left wing sites mocked the idea Iran would ever assist Al Qaida while most right wing sites saw it as proof of some grand alliance of evil. I don't like to get political, but sometimes the left is naive and the right is retarded.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whirlwind tour of the blogosphere

A few links of interest today that I feel like sharing:

Excellent use of drone aircraft to prove Americans didn't attack a bunch of civilians, some asshole did. An armored vehicle (I don't know what kind I can't view the video) was stuck in the mud in Afghanistan and a crowd gathered around to watch as locals tend to do. Someone threw a grenade and it was initally blamed on the Americans. Well, the Army turned around and showed the video from the UAV overhead proving that someone else other than the Americans threw the grenade.

Reminds me of an incident in New Baghdad during my last tour. A Bradley was stuck in the mud so the unit brought in another Bradley to get it out. That one got stuck. So they got a third Bradley. That one also got stuck. An M88 tank recovery vehicle was called out...it also got stuck. It finally took a second M88 with a couple of Abram tanks to pull everything out while the locals just sat back and laughed...as they should.

Smart move by the Army. They have ordered Army bases to stop blocking certain social media sites from their networks. The Army is spending a lot of time and money on reaching out to the civilian population and getting soldiers to spread their stories, but then blocking the soldiers from accessing the sites necessary to do the reaching out. FT Lewis already allows soldiers to access Facebook on the network, which is great when I'm bored.

Interesting comments by Abu Muqawama on Al Qaida attacks in Iraq and the strategic significance of those attacks. I'm not sure I agree with the statements made that we won't see a return to 2005/2006 and that counterinsurgency is over. I believe Al Qaida is conducting suicide attacks in order to frighten the population and/or attempt to bring back the violence of 2006. You never know which attack will drive the Shia militia back into the streets slaughtering Sunnis which will bring the Sunni population back into the arms of Al Qaida. A wounded animal doesn't just sit back and die, it strikes back in any way it can. I very much doubt the soldiers/marines currently in Iraq would agree that they are not fighting an insurgency. Attacks are still occuring daily against the Iraqi forces, civilans, and coalition forces. Not to mention I don't agree that what was occuring in 2006 was civil war. What I saw was genocide.

That reminds me of some stories I won't write about because I don't like being reminded of them.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I admit it, I have the maturity of a 15 year old

I went and saw Terminator Salvation last night and to be honest it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. All I really wanted was a bunch of humans running around getting attacked by big scary robots and lots of explosions and that's exactly what I got. It was no Terminator 2, but I knew that going into it and it was definitely better than Terminator 3.

Still, it was a pretty crappy movie. Fun, but crappy. Hilarious mocking of the movie can be found here. That is some quality mocking but don't go to the site if you plan on seeing the movie and don't want spoilers.

Next crap-a-thon will be Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a movie that I am seeing for entirely the same reasons as Terminator. Plus this one has Megan Fox.

Now where is my movie with robots, Megan Fox, AND zombie penguins?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Top 10 Global "Concerns"

Everybody loves a good Top 10 list so here is my list of areas around the world that concern me and have the potential to spread violence and chaos the way a hooker spreads STDs.

10. Iran
A large...relatively...and proud country controlled by a group of religious extremists and whose president denies the Holocaust ever occured. Iran appears to be on the verge of creating nuclear weapons and has stated one of its goals is to wipe Israel off the map. Add in a feeling of being threatened due to 40,000ish American troops on one border and 150,000ish American troops on the other and you have the potential for a very ugly conflict. Iran is also the country that utilized the first modern suicide bomber. A conflict with Iran will most likely look very similar to the Israeli/Lebanon War of 2006, only with nuclear weapons.

9. Mexico
Massive drug cartel problem. Ineffective local security. Ineffective national security. Corrupt local governments. Give these problems some time and some room to grow and one may find a nice little civil war erupting just across our border. Awesome.

8. Syria
Iraq and Syria share a border twice as long as the border between North and South Korea. Plenty of weapons and foreign fighters have slipped (and by slipped I mean easily driven) over the border between the two countries. Plus Syria has been attempting to create nuclear weapons for some time now. Would not surprise me to know that Al Qaida has training bases in the country.

7. Nigeria
Fighting has been on going in southern Nigeria for several years now over the rights to the country's oil resources. Nigeria also has a significant Muslim population that Al Qaida has attempted to exploit. There is also those pesky military coups that have popped up throughout modern Nigeria's history.

6. Mali
Mali? WTF? Mali has a lot of open and ungoverned space that can be easily exploited by terrorist organizations. Al Qaida in the Magreb is known to operate here. I could see Mali becoming the new Afghanistan.

5. Algeria
Speaking of new Afghanistans, Algeria is on this list for the same reason as Mali. Except that Al Qaida in the Magreb actually conducts attacks against security forces and recently a convoy of teachers. Those bastards.

4. North Korea
Do I really need to say anything here? Nukes...check. Large brainwashed military...check. Crazy dictator...check. Heir to the dictatorship who is crazier than current dictator...check. This one keeps me up at night.

3. The "Green Line" between Kurdish Iraq and Arab Iraq
The "Green Line" is the area of control between the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by the Peshmerga and the area controlled by the Government of Iraq. Conflict arises when the two can't agree where the line should be. One wrong move by either side and civil war, a true civil war not the concentrated genocide of 2006, could break out.

2. Somalia
Similar to Mali and Algeria just minus any effective government at all. The only reason Al Qaida has been unable to establish themselves here is because the Somali tribes/warlords won't stop fighting each other long enough. The current leader of the Transitional Somali Government is a guy who was the leader of the Islamic Courts which is an organization that 1 year ago the US was supporting Ethiopia in fighting. The Islamic Courts was/were supported by Al Qaida, then they weren't. Now Shabbab (the current bad guys in Somalia, try to keep up) are the bad guys supported by Al Qaida. Ugh, tribal societies give me a headache.

1. Afghanistan/Pakistan
You can't talk about Afghanistan without talking about Pakistan and vice versa. Pakistan has nukes and has very angry tribes loyal to the Taliban and Al Qaida who very recently fought their way very close to the capital Islamabad. The idea of a Pakistani government loyal to or controlled by Al Qaida gives me nightmares.

I encourage reader input. All two of you.

A nerd rejoices

This would make me extremely happy. So happy in fact that I just may shit rainbows if it were to actually happen. I don't see the show coming back, mostly because many of the actors are doing other projects, but I could see Fox or whoever doing one or two made-for-tv movies. Babylon 5 did that a couple of times.

A great show, killed off before its time because network execs are idiots.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Give a Reaper a brain and what does it want to do?

I think I mentioned as a joke last week that I would blog this week about using UAVs/drones to conduct strikes since other bloggers were blogging about it, but that I am about a week behind.

Well, what the hell. I haven't written anything for a few days and I am currently reading Wired For War by P.W. Singer which is about the use of unmanned vehicles in the current conflicts. This has gotten me interested in the future of warfare as well as the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing unmanned vehicles in a COIN fight.

The use of these vehicles has me torn...although I will admit one reason I am against them is a pretty stupid reason: the machines may eventually rise up and destroy us all.

I'll come back to that point.

One of the greatest feelings I had in my last deployment was knowing I had a Predator UAV with hellfires flying over Baqubah in support of my battalion. That is power at your fingertips right there. I've used Shadow UAVs to get field grades out of sticky situations. EOD robots used to disarm IEDs are possibly the greatest thing since the bomb suit.

But the things can't conduct COIN.

Prior t0 9/11 Congress mandated that 50% of all future vehicles the Army developed/bought would have to be unmanned. Unmanned transportation trucks, unmanned tanks, unmanned artillery. The deadline for this was 2015 I believe, but I also believe that date has been pushed back due to the little adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. An unmanned tank is super for a conventional fight and an unmanned aircraft flying on its own sending back imagery and video feed is great, but that tank can't conduct a leader engagement with a Muhktar or a Mayor and that aircraft still needs to be told where it needs to look and can't help rebuild a well or school. Most of counterinsurgency isn't killing a bunch of people or capturing enemy bad guys, it's getting out amongst the population and listening to their grievances and doing your best to assist them so that Al Qaida, the Irish Republican Army, or those crazy American colonists don't move in and start providing their own services and getting the population on their side.

Last I checked a Terminater wasn't very people friendly.

My point is that while a drone strike against an Al Qaida safehouse in Pakistan will lead to short term goals of decreasing the effectiveness of that organization, the long term goals of eliminating Al Qaida are most likely hampered because you probably killed some civilians as well with your hellfire missiles and the negative press leads to more individuals joining Al Qaida. Not to mention, there is rarely anyone on the ground to explain to the locals why this attack occured and to address any compensation concerns for colateral damage to buildings and loss of life of innocent people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The era of tank on tank battles where unmanned vehicles would keep many American soldiers/Marines out of harms way has passed us by. It has become clear that the way to defeat a superior enemy using modern weaponry is not to throw whatever you have back at them, or even create a complex defensive position utilizing similar weapons, but to create complex defensive positions utilizing unconventional forces and material such as EFP type IEDs, anti armor rockets, and sniper attacks in urban areas. The Israelis faced this in Lebanon in 2006; the Americans are seeing it in Iraq and Afghanistan; and I'm shocked the Georgians didn't attempt to do this against Russia in 2008.

An army of unmanned vehicles and soldiers blasting through an urban defense and then occupying the area will just turn what could be a potentially friendly local population into a fiercely hostile population openly supporting your enemy. At the risk of sounding absolutely batshit crazy...what happens when those same vehicles and soldiers decide the threat isn't some backwater country with a despotic maniac, but is the people giving the orders to attack that country? The use and development of unmanned vehicles, I admit, is not only advantageous, but necessary to stay ahead in the weapon technology race. We just need to be very careful how far we go down the rabbit hole.

Armed Predators are still cool though.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm in way over my head, or, reasons I want to go back to the BSB...

Too bad my crystal ball is broken and the 8 ball is a bastard

My Brigade Commander, COL Funk, has a saying when referring to Iraq/Afghanistan/COIN: "This isn't rocket science. If it were rocket science they would have rocket scientists doing it. This is much harder than rocket science."

Ever since I completed my first deployment I've known defeating an insurgency was a difficult process. One just doesn't show up, kill a few people, drop a few bombs, search a few houses, and call it a day. It takes research, processes, dedication, and a good team to pull it off. It takes patience, local population support, commanders and leaders who understand COIN, and a capable local security force. It takes a fucking miracle.

At NTC we received word that our AO would change. Originally we supposed to be just north of Baghdad, essentially dealing with an area with some Al Qaida holdouts and a few Baathists, where a bad week consisted of a few IEDs going off. Now we are headed to an area northeast of Baqubah near the Iranian border, the wild country.
Attack levels are only slightly higher in this area compared to north of Baghdad. The only difference is the number insurgent/terrorist/freedom fighter groups we are facing...pretty much all of them. I'm not kidding when I say this. Name an organization conducting attacks or facilitating the conducting of attacks or smuggling weapons for the conducting of attacks or even possibly thinking about maybe conducting attacks and they are operating in this new area of operations or just outside of it.

Al Qaida...we got 'em, both Al Qaidas, the international and Iraqi groups. Ansar al Islam/Sunna...them too. New Baath Party, reformed Baathists, former Baathists of a different name...yep. Badr...hell yah. Jaish al Mahdi...you betcha and their buddies the Jaish al Mahdi Special Groups. 1920's Revolutionary Brigade...well, not so much, but we've got their buddies who broke off from 1920's. There were groups I've never even heard of and had to look up the acronyms.

Oh, and we've got Kurds...lots of Kurds. And when you have Kurds you've got Peshmerga. I have no issues with the Pesh, other than they are slowly trying to take over the area we will be operating in which means we could possibly see conflict between them and the Iraqi Army.

Just for kicks there's a bit of tribal warfare going on as well. We didn't want to make this too easy.

I know I wanted a bit of a challenge when I came back to the Stryker Brigade but crikey, give me a freakin' break.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Behind the times for my $.02

There are a couple of things I've wanted to comment on the past day or two but have been too lazy or too busy (ha!) to actually sit down and write about them.

The first is this article on Donald Rumsfeld by Robert Draper. Abu Muqawama linked to it so I must link to it as well. All I really have to say is Rumsfeld was a douchewaffle and I hope to never have to serve under him again in any fashion. Tom Ricks also has a link to a book about Rummy and I'm sure some other bloggers out there have commented recently which just goes to show you how popular of a guy Donald is. To be honest, I don't like to think about how badly he screwed things up for us in Iraq because it will just lead me to want to hurt little puppies.

The second is a comment to this article on Abu M (sue me, I really like that website) about soldiers' responses to Tom Ricks' claims that true counterinsurgency didn't really begin in Iraq until The Surge. Officers are claiming that they indeed were establishing combat outposts and living amongst the Iraqi people in order to conduct COIN (counterinsurgency, see, the military makes an acronym out of everything). If you look carefully, soldiers/officers making these claims almost all were deployed to northern Iraq and more specifically Tal Afar and Mosul.

Of course those were the areas where COIN would actually be conducted. Units who deploy tend to conduct operations similar to the unit they are replacing, at least for the first 2 to 3 months and if it works they will continue to operate in the same way for the entire deployment until they pass off their tactics to the next unit. The reason this is a "duh" statement for me is because the first unit to operate in Mosul/Tal Afar was the 101st Airborne Division...under the command of General David Petraeus...the current CENTCOM commander and leader of the COINcentric fight cult. 3-2 SBCT replaced the 101st and while a brigade can't possibly do all the things a division can do, or operate as many combat outposts, it can certainly attempt to conduct operations in a similar manner. Those TTP's (tactics, techniques, and procedures) were then passed on to 1-25 SBCT, 3rd ACR, and 172nd SBCT who all operated around Mosul and Tal Afar.

3rd ACR was also blessed to have COL H.R. McMaster who is also a leader in the pack of the COIN club. 3rd ACR was able to re-establish many of the COPs that 101st had built but had been abandoned by previous units because they lacked the manpower. The Tal Afar/Sinjar region had been a bit of an economy of force area for 3-2 and 1-25 with both those Stryker brigades having to deal with the more immediate problem of Mosul, and both left only their cavalry squadrons to deal with western Ninevah until 3rd ACR showed up (thus allowing MNC-I to snatch up 1-25's cavalry squadron and send them out to Rawah, who then were forced to eat turkey for dinner for 4 straight months, but that's another story). 3rd ACR was able to conduct proper COIN in Tal Afar and by the time they left Tal Afar was passive enough, and the Iraqi Army capable enough, to allow for a single battalion again by the time 3-2 arrived for their second tour.

What's the point of all this? Only for me to say to those soldiers in Tal Afar and Mosul from '04-'06, yes, you were conducting proper COIN...it was those jackasses down in Baghdad who weren't.

Alot is being discussed in the blogosphere about the use of drone aircraft and kinetic strikes. Perhaps a good topic for me in a week.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Great stuff on the internets

Posted another link to a blog that I will attempt to follow over on my blog list which is somewhere off to the right. It follows sci-fi movie news so it's right up my nerd alley and even has John Scalzi, a new favorite author of mine, as a contributor. Scalzi wrote an amusing and truthful article on Alien vs Predator: Requiem and how it's total crap, which it is. Watching that movie was like watching my dog die a slow, painful, disgusting death...and I don't even have a dog.

I'll miss these guys...*sniff*

But anyway, blogs are off on the right somewhere and generally are either intel related, sci-fi nerd related, or hilarious...to me anyway. Read them.

And speaking of John Scalzi, I just started Zoe's Tale. Good stuff.

Obligitory cat picture

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"God took a shit and out came the NTC".

Welcome to the National Training Center...now prepare for the most stressful, frustrating, and downright miserable month of your life...all in the name of training. Designed to be more difficult than any combat you will ever face as well as prepare your brigade for the upcoming deployment, whether it be Iraq of Afghanistan. Each day in "the box" is supposed to replicate your worst week while deployed, most of the time they succeed.
NTC, located at Fort Irwin about 45 minutes north of Barstow began humbly as an Army camp that protected travelers along the Spanish and Mormon Trails and was later used as an anti-aircraft range and then a training center in WW2. Due to its out of the way location and hostile environment, Fort Irwin would become home to the NTC in 1981 and be used to train armored brigades for combat. Back before I joined the Army, a brigade was considered "combat experienced" if it had been to NTC in recent memory. Training was difficult, the terrain was brutal, the 11 ACR (the unit playing the enemy) almost undefeatable. Brigades that fought in the Gulf War and later the invasion of Iraq would claim NTC was more challenging than actual war.
The nature of combat training at NTC has changed due to the changing of the type of conflict the Army is currently engaged in. Light, guerrilla style warfare training used to be limited to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA but because of both Iraq and Afghanistan NTC has taken up the challenge of training for insurgent warfare as well...and the installation has done a tremendous job of doing just that.
About a dozen cities/towns/villages have been built out in the desert and each rotation hundreds if not thousands of role players are hired to play anything from Iraqi Army leaders, insurgent commanders, or average citizens. I thought NTC had done a great job during my first rotation in Feb/Mar '06, but they've since improved.

Honestly I don't think 3-2 SBCT was prepared for the rotation. We had had few training exercises either in Yakima or in the training areas of FT Lewis. As far as I know, no TOC exercises were done. In my 4 months back with the brigade all we did was some platoon level exercises; a brigade exercise that involved 1 infantry and my cavalry squadron in Yakima, 1 infantry battalion and the field artillery battalion at FT Lewis, and 1 infantry battalion down in 29 Palms, CA; and a staff training exercise at FT Irwin to prep the staffs of each battalion/squadron for NTC. Previously to my return I believe the brigade only did one trip to Yakima. Despite the brigade's experience in 2 previous Iraq deployments, there were a lot lessons forgotten that should have been ironed out before heading to NTC.

Despite all this we did rather well...at least my squadron did. The training forced us to work with the Iraqi Army, utilize interpreters, protect the population with the Iraqi Army/Police in the lead, and work under current Iraqi law by only capturing individuals or raiding buildings with warrants. The warrant issue was the most difficult part. One of Troop commanders spent an entire day drinking chai and eating meals with the Brigade's number 1 target and leader of Al Qaida in the western portion of the battlefield before the Iraqi Army as well as his soldiers could get the necessary paperwork for a warrant to be issued for the high value target's arrest. It would have been more amusing had it not been so frustrating.

There were successes though, not only did we eventually capture that target but by the end of the rotation my biggest stress was attempting to find more targets for our soldiers to capture. One lesson learned for me...I had gone with a Squadron "Top 5" instead of a "Top 10" to be killed/captured thinking in 8 days of operations we would only be able to get 1 or 2 guys. I found myself re-making our "Top 5" 3 or 4 times due to our high success rate of getting warrants and positively identifying top targets.

I just wish we had more training with ISR assets. Due to high winds I only managed to get a hold of a Shadow UAS for two 4 hour blocks towards the end of the exercise. You haven't known frustration until you have A-10's as well as a Predator UAS with hellfires lined up for the next day only to see them both grounded for high winds or maintenance...twice. I started requesting pigions equiped with a camera and a rock in order to have my full motion video capability along with kinetic targeting ability.

At the end of the rotation, sitting in an After Action Review with all the intelligence officers in the brigade, the Brigade S2 turned to me and said, "not to make your ego any bigger Mike, but Blackhorse 2 (11th ACR's intelligence officer, basically the head enemy intel guy) said that the insurgency was defeated in your sector, there wasn't anything they could do."

I still want my pigion with a rock though.