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 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 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 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 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 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.