Friday, December 31, 2010
On New Years Eve we hit 5 months deployed with another 7 to go. The major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas had passed and I was searching for a new milestone in which to look forward to in order to motivate myself through the next several months. I still hadn't been on leave yet but that wasn't happening until late March...3 months away. There were two major events that I settled on as milestones, the Super Bowl in early February and the Iraqi elections in early March. The Super Bowl would provide an opportunity to relax for a few hours and have a couple of beers (yes, they actually let us have beer, 2 beers to be precise...but of course it was crappy beer); and the elections were the key event of this deployment.
But the elections were over 2 months away and there was much to do. 8 of our high value targets had been captured up to this point and another 6 persons of interest detained as well. I'll be the first to admit that on a few of the captures 1-14 had nothing to do with them, but a capture is a capture and in many cases it was the intelligence we developed that led to their arrest.
In late December the Squadron was planning heavily for the combined checkpoints that we would eventually establish in mid January. There were a lot of meetings, briefings, and PowerPoint slides put together. We were also working an operation to target those individuals we felt would likely attempt to disrupt the elections, which meant pretty much all our bad guys. General Odierno (the senior officer in Iraq) was coming in a couple of days so a brief had to be put together. To top it all off, we were also developing plans on how to bring the rest of the Squadron up from FOB Caldwell to COP Cobra over the next couple of months and how best to deal with the overcrowding and lack of workspace (an issue mitigated when the military training team on Cobra was reassigned freeing up their living and work space). To say we were busy would be an extreme understatement.
The night of the 31st I went to bed around 11 pm or so not remembering or caring that it was New Years Eve.
At midnight I woke to the sound of an explosion. My immediate thoughts as I looked at my watch (11:59 pm) was that it was an extremely unusual time for indirect fire to be occuring. As I was groggily saying "WTF" to myself I heard a cheer which I thought came from the SF compound. This only compounded my confusion as there was no reason why anyone would cheer during an IDF attack.
A second explosion and a second cheer jolted me out of exhaustive incomprehension as I realized it was the SF team setting off some kind of explosives for New Years.
Rolling over and falling back asleep I thought to myself, "fucking Green Berets."
Saturday, December 25, 2010
As I blogged about just after Thanksgiving, the holiday season while deployed is usually business as usual. I tend not to get too excited and the only thing to look forward to is a chance to sleep in, relax a bit, and get a really good meal.
As the intelligence officer, all I wanted for Christmas...and the rest of the year...was a really good capture.
I thought we had it about a week prior to Christmas when one of our high value targets (HVIs) was detained at a checkpoint outside of Muqdadiyah which is a town of mixed Sunni and Shia but also out of the Squadron's area. The individual was believed to be a key leader in AQI around the As Sadiyah area and I was thrilled about his detainment because interrogations may have led to information about the organization in the area. I was not the only one to believe this and as soon as the task force created to target and capture Sunni threats heard of this man's capture they had him transfered from Iraqi control to their control. The Iraqi Army brigade intel officer was also pleased but his joy was tempered (the man never really had any joy that I saw anyway) when he learned the task force had custody. He wanted our target in Iraqi custody as soon as possible. Normally I would find this a sign that our target had friends in high places and would bribe his way out of prison, but this individual was a little different.
He had been detained previously, a couple of months before 1-14 Cav's arrival, and had been accidentally released by the task force. Having proved that we were incapable of keeping this guy once, MAJ Mustafa wanted to ensure his detainment by keeping him in Iraqi custody.
Well, mistakes happen...and sometimes they happen twice. Our target was shuffled between a couple of organizations and somewhere along the lines it was mistakenly believed that he was not a wanted individual. So he gets dropped off by helicopter at FOB Warhorse (the brigade headquarters) and told by the base defense cell that he is not a wanted individual. Base Defense takes their word for it and without asking Brigade...or the unit on the ground where this guy is from (1-14)...they decide to release him. Base Defense took him right outside the gate and let him go. D'oh.
I was pretty pissed, the squadron commander was pissed, and the Iraqi Army intel officer was really pissed. Every few weeks MAJ Mustafa would bring up this target and give me updates on the rumors going around. He was an American spy; he worked for the CIA; he worked for Special Forces; he was on my pay roll (this one I found amusing); or he had a letter from the Americans saying he shouldn't be arrested. Every time MAJ Mustafa brought him up I told him that he was still wanted and that he should be arrested, I don't care what kind of letter he had. Or, he could just shoot him and that would solve the problem.
The situation put me in a foul mood; my Christmas gift had been taken from me, but an email would soon change everything a couple of days after Christmas.
The email would come from the task force and was sent to our incoming operations officer (his time as troop commander was over and he was taking over as S3, the current S3 was acting as the XO and the S3 since the XO had injured himself and had been sent back to the States). The email was sent to him because he had worked closely with this task force on a few other missions previously in the As Sadiyah area. The message originated from the task force's sister task force in Baghdad (I'm being cyptic about these task forces because they are classified and I would get in real trouble for naming them...just think special forces).
The message was a picture and an interrogation summary of an individual detained in Baghdad just prior to Christmas. The individual wasn't who they were targeting but happened to be at the location where the raid occured. They kept him because he was rather suspicious and as it turned out just so happend to be...
...this guy, who I believe was our number 1 target at the time. As I mentioned in the post that I linked to, my brigade had been targeting him in the previous deployment and we had spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to capture him; he essentially fell into our laps. I was so happy that I teared up. As you can read from my post about him though, my joy tempered when I learned through his interrogation reports why he became an insurgent, but that would come in a few days. For the time I was ecstatic.
It was honestly one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
As much as I am attempting to see this as a positive sign I believe the insurgency is going to get a bit of a boost. The Sunnis essentially got screwed in this election and I would love to write a detailed blog about it but my notes rarely covered national level politics and I've forgotten most of the players. I may attempt to piece together something from memory in the next couple of weeks.
So the Sunnis got screwed, Maliki was able to form a government with the backing of Muqtada al Sadr's anti-American coalition (honestly I believe he's really more anti-occupation than anti-American), and the insurgency is likely to gain from the large number of Sunnis who have grown weary of a Shia dominated government that continues to shut Sunni politicians out of the political process.
It all goes back to the Sunni Red Line and what is going to drive the Sunni population over it. The Sunni Red Line is that incident or series of incidents that finally drives a majority of the Sunni Arabs to turn their backs on the government, the local security forces, and US forces and fully support the Sunni insurgency (AQI, JRTN, 1920s RB, JAI, ISI, IAI).
Although, there were some analysts in Iraq who claimed that there is no Sunni Red Line. If the blood orgy of '06-'07 didn't drive them completely away, nothing will; Sunnis will just continue to be shoved around. I agree somewhat, Sunnis will take a lot as long as they have an outlet to vent their frustrations, such as the media and a few outspoken political leaders, but a population can only take so much abuse from its government.
This may warrant further discussion.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Quick explaination of the current situation in that country as I know it, and I will admit that I am by no means an expert in Somalia: Shahaab controls most of the country and much of the capital of Mogadishu; Shahaab is an Islamic fundamentalist organization with ties to Al Qaida. Hisbul-Islam is another Islamic fundamentalist organization but one that does not approve of Shahaab's ties to foreign groups; they control parts of Mogadishu and bits of the rest of the country. The African Union, a military force composed of several African countries, occupies Mogadishu attempting to prop up the Transitional Federal Government, the government backed by the West and which controls a few blocks of the capital and not much else. Other players include Puntland and Somaliland which are autonomous regions in the north part of the country that are essentially stable...but they really don't matter.
As you can see I am a bit fascinated with Somalia much like I was fascinated with Afghanistan in the late 90s back when the only group standing in the way of the Taliban was the Northern Alliance. Yeah, I was into Afghanistan before it was cool...I think that makes me some kind of foreign affairs hipster.
Anyway...a few days ago Shahaab continued its control over Hisbul-Islam held territory in Mogadishu. These two groups have been on again/off again allies brought together by their ideology and goals but seperated by Hisbul-Islam's suspicion and distrust of foreign influence...namely Al Qaida, although several leaders in Hisbul-Islam also have ties to Al Qaida. Distrust of foreign influence is deep in Somali culture where the clans and tribes will fight amongst each other for power until some foreign power comes along and tries to take over Somalia in which all the tribes then band together and fight the occupier, which has occured quite often in Somali history.
Having lost most of it's control of Mogadishu Hisbul-Islam has surrendered to Shahaab and agreed to a merger. Hisbul-Islam's leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, may or may not have a position of power and influence within the organization.
Here are my thoughts: while the merger of the two organizations creates a more united front against the African Union and potentially may gain more influence amongst the population, I see this surrender as a good thing, especially if Sheikh Hassan is given any position of power. Shahaab has sought closer ties with Al Qaida and may be on the verge of becoming an affiliate of that organization, the leadership from Hisbul-Islam may attempt to block those ties and the leadership of Shahaab is likely to become fragmented. This merger also allows the African Union to focus its resources on defeating one organization as opposed to two...not that I believe the AU is capable of defeating Shahaab, even a fractured Shahaab.
Of course I also wouldn't suprised to see in the news in the next few months that Shahaab is changing its name to Al Qaida in the Horn of Africa.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
This blog tends to be a bit depressing and I'll be the first to admit that. It's difficult to write about insurgencies and violent attacks in other countries and make it fun, although I do attempt to add some humor to my writing. So today I'm going to take a bit of a break and write about puppies.
The reason puppies are on my mind is due to this article from Stars and Stripes, the military's daily newspaper. It discusses the increasing presence of adopted dogs and cats on bases in Afghanistan and how leaders are often turning a blind eye towards the strays. General Order Number 1 specifically states that animals will not be kept as pets or mascots in theatre. It's supposed to protect the health of the soldiers since stray animals in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely carrying all sorts of diseases and it would be a bit of a waste of government resources to send veterinarians to all these places in order to care for these animals.
However, this rule often gets broken and it's only natural for soldiers to start taking care of a stray puppy they find. In 2004 my little corner of Camp Victory consisted of about four units' motor pools and one very friendly stray dog who was cared for by everyone. She boosted our morale and was useful in chasing off people she didn't know...a wandering soldier is often a soldier up to no good. Unfortunately after a few months she disappeared along with her puppies; most likely the base animal control discovered her and had her destroyed.
In 2009 on COP Cobra some of the Iraqi Army soldiers took care of a small pack of dogs and in a way adopted them as mascots. This was odd since most Arabs dislike dogs but whatever, inshallah. Even the MiTT and SF team kept a couple dogs around on their respective compounds. This of course drove our S3 nuts as he was a stickler for the rules and dogs just weren't allowed, but the MiTT just ignored him when told to get rid of the animals and nobody was going to tell the SF team to get rid of their dog. Hell, just to piss off the S3 the MiTT acquired a turkey and kept it around for shits and giggles.
It wasn't long before one of the Iraqi's dogs had puppies, and damnit they were cute. So cute that tough, hardcore, manly American soldiers would break down into fits of "aaawwwwww puuuuuuuppppies!!!!" when passing by the little things and one soldier was even found rolling around the dirt with the puppies.
They looked a lot like our little guy here
This drove the S3 into a fit of anti puppy rage. He ordered that anyone caught touching the puppies would get an automatic Article 15 (military punishment). This guy just hated puppies for some reason.
In January the MiTT was replaced and the new MiTT was brought into the anti-puppy way of thinking. Eventually, after the gap in the wire was fixed, all the dogs were removed from the base. The reason we waited until the gap (I haven't mentioned that have I? For about 6 months there was no razor wire on about a 100 meter stretch of the berm) was fully wired off was because not only did we have our resident dogs, but a couple of packs of stray dogs would often wander onto the base. No point in removing animals if more will just take their place. Fixing the gap also prevented the roving pack of donkeys from straying onto the base. You read that right, not only did we have wild dogs, but wild donkeys as well. That would have been an awesome mascot.
We still had a couple of dogs to keep our morale up. 1-14 was fortunate enough to have 2 or 3 military working dogs on the base and the MWD soldiers would often bring their dogs around the offices to keep our spirits up. Nothing like petting a dog to remove any hostility from a bad day. Whenever our first XO would flip out about something stupid, which was often, one of the captains would call up the MWD guys and have them bring their dog up to ops. A few minutes petting the dog and the XO would be settled down and we could go back to being productive.
There were also a number of Hesco cats running around the base. They were named Hesco cats because they were often seen on top of the Hesco barriers placed everywhere on the base. However, these cats were extremely skittish and while good at keeping down the mouse population were not very good at being social.
How about one more shot of our puppy...
Thursday, December 16, 2010
I'll start with The Long War Journal's Somalia page. It's an update of the near daily occurances in Somalia. Pay special attention to dates November 27, 28, 29, 30, December 2, 5, 8, 11, 12, and 16. Look at those casualty numbers for civilians caught in the crossfire between African Union forces and Shaahab. I don't think the AU is going to get the results they want by accidently killing more civilians than they do Shaahab fighters. While Shaahab is likely to blame for many of the civilian deaths (mortars tend to end up in places you didn't expect) the AU is going to get the blame.
Next up is this story from CNN.com about a border patrol agent killed in Arizona yesterday. He was killed in a shootout with bandits who target illegal immigrants. Three things about this put me on edge: 1) there is enough immigrant traffic that bandits are able to sustain their operations, even 18 miles north of the border; 2) violence is clearly migrating north of the border; 3) this attack occured one mountain range over from where I live.
Third, is a threat by an Iranian general that American generals will be targeted and killed in revenge for the Iranian nuclear scientists who were attacked last week. The article is from Foxnews.com so I'm taking it with a grain of salt and I doubt that this general speaks for the government but there is likely a lot of anger over the terrorist attack that killed one of the scientists and injured the other. Do I think Iran is capable of conducting an assasination attempt here in the U.S.? I doubt it, but Iran does have a tremendous amount of influence with certain insurgent organizations and militias in Iraq; namely Jaysh al Mahdi and the Jaysh al Mahdi Special Groups as well as a couple of other, more violent Shia groups. All of these organizations have access to EFPs and could obtain knowledge of the movement of one of our generals meeting with a key Iraqi political or military figure. Not sure Iran has the cojones for an attack of that much political magnitude however.
Finally is this report from Iraqi authorities claiming Al Qaida in Iraq is planning suicide attacks in Europe and the United States this Christmas holiday. My blog post about Al Qaida using affiliate groups discusses the reasoning behind this potential operation. However, I'm finding this information hard to believe, partially due to the source. Iraq may be cooking the intelligence books in order to attempt to make it appear that AQI is still a significant threat, not only to the Iraqi government, but the West as well. From my recent experience, AQI is all but finished. While they will continue to be a minor threat in Iraq and carbombs and IEDs will continue to go off, the organization lacks leadership and has for the most part alienated the Sunni population. I find it unlikely that they will be able to rebuild their force and reputation and be a threat to the Iraqi government. I also find it unlikely that AQI would waste valuable money, time, resources, and suicide bombers to conduct an attack against the West when they so desperately need all those things currently in Iraq. While the attacks against Spain in 2004 led to Spain pulling its forces out of Iraq and the attacks in 2008 in London likely hastened the U.K.'s removal of most of their forces, any attack now will likely backfire on AQI.
But I'm not an insurgent with a potentially global reach and I've been wrong before.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
If you are on a large enough base sometimes there is an early warning system and a "big voice" to provide you a few seconds to find cover before the rounds start coming in. That's assuming the system is working.
In 2004 I was utilizing a Port-O-John when the "big voice" went off indicating rounds were incoming. Being deployed for several months already I had come to terms with the possibility of dying. I had not come to terms with the possibility of dying in a Port-O-John. It's moments like those that you find yourself pleading with God.
I'm too awesome for this to be my tomb
Rockets don't bother me as much despite the whistling noise they produce when they are flying in. Even IEDs are not that scary because they usually can be avoided with some good pattern and route analysis. When not avoided armored vehicles typically stop the blast.
At the National Training Center at FT Irwin, CA they have a name for the mortar teams that plague the battlefield and harrass the units training for war: The Mad Mortarman.
He's named that due to his skill in evading capture and hitting you when you least expect it, or in some cases when you actually expect it but can do nothing about it. The Mad Mortarman roams the desert striking when helicopters are refueling, update briefs are being conducted, and at 2:30 am when all you want is some much needed rest. He has been a thorn in the side of every brigade that has gone through NTC since its creation in 1980.
Nearly every base in Iraq has its own Mad Mortarman striking at whim and causing momentary chaos much like when an ant hill is disturbed; FOB Cobra was no exception.
5-1 Cav warned us when we first arrived that there was an indirect fire threat to Cobra but the base had not been attacked since July. The S2 really only gave me a vague hand wave as to where the attacks were coming from and every person I asked had a different opinion as to the point of origin (greatest acronym in the Army, point of origin = POO). I didn't give it a second thought and determined to figure out the problem if it became a problem.
It became a problem in October. The first attack the team only hit us with one round, and it was a dud. Two weeks later they struck again with more rounds, not duds this time. About two weeks after that in November we were hit a third time. We now had a pattern, but the location of the attacks were in debate. Our systems for determining locations of IDF attacks weren't functioning properly. Were the attacks coming from the river to our west or the hilly, broken terrain to our east?
We searched both areas. Conducted patrols through the villages near the river and asked the locals for information. Set up ambushes in the days after the attacks. Set up a sniper in one of the guard towers. Kept a hot gun (our own mortar team) set up on random nights. The SF team even attempted to walk from the FOB to the likely attack site but were thwarted by wild dogs who gave them away. We were reacting, not forcing the enemy to react to us.
The FOB was hit a fourth time in late November. The squadron commander was becoming impatient. It was only a matter of time before someone was injured or killed. By now we had at least determined the general area where they were hitting us from. C Troop searched the area numerous times to attempt to find the exact location or possibly the tube. We were unable to keep a constant hot gun up due to manning constraints and how stretched thin the squadron was but due to the two week pattern established we set one up on the days likely for the next attack.
The likely nights came and went. Staff officers joked it was only a matter of time before the next attack and we should all hang out up on the roof of HQ just in case. Maybe a round would wound us and we could go home. Another joke was going around that the squadron commander was the culprit because he was never at Cobra when the attacks occurred.
It was decided that the squadron needed to conduct a practice drill just so we would be prepared for the next attack. Artillery simulaters would be used, ops would call the mortar crew with the coordinates, and then the team would simulate counter fire...no rounds fired. Only one thing went wrong that night...the mortar crew fired live rounds. Lucky for us the target was an empty island in the river.
Attacks against the FOB ceased until March.
The Iraqi Army was convinced that our accidental mortar shot showed that we were willing and able to shoot back so the mortar team was scared off. I figured they had run out of rounds. Helping was an operation just prior to Christmas in which the Iraqi Army and the SF team captured a couple of individuals likely responsible for the attacks. Firing those rounds was probably the best mistake we ever made that deployment.
IDF attacks shifted in January to targeting the combined checkpoints we had established with our Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga partners. A combination of mortars and rockets were used in those attacks and it is likely that the individuals hitting our FOB were not the same as those hitting our checkpoints. Vague patterns were set in those attacks but the attack locations were almost always different. The rounds were wildely inaccurate most of the time and generally were nothing more than a nuisance.
Cobra would only be hit a couple of more times. On March 13 PFC McLyman was killed when a round struck near the dining facility. It was the first attack since November and threw us all for a loop. Her death was the Brigade's first death from enemy contact in the entire deployment, 7 months in. The Iraqi Army brigade established a guard tower at the attack site and manned it during the night. In April a rocket would be fired at the FOB from an entirely new location but that was the final attack against the base during 1-14's deployment.
As I was sitting around at another base waiting to redeploy back to the States I learned that Cobra had been hit again by mortars...from the location we had been getting hit from. I sighed and said, "well, it's 2-14 Cav's problem now".
Damn that Mad Mortarman.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
New standard issue COIN weapon?
Thursday, December 9, 2010
In the meantime, here's a good article about Al Qaeda and that organization's attempt to expand by "acquiring" other groups whose ideals and tactics are similar to AQ's. An examples being the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat which became Al Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb. Al Qaida benefits from these affliates by gaining new members and another organization that can then attack Al Qaida's enemies. The affliate benefits by the addition of a new money source as well as the potential for trained personnel being sent to the group.
Al Qaida in Iraq expanded it's influence in Iraq in much the same manner. Organization leaders would approach small gangs and offer them money and weapons in exchange for attacking targets designated by AQI. As time passed the gangs would be given more and more instructions and after awhile the gang's leader would be replaced by someone chosen by AQI. A new AQI cell is born. In a few cases smaller organizations would even claim to be AQI in order to gain "street cred" or further intimidate the populace. I believe this was the case in As Sadiyah during my last deployment; a couple of gangs who had been cut off from AQI leadership and funding but who still claimed the moniker in an attempt to maintain control.
But back to the article: one sentence in particular jumped out at me...
The attacks emerging from Yemen have led some U.S. officials to believe Al
Qaeda's affiliates are more dangerous than the organization's core, isolated as
it is in the Pakistani hinterlands.
I do believe I mentioned something along those lines in a previous blog about AQ targeting cargo aircraft.
As for me and my future job...while I was under the impression that the Army was sending me to FT Huachuca to be an instructor the Army decided it had other plans for me. I am now the Training Division XO, a division of the Training, Development, and Support directorate of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence. When I figure out what the hell that means I'll let you know.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the Zionist regime (Israel) and Western governments (U.S.) are to blame for the attacks. I highly doubt there was a team of special forces soldiers who went into Iran undetected and were able to conduct this attack, there are other options though...
Iran does have a number of terrorist organizations that operate in the country, but they are primarily ethnic minorities who are seen as separatists: Kurds, Azeris, Ahwazi Arabs, and Baluchis. Iran has claimed that the CIA funds and backs some of these organizations. While I despise the idea that my country would back terrorists, this is something I definately see the CIA doing, especially since there is a tremendous amount of evidence that Iran is conducting a proxy war in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan as well.
But these groups are ethnic minorities who are seeking either more autonomy or seperation from Iran, why would they conduct a bombing against scientists, especially when other targets would make more sense? Did the CIA persuade one of the groups to conduct the attacks in exchange for more money...or perhaps Mossad did...those pesky Israelis.
I will remind my readers of the recent computer virus attack against the Iranian nuclear facility. The idea was ingenius really which leads me to believe that the United States didn't conduct that cyber attack...I just don't think we're smart enough for an assymetrical attack like that. We're more of the big scary brute saying "ME SMASH!" and sending in some F-16s to blow the site up. We didn't and so therefore I believe we didn't deliver the virus either. Israel, however, is much more sneaky and has a lot more to fear if Iran goes nuclear.
I sleep better at night telling myself that America does not fund terrorist organizations, even if those terrorist organizations are attacking nations hostile to the U.S. Israel, however, can do whatever it damn well pleases and I really won't think twice about it. I'd prefer the blood to be on their hands.
Friday, November 26, 2010
But what about those military folks in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere who can't be with family and friends? How do they celebrate and what are some of the customs they follow?
I've been very lucky when it comes to holidays and my deployments. In my three trips to Iraq I have only missed one Christmas with my family (technically it was two since in 2006 I spent Christmas in Kuwait going home on leave but I did make it home the day after Christmas). Thanksgiving I have not been so fortunate and have spent Thanksgivings 04, 06, and 09 while deployed.
2004 Thanksgiving was the most challenging for me as it was the first Thanksgiving that I spent away from home. The line into the dining facility was long...very long; something I would learn to adjust to for each holiday meal. I really didn't expect to enjoy the meal but the cooks had really gone all out, as one could imagine a holiday on Camp Victory with Corps headquarters being. As I sat in a large room that my battalion had reserved for us I looked around the room at the other officers I had spent the last six months with as well as the soldiers of the platoon I led. I realized that I was with my family. Not my real family of course, but an adopted family whom I now had a different kind of bond with. It gave me pause and I reflected at how far we had come. Future deployment Thanksgivings would become a time in which I was able to relax and evaluate how far I had come, both in terms of the deployment and as an intelligence professional.
Christmas came early for the 502nd MI BN as we left Iraq in mid December and departed Kuwait on December 23rd giving folks a chance to spend Christmas with their families. Thanksgiving 2006 was spent much the same way as 2004, standing in a long line but enjoying a great meal with good friends and comrades, the evening I reflected and prepared for 7 more months of Iraq (which would later turn into 10 more months). Christmas 2006 I left Iraq to go on leave and spent the day in Kuwait, which actually had bearable weather for a change. The food was once again good and I enjoyed the fact that the next day I would leave the middle east for a nice break.
Thanksgiving and Christmas 2009 were situations that I had yet to experience; holiday meals where the work stress was high, the tactical situation challenging, and all on a base where we regularly had our food rationed.
They would turn into two of the best holidays I have ever had. Thanksgiving started as a regular day until the XO, a gruff man to say the least, looked into the office and asked what we were doing:
"Uh, just maintaining situational awareness sir."
"It's Thanksgiving damnit, it's a limited work day, stop working."
He left and I gave a shrug to my soldiers and told them to go take the day off. I would spend the rest of the day reading and watching Melody Tunes. That night we had the best meal COP Cobra had ever seen, at least in my opinion. The local insurgents were kind enough to not be too active that day as well.
Christmas was much the same except this time I knew it was a limited work day so I was able to sleep in some (much needed), watch Top Gear, read, and get some end of tour awards completed (with 7 months to go!). The meal was as wonderful as Thanksgiving and the two holidays gave us all a much needed breather from the rigorous work schedule that I felt was wearing people down.
Do I enjoy spending holidays in Iraq and away from family and friends? No, of course not. But I will also admit that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009, spent on a far flung and tiny combat outpost far from anything resembling a Salsa night, was possibly the best holidays I've ever had.
Monday, November 22, 2010
So anyway, I'm going to fall back on a topic that's a couple of weeks old. I find the recent attempt to set off bombs on FEDEX and UPS planes rather interesting. It's actually a fairly good plan assuming the companies don't screen the packages for explosives, which I wonder why they wouldn't. Set the explosives off with the a cell phone and if it's timed right you have a plan destroyed mid-flight. Even if the plane is on the ground that's still a powerful image.
Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the attacks and has also stated they plan on continuing attacks targeting the U.S. economy.
All this makes perfect sense to a terrorist organization. What I don't understand is why AQAP? AQAP fled Saudi Arabia to Yemen and has been under pressure from a combination of the Saudi and Yemenese security forces. If I were to guess, AQAP was ordered by Osama Bin Laden or some other high level Al Qaida leader to conduct these attacks in order to help recruit new members as well as take some pressure off Al Qaida prime (my own name, has a better ring to it than Al Qaida Was In Afghanistan But Is Now In Pakistan).
Al Qaida prime, while not exactly on the run in Pakistan, can't exactly expand and is forced to use affiliate organizations to attempt attacks. Al Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb appears to be focused on gathering resources such as money and weapons and may not be currently capable of conducting attacks such as bombing airplanes...or may just have other priorities like expanding its influence in Africa.
Why hasn't any Al Qaida affiliate attempted an attack from Europe or central Asia? Was AQAP the only group who had the resources or ability to conduct these attacks? That doesn't seem to make sense since the attacks only really require some explosives, some cell phones, and American planes. Perhaps there are not any regular flights of American package transportation planes in central western Africa or central Asia.
This falls right along with the overall plan of Al Qaida: drag the west (U.S.) into guerrilla warfare that saps the willpower and morale of the military and population, disrupt the economy of the west, expand influence in Africa and Asia, remove the goverments of those countries Al Qaida has influence in, establish a caliphate, and then take down the West. Simple.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
...oh for fuck's sake. Iyad Allawi's coalition walked out of Parliament the next day when promises were not kept for the first day of session. The whole situation would be comical if the country wasn't falling apart while the politicians bickered.
Moving on. Over at Stryker Brigade News there's a short article about an article from the Christian Science Monitor about COL Harry Tunnell, the commander of 5-2 SBCT while they were in Afghanistan. A little while ago I had written a blog about this officer and how it's possible his attitude, command climate, and ideas about how to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan led to a platoon of soldiers murdering civilians.
The article contains a quote that when I read it a few days ago I started yelling at my computer screen. The quote is from a paper he wrote while recovering from being wounded in Iraq in 2003-04. Every time I read it I still twitch a little:
Military leaders must stay focused on the destruction of the enemy. It is
virtually impossible to convince any committed terrorist who hates America to
change his or her point of view – they must be attacked relentlessly.
Really COL Tunnell? The insurgents you faced in Mosul hated America? They were
actively attempting to reach the United States to defeat our way of life?
Ok, off the soapbox now
Thursday, November 11, 2010
223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, attached to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion
SGT Gabriel DeRoo
A Co, 2-3 IN BN
CPL Kenneth Cross
C Co, 1-23 IN BN
SPC Dan Dolan
C Co, 1-23 IN BN
SFC Richard Henkes II
C Co, 2-3 IN BN
CPT Matthew Mattingly
A Co, 1-17 CAV (Air), attached to 3-2 SBCT
1LT Ashley Henderson
549th Military Police Company, attached to 3-2 SBCT
CPL Casey Melien
HHC, 5-20 IN BN
CPL Robert Weber
B Btry, 1-37 FA BN
CPL Carl Johnson
A Co, 2-3 IN BN
SGT Gene Hawkins
A Co, 14th Combat Engineer Battalion, attached to 3-2 SBCT
SGT Lucas White
A Co, 1-23 IN BN
CPL Justin Garcia
A Co, 1-23 IN BN
SPC Billy Farris
HHC, 5-20 IN BN
SSG Henry Kahalewai
A Trp, 1-14 CAV SQDN
SSG Charles Allen
C Co, 296 BSB
SSG Hector Leija
B Co, 1-23 IN BN
CPL Brian Chevalier
B Co, 5-20 IN BN
SSG Darrell Griffin
B Co, 2-3 IN BN
SGT Freeman Gardner Jr.
18th Engineer Co, BTB
SSG Jesse Williams
B Co, 5-20 IN BN
CPL Wade Oglesby
C Btry, 1-37 FA BN
CPL Michael Rojas
C Btry, 1-37 FA BN
CPL Matthew Alexander
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
SSG Vincenzo Romeo
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
CPL Michael Pursel
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
SGT Jason Harkins
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
SGT Joel Lewis
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
CPL Anthony Bradshaw
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
SGT Jason Vaughn
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
PFC Anthony Sausto
A Co, 1-38 IN BN, attached to 3-2 SBCT
SGT Iosiwo Uruo
B Trp, 1-14 CAV SQDN
PFC Charles Hester
A Co, 2-3 IN BN
SSG Thomas McFall
B Co, 1-38 IN BN, attached to 3-2 SBCT
SPC Junior Cedeno-Sanchez
B Co, 1-38 IN BN, attached to 3-2 SBCT
SGT Chadrick Domino
A Co, 1-23 IN BN
CPL Romel Catalan
A Co, 1-23 IN BN
SSG Greg Gagarin
B Btry, 1-37 FA BN
SGT Robert Surber
B Btry, 1-37 FA BN
SGT James Akin
B Btry, 1-37 FA BN
SGT Tyler Kritz
B Btry, 1-37 FA BN
SGT Andew Higgins
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
PV2 Scott Miller
HHC, 5-20 IN BN
SSG Brian Long
HHC, 2-3 IN BN
CPL Darryl Linder
A Co, 1-12 CAV SQDN, attached to 3-2 SBCT
SPC Charles Heinlein Jr.
B Co, 2-3 IN BN
PFC Alfred Jairala
B Co, 2-3 IN BN
SPC Zachariah Gonzalez
B Co, 2-3 IN BN
SPC Cristian Rojas-Gallego
A Co, 2-3 IN BN
SPC Eric Salinas Jr.
A Co, 2-3 IN BN
SSG Fernando Santos
A Co, 2-3 IN BN
SPC Kareem Khan
B Co, 1-23 IN BN
SGT Nicholas Gummersall
B Co, 1-23 IN BN
SSG Jacob Thompson
B Co, 1-23 IN BN
SPC Juan Alcantara
B Co, 1-23 IN BN
CPT Corry Tyler
D Trp, 4-6 CAV SQDN (Air), attached to 3-2 SBCT
CPT Drew Jensen
HHC, 5-20 IN BN
SSG Todd Selge
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
SPC Jordan Shay
A Co, 5-20 IN BN
PFC Erin McLyman
A Co, 296 BSB
SGT Keith Coe
1-37 FA BN
SGT Israel O'Bryan
5-20 IN BN
SPC William Yauch
5-20 IN BN
Monday, November 8, 2010
I took the attack as a personal insult as the intelligence officer for the squadron. Throughout the entire deployment fingers had been pointed at our area by Iraqi officials and senior American military officers as to where carbombs were coming from that struck in Baghdad and Baqubah. I constantly defended the area and pointed out that there was no evidence that carbombs were either being made in N.E. Diyala or being transported through the area. Only two carbombs had gone off previous to the 11 June attack in the region and I argued that there was no reporting or indication of a carbomb factory in our battlespace and the few carbombs that were being made were being used against targets locally. I had both the Squadron commander and the Brigade intelligence officer on my side.
By late June/early July my section and I had pieced together the puzzle of who was responsible and the timeline of events. Most of our usual suspects were the ones involved and had likely temporarily left the area in order to avoid being captured after the attack. There was one individual, however, who we knew to still be in the area, including the exact house he lived in. We believed he was the "Godfather" of AQI in the area and had a hand in, or at least knowledge of, most of the attacks that were conducted by the organization. His capture would at the very least send a message that no one was untouchable, at best he could provide a lot of good intelligence on AQI. The one problem? No warrant.
Late one night I had this discussion with the Division targeting NCO. He was questioning why we weren't actioning this guy if we knew exactly where he was. I of course mentioned the lack of a legal means of keeping him detained longer than 48 hours. The next afternoon Division sent me a warrant for the target. My anger that Division had a warrant for this guy when we didn't have it was tempered by my joy of now having the crucial piece of beauracratic lunacy to detain and hold this guy.
Unfortunately it was late...about 6pm at this time. I called the acting C troop commander (the commander having been relieved early in June and his replacement hadn't shown up yet) and we did a quick wargame of the situation. He said that it would be possible to get an Iraqi force together and we could use the Kurdish Peshmerga platoon we kept on Cobra for just such instances. However, by the time all the cats were herded, a plan was developed, and we got to the target location it would likely be around midnight or 2 am and the target would likely have gotten word we were coming. If we delayed and conducted the mission the next night there was still a substantial risk that the operation would be compromised and the target would flee.
We both decided to pass the target off to the task force whose sole purpose was to detain Sunni AQI targets quickly and on short notice if needed. After consulting the operations officer and letting him know my and Crazyhorse 6's plan I rang up the Brigade targeting officer (the S3 didn't really seem to care at all about the situation, after a brief "why isn't C troop going after the guy" he was pretty reserved about the whole thing). Brigade called the task force who determined that if the target was still in the same area that night then they would go after him the next night.
All worked according to plan and looking back it was a great coordination between troop, squadron, brigade, division, an outside task force, and ISR assets. The target was captured and while he didn't give up any information within a couple of weeks of his capture we were getting reports that other key AQI leaders in the area were attempting to flee.
There was just one turd in the punch bowl. While all fingers were pointing at this individual as well as the AQI network in the area, Kurdish intelligence in Khanaqin was pointing at Ansar al Sunna. The Khanaqin CID appeared so convinced that even the A troop commander was believing what they had to say. To top it off, Kurdish security in the Qara Tapa area began pointing to AAS (likely because they talked to Khanaqin) which got the B troop commander telling me it might be AAS. The problem was that AAS had desintegrated around 2007 and was no longer a threat. We had a few reports of them in the area but I had always chalked it up to misinformation on the part of AQI or JRTN. Was my assessment of this attack, and potentially the entire area, incorrect?
I tend to think I wasn't that blind to what was going on. C troop still maintained that AQI was behind the attack as was the Iraqi Army. AQI/ISI would later even claim credit for the three carbombs (the others being in Muqdadiyah and Khalis). The Kurds were doing a surge of information operations at the time to discredit the Iraqi security forces in the area and the reports that AAS was responsible included accusations against key Iraqi leaders who the Kurds blamed were either complicit in the attacks or actively took part. Sorry if I have my doubts. I also find it extremely unlikely that AAS would be able to coordinate three carbomb attacks in three completely different areas of Diyala in which they have little to no influence without anyone picking up on it.
One last tidbit from this whole situation. There may have been some involvement in the attack from our friendly intelligence agency/special forces organization to the east. In a note dated 24 June in my notebook..."I hate proxy wars".
*Note: I know I mentioned last blog about writing about our relationship with SOF organizations but I decided that would likely get me in real trouble despite being in limbo between units right now. All I'll say is this...Rangers are egotistical fucks who steal all your toilet paper and the Green Berets can't handle any criticism at all, pansies.
Friday, November 5, 2010
But I'm feeling lazy today so I'll just write about some things I'm finding interesting today:
The Navy and Marines are sending a force back to the coast of Haiti just in case the Haitian government requests help in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas. Super, I love using military power for good and helping neighboring countries. However, here's a question: how many times have we sent military forces to Haiti?
At least 10 times including a couple of occupations. So here's my thought for the day: why not build a Guantanamo Bay style military base in Haiti?Guantanamo is useful in its stragetic location in the Carribean but it has quite a stigma these days. I say after we shut down the detention center at Gitmo we begin construction on a base in Haiti...or potentially the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico if the Haitians don't want us. We can even develop some good will by giving the base over to the Cubans. A base in Haiti would enable further aid and likely allow for a better response to disasters in the country, natural or man made; it's also conveniently closer to Venezuela...just sayin'.
Rumors out of Mali state a tribe from Timbukto (I love that name) fought with some Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb fighters and killed 4 of them. The Malinese government and military are denying the incident happened. Let's say the incident did occur, if so, why did a tribe start fighting with AQIM? Did AQIM overstep its bounds much like Al Qaida in Iraq did in the Anbar Province? Another thing, why would the government and military deny the incident? Is it because the clash was actually conducted by Malinese special forces...or even U.S. special forces? Things that make you go hmmmm.
Finally, add John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife to the list of books I should have read a long time ago...or at least before I deployed. I'm no where near finished but am fascinated by the counterinsurgeny examples Nagl uses in the book. One example: the Normans' conquest and subjugation of Wales. 30 years or so after the Normans conquered England they attempted the "kill em all including the livestock" approach when attempting to defeat a Welsh insurgency. 100 years later they used the "place garrisons in the populated areas and where the enemies hide" approach to remove the population from the threat. Guess which approach worked.
At least they got to keep their sweet flag
Should have tried proper COIN with the Scots. Amazing what we learn and then forget in history.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Not sure if I'm going to change the name of the blog. I wouldn't even know what to change it to.
1-14 CAV S2 section: our success was due entirely to your hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Our failures were mine alone.
I leave you with a quote from Tom Ricks' blog:
We used to joke that an Iraq year was a like a dog year -- between the fear
and stress, the horrendous climate, the hours worked, and the alcohol, you aged
seven years for every one you spent there.
Other than the alcohol...which is often consumed in large amounts upon redeployment...I agree completely.
Good luck 1-14...
I'll start with number three because sometimes you have to mix things up: a suicide bomber struck at a cafe in the town of Balad Ruz last Friday. The media is quick to point the blame on Al Qaida in Iraq but I'm not so sure. Balad Ruz has been relatively quiet since 2009 and while it was once a stronghold for AQI, the organizations control over the area dissipated due to several U.S. operations as well as Iraqi Army units putting a chokehold on the town and the farmland to the south. The Islamic State of Iraq (Al Qaida's name for a new umbrella insurgent group meant to put a more Iraqi face on the foreign dominated AQI) allegedly was formed in Balad Ruz and many of its members were given land in the area. I say "allegedly" because this was told to me by the BDE S2 for 1-25 SBCT so its accuracy is in question and I have seen other sources claim ISI began in the Anbar Province.
Balad Ruz is that spot 1/3 up between Baqubah and Mandali
Violence had also decreased in the town for the same reason, in my opinion anyway, due to the same reason violence dropped in Baghdad. Balad Ruz is a mixed town of Shia and Sunni as well as a good number of Kurds. The sectarian violence of 2006-07 led to internal movements leading to a division of the town. The Shia held the north part of town and the Sunnis held the south. The dividing line was the Baqubah-Mandali road that split the town. With the town now evenly divided there was no more thirst for sectarian violence and security forces were once again able to maintain order. By the time 3-2 SBCT arrived attacks and incidents had dropped to 0-1 attacks a month in Balad Ruz.
The article focuses on the fact that most of the victims of the attack were Shia, barely mentioning that they were Faili Kurds. My assessment of the attack is that it's less an AQI sectarian attack and more an ethnic attack aimed at diminishing Kurdish influence in an area that is somewhat under dispute. The Kurds have been attempting to push their borders and control farther south and west and this attack may have been a reaction to that push.
The attack in Baghdad was a hostage situation at a Christian church. ISI has claimed responsibility for the attack which led to at least 58 people being killed after security forces stormed the church. Two takeaways from this incident: 1) it appeared to be an entirely Iraqi led effort; and not just the "fake" Iraqi led missions where one Iraqi Army soldier is put in a mission planned, led, and manned by a bunch of American special forces soldiers. 2) it was done poorly, but then even the Russians frak things up sometimes.
Finally, the Jalula investigations division chief was killed by an IED on October 27th. This attack was likely a continuation of the attacks against Jalula security forces that have been occuring in the last several months and that I wrote about at the beginning of last month. Interesting note, the attack occured on the road that runs right next to FOB Cobra...d'oh.
In response to this incident, Iraqi security forces detained an individual allegedly in charge of the operation and who was a financier for AQI in the area. The detainment occurred in Sari Tapa, a village just to the west of Qara Tapa which is the northwest of FOB Cobra...where's that handy map...
Qara Tapa is the speck at the very north of the map spelled funny
Here's where things become interesting to me, and likely me alone. The individual detained shares a name very similar to an individual who we were targeting for some time but could never capture due to the remoteness of Sari Tapa and the early warning the individual received whenever we were coming. He was the leader of Jaysh al Islami (JAI) in the Qara Tapa area and we were only really targeting him because the Iraqis were targeting him; both sides only really went after him half heartedly.
The reason for this lackadasical attitude towards this individual was because JAI was no longer a threat in the area and had ceased conducting operations. JAI is a nationalistic organization that formed some time in 2004 or 2005 to fight off who they saw as invaders...us. Since there were very few U.S. troops in the Qara Tapa area in 2005 they targeted the next two logical organizations...Peshmerga who came into the region in 2006 at the behest of Maliki to help with the security situation and AQI who JAI felt was foreign and oppressive. In 2007 war broke out between JAI, AQI, and Ansar al Sunna (Kurdish/Sunni extremists who have a love/hate relationship with AQI). JAI pretty much lost with most of its members joining the newly formed JRTN (Baathist, nationalistic organization formed to fight the occupiers and bring back a Baathist regime). Our target said "fuck this" and quit fighting, content to hang out in Sari Tapa with his attractive wife. He complained constantly to the mukhtar of Sari Tapa reasoning that he never attacked Americans or the Iraqi Army, why was he being targeted. Our response...he had a warrant and in our defense we weren't trying very hard to capture him.
Anyway...if this individual detained for the bombing against the CID chief is our target than one of two things is going on. Either he is being made the scapegoat or he joined AQI and is funding their operations. The more simple explaination is that the individual detained is our targets cousin who if I recall correctly had connections to both AQI and JAI. Problem is, things are never simple in Northeast Diyala. 2-14 CAV, I do not envy you one bit.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
I have also mentioned how challenging it was for 1-14 CAV to conduct targeting and capture key individuals. Many parts of our battlespace were, if not openly hostile, certainly disagreeable to U.S. forces and while most of the population agreed that the people we were targeting were "bad" they rarely assisted us. The security forces were frustrating in that while they could be helpful in occasionally providing information on our targets, and on a couple of occasions even conducting missions against individuals on their own, the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police preferred to target the "low hanging fruit"...people they could capture immediately but who often had little intelligence value on the larger network.
There was also the headache inducing issue of operational security with the local security forces. It wasn't that I believed that many of them were actively assisting the insurgency, there were some, it was that as soon as one jundi or shurta got word that he was doing a mission the next day he was calling all his buddies and his family telling them where he was going and what he was doing. Word would eventually get out allowing time for a target to either hide or get out of town for awhile.
This happened with several of our missions. Sometimes I believe it was our own selves shooting us in the foot. For example, on a mission to capture an IED cell leader it was decided that not only would 1-14 be involved, but the SF team, the Iraqi Army commando company, and an element from the Iraqi Army brigade would all participate. When everyone arrived on the objective the Qara Tapa police were already on scene since they had heard about the mission and wanted in on the action as well. What should have been an effort of perhaps the SF team, the Commando Company, and maybe a platoon from 1-14 turned into a circus of several hundred personnel all stepping on eachother's toes.
The mission wasn't a complete failure. This was early into the deployment and we were still working on a lot of the information and intel that had been passed on from 5-1 CAV and so we were able to use the information gathered to further develop the situation and rule out some individuals and homes we thought may be involved in attacks.
In the next 4 months we would target this individual 5 more times. Each time we would get word that he had returned to his parent's house we'd spin up and conduct some hasty planning, gather up some forces, and head out to the village...only to learn that we had just missed him.
The B troop commander finally decided enough was enough and worked another course of action. He took our target's father aside and told him that if he did not force his son to turn himself in or inform us when his son had returned then B troop would return the next night, and the night after that, for 1000 nights. As he left the house, the commander slapped a Bronco troop sticker on the door (the stickers were leftover from the previous deployment, look like the logo of the Denver Broncos, and were used in 06/07 to mark homes that had been searched. They do not come off easily).
Within a week the target turned himself in to the Qara Tapa police.
Bronco would go on to use this same technique on a few other individuals with varying success. I took away from the situation a valuable lesson in counterinsurgency which is that while force and constant raids don't always work, annoying regularity can. Targeted raids that upset the lives of a single family that are fully aware of a member's guilt will eventually lead to enough annoyance and shame that the family forces the targeted individual to turn himself in. No other enemies were made, the rest of the village was not disturbed, and we no longer bothered this family in any way. After this individual was detained, IEDs in that specific area dropped to zero for approximately four months.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I know I've seen something similar...but where?
This map is a bit hard to make out but the orange line is the divide between north and south. The blocks are oil development areas. The red line is the single oil pipeline in the country. Not depicted are the oil refineries, but they are all in the north. Most of the oilfields currently in use are along the border between north and south.
Ok, quick recap. Two different ethnic groups; sectarian differences between the two; large geographic divide; two different economies and cultures; conflict over control of oil resources; majority ethnicity control central government and is attempting to dominate minority ethnicity. This reminds me of someplace...
Ahh yeah, that brings back some memories.
In 2005 the two sides signed a peace agreement that gave the south limited autonomy and also established that in 2011 a vote would be held in south Sudan to determine if the population desires indepedence from the north.
If the vote is actually held and it is determined that the south seeks to be its own nation will Khartoum allow that to happen and watch most of its oil go with it? Will Egpyt be ok with yet another nation controlling the beginnings of the Nile? What will be the reaction of the U.S. and the rest of the world be if violence breaks out on a large scale? Will it be a repeat of the genocide in Darfur where the world sat back, watched it happen, and did nothing?
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I do know a few things about Afghanistan: it's a tribal society run by warlords; they despise central government and foreign power influence; it doesn't matter if you control Kabul; Kandahar is key.
The city of Kandahar and the province are the spiritual home of the Taliban due to that organization's beginnings in Kandahar. Control Kandahar, and gain the trust and cooperation of the people there, and you are a big step closer to keeping Afghanistan under control...or something like that.
According to Carlotta Gall from the NY Times, coalition forces have had a lot of recent success in the Kandahar Province and have taken the initiative away from the Taliban. Military officials, like usual for counterinsurgency, are being cautiously optimistic. However, it appears the tide may be going our way in that area which means much of Afghanistan may follow. Part of the success, according to the article is the combined civil and military effort; the highly accurate HIMARS rocket system.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Hidden behind the sombrero are 3 IEDs and an RPG
That's right...Mexico. The ongoing fight against the drug cartels has been a challenge for the Mexican government and if the violence begins to creep over the border it would not surprise me if we send a brigade or three to the border area or even conduct operations inside Mexico. When I first started this blog I made my list of top 10 global concerns; Mexico was #9. The U.S. has in the past sent expeditionary forces into Mexico, examples include landing Marines at Veracruz in 1914 and chasing after Pancho Villa in 1916. 1-14 CAV was sent to New Mexico for a couple of months in 2005 to assist the border patrol. The precidents have been set.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even mentioned on Saturday that the U.S. can do more to assist Mexico fight the drug cartels. She claimed that the cartels have begun operating more and more like terrorists and insurgents:
"For the first time, they are using car bombings," Clinton said. "You see them being much more organized in a kind of paramilitary way."
Is Mexico the next conflict? At least finding interpreters will be a lot easier.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Wired.com posted an article on what the author hopes will be covered in the reports. Included is a question about the sectarian violence (the author calls it "ethnic cleansing" which it was not, it was Arab on Arab) that occured in Baghdad in 2006-07. Two sentences jumped out at me:
It’s never been clear how much the U.S. military knew about the cleansing.First off, what does the author mean by "low-level"? Does he mean platoons, companies, or battalions? Second, what exactly is he trying to get at by stating "it's never been clear"? Several authors and journalists wrote and have discussed the Shia on Sunni attacks that occured during that time period. There were near daily briefings to the press by MNF-I and MNC-I on the subject. Barriers were erected around neighborhoods to attempt to prevent incursions by "kill squads". A task force was even created to help figure out how to stop the violence.
Low-level units watched it happen.
In 2006 my brigade was up in Mosul, however, we had one of our infantry battalions and the cavalry squadron tasked to other brigades down in Baghdad. We would receive daily information from those two units about what they were facing. I've talked with several of the NCOs in 1-14 about what the situation was like in the '06-'07 time period. Each one stated that they would get hit by an IED nearly everytime they left the wire. Finding body dump sites was common. After several months, patrols would avoid the areas that were common dump sites because they were tired of finding half buried corpses and then having to pull security on site for 5 or 6 hours before Iraqi police showed up to take away the deceased.
When I was assigned to 1-23IN in April of '07 one my intel analysts like to tell a story of the task force I mentioned earlier. While flying a UAV over their battlespace late one night an ambulence surrounded by Iraqi police was noticed. The police were either taking bodies from the police station and putting them in the ambulence or vice versa. It was well known that the police were infiltrated by Shia miltias and would conduct "kill sweeps" of Sunni neighborhoods at night, often still dressed in police uniforms. The problem was that there weren't enough U.S. soldiers to be able to prevent the atrocities and most units were still living on the giant FOBs and rarely had soldiers out patroling at night. In this case it could not be determined if the police being watched were doing their job and just transporting bodies to the morgue, or if they had just killed the individuals in the ambulence. After watching for some time the battalion battle captain received a phone call from a colonel with the "anti sectarian violence task force". The colonel was watching the UAV feed and was ordering 1-23 to do something about the situation. The battle captain attempted to talk some sense into the colonel who was clearly trying to micro manage a battalion whom she had no authority over. To keep feathers from being too ruffled, a patrol was sent out a short time later but by the time they got to the scene the police and ambulence were already gone and nobody in the police station knew what the soldiers were talking about.
In December the entire brigade would move down to Baghdad and gain the mission of clearing neighborhoods in order to disrupt and defeat militias and insurgents in those neighborhoods. Since the most problematic neighborhoods were also mixed Sunni/Shia areas and thus sectarian fault lines we were ordered to document all evidence of sectarian violence. These reports, known as "storyboards" were then disseminated throughout the brigade as well as to higher in order to plan future missions and provide information on the problem. Several times a week I would get a storyboard of a body dump site and in many cases it became a macabre game of "Where's Waldo" only with body parts. A hand coming out of the ground here, a half buried face there, something that might be a torso over in the corner. I still get nightmares about some of the pictures.
By late 2007 the situation began to improve. Al Qaida was slowly defeated; the Shia militias claimed ceas-fires; Sunni insurgent groups began siding with the government. The sectarian violence would eventually cease, but I do not believe it was due to anything we or the Iraqi government did. There was just very little more killing to be done. Baghdad used to have predominately mixed neighborhoods of Shia and Sunni with only a few neighborhoods that were primarily Sunni or Shia. By the end of 2007 there were very few mixed neighborhoods. People either fled the violence or were slaughtered.
Man's inhumanity to man is a terrible thing to witness.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
I haven't followed the story very much because when the situation came to light my brigade was getting ready to redeploy back to JBLM and had other things on my mind, primarily my own fight in Iraq. I figured it was a case of poor leadership and a lack of discipline in the unit, much like what happened with soldiers from the 101st Airborne in the southern Baghdad belt in 2006.
There's also a certain amount of rivalry amongst the Stryker brigades, especially the brigades on FT Lewis. When people learned what had happened and that it was 5-2 the common response was an eye roll and "well that figures". 3-2 was the first Stryker brigade and is often seen as the model for how an SBCT should operate, deserved or not. 4-2 is typically just laughed at since their missions in Iraq are either to take over for areas 3-2 already pacified or areas that have little to no insurgent activity. 5-2 is rumored to have done so miserably at their mission rehearsal exercise that the Army actually thought about not sending them to Iraq...but that was just rumor.
The reason I bring this all up is this article in Wired.com that asks an interesting question. Apparently the brigade commander, COL Harry D. Tunnell IV, did no believe in counterinsurgency and felt his mission was to hunt down and destroy insurgents. That kind of thinking was what got the Army in trouble in Iraq from 2003-2006. Yes, destroying insurgents is good, but you can only do it by practicing good COIN procedures otherwise you just end up creating more insurgents.
Was COL Tunnell actively traveling the area of operations telling his soldiers to kill people and take trophies? No, at least I hope not. But command philosophy and attitude can and will trickle down to the lowest levels and affect the philosphies and attitudes of soldiers. COL Tunnell's aggressive views likely led to the actions of this "kill team."
Counterinsurgency is violent. However, units and commanders should do everything possible to keep violence to a minimum. Encouraging violence can quickly spiral into incidents such as killing innocent civilians.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
"And while other Al Qaidas such as the above named AQI as well as Al Qaida in the
Arabic Peninsula have been all but eliminated..."
Apparently I was getting ahead of myself or just spouting off my ususual assumptions without backing them up with any kind of facts. October has seen a rise in the activity of our little organization in Yemen.
Foreignpolicy.com has an article on Yemen and the issue in which the author puts most of the blame for the terrorism problem in that country on Yemen's president who begs and pleads for international aid but then does very little to combat the problems in the nation, AQIP only being one of them, and pocketing much of the money he receives.
To save me a massive writeup in all the recent actions by AQIP I'll just link to the Yemen page on The Long War Journal's website. What you'll find there is several recent attacks by "gunmen", other random shootings, and an RPG attack. Apparently there was also a plot to shoot down a plane carrying a Saudi Prince. If you can recall, I wrote about phases of an insurgency back in May. Small arms attacks, in my opinion, occur in the beginning phase or the expansion phase (phase II). Attacks against aircraft, SAFIRE, occur in phase III...full on insurgency. The insurgency group that I announced was virtually dead may actually be somewhere between broadening the conflict and full on civil war.
Of course, I may be mistaking one organization for the Yemeni insurgency itself...missing the forest for the trees. There may not be any kind of insurgency going on in Yemen, merely a terrorist organization with some links to a wider network that is taking advantage of a poor security situation, poor economy, corrupt government, tribal/sectarian revolt in the north, and a seperatist movement in the south.
Sounds kind of like California.
Monday, October 11, 2010
As one senior Iraqi leader told us following an assasination attempt on the mayor of As Sadiyah (his 6th or 7th since taking office in '06), "in America, when Hillary Clinton loses the nomination to Barack Obama she doesn't attempt to kill him, she joins his side. In Iraq, assasinations are just a form of politics."
The attack against the mayor was the first politically motivated attack we faced after taking over for 5-1 CAV in the beginning of September. There would be a few more and I would find it difficult at times attempting to distinguish between political violence from insurgent violence from ethnic violence as the trifecta of chaos often blurred lines. In each of our major towns, Mandali, As Sadiyah, Jalula, Qara Tapa, Kifri, and Khanaqin, there was a Kurdish mayor, often Shia. This wasn't an issue in Kifri, Khanaqin, or even Manadali as both Kifri and Khanaqin were majority Kurdish and Mandali had a barely a Sunni Arab majority. The reason the other towns had Kurdish mayors was because in the 2006 election the Sunni Arabs refused to vote and so the Kurdish political parties (PUK primarily) won the town council positions who then appointed the mayors. The Kurdish mayor in Qara Tapa appeared to be a popular fellow; he had been mayor for about 10 years which means he held the job during even Saddam's time. A survivor for sure. The mayor of Jalula was so ineffective and so despised by even the Kurds that he feared even leaving his office; the PUK would eventually kick him out of that party. Despite the several attempts on his life, the mayor of As Sadiyah refused to be intimidated and used his position to demand more security forces for the town.
The 2010 elections were originally scheduled for January. By late October and early November the squadron commander was actively pushing the local security leadership to begin planning, or at least think about planning, for the upcoming clusterfuck. He would bring it up in one-on-one meetings and in group sessions such as our bi-weekly "AO North Security Meeting". The responses were amusing in their similarity..."don't worry, we've done elections before. We will have meetings and everything will go smooth. Inshallah."
The elections were delayed, and then delayed again. Looking back it was probably good that they were in that it gave us more time to prepare and presented the opportunity to remove some more individuals who may have attempted to disrupt things. However, in the middle of the surge in attacks we faced in the run up to elections as well as the frustration and stress of coming up with a security plan everyone agreed on, my Iraq counterpart, MAJ Mustafa, stated what many of us were thinking, "if we had just had the elections in January, we'd be done and through with this shit."
It takes a lot to get an Iraqi to swear.
Eventually a plan was established, a plan very similar to what was used in the previous provincial elections in 2009. Throughout the province US forces would attempt to be as invisible as possible, mostly staying on our bases, except in 1-14's area. We of course could not stay behind our dirt and concrete walls because of the tripartite checkpoints that had been established a couple of months earlier. Due to the overt American presence already in the area and the sensitivity of our ethnic fault line it was determined that 1-14 would assist in manning several more Iraqi Army and police checkpoints.We even brought some Peshmerga along for fun.
There was another element to the plan. Because of the aforementioned fault line, UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) decided they needed to place election monitoring people in key election sites to ensure no election rigging was conducted by either the Arabs or the Kurds. For some reason UNAMI could not determine which sites to monitor on their own and so asked for advice from the American Army. The Army of course turned to the one person in all of Diyala who could accurately tell them which sites would be most vulnerable to election fraud...
...wait for it...
...wait for it...
United States Forces Iraq (USFI, think GEN Ordierno) determined the best way to answer this inquiry from UNAMI would be to pass the buck off to the organization that runs day to day operations in Iraq...I Corps. I Corps of course decided division could best handle this question so pinged United States Division North (3rd Infantry Division). Division did a quick look to make sure no one was watching and slipped the question down to the brigade on the ground, 3-2 SBCT. Brigade did what brigade always does and asked the battalion level unit who owned the battlespace where UNAMI should place their observers. At this point the inquiry had become a military intelligence problem and not an operations problem and so I sat staring at an email wondering how many puppies I had kicked in a previous life to deserve this fate.
I wish I could say that I just dumped the issue onto the troops but this clearly was a staff problem so after chatting with all three commanders (including the C troop commander who was actively trying to avoid giving me information) I grabbed my warrant officer and NCO and commenced to staring at a map for 15 minutes. I may or may not have ripped out some of my hair.
We gave UNAMI 5 or 6 sites that we felt were most likely to see election fraud. In other words, we gave UNAMI 5 or 6 sites that "uh, I think this site is in a mixed neighborhood" / made sense to us.
Task fucking complete. What next?
A moment where I was professionally embarrased came next.
Most of my job is to make educated guesses. "Where is the enemy?" "What is he going to do next?" "Where and when are we going to get blown up?" Everyone knows I'm pretty much guessing. There are times when I am right and times when I am wrong. In officer basic we learned a good S2 is right 50% of the time; outstanding S2's are correct 51% of the time. I have no problem being wrong, but I prefer being wrong 48 hours or more after making a statement/wild ass guess.
A few days prior to elections we held an election rehearsal/briefing with all the key leaders of the squadron. Towards the end of the meeting one of the platoon leaders asked me of the likelihood of an attack against the checkpoint that his platoon would be manning. I told him that an attack against that checkpoint was extremely unlikely.
20 minutes later...and I'm not exagerating when I say 20 minutes...the checkpoint was attacked by a rocket.
That's going to sting for awhile.
On election day everyone on the brigade was expecting some violence but nothing serious. Nothing indicated an attempt to disrupt the voting and attack levels had been low for several months not including the occasional spike such as a coordinated suicide attack in Baqubah a few days prior to elections (that little guy? I wouldn't worry about that little guy).
By the end of the day the brigade saw more than 50 attacks and attempted attacks, mostly in the form of IEDs. Over half of those attacks came in 1-14's area. No other area in the division saw the level of violence we saw. The deputy division commander even came in to get a sense of what was going on. Most of the IEDs going off that day came in the early morning and were bottles of home made explosives set on timers. The purpose was likely to scare people off and keep them from voting.
1-14 CAV's area of operations saw the most attacks in all of Iraq that day.
We also had one of the highest voter turnouts that day at over 70%. Try getting that in the US when shit isn't exploding. I slept very well that night.