Monday, May 31, 2010

Trapped with too much chai

So there I was one beautiful Iraqi morning, drinking chai, discussing upcoming operations with the squadron commander, the 3rd Peshmerga commander, the 4-1 Iraqi Army commander, and several of the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga operations and intelligence officers when a thought came to my mind... reality the thought came to my mind after 3 cups of chai and 2 1/2 hours of me sitting in our conference room listening (zoning out) to everyone discuss which random area or villages we should be clearing next. Too much boredom and too much chai led to this masterpiece:

Written out in scribbly writing in my notebook which when I finally escaped the meeting turned into scribbly writing on my whiteboard. Good luck de-cyphering it. Here's my attempt at an explaination:

There are certain events occuring in the Province which may be happening due to various reasons to include drawdown of US forces, perceived election manipulation, on going operations, and overall crankiness due to hot weather. My notes on the whiteboard are supposed to show the progress of an insurgency (phase I, II, and III) and what attacks are likely to occur in each phase that may indicate a growing insurgency or dying one.

Phase I generally includes simple roadside bombs that do little damage but are intended to intimidate and deny that fundamental desire of freedom of maneuver for friendly forces and those bombs may be either detonated by command wire, some kind of remote detonation device, or detonated by the victim (pressure plate/pressure wire). Some small arms fire attacks may occur but are usually going to be quick and ineffective.

Phase II occurs as the insurgents gather and recruit more members and have more of the population on their side which enables more complex types of attacks but requires more planning and preparation. Small arms fire attacks are going to become more bold, especially if the insurgents feel they will not be actioned on or will only face a few rounds of .50 cal before the patrol they are attacking moves on.

Phase III is basically what US forces faced in many areas of Iraq in 2006-07 to include many neighborhoods of Baghdad and Baqubah. A well prepared enemy who has complete control over the population and has established defensive positions by cutting off roads with berms or emplacing bombs that are in key locations to deny movement into an area.

All those acronyms? Yeah, we speak and write in pretty much a whole other language in the Army.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Maybe I'm just easily amused...

Two articles on Wired jumped out at me this morning and made me giggle.

The first, Jihadist Uses Ke$ha's Tricks To Kiss Osama's Ass, is an amusing article about an extremist wannabe recording a song worshiping Osama Bin Laden using an autotune. The same type of software used by pop stars today to make their music suck slightly less.

I think it was more the picture of a naked Ke$ha in the bathtub that really made me notice. If you don't know who Ke$ha is, she is complete trash, horribly horribly addictive trash.

The second article is great because I have the maturity level of a 15 year old. Fake Saddam gay sex video. As much as I credit the CIA for good initiative, this was probably poor judgement. Attempting to "leak" these vidoes would more than likely backfire painfully. I'm also not sure it would create much of a stir outside the Western press.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The future of the MI Corps will be taught by...What?! Are you kidding me?!

Back long long ago, in the before time, when I was a very new and very green lieutentant my first impressions of the officers of the Military Intelligence branch came from a select few captains and majors who taught and mentored at the military intelligence officer basic course. I looked up to those officers and did my best to learn from them. They had both the experience and knowledge that I never thought I would have and I never expected to reach a level in the Army that would allow for me to follow in their footsteps.

Even when I went to the MI Captains Career Course I looked up to the officer instructors. Even though I had two deployments at that time these were guys who had been battalion level intelligence officers and brigade assistant intelligence officers in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and sometimes both. My career at that point had been as a maintenance platoon leader, a support battalion intelligence officer, and an assitant infantry battalion intelligence officer...nothing really that spectacular. Once again I found myself thinking that there was no way I could do what they do or assume the Army would ever select me to instruct at one of officer courses.

By some twist of fate the Army has selected me to be an instructor at FT Huachuca for either the basic course or the career course. It's not exactly what I wanted to do, or my first location for an assignment, but the more I think about it, the more I find myself looking forward to this new assignment. First off, it will be a challenge (of course I was looking for a challenge when I came to 1-14 CAV and had no idea how challenging it would end up being). Second, I won't deploy for a few years which is great. Third, I was starting to really enjoy southeast Arizona during my time in the MICCC and this will give me an opportunity to explore the area even more. Finally, this is my time to share my experiences with the future assistant and primary S2's of the Army. Hopefully I can have some input on how either the basic course or the career course is run and taught, depending on which course I'm chosen to be an instructor for.

I also want to prepare them for this:

Today's MI captains are being asked to know and do more than at any other time
in our Army's history. They must be specialists and generalists, sometimes
functioning at the strategic, operational, and tactical level simultaneously.
They are held to a higher standard based on the perceived capabilities to
collect intelligence they may or may not have access to. Their contemporaries
are leaving the Army in droves. Courtesy of

This statement is entirely true. As an S2 at the battalion level not only am I expected to know what the enemy is doing in my squadron's area, but also what the enemy is doing throughout the brigade's area, especially if it affects us. Since our Squadron area borders two other brigades as well, I have to coordinate and share information with battalion S2's that I have never met and whose contact information often takes a good deal of networking to acquire. Last deployment I was questioned weekly on what was going on in other provinces entirely such as Al Anbar and Salah Al Din, and expected to give a professional opinion on the spot with no warning. Hell, back in late 2006 when North Korea conducted a nuclear blast test I was asked to give my assessment on whether or not the North Koreans had been successful or not since it wasn't really known. That question really threw me off since I am not an expert in that area of the globe, had no access to or ability to interpret information from the scene, and was focusing my attention on THE LITTLE CONFLICT GOING ON RIGHT OUTSIDE THE GATE called Mosul. And yet, an informed answer to the question was still expected.

The words "perceived capabilities to collect" is what leads to frustration and anger which ultimately leads to situations that I discussed in the last post. Battalion level S2 is one of the most difficult and challenging assignments an officer can have. LTs and captains coming into that need to be prepared.
There's an old saying in the Army: operational success or intelligence failure. Meaning, if a mission is successful it is because the planning was good and the leadership capable. If the mission failed, it was because the intelligence picture was wrong. Unfair? You bet. But that's the world and the life of an intelligence professional.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gripes of a staff officer

We in the military attempt to tell ourselves that we are all in this fight together. "One team, one fight" is a common saying. It doesn't matter if you are Army, Navy, Air Force, Reserves, or National Guard. We're all in this suckfest together and we all need to work together to get the mission done.

This especially the case at the battalion and brigade level where everyone should be working with eachother and providing assistance to one another. If people are backstabbing eachother or you can't stand that guy in the office next to you so you don't bother giving him that information he needs that you have, things go down hill fast. In a best case scenario it leads to a hostile work environment.

Unfortunately I've seen this over and over in the course of my 3 deployments with 4 different battalions/squadron. It was pretty bad in my time in the 502nd MI BN. There was no "lieutenant mafia" (LTs in most units band together to keep eachother afloat and help get through the first couple years of the Army). The company XOs were all in competition with themselves to see who could impress the battalion XO. Staff officers hoarded information until they could bring it up in a weekly meeting and look good while the staff officer who needed that info 3 days prior now looks like a shitbag to the boss.

I don't think we really had that kind of problem in 296 BSB while I was there. There was some infighting and staff disgruntlement that always occurs on a deployment when people are forced together for so long. In 1-23IN the S2 kept his staff out of the loop on pretty much everything. I don't believe he did it on purpose, he just didn't trust his subordinates to do anything so he did almost all the work himself.

A problem really starts to create issues when company/troop commanders don't, or refuse, to talk with the battalion/squadron staff. In a counterinsurgency fight information comes from the bottom and feeds up. The platoons and companies on the ground are going to have a much better understanding of the area and are able to provide the most information to higher levels than corps/division/brigade can provide down. In a conventional fight, corps/division provides more information to lower levels while platoons/companies fill in a few gaps.

So when a troop commander refuses to share or give information...such as a location to a house or his thoughts on what is going on in his little corner of the world...the machine begins to break down. The situation is rather amusing in a way, if operations weren't affected. Troop commanders expect the staff to work for them, which the staff does, and provide higher analysis of what is going on. Difficult to do when a commander won't provide basic information or sit down and discuss things with the staff.

I'm done now. Hopefully I'll have something worthwhile to discuss in the near future instead of my random gripes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The party is over

Big Army...well at least bigger than my level...has discovered this blog. They aren't shutting me down or anything and I'm a little flattered that I actually have drawn some attention. I just got a warning for discussing a bit more than I should have discussed.

In other news, it's hot. Really hot. And dusty. Miserably dusty. There goes the 2 weeks of Iraqi spring. Hello summer.

Shout out to everyone at Brigade reading this. How's Salsa Night?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Settling back to normal

Tensions are still higher than usual in our little corner of Diyala, but we haven't had any major events since our little incident in Qara Tapa last week. Right now everyone seems to be just taking a breather and waiting for the final election results to come out some time in the near future. Well, everyone except that really annoying indirect fire team who keeps pestering our checkpoints.

The last few folks are heading out on leave and we've begun planning for our replacements as well as reintegration back at FT Lewis, or rather, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The great thing about staff planning for relief-in-place and reintegration is that it doesn't really involve me at all. The intelligence shop has some tasks of course, but a majority of the planning is done by the supply, personnel, and operations sections. Great feeling after being the primary section for planning during combat operations.

Less than 90 days to go before 1-14 CAV leaves Iraq.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Events are becoming dicey

We nearly had our Arab vs Kurd civil war the other day up here in Northeast Diyala. I don't think it would have broken down into a full scale civil war throughout the entire disputed zone, but it could have.

It all started with a parking infraction.

Tensions apparently have been pretty high between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army here for a few weeks now. I was out of the loop while I was on leave but our little tripartite missions are becoming more and more difficult to coordinate and conduct. The trust and partnerships we were attempting to build with both our combined checkpoints and tripartite operations is beginning to crumble...but I'm likely exaggerating the situation a bit.

The other day in Qara Tapa a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) official decided to park his car in the marketplace. This is normally not that big of a deal, many people park in the marketplace. The problem on this day however was that the Iraqi Army had reports of a possible carbomb in the area and were not letting just anyone park in the market. The soldiers told the PUK official to move his vehicle. He refused.

He was also apparently drunk (I got that bit of info from an Iraqi Army officer so it may not be true).

His friend was also apparently drunk and made the situation worse.

The PUK official tried to claim that other people were parked in the market and he should be allowed to park there as well because he was important. The IA soldiers didn't know who he was so figured he was just being an idiot. The PUK official's friend got belligerant and the IA decided they had enough of these two and detained them.

The Peshmerga brigade commander for the area got wind of this detainment and determined the best course of action was to send 75-100 Peshmerga soldiers to Qara Tapa to secure the PUK official's release.

100 Peshmerga surrounded the IA battalion HQ and blocked vehicle movement in the town. Tensions were high. We of course sent Strykers out to Qara Tapa to ensure that any fighting that broke out would be tripartite...because everything in the combined security area must involve all three parties.

Luckily, the arrival of Americans kickstarted common sense and the PUK official was released and both sides publicly apologized for the incident. It's almost too bad because had civil war broken out at that moment I could have said I was a witness to it all. I can imagine being interviewed 20 years later on the History Channel saying something like "it all started when some dumbass refused to move his car".

Now for the deep thought of the day:

About 2 weeks ago a Peshmerga vehicle blew up near an IA checkpoint. The Peshmerga blame the IA for either allowing the IED to be emplaced at the location or emplacing it themselves to blow up the Peshmerga. The IED was actually placed on the vehicle (a magnetic IED or MAIED). Intial thoughts are always "oh, it's likely just Al Qaeda attacking security forces in the area".

But what if it's deeper than that...which it most certainly is.

The soldiers blown up belong to the KDP, the other Kurdish political party. The KDP and PUK have kept seperate battalions, seperate police, and seperate intelligence services throughout Kurdistan. For the Peshmerga, the battalion you joined depended on which political party you belonged to and the two political parties funded the units that belonged to them. The Kurdish Regional Government has been attempting to combine all organizations split by party into one. For the Peshmerga, units would be merged down to platoon level.

You can never simplify things in Iraq. One must remember that there are two political parties in Kurdistan for a reason. The KDP and PUK at one time fought a mini Kurdish civil war. The two parties have been serious rivals for a long time.

Was this MAIED attack Kurd on Kurd violence? Did PUK Peshmerga soldiers deliberately plant the IED in order to do harm to rival soldiers? Or possibly to disrupt tripartite operations and were willing to sacrifice some KDP soldiers to do it?

And you thought Democrats and Republicans were bad.