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.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
In the meantime, what the deuce is going on in Iraq these days?
Well they still haven't formed a government yet. Both Maliki's coalition and Allawi's coalition continue to argue over who has the right to form the new government. Higher headquarters had predicted it would take about 3 months of political wrangling to form a new government but that a decision would definately be made by the time 3-2 SBCT and 1-14 CAV left Iraq. Of the myriad of emotions I felt as I left Iraq one of them was amusement...and a little disgust...that the government still wasn't formed.
Tom Ricks is his usual, pessimistic, glass-is-almost-empty, self in his latest blog on the situation. He links to another blog, Musings on Iraq, that discusses a new Shia organization that Iran has formed in Iraq. They are apparently responsible for an increase in rocket and mortar attacks targeting the "Green Zone" as well as the U.S. embassy; it would not surprise me to learn that they are being accused of some EFP attacks as well.
Another Iranian-backed Shia militia does not really bother me all that much and here's why: after a short term increase in attacks by this group, attacks will slowly decrease as key leaders and supply chains are captured and disrupted. For the most part, members of these organizations that pop up are just former members of Jaysh al Mahdi who broke from that group due to the constant ceasefires with U.S. and Iraqi forces. I can think of three of these organizations in Diyala while we were there and while they could be a headache, they usual did not affect things all that often...with the exception of some Shia on Shia violence. I also doubt that the formation of this organization or the return to Iraq of Ismail Hafiz al-Lami, a high level Shia militia member who aided in the slaughter of Sunnis but fled to Iran, will bring about the near civil war/concentrated genocide of 2006-2007. I do not believe the Iraqi people will stand for that and the Iraqi security forces are in a better position to prevent such an occurance again. Also, the neighborhoods in Baghdad have already been purged. The mixed neighborhoods of the past are for the most part gone so sectarian violence would be difficult to kickstart even if certain individuals wanted to try. Gruesome, but it's reality.
It's the potential for ethnic violence between Kurds and Arabs that worries me.
There is also something afoot in Jalula, the town just north of FOB Cobra. On Monday four police officers would killed by an IED in the town and yesterday a suicide carbomber attempted to attack the funeral. The attacker was killed by security forces and the car detonated without causing any injuries. I'm curious what the police in Jalula have been doing that have drawn the ire of the local "insurgents" but I have my suspicions. Attacks against the Jalula police, specifically the Jalula CID, were increasing as 1-14 was leaving country. This was due to the increasing success and targeting of insurgents and criminals in Jalula and As Sadiyah by the police. This shift was likely because of a change in leadership but I also believe our dismounted patrols with the police led to more confidence and ability of the department. These dismounted patrols did lead to the suicide carbomb attack against our soldiers in June that killed 2 and injured 6 more but were worth it in the bigger scheme of things. 2-14 CAV likely kept up the practice of doing patrols with the Jalula police.
Increase the arrests. Capture some insurgent and criminal elements. Piss off those elements. In Iraq when groups get angry, they use IEDs and carbombs. I see these attacks as a sign of progress for the police, as crazy as that sounds. I'm even impressed that the suicide bomber was stopped. If the Jalula police can keep up the pressure and not resort to some "cease fire" like other security forces in that area have done in the past, then the security situation will most definately improve. That is assuming the whole Article 140 deal determining what Arabs control and what Kurds control ever gets decided. Minor details.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
The US has responded to this shift in the conflict by increasing military aid to Pakistan, encouraging the Pakistan government to conduct operations in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), and by conducting strikes with drone UAVs...lots of strikes. We have even apparently begun to conduct military raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan, something the Pakistani government does not like.
I'm not sure how I feel about using UAVs to conduct attacks against Taliban and Al Qaida leadership in Pakistan. On one hand, it allows us to be pro-active in targeting the leadership without being forced to rely on an unreliable Pakistan security structure and also keeps the government of Pakistan happy by not having thousands of American troops sitting in their country, something the population of Pakistan would not support...nor the American population for that matter.
However, drone strikes don't always hit what we think they are hitting and there have been numerous incidents in which an attack targeting an Al Qaida leader ending up killing innocent civilians. Good intelligence is often difficult to come by and sources are not always correct.
An example of this was last February when the SF team leader on FOB Cobra came to our S3 and told him that one of their sources was stating several of our high value targets were having a meeting in a village west of the FOB. To make a long story short we went out to the village and found pretty much nothing, other than some teenagers visiting from Samarra. The next few days we pieced together what I think was the story...these teenagers likely came to the village to visit one of the sheikhs who just so happened to have a djinne inside him (a djinne is a genie or fairy); the djinne allowed him to heal people. Word got around that there were strangers visiting the village. This rumor then got to the SF source who assumed "strangers" meant "Al Qaida" and told us that there was a meeting. When pressed for names he gave us a few guys he knew we were after which would ensure we would go out there, which we did. If this was 2006/2007 we would have likely just have confirmed the location of the house and blown it up with an armed Predator UAV, but since this was 2010 and systems were limited we went out there ourselves and found nothing...but potentially saved some innocent lives. Go COIN.
In Pakistan we don't have that ability to confirm/deny reports so if a reliable source tells us a meeting is going on or a high level Al Qaida member is in a certain building we're likely going to blow it up. The average Pakistani does not approve. In fact, more and more Pakistanis are siding less with our campaign to eliminate Al Qaida and becoming more sympathetic with that organization due largely to the view that our attacks primarily kill civilians.
This is problematic because this is an area of Pakistan that is already sympathetic to the Al Qaida cause and leans "anti West". Our attacks may be playing right into the recruiting goals of Al Qaida. If in the future we are allowed to send ground forces into the area, troops will be facing an uphill battle to gain the support of the population in order to more effectively fight Al Qaida and the other organizations in the FATA.
Afghanistan/Pakistan is difficult enough without the CIA drone strikes accidently aiding the enemy. Thanks guys.
In other random thoughts, when looking up the general time for that mission we did based off really crappy intel I found a note to myself in my notebook. It reads: "UNAMI observing election sites that I recommended based off random choice...best WTF/FUBAR moment so far."
This deserves an explaination and I believe a post about the elections in March and our planning for them is due in the near future.