Friday, November 26, 2010

Bah humbug

The Holidays are a great time of year and a wonderful part of this country's culture where family and friends gather to enjoy each others company, enchange gifts, and eat as much food as possible. Between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and occassionally Ramadan every so often; there are more than enough opportunities for people to gather and remind themselves what they are thankful for.

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

Snakes (I mean bombs) on a plane

I once again have access to an internet connection after my short little road trip down to Arizona. Not sure how long it will last so after this my next update may not be until the weekend when I can leech off my parents' connection.

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

See you when I see you

I'll be on the road for the next several days as I make my way to Arizona and once I arrive my connection to the internet will not be likely for a little while?

So, no posts are likely until around Thanksgiving. You're all heartbroken, I know...all 3 of you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things that make me want to kick puppies...or dig up GEN Westmoreland and kick him

The long wait for an Iraqi government is over. An agreement was reached and the new government will form with Maliki once again nominated as Prime Minister...

...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?

I will admit that in many places in Iraq...and definately Mosul...there were foreign jihadists who were there to specifically attack American soldiers and establish a fundamentalist caliphate in Iraq. However, the vast majority of "terrorists" were primarily fighting to remove the occupation forces and then defeat the "puppet government" that we had established. A very small percentage of those fighting U.S. forces saw the conflict as a continuation of the global fight against "American Imperialism".

The attitude of COL Tunnell, and unfortunately too many others in positions of power in the military, directly leads to a heavy hand that alienates the population, drives people into the waiting arms of the insurgency, and prevents the military and government from creating a cohesive strategy that focuses on the local issues that fuel the insurgency.
I don't even want to think about how people like COL Tunnell make the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan much more difficult for the rest of us. May I never had to serve under this man.

Ok, off the soapbox now

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The True Heroes

1LT Michael Vega
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

Law and Order: Diyala

On June 11, 2010 a suicide carbomb struck a dismounted platoon of American soldiers conducting a combined patrol with police and other local security forces in a neighborhood of Jalula. The platoon was from 5-20 IN and had been attached to 1-14 CAV in order to provide the squadron with more manpower to conduct missions/patrols while still manning our 5 combined checkpoints meant to ease Arab/Kurd tensions. Two soldiers were killed and multiple others wounded in the worst attack against U.S. forces in the area in well over a year. The attack was the third suicide carbombing in 4 days targeting Americans in Diyala Province.

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

Lazy blogger day

I was going to write something interesting today about 1-14's relationship, occasionally contentious, with the different special forces units operating in Diyala Province. What may interest readers the most is how I apparently not only burned the bridge with the SF unit on FOB Cobra but also pissed on the remains of the bridge and then attempted to burn the thing all over again...all without me realizing it. In my defense the SF commander was kind of a douchewaffle.

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

Goodbye is never forever...the Army is too small for that

Today I went into work for the last time. I only spent about an hour there because I only had to sign my leave form and say goodbye to my section. A lot of memories were had in that squadron...some good, some bad. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for that two year experience/adventure.

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...

Oh Iraq, it's not you, it's me...and it's complicated

Several incidents in Iraq have caught my eye in the past couple of days. Two of them held my interest because they occured in 1-14's old battlespace; the third was just to the west of our stomping grounds and very much in our "area of interest"; the fourth was an attack in Baghdad which has garnered very little media attention.

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 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.