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.