Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Iraqi "politics"

Update 2: And there are the bombs. Of course that was easier to predict than determining when the Mariners will be mathmatically eliminated from the playoffs (a baseball joke where I'm not mocking the Cubs? Shocking!).

Update: And here we have the pressure by Maliki to have the Kurds turn over the Vice President.

Less than 72 hours after US forces leave Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for the Vice President, Tareq al-Hashemi, for suspected ties to assassinations and other attacks. Maliki has also asked the Iraqi Parliament to have a no confidence vote against Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq. Both Hashemi and Mutlaq are Sunnis who belong to the Iraqi National Movement political party led by Iyad Allawi, a major rival to Maliki. Hashemi has managed to flee to Kurdistan to avoid arrest but how long will it be before Maliki pressures the Kurds to turn him over?

Is this just standard Iraqi politics or a sign of something more sinister? After Maliki returned from his recent trip the United States, member of the National Movement began a series of political attacks and challenges against the Prime Minister. Mutlaq even called Maliki the worst dictator in Iraqi history, so the arrest orders were likely in response to these attacks.

However, this may be the beginning of a Shiite dictatorship where political disagreement by a rival party leads to accusations and arrests. It could also mean that Maliki and his political allies fear a coup attempt or a Sunni uprising. These political moves may be an attempt to mitigate that threat.

How long before AQI and JRTN take advantage of the situation? I give it a week tops before there is another major carbomb attack in Baghdad.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tell me how this really ends...

This ceremony I did not expect to see for a long, long time.

US military involvment in the Iraq conflict is officially over. It is a bitter-sweet moment for me.

Like I've mentioned a few times in this blog, I spent a majority of my Army career either preparing for or deploying to Iraq. There are a lot of memories; some good, some bad.

The conflict is not over for Iraq, however. There are still remnants of AQI and ISI running around causing problems. Can't forget about JRTN either who most likely will start making news shortly. And what about the Kirkuk issue? That likely won't get answered without violence.

I would like to go back one day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Did Iran really shoot down "The Beast"?

Look out! It's an albino stealth bomber!

Did Iran shoot down and capture a US UAV in the beginning of December? The US government is admitting that a ultra-super-double-secret-probation drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, aka "the Beast of Kandahar", did go down inside of Iran.

Having no knowledge or experience with this UAV and with access to nothing more than Google these days I can't with any certainty say that what Iran is saying is true or not. Iran did show off video of what appears to be the drone, but Iran has been known to fake military equipment in the past (fake missiles anyone?). The UAV in the video also looks remarkably undamaged for something that was either shot down and/or crashed.

The thing in the video also looks really fake, but then Hunter, Shadow, and Gray Eagle UAVs also appear kind of flimsy looking when up close.

Even if the Iranians captured part or whole of the UAV, some experts are saying it doesn't really matter anyway. Reverse engineering will be difficult at best and the RQ-170 may not even have the latest technology in terms of its sensor package.

The best part of all this? Iran is trying to play the victim. This amuses me since Iran gave Hezbollah UAVs to fly over Israel; had their own UAV shot down in Iraq in 2006; have been smuggling weapons, including EFP IEDs, to insurgent and militia groups in Iraq; AND (I find this the worst part) likely befundled the hell out of me for a several week period in 2009.

My guess? The RQ-170 crashed in Iran but the Iranians didn't get much from the pieces scattered about but are trotting out this mock up to make the US look bad. Although...the RQ-170 is Tweeting from Iran.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Kabul attack analysis

I don't usually write anything about Afghanistan and the insurgency there mostly because I am completely in the dark about much of what is going on in that country. Having spent a majority of my Army career either preparing for, or deploying to, Iraq I had enough on my plate to study, train for, and worry over. Unless I was going to be sent to Afghanistan, I wasn't about study it indepth unless I could gleam some good lessons learned.

Having said that, the suicide attacks in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif today both interest and worry the hell out of me. Close to 60 people died in the attack in Kabul which occured when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside a Shia shrine. Another 4 people were killed in Mazar-e-Sharif when a bicycle bomb went off outside the city's main mosque.

The reason for my concern is that while terrorist/insurgent groups in Afghanistan have targeted civilians in the past, attacks in Kabul have primarily targeted US/ISAF/NATO forces and the government. Mullah Omar, the Taliban emir, has even stated recently that he is concerned over the the perception that the Taliban were killing civilians. A Taliban spokesman today condemned the bombings and claimed the group was not behind either of the attacks.

In February 2006, an attack at the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq kicked off a wave of sectarian bloodshed throughout the country which led to civil war in Baghdad and caused US forces to lose virtually complete control in the capital.

Were the attacks against the Shia in Afghanistan today an attempt by an insurgent organization...most likely Al Qaida...to create a repeat of what occured in Iraq?

Shia Muslims only make up about 10-20% of Afghanistan's population as opposed to Iraq's 60-65% so an attempt at sectarian civil war is most likely not what is going on here. An expansion of the conflict by Al Qaida and other groups to attack not just NATO and the Afghan government but minority religious sects as well is more likely.

Expand the conflict, create more chaos, instill fear and lack of faith in the government. Those are the ways of the insurgent. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, anger leads to more recruits and more water for the insurgent fish to swim in.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

3-2 SBCT off to the 'Stan

3-2 SBCT deployment ceremony looking cold and rainy, just like every other ceremony on FT Lewis

My old brigade, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is currently on its way to Afghanistan for the brigade's 4th deployment and its first to Afghanistan. For budgetary and other reasons I do not quite understand they have left their Strykers behind and will be utilizing MRAPs instead.

Had I chosen to take a company command within the brigade instead of running off to southern Arizona I would most likely be joining them. Part of me really wishes that I were going.

Good luck Arrowhead.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Civilian to veteran interactions: Part II

If you have some free minutes, please take the time to read this article by Crispin Burke. In case you're curious, Crispin is an Army pilot and a major...but I try not to hold those against him. He has his own blog over at Wings Over Iraq. Tom Ricks was wise enough to host MAJ Burke's article.

The article itself is about how the author dislikes telling people he's in the military because of all the follow up questions he inevitably gets. I completely understand his reasonings and some of the questions he uses as examples make me cringe.

Now, I think it's understandable to ask someone questions when you meet them and learn what they do for a living...it's human nature. It's also polite and shows interest in what that person does. However, there are certain questions that are just plain inappropriate and I'll share some of the more irritating questions I've received in a bit.

The author goes on to explain the two general reactions that service members and veterans encounter that often make us feel uneasy The first is the hero-worship and lavish praise that, at least to me, is uncomfortable when coming from complete strangers. If you want to thank us for our service or buy us a beer, that's fine; but please, please, please do not go overboard and treat us like we're the second-coming of George Washington. A vast majority of us are not superheroes (except this guy), we're just human. Please treat us that way.

The second reaction is one of horror that we are in the military and that we are victims and should be treated as such. It's as if those individuals believe we were kidnapped from our mother's arms, forced into service, and then brainwashed to obey orders all day (for the record, I've been given only one order today, which is one more than yesterday, and that order was to go home at lunch...an order I will be following with unquestioned loyalty). Like I mentioned above, we're human and we can think for ourselves. Shocking statement I know.

So along with MAJ Burke's list of uncomfortable questions, here is my list of questions I've been asked that I dislike:

"What's Iraq like?" (How does one answer this question? Next person who asks this gets a snarky response along the lines of "it's a mystical place full of unicorns and Skittle rainbows!")

"Did you ever fire your gun?" (My dear sister asked me this once. In my opinion it's only a couple of steps away from the dreaded "did you kill anyone" question.)

"What's it like to kill someone?" (Ahh, there it is. Ask this and I automaticaly label you a douchebag who I will avoid interacting with in the future.)

"Are you a Fobbit?" (My dad asked this one. He did not know what the term meant and also did not know it's a derogatory word slung at support soldiers by combat arms so I'll give him a pass. Yes, my job kept me on the base most of the time. No, I did not avoid going "outside the wire", in fact, I did my best to get off the FOB.)

"When can you get out/When are you getting out?" (Not annoying if it's centered around me stating that I'm leaving the Army. Teeth-gnashingly irritating if it's someone I just met who thinks my time in the military is similar to a prison sentence. I think I might start asking teachers when they are getting out, see what their reaction is.)

"Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" (With Jimmy Hoffa and the Chicago Cubs' chances at a World Series.)

There you have it. A short lesson on what to do and what not to ask when a wild veteran appears. We are not victims nor are we Batman. We're just people.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love me some Somalia

Haven't written anything about Somalia in awhile, but not because there hasn't been anything going on in that little crap hole (is crap hole too harsh? Should I say dump? Or am I being too judgemental?) As I've mentioned before, Somalia fascinates me, mostly because no matter what else is going on I know I can take a look at the news in Somalia and say to myself "well the economy sucks here but at least it's not Somalia!".

I love mocking other nations. But maybe I'm just a cynical asshole.

Anyway...what's going on there these days? Kenya recently recently decided to jump into the mix after the African Union pushed Shabaab (the fundamentalist group/organization/militia fighting against the Transitional Federal Government) out of Moqadishu. Kenya entered into southern Somalia to remove the Shabaab threat in that area as well as help prevent violence from spilling over the border.

Ethiopia then decided it wanted in on some of that sweet Shabaab bashing action and sent troops into areas along its border. This is not a repeat from 2006. The government of Ethiopia is now denying that their troops entered into Somalia. Don't hide it Ethiopia. We all know Somalia is just a proxy war between you and Eritrea.

So Shabaab is now on the run and apparently can only conduct occasional attacks in Moqadishu against AU and TFG forces. On top of that Kenya is threatening to remove them from their strongholds in southern Somalia. Plus Ethiopia is likely to prevent the organization from fleeing to western Somalia and making a stand there.

What can Shabaab do? They could make an appeal to Eritrea for assistance but I don't know what good that will do. Eritrea is already in the dog house for covertly supporting Shabaab and any overt help would likely bring unwanted attention from the West like the Eye of Sauron staring down some defenseless Hobbits.

Beg big brother Al Qaida for help? That likely won't go anywhere since AQ has its own problems right now. Losing your leadership and facing constant pressure from scary UAVs in the sky makes one less inclined or capable to render assistance. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a little busy in Yemen and Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is...well hell, what has AQIM been up to? Oh, just kidnapping Europeans in Algeria. Yeah, go ask them for help Shabaab, I'm sure they'll get right on it.

I give Shabaab 6-8 months. Who knows though, they may pull a rabbit out of their hat and keep the chaos in Somalia going. Even if Shabaab is defeated though, I just can't see stability occuring in Somalia. It's just so unnatural.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From 505 to 11

The US effort in Iraq really is coming to a close. Joint Base Balad was handed over to Iraqi authorities yesterday and all I can think is...wow.

During my 2004 deployment I was part of several logistics convoys that went up to Balad to pick up parts, supplies, etc. I spent 10 days there atttending a HAZMAT handling course. It's the base where I picked up my fear of dying in a Port-O-John.

Hell, when I wanted to buy the DVD box set of Babylon 5: Season 2 and it was sold out on Camp Victory I hopped on the first convoy to Balad I could get on to get it there...it was sold out in Balad too. That's right, I risked my life to drive 2 hours in a non armored HMMWV into the Sunni Triangle with all of its IEDs, small arms fire, rockets, mortars, and RPGs just for Babylon 5.

Hey, it's a good season.

With characters like Londo here I would have driven through Sadr City to get season 3

I wonder what the mad mortarman of Balad is going to do now that there are no more US forces at the base...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Doesn't get any easier

For a time after the US invaded Afghanistan I would read the names of the troops killed in combat and look at their faces. This continued after the invasion of Iraq. It was my way of putting names and faces to the war, remind myself that it was real people involved in the conflicts.

During my second deployment I would read the names every day while I read Stars and Stripes, the military's newspaper. That was the most difficult because on numerous occasions, 58 to be exact, I recognized the names of those killed since they belonged to my brigade or were attached to my brigade. Many of those names I read immediately after attending the memorial for those soldiers.

I would eventually stop reading the names and looking at the faces. As I spent more and more time in the Army and met more and more people I feared that I would see a familiar name. A former coworker. A comrade. A friend.

This past Saturday there was a suicide attack in Kabul that killed 5 ISAF soldiers. One of them was LTC Dave Cabrera who I knew from my time in 296 BSB while he was assigned as the 3-2 SBCT mental health officer.

That's then Major Cabrera in happier times prior to my promotion ceremony in Mosul, November 2006. Why does it look like he's about to punch me? It's because I looked away when he was talking to me wasn't it? Stupid lieutenant, never turn your back from a field grade! They are quick to anger!

I saw his name today among those who were killed. For some reason I was curious about the attack and read the names. He left behind a wife and 4 children.

We ate a few meals together those 5 months in Mosul before the brigade was sent down to Baghad and LTC Cabrera moved on to another assignment. Spent some time in his office chatting as well.

Rest in peace, sir.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Yeah, I didn't see this coming at all...

Around 8 months ago, way way back in March Andrew Exum aka Abu Muqawama discussed an interesting report from West Point's Harmony Project. I also wrote about the report which you can read here and get caught up on where I'm coming from when I point you to my next link.

To summarize, if you do not feel like clicking links, in October 2007 some documents were captured in Sinjar, Iraq. Those documents indicated that many foreign fighters coming to Iraq to fight the infidels (that would be the US and its allies) were from Libya, and more specifically eastern Libya.

Back in March I was not sure we could entirely trust the Libyan rebels who had their center of gravity and most support in eastern Libya. What exactly were their motivations? Now that Colonel Gadaffi has been "eliminated", who will really run the show in Libya?

Now we come to the link I mentioned above. The flag of Al Qaeda has been seen flying over the courthouse in Benghazi. Locals are stating "Islamists" are driving around in brand new SUVs waving the flag as well.

I realize that the US government faced a tough decision when it came to the Libyan revolution/insurrection/rebellion (what the hell was it anyway?). Do we back the dictator or do we back the rebels who may or may not be backed by our current boogeyman?

Hopefully this is just an isolated incident, but it appears to this lowly captain that the situation in Libya is looking more and more like what happened in Afghanistan. In 10 years are we going to be backing the Taureg tribe in a civil war against an Al Qaida controlled government? Would we even bother waiting 10 years?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is an arrest in Iraq ever just an arrest?

Update: Over 615 Sunni "Baathists" were arrested over this past weekend. Yeah, this isn't political at all. How long before we reach the "Sunni red line" and the Sunnis say a collective "fuck it" and through their full support to AQI and JRTN?

On Sunday Iraqi security forces detained 47 people in the provinces of Kirkuk and Diyala including 21 people in my old stomping ground in northeast Diyala. Those arrested included former Iraqi Army officers and members of the old Baath Party.

Are these arrests an indication that Iraq is getting serious about the Baathist threat as American forces withdraw or were these arrests merely a political action designed to remove rivals to the ruling party?

My guess is that it's the latter.

The widrawal of US forces from Diyala today has absolutely nothing to do with the timing of these detainments I'm sure.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More movie comments...Armadillo

After several months of waiting Netflix finally has the documentary Armadillo available and I managed to find a free couple of hours in my incredibly busy schedule (ha!) to watch it and take some mental notes. If you are not familiar, Armadillo came out in 2010 and is about a platoon of Danish soldiers stationed at FOB Armadillo (later renamed Budwan and since closed) in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The movie documents the lives of the soldiers from the days prior to deploying and through their 6 month deployment. If you haven't seen it and have an interest in the challenges, as well as the daily life of a soldier, I highly recommend it along with Restrepo, a documentary that also came out in 2010 and follows a platoon of US soldiers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.

That's not the look of an actor folks, that's true emotion

There were a number of interesting things I picked up while watching the movie which I will of course share with you:

- Danish soldiers act very much like American soldiers (I'm not sure why this surprised me). They hire strippers before they deploy, bitch about the deployment, and on their free time they do PT, play video games, and watch porn. If they weren't all speaking Danish I would swear they were American.

- They were authorized to grow beards. Several of the soldiers, including the officers, grew facial hair and kept nice, clean beards. This is something I wish US forces who have consistant contact with locals in Iraq and Afghanistan would be allowed to do. Having facial hair is a sign of wisdom and respect in Afghanistan and Iraq (at least in the less urban areas) and virtually all the elders grow beards (or bushy mustaches in the case of Iraq).

- The patrols were conducted by foot with a vehicle nearby in overwatch. This allowed the soldiers to interact with the locals and get to know them as well as have the protection of heavy weapons close at hand.

- Several of the soldiers spoke the local language. Clearly language training was pushed hard by the Danish military thus eliminating the need for (potentially unreliable) translators.

- After each patrol an after action review (AAR) was conducted...at least that's what the documentary led me to believe. I know at the beginning of a deployment and during training AAR's are conducted by the US Army but those tend to fall by the wayside after a few months. You always have something to learn and improve on, AAR's are part of that process.

- On the first patrol out, the platoon leader talked with the locals but asked very basic questions (Is the Taliban here? Where are the Taliban fighters? Etc). I know it's their first time out but come on. The look the civilians gave eachother was priceless, something like "ugh, not this shit again. Damn rookies."

- The company had a Raven UAV and used it. Too many times have American companies deployed with their Raven UAV only to keep it locked away in a storage container and then bitch at the S2 for not getting them enough UAV coverage (I'm looking at you Crazyhorse troop!).

- Spoke Danish with eachother but English over the radio. This was likely done to standardize comms. They were on a British FOB and the company fell under the command of a British battalion so this just makes sense. I still found it fascinating though.

- The company commander or platoon leader briefed each patrol before it went out making sure the patrol understood what its mission was and the purpose for going on the patrol. Ask an American private patrolling in Afghanistan and I am willing to bet he has no idea of the purpose of that patrol. You don't leave the wire just for the sake of leaving the wire.

- The Afghans asked soldiers what religion they were, specifically if they were Jewish. Not sure what was going on there but no Iraqi ever asked me what religion I was, it just wasn't brought up. My ignorance of Afghanistan is pretty high but I have to wonder if this indicated a high level of extremism in the area.

- At one point in the movie the Danes witness (using that wonderful Raven) 3 or 4 suspected Taliban either burying weapons in a compound or about to set up a mortar system (wasn't quite clear to me) so they call in an artillery strike. Boom. Suspected insurgents dead. The Danes go to the compound later and talk with two elderly men who claim animals were killed and would like compensation. The platoon leader tells the men if they come by the FOB the next day they can be compensated. The men say that if they go to the FOB the Taliban will likely kill them. This goes on for a bit and the Danish officer tells the me something along the lines of "we all need to work together". The two elderly men exchange a glance that I have seen time and time and time and time again. They are caught between an invading force who they don't like and isn't around 24 hours a day and an extremist group who they also probably don't like but who will kill them, or make their life hell, if they cooperate with the "western invaders." That's the bitch about an insurgency, you aren't going to kill the locals if they don't cooperate (or you shouldn't be killing them anyway); the insurgents WILL kill the locals if they cooperate with you.

- Where was the Afghan Army or Afghan police in all of this? Why weren't they imbedded with the Danish soldiers?

When the Danes came home after 6 months the local town threw them a parade. Good for the Danes, even if they didn't agree with the war they celebrated their soldiers and welcomed them home.

We never got a parade...but I'm not sure any of us in 1-14 Cav or 3-2 SBCT really wanted one.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Counter insurgency lessons from Pan's Labyrinth?

So I watched Pan's Labyrinth last night for the first time and I began the movie knowing virtually nothing about it other than it was some kind of fantasy story directed by Guillermo del Toro. Color me surprised when I found myself not only enjoying the film, but discovering some interesting lessons in conducting an insurgency and fighting one.

The movie takes place at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1944 with a company of pro-fascist/Franco soldiers hunting down a band of communist guerrillas. I'll do my best to avoid ruining the movie but there are some spoilers so if you plan on seeing the film you might just want to stop reading.

The company is led by a sadistic captain whose actions and cruelty lead not only to his downfall, but the complete destruction of his company. However, a few of his decisions and tactics would be successful to combat an insurgency if combined with less violent techniques.


- CPT Vidal used horses for the movements of his small patrols. The terrain around his headquarters was wooded mountains and using armored vehicles would have been useless since they would have been restricted to the few roads in the area. Now it is entirely likely that all he had at his disposal were horses since this was 1944 Spain just after a civil war, but the use of horses was still a wise one.

-The use of small patrols. Instead of using the entire company for large (and generally pointless) "clearance operations", CPT Vidal sent his men out in groups of 10-15 soldiers when investigating signs of the guerrilla band.

- Use of ration cards to control access to food/supplies. The company commander had all of the local village's food and supplies located in the barn at the headquarters building. The villagers had a ration card per family and had to go to the company HQ to get their food for the week. This helped (or should have helped, but we'll get to that later) limit the amount of food and supplies the villagers could supply to the insurgents. When the villagers were getting their food, a soldier from the company would then distribute propaganda to the locals (get your message to the people!). While this measure may seem overly controlling, the British did have success with this sort of tactic in Malaysia...although the British did it better by sealing off the villages.


- pretty much everything else CPT Vidal did. I'll start with the placement of the company HQ. It was a farmhouse near where the guerrilla band was hiding and operating. He should have placed it in the village instead (I'm assuming there was a village, you never see one in the movie) so he could better control the population and prevent the insurgents from having access to the village. If the insurgents can't get into the village, they can't get food, supplies, or new recruits and will eventually wither away. By placing the HQ in the farmhouse, CPT Vidal was only prolonging the fight. He may believe he is taking the fight to the enemy, but he is only going to cause more casualties to his soldiers and may not gain success agains the insurgent band who more than likely will just move to a different location.

- near the beginning of the movie CPT Vidal's soldiers bring him 2 men they suspect of being guerrillas. They claim to be only farmers and were out hunting rabbits. They have some communist propaganda on them so CPT Vidal kills them both. Rabbits are then discovered in the farmers' bag and CPT Vidal chides the sergent for not doing a proper search. By killing these two suspects CPT Vidal gives the locals a reason to hate him (or even more reasons) which plays right into the hand of the local guerrilla forces.

- killing wounded insurgents. Dead men can't give information so by killing a wounded insurgent you eliminate any ability to question him, either right there on the spot or later when he recovers. It also highlights your cruelty which once again enables insurgent propaganda.

- torturing prisoners. One occasion where CPT Vidal's soldiers did capture an insurgent CPT Vidal personnally tortured the prisoner in order to gain information. Torture does not help your cause, will likely lead to false information, and further alienates the population against you. But CPT Vidal was a fascist, so he likely didn't give a damn.

- over extending your forces. When the insurgents conducted an attack against a train CPT Vidal for some reason sent nearly his entire company to investigate the incident. The attack was a diversion and once most of the troops were away, the insurgents attacked the headquarters building and with the help of an inside informant, captured most of the food and supplies located at the HQ. CPT Vidal should have sent a smaller force to the train who could then call for reinforcements if needed.

The communist guerrillas in the movie conducted themselves brilliantly (it helps to have a script writer). They had informants at the farmhouse who could get them news, mail, and some supplies; they avoided attacking a large force; used diversions to distract the fascist forces before conducting a raid; ambushed smaller fascist elements which eventually enabled the destruction of CPT Vidal's company.

My favorite line in the movie:

CPT Vidal: "Tell my son the time that his father died. Tell him..."
Mercedes: "No. He won't even know your name."

Damn good movie, but I was distracted for part of it as I pondered which side of that war I would have taken...communist or fascist. Both are equally horrible in my opinion. Eventually determined I would go with the communists because perhaps you can encourage a socialist democracy/republic be created. I could live with that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Computer viruses happen to the best of us

I mentioned in my last post that my laptop computer was hit with a nasty little virus that I couldn't seem to get rid of. Not much of a big deal since I hate that computer anyway and only use it when I travel; but when I read the other day that the Air Force's drone fleet has been hit with a virus that they can't rid of as well I was a bit relieved. If it can happen to them then i don't feel as bad.

Apparently the virus that has affected the Predator and Reaper UAV systems is a "keylogger" and hasn't affected the flights of the drones...yet. The primary issue is that the IT guys just can't get rid of the bastard. Every time they remove the virus it pops up again. Makes me believe that somebody keeps uploading games onto the computer systems using a thumb drive.

But anyway, it doesn't appear at the moment that this virus was put into the system by any foreign government or experienced computer hacker...it just got there on accident. In a few months it will probably evolve to displaying pop up ads for penis enlargement while you're trying to view the feed...

Do I want a bigger Hellfire? Well now that the nice ad mentions it...

There is one other little "oops" with all of this. Apparently Creech Air Force Base, where the "pilots" of the drones are located, didn't bother to inform the Air Force's cybersecurity unit of the virus. The cybersecurity guys found out about it from Danger Room. That's some egg on your face. Kind of like when I found out from CNN during my second deployment that I was extended for another 3 months instead of hearing it first from my chain of command.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kurds, Ke$ha, and Kinetic Strikes

I was in the Maryland/DC area this past weekend for a wedding and also visiting some friends. I had planned to do a quick post on some recent interesting stories, however my laptop picked up a nasty virus that I couldn't eliminate so that plan went out the window. That may be a sign that I should switch to an iPad...we'll see. DC has also managed to find itself high up on the list of places that I will job hunt in, it's in a tight race with Seattle/Tacoma of where I should settle for the next few years. The decision is really going to be decided more by where I can actually get a job as opposed to where I want to go. I will say this though, if Seattle were to snag an NHL team it would be the clear winner, but then again, I've never heard Ke$ha being blasted from the Space Needle, whereas the Treasury building is apparently hoppin late at night...

The Treasury Department knows what it's like to wake up in the mornin' feelin' like P. Diddy

Anyway, Joel Wing over at Musings On Iraq has an interesting article on the Kurds deploying two more Peshmerga battalions into the Diyala province back in August. The Kurdish Regional Government appears to be seriously maneuvering in order to annex the Khaniqan District (and the Kifri District along with it) into Kurdistan taking advantage of the withdrawal of US forces who at this point can do nothing other than escort the new units into their positions. I'm interested to know how the Sunni Arab pro-Saddam Kurwi tribe that controls the town of Jalula and the surrounding area are handling this news. I'd really love to know how they will react if the Kurds are successful in annexing the district. I suspect an increase in activity by JRTN and a resurgence of Ansar al Sunna and Jaysh al Islami will occur. If the KRG and the Government of Iraq were smart they would redraw the district boundaries and allow the Kurds to have Kifri and Khanaqin while Diyala kept the majority Arab towns of Qara Tapa, Jalula, As Sadiya, and the oil town of Naft Khana. That just might be enough of a compromise to make everyone happy.

As you may already be aware, an airstrike likely killed Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen. Awlaki was an American born cleric who was an operational commander for Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and was also responsible for the English language propaganda newsletter "Inspire". Does the killing of Awlaki strike a blow against AQAP? Most likely. Am I completely happy about the strike? Not exactly. I'm not really comfortable with the US government assassinating its own citizens without a trial. However, Awlaki was in a combat zone actively fighting against a US ally and calling for attacks against the United States and its interests. I'm not exactly shedding any tears here.

If you have any interest in reading about the legality debate about the strike, Danger Room has a good article on it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Women voting? How scandalous!

I'm going to break from what I usually blog about to share a news article that I woke up to when I checked BBC online this morning. In a shocking (to me anyway) move towards reform the king of Saudi Arabia announced that women would be granted the right to vote.

Women will be allowed to vote in municipal elections as well have the right to be appointed to the Shura Council. Was this done due to pressure from the West or was it a way of attempting to avoid an "Arab Spring" movement in Saudi?

I wonder how the religious police and conservative citizens of the country will handle this.

Next thing you know they'll be showing off ankles and such

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

One more thing to inflate my ego

Had the pleasure of running into one of my NCOs from 1-14 Cav today during lunch. He was my senior HUMINTer after SSG Tirador was lost and did an outstanding job of focusing the Squadron's HUMINT soldiers and improving the team while at the same time keeping Brigade off our back and then later was instrumental in establishing the base defense cell for FOB Cobra. I have no doubt that my intelligence section would not have as successful as it was without this NCO and it was great to get to spend a few minutes reminicsing about the deployment.

One of the subjects he brought up was this individual who we managed to capture in the beginning of February 2010 with the assistance of the Special Forces team at FOB Caldwell. I mentioned the capture in this blog post where I commented that I was wondering if the capture would accomplish anything.

The detainment at the time was a great moment for my section and the troop responsible for the southern portion of our OE (operating environment) where this individual was conducting attacks. At the beginning of the deployment we had a sudden spike in attacks in the Niddawi tribal area that at first I believed to be due to the insurgents increasing their attacks due to my squadron being the new kids in town. Our sources quickly pointed the finger at the above mentioned individual as being the cell leader in the area and who had recently returned from being in prison. Our local security force partners were unwilling to assist us with this individual partly due to him being a relation of one of the powerful sheikhs in the area and refused to believe that this individual was a bad guy.

We worked the issue for months gathering as much evidence as we could to include plenty of HUMINT as well as SIGINT. It helped that one of our sources happened to be a low level member of our bad guy's cell. The Special Forces team was essential in our targeting because they had access to UAV systems that we did not and what systems we did have were being utilized in the northern portion of our OE; this team also did much of the grunt work in gaining the warrant for this individual's arrest. The detainment came late one night in early February with the Special Forces conducting the raid along with the Mandali city SWAT and our A troop providing the outer cordon.

As for the effect, IED attacks in the Niddawi tribal area dropped considerably and the majority of attacks that occured after the detainment were most likely the result of the tribal turmoil in the region and not terrorist/insurgent related. It was a good capture.

Which brings me back to my run in with my old NCO. He happened to mention, which I did not know at the time, that not only was our target one of our "top 10" and a brigade target, but apparently he was a Theater level target as well, meaning that he was on someone's radar up at Corps. How true that actually is I have no idea and will likely never know, but having captured a Theater level target, something few battalions ever do, is one more thing I get to brag about.

Friday, September 16, 2011

TDY and Twitter comments

Anchorage, AK...minus the moose dodging

I've been TDY to Anchorage, AK obeserving CoIST training on FT Richardson for the past week which is why there have been a lack of updates. 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division appears to be taking the whole company intelligence cell concept pretty seriously; they've already had a mobile training team up here several months back, had more training at the Joint Readiness Training Center in FT Polk, LA, and then have brought the MTT back here this week for some more advanced training. It's good to see an organization embracing the concept which will no doubt be extremely helpful in their upcoming Afghanistan deployment.

Continuing along with my Afghanistan train of thought, there was an all day assualt in Kabul conducted by Taliban fighters. What I find most interesting about this attack was not the attack itself, but the information ops (IO) conducted immediately after and even during the fight. The NATO public affairs office posted a YouTube video of the attack and the response to it. Normally it takes days or even weeks NATO/ISAF/US forces to put out our spin on events so somebody was really on the ball.

Even more amusing is the Twitter battle that occured between the ISAF press office and a Taliban sympathizer. Does this seem a bit childish? Hell yeah it does, but shit-talking across trench lines between combatants is also childishly absurd and yet a time honored warrior tradition. I would have loved to engaged in this kind of modern trash talking with some of the punks we faced in Iraq in '09-10.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hemorrhaging officers: Part III, This Captain's Story

There is a bit of news that I have let my family and most of my friends know (and have even made it official by posting it on Facebook) but have failed to mention on this blog, although I've hinted at it a bit...

I have decided to leave the Army next year.

There are several reasons for the decision which I will get into but for the most part the reasons fall in line with why my fellow captains as well as mid-level NCOs are leaving. If you feel inclined you can read about why the future of the Army is choosing to leave the service in a couple of my blog posts here and here. If you don't feel like going back and reading, the top 3 reasons given for leaving the service were:

1) lack of career control
2) quality of life
3) military bureaucracy

So why am I leaving?

Like I said, it's a number of reasons but the biggest one for me is that it's time to move on. I never saw myself doing a full 20 years in the Army and I'm actually a bit surprised that I've made it 8 years. My current job is dull, fairly uneventful, and boring and while there is the benefit of not deploying I feel like there are interesting jobs that I could be doing that don't deploy me. Instead, the Army has stuck me in an office with little responsibility, almost as if I've been put in a corner and told to wait until I'm needed for another deployment. Can I find something else, either on FT Huachuca or another post? Sure, but 8 years is a good time to leave; if I were closer to 10 years it would just be stupid to leave.

Another primary reason is the lack of feeling valued by FT Huachuca and the Army in general. Huachuca was no where near the top of my list of duty stations to be stationed at when Branch sent me the list of positions/duty stations and asked me to send them back my wish list. I had been here twice already for officer basic and the career course and I really wanted to see what else the Army had to offer. I could have left the Army after my last deployment in '10 but I chose to PCS to Huachuca because Branch told me I was being sent here to be an instructor. This made sense since I had 7 years in the Army at that point and 3 deployments to Iraq; the system was taking advantage of my experience and training while at the same time giving me a much needed break from constant deployments. There was just one problem...

...the G1 section (personnel) at Huachua decided to divert me from being an instructor and instead send me somewhere into the bowels of USAICoE (United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence). To add to the insanity, when I signed in with HQ USAICoE, nobody could tell me which directorate or organization I was supposed to be assigned to...they weren't expecting me. Phone calls were made to G1 but the calls went unanswered, so the commander of HQ USAICoE (a captain, go figure) decided I should go to G3 to assist with the upcoming Intel Warfighting Seminar. Looking back I'm pretty sure he was trying to help a friend of his up at G3 who was swamped with this project and needed bodies, but he shouldn't have that kind of power nor should he have done that to someone who was permanent party. If I'm assigned to G3 fine, I'm assigned to them, but don't just start tossing officers willy nilly all over the place just because you can't get ahold of G1.

So, being the good soldier that I am I went over to G3 to find out from the captain working the IWS exactly what my duties would be. I still hadn't inprocessed post yet and so I assumed that my duties wouldn't begin until that was completed the following week. How wrong I was.

The captain I was being assigned to (being assigned to another captain should have set off all kinds of warning lights) sat me down to get to know me and asked me when my career course date was. Clearly she thought I was just a holdover waiting on a course and she seemed to become rather confused when I told her I graduated the MICCC back in '08. Undaunted by her confusion of a permanent party captain being assigned to help a temporary project she then told me my duty would be to assist another captain (former Air Force officer who switched to Army and who was waiting on a career course slot, i.e., a holdover) in vacuuming and cleaning up classrooms for the IWS. You read that correctly, a captain in the United States Army who is a veteran of 3 Iraq tours with a primary look for major less than a year away and who was supposed to be an instructor was going to be assigned as essentially a janitor. WTF over?

It got worse. She then asked me if I had any family. After telling her that I did not she said, "Good, because you won't be seeing them much. I'll need you to come in this weekend to help stuff gift bags for the IWS. Next week you'll work on creating name tags."


Beyond baffled, and still playing the good soldier, I went over to the classrooms to be cleaned and helped the other captain for a couple of hours until lunch time. After lunch it was determined that I was actually supposed to be assigned to the Training, Doctrine, and Support Directorate...this bit of information had actually been emailed to the HQ commander that morning but he had failed to read it. This was a Thursday and it actually took until Monday for the XO of TDS to figure out where to officially put me due to me not being on any gains roster and not being expected. Honestly, how incompetent are the personnel sections at this post?

I was assigned as the executive officer of the Training Division, one of several divisions under the TDS directorate. My new boss told me he was glad to have me, but that there was no space to put me. I would spend the next several months cubicle hopping and jumping on open computers before a permanent space was found for me. This wasn't too much of an issue since in the first 7 months in the division, I spent 3 months on temporary assignments to FT Benning, GA and FT Bliss, TX. As it appears to me, my experiences and expertise are not as valued so much as having a body in which to send on taskers.

So there you have it. From my perspective FT Huachuca, and thus the Army, only values my ability to push a vacuum around and having a pulse so I can fill taskers given to the directorate. It's really not surprising that after hearing my story the brigade commander stated, "No wonder you are getting out."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

They don't pay me enough to put up with this

Everybody loves a good top 10 list so I've combed through my notes from my past deployments to bring you some of the "Top 10 Dumbest Things Ever Asked Me As the S2". These are in no real order and I have also included an brief explaination as to why they are dumb. A few of these questions are straight up stupid, others are based on the individual's false belief or perception that I had some magical box with all the answers.

10. *During a near-daily battalion update brief where I had just finished discussing a carbomb that targeted a patrol of MPs returning to Mosul from Irbil killing the female platoon leader.*
"Did the insurgents target her because she is a woman?" - female company commander in the BSB.

- This question really threw me off because if you've ever seen soldiers fully kitted up and inside an up-armored HMMWV you know that it is pretty much impossible to tell what sex they are. Also, while women do not generally have the same rights as men in Arab culture and in many cases are subservient to men, I have never known a case where Iraqis were upset that American women had more rights and roles and served in our military. The idea that insurgents somehow saw this patrol in Irbil, recognized the platoon leader was female, tracked them all the way back to Mosul, and then targeted the lead vehicle with a suicide carbomb is utterly ridiculous.

9. *Same meeting directly after the "targeting her because she's a woman question".*
"Was she wearing a seatbelt?" -medical company commander

- I didn't have pictures at the time of this attack but the carbomb rammed the front of the HMMWV and completely destroyed the front right of the vehicle. I'm not sure if there was much left of the platoon leader. No, seatbelts do not protect you from suicide carbombs. I think I stammered something about not having that information and getting back to the company commander. Luckily the battalion XO stepped in at that point and moved us on, thus saving me from more stupid questions like if the HMMWV was low on oil or something.

8. *Morning update sometime in late '06 after North Korea possibly conducted an underground nuclear test. I'll remind you that I'm in Iraq, worrying about Mosul, not the Korean peninsula...*
"Did North Korea detonate a nuclear device or was it something else? What is your analysis?" - BSB battalion XO

- I loved the XO, he was hands down my best boss and still ranks as the top 1 or 2 best XOs I've ever served under. However, I'm not sure what he was expecting out of me with this question. At the time the US had no idea what NK had set off and all the surrounding countries each had their own official opinions. I was a BSB S2, not a nuclear weapons expert on the Korean peninsula.

7. *Battalion update brief some time in 2007 in Baghdad after one of the brigade Stryker patrols had been hit with an IED which consisted of a chemical weapon artillery shell.*
"Why isn't the media reporting on the chemical weapon attacks? Doesn't this prove Saddam had WMD?!" -BSB command sergeant major

- This was just part of the rant the CSM launched at me after I briefed this particular attack. The artillery shell likely came from a stockpile of chemical weapons that the old Iraqi Army had but hadn't destroyed yet, or forgot about. These stockpiles were known to the UN and the US and were not part of the WMD reasoning when Iraq was invaded/liberated. The insurgents who used this round likely didn't even know the shell had chemical weapons in it. Despite trying to explain this to the CSM he kept at me like I had somehow failed to alert the national media about this. Once again, the battalion XO had to intervene and move the briefing along.

6. *Another battalion update brief where I just discussed an indirect fire attack that hit Baghdad International Airport and I stated the rounds were likely meant to target the military (US controlled) side of the airport.*
"What do you mean by 'the military side of the airport'? Isn't it all the military side?" -BSB headquarters company commander

- I fully believe the company commander was trying to stump me, or prove that I didn't know what I was talking about. However, in 2007 Baghdad International was clearly divided into two parts: the US controlled part where we flew all our aircraft out of, and the civilian side which had civilian aircraft operating and was controlled by the Iraqi civilian government. When I stated that insurgents were trying to hit the military side I was essentially implying that they weren't trying to hit Iraqi civilian aircraft. I guess this was a difficult concept to grasp.

5. *Morning update sometime in 2007.*
"Which province is the most dangerous right now?" -BSB commander

- In 2006/07 asking me which province was the most dangerous was similar to asking me which member of the Village People was the gayest. They are pretty much all dangerous. Also, what is your criteria? Most attacks or most attacks that cause casualties or most attacks against civilians? I realize that the battalion commander was trying to gauge where our brigade might be sent to next since we were the Corps reserve and we had just about cleared all of Baghdad at that point, but seriously, give me a heads up for this type of question so I can be bettered prepared. I threw out Anbar as the most dangerous because in '06/07 Anbar could reasonably seen as the answer to any similar question.

4. *Troop commander wanders into my office in 2009.*
"I need 24 hour UAV coverage for 3 days straight. Can you get that?" -1-14 Cav troop commander

- By 2009 aerial intelligence assets in Iraq had dwindled considerably as the US began its drawdown. On a given day I could expect a few hours coverage from a UAV plus some helicopters. If I worded the request right and promised the BDE S2 my first born child I could possibly get a predator UAV for most of the day; but to get 24 hour coverage, especially for several days was an absurd notion that would get me laughed at. The troop commander wanted to confirm/deny smuggling in a certain area...which was not a high priority at brigade or division. The troop commander even got angry with me for not supporting him after I explained why we couldn't get that kind of coverage. Whatever dude, you've got a raven UAV in your troop, use it.

3. *Several encounters with S3 (operations) NCOs over the course of the '09-10 deployment.*
"What is the location of *insert Iraqi security force* checkpoint/HQ/base? You guys are S2, don't you know everything? -various 1-14 Cav S3 NCOs

- I ran the S2 section. That means we tracked enemy forces, not friendly. The various Iraqi security forces (police, army, oil police, etc) were friendly (for the most part) forces. It is one of the many jobs of the S3 section to track friendly forces on the battlefield. Asking my section, usually one of my analysts bore the brunt of these questions, where a particular friendly unit was is essentially admitting you aren't doing your job. And no, we don't know everything, the crystal ball has been broken for some time now.

2. *Email from the S3 (a major).*
"Why does Task Force (Rangers) have intel on these individuals that we don't have? Tell TF they need to share their sources." -1-14 S3

- It became pretty clear at the beginning of the deployment that our S3 really didn't have much of a clue as to what the S2 section could and could not do as well as what our assets and capabilities were. You'd think that after being the XO and the S3 in the squadron for over 2 years he would have some concept, but he didn't. Task Force was the organization created to hunt down Sunni insurgents that posed the most threat plus gather intel that would lead to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaida in Iraq. They would fly into our area about once a week and grab a couple of guys, individuals I usually had no information on. Most of the time the individuals detained were associates of an associate to someone more important. Since these guys weren't usually responsible for the instability in our particular area, they weren't on my radar. The S3 didn't like this and all he saw was somebody who wasn't us detaining people. Yes, they had sources and collection assets that we didn't have. No, they weren't going to share.

1. *Intel update sometime in 2009*
"Where did the carbombs go?" -1-14 S3

- Spend any amount of time in Iraq and you'll see report after report of possible carbombs moving through your area of operations. As the S2 it was my responsibility to sort through these reports and determine if they were credible or not. For the most part these reports were false, either the sources they came from were wrong or misinformed or the Iraqi Army was just reporting on rumors. After seeing several "blue bongo VBIED moving through Diyala" reports and nothing going boom I could discount the reports for the most part. I would make sure the report was passed on to my Iraqi counterparts and the troop commanders, but there wasn't much more I could do, or was willing to do for phantom carbombs. The S3, however, was convinced that every report was factual and after a week of heavy carbomb reports then asked the above question. While I wanted to say something snarky like the carbombs were waiting right outside the gate I instead calmly and rationally told him about false reports and rumors. He wasn't convinced and I spent a couple of weeks wasting time, energy, and assets looking for phantom carbombs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rebelz can haz Tripoli?

Last night, when I should have been going to bed, I was surfing the internet and found out that the rebels in Libya had begun their assault on Tripoli. At most they had already taken much of the city and at the least were on the outskirts and conducting raids into Tripoli.

The rebels are claiming to control the capital, but I'll believe that when the bullets stop flying. They've also managed to capture two of Gadhafi's sons, however the leader himself still remains at large.

Good for the rebels who a few short months ago looked like they were going to get crushed. Although they probably would have if it wasn't for NATO air power. My outstanding analyst skills can be seen at work back in March. Read that last paragraph and you'll know why military intelligence is often just guess work. But hey, I'm just a captain sitting behind an unclassified computer with no access to any of that "secret stuff" at the moment, you can't expect me to be perfect.

A good intel officer is often only right 51% of the time...so they told us way back in officer basic. I'll just keep telling myself that.

And just so we don't all forget, the rebels aren't exactly people the US can automatically trust. If you don't believe me, go watch Rambo III. Libya may just turn out like Afghanistan, but that's probably just the cynic in me.

Assuming Allah doesn't strike down the rebels it appears as if the Gadhafi regime is indeed over in Libya. Is it time to focus our attention on Syria? How long will the Assad regime last? Was the focus of NATO and the US on Libya while seemingly ignoring Syria a strategy that would keep us out of two conflicts at a time? Focus on one before becoming distracted with another conflict? That sort of reminds me of something the US failed to do back in 2003...

Update: This should just about do it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kurds continue to push on Diyala

Time for my paranoid and pessimistic side to come out in regards to Iraq. The parliament of Iraq's Kurdistan has voted to send more Peshmerga forces into the Diyala province, specifically around the towns of Jalula and As Sadiyah. My hope is that this is more of a bluff and that the vote is meant to "encourage" the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces already around Jalula and As Sadiyah to do more about the violence that is reported to be occuring against Kurds in the area.

However, this could actually be a serious move by the Kurds to once again lay claim the the region, by force if necessary. Due to the upcoming pull out of US forces the Kurds likely feel that they can get away with pushing the Kurd/Iraq border farther to the south and are justifying by claiming they are doing it for security puposes.

From what I witnessed of the Peshmerga in 2009/10, they weren't that good of a fighting force, especially the elements in Diyala. Most of their best units were around Kirkuk and Mosul. During discussions about the abilities of the Peshmerga amongst the 1-14 Cav staff about how the Kurds did fend off the Iraqi Army during the '90s the XO pointed out that Kurdistan is mountainous and "a troop of Girl Scouts can defend a mountain pass". The current Iraqi Army would likely sweep away any Peshmerga resistance in Diyala if given the orders to re-take territory from the Kurds.

If the Kurds do become aggressive in Diyala and Baghdad responds by sending more forces to the province, or just order the units in the area to push back against the Kurds, then violence is more than likely going to break out...with the Kurds on the losing side. The loss of Khanaqin may even cause a ripple effect along the entire disputed border.

With luck, cooler heads will prevail, as they did in 2008 when an Iraqi Army brigade (4/1 IA) was ordered into the Jalula/Khanaqin area to push out the Kurdish Peshermerga forces in the region. The IA brigade commander and Pesh commander actually met and settled on the line of control which prevented any bloodshed.

I'm just not convinced that peace will be able to be maintained without US forces looking over everyone's shoulder. For that matter, why is the UN not involved?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hope in Somalia?

The flag of Anarchy, Famine, and Chaos

For those of you not following international news, there are some very interesting things occuring in Somalia. First off, there's a nasty famine sweeping the country, which to be perfectly honest, just seems like par for the course in that part of the world. However, due to said famine, fascinating developments have, well, developed.

The most important of those developments is that Shabaab forces have left the capital of Mogadishu. Shabaab, in case you have forgotten, is the Al Qaida linked organization that has been fighting for control of Somalia for a few years now. As you can read in the article, the group's leaders are claiming that the famine has limited their ability to raise support and funding so they have no choice but to withdraw from the city and allow food aid to be distributed. Is this really the case or has pressure from African Union forces and the Transitional Federal Government's troops finally pushed out Shabaab? Perhaps a combination of events? If your organization is really fighting to control the country, why pull out of the capital to allow food to be distributed? Is that an open admission that your militia forces are disrupting aid to the people?

The AU and TFG moved in quickly to those areas of Mogadishu formerly occupied by Shabaab, but not without some violence. Rearguard forces left by Shabaab engaged government forces moving in, but the government is claiming that it now controls most of Mogadishu. Amnesty is even being offered to Shabaab fighters, and if that's not a good sign I don't know what is.

With Shabaab apparently "on the run" or at least conducting "tactical withdrawals" (it's called retreating!), now would be an excellent opportunity for the US to step up and do what it can to help stabilize Somalia and hopefully turn it back into a functioning nation. Of course with our current debt crisis, Afghanistan, Iraq, and a likely refusal of the American people to accept getting involved with yet another conflict, I highly doubt the US will even think about sending anything other than aid to Somalia.

There's also this little incident that many people still remember.

But this is my blog, which means my world. Back in 2009 I wrote a post discussing how I would advance the insurgency in Somalia and potentially defeat the government there. Well, last night I wrote up some notes on how I think the US and allies should deal with Somalia in order to end the Shabaab insurgency and hopefully bring about stability for the country. Yeah, because that has worked so well for us in the past. Anway, here's what I have:

-Naval blockade to focus on defeating or at least disrupting piracy as well as interdict any weapon smuggling from Eritrea or Yemen.

-Hospital ships, as many as we can spare. Treat this like the tsunami in Indonesia, it's a famine afterall.

-1 x division headquarters with at least 2 x combat brigades in the Somaliland and Puntland regions. I'm swagging the number of troops needed for these areas but both Somaliland and Puntland are autonomous regions with little to no violence, just pirates.
-focus on civil affairs/humanitarian assistance
-special ops raids on pirate sanctuaries
-CAPs (combined action programs, you know those infantry squads assisting local security forces created in Vietnam that I've ranted about needing in Iraq) primarily used in those pirate areas along the coast in order to prevent insurgency

-Mogadishu: 1 x division headquarters for the city plus surrounding territory. Minimum 4 or 5 combat brigades to go with it.
-immediately build and occupy as many platoon patrol bases and company combat outposts as possible; occupy with US, AU, and local security forces
-distribute as much aid and food as possible, there's no reason why a battalion can't do a food drop a day, if not more
-key leader engagements with religious, tribal, and clan leadership. Get them on board with the rebuilding and aid distribution, heck, put them in charge of it. We go and distribute or build where they want us to...within reason.
-rebuilding projects should utilize local workers, not hires from some other part of Somalia
-develop the police forces
-African Union troops out front of all missions when possible until local police are capable, then police out front.

-Remaining regions of Somalia: 1 x division headquarters with 4 x combat brigades
-Develop CAPs if possible, COPs/patrol bases if not...we're talking a big area here
-focus on tribes and clans to develop economy and prevent insurgency...utilize the micro grant program that was successful in Iraq
-humanitarian asssistance focus on herding and agriculture
-work closely with Kenya and Ethiopia to lock down the borders and prevent border smuggling

Like I said above, this will never happen, especially with the forces I've laid out (3 x division HQs, at least 11 x combat brigades...that's not even including support, MP, and aviation brigades that would be needed). If we didn't have Iraq or Afghanistan to deal with it might be possible but does the world even give a damn about Somalia any more? But if I were king this is what I would do.

We can even use this guy to lead my future Somalia.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Good info on JRTN

If you have a few minutes, check out this article about the Iraqi insurgent group Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) written by Dr. Michael Knights and published by the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point.

I've written a few times about dealing with JRTN while deployed to the Diyala Province and Dr. Knights does an excellent job in explaining the history and motives of the organization as well as its potential future.

He also references this blog, which is another reason why you should read the article.

JRTN is a valid threat to a democratic Iraq. The months after US forces pull out will be an interesting time and I'm curious to see what occurs.

How long before this symbol is commonplace in Iraq?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

One year ago...

One year ago today I got on a civilian charter plane at Al Asad Air Base and left Iraq for the third and hopefully last time.

Time really flies by sometimes.

Best feeling in the world is a Black Hawk helicopter taking you away from this

Thursday, July 28, 2011

And we're back to pre-CSA normalcy

Here's a shocker; 3 days after it was announced that US forces would no longer be conducting partnership operations in the disputed zones in northern Iraq a Kurdish politician demands that the Peshmerga be sent to northeast Diyala province to restore order.

Violence was not that high while 1-14 Cav was deployed to the area. From what I have read, violence did not seem to be that high during 2-14 Cav's time, probably even lower. Why would Peshmerga units be needed to "restore order"?

Is it because of perceived harrassment of Kurdish families in the area? Or is this really just a way to maneuver forces for a future land grab in a region with natural gas and oil resources? Hmm, I wonder...

How long before another Khanaqin standoff occurs? Or another Kurdish security officer gets drunk and picks a fight with the Iraqi army?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The CSA era ends in Iraq

It was announced today by the commander of USD-N (US Division-North, the organization in charge of northern Iraq) that starting next month US forces will end its participation in the combined security areas (CSA) of the disputed Kurd/Arab regions that had been established in February 2010.

For those of you not in the know, during my last deployment with 1-14 Cav it was determined that something had to be done along the disputed "Green Line" between Kurdish and Arab security forces before events spiraled out of control. Violence all over Iraq had decreased dramatically in the past couple of years and the disputed areas in the Ninewa (Sinjar and northern Mosul area), Kirkuk (Kirkuk city obviously), and Diyala (Kifri-Khanaqin area) provinces had to be dealt with and became General Odierno's primary concern. It was decided that "combined units" of American army, Iraqi army, and Peshmerga militia would be utilized in these areas to do patrols, provide humanitarian relief, and conduct raids. Combed checkpoints were also established in spots where Iraqi checkpoints and Kurdish checkpoints were already co-located, in some cases only 100 meters apart.

1-14 Cav established 5 such checkpoints in our "combined security area" and by the end of the deployment each troop was conducted at least one combined mission a day. We were nicknamed the Hamrin Lions since we were in the Hamrin Mountain region and Iraqis area a bit obsessed with lions.

A lot of work went into the Hamrin CSA. Many, many hours wasted on PowerPoint slides and briefings; I'm pretty sure a couple of the assistant S3's gave up on sleep for awhile. I think the S4 went insane at one point trying to acquire and then distribute everything that went into making the checkpoints fully functional. I became increasingly frustrated attempting to conduct combined intelligence meetings between the Iraqi brigade intel officer and the Peshmerga brigade intel officer; I eventually just gave up and met with them seperately. The troops rotated platoons to man the checkpoints in the heat, dust, and miserableness of it all. We all thought it was insane, I didn't think it would work at all.

Only time will tell if the CSA's "worked". They haven't failed yet, and that's a small miracle in itself. With US forces pulling out of Iraq at the end of the year it was only a matter of time before US soldiers could no longer man checkpoints or conduct combined patrols but it's still a little sad to see the program you helped put and keep together end.

Congrats are in order to 2-14 Cav who took the shit sandwich we handed them and ran with it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Attack on Norway

What the frak is going on in Norway?

A bomb went off near the Prime Minister's office in Oslo today which has killed at least 2 people with many more injured. CNN.com is also breaking that someone dressed as a policeman has opened fire at a youth camp in the country.

Domestic terrorism? Unlikely. This stinks of Al Qaida or an AQ affliated group seeking retaliation for Norway's role in Afghanistan which has about 400 troops in the country.

Strike a soft target of an ally of your enemy which may cause that ally to leave Afghanistan and others to do the same.


Death toll up to 17, and a "prominent jihadist" wrote on an Al Qaida-linked forum that the attacks were carried out to punish Norway for deploying troops to Afghanistan.

Update 2:

Norwegian police now state that Islamic terrorism is not to blame, it's good old homegrown, right wing extremists, aka Neo Nazis. Not the first time I've been wrong and likely not the last. bbc.com is also reporting that now 80 dead from the gunman at the youth camp. Damn. Just damn.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nexus 7? Why not just name it Skynet?

My friend Cindy sent me a link today from Wired.com discussing Darpa's (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) new intelligence program being used in Afghanistan. The article is extremely long, and I will admit that I didn't read the entire thing, but it essentially discusses "Nexus 7" and the history behind the project.

So what exactly is Nexus 7? From what I can gather it is a massive data analysis tool that allows higher headquarters (what we at the battalion level called "echelons above reality") to sift through thousands of reports and produce "population-centric, cultural intelligence" to determine which areas of a country are stablized or are falling under the sway of the Taliban.

From my point of view as a former battalion level intelligence officer, I see this system as just another way for division level and higher staffs to attempt to feel relevant in the counterinsurgency fight.

I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating...company level units do the most good in a counterinsurgency. Battalions provide the staff personnel to assist with planning and resource management for the companies while brigade and division staffs help provide assets not found at the battalion and company level. Rarely did I ever receive intel from brigade or division that was new or useful to me at the battalion level, just like I assume some company commanders would claim battalion rarely gave them intel that they didn't already know. On occasion, an analyst at division (Chris Ackerman, aka Abu Awesum) would distribute something useful regarding a local tribe or local politics, but for the most part anything I read from division and brigade was just information that they were regurgitating back to me...which of course I had taken from the companies and regurgitated back to them...something the company commanders complained about consistently.

Go higher than division headquarters...in Iraq it was MNC-I and MNF-I (multi national corps-Iraq and multi national force-Iraq which would later merge to USF-I, United States forces-Iraq)...and there was virtually no product or briefing that was useful to me at the battalion level. This was fine, those organizations were about strategic level problems and dealing with issues of tribal confederations and national politics. However, these giant staffs did nothing to help the counterinsurgency fight down at the company level, which is where a COIN fight is won.

So what will Nexus 7 do for the COIN fight in Afghanistan? As I mentioned above all it will likely do is help those higher level staffers feel relevant in a fight that is being fought at levels far below them. Any intelligence or information produced by Nexus 7 will likely cause most company commanders to say something along the lines of, "No shit, I already knew that 2 months ago."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Top 10 "Global Concerns" 2011 edition

When I first started this blog over 2 years ago, one of my first blogs was a list of my top 10 "global concerns". That list can be found here. It was a list of those areas of the globe I was most concerned would escalate conflicts already occuring or would break out into actual fighting that may involve United States forces. In case you don't feel like following the link the list looked like this:

10. Iran
9. Mexico
8. Syria
7. Nigeria
6. Mali
5. Algeria
4. North Korea
3. The line between Kurdish Iraq and Arab Iraq
2. Somalia
1. Afghanistan/Pakistan

It was in no particular order except for the top 3 were those conflicts or potential conflicts I felt were the most serious. Having little else to do at the moment I figured I would update the list for 2011. My new top 10 is very similar with only a few changes:

10. Iran
Still on the list for the same reasons as in 2009. A nuclear armed Iran scares the crap out of me but I think Iran at this time is only trying to keep the West from conducting military actions against it and is not seriously contemplating attacking anyone...except through proxy.

9. Nigeria
Once again on the list for the 2009 reasons. I dropped it down because I find it likely that Nigeria's security forces can handle the Boko Haram Islamist terrorist group without our assistance. However, attacks in the nation's northeast are on the rise, to include both IEDs and suicide bombers.

8. Algeria
Al Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb has a stronghold in this country that is not likely to be removed any time soon. Where exactly is this stronghold? In the Kabylie region, the same region where the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) had a stronghold in the fight for independence from France in the 1950s. Coincidence? Not bloody likely.

7. Syria
So far the the regime under President Bashar al-Assad has kept a lid on protests in the country which are motivated by the "Arab Spring" seen in many other nations. President Bashar has done this by essentially ordering his security forces and military to open fire on any protesters. If the army ever gets tired of slaughtering its own citizens the regime is likely to collapse which is likely an open invitation for Al Qaida or other terrorists groups to open up shop.

6. Mexico
Jumping up the list this year is our neighbor to the south. Violence is still rising and corruption is still commonplace. How long before the violence begins to spred across the border?

5. North Korea
I don't think I need to explain myself with this one.

4. Somalia
Drops down a couple of slots because it appears that the African Union is slowly gaining control over Mogadishu. Shabab is still a significant threat, however.

3. Yemen
New to the list this year due to the outbreak of what is pretty much a civil war. President Saleh left the country after the Presidential Compound was attacked by Al Qaida in the Arabic Peninsula and their tribal allies and he may or may not be still in control. In the president's absence AQAP and their tribal buddies have taken over parts of Yemen to include the port town of Zinjibar. This one is going to get ugly folks.

2. Kurd/Arab line in Iraq
Not much news from this area recently that I've seen but it's only a matter of time before some drunk Kurd tries to park his car in a marketplace which will then escalate into civil war.

1. Afghanistan/Pakistan
Yeah, fuck this place.

As I mentioned, Yemen is new to the list and Mali fell off. Reason for this is that Mali and Mauritania have been coordinating their efforts against AQIM and appear to be having some success. Ending a blog post with good news? Hell yeah.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I think I've seen enough of New Mexico

That little guy looks very much like what I looked like yesterday; although I was resting my head on the steering wheel of my HMMWV rather than a keyboard when they finally called ENDEX (end exercise) to the NIE (network integration exercise) that I was O/C'ing.

A quick recap for those not aware: I was an O/C (observer/controller...think military referee) for the past 6 weeks at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The exercise was conducted to test new equipment that the Army may decide to bring into the inventory and evaluate some systems already in the inventory to see how they may be improved. I was assigned to help evaluate CoISTs (company intel support teams) in one of the battalions where actual intelligence soldiers had been assigned rather than the standard method of just assigned non-intel personnel to the job and then training them up on basic intel tasks.

The exercise, while long, was actually pretty good. There were a few hiccups of course, no plan for where the O/C's would stay while in the field and lack of comms between the OPFOR (opposition force) and the O/C's being a couple of them; but overall I enjoyed the time in the field. The unit got some great training and mentoring the lieutenants running the CoISTs was a rewarding experience for me. Hell, I even enjoyed spending a couple of nights sleeping in a HMMWV with the wind, dust, and monsoon rains...the more things suck the more I appreciate a nice bed.

The awesomest (damn straight that's a word) part of the NIE though was the capstone exercise in which company combat outposts were attacked by enemy of around battalion strength. The intent was to simulate a Wanat type scenario but with the COPs fully utilizing their base defense and observation systems which included long range full motion video cameras, infrared cameras, cameras with attached SAW and 240B machine guns, motion detecting ground sensors, and anti personnel mines that only activate when the company CP triggers them. Fucking cool.

My hearing is still a little shot from witnessing every single MRAP open up on the OPFOR with every weapon system available. Fucking cool.

The next night/morning I was on the radio listening in on the O/C's overseeing the attack on another COP and you couldn't hear the O/C's talking because the machine gun fire coming over the radio was so loud and intense. Fucking cool.

Not cool? 72 hours on 5 hours sleep. Time to get home.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

AWOL blogger

I've been somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania this weekend which is why I have not posted at all. The internet has also been down in my on post hotel back at Bliss and we're headed back into the field on Tuesday for a couple of weeks so I have no idea when I'll get a chance to write anything.

Not pictured, the excessive '70s architecture

Going back to my Yuengling now. See you when I see you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

La Rue Sans Joie

Still enjoying the dust, heat, and boredom of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico but I have managed to escape for a couple of days for a bit of rest and refit. One benefit of being observer/controller has been a lot of down time (hence the boredom) in which to hammer through my reading list. I managed to finish Pacification in Algeria and have nearly completed the one of the more depressing books I have ever read, Street Without Joy.

Street Without Joy is an account of France's military operations in Indochina, specifically northern Vietnam, during the late 1940's-early 50's. The author is a French student, Bernard Fall, who studied in both Europe and the United States and traveled to Indochina multiple times in the 50's and 60's. Due to his French citizenship he was allowed to accompany French troops on patrols and into Viet-Minh territory. The book is an excellent history of the major events from an outsiders (non-military) point of view. It also has some pretty good quotes, "We need reinforcements, not citations!" and a short but intriguing chapter on the fall of Laos (the French and U.S. did the right thing by bringing in the local tribes to fight the Laotian communists, but used the wrong tribes).

"Here kitty, kitty, kitty..." ("Où êtes-vous chaton, chaton, chaton...")

Looking back, I should have read "Street Without Joy" before I read "Pacification in Algeria" primarily because France's debacle in Vietnam came before the French "oh damn, we won in Algeria but ended up losing anyway" situation, but also due to the depressing nature of "Street Without Joy".

The French attempted to deal with the Viet-Minh in the same military fashion as the Allies dealth with the Germans: fire and maneuver, trap your enemy and destroy him in the open, etc. This of course did not work and time and time again the French sent regiment after regiment into communist held territory attempting to bring the Viet-Minh into a European style fight only to see those regiments mauled, chewed up, and spit out. Operations culminated in the battle at Dien Bien Phu as well as the destruction of Groupement Mobile No. 100 in the battle of Mang Yang Pass.

The interesting thing that I find, however, is not so much France's futile attempts to bring the Viet-Minh to battle, but their use of fortified strongpoints throughout the country, often manned by only a dozen or so soldiers, and often placed in the vicinity of villages. This is one of the key tenements of counterinsurgency operations: small groups of soldiers in among the population to remove the ocean (population) from the fish (insurgents) thus depriving the insurgents of the supplies, reinforcements, information, hiding spots, etc, necessary to fight an insurgency.

Which brings me to an interesting conclusion that I've been rolling around in my head for the past several months. The French established these outposts and they did not have the effect they were supposed to have (preventing Viet-Minh infilitration into "rear" areas). It can be argued that these outposts/strongpoints were placed poorly for counterinsurgency (which they were) and instead of focusing on population centers, were instead placed on strategic points (key terrain in military speak). While the "key terrain" chosen for these defensive outposts would have made sense in a conventional fight, they were useless in a counter insurgency and while they occasionally were near population centers, the soldiers in those outposts did not interact with the population often other than to flirt with the local girls or have their laundry washed. The Viet-Minh were thus able to attack and wipe out these posts one by one with overwhelming force thus forcing the French to slowly withdrawn into a tighter and tighter circle around Hanoi and attempt useless "penetration" operations into communist territory.

So, what the hell am I getting on about?

Any conflict in Vietnam, due to the tactics used by the Viet-Minh...later to become the North Vietnamese Army, and the Viet Cong, would be likely unwinable for intervening powers and the South Vietnamese.

Let's pretend for a moment that the United States actually paid attention to what happened to the French from 1946-1954 as well as took the lessons learned by the British in Malaysia from 1948-60 to heart. In this scenario the United States does not attempt to fight Vietnam like it fought Korea and WWII but instead utilizes proper counter insurgency tactics and techniques; or essentially what the Marines did with their Combined Action Program. If done properly, the Viet Cong would have been cut off from the population and would have eventually been eliminated.

Problem is there were still close to 300,000 NVA regulars running around causing problems. All those CAPs could have been easily overwhelmed by NVA forces even with battalion or brigade level quick reaction forces and air force close air support. I realize that American forces defeated the NVA in virtually every conventional type battle fought, however, the NVA's ability to withdraw back into the jungle and highlands prior to any large engagement would have negated any American attempt to destroy those NVA units responsible for attacking the CAPs, thus allowing for attacks in other areas or future operations against CAPs that were replaced.

The only solution that I can see would have been to have several highly mobile, brigade size, mobile reaction forces that could respond to intelligence of a gathering and consolidation of NVA forces preparing for an operation. The NVA would likely flee and not commit to battle, but it would temporarily remove pressure on the threatened CAPs as well as the battalions in the area and would disrupt the NVA. Combine that with assistance from local tribes such as the Hmong and Montagnard and accurate intelligence on NVA movements could be acquired allowing for interdiction and destruction of those NVA regiments.

Could these tactics have brought victory in Vietnam? The pessimist in me thinks not. The optimist says maybe. But the realist says "this ended over 30 years ago and time machines don't exist so who cares?"