Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wasting taxpayer money in a different location

I'm heading to FT Benning, GA tomorrow morning for the Joint Forcible Entry Warfighter Experiment. The exercise is 3 weeks long and I'm pretty sure I'll have internet access in my hotel room so there will be the usual updates from me, hopefully.

But in the off chance that I do not have access to the interwebs or you are just worried about me, that's where I'll be. Hopefully by the time I return to Arizona there will be a new government in Libya.
I fully expect to spend many hours being bored during the pretty much the same as when I'm at work here at Huachuca.

Monday, February 21, 2011 the shores of Tripoli

Libya is burning. Pilots ordered to attack civilians have apparently defected to Malta. Soldiers who refused to attack civilians have been killed. Reports are coming out stating Gaddafi has fled the capital to his tribal base in the desert.

All of this because a guy in Tunisia decided he had enough with the regime there and lit himself on fire.

Tunisia, Egypt; Libya and Yemen on the ropes; growing protests in Algeria, Moracco, Bahrain, Iraq, and Iran...the actions of one man has led to a cascading effect not seen since one man shot an archduke in Sarajevo in 1914.

Had a discussion last night with a friend over a beer about the situation and the conversation naturally led its way to our involvement in Iraq. Did US intervention and introduction of democracy lead to this?

In a Not that the two of us believe anyway. At the most, our actions helped destablize the region which created an environment that allowed these protests to occur, but even that's a stretch. No sane and rational person can look at the current political and security situation in Iraq right now and think, "yeah, that's what I want."

As the revolutions spread and grow my biggest concern is how extremist elements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb are going to react. Will they attempt to increase their influence during the political vacuums that develop? Will they increase attacks against the security forces? Or will they wait and then strike violently after new governments have been formed, a time when those governments will be at their weakest?

A year from now, what will we see?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We're going to need a lot more duct tape and super glue

In 2003 I watched CNN in my college apartment as President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and others made the case for war against Iraq. Intelligence from British, Italian, and German sources apparently proved that Saddam Hussein and Iraq not only had chemical weapon stockpiles but were attempting a nuclear program as well.

I deployed to Iraq in 2004 fully expecting WMD to be found any day.

During a short stretch of 2007 patrols in northern Baghdad were being hit by IEDs made from artillery shells containing chemical agents. Those artillery shells were believed to have come from a bunker complex that had once housed chemical rounds that had not yet been destroyed by inspectors; it was unlikely the insurgents making the IEDs had any idea the rounds were chemical munitions. Still, the true believers jumped on this evidence. Our battalion command sergeant major even started yelling at me after I briefed this new IED threat; why wasn't the media reporting this "proof" of WMD in Iraq.

A few outdated artillery shells proves nothing and no evidence of a WMD program was ever found.

As the years went by and new evidence surfaced, it became very apparent that, at worst, the Bush administration lied about the intel leading us to invade Iraq or, at best, was misled by false information.

Now the Iraqi defector, and primary source for German intelligence of an Iraqi WMD program, has admitted that he lied about the information provided to German and US intelligence agencies...and he's proud of it. He justifies the lies because it toppled the Saddam regime.

I wonder how the people caught up in the sectarian slaughter of 06-07 would feel about that?

But how do I feel about spending a majority of my 20's either preparing for or occupying Iraq, a conflict which was essentially based on a series of lies, misrepresentations, and the whims of a few folks in power?

Surprisingly ok about it.

I have long ago come to terms with the fact there was no WMD in Iraq and had read enough and seen enough evidence that indicated our leaders were looking for any reason to take down Saddam. My Iraq time came well after the invasion, a time in which the US was attempting to develop a new government, build up the Iraqi military, and deal with a growing and increasingly lethal insurgency. When I returned home from my second deployment the friend who picked me up at FT Lewis asked me if we should still be in Iraq and what our purpose was.

"We broke the vase. It's our responsibility to try and put it back together."

That's how I justify my life for the past 7 1/2 years. What's worse? Invading a nation on false beliefs and information or invading that nation and then abandoning it after you've removed the government and the security forces keeping it together?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Civilian to veteran interactions

Thanks to Tom Ricks I stumbled across a blog on the VA website that has an interesting post about how to interact with a veteran if you are a civilian. I've mentioned and linked to sites discussing the gap between today's military and your average American but the VA article is good in that it lists "Do's" and "Don'ts" when talking with veterans.

I especially like two of his "Don't" points: don't talk politics, and don't be cavalier with questions.

The former point is just frustrating to me. I'm just a guy in a green suit (gray/green really), I don't make the policies, I just help carry them out. I don't really give a damn if you're "against the war but for the troops" or if you think the entire Middle East should be turned into a glass parking lot. My comments and experiences shouldn't be used to further your argument or justify your own beliefs.

The latter point is my biggest pet peeve. Luckily, on only a couple of occassions has anyone actually had the nerve to straight up ask me if I've killed anyone or if any of my friends died. Those types of questions are extremely personal and only demonstrate the ignorance of the individual asking the question. Yeah, I've forgotten more memorials in Iraq than I can remember, it's not something I'm comfortable talking about.

My most recent experience with these types of questions occurred a couple of months after my last deployment. I had gone to a bar with a couple of female friends and met up with a couple of their friends, one of whom my friend was interested in. Both my friends wandered off leaving me to have a conversation with this guy who didn't know me and who I didn't know. The topic eventually fell on occupations and the first question asked when he learned I was in the Army was, "so what's it like to kill someone?"

Really douchebag?

I wanted to punch the guy, and after learning of the incident my friend told me I would have been justified in doing so. Not feeling particularly violent I let the comment go and after a short time left the bar but not before listening to this idiot's excuse for not joining the Air Force...he thought it would be weird to drop bombs on people.

Several days later I informed my friend of our conversation. She was appalled and that interaction, coupled with some other "red flags", led to her no longer being interested in the guy. So there ya go folks, piss off a vet and get cockblocked.

That's got to be as good a reason as any to learn how to bridge that civilian/military gap.

Before I end this I wanted to mention that I do have some great friends who, likely without realizing it, have generally followed the advice found in the VA blog. They've listened when I needed to talk, didn't openly judge me, helped me out when I needed it, and have avoided forcing their politics into the conversation...even those friends of mine who I know are against the Iraq conflict. Most of all, they send care packages. More than anything else in the world, more than even Ke$ha, those care packages kept me going.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What I do on Friday nights due to a lack of a social life

There have been a lack of posts by me despite a plethora of events occuring throughout the world because I have been stuck in an exercise for the past week. The exercise was a culmination event for the BCT S2 course and involved NCO's from the basic NCO course and advanced course as well as 2nd lieutenants from the officer basic course. After spending my time stuck in a trailer from 8 am to 5 pm the last thing I wanted to do was come home and type away for an hour about events.

So yeah, Egypt threw out Mubarak; vote counts confirmed that southern Sudanese want independence; protests occured in Bolivia against President Evo Morales; and fighting broke out between Thailand and Cambodia over a disputed temple.

Lots to write about, but I'm not going to blog about any of that...old news.

Instead, I'm going to post some notes I wrote about a week ago. They are my thoughts and comments about insurgency/counterinsurgency. There is no real order and most of them are just questions that should be thought about when first arriving in country.

- Why are operations / events in Iraq / Afghanistan classified?
(I understand why a specific operation would be classified, don't want the bad guys to know what we are doing, but why are the daily events and attacks classified? Disclosure would prevent incidents like the Wikileaks problem)

- We need to trust our own media and population.
(Goes to the above statement. Our own population needs a better understanding of the fight and the military should trust our citizens to make informed decisions based off that understanding.)

- Counterinsurgency is not just a fight for the local population, it's a fight for your own population as well.
(If your own citizens don't understand what you are doing or don't believe in the cause, you can't do proper counterinsurgency because your government won't give you the resources you need due to the conflict being unpopular, ie., Vietnam.)

- Why is there an insurgency? Not just the network/organization, but what are the motivations of individual cells?
(I struggled with this one in the last deployment. People don't set out to create chaos "just because", there is reasoning and motivation...figure that out and you go a long way to defeating the problem.)

- Social networks can help bring down governments. Can they bring down an insurgency?
(Thinking out loud on this. Can a mayor or local security force commander Tweet his way to victory? Would a Facebook page allow for more anonymous tips from the population?)

- What does the Tribe want?
(Goes back to the question of why there is an insurgency. If grievances can be addressed then less people will be willing to assist the insurgents.)

- How are police departments able to have success against gangs in inner cities? Units need more than law enforcement professionals (battalions were assigned LEPs to help with...well whatever the commander deemed the unit needs help with...ours, the former police chief of Junction City, Kansas, assisted with training some of the local police stations), we need counter gang units assisting at the battalion level.
(A cell or cells in particular areas is likely not made up of hardcore jihadists/idealists. They are often comprised of the local criminal element that has been co-opted by the leaders of the insurgency. They are gangs and thus act like it, just with more powerful weapons and funding. Conducting COIN like a counter-gang operation will likely go a long way to defeating the insurgency.)

- Lawyers, or at the very least, legal specialists, should be pushed down to the battalion level in order to assist with the warrant process.
(One of my biggest challenges and frustrations was the warrants needed to detain and hold individuals. I'm just a guy in a green suit, I have no training on dealing with judges or how to develop a warrant packet. Yet, I was expected to be the subject matter expert for the squadron and provide guidance on how to obtain a warrant.)

- Are warrants a knee-jerk reaction by the host nation to mass detainments conducted by the counter-insurgent? If the counter-insurgent is more careful about detainments and focuses on targeted raids against specific individuals will that mitigate the demand by the government that warrants must be issued for an individual to be detained?
(I just want that asshole who has been blowing shit up off the streets, I don't want to have to deal with weeks and months of evidence collection to get some stupid piece of paper that lets me capture him.)

- Don't get focused on the boom, watch the big picture.
(I've been guilty of this as well, getting too wrapped up about the IEDs going off and not focusing on the situation allowing the IEDs to be emplaced or built in the first place.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Perhaps the revolution will be Twittered afterall

Due to the lack of any work/computer space for me in my office and not really having anything useful for me to do anyway, my boss decided that I might as well use my time more effectively than sitting around surfing the internet on my phone and signed me up to attend the BCT S2 course here on FT Huachuca. The course provides guidance and tools useful for those individuals who are going to be a brigade level intelligence officer, but is also a great course for anyone who will be assigned as a battalion level intel officer as I was. I've been really enjoying the course for the past two weeks and part of that enjoyment has been due to the other officers attending the course. We all have excellent imputs based on our experiences; everyone in the class has deployed at some point with the exception of some brand new 2nd lieutenants.

Earlier this week prior to the class starting a few of the majors were discussing the revolutions/protests that have swept through several countries in the Middle East. There was a general concensus that the "domino theory" is bullshit; just because your neighbor country switches to a different form of government does not mean that your country will, or your other neighbor. The US feared the "domino effect" during the Cold War, primarily in Southeast Asia, which was one of the dominant reasons for our little adventure in Vietnam. While some governments in the region did turn communist after Vietnam...Laos, Cambodia, and an attempt in Malaysia...the fall of those regimes didn't trigger some massive communist wave.

A similar reasoning was put forth prior to the invasion of Iraq. If a functioning democracy was established in Iraq than a domino effect of democratic change would sweep the Middle East. I found the idea absurd, it didn't happen during the Cold War and it wouldn't happen now.

(Before you freak out, no, I am not trying to argue that our occupation of Iraq and establishment of a democracy there has anything to do with the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.)

During this discussion, one of the officers pointed out that very few of the countries in the M.E. really have stable governments. A revolution in one nation could easily trigger protests in a neighboring country, which actually happened. This is in part to a shared culture, religion, and language.

For some inexplicable reason I then pointed out that Bahrain is stable...although of no consequence in the scheme of things.

And because I didn't say "knock on wood" there is now a movement in Bahrain to start a revolution in that country as well. Activists in that country are using Facebook and other social media in order to organize a mass protest on February 14. The demonstrations will be against the Sunni monarchy for the oppression against the Shia majority.

I don't think this "Day of Rage" will get much traction and even if it does, a regime falling in Bahrain won't matter much. The only people who may be affected are rich Saudis and western expats who travel from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to get there drink on. Bahrain is the only non-dry Arabic country.

Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and potentially Bahrain. Which nation is next in line for the "Jasmin Revolution"?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

As if Afghanistan weren't complicated enough

So maybe you didn't quite believe me when I claimed Iran was assisting Al Qaida in Iraq. Perhaps you just don't trust Tony Blair and John McCain, afterall, they may just be justifying decisions or attempting to rewrite history. Iran would never support a Salafist/Wahhabist/jihadist (is that even a word) organization whose stated purpose is to eventually defeat/convert Shia muslims.

Maybe this will sway your opinion. It's an article on the Long War Journal discussing the links between Iran and the Taliban. Yeah, that Taliban. The former rulers of Afghanistan who are both Salafist and essentially became the political wing of Al Qaida...although I admit that is likely a bit of a simplification.

Not only do the Afghan police in the southwest of Afghanistan point to Iran as a source of support for the Taliban and Al Qaida but a recently captured Taliban leader from that part of Afghanistan claims he was recruited as well as trained in Iran by Iranian Qods Force (Iranian special forces).

My hope is that Iran is only backing the Taliban in order to keep us busy in Afghanistan and therefore unable to think about invading Iran. I highly doubt that Iran wishes a return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan and are likely only assisting them just enough to be a pain in the ass to US forces but not enough to threaten the Afghan government, much like Iran's probable support to Al Qaida in Iraq.

I just wish this would come back to bite Iran, but that seems unlikely to me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blowing up and rebuilding villages: Part 2

Just to be different from other blogs out there, I'm going to refrain from discussing Egypt today and instead just link to and an article on the continuing discussion of LTC Flynn, 1-320 field artillery battalion, and the destruction of three (not just one as was originally reported) villages.

Here's the link to the article. It discusses LTC Flynn's reasoning for why the villages needed to be destroyed and the effort to rebuild them. Take a look at the article if you are so inclined.

Two quotes really stuck out at me:

"We’re not there to terrorize the population,” he says. “The people talk about the Russians bombing their villages and say the Russians never did anything for us. They say, ‘That’s the difference between you and the Russians."

Just wanted to point out that as much as we may screw up, we're not as bad as the Soviets who really didn't seem to give a damn about the population. At least we're trying to help.

"A reporter from the Daily Mail, who Flynn says wasn’t at the meeting, reported that Flynn threatened them (the villagers): Either turn in the homemade bombs, or he’d blow up their houses."

A reporter getting the situation wrong, taking something out of context, or just expressing a hidden agenda? Say it isn't so. I've been burned by reporters.