Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Assassination update

In my last post I mentioned that the director of Iraq's Questioning and Justice Commission was assassinated and that it was my belief that the Baathist/nationalistic insurgent group Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq Naqshabandi was likely responsible for the attack.

It appears my hunch may have been correct.

Iraqi authorities claimed to have captured the individual responsible for the attack and guess what...he apparently worked for Saddam's intelligence agency. That's the exact type of person that JRTN brings into the organization and the exact type of person who would be interested in joining JRTN. Mr Ali al-Lamy is also the exact type of target for assassination that JRTN would pursue.

I have no doubt that this attack will be blamed on Al Qaida in Iraq which is the Iraqi government's usual boogeyman and many government and security officials tend to forget that JRTN exists (or are in denial), but this attack has all the trademarks of JRTN sending a message.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Back to happenings in Iraq

There are increasing signs of trouble for Iraq's future which I would like to address. I've tried to be cautiously optimistic about that county's future and the scenarios that are likely to play out once US forces pull out at the end of this year. However, somebody is going around and assassinating, or attempting to assassinate, government officials.

If you look at the list of attacks provided by the blog Musings on Iraq there does not seem to be a clear pattern of the attacks. Some of the folks targeted are minor officials, others are more important. I don't pretend to believe that they are all related; the governor of Ninewa for instance is a Baathist sympathizer, ultra Sunni nationalist, and overall jackass. He was likely targeted by the Kurds. Others are not so obvious.

My swag at it is that many of these attacks are being conducted by Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq Naqshabandi (JRTN) with a couple of them done by Jaysh al Mahdi (or the groups who splintered off from JAM), the Badr Corps, and Al Qaida in Iraq. JAM and Badr have never been hesitant to remove a political obstacle when they saw fit or just take out one of their own who isn't playing ball...kind of like the Mafia. AQI would assassinate folks just to sow chaos, seek revenge, or just attempt to stay relevant.

But most of my money is on JRTN whose Baathist goals have always been to kick start a coup or uprising after US forces leave and then re-establish a Baathist regime in the country. These assassination attempts, especially the ones in Baghdad, Salah al Din, Ninewa, and Diyala provinces, are likely JRTN attempting to "prep the battlefield" for some kind of push later in the year and then into 2012. Killing the director of the Accountability and Justice Commission (aka de-Baathification commission) would certainly be a good move for JRTN.

Worst case scenario for Iraq would for JRTN to only be partially successful. If they are able to kill enough government officials so that essential services and security forces are hampered then a general uprising is likely to occur...but by the Shia. The Shia are unlikely to accept a return of the Baathists and any move by JRTN or other Baathist organizations will likely cause JAM to re-emerge and flex their muscles again. AQI could then easily re-organize under the same banner of "protecting the Sunni" that they claimed in 2006-07 and once again the spiral of destruction will occur.

I do not think this will end well.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Takeaways from "The Village"

This post is going to go off in a somewhat different direction than my usual posts. I've mentioned previously different counterinsurgent books that I have read in the past, all of them with usful tidbits of information, but have never really shared what I learned from the authors. I'm still in the middle of David Galula's "Pacification in Algeria" but Bing West's "The Village" has several highlights I will share along with my thoughts on those notes. Hopefully I will have learned something in case I ever find myself in a counterinsurgency situation again...or perhaps some future Army officer will stumble across this blog and learn a couple of things.

Here are my highlights from "The Village" which is the story of a group of Marines in Vietnam who were partnered with local security forces in a collection of villages:

"After explaining that the first order of business was turning the villa into a fort, Lam (one of the security force leaders) asked if the Marines could provide the necessary materials. Beebe (one of the Marines) replied...supplies requested by the company would take weeks and perhaps months before arriving. ...Lam said they could build their own defenses...called a meeting of the villagers...asked for volunteers to build the outpost. About forty villagers responded."

- You can't do everything yourself or else the locals population and security forces will become dependent on you and expect everything from you. Your forces may be able to do something better, but if they locals do it themselves they will take ownership of it and likely help in protecting it, whether it's an outpost or a bridge.

"The rifle-not the cannon or the jet-was to be the primary weapon of the Americans in Binh Nghia."

- Good counterinsurgency means getting on the ground and in amongst the population with small groups of soldiers. Conventional, modern weapons like artillery and tanks won't get the job done.

"Thanh believed that the accommodation between the Viet Cong and most of the villagers was based, not upon political ideology, but upon villagers' sense of self-preservation. The Viet Cong were stronger than the PFs (local government backed militia), and it was wiser to obey the stronger side."

- A vast majority of any population is unlikely to be strongly sided with the insurgent group in the area, but will aid them because if they don't the insurgents will punish them, most of the time through violence or by forcing the family out of the area. Find a way to protect the population from the insurgents and the population will turn to your side.

"For them (the Viet Cong) to deliberately kill a villager who refused porter or signaling service would expose their own families to retribution. The choice was up to the villagers, and much depended on how active and aggressive they judged the night patrols (those conducted by the PFs and Americans) to be."

- This may seem to contradict the previous statement but let me explain. The insurgency is made up of people who are part of the population. The insurgents know everyone in the village(s) or neighborhood and can therefore control the population unless another force is there to prevent that. As soon as the population feels safe enough, they will retaliate against insurgents overstepping their power. The tribal swing in the Anbar province of Iraq against Al Qaida in Iraq is a good example of this.

"Thanh was waiting (for the patrol), having heard the firing (from an ambush). Luong spoke to him, identifying one of the dead guerrillas by name. Thanh took out the book in which were recorded the name and affiliations of every adult in the village, with a special roster of those who had joined the Viet Cong. It contained about two hundred names. Thanh drew a neat line through one of them."

- Two crucial lessons here. The first is to have a proper census of the area you are operating in. Preferably the local police force or security force will have done this already; in Iraq the village sheikhs often had a list of residences, but normally outdated. If a census hasn't been done, conducting one should be made a priority, if feasible. The second lesson is to have security force leaders who are from the area and who know the locals.

When I'm done with "Pacification in Algeria" I'll likely do another one of these, maybe a couple more from the other books I've finished recently.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Details on "The Raid"

The Associated Press has managed to get some details on the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Anonymous sources of course provided the information but it seems legit, and pretty cool. I won't go over the whole thing but I recommend going to the link and reading the article yourself. Some highlights:

- Everyone involved knew if this mission failed they wouldn't get a second shot since Pakistan would be pissed.

- The Blackhawks used were of course modified to decrease the sound they made. These modifications added weight and due to the high than expected temperature caused one of the pilots to lose control of the aircraft and was forced to do a hard landing/crash.

- The Seals, being awesome, of course planned for contingencies and were able to go forward with the mission anyway storming the house and clearing it floor by floor.

- One of the people shot in the compound was a woman who lunged at the Seals. There were two women in the room with Osama who apparently tried to protect him from the 3 Seals who went in after Osama.

- The working dog who went in with the Seals was named Cairo.

In related news, I've been curious if and how intelligence agencies kept an eye on the compound. It's likely there were CIA operatives in the area but what about UAVs? If UAVs were used, how did the US keep the Pakistanis from seeing them on radar and shooting them down? This bad boy was probably used. That's right, a stealth UAV. I want one.

Monday, May 16, 2011

More books I should have read before I deployed

It was pointed out to me on Sunday, not so subtly, that I have not been posting very often, or at least not as often as some people would like. So, I figure I'll keep my audience happy and write something...

Currently reading David Galula's Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958 which is a narrative of Galula's time as a company commander in the French army in...you guessed it, Algeria from 1956-1958. For those of you who are not aware, Galula was a French officer who spent time in Beijing, Hong Kong, the Balkans, and the Phillipines where he was able to witness and study the rise of the communist party in China, the war in Indochina, and the Greek civil war. After returning to France he volunteered to go to Algeria which was dealing with a growing insurgency led by the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale or Jabhat at-Taḥrīr al-Waţanī). Galula would eventually find his way to the United States where he wrote two books, the above mentioned narrative of his time in Algeria and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, a very good analysis of how to defeat an insurgency. I read the latter book back in November/December after borrowing it from a friend and have no desire to return it (consider it stolen Kyle, it may be returned when I no longer feel it necessary to refer to it).

Anyway, I am no where near complete with Galula's time in Algeria but there was one interesting technique that Galula's company used in their area of operations (a mountainous region east of Algiers) that appeared to have a lot of success in helping defeat the insurgency in the area. Galula would have groups of villagers no smaller than 4 arrested for minor offenses and would then have the villagers interrogated for a few days before release. The purpose of the interrogations was to determine who was members of the insurgent cells. Since the insurgents were collecting a "tax" from each villager it was fairly apparent that everyone knew who was an insurgent and who wasn't. The detained villagers were free to provide names and locations of the insurgents to the French without fear of reprisal because any one of the detained individuals could have provided the information...the insurgents couldn't seek revenge without killing/torturing everyone who had been detained and if they did that entire villages would turn their collective backs on the insurgency.

This of course made me think if this tactic could have been used by 1-14 in our last deployment. 1-14 had no ability to attempt this, no detainment facilities and a status of forces agreement that wouldn't allow it. The Iraqi Army also likely could not have attempted it, but the local police might have been able to. The towns of Jalula and Qara Tapa were likely too large for this but the town of As Sadiyah (in reality a series of villages that became a town) and the tribal regions of Tibij and Nidah could have worked.

Iraq in 2009-10 of course was not Algeria in 1956-58 and attempting to detain groups of civilians for the Iraqi version of jay walking may only have led to anger, loss of respect for the local security forces, and potentially riots. It may not even have been viable. In As Sadiyah the Iraqi Army already had a good grasp of who was in each cell (at any one time there were two cells operating in the town) and every few months would roll up most if not all of at least one cell (which would then eventually be replaced). The Nidah Tribal Region had no police force to speak of since the Mandali police refused to go into the area; it was not really necessary anyway since after this asshole was detained attacks dropped significantly and most of the attacks that did occur could be attributed to the tribal dynamics in the area.

By the end of the deployment we had what I believed a pretty good picture of the Al Qaida/Kurwi tribe insurgent network operating out of Tibij and achieved that picture through patient HUMINT operations, no random detainments needed. The only problem was the location of all the individuals (about 2-3 cells worth). Detaining villagers and interrogating them for a few days on the locations of these individuals likely would have backfired on us. The Kurwi were practically all related in that area and interrogations likely would not have resulted in any success. Even if someone were to give up locations and movement patterns I have no doubts that the Kurwi would be willing to kill everyone who was detained if a large number of of the network suddenly wound up captured. Kill everyone who talks and people will stop talking. It was a tactic they had used in the past against informants/sources which of course led to a difficult HUMINT environment for 1-14 when we arrived.

But you never know if an idea will fail unless you try it. I can only imagine the Squadron commander's face if I actually proposed detaining villagers to gain information...and I think the Iraqi brigade intel officer would have just laughed at me.

I need a new insurgency to deploy to in order to test these theories.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wasting taxpayer money in a different location: Part II

Just a heads up in case anyone becomes concerned...I'm heading to FT Bliss, TX tomorrow for two months. Blogging may be light for a time.

While I do enjoy the desert, I do not believe I will enjoy two months in the desert.

Everyone is on the offensive

Way back in 2002 the United States conducted a drone attack against some militants in Yemen. Since that attack there have been no more drone strikes in Yemen despite the entrenched presence of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Well, no more attacks until last Friday.

Using a Predator drone that was likely based out of Djibouti we took a shot at Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born (Las Cruces, New Mexico) former imam who has become the spiritual leader for AQAP and who has used his native English and knowledge of the West to heavily recruit new members for Al Qaida/jihad/terrorism as well as contritbute heavily to AQAP propaganda efforts.

Awlaki may be target #1 for the United States now that Osama has been eliminated and I find it interesting that this attack, which apparently just missed the guy, occured less than a week after the raid against bin Laden. Probably just good timing, I highly doubt that OBL just happened to have the location of Awlaki on one of his hard drives that were removed from the compound he was in, but you never know. I do have some legality concerns about the targeting of this guy for death though. He's an American citizen, does the government have the right to blow this guy up with a hellfire missile? Does he not have the right of a trial?

Moving on to Afghanistan where NATO and Afghan security forces just finished defending Kandahar from a two day onslaught by Taliban militants. Somewhere between 60-100 fighters plus 9 suicide bombers attacked over the weekend. Clearly the yearly spring offensive is in full swing and the death of Osama isn't even going to slow those guys down.

It's going to get ugly in southern Afghanistan this year.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Questions likely to never be answered

Some questions I have concerning the Osama Bin Laden mission:

1) Reports that Osama were traveling between Pakistan and Afghanistan a few months ago, were they true?

2) How aware of Osama's location was the government of Pakistan?

3) Was Pakistan allowing Osama to stay where he was so the US would keep fighting the "War on Terrorism" and therefore keep giving Pakistan "anti-terrorism" money?

4) Will Osama's death in any way affect the Taliban's annual "Spring Offensive" in Afghanistan?

5) Will Al Qaida affiliates seek revenge or will they attempt to distance themselves from Al Qaida?

6) What was on the computers taken from the compound?

7) How many operations are now going to be conducted based off the information gained from those computers?

8) Does the US government realize that by dumping Osama Bin Laden into the ocean they allow for a situation similar to what happened when Megatron was dumped into the ocean? I don't feel like dealing with Osamatron in a few years...

Last known photo of Osa...I mean...Megatron

Kudos to good intel

I would have posted yesterday or earlier today about the Navy Seals killing Osama Bin Laden and then dumping his body off an aircraft carrier but I was on leave in Washington and was busy catching up with friends so I put this blog to the side. Since half my readers are the friends I was visiting I'm sure you all will forgive me.

The primary thing I want to say about this comes from one of my usual information sites, Wired.com. It discusses the intelligence work that went into getting OBL and how it was an operation that took years, which doesn't surprise me. Catching the big fish normally takes a lot of time and effort. Some of the intelligence gathered came from interrogations that had started back in 2003 of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and in 2005 of aide to former Al Qaida #3 Abu Faraj al-Libbi. The key bit of intel on OBL gotten from these two was the name of one of OBL's couriers.

The article points out that the only bit of information obtained prior to 2007 on OBL's courier was his "abu" name, or in other words, the guy's nickname. Meaning that it is possible some of the information that led to OBL was obtained through torture. The CIA didn't get the courier's full name until 2007...after "harsh interrogation" techniques had ceased. So yes, a tiny piece of the puzzle was obtained through torture, however, anyone who as served in Iraq or Afghanistan will likely tell you that while an Abu name is nice, the real name is better and gets you farther.

Basically what I'm trying to say, and this article is saying, is that it wasn't torture that got us the boogeyman, it was damn good intel work.

More on the Osama situation tomorrow...or the day after, depends on how lazy I am.