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. 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. 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 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 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 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.