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 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?