Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"This f*ck needs to die."

Merry Christmas everyone.

Quick disclaimer on this post, it's not intended to be bitter, cynical, angry, or anything like that. It's just a commentary on reality in Afghanistan.

How did I spend Christmas Eve? I participated in a target approval board where my section and I brief a major general on the individuals we're nominating each week. What does that mean? In a nutshell we're approving people to die.

Great way to spread Christmas cheer, peace on Earth, and goodwill towards men. Hellfire missiles.

The quote in the title was said by the major general in the approval board when a certain target was briefed. Rarely in my time as an intelligence analyst in both Iraq and Afghanistan has a situation been more black and white with little to no gray. Killing the target in question wouldn't just aid the US or Afghanistan, his removal from this existance would be a benefit to the whole world and mankind. The dude is just a psychopath.

His crime? Besides being an insurgent leader he has a habit of kidnapping individuals and beheading them. He has been known to target Afghan police, cut them up, and send their body parts to their families. Seriously, fuck this dude.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hellfires!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Afghanistan's Future?

Here are some of my current thoughts and questions about what the situation in Afghanistan may look like after coalition forces leave in 2014:

- Will the Karzai (or the guy who comes after him) administration completely collapse shortly after we leave?

- Will the ANA (Afghan National Army) collapse shortly after we leave?

- The Taliban believe they can re-take Afghanistan in about a month after Coalition Forces leave, are they over-estimating their own strength and under-estimating the resolve of the ANA?

- Most analysts (citation? fuck citations) believed the communist regime in Kabul would collapse as soon as the Soviets left in 1989. It didn't fall until 1992. With a little bit of international support (ok, a lot of support), the current government in Kabul may be able to hold off a Taliban-led insurrection.

- How much of the ANA defects to the Taliban?

- Will the Taliban continue to utilize insurgency style warfare to errode GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) influence and power or will they adopt full-scale war?

- If the Taliban do adopt full-scale war, can international (i.e. US) airpower slow down or even prevent Taliban capture of major urban centers. Basically, how many pickup trucks full of Taliban soldiers need to be taken out by F-16s/Predator UAVs to halt an attack against, say, Jalalabad.

- How much popular support does the Taliban actually have?

What are my thoughts on all of this? I believe we're looking at a repeat of the 1990s after the Soviets left. The Karzai administration will likely hold out for a couple of years but as international support slowly disappears, GIRoA will eventually control less and less territory. ANA defections will exacerbate the situation. Divisions amongst the Taliban, along with warlords and other powerful individuals who don't follow the Taliban's extremist ways, will divide Afghanistan and create an ugly mess of a civil war.

Solution? Bring the Taliban into the current government and maintain significant international airpower in the region (either Pakistan or Afghanistan).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marines Doing It Better: Part III

I've mentioned a few times in this blog that I admire the Marines and their (often superior) counter insurgency skills. From the Combined Action Program in Vietnam to foot patrols in Afghanistan, the Marines tend to figure things out quicker...probably because they have less to work with and are forced to figure things out quicker.

I found myself admiring Marines once again during a briefing to MG Nicholson (Marine general in charge of ISAF's Ops...essentially) the other day. We were discussing how the people of Afghanistan have a "group think" attitude. No one does anything without permission of the tribe/tribal elders. While this was generally the case in Iraq, it's much more the norm in Afghan culture. A young man in Afghanistan won't/can't join the army/police, get married, start a business, etc., without first receiving consent from the tribe.

MG Nicholson mentioned that when he was in Helmand Province the headquarters had two maps. One indicated areas where young men were joining the army (green/red) and another indicated areas where people were attending school (once again...red/green). Those areas that were green showed districts that were likely pro-goverment while those that were red were likely pro-Taliban. If the Taliban controlled an area then the tribal elders likely wouldn't let their people join the security forces or attend government-run schools. An interesting way of measuring metrics.

From my perspective, utilizing these maps is a pretty intelligent way of determining how your counter insurgency fight is going. Most staffs tend to focus on insurgents killed/captured or number of IEDs that go boom as a metric...which fails to really illustrate the overall situation. There is no "cookie-cutter" approach either and just because one system works in a certain area doesn't mean it will work in another. How long did it take the Marines in Helmand to figure out this particular solution?

As for my little corner of Iraq? We didn't use any official metrics that I can recall. I had my own unofficial ones, but I didn't track them on any PowerPoint or map. I looked at the number of attacks on civilians compared to attacks on Iraqi security forces and against 1-14 Cav. I figured if the insurgents were primarily attacking Strykers and not civilians the area was doing alright. Also, if the Kurds and Iraqis were willing to meet in the same room and not argue too much...or kill eachother, we were successful.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Moving Up

So there I was sitting fat and happy at the DFIP working a fairly simple job and living a deployment life that doesn't get much better when my company decided to move people around.

The background of this situation is that the company that I'm currently worked for bid on and won a contract but couldn't hire enough people to fill the contract (primarily because they cut salaries). The company then made the decision to move people from other contracts in Afghanistan to the one they needed to fill immediately.

I have now found myself on Camp KAIA (Kabul International Airport) working in ISAF's targeting cell. That means I'm on a NATO/ISAF base, eating better food, shopping in various nationalities' PX's, and working with multiple other foreign military officers. The head of my cell is a British lieutenant colonel; behind me sits a row of Italians; across from me is a Greek warrant officer; I think I even saw a Swede.

My job is review the target packets from the different Regional Commands (division HQs) for those individuals they want to kill/capture. In other words, if Coalition Forces want to kill someone in Afghanistan (that's not currently shooting at them), they have to go through me...my cell anyway.

It's a rather odd feeling.

In terms of job and base, I've definately moved up in the deployment world. While I'm currently living in a transient tent which I'm not likely to move from in the near term, the attractive French nurses and various Eastern European female soldiers more than make up for that minor inconvenience.

This new contract also gives me a guaranteed job back in the States when I get home. Bonus.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

There Is No Black and White: Redux

Nearly 3 years ago (has it been that long?!) I wrote about an insurgent leader that 1-14 Cav was targeting in the area around the town of Jalula, Iraq. He had claimed that he become an insurgent when in 2004 some US soldiers allegedly shot up a car full of his relatives, killing several of them. I had pointed out that his insurgent involvement was directly caused by our failure at counterinsurgency at the time.

Here and now in Afghanistan I am encountering situations that continue to add to the gray area of insurgent vs counterinsurgent. Some of the detainee packets that come across my desk/computer are of individuals who are only 17-19 years old. That means that when the US invaded Afghanistan, these detainees were about 6-8 years old; they have grown up with the American occupation. What caused them to go over to the insurgents...whether it be Al Qaida, the Taliban, Haqqani, etc? In one of the cases, the detainee's family is influential in the community with no real ties to the insurgency. He was recruited in the high school. The only reason I can see for joining any of the insurgent groups is hatred of the occupiers. But did we do anything specific to anger him?

What does this mean for counterinsurgency?

The only thing for certain that it tells me is that the metric of number of insurgents killed/captured as a tool to determine how well your counterinsurgency fight is going is a false one. More insurgents will always be recruited or created, you can't kill/capture them away.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lost In Downtown Baghdad

For the past couple of days I've been remembering a particular convoy in Iraq that I was a part of in 2007. I have no idea why my brain has been focused on this one trip but probably because it became so absurd.

It was some time after 3-2 SBCT had moved down from Mosul to Baghdad and the brigade had been assigned as the Corps reserve. We were clearing different neighborhoods in the city and my battalion, the brigade support battalion (BSB) had created a "support package" that would base itself at whatever FOB or COP was nearest the neighborhood being cleared (preferably in the same neighborhood). This was done so we didn't have support vehicles and soldiers travelling everyday from our "home" base at Camp Striker at the airport to whichever neighborhood was being cleared, they would be pre-positioned and quicker to react.

If I recall correctly 3-2 was clearing the Rusafa neighborhood and our support package was stationed at a FOB in the middle of the city in the same compound as the Ministry of Oil, across from the Martyr's Memorial.

This crazy looking place
On the day of this particular incident I had hopped onto a convoy consisting of 4 HMMWVs that were taking either the battalion commander or the battalion command sergeant major (it's been awhile, I forget) to see our soldiers who were at this base. I joined the convoy to get myself away from the office for awhile and check out the routes in Baghdad that our soldiers were using which is something I tried to do as often as possible. This was the first trip to this particular base by these soldiers...a key piece of information that will become relevant in a bit.
It should have been a simple trip. Leave Camp Striker and head down The Airport Road (Route Irish, at one time one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq), head straight into the Green Zone, make a few turns and then turn right onto the Jumiriyah Bridge, head straight through a large traffic circle and then continue on straight to our destination. Simple right? One problem...Iraqi security forces had thrown up roadblocks and entry control points everywhere and it was often impossible to know where they were unless you drove the route.
Everything went smoothly until we reached the Mohamed Al-Qasim Expressway. After passing under the freeway it appeared that the road was blocked by barriers and the Iraqi Army. Having no idea where to go the convoy commander in the lead vehicle (where I happened to be) decided to hang a quick left...which due to barriers forced us onto the freeway on-ramp.
All of us in the HMMWV became concerned with being on the freeway, mostly because we had no idea where the next exit was and whether or not it was blocked off. The traffic ahead of us began to speed up to avoid the usual mess that was created by a convoy of US forces showing up and the traffic behind slowed down to give us the space we demanded so as to not be perceived as a threat. The convoy commander made the quick decision to turn around and head back down the on-ramp...
...which was now filled with cars trying to get on the freeway. We had no where to go. Going against traffic would just be stupid and there wasn't room; turning around and going with traffic would just put us back in the same position of not knowing where we were going; and as I stated the on-ramp was filled with cars. We did the only logical and yet insane maneuver a group of heavily armed HMMWVs can do in this situation.
We started driving in circles.
I kid you not. There we are, 4 American HMMWVs driving in circles on some Iraqi freeway as we try to figure out what to do. I kept looking out at the Iraqi drivers and the looks we were getting were something between bewilderment (what the hell are they doing?) and frustration (great, I'm now stuck here because these Americans just want to drive around in circles).
After 2 or 3 loops we decided to just force our way down the on-ramp. Luckily the Iraqis on the on-ramp figured out what we needed to do and did their best to move over. The Iraqi soldiers at the bottom who were manning the barriers also saw what we were doing and started blocking traffic for us. It took some time but we eventually made it off the freeway and the Iraqi soldiers then directed us to the entry control point that we had missed when we first drove by (hidden by some T-walls).
That day wasn't my most absurd but it ranks up there. I still wonder what the Iraqis who we encountered that day were thinking about us and if they realize we were just a lost group of Americans who didn't mean to screw up their commute. At least they now have a humorous story to tell about HMMWVs driving around in circles on a freeway.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

UPDATE: If It Gets Bad Enough Maybe I'll Get To Go Back

While the world watches Syria, Gaza, and Black Friday insanity who is watching Iraq (other than Joel Wing of course)? I bring this up because I've noticed a disturbing set of events currently ongoing...events that could lead to civil war between Iraqis and Kurds.

First, on November 19 Iraqi military units moved from Baghdad and Tikrit to the Tuz Khurmato area in response to increasing violence and clashes between the Kurdish Peshmerga militia and government security forces. Where is Tuz exactly? Glad you asked...

It just happens to be near Kirkuk and in the Kurd/Arab disputed zone

The next day, 500 Peshmerga were sent to Kirkuk in response to Baghdad's movement of troops.

Now Baghdad has moved tanks and artillery into the "Hamrin Mountains"...whatever that means. The Hamrin Mountains run for miles in north-central Iraq but I suspect they mean the part of the Hamrin Mountains near Tuz.

Are we witnessing the first sparks of an Iraqi-Kurdish civil war or will cooler heads prevail as they typically have in the past? If fighting does occur I suspect the Iraqi Army will wipe the floor with the Peshmerga and easily take Kirkuk, but won't chase the Pesh farther than the mountains of Kurdistan.

As my old XO used to say, "even a troop of Girl Scouts can hold mountain passes against the Iraqis."

UPDATE: Well shoot, looks like the Kurds are withdrawing. No civil war for now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another "Combat Zone" Thanksgiving

As I spend yet another Thanksgiving in a combat zone here are some of the things I am currently thankful for:

1. I have a job.

2. My job is not on an austere combat outpost dealing with one major who had anger issues and another major who was slowly losing his mind.

3. All the people who have sent me care packages in the past. You kept me going.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012 everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mali Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better...If It Gets Better

I'm going to take a quick break from blogging about all my crazy new experiences in Afghanistan (I feel like such a noob!) and discuss the wonderfulness that is Mali right now. The last time I discussed Mali was back in June. At that time it appeared that a split had occured between the Tuareg seperatists who called themselves the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and their Al Qaida In the Islamic Maghreb affiliated Ansar Dine allies.

For those who have forgotten and want to read up on the whole Mali situation, here's a timeline. If you don't want to click the link...

- Qaddafi's regime falls in Libya.

- A whole bunch of Tuareg tribal mercenaries hired by Qaddafi come back home to Mali.

- Soldiers in the Malinese capital of Bamako stage a coup as a protest over the ineffective government handling of the ongoing rebellion in the northern part of the country.

- Tuaregs and Ansar Dine fighters pretty much take over all of Northern Mali...whoops.

- Tuaregs and Ansar Dine form an alliance. Tuaregs (largely secular) quickly rethink that alliance after they realize Ansar Dine is one of those annoyingly religious fundamentalist groups who like to stone people to death, deface cultural sites, and ban alcohol among other things.

-Tuaregs and Ansar Dine start fighting.

So where are we at now?

Well, Ansar Dine have called in their AQIM buddies and the AQIM have sent reinforcements to help fight the Tuaregs. The Tuaregs are now basically getting their asses kicked. Just to add some confusion to all of this, there is a fourth organization: Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) involved. MUJAO is an offshoot of AQIM who didn't like the fact that AQIM was led by a bunch of Algerians. MUJAO broke off from AQIM and started assisting Ansar Dine.

And what about those 3,300 soldiers that African leaders have stated will head to Mali to help retake the country? They probably won't be ready until March...

In the meantime, northern Mali could become the next Afghanistan.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

So Many Lawyers In One Location...Nuke the Site From Orbit?

Remember back at the beginning of the year when the military nearly burned some Korans? I just found out it was at the base I'm currently at. Hooray for controversy.

It's actually quite fascinating working in a prison so far. The office I work in is a joint environment meaning there are Navy, Air Force, and Army personnel, most of them individual augmentees...which means they were plucked from their units to serve time over here. I've even seen a Marine or two. No coasties yet though. As for deployment experience amongst this group it runs the gamut from the first timers who freak out every time the big voice goes off to the "lucky" few on their upteenth deployment....and those individuals are usually jaded and/or bitter so are easy to spot.

And most of the people I work with and around are lawyers or other legal specialists. Apparently they make some "interesting" command decisions.

In the long walkway from the entrance to the prison to my work area one can experience multiple languages and cultures. There are American soldiers speaking English and Spanish (Puerto Rican National Guard) as well as the Afghan soldiers speaking various languages including Pashto and Dari. The Afghans actually have linguists for their own military so soldiers can communicate with eachother.

This honestly could end up being my oddest deployment yet. Now if I can just figure out a way to get outside the wire...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

4 AM Is Generally Too Early For Anything

Two observations from my short time here at Camp Sabalu-Harrison:

1. Seeing a shooting star gives me a fraction of a second of panic before I realize that what I just saw was falling space debris of some kind and not an incoming rocket.

2. There is nothing more annoying at 4 am than the "big voice" announcing "INCOMING!" Especially when there is no incoming.

However, I will say this...hearing that sound reminds me of what a rush it can be to think you are suddenly under attack. Really reminds you of what it is to be alive.

But at 4 am? Not so much. I should send out a memo to the local insurgent group reminding them not to send indirect fire our way during my sleeping hours. It's just rude and it brings back too many NTC memories; mostly the ones of my warrant officer laughing at me when I dove out of my cot into my body armor as we got hit by The Mad Mortarman.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sifting Through the Past, Desk By Desk

After several days I finally have my badges for access to where I'll be working in the DFIP (detention facility in Parwan...yah! More acronyms to learn!) and I was even shown my desk and computers...yeah, computers, as in plural. A desk and computers you say?! No jumping from desk to desk computer to computer like at Huachuca? Hooray for small miracles. An organization that kind of gives a damn.

I don't have the access codes to actually get on the computers yet so it's not like I can actually start any work until I get those (boo for bureaucracy) but I had the opportunity to start cleaning out my desk, which from some of the items found hasn't been cleaned out for years.

Here's a small list:

- canned chicken
- candy
- unopened trail mix
- Several Hooters calendars
- "tush" wipes
- more candy
- protein bars
- Mio drink mix
- other various drink mixes
- Sand In My Bra...I might actually read this
- the greatest pair of aviators I have ever seen; I put them on and one of my coworkers told me I look like a pedophile. Yep, those are keepers.

I love how desks become odd little time capsules. Gives interesting insight into the people who previously worked there.


- toothbrush
- crossword puzzles
- popcorn
- some pills...could be candy, who knows

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Greetings from Afghanistan

After a week at Camp Atterbury, IN and a couple of miserable days in Kuwait I finally made it to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. So far (3 days) this place is pretty much what I expected. Large, overcrowded, noisy, and waaaaaaaaay too much traffic. Luckily I have found myself on a quiet part of the base, which I'll get to shortly. But at least I have internet in my room...for a price.

I had forgotten about the dust. Bagram sits in a bowl so the dust is everywhere. Thick brown stuff that gets into everything. At least the mountains are beautiful...when they aren't obscured by the dust.

Camp Sabalu-Harrison is where I will call the next year or so home. I don't have my access badges yet so I can't start work yet so I've been spending my time exploring our little corner of Bagram and figuring out the bus system. I was lucky enough that there was a spot open in one of the CHUs when I arrived here so I only had to spend my first night in transient housing.

As for what I'll be doing: I'm working as an analyst in the prison helping to build evidence packets on the detainees to help determine which detainees should remain and transfered over to Afghan custody and which ones should be released. From what I can gather it's a lot of research, which is what I'm good at so that's a plus. Unfortunately, my job may not entail a lot of knowledge of the overall happenings in Afghanistan so my posts may not be all that interesting or useful to the daily goings-on here, unlike my posts from my previous deployments.

Still, I'll post what I can and try to keep it interesting, even if it's just me griping about the horrid Afghan winter and then the horrid Afghan summer.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Kuwait tasks me. It tasks me.

Kuwait, for me, is like a small child. It has the ability to amuse and irritate me at the same time. At least the heat isn't bad this time around, hovering around 90 degrees. Quite a bit difference from a few days ago when I was tolerating 30 degree weather in Indiana.

Took five hours to fly from Germany to Kuwait...and then 5 hours to get from the airport to the transient base. 5 incredibly boring hours with no one giving us any information on why it was taking so long. Welcoming LNOs didn't have enough personnel to handle us all because it was 3 AM. Dining facility makes contractors pay...but only with the special Eagle Cash Card...and you can only get those during certain hours of the day.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again. Kuwait is purgatory and is designed so that you want to move on to the bad place you are headed, because that place has to be better right?

See you in Bagram.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Apology post

For my 200th post (200? Holy crap.) I'd love to discuss something interesting but I'm only writing to apologize for the lack of recent posts. With packing up my apartment, putting everything in storage, and driving across the country I've been a bit busy. My access to internet is also going to be limited very soon so my ability to post anything will be equally limited.

Hopefully when I get settled in Afghanistan I'll be able to blog a bit and keep everyone updated.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I Must Be Insane

Good news loyal readers, at least good news for me. I have managed to find a job. The job search took longer than expected but I gained some valuable insights and had a great time on my extended "vacation". The position I was hired for was as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan for one year. I leave for D.C. at the end of this month with travel overseas shortly there after.

If I can, I'll keep this blog going with highlights from my time in Afghanistan. However, I'll likely censor myself a bit more than I have in the past since instead of getting a warning call from Brigade I could potentially just get fired if I cross any lines.

Hopefully this will be a good experience for me and gets my foot in the door for future employment.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Beach Assaults and the Most Important Question Ever

I apologize for the lack of posts of late. I had to leave town for about a week for a family emergency but I am now safely back in Tacoma. So what will Warhorse Intel discuss in this installment? How about good ol' Somalia?

If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times...Shabaab is done. Like Cleveland Browns done. This past Friday Kenya launched a three pronged assault on the southern port town of Kismayo, Shabaab's last major stronghold. One of those prongs included a beach assault. A beach assault! That's pretty badass.

Shabaab had previously claimed that they would fight to the death for Kismayo but apparently abandoned the town after only a day. Shabaab even admitted it left the town through through its Twitter account.

I still love the fact that they use Twitter.

Should Warhorse Intel join Twitter?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Movements of the MeK

Anybody remember the Mujahedin-e-Kharq? I wrote about them waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in August 2009 as I was sitting in Kuwait waiting to head north into Iraq for a third time. The MeK are an organization/cult that formed in Iran during the 1960's to fight the Shah. They were communists and extremely violent and eventually found a home in Iraq. The United States would eventually label the MeK a terrorist organization.

Until now that is.

The State Department is removing MeK from the list of terrorist groups. This will not end well.

At least most of them are sitting on the former "Camp Liberty" in Baghdad where they likely can't do anything too harmful. Iraq is booting them out of the country, and rightfully so since they are Iranians who are only in Iraq because Saddam found the MeK useful. But where they end up is currently anybody's guess. What they do once they get wherever they are going is what concerns me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Back in the beginning of my second Iraq deployment in 2006 I came across a series of articles in The Christian Science Monitor that were written by journalist Jill Carroll. Carroll had been working as a freelance journalist for the Monitor in Iraq when she was kidnapped by insurgents. The articles were her story of the abduction and the 82 days that followed. I read most of the articles but quickly became too busy with the daily tasks of being a deployed intelligence officer to finish all of them.

I was reminded of Jill and her story while reading The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. Filkins' book is about his time as a journalist in Afghanistan both prior to and after 9/11 but primarily focuses on his time covering the Iraq War. The abduction of Carroll is mentioned in Filkins' book and so I took the time to read all the articles again.

There are 11 total articles and they aren't short. However, they are a great look into the dynamics and beliefs of an insurgent organization in Iraq in early 2006 as well as the mental fortitude of a woman who had no idea if she would survive the ordeal. It's a powerful and emotional story to read.

The Jill Carroll Story: Part I

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Honoring One's Fallen Brothers With a Haka

Take a couple of minutes and watch this YouTube clip of a New Zealand Army unit paying their respects to some fallen comrades by performing a Maori haka. The haka is an ancient ritual meant to both intimidate and show respect to opponents. You can really feel the emotion of the men performing the haka and I'm actually a bit shocked they allowed someone to film it since a military unit honoring one of their own is a very personal event.

Nothing like this occurs in the States that I know of.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Laughing At the Echelons Above Reality And Their Rules

Take a moment and read this post on Tom Rick's blog about the absurdity of some uniform policies. The post is a re-run from 2011 but I might as well utilize to tell a few stories involving stupid uniform rules that I can remember from my deployments.

Let me just start by saying I understand the reasoning the Army has adopted the use of the PT safety belt. PT is usually held in the early morning hours, often when it is still dark outside. Individuals are seen easier by cars when wearing them. I also understand their use while deployed. Most bases don't have many lights and it can get extremely dark late at night. Mandating soldiers wear reflective belts past a certain time makes sense. Hell, in 2007 before wearing PT belts at night was mandatory I was nearly struck by an Abrams tank late at night on FOB Warhorse outside of Baqubah.

Nearly my last image of this world

I can just imagine the conversation between the casualty notification officer and my parents had I survived most of a 15 month long deployment only to be crushed by a tank on the damn base.

Still, the Army comes up with stupid rules. In 2004 we were issued black fleece jackets. They were awesome and very warm which was great in December when it gets bloody cold in Iraq and Kuwait, especially at night. However, some Sergeant Major decided that the fleece jackets were meant to be worn under the uniform and not over it. This logically made no sense since the jacket did not fit under any top issued by the Army at this time. Rumor spread that the jacket was not being allowed to be worn because there was no rank on it. Eventually a new jacket was issued, and this one had velcro on it where you could attach rank. And all was right with the world.

There were other stupid decisions made. MPs were posted on certain roads on the Victory Base Complex to catch speeders and issue tickets. Pretty sure we needed those MPs for other things. On one section of road on FOB Marez in Mosul there was a sign posted that stated "speed checked by radar." I never saw a radar device or an MP.

The highest level of stupidity I ever saw came out of my own brigade however, the good old 3-2 SBCT. During the '09-'10 deployment the brigade actually established a "standards patrol" or something of a similarly stupid name. It was made up of a group of soldiers who would go around FOB Warhorse and issue warning tickets to individuals who were breaking the uniform standards. They even occasionally made field trips to the other bases. The best part of the patrol was that all infractions were logged onto a spreadsheet and uploaded to the brigade's website for all to see. It became a source of humor for those of us out in combat outposts and other far off bases.

The standards patrol came out to COP Cobra once. This was fine since our Sergeant Major and the leadership ensured we followed uniform regulations. We all joked about wearing our PT belts at night but when it's late at night and there are no lights the only thing between you and that Iraqi soldier plastering you with the bumper of his HMMWV may be that PT belt. The patrol coming to our base was a complete joke. Especially since the only person they caught out of uniform was one of our CAT III interpreters (US civilian with a clearance) not wearing a hat when he was outside. The patrol told him he had to wear his hat. We told him he was making way more money than any of us and was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more valuable to our efforts than any soldier in that standards patrol. Wear the hat, don't wear the hat...we didn't care.

To really emphasize what a joke these "safety reports" were to us at 1-14 I will share one last story. The standards patrol actually started to monitor the "blue force tracker" to determine the speeds of vehicles moving around the brigade's operating area. The blue force tracker is basically a GPS software system that shows were all brigade vehicles are on a map. The "SP" was using this to figure out who was speeding (anything over 45 MPH) and then posting the culprits' vehicle number on the website. The vehicle with the highest speed? Our squadron sergeant major...followed immediately by our squadron commander.

The B troop commander took one look at the speeds posted and said, "I can beat that."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some Miscellaneous Notes I Found

As I was trying to determine a topic for today's post I came across some interesting notes I wrote to myself in one of my many "green books" that I have managed to keep from my time in the Army (a green book being a book for notes that everyone in the Army carries that just happen to be green). Based on the date these notes were written in late February 2011 as I was wasting my time at FT Benning, GA as an augmentee for the military's Joint Forced Entry Warfighter Exercise...as opposed to wasting my time at FT Huachuca. Anyway, here are my thoughts/notes at this particular moment in my life. Discuss amongst yourselves:

- Draft deferments given to college students. Many in higher education avoided military service (during the Vietnam War and prior). Has this led to anti-military thought and practices in many universities?

- Maneuver (i.e. infantry, armor, field artillery) platoon leaders and company commanders receive training on how to integrate enablers (engineers, psyops, etc) but are not trained on integrating military intelligence enablers (HUMINT teams, SIGINT teams, etc). This leads to a lack of knowledge on how to utilize these assets and a determination that they are not useful when they end up not being utilized properly.

(I have a slightly interesting story that I may discuss in the next blog about an infantry Ops Sergeant Major who clearly didn't understand how HUMINT teams operate.)

- Why do we train foreign militaries to organize, fight, and train in a Western/American style? Smaller nations (Georgia, Kuwait, etc) should be trained to fight asymetrically in order to defeat a larger military.

(I would argue that in a conflict between Georgia and Russia, a few dozen IEDs could be more effective than a few tanks if placed and detonated properly.)

- A Combined Arms BN is authorized 15 soldiers in the S2 (intelligence) section.

(Too many or too few? At it's highest number my S2 section with 1-14 numbered 9 which includes me, not factoring in the HUMINT soldiers I received from brigade. And I only had 8 in Iraq since one analyst didn't deploy due to legal trouble. Include the 1 soldier I always had tasked out and that left me with 7...split between two different bases 100km apart for much of the deployment. Talk about a challenge. The infantry battalion I was with also only had 9 total soldiers and that included the additional staff sergeant we were given from one of the companies. When I was in the support battalion there were only 3 of us.)

- There is a reason military intelligence officers are not in command of maneuver elements...they over-think and create confusion.

(This note just makes me laugh)

Monday, August 27, 2012

PKK Taking Advantage of Syrian Chaos

In case any of you were wondering, I did indeed return from Turkey. The trip was absolutely amazing and I got to see pretty much everything I wanted to see, which was basically just really old shit, because old shit is cool. I have spent the last several days recovering and re-adjusting to Pacific Coast time. This "recovery from vacation" is one of those glorious "first world problems" that most people seem to desire after a long vacation but can never really achieve because of daily responsibilities like jobs. Another perk of being unemployed.

Anyway, the day my friends and I left Turkey a remote-controlled car bomb was detonated in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep which is only a couple of hours drive from the Syrian city of Aleppo...the same Aleppo that is currently under seige by pro-Assad forces. Turkish government officials blamed the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group that seeks an independent Kurdistan.

Earlier in August an Iraq to Turkey oil pipeline was sabotaged inside Turkey close to the Syrian border. The PKK was also believed responsible for that attack.

The PKK is also suspected in an attack against a Turkish military bus in western Turkey a few days after the oil pipeline attack.

Why do I bring this up? Pretty much just to point out that the Syrian civil war is bleeding over to other countries. The PKK is likely taking advantage of the situation and likely increased freedom of movement due to the breakdown in security in Syria. The PKK may be hoping that with the eventual fall of the Assad regime the Kurds can establish an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Syria. Turkey would never allow this to occur so the increased attacks may be being conducted in order to focus Turkey's attention inwardly and prevent any interference from Turkey in establishing an independent state.

What is more likely to happen, however, is that Turkey uses these attacks, and any future attacks, as a reason to send "peacekeeping" forces into northern Syria in order prevent more terrorist operations as well as discourage any attempt at creating a Kurdistan.

Lebanon is also seeing its share of violence. Clashes have occured in the city of Tripoli between pro and anti-Assad groups. This being Lebanon I'm sure the situation is a lot more complicated than that, but the situation in Syria is likely the fuse on that particular powderkeg.

When does the UN plan on doing anything beside send observers to observe people being slaughtered?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Quick hiatus

This blog will be on a short 2 week (ish) break while I take a much needed vacation to Turkey. I will do my best to avoid insulting Mustafa Kemal or being kidnapped by the PKK so that I may return home and continue my random blogging. Enjoy the remaining few weeks of summer!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Civilian to veteran interactions: Part III

I really wish I didn't have to continue or update this little mini-series I have on civilian/veteran interactions but it still boggles my mind (even though it shouldn't) that often times people really have no idea how to act or even talk to a veteran.

For me, there have been two recent conversations I've had that afterwards I thought to myself, "what in the world did they mean by that?"

A few weeks ago I decided to volunteer for the Peace Corps since the job hunt wasn't working out so well and I figured what the hell, I've got a lot to offer and I'm always up for another adventure. Long story short, they didn't want me because I'm a former intelligence officer. Sucks when you can't even volunteer for something. Anyway, during my conversation with the nice woman at the front desk I mentioned that I had done 3 deployments to Iraq. Her response: "you're remarkably well adjusted. That's very commendable."

What the hell does that mean? You've spoken to me for about 5 or 10 minutes and you know that I'm well adjusted? Are you assuming that everyone who comes back from a deployment is messed up in the head in some way?

The next conversation actually occured yesterday at a BBQ. The BBQ was a "pre-celebration" for some friends of mine who are getting married today and the bride's mom was going around and meeting everyone. I was sitting with my usual group of teacher friends and when introductions began I had my typical sense of doom knowing I would have to explain my current situation.

The bride's mom asked me if I too was a teacher to which I explained in my standard way that I was not, I had recently left the Army. She then remembered that I played soccer with the bride and that the last she met me I was about to deploy; she concluded with, "I'm glad everything worked out for you."

I think she was trying to find a polite way of saying, "I'm glad you didn't get killed over there."

Perhaps I'm reading too much into conversations but I'm pretty sure normal people don't have to deal with odd statements like those. To say, "I'm glad everything worked out for you" without having any inkling of the past 3+ years feels similar to a brush off. "Everything" didn't work seeing how I am currently out of a job or had to waste over a year of my life in Arizona to figure out the Army wasn't working for me. "Everything" certainly didn't work out for the 4 soldiers in my Squadron or the 8 total from the Brigade who didn't come home.

I'm just going to start telling people I'm a janitor.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Top 10 "Global Concerns" 2012 edition

Time again for Warhorse Intel's annual Top 10 "Global Concerns", 2012 edition! For any new readers out there my Top 10 "Global Concerns" are those nations and areas of the world where either conflicts were occuring or conflicts could break out and could spread to the rest of the region or involve United States military forces. 2009's list is here and 2011's is here. If you are link averse last year's list looked like this:

10. Iran
9. Nigeria
8. Algeria
7. Syria
6. Mexico
5. North Korea
4. Somalia
3. Yemen
2. Kurd/Arab line in Iraq
1. Afghanistan/Pakistan

This year's list is similar with some very important differences. Algeria is off because most of the violence in that country appears to be limited primarily to the Kabylie region where violence always seem to occur throughout Algeria's history. Nigeria also fell off because while there is a potential civil war brewing it doesn't appear as though it will spread to outside of Nigeria or involve any foreign intervention. Here is my current list:

10. Greece
New to the list this year because the Greek economy has essentially collapsed and no European nation seems to be willing to bail them out since everyone has their own problems to deal with. How long before we see communist guerrillas again?

9. Iran
They have nuclear reactors and may only be couple of years away from building a nuclear weapon. Not even Stuxnet or AC/DC seem able to stop them.
8. Mexico
Dropping down a couple of spots this year because the violence hasn't spread over the border...yet.

7. Kurd/Arab line in Iraq
Also dropping down the list is the "Green Line" in Iraq. When I left Iraq in 2010 i figured the Kurds and Arabs were only a few months from civil war. Glad I was wrong but can a political solution be found? Or is it that Al Qaida in Iraq is distracting the Iraqi government from the Kurds at the moment?

6. Somalia
Another country that dropped down the list. Is the African Union on the verge of defeating Shabaab and enabling the creation of a new government in Somalia? Potential win for "Africa helping Africa".

5. North Korea
New leader and he's firing generals. Out with the old, in with the new, same as the old. Something tells me in 100 years we're still going to be dealing with a divided Korea.

4. Yemen
A civil war under the guise of Yemeni government vs Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The rest of the world doesn't seem to care.

3. Mali
I took Mali off this list last year because it appeared that the government, along with Mauritania was slowly defeating Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. One year and one coup later the Taureg Tribe along with AQIM backed fundamentalist Islamic groups have taken over half the country. The Tauregs are now fighting with their former BFFs. Whoops, there goes that neighborhood.

2. Syria
If you don't know why Syria went from #7 last year to #2 this year then you aren't paying attention. The protests of last year have turned into a full on rebellion. Fighting is ongoing in Damascus, Aleppo, and, well...pretty much everywhere. Rebels are using IEDs (smart), assassinating top officals (possibly smart?), and have seized border posts (brilliant). However, Kurdish rebels have taken control of several cities in northern Syria prompting Turkey to state they will not tolerate a Kurdish-run region in northern Syria. Iraqis who fled Iraq for Syria are now fleeing Syria to go back to Iraq. Talk about a clusterfuck.

1. Afghanistan/Pakistan
I said it last year and I'll say it again this year...fuck this place.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

An Uneventful Trip Turns Out (Slightly) Eventful

It has occured to me that I have not posted man of my "so there I was..." stories from my Iraq deployments. While I may have been an intelligence officer who rode a desk through most of my 3 trips down range I do have a few stories to tell. This is one of those stories, although I confess the ending is a bit anti-climactic and it's likely most of you will see it as a "guess you had to be there" story.

The event takes place in the fall of '04 during my first deployment. My battalion, the 502nd MI had recently acquired up-armored HMMWVs, several months after the unit had arrived in theater and only a few months before we would deploy back to FT Lewis. Better late than never I suppose. The battalion headquarters company was conducting a convoy down to Camp Babylon which was a small base that surrounded the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, as the name suggests. It was a Polish base that also headquartered some of the smaller nation contigents in the coalition; the 502nd happened to have a company of human intelligence soldiers there as well that gathered intel in the surrounding cities of Al Hillah, Karbala, Najaf, Diwaniyah, and Kut. Our convoy was going down there to drop off some supplies and swap out one of our signal soldiers. I went along because I was the maintenance platoon leader in the headquarters company and went on convoys as much as I could.

The trip down was uneventful as it almost always was. During our brief stay on Camp Babylon our platoon of MPs (the 502nd had a platoon of MPs assigned to it who guarded one of our facilities at FT Lewis and provided convoy security when we deployed) got into a conversation with another group of MPs who were escorting fuel tankers. These other MPs, along with their convoy of fuel tankers, left before us but as we were leaving Babylon we got a call on our radios from them that they required our assistance.

Only a few minutes outside Babylon one of the fuel trucks had taken a turn too sharply and had rolled over on its side. The convoy needed us to guard the tanker while they took the other trucks back to Babylon and get a crane or tow truck to come to the site. Always willing to help out another unit, and not quite ready to go back to Camp Victory, we obliged.

I have no idea how long we watched that tanker which had overturned outside of a Shia village. It could have been 30 minutes, it could have been 2 hours. On two sides there were large date groves as well as the typical house/compounds that were always tucked away into the groves. In 2004 you never knew how friendly or angry the Shia population was towards Coaltion Forces and as the maintenance platoon leader I didn't have the knowledge or much access to the knowledge to know. In any event, the briefing we got from the S2 (intel) soldier prior to the convoy didn't mention any specific threat.

Still, I imaged the compounds and the date groves to be perfect hiding spots for a sudden attack by Jaysh al Mahdi forces. My mind kept thinking of a sudden RPG firing out of the groves, hitting the fuel tanker, and making for a very bad day.

That bad day didn't happen. After a time the other MPs returned and took over security of the site and we drove the 2 hours back home. The civilians that had gathered around us while we guarded the tanker mostly just pointed and laughed...which is what I would do under similar circumstances.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sometimes the Joke Does Translate

I can't believe I missed this. Apparently back in June the leader of the Communist Party in As Sadiyah was assassinated by gunmen. As Sadiyah, if you do not recall, was the town to the south of our combat outpost turned forward operating base during my deployment in '09/'10.

The reason I care and bring it up here is because it reminds me of a funny story during that deployment. While this may seem cold...a guy died afterall...sometimes you just need to find the dark humor in a situation such as this. War is hell afterall.

On the the (quick) story.

During the '09/'10 deployment we got a report that someone in As Sadiyah was attacked by an IED. The report was scant on details since it came from the local security forces and the troop that operated in the area hadn't had the time to go check up on the attack and find out all the information. A day or two later we were hosting all the leaders of the Iraqi Army, Iraqi police, and Peshmerga on the COP and we brought up the attack. Naturally we asked if anyone knew who had been the target. One of the Iraqi officers stated that the victim was a leader of the Communist Party (probably the same guy from the link).

Our next question was, "what is the name of the leader of the Communist Party in As Sadiyah?"

The response: "they're communists, they don't have a leader!"

All the Iraqis and Kurds laughed and as soon as the response was translated we all chuckled as well. It's good when a joke translates language and culture like that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Thought or Two on Lawrence of Arabia

I managed to finish an interesting book the other day titled Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt by James J. Schneider who is a professor at the US Army's Command General Staff College in FT Leavenworth.

I was first interested in this book when I read that it focused on the leadership qualities and decisions of Lawrence as well as his role as a leader in the Arab Revolt during WWI. Having acquired an interest in insurgent/guerrilla warfare I decided I should take a look. It was definately worth it, although some of Schneider's conclusions about Lawrence I disagree with...which I'll get to.

My interest in Lawrence goes back farther than my interest in insurgencies due primarily to my mother...who actually gave me this book as a Christmas gift. I recall watching the 1962 movie when I was very young, although I mostly recall being bored, going off to do something else, and then returning some time later...and of course the movie was still going. After I finished Guerrilla Leader I of course had to watch the movie again...forgeting, as I usually do, that it is about 4 hours long.

There's a coffee table book on Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, the Legend sitting opened on my desk as I type this. Also a gift from my mother.

I read Seven Pillars of Wisdom (not a gift from my mother) while (literally) watching paint dry after I completed the MI captains career course in 2008. When I arrived to 1-14 Cav later that year the XO asked me what the last book I read was...I believe trying to gauge what type of intel officer I was...his eyes lit up when I told him that it was Seven Pillars. The XO stated he had tried several times to read it but couldn't finish it. He also wanted me to write some "Cliff Notes" on it for him...yeah, I'm not going to enable your inability to get through a book. Perhaps that made me a bad staff officer. Perhaps I don't give a fuck.

I make myself LOL for real sometimes

So I like to think I have a fairly decent understanding of Lawrence, as well as any American nearly 80 years after his death and is only a casual reader of his can be. Anyway, back to the book. This will be brief, I swear.

Like I said, good book and an interesting read. Schneider paints a picture of the situation Lawrence came into as well as what Lawrence was up to in the years prior to WWI and then goes on to discuss how Lawrence became involved with the Arabs, the major decisions, and the operations conducted. However, since the book is about Lawrence the Leader and not so much Lawrence the Eccentric, Schneider completely leaves out Lawrence's detainment in Deraa and the interrogation/rape that occured there.

Schneider claims that Lawrence likely suffered from PTSD (well duh) which is the primarly reason Lawrence attempted to resign from his position after the battle of Talifeh. But, the author claims that it was Talifeh that led to the change in Lawrence.

The battle of Talifeh occured in January 1918, 2 months after Deraa. The Arabs seized the town on the way to the capture of Damascus. The Turks counterattacked, which caught Lawrence off guard. Talifeh was the only conventional fight Lawrence was a part of during the Arab Revolt and Schneider claims this is what led to Lawrence's "shellshock". Perhaps he is correct.

I'd put my money on the Turkish male rape as the most likely culprit of the PTSD, but that's just me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Keeping Up With the Iraqshians

Lots of things happening lately in Iraq and by happenings I mean stuff blowing up. Insurgents in the country have gone from one major attack a month to at least one a week. Cue the news stories from suddenly interested reporters about the spreading violence, civil war, and deteriorating security forces...

Except Al Qaida...with some help from JRTN I suspect...has always increased their attacks in Iraq during the summer for the past 9 years. They haven't overthrown the Iraqi government yet, and they probably won't.

Joel Wing over at Musings On Iraq has an excellent analysis of the situation as usual. The last paragraph is what struck me the most, especially a couple of lines. Wing states that the current security situation is shaped by a couple of factors, the first was the withdrawal of US forces, and the second is that Iraqi security forces aren't conducting counterinsurgency operations anymore.

That bit about Iraq not conducting COIN worries me a bit. While AQI may be a shell of what they once were, by not conducting COIN the Iraqi government may be creating a situation which enables other groups to form and begin conducting operations.

And those organizations may become capable of overthrowing the government...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Being the New Guy

I was contemplating the other day, as I am prone to do, on my time in the Army and the numerous challenges...and challenging people...I had to deal with and overcome. My thoughts formed the obvious question, what was the most challenging thing I did in the Army?

Was it the 4 years of ROTC? Any one of my 3 Iraq deployments? Losing one of my soldiers?

It occured to me that while all of these challenges were certainly difficult, the hardest thing I ever did was join a unit that is already deployed; something I had to do twice.

My first unit, the 502nd Military Intelligence battalion, was already in Iraq when I got to FT Lewis and after spending roughly 2 months with the rear detachment I was sent over with a handfull of other soldiers to join the organization. While our mission was not inherently dangerous, it was still a combat zone and here was this brand new 2nd lieutenant that had to be trained and brought up to speed on the units operating procedures and ways of doing things. I'm sure I frustrated a lot of NCOs because not only was I very green, but I also held a position of authority. The First Sergeant had the patience of a saint at times. A few of the other NCOs? Not so much.

During my second deployment I was moved from the Support Battalion where I had been for over 2 years to join 1-23 IN as a much needed assistant battalion intelligence officer. When you spend 2 years with an organization you get to know people quite well and they get to know you, especially when much of that time was spent in the field, at the National Training Center, and over the course of a deployment. As the battalion intel officer I had earned the respect of my coworkers and understood what was expected of me.

All that changed when I joined 1-23. Suddenly I was an unknown entity, hell the battalion S1 (personnel officer) thought I was brand new to the brigade. When the battalion was sent south from Baghdad for a short time to help 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division I was waiting in the planning office with my gear and one of the other officers asked if it was my first time outside the wire (leaving the base). The look I got when I told him that this was my second deployment and that when the brigade was in Mosul I was leading convoys was priceless. However, it was yet another sign that I was starting all over and despite having been in the brigade for awhile, I was the new guy in that battalion.

Looking back, the year I spent with the 502nd and the year I spent with 1-23 were by far the most difficult times for me in the Army. It always sucks being the new guy, it sucks more when there is an enemy trying to kill you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some updated news on Mali

When I last discussed Mali, the country had fallen into civil war between the government and the combined forces of the Tuareg tribe and the Al Qaida backed Ansar Dine.

So what has occured since I last discussed Mali? Well, the leader of Ansar Dine is stating that the goal of the rebellion is not an independent northern Mali, but a unified Mali under Sharia law. Good for him, it's nice to have goals.

But hold your horses...West African leaders are attempting to get a coaltion of close to 3,300 soldiers to reconquer northern Mali. Looks like the success of the African Union in Somalia is creating waves through the rest of Africa. I hope that's a good thing. Africa helping Africa and all that.

There are even indications that this crazy rebel alliance may be falling apart as we speak. The two groups clashed in the town of Kidal in the beginning of June. About a week later, the two groups fought again at a checkpoint.

Somebody in Mali appears to be having second thoughts about their choice of partners...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A dark day for 1-14 remembered

Three days ago was the 2 year anniversary of a tragic day in 1-14 Cav "Warhorse" history. On June 11, 2010, nearly 11 months into our 12 month deployment, a suicide carbomb (SVBIED in Army speak) struck one of our dismounted patrols killing two soldiers; SPC Yauch and SGT O'Bryan. I briefly mentioned this attack in a post a couple of weeks after the attack that can be found here. It was this attack that ultimately led to my removal from the green beret Christmas card list.

But I don't want to focus on the horror of that day, or the sadness of losing 2 of our brothers. I want to focus on the Squadron's tactical reactions and how we came together as a team.

The carbomb attack story goes back a couple of days prior when a stryker with 5-20 IN was hit by a SVBIED. The next day...or two days later, my memory has failed...1-23 IN also was struck by an SVBIED. While curious, no one at Brigade seemed alarmed as insurgent groups rarely coordinated attacks across Diyala like this and the two attacks were deemed related...at the time.

A night or two after the 1-23 attack one of C Troop's sources called their HUMINT NCO and stated he had information about a cache of RKG-3 grenades in Jalula. RKG's were a high priority for us since they were one of the few weapons available to our Sunni insurgents that were effective against our vehicles. The RKG is a Russian anti-armor grenade that when thrown properly can damage our vehicles and possibly cause casualties. We had had several RKG attacks in the past few months and although they had caused no damage an RKG attack in Jalula during the last unit's deployment had led to the death of a soldier.

C Troop had a patrol going out to Jalula the next morning to do a joint dismount with the Iraqi Army and the Jalula ERF (local security force). However, for whatever reason the HUMINT NCO did not pass on the information from the source about the RKG cache to the platoon leader, primarly because he didn't trust the source or the information. Fate reared its ugly head though and the patrol ended up in the same neighborhood as the source, who quickly directed the patrol towards an empty house where he said weapons were.

It was a set up. Whether the source knew or not, the patrol was led into a trap. After they left the house to continue the patrol the suicide carbomb struck.

I was just starting my day and was going through emails when I got the phone call to get my ass to the TOC. When I got there everyone was doing their job exactly as they should be doing it. What little info we had was going to Brigade; the platoon on the ground was communicating with the TOC for what they needed; the medical staff had been informed and were prepping their facilities; the QRF (quick reaction force) was being sent out to the scene; and both my day and night shift analysts were directing a UAV onto the site.

The situation unfortunately became more chaotic as the platoon could not find SGT O'Bryan's body. They found parts of him and his gear, but most of him was missing. We had the sudden fear that O'Bryan had been taken by insurgents after the attack. The operations NCO at the TOC confirmed multiple times with the platoon that they did not have a body and he informed the Squadron XO. The Squadron commander came immediately to the TOC to confirm the situation before heading out to Jalula himself. After gathering the facts that we had and pausing for a moment he said the words I never thought I would hear:

"Declare a DUSTWUN."

DUSTWUN stands for duty status - whereabouts unknown. Calling one is similar to knocking over an ant hill...an ant hill the size of Iraq. Every single vehicle that we could get off the FOB we sent out to begin creating temporary checkpoints around Jalula to cease any movement in or out. All of our Iraqi partners were informed and they also swarmed out of their bases to either help search or help on the checkpoints. We had a bit of luck on our side as we had a logistics convoy running supplies to a permanent checkpoint at the time who were able to drop their load and help establish security. A platoon from 1-37 field artillery who were assisting us with humanitarian and civil aid projects were also out and were able to lend a hand. 5-20 IN immediately sent their own QRF our way.

For the first and only time that deployment I suddenly had more UAV and recon assets than I could effectively manage. 1 Predator UAV, 2 Hunter UAVs, 1 Shadow UAV, 2 Kiowa helicopters, and 1 F-16 were suddenly at my disposal and either in our area of operations or on the way. I knew where I wanted them placed but I didn't have the people to manage them. My night analyst had been up for 14 hours plus at this point and would soon be ineffective so my NCOIC took over and helped with UAV management along with my day analyst. My warrant officer coordinated with brigade for assets and started initial analysis. The Brigade intel officer lended a hand and took control over 2 of the UAVs after I informed him of where I wanted them to look and what to look for.

The attack occured sometime between 8:30 and 9. I lost track of time and only knew it was lunch when someone brought in food for everyone. Chaos eventually dissipated and enough of O'Bryan was found to determine he had not been taken. By the next day all of his remains would be returned to us. The DUSTWUN was called off and the worst day in 1-14 Cav's '09-'10 wound to a close.

As time passed, it was determined that all 3 carbombs were linked...and possibly set up by elements in Iran. It took most of the rest of the deployment, but I believe most of the puzzle was put together. We were even able to detain one of the people we think was responsible for the attack. When I look back on June 11, 2010 I don't feel sorrow, I feel pride. Pride in our teamwork, pride in our calmness under pressue, pride in our partnerships, but most of all, pride in 1-14 Cav.

It won't bring back SPC Yauch or SGT O'Bryan, but it's something.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A victory 45 years in the making

I haven't mentioned in this blog yet...or if I have it was way back at the beginning when I was figuring out where I was taking this thing...but I'm a huge hockey fan. Not only am I a huge hockey fan but I'm a massive LA Kings fan which I have been since my family and I moved to Southern California in late 1990.

I nearly knew the joy of the Kings winning in '93 when Gretzky and crew faced down Montreal, but that was not to be as the Canadiens took the series in 5 games. Since then I've suffered through some horrible seasons and a couple of amazing seasons, but LA has never been that close to winning the Cup again.

If you told me LA would win the Cup at the beginning of the season I would have laughed. If you told me in January or February that they were going win I would have called you insane. When they actually made the playoffs I didn't even think they could even get out of the first round.

Now that they've won how do I feel? I feel joy. And what does that joy look like? It looks like this...

Like being a kid again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Some links to chew on

There have been a lack of posts as of late so I want to apologize for that, I will try to work on it. Not much has really caught my eye in the news and no interesting or relevant stories from my deployments have come to mind recently.

That said, here are a couple of news links you may find interesting:

First, the estimated number of Shabaab members is oddly specific. 7,733 fighters to be exact. I wondered who did that estimation and why they stated some exact figure as opposed to "around 7,700" but apparently the number comes from an actual headcount done by Shabaab.

In case you were wondering, the number of insurgents in my area of Iraq was only asked of me a couple of times, once in Mosul and then another once or twice in Diyala. Being the support battalion intel officer in Mosul I only had a vague clue and brigade was estimating their size at around 3,000 (small brigade size which seems high). Of course, intel guys always over estimate strength of the enemy. Even if most of the insurgents included in that number were part timers you'd think they could have put of a better fight than they did. Most likely it was around 1,500 insurgents in the entire Ninewah Province broken into several different organizations competing with eachother for resources.

In Diyala it was a much smaller number. Based on attacks, the number of known cells, and the known personalities I believe we had at most 100-150 assholes running around...and very few of them coordinated or were active at any one time. Still, they were a pain in the ass.

The second article states that Al Qaeda's 2nd in command, Abu Yahya al Libi, was killed in an airstrike in Pakistan. At least according to US intelligence he was killed. Some Pakistani Taliban sources are denying he was killed so we won't know for certain until AQ officially announces it, if they choose to. If true, it's a good blow to the organization who is down to essentially Ayman al Zawahiri for leadership.

I've stated before that I believe Al Qaeda is a dying, if not dead, organization. The problem, however, are the affliate Al Qaeda's in Yemen, North and East Africa, and Central Asia. We may have slain the wolf, but her cubs are growing up...and are pissed off.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

FOB COBRA, IRAQ - JUNE 11, 2010: US soldiers carry the body of a SPC William Yauch killed in a car bomb attack in nearby Jalula.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So Interpol, the Turks, and the Iraqi VP walk into a bar...

If you can recall, back in December the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for the Vice President, a Kurd named Tariq Al-Hashimi. I wondered if it was just the usual politics or if something deeper was going on.

Well, since then Hashimi has fled the country to Turkey and Interpol issued an alert for his arrest. Perhaps there is something to the allegations against the VP. I'd like to think that Interpol is above the influence of the prime minister of Iraq and that they actually weighed the evidence against Hashimi before issuing the alert.

Whatever the case, Turkey is having none of it and doesn't plan to extradite the VP.

Curious, very, very curious.

Just in case you were wondering, Hashimi is being accused of guiding and financing sectarian death squads that targeted Shias. Of course, Hashimi has also been involved in forming a multi-sectarian alliance political bloc to replace the government of Maliki. Which Hashimi is the true Hashimi?

Or is the truth somewhere between the two, which it often is...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Diyala...I can't quit you

Due to my persistent curiousity about 1-14 Cav's old stomping grounds in Diyala Province, Iraq I wandered onto Aswat Al Iraq, a decent English news site about happenings in Iraq. It appears that 2 individuals were recently killed in the town of As Sadiyah (just south of FOB Cobra) by the resident IED cell (or cells, I'll never know).

One of those killed was a police officer and I'd bet a month's salary the other person was government connected or a tribal leader (what is a month's salary when unemployed?).

While I figured violence in much of our old area of operations would cease after US forces left, I kind of figured As Sadiyah's insurgents/gang/street thugs/AQI-in-name-only would continue along their merry path of murder and violence.

Everyone needs a hobby I guess.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My thoughts on military awards

Andrew Exum aka Abu Muqawama apparently does not like military medals. More specifically, he does not like medals awarded for non-combat deeds/events or non-valor. Exum states in his blog that if were up to him he would get rid of all medals not related to valor or campaign-specific service.

I have a lot of respect for Exum, his service, and his blog but I am completely baffled by his position. It's a very infantry-centric position for him to take...well he was a Ranger afterall.

Have certain awards and medals lost their meaning by being over-awarded? Perhaps, but to essentially state that one can only get a medal by being in a firefight seems ridiculous. What about the truck driver who puts in 100,000 miles while on a year long deployment but is fortunate enough to never be struck by an IED? Or the supply clerk who does everything he/she can do to ensure his/her company has more than enough supplies to achieve the mission? Should they not receive awards because they weren't in combat and did their job? According to Exum they should not.

But if an infantry soldier gets in a firefight and shoots back, is he not just doing his job, the one he was trained to do? If awards are only given to combat arms soldiers, does that not widen the already extensive culture gap between combat and support MOS's?

Despite going to Iraq 3 times and going "outside the wire" more times than I could keep track of I was only engaged by insurgents on one occasion (not counting mortars and rockets) and was awarded the combat action badge because of it. For two of my deployments I was awarded Army Commendation medals and a Bronze Star at the end of my third for several reasons, two of them being "his partnering role with the Iraqi Security Forces was easily the most challenging. Mike's ability to synchronize ISR assets is further advanced than most field grade officers."

Is that worthy of a Bronze Star? Probably not, but my leadership thought so.

Medals and pretty looking awards are the military's way of rewarding a job well done. Civilian organizations do the same thing only with plaques, raises, and other financial compensation. We can talk about duty, honor, and loyalty to the man next to you, but if I do a year long deployment or work my butt off for an organization for a couple of years, awarding me a colorful little ribbon is the least you can do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LTG Flynn to the DIA

For those who are inclined to care, LTG Michael Flynn was nominated by the Pentagon to be the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency which is the central producer and manager of military intelligence for the Department of Defense. Congrats to him assuming the Senate approves him.

So who is LTG Flynn?

He was in charge of military intelligence in Afghanistan during the tenures of GEN McChrystal (you remember him from the Rolling Stone scandal) and GEN Petraeus (you remember him from that little thing we called the Surge in Iraq). I don't know much about him since I was never in Afghanistan but he published a report for the think tank CNAS in 2010. It can be found here...in case you're really bored.

The report caused a bit of controversy since it basically states that the way the military was doing intel in Afghanistan was completely wrong. Flynn was pretty brutal but he also cited specific examples of intel guys who were doing things right...at the tactical level.

Since his report came out at about the same time we had a scheduled network outage during my last deployment, I downloaded it prior to the outage and spend a couple of hours reading it and comparing what Flynn was saying to how I was conducting military intelligence in my little corner of Iraq.

I was pretty set in my ways by the time I read it but I made some adjustments to how I saw the operating environment and the insurgency within it as well as how I should be managing my staff and producing intel products.

Flynn's dislike for PowerPoint slides and urge for more comprehensive written reports I took to heart and did my best to write well thought out analysis on major upcoming events and how the insurgents would react to them. Not much success there as nobody really wants to read a 3 or 4 page report on how elections will affect indirect fire attacks against checkpoints...but one of my papers did go up to Division where I'm sure it was ignored.

There was also an emphasis on intel officers actually discussing events/people/areas/etc with the company commanders and platoon leaders they are supposed to be helping. With a little kick in the ass from the Squadron XO (I was set in my ways afterall) I began sitting down with most of the troop commanders a couple of times a week...I say most since by this time C troop's commander was actively avoiding me but I did chat with his XO and the commander's replacement after the commander was relieved for getting a lieutenant pregnant. Were these chats successful? I like to think so, at the very least it showed the commanders that I cared about what they thought and I could get their insight directly instead of during some stuffy daily update that everyone just wants over with so we can get to dinner.

But back to LTG Flynn. I think this is a great move and hopefully he will be able to break the Cold War mentality that often can be found at the upper echelons of the intel bureaucracy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There goes Mali...

While I was without internet as I moved into a new place in beautiful Tacoma, WA some interesting events occured in Mali...none of them good.

For some time now the Malinese government has been in conflict with the Taureg tribe in central and northern Mali while at the same time attempting to ensure Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb does not set down roots in the country. The fight against AQIM, with the cooperation of Mauritania as well as the US and France, seemed to be going well enough...although there were occasional hiccups which I wrote about here.

Apparently the fight against the Taureg was not going so well and the military staged a coup, announcing they were angry at the inability of the government to put down the Taureg insurrection. Who was in charge of this coup? A captain of course. It's almost always a captain (seriously, watch out for those captains. They are easily angered and think they know everything).

Of course what happened as soon the coup occured was that the Taureg seized the initiative and began going on the offensive. The tribe has seized Timbukto, an important trading town, and the strategic eastern town of Gao. Now that the Tauregs essentially control much of northern Mali they have declared the independent state of Azawad. Good for them.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that a faction of the Taureg rebellion, Ansar Dine, is closely tied with AQIM and other fundamentalist Islamists. Ansar Dine is demanding Sharia Law be instated and reports have come out that they are executing members of secular groups.

The Taureg's for there part are condeming AQIM and Ansar Dine and are vowing to fight them, but I'm not buying it. AQIM and other radical groups have gained popularity in Timbukto and elsewhere in the region so it's unlikely that the Taureg will do anything to upset these organizations when the tribe's hold on power is so tenuous at the moment.

Just when I thought Al Qaida allied organizations where teetering on the edge of defeat in Africa they pull off what is essentially a hail mary pass. Damn captains.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I have the intertubes again

I apologize for the lack of posts but I have been without internet in my new apartment. Unless I get super lazy there should be a new post some time later today.

Don't give up on me yet!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pimping another blog

If you have a free moment, check out The Interested Soldier. It's a blog by a former coworker and a friend of mine (former CHU-mate as well) who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. Dave is a battalion S2 with the 82nd Airborne, but I try not to hold that against him. His posts, assuming he updates more frequently than I ever did while deployed, are likely to be more relevant to current counter insurgency theory and practice than anything I come up with while I sit on my comfy couch in beautiful Tacoma, WA.

He's also smarter than I am and a lot more articulate so his blog will probably be a better read. No pressure Dave. Do your best not to get your blog noticed by Brigade...and don't let being an S2 make you bitter and cynical like it did to me.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

A toxic base?

Is there something wrong or broken about Joint Base Lewis-McChord/FT Lewis, WA? I bring up this question due to some of the latest news about the soldier who murdered 16 Afghan villagers. The soldier has been reported to be from JBLM and assigned to my old brigade, 3-2 SBCT. He was part of 2-3 IN and had 3 previous deployments to Iraq, what made him snap? Was it the command climate of Lewis or was it something else?

There have been some whispers on the internet and a couple of articles written about something being wrong with Lewis. Having been stationed there for most of my career I didn't like what I originally saw as uninformed attacks on my base and its leadership. There were some horrible incidents and some toxic leaders, but in my opinion nothing that couldn't be found at any other large military facility...

...but perhaps I was wrong.

Here's a list of some of the crazy, weird, fucked up, and horrible incidents in the last few years that have occured on JBLM or were caused by individuals/units assigned to the base (off the top of my head):

1. 2008 double homicide by a member of the I Corps honor guard. SPC Davila killed two other soldiers and took their baby.

2. 2009 a teenager died of an overdose in the barracks. A soldier's girlfriend who was only 16 died after a drug overdose; another girl was hospitalized. The teens were in the 555 Engineer Brigade barracks against base policy.

3. During 5-2 SBCT's time in Afghanistan a "rogue" staff sergeant and his squad kill Afghan civilians, even taking fingers as trophies. I've written about the brigade commander who refused to use proper counterinsurgency tactics and whose brigade actually "failed" at the National Training Center.

4. 2012 a lieutenant colonel hires a hit man to kill his wife and his boss. He also threatened to attack the Capitol Building and possibly had child porn on his computer.

5. 2012 a staff sergeant on his 4th deployment walks off his base in Afghanistan and murders 16 people in a nearby village.

6. 12 suicides in 2011.
Seriously, that's a lot of messed up shit. Some of the incidents could easily have happened at other bases but taken together it appears that the situation at JBLM is out of control. My thoughts? I have no idea, but it may be the "Stryker syndrome". The Strykers were the newest toy of the Army and Lewis was the first base to employ them. The brigades saw themselves as the best in the Army and did everything they could to prove it. Other units and bases have a history and a proven track record of greatness (101st, 82nd, 1st Armor) but 3-2, 4-2, and 5-2 (now 2-2) SBCTs were out to prove the superiority of the Stryker vehicle.

This leads to a lot of pressure and stress from higher. Senior leaders at the Pentagon pushing I Corps, I Corps pushing the brigade commanders, and the brigade commanders pushing everyone else. Hostility from those non-Stryker units on Lewis towards the Strykers is also likely to blame for any toxic environment. During my time in the 201st MI brigade there was a very clear jealousy of the Strkyer brigades since they often got more funds, better equipment, and preference for land use for exercises.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that leadership, or the failure of leadership, is to blame for what may or may not be occuring on JBLM. That's most likely a cop out reason but one that I think needs to be looked at.