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 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 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.