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.