One of the most important conceptual trends in counterinsurgency in Iraq has been the steady broadening of our intellectual horizons to include tribal leaders, local businesses, infrastructure, demographics, media and more. Sadly, the same cannot be said of our approach to the Iraqi Security Forces. The distance between the two techniques is wonderfully illustrated by a viral YouTube video — a recording of the exploits of a video game player who called himself Leeroy Jenkins. For those of you disinclined to Google “YouTube” and “Leeroy Jenkins,” I will briefly recap.
A group of about 20 people are playing “World of Warcraft,” a popular online game. Players all have separate characters who meet in a virtual world and work cooperatively to accomplish various goals. The video joins this particular group as they are discussing a detailed plan that they will use to advance through the adjacent room. The players geekily discuss their order of attack, spells and probability of success — “32 point three three, uh, repeating of course, percentage of survival” — while one of their party, Jenkins, is briefly away from his computer. Then out of nowhere, Jenkins shouts “Let’s do this! LEEEROOOY JENKINS!!!” and charges in, completely disregarding the planned course of action. Naturally, this approach destroys the meticulous strategy that had been decided upon and the entire party is wiped out in a matter of seconds. Leeroy’s exploits became so popular that he was given his own card in the trading-card iteration of “World of Warcraft.”
The video, which has been viewed more than 10 million times, is analogous to the disparity between the deliberation with which American forces approach counterinsurgency and the blunt ignorance with which they approach advising. There are a number of contributing factors: the rapid turnover of advisers; the mirror imaging built into the evaluation of Iraqi units; and a general ignorance of Iraqi politics, history and culture. For example, I recently participated in a discussion with two senior advisers visiting from southern Iraq, one of whom was on his first tour and had been in country only a matter of weeks. When it was suggested that there were political reasons for resource bottlenecks or historical reasons that explain the lack of a unified Iraqi command structure, they scoffed at the ridiculousness of these concerns and went back to busying themselves with spare parts and requisition forms. It was, to say the least, uninspiring.