30 June 2009

The 30th of June...

The obvious question that I know I might get today is "What is Iraq like now that all US combat troops are out of the cities"?  And the obvious response will, of course, be:  "How the fuck should I know?  No troops are in the cities!"

Fortunately, I have the best intelligence service ever created at my fingertips--the Internet.  That's not a joke, either--the Internet and the blogosphere have served me well when traditional intelligence assets have failed.  I could elaborate, but then I'd have to kill all my readers, and where else am I going to get universal adoration?  

Ibn Muqawama, a guest blogger at Andrew Exum's "Abu Muqawama" (at his new home at the Center for New American Security), provides a series of links from a number of sources describing the events of Iraq's newest national holiday, Soverignty Day.  The links run the gambit from the Wall Street Journal to al Jazeera.  

Lots of stuff on the U.S. pullout from Iraqi cities today.  The reactions of Iraqis serve as a sobering reminder to us Americans that Iraqis see things quite a bit differently than we have.

Nevertheless,  the New York TimesJawad al-Bolani, and others (Prof. Bacevich being the reliable exception) agree that there is a lot of work left to do, and that most of it will have to be done by Iraqis with a little help from us when necessary.

Includes a comment from Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile.

You know, I've been on a lot of message boards and I've moderated a message board as well. Increasingly, it looks like Lt. Col. Gentile quickly turning into "that guy" on all the message boards--Small Wars Journal, Abu Muqawama, etc. At least he seems relatively civil in the most of his posts.  By Internet standards, at least.    

Addition:  For those of you following the Australia leave story arc (yes, this blog has story arcs), I'm currently still stuck in Iraq waiting for a flight.  

Bonus:  Taskforcemountain.com also reports.  

29 June 2009

Behind the power curve

Edit: As information has come in throughout the day, I realize that some aspects of this article may now be in error. I regret the error, and will probably post more as the situation develops.

I wish that my time in Honduras would give me a little more insight into the latest political upheval in that country, but, alas, I'm more concerned about the 30 June deadline. Nevertheless, the situation is worth mentioning.

What appears to have happened, based on a few of the reports that I have read (Zenpundit, Honduran Blogger, WSJ), is that the Supreme Court of Honduras has placed the current Presidente, Manuel Zelaya, under military arrest and exiled him to Costa Rica for, in effect, attempting to amend the constitution to allow for him to stay in office well after his term had expired. (Much like the Jedi arresting Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith after he didn't give up his emergency powers. Maybe Zelaya is...a Sith Lord?)

Many are referring to this as a military coup, but I'm not so sure this actually meets the definition of a coup. The Honduran Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for the President for the crime of attempting to extend his term limits, in effect, remaining in office as a de facto dictator. The Honduran military apparently moved in, arrested him, and sent him to Costa Rica (tough break).

This isn't so much a subversion of power, since militaries under civil control are not necessarily loyal to the leader of the country, but rather to the constitution of the country. With President Zelaya blatantly violating the constitution, and an arrest warrant issued by the Honduran Supreme Court, this is actually democracy in action--well, Latin American style.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is sticking up for Zelaya--there's a shock.

Needless to say, it never ceases to amaze me how Latin America works sometimes. It's nothing to see soldiers line the streets in Honduras to keep order. In fact, when I was in Honduras, we would often take turns of one another posing in front of the riot police. My favorite is when I snapped a picture of one of the military journalists, who jumped off of a bus in the middle of Tegucigalpa and did his best "What? Me, worry?" pose in front of about a hundred armed Honduran troops, then hopped back on the bus. Yes, rest assured that whenever there is political upheval anywhere in the world, Gen Y will be there to take pictures of themselves in front of it.

Anyway, as I'm still waiting for a flight, I might find time to catch up on the latest happenings in Honduras. I might even try to find that picture somewhere...I know I have it around here...

Best of luck to all of my friends still in Honduras dealing with this. Hopefully, you'll have less corrupt government as a result of this.

28 June 2009

The Pervs are out in force...

With Transformers 2 coming out this past week, I've been getting several hits per minute from people looking for Megan Fox pics. If I didn't believe in my own artistic integrity as a blogger, I'd embed ads and get paid lots of cash.

(Everyone has his price, however...)

Before I go...(hopefully)

As I said before, I didn't intentionally time my leave to coincide with the 30 June deadline in Iraq, which mandates that all combat forces leave the cities, but it's kind of strange it worked out that way. As of now, American forces are in the process of moving. Kind of like the picture, eh? Like it?

Anyway, I'm not going to be so dramatic as to say that I will return to a completely different Iraq when I come back after two weeks on the Great Barrier Reef (sucks to be you guys). However, I'll just throw in a little speculation as to what might happen.

American troops will be reversing the maneuver which kicked off the surge--namely, moving combat troops out of small outposts inside the cities. The onus of security will be placed squarely on Iraqi forces.

Some interesting articles in the past week or two may give us some insight into what might happen in the coming months, with the Iraqis taking the lead. The big question on everyone's mind is whether or not the security situation will get worse, and if so, how bad. I think that, undeniably, violence will increase. That goes without saying. But will the next few months lead to complete anarchy? It's doubtful we'll see the levels of violence we saw in 2006. I think that most agree that the Iraqi Army and Police have improved since 2006, and Shia/Sunni reconciliation has begun to take place (or completed ethnic cleansing in mixed neighborhoods, you take your pick). Ultimately, for all their flaws, they're the best hope for peace in Iraq. And it's better they do it tolerably--a few hours late, and snagging some pr0n along the way--than to have us do it for them. The key, of course, is tolerably--in 2005 and 2006, the Shia-dominated Army was adding to the violence, not helping to reduce it. In 2009? Well, we'll soon find out. My huge concern at this point is the ability of the Iraqi Army to absorb the Sons of Iraq into the security apparatus. As of a few months ago, it looked like the sagging economy was going to impact the funding available to the police and security forces, which in turn, would affect how many of the Sons of Iraq the government could afford to employ. Incorporating these men into the security plan is vital for prolonged stability.

One question that hasn't gotten that much attention is what will happen not only between the Sunni and Shia, but also between the Arabs and Kurds. While I would venture to say that there won't be massive pitched battles between the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga fighters in the next few months, the situation in Kurdistan still leaves many unresolved issues.

Anyway, I could see those as the leading challenges in the next few months. Will the world come to an end in the next, oh, six months or so? Probably not. Will we see more bombings, and shootings? Probably. In a strange way, that might actually be progress for them...

26 June 2009


Posting will be erratic for the next few days. Expect an article from me in Small Wars Journal within the week.

What could I be possibly writing about in SWJ? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The SOFA agreement which mandates that US troops be out of the cities by 30 June? Counter-narcotics in Afghanistan?

Nay, something that affects all Small Warriors: Microsoft PowerPoint.

This article was partly inspired by a recent discussion at companycommand.mil, in which platoon leaders and company commanders noted that they spent an inordinate amount of time on PowerPoint slides instead of on actual leadership functions. I think that anyone in the military, corporate boardroom or classroom might get a kick out of it.

No Celebrity News, All of the Time*

There are four days remaining until US combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraqi cities, which may have grave implications for Iraq's security. There's still turmoil in Tehran. With that said, those events are far from the headlines today. Greyhawk at the Mudville Gazette perfectly summed up my thoughts on the most recent media extravaganza:

I wanted to write this post yesterday, but thought it would be wrongly perceived:

Dear Iran
Don't be fooled - you have about 48 hours until Brittney Spears does something to make us forget you.
I should have gone with my instinct - though it turns out it was Michael Jackson and I was optimistic on the timing.

Update: Twitter appears to be crashing under the strain, which indicates it's not that useful for really big news.

Talk about timing! Since the last few days have been relatively slow in the world of foreign and defense policy, I might, just this once, give in to celebrity news. Here's your Michael Jackson video of the day:

*--Unless it's Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart or Megan Fox. I gotta attract viewers somehow.

25 June 2009

Your 4GW link of the day...sort of...

Analysis of the Iraq War has been sparse in the past week, even with the 30 June deadline rapidly approaching. Despite the number of large bombs that seem to have gone off within the past week, most milblogs and pundits have been relatively quiet on any sort of predictions of exactly what will happen when US troops have moved combat forces out of the cities. For good reason, too, as the situation is as unpredictable as the situation next door in Iran.

In the meantime, however, I bring you this article (courtesy of the Tucker Max Message Board) regarding that other form of unconventional war: piracy. If you're looking to do some some up-close-and-personal research on Somali pirates, you need to look no further than SomaliCruises.com, where you can sign up for an $800 week-long cruise, and hunt pirates for yourself. Renting an M-16 costs $25 per day, while the Barrett .50-cal sniper rifle is $55 per day. Just look at the testimonial:
"Six attacks in 4 days was more than I expected. I bagged three pirates and my 12yr old son sank two rowboats with the minigun. PIRATES: 0 - PASSENGERS: 32! Well worth the trip. Just make sure your spotter speaks English" -- Donald, Salt Lake city Utah USA

Who needs Blackwater when you have these guys?

Okay, the site's obviously fake, but it's already been picked up by at least one pseudo-credible news source, Ananova.com. I'm wondering when The Huguenot Corsair will pick up on this...

Foreign Affairs

In the interests of raising awareness of the culture of our NATO allies, I invite all of you to go to coedmagazine.com and participate in the ultimate poll--US supermodels vs. Italian Supermodels. Please, do it for NATO.

And now for something completely different...

Pic of the Day:

24 June 2009

In Defense of Brutality?

Kings of War asked a great question regarding one of the basic fundamentals of US counter-insurgency theory.

Our counter-insurgency doctrine emphasizes using minimum force necessary to accomplish the mission. Among the many benefits of this approach is the fact that using minimum force is an economy-of-force measure…to use the brute-force approach tends to create enemies more quickly than they can be killed off.

But KOW brought posed the question today which is slightly taboo among today's COINdinistas—are there times when the "brute force" method of counterinsurgency works? If the metaphor of Counter-insurgency is that of the "mailed fist inside a velvet glove", when should one act with the mailed fist?

KOW brings up a few examples of the "mailed fist" approach to counter-insurgency being effective (calm down, Ralph Peters). Indeed, it's tempting to consider this type of approach, after watching a number of seemingly effective instances of rebellions and insurgencies being outright crushed.

David Galula's writings on counter-insurgency point out that this approach can work in some instances—namely, when insurgencies are nascent and not particularly wide-spread, and when they occur in totalitarian regimes. In instances such as this, insurgent groups can be much more easily pinpointed whereupon they can then be imprisoned, shut down and made to disappear with minimal public uproar. It's quite simple in some countries, but it's certainly not feasible for a democratic nation, especially if you're trying to uphold the moral high ground, particularly in the era of globalized communication. Brutality, as KOW points out, tends to work a lot better when it's a group within your own country, not when you're a foreign army trying to put down an insurgency in a far-away land. Any questions as to why it's not advocated in the American counter-insurgency manual?

If you have something to add to this debate, visit Kings of War and weigh in. (KOW, if I'm not mistaken, is associated with the Defence Studies Department of King's College in London)

(Related reading: Check out the book Defeating Goliath: How Insurgencies Win – I've gotten about a chapter into it, and it's pretty interesting)

23 June 2009

Abu Muqawama does not disappoint

COINdinista Milblogger Andrew Exum, better known as "Abu Muqawama", has taken a little vacation. In his absence, he promised to have guest milbloggers who were sufficiently sarcastic enough to take his place.

It's hard to take over for a guy that blends astute counterinsurgency theory with phrases like "inter-service dick waving", but it looks like he found just the guy today. Today's guest blogger is a Cavalryman who expressed significant displeasure with the fact that a reporter from Stars and Stripes was banned from reporting on operations in Mosul.

I could go on and on about the article, but you have to read it for yourself. I'll just quote the title of the article, which appeared on the CNAS website (You know, the IT think-tank):

"You Can't Spell 'Stupid' Without 'ID', and Maybe Not Without 'Cav'"

Logging IPs…

I checked my little IP logger and noticed that someone from the small town of Wasilla, Alaska happened upon this blog post which discusses accessories for the Amazon Kindle which would hold up well in Iraq by way of KindleBoards.com. Presumably, they might be looking up this information because they want to send something to a family member.

Wasilla, Alaska is a fairly small town (10,000 people), so there probably aren't that many people with relatives currently deployed in Iraq. This might be a long shot—after all, there could be many people in Wasilla, Alaska who just happened upon this page—but I'm curious if one resident in particular isn't looking up this website in order to figure out what to get her son, who deployed to Iraq last year.

Whoever viewed it also specifically clicked on the picture of my bookshelf. So now my fans run the gambit from Tom Ricks to a small possibility that, you know, the Tina Fey-looking person that I didn't vote for.

See, this is just proof that this blog isn't just visited by people who inadvertently happen upon it looking for Megan Fox pics (although that does seem to make up over 50% of them).


The city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq has long been described as an ethnic powder keg, consisting of a potentially volatile mix of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkomen. The city even looks forboding as you fly into it. Kirkuk has massive oil and mineral deposits, meaning that a flight above the city looks like a flight above Dante's vision of hell, with massive oil towers spouting bursts of flame into the sky, and a nearby sulfur plant spewing forth brimstone. Inside the walled citadel of Dis that is the local FOB in the area, it is sometimes difficult to catch the bus to get to the Green Beans Coffee, which makes it slightly inconvenient to get a latte. Yes, volatile ethnic tension, oil deposits worth fighting over, flames in the air, sulfur plant, and the slightly inconvenient method of obtaining precious, life-giving cappuccino all combine to place one in the tenth circle of hell in Kirkuk. (Okay, for the record I am exaggerating. Don't blow this out of context. After all, their dining facility has stir-fry.)

Nevertheless, just when you thought that the Iraq War might be over—when even Small Wars Journal was reporting no Iraq news in its daily roundup—someone decides to detonate nearly two tons of explosives outside a Shia Turkoman mosque in a town just south of Kirkuk.

Massive bombings of mosques have been the modus operandi of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) since the Samarra bombing of 2006. These acts are usually carried out with the intent of sparking a massive cycle of ethnic violence, much as happened in 2006 between the Sunni and the Shia. Recent attempts to incite such violence in areas around Baghdad and nearby Baqubah in May of this year have been unsuccessful, thanks to a number of factors, which includes reconciliation between Sunni and Shia*.

Is the latest Kirkuk bombing an example of AQI or a similar group adapting its tactics? If sparking off tensions between Sunni and Shia around Baghdad isn't working, why try to see if tensions can be sparked off in Kirkuk?

*--I need to throw out there that there are many who also argue that the decrease in violence is more due to the fact that the campaign of ethnic cleansing and dislocation of Sunni and Shia within the neighborhoods in and around Baghdad was largely complete by mid-2007. I might be inclined to believe that the truth lies somewhere in between…

22 June 2009


In order to stave off the boredom, we play a quick game of trivia every day while on shift. It's amazing how much ten minutes of trivia helps to boost the morale.

The other day, I was responsible for compiling trivia questions. Below are the questions, with annotations as to which questions the group got correct, along with the number of guesses, if I remembered how many. We forbid Googling and Wiki-ing for answers while on shift, and the same should apply to you.

I have to say, I was pleased with the performance.

June 6, 1944 is famous for D-Day. What actor from the original Star Trek was involved in the D-Day landings and what country did he fight for? (Correct after guessing every single cast member)

June 6, 1984 is also an important day in history. What video game was released on this date? (Correct after four guesses)

10th Mountain Division History--Two brothers, Werner and Rupert von Trapp, served in the 10th Mountain Division during WW2, when the division specialized in Alpine Skiing. What are these two brothers famous for? (Correct)

10th Mountain Division History--what US Senator served in the 10th Mountain Division? (Correct after about a minute of guessing)

The First Amendment Guarantees what five things? (All five guessed correctly, the most elusive of which was guessed by an enlisted man, not an officer)

How many future US Presidents signed the Declaration of Independence, and who were they? (Correct)

In the 1986 World Series, the Red Sox first baseman allowed a ball to pass through his legs, causing the Red Sox to lose game Six, and eventually, game Seven of the World Series. This was apparently due to the "Curse of the Bambino". Who was the Red Sox First Baseman? (Correct. I would have gone with a question about Don Denkinger and Game 5 of the 1985 World Series, but, unfortunately, not everyone is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Interestingly enough, I knew of a brigade commander who shared the same name as this particular first baseman and allegedly had an autographed picture of the ball player in his office)

When was the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series? (Correct)

When was the last time the Chicago Cubs appeared in the World Series? (Correct after a few guesses)

In what year did a Cubs fan interfere with the catch a foul ball, contributing to that team's loss of the playoffs? (Correct on 2nd guess)

Star Wars Trivia--This actor was working as a carpenter when he was asked to read lines to assist with screen tests for other actors. He wound up reading the lines better than any other actor, and wound up winning the part. Which actor was this? (Correct)

The weapons used by the Stormtroopers in Star Wars are actually what British machine gun? (Correct. As a hint, I noted that it is showcased at our ad-hoc museum on the FOB)

The character of Chewbacca was modeled after a dog that George Lucas had when he was a child. What is the name of George Lucas' dog? (Hint: Another Lucas character is named for a dog) (Incorrect)

The grunts and growls of a giant monsterous creature called the "Rancor" in Jabba the Hutt's palace were actually made by what animal? (Incorrect)

Bonus question: What is the only Star Wars film to not feature R2-D2 in the final shot? (Correct only after guessing every episode)

Finally, we end with a brain teaser. Today's was an interesting one—name all twelve Knights of the Round Table. I was surprised that I guessed as many as I did, including an obscure one, Sir Bedevere. This isn't because I'm an expert in Arthurian legend, however. It's because I remembered the Medieval quack Sir Bedevere from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and wouldn't you know it, he was actually one of the Knights of the Round Table. Surprisingly, though, Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film was not an actual Knight of the Round Table. Who knew.

UAVs in Hybrid War

While counterinsurgency is an important skill for the US military, the future may lie in "hybrid wars", which is a term Secretary of Defense Robert Gates uses to describe conflict which combines conventional and unconventional warfare. In our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have yet to see conflicts of this nature, with these environments looking more like classic counterinsurgency environments and ethnic civil wars.

However, the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon gave us a glimpse of what this "hybrid war" might look like. One of the interesting features of this conflict was that Hezbollah was able to assemble a rudimentary air force, consisting of unmanned aerial vehicles provided by Iran. Unmanned aerial vehicles, of course, have been in use for decades. UAVs were first used during the First World War, serving as target drones to train pilots in gunnery skills. In the 1930s, radio-controlled planes became inexpensive enough to become a hobby, with companies such as the RadioPlane Company producing several models. RadioPlane, like many American industries during the Second World War, began to manufacture war material after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They produced some 15,000 target drones, which were designated the RadioPlane OQ-2.

During the Second World War, most of these target drones were manufactured by women, as most men were drafted into military service. It was then that a young brunette employee at RadioPlane, involved in manufacturing radio-controlled drones, was photographed by an American journalist. The employee was an aspiring model named Norma Jeane, who later changed her hair color to blonde and her name to Marilyn Monroe. (This actually has nothing to do with my narrative on Hybrid War and UAVs. I just learned this about five minutes ago and thought it was interesting trivia.)

Advances in technology during the Second World War gave rise to the German V-1 "Buzz Bomb", which was a jet-propelled unmanned vehicle, although we might more correctly classify this as a "cruise missile". The US military, which began to pick up on jet technology after the war, operated a number of jet-powered unmanned aerial vehicles, to include the Firebee UAV, which was used in Vietnam as a reconnaissance platform.

GPS, computer, and communication technology, coupled with the relative simplicity of constructing lightweight unmanned vehicles—which are essentially little more than remote controlled airplanes used by hobbyists—have led to a mass proliferation of UAVs. UAVs can range from hand-thrown vehicles, such as the Raven UAV, to the monstrous Global Hawk, which is capable of reaching nearly any location on Earth from the United States.

In fact, as David Axe at War is Boring points out, describing a hand-thrown UAV as a modified toy isn't too far from the truth. Today, Axe ran a special on a Chinese UAV which appears to actually be a child's toy--the Chinese UAV even has a little tiny cockpit. Isn't that cute? I will laugh if there's actually a little tiny action figure inside of it. I know I'd be putting a Wedge Antilles figure in the cockpit, but that's just me.

Anyway, with the ease of manufacturing UAVs, it's a safe bet that we will certainly them used against us in the future. And the way to counter them isn't with SLAMRAAMs or F-22 Raptors. Although the jury is still out on what is the best way to counter enemy tactical UAVs.

Note: By the way, just to let everyone know where I stand on the F-22—contrary to many of the claims made in the last few days about not needing the F-22 at all, the fact that the airframes in our fighter fleet are falling apart due to age is enough evidence that we at least need some new aircraft. And based on the disturbing fact that in recent exercises, Russian-made Su-30s of the Indian Air Force have proven to be at least the equal of our F-15s and F-16s, we still need at least a few F-22s. 187 F-22s should do nicely—though not 600 like some in the Air Force would want. As Axe often astutely points out, we should have a balanced Air Force with enough tankers, attack planes and decent new fighters to do the job—not a handful of expensive wunderwaffen.

21 June 2009

Quick Update...

The next week or so will be important for three reasons. The first, of course, is because of the recent turmoil which has erupted in the streets of Tehran. The second is because of the looming deadline of 30 June, by which all US combat forces must be out of the cities. And last, but certainly not least, is when I take my long-anticipated block leave to Cairns, Australia to dive off of the Great Barrier Reef.

I didn’t plan to take my block leave during such a tumultuous period, but that’s the way everything panned out. I have the feeling that, with the 30 June deadline occurring during leave, I might be coming to a different Iraq. Who knows how much change I will see when I come back—although my instinct seems to tell me that there will be little change at all.

Finally, today is Fathers’ Day in the US. I would record a video, but seeing that the Mothers’ Day video I recorded and placed on Facebook is not viewable by my family, I’m not going to go that route again. Rest assured, Mom, that the video was quite nice—even the Sackets Harbor Village Clerk liked it.

So, without further ado, Happy Fathers’ Day. Dad, your gift is probably late. But I have excuses, of course…

20 June 2009

Links of the Day

Not much interesting to say today, so I'll just go to a few links of the day.

Boss Mongo gets the first shout-out for the day--he read the same Stars and Stripes article that I did the other day came up with an excellent post, going into the real definition of the Arabic word, "inshallah", as well as some commentary on the performance of the Iraqi security forces. Well worth a look.

Secondly, are women better suited towards the subtleties of counter-insurgency than men? A recent post in Foreign Policy's SWJ Weekly update seems to indicate that there is some evidence from the field that suggests that this is the case. (Talked about in WOI previously here and here, with one post inspired by a post by Greg in Mexico). Anyone want to take bets on when Ralph Peters is going to read that article and make a claim that all the COINdinistas are effeminate?

Lastly, courtesy of Greyhawk, here are two milbloggers (#1, #2) who will attest to the massive sandstorm ("haboob" in Arabic) that we experienced the other day. I still taste sand.

19 June 2009

“Inshallah” or “Better the Arabs do it tolerably”

Stars and Stripes ran an article today in which a number of Soldiers discussed the professionalism of the Iraqi Army. A few US Soldiers complained that the Iraqi Army typically runs patrols, whenever they feel like it, if at all. Often, patrol leaders will need to be woken up by US advisors and reminded that they had a scheduled patrol that day.

This isn't exactly new in Iraq. American advisors have long since noted that many Iraqis tend to harbor the "inshallah" attitude—referring to an Arabic word which roughly translates into "if it is God's will". It's typically used as a response to orders or to questions about upcoming activities. For example, in this case, if an Iraqi Army commander is asked if he will be going on patrol, he might respond, "Inshallah". "Eh, maybe, if God wills it". Those of us with Latin American experience might notice the stunning similarity to this and what's often called the "Manana attitude".

Stars and Stripes reports:

The patrol was part of a daily routine for the Americans, who are tasked with early morning and late-night patrols to find the men who are launching rockets from eastern Baghdad into the Green Zone.

The other part of their daily routine?

"Go wake the officer up," 2nd Lt. John Harris told his interpreter.

For the American soldiers, rousing the Iraqi troops and persuading them to send out at least one Humvee on patrol is one of the most frustrating parts of their day. And the disconnect between the two approaches illustrates just how far apart the two armies remain as the June 30 deadline for Americans to pull back from Iraqi cities fast approaches.

The Iraqi officer woke up, but he was irritable. He said he had no orders from his commander to send out a patrol. In fact, he said, his soldiers already went on a raid a couple of hours earlier.

Harris and his soldiers — 3rd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment — doubt the story about the raid. They've heard similar explanations in the three weeks they've worked with this Iraqi unit.

Yet Harris, who was a staff sergeant before earning his commission, also understands the officer's hesitation. In contrast to the American military, in the Iraqi army, nearly all decisions are made by commanders and almost never by junior officers or soldiers. If the Iraqi watch officer doesn't have explicit orders to dispatch a group of soldiers to patrol with the Americans, he's fearful to make that call himself…

…But the Iraqis hadn't picked the patrol time, nor did they have their own clear set of orders to go. The Iraqi battalion commander — the one who makes virtually every decision for the 500 soldiers in the unit — was not on the base. The first and second lieutenants who were around were less than eager to put together a unit on their own just to go out in the middle of the day, before their lunchtime.

When an Iraqi lieutenant finally agreed to go out, he said they would patrol for an hour in a nearby university neighborhood, a place where young people would be having lunch and where young women don't wear the black chador.

He stopped the patrol twice to walk and talk to people on the street. Both times were near groups of beautiful young women in bright-colored head scarves and tight, slimming clothes. The Iraqi soldiers talked to the men and watched the women…

…On another day, the 43rd Iraqi Army Brigade, which also controls part of eastern Baghdad, led a raid for illegal drugs in a market area just outside their headquarters at Forward Operating Base Shield. The plan involved many players: Iraqi police were to stop traffic; the Ministry of Health was to give free local exams to make up for inconveniencing shoppers; and the Iraqi army was to look for heroin, cocaine and porn…

…In the end, the raid produced no illegal drugs, Liebal said, "but they got a scathing amount of porn."

Now, on one hand it's kind of cute to see that American values—namely, patrolling in college areas filled with chicks and police raids which snag copious amounts of porn--are rubbing off on the Iraqi Army. Yes, despite the vast cultural differences between our lands, we can still rest assured than we men will always think with the same part of their anatomy the world over. I know many of you are saying, "but the Iraqis seized the porn because it's a cultural taboo to have porn". Yeah, that's about as likely as looking through the latest issue of Rolling Stone for an article on a military blogging site. Oh wait…

In all seriousness, though, the professionalism of the Iraqi Army is, of course, a serious concern. On one hand, at least the Iraqis themselves are the ones patrolling the streets. After all, one of T.E. Lawrence's famous quotations noted that it is better that the Arabs do their business in Arabia tolerably than to have Westerners do it perfectly. And actually, in the conditions of Iraq, American patrols would not be as perfect as we would like to think they were.

Nevertheless, the article brings up the fact that it's difficult to find good leaders in Iraq. Whereas in the United States, junior officers and sergeants are expected to show great amounts of initiative, this isn't so much the case in Iraq (nor, I would submit, in many dictatorships or newer democracies). Indeed, initiative at the lower levels of leadership was an anathema to Iraqi culture, particularly during Saddam's rule.

Why? Well, the ancient Greeks provide an excellent explanation. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of an ancient tyrant by the name of Thrasybulus, who ruled over Miletus in modern-day Turkey. When asked how he kept order in Miletus, Thraysybulus did not respond. Rather, he walked outside into a corn field and, using a scythe, cut the heads off of the tallest stalks of corn. The analogy, of course, was that in order to preserve one's position in a dictatorship, a dictator needed to remove those who stood head-and-shoulders above the rest in his nation, as they represented a potential rival leader. This meant that a successful tyrant needed to eliminate anyone with influence, power, initiative, intelligence, or money.

This, of course, is what Saddam Hussein did during his rule. An issue of Foreign Affairs in the Summer of 2006 discussed Saddam's leadership strategy in detail, but in summary, it was obvious that Saddam preferred to rid himself of anyone with promise, surrounding himself with weak and incompetent leaders in order to reduce the likelihood of a military coup against him.

Iraqi society may still be recovering from this sense of reverse Darwinism—a process by which the best and brightest were purged from the nation. Will they ever fully recover? Only time will tell.

18 June 2009

How’s the Weather?

The other day, I had gotten back from a beautiful, albeit short night flight. I went inside a building and sat down at my desk, once again, relegating myself to the grind of the daily job. I had just sat down when I heard someone next to me ask, "Hey, how's the weather?"

"Gorgeous", I replied, referring to the "clear-blue-and-twenty-two" weather I had just flown in, not an hour prior.

"Are you joking?" he asked.

"Oh no, you couldn't have asked for better weather".

The other officer looked at me incredulously, "Just take a look around the room"

The room—buried deep within the innards of a building--had that hazy, smoky look to it that so often happens when dust storms permeate the air of Iraq.

"What the hell?"

Unbeknownst to me, we'd just experienced a "haboob", one of the massive sandstorms that occasionally hits deserts throughout the Sahara and the Middle East, often arising out of nowhere. These sandstorms looked for all the world like a scene from the movie, "The Mummy", in which a massive cloud of sand threatens to envelop a small biplane. They were violent, they were sudden, and they made for a great picture. Of all the times to forget my camera.

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Links of the Day

A number of "links of the day" from some great sources.

Link #1 comes from Foreign Policy Online, and it concerns Fidel Castro's son, Antonio, being involved in a relationship with a foxy Colombian lady named Claudia. The only problem, of course, was that it was an Internet relationship.

And, of course, the fact that "she" was a dude, and a reporter nonetheless. Looks like Castro just got PWNT.

Ever since my days moderating my university's message board, this little practical joke has come up on a number of occasions—sadly enough, people have spent countless hours developing alternate identities on Internet message boards. And of all the alternate identities they decide to pick, they decide to be chicks. WTF.

Links #2 and #3 come from Small Wars Journal. Link #2 is a compilation of a collection of essays about "professors in the trenches". It's a joint collaboration between military officers and social scientists discussing the partnership between the military and academia in combat—and interesting breaking down of the traditional barriers that have always existed between these two groups. Link #3 involves air power in the small wars, written by a US Air Force intelligence officer. I'd comment on it, but Mongo beat me to the punch on this one.

Link #4: Kings of War weighs in on a recent op-ed on counter-insurgency written by a Pakistani military officer that has been making the milblogging circuits. A number of prominent milbloggers have already added their opinions to this article (Ricks, Exum), agreeing in many areas and disagreeing with some.

KOW weighs in on the op-ed as well, and also provides a critique of American counterinsurgency doctrine. The COIN manual (Field Manual 3-24, available on Kindle) describes counter-insurgency as the "graduate level" of war. KOW begs to differ, noting that there are many foreign militaries which have proven to be quite adept at putting down insurgencies, but are hardly a match for a modern mechanized force.

It's mostly a matter of perspective. Many of foreign militaries focus on counter-insurgency for two reasons: first, because insurgencies are their greatest threats, and secondly, because they simply do not have the funding available to justify expensive fighter jets and main battle tanks. They are good at COIN because that's all they do.

The US military in 2003, on the other hand, was trained, equipped and funded to fight conventional opponents. A budget which greatly exceeds that of most other nations in the world combined helps to ensure that the US military can simply overwhelm many conventional opponents with firepower and maneuver with relative ease (provided the campaign plan is relatively sound). Conventional war is the US military's comfort zone.

Conventional war, however, assumes that the US is still fighting in an environment based on first through third generation warfare patterns. That is to say that is based on the model of nation-state warfare in which diplomacy fails, the military does its thing, and then the diplomats take over again. Counter-insurgency, on the other hand, requires a well-thought-out strategy and complete integration of not only military, but also government, economic, cultural and diplomatic efforts throughout the entire campaign. Insurgency can negate the vast advantage in firepower that conventional militaries have often relied upon, forcing Soldiers to actually think about their actions and develop a greater strategy. The complexities of integrating the non-military aspects into a campaign plan, as well as learning to not rely on the incredible firepower that Western militaries have come to take for granted makes counter-insurgency the graduate level of war for Western-style militaries.

Link #5: Tucker Max just gave an advance screening of his movie, "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" to paratroopers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division (wait, was that the same brigade that featured paratroopers on that website in 2006...).

The troopers got Tucker a flask with the "AA" logo on one side, and an "All the way" on the other side.

17 June 2009

Your Megan Fox of the day...

Megan Fox went to Germany this week to promote the upcoming premiere of Transformers 2. By the looks of it, German summers must be kind of cold. Heh heh heh.

Population security, counter-insurgency, hybrid war. There, now this post has something to do with the Small Wars community.

Ever Time You Facebook, You Defeat Ahmadinejad

(Continued from a post made about three weeks ago) In late 2006 or 2007, I was sitting in one of those mandatory annual classes on operational security. The instructor, your stereotypical grumpy old man, decried Soldiers’ use of social networking sites, citing security concerns. He was furious at the fact that the US, as a democracy, lays itself open to the entire world. (He must have been a paleoconservative if there ever was one, as this issue was tackled nearly 2500 years ago by Pericles in the city of Athens)

The instructor even went on to mention that Soldiers—gasp—posted information about what they were doing in Iraq on “The Myspace”, and claimed that “The Myspace” would be responsible for losing the Iraq War. Yes, apparently in 2007 or so, the best explanation we had for the deteriorating security situation in Iraq wasn’t a lack of a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy, ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, sectarian civil war, or al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, but rather, those crazy kids and “The Myspace”. I never could tell if the instructor actually was serious or if he was a carefully constructed parody of right-leaning pundits, particularly with his use of the term, “The Myspace”.

Joke’s on him, however. While Myspace is, well, Myspace, other social networking sites have, in a strange way, been able to at deal some damage to a number of organizations and individuals on the US’ naughty list.

Take the FARC (Revolutionary Army of Colombia), for example. Last year, a Facebook group entitled “One Million Strong Against the FARC” helped organize massive anti-FARC protests, held in cities throughout the world. These demonstrations resulted in alleged large-scale desertions from the FARC. Indeed, it might seem that these Facebook-organized demonstrations might have actually dealt a greater blow to the FARC than decades of narcotic eradication programs, and significantly less expensive, as well.

Although at least one technology expert doubts the extent to which Twitter and Facebook have affected community organizing in Tehran—after all, Iran isn’t quite as wired as the US—few can doubt that the New Media is becoming the number one source for news coming out of Iran, with ubiquitous cell phone cameras and mobile Internet connections operating almost as guerillas in the streets of Tehran. Small, dispersed, and easily concealed within the Iranian population, the New Media is everywhere in Tehran, and operating far more effectively than the larger, more conventional news organizations (I'll leave you to draw the 4GW analogy with this one).