Thursday, March 26, 2009

Odds and Ends on Iraq

I've come across two interesting news stories on Iraq that I think highlight some things, just as I posted the other highlight from ABC News on my blog.

According to a recent poll the majority of Americans are now at least somewhat optimistic about the effort to increase security and stability in Iraq (64%). The poll highlights the extreme fickleness of the public when it comes to fighting wars (particularly ones that last a long time, and the Iraq War is a long war).

The home-front has long been viewed from a military point of view as an important element of a nation's war-fighting capability. During World War II area bombing of enemy cities was used by both sides because of its perceived ability to weaken not only a country's industries (essential to carrying on the war), but also their national resolve. If anything, that thinking back-fired as it further united the civilian populations behind the government-just as 9/11 did not weaken American resolve, if anything it strengthened it.

The real method to weaken national resolve is through war weariness. In the Civil War the Union was ready to throw in the towel even with Atlanta and Richmond-St. Petersburg under siege, because the population in the Union was exhausted and wanted a negotiated settlement. It was only after the capture of Atlanta that Union opinion cemented around President Lincoln and the rest is history. The Japanese were counting on war weariness to lead to a negotiated settlement during a costly US amphibious invasion of the Home Islands; the Atomic Bombs in the end significantly changed that equation.

Now we find ourselves in Iraq and much the same situation. The public is tired of the war and as a result support for the mission has fallen. Regardless of the preferences for the invasion or the mission afterwards, it is a statement of fact that as the war dragged on, support fell. The terrorists and insurgents recognize they cannot defeat the United States militarily; however, they can drag the war on, weakening the national will to fight (this being an abstract statement rather than a statement on the relative rightness or wrongness of the war). The primary target of the insurgents is not the US military on the ground (they are the means), but the impact is designed to be felt in the kitchen and living rooms of Americans.

War weariness is the insurgent's greatest strength. The Vietnamese (the Communists at least) refer to their war against the French and Americans as the 10,000 Day War. They had the resolve to stick with a war for 10,000 days, a period of time that neither the French (not surprisingly there) nor the Americans could match. While it certainly speaks to a nation's strength of resolve, it isn't entirely surprising; it is a historical fact of life for many nations, particularly democracies and republics.

The second interesting article is from the "I Can't Believe It's True" category. Apparently foreign tourists from Western countries are now visiting Iraq. While the long-term goal of a safe and stable Iraq is one that the West can work with, I don't foresee tourism from the west as a major industry. Yet, this article highlights western tourists visiting Iraq. The travel was organized by a British Adventure Travel Agency (any tourist visiting Iraq today will have a lot of Adventure I imagine).

I'll admit my regret that in my two tours in Iraq so far (and this one isn't over yet), I haven't seen some of the great archaeological sites of this country. I was deployed in Mosul for six months and since I wasn't allowed to leave the wire (i.e., go off base), I never saw the walls of old Nineveh. I was only about 30 miles from the site of Alexander the Great's victory of Darius III at Gaugamela-Arbela and I too didn't see that. I was then in Baghdad, but never saw Old Babylon where the exiles wept tears for Old Jerusalem. And of course, this is the Cradle of Civilization: the iconic monument to those first cities of Ancient Sumer was the Ziggurat. While some of my friends here have visited them, I have not climbed the great Ziggurats that still dot parts of this country. When you think about it, historically Iraq is an archaeological destination. Maybe in 10 years, Adventure won't have to be in the name of the travel company that organizes the trips.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Full-Spectrum Targeting, the Key to COIN

Targeting in a counterinsurgency (COIN) fight has both a lethal dimension and a non-lethal one. If you have an IED cell as part of your problem-set, there are different means by which a unit can target them to achieve an effect. In the case of the IED cell, the desired effect would be a decrease in IEDs in the area of operations (AO). The traditional technique would be to lethally target this cell- seeking to kill or capture the emplacers, facilitators, financiers, and engineers. This method is still a legitimate means of attacking the problem set in a COIN environment. However, to be successful, it has to be coupled with non-lethal targeting. The non-lethal, in my respects, will be the primary method of attacking the problem set. You can kill all the IED emplacers you want, but unless the root causes are attacked, the IEDs will continue. Hence, from a lethal perspective, there is a need to target the C2 and Logistics of the IED organization. It's one thing to kill the Al Qaeda (AQ) foot-soldiers, but disrupting their leadership by forcing them to constantly move and to use precision targeting will have a greater effect. That's the lethal perspective. In a COIN fight, the non-lethal becomes a primary tool for the war-fighter.

Non-lethal targeting was often ignored prior to the Surge and sadly still is in certain areas. However, the non-lethal has enabled the peace to be secured. To look at our IED problem-set: unemployment, trash, and poverty can be contributing factors in creating an environment where our AQIZ IED cell has fertile ground to recruit. However, through drops of humanitarian aid in problem neighborhoods and trash collection programs, we begin to attack the root causes. The local population ceases to view coalition forces (CF) as a threat or an occupier and provides information to CF that further enables lethal targeting. In addition, the population ceases to provide either active or passive support to the insurgency or terrorist group. The terrorist and/or insurgent require a passive population in which to hide and conduct their operations. If the population begins to oppose them (as was the case in the Sunni Awakening), they lose the ability to survive and operate. Non-lethal targeting helps cement that awakening and prevent those areas from sliding back into support for insurgent/terrorist groups.

This has required a mind-set change for successful implementation. The initial thought for an IED problem is to find the emplacers and those who back them and kill them through lethal targeting. While that is still a method, the non-lethal may plant the seeds for long-term security rather than providing a short-term improvement. To address a specific problem set, there will likely be some lethal targeting, but it will be facilitated by the non-lethal targeting. The non-lethal targeting will disrupt the problem-sets abilities to target CF, and the corresponding interaction and engagement with the local national population will provide information that will further enable and facilitate the lethal targeting.

This creates a corresponding difficulty for the deployed S2 shop. The S2 shop is designed for the lethal fight. In a COIN environment it must adapt to see the issues non-lethally. Not only must it identify the individuals who are negatively impacting the environment (HVIs) and the cells that make up the enemy "order of battle", it must also identify the problems that are allowing this situation. It is a significant shift in the way S2s have traditionally operated, just as COIN represents a significant drift from the way the US operated in 2004/5/6. Our ability to adapt to the realities of the COIN determines the level of success we will enjoy. The US military across the spectrum has adapted under the leadership of GEN Petraeus and GEN Odierno during the surge.

What is interesting is to wonder to what level the same strategy can be implemented in Afghanistan, and what changes to that strategy will be required to deal with the Afghani culture. The US military, if allowed, will adapt and find further success in Afghanistan; just as it did in Iraq.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Moving Forward?

It is quite uncommon for the mainstream media to focus on Iraq today. Once the Surge began to succeed, Iraq began to recede from the regular media's coverage. Now, with the economic woes in the United States, the First 100 Days of a new President, and a host of other issues, Iraq is probably the last thing people want to hear about.

I came across this story from ABC news that I think highlights the hope the Iraqis have in their future. They don't see us as the reason for their new found hope and security, and while perhaps that is disappointing, it is not a bad thing. It means that the Iraqis are looking to themselves to solve their own problems. An Iraqi Face for Iraqi Solutions for Iraqi Problems. That is for all intents and purposes, the way home for the non-Iraqis seeking to help out. The article does highlight some hope for the future of democracy in Iraq and a brighter future for the country.

Kudos to ABC for actually covering Iraq. Now if only we could work on the Grey Lady in New York.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's All About Partnership

Planning is a long process in the US Army, but one that enables future operations to be set up for success. Planning is also something the Iraqi Army does not have a lot of experience with and therefore is one of the most important areas where we can mentor them and help to build up their overall capabilities. Combined Planning (IA and CF) certainly has its comic moments, but it is also truly rewarding as we help professionalize a military that a few short years ago did not even exist. Many of the Iraqi Army Officers are eager to please and have a desire to learn, provided you treat them with a certain level of respect. In many cases our counterparts "out-rank" us, but when it comes to experience and abilities, the US soldier is superior. My battalion is partnered with an Iraqi Army Brigade (BDE). My counter-part S2 is the BDE S2 for the BDE and holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (the same rank as my battalion commander). I give him a level of deference and respect and use the term "Sayydi" when speaking to him, but at the same time he is eager to please and to listen and to learn.

Over the course of the last few weeks we have significantly increased our level of combined planning and the number of meetings we conduct with the Iraqis. Not necessarily in support of any operation, but in support of partnership with the Iraqi Army. We attend their Targeting Meetings, we have a joint Security Council Meeting, we have an Intel Fusion Meeting, etc. We are working with the Iraqi Army Staff, not as a subordinate force (which is sadly how many Iraqi Army units were treated for a long time), but as an equal and valuable partner in our combined mission in Iraq. In the past the Iraqi Army staffs were completely ignored as we focused our partnership with the company and below. This partnership was important at the time, and especially during the violent moments of 2005/6/7. However, as security has improved, the focused shifted to the Iraqi Army as a whole. It is a comprehensive approach to partnership that recognized the long-term goal is an Iraqi Army that is capable of independent operations and to stand on its own. While in the past we could get away with just grabbing an Iraqi Army unit to assist us, the current security situation, SOFA, and our mission require a more total and integrated approach to partnership. A partnership that benefits them to the same degree, if not more, as us.

It is a long process. While some seem to believe that a military can not only be assembled quickly, but made effective, the truth is something completely different. It took the United States of America nearly four years to build a military capable of standing up against the British as Washington's Army did at Monmouth. That was only one battle and it was a draw. The performance of the United States Army in the War of 1812 (in open battle), with the exception of General Winfield Scott at Chippewa left a great deal to be desired. The first real war in which the United States fought well was the War with Mexico, and even then it was far from a truly professional military. Building a military takes time and after a few mis-steps, we are on our way to build an Army for Iraq that will be capable of defending her borders and secure the peace.

It's all about Partnership.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring Training

It is every Baseball fan's best time of the year. It is Spring Training when hope truly springs eternal.

This is the time of the year that every Cubs fan, despite 100 years of experience, believes the time has finally arrived and the Cubs will win the pennant. I am optimistic about the season, though the Cubs have some holes.

1. Left-handed power -- Who actually thinks Milton Bradley will stay healthy the entire season?
2. Starting Pitching -- I would feel much better with Jake Peavy. Will Zambrano and Harden stay healthy all season?
3. Utility Infielder -- What did we get for Mark DeRosa again?

So there are some major holes, but they are definitely a strong team and should compete against the Phillies and Mets for NL Dominance. Of course, that also assumes that the Cubs can win a playoff game. But Spring Training is a time of hope. But now is the time to believe.

So, tune your radio to WGN 720 AM. Turn on the TV to Comcast and WGN. And sing "Let's go Cubs".

You can also enjoy the World Baseball Classic where A-Rod can play for the USA one year, and the Dominican Republic the next (or pull out due to injury). The revelation about A-Rod and steroids destroyed the hope of many of us who viewed him as the great hope to push aside the steroid-enhanced Barry Bonds. This era is truly the Steroid Era and will have an asterisk by it forever. Hopefully someday, this chapter of Baseball will be closed, but for now, it is something we will have to live with.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Changing Mission

As many of you know President Obama has recently announced his plan for the future of the US Military Mission in Iraq. In many ways there isn't a significant change between what he has directed and what is currently implemented. We are trainers already with the Iraqi Security Forces. It takes a long time to build a nation's military and President Obama's plan definitely takes that into account by planning on leaving a "residual" training force behind when the official combat mission ends. I believe he has that end set for sometime in the late summer of 2010 (I only have Media reports to go off of here). This in many ways lines up with SOFA which envisions US forces leaving Iraqi cities, towns, and villages by some point this summer. The fight in Iraq is largely non-lethal thanks to former President Bush's surge and its implementation by General David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno. US forces need to be prepared to go kinetic (lethal) if necessary and maintain alertness at all times (complacency in combat is probably the greatest threat to life), but the paradigm has shifted. The Iraqi people no longer support the insurgents, the rejectionists, and the terrorists. There will always be a place for kinetic operations, but the non-lethal fight is paramount for securing the peace.

There is a news story that is moving around here that sums up the situation in Iraq today and how RADICALLY different it is from 2005-2007. While most Americans only view Iraq through the lens of the extreme violence and sectarianism of 2005/6/7, that Iraq is no longer the reality. The Washington Post of all sources had a story which brilliantly highlighted the change in Iraq in its once most violent city. I do not support the violation of General Order No. 1, but I think this story highlights just how much has changed (though the soldiers' conduct leaves a lot to be desired in the realm of common-sense). It is from the Washington Post which has a strict use policy so I will quote the first paragraph and I ask that you go to the link to read the rest:

"BAGHDAD, FEB. 27 -- The American soldier stepped out of the Baghdad nightclub. In one hand, he clutched his weapon. In the other, a green can of Tuborg beer. He took a sip and walked over to two comrades, dressed as he was in camouflage and combat gear." Please click the link to read the rest (you may have to register - It's Free).

Is this Iraq? Is this Baghdad? The Baghdad I remembered had at a minimum twenty attacks a day, but that was 2006. Now it is 2009 and in large part Iraq is advancing. It is not 2006 anymore; Iraq has changed, as has our mission. The US Military may have exceeded some people's expectations for success; the US Military did not exceed its own expectations for success.