Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Area CG Building Counterguerrilla Warriors His Own Damn Self 
It sounds like a headline from "The Onion." But The commanding general in Iraq has finally had it with the "Big A" Army's failure to create effective counterinsurgency leaders, and is doing it his own damn self.

The major criticism offered by students is that it would have been better to have the education six months earlier, when they were training their troops to deploy to Iraq, not after the units have arrived. Short had a tart response: It's not a bad idea, he said, but the Army back home wasn't stepping up to the job. "They didn't do it for three years" -- the length of the war so far, he noted. "That's why the boss said, 'Screw it, I'm doing it here.' "

I agree: FORSCOM dropped the ball.

The Army ought to be begging my Lieutenants to go to the local college to take Arabic, Farsi, and Pashtun classes at government expense. Many times, National Guard officers have time to do this - particularly 2LTs who are still in the Guard Bum phase and have their Bachelors degrees, or are close to it, but still haven't found their sea legs in their civilian careers. Every Reserve Component combat arms and MP company ought to have a lieutenant with at least rudimentary language skills.

And just look at the comments from some of the officers the Post interviews:

"On the surface, a raid that captures a known insurgent or terrorist may seem like a sure victory for the coalition," it observes in red block letters. It continues, "The potential second- and third-order effects, however, can turn it into a long-term defeat if our actions humiliate the family, needlessly destroy property, or alienate the local population from our goals."

If these concepts are novel ideas for a significant portion of our officers, then then Army has institutionally failed to educate its officer corps.

"One of the things I picked up at the COIN Academy is, we don't need to be hard on people all the time," said Capt. Bret Lindberg, commander of another 4th Infantry cavalry troop.*

This should not be news.

I've been infantry, and I've been a tanker. The infantry officers of my generation came up reading Col. Hackworth's "About Face," and studying the Viet Nam conflict. We did that in our spare time, for fun - not because the Army made us.

The Armor guys grew up reading biographies of George Patton, Heinz Guderian, and Erwin Rommel. Their outlook and instincts are, understandably very conventional - until they get to the stage in their careers where they really understand heavy-light operations. John Nagl, the author of "Eating Soup with a Knife," is one of only a few people who really worked hard to get the Army to internalize the lessons history, BEFORE THE WAR, when it came to counterinsurgency fighting.

And other than Nagl, NOBODY was studying Malaysia. I've spent entire days in a classroom studying the Ia Drang Valley campaign, but not a lick about Malaysia, which ought to have been the model for US Counterguerrilla doctrine. NOT Viet Nam.

I was different as a kid. I read a lot. When I was in High School, I had already read Mao's writings on Guerrilla Warfare. Lawrence of Arabia was my favorite movie ever. I had been reading T.E. Lawrence. I had read Ariel Sharon's autobiography. I had studied the partisan campaigns in Eastern Europe in WWII, and knew their capabilities. I keep waiting for someone to make a movie out of Mila 18. (I reread Mila 18 almost as soon as I got to Iraq).

When I got to Iraq, at least I had an intellectual framework to understand SOMETHING of the nature of the beast - although as the HHC XO, I didn't play much of a role in force-on-force operations, except as a convoy commander. (Did hundreds of those, though, but that operation calls for a conventional approach, most of the time).

My battalion, the 1-124th Infantry, was successful in dealing with the population in Ramadi, and at least keeping a lid on the violence. Why?

Well, it starts with the battalion commander. My battalion commander, LTC Hector Mirabile (Who now sports a well-deserved full-bird on his collar but he's not in my chain of command anymore so I can say that without being a suck-up) spent his career in the Miami Police Department, where last I checked, he was the comptroller. He's got a CPA background, and works in the bowels of municipal government. He understands municipal politics. Knows it like the back of his hand. He understands placating competing interest groups and constituency politics. He understood the position the sheikhs were in vis-a-vis their people, as local leaders.

Additionally, I took a look at his bookshelf many times, to see what he was reading. He read The Rommel Papers, to be sure. But he was also reading as much as he could find on Arab tribalism, on Iraqi culture and history, on Islam, on T.E. Lawrence.

COL Mirabile came onto the battlefield with an important advantage over active duty battalion commanders, thanks to his career in municipal politics and law enforcement. And he made the most of it by working hard to develop his mind - and he encouraged it in his junior officers.

The Army had little to do with it. COL Mirabile, it seems to me, became an effective counterguerrilla warrior IN SPITE OF the Army. Not because of it.

Meanwhile, we're back for another AT of a movement to contact through the woods-just like we did before the Iraq war. Each company can get maybe two days on the MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) site. The rest is in the boonies.

We're much better than we were. And the Florida Guard spent a lot of money developing a fake city at Camp Blanding. We've also invested a ton of money in virtual sim training, which is actually good stuff (though scheduling access is always tough).

We're making progress at the soldier level. But have I seen a concerted effort yet stateside to create Counterguerilla officers?

No. They're making progress getting the combat service support lieutenants off of the golf course and sending them all to Benning to become warriors for a couple of weeks - and that's long overdue. But to really Out-G the G, it's going to require a cultural paradigm shift.

Ditch the Clausewitz for a little while. Read up on Mao, Giap, Lawrence, and Nagl.

Splash, out


*(One other note - Tom Ricks gets the terminology right here. Nice. Yeah, the Army uses CPT and not Capt. But that's a stylebook issue. I think Capt. is much better, actually.)

Correction: COL Mirabile spent his law enforcement career with the Miami PD, not the Miami-Dade PD. The text has been corrected.

Good post.

I know that when our division prepared to deploy to Iraq, we were so busy running FTXs, preparing the FRGs, and running CPXs, etc. To call our language, culture, and anti-guerrilla training perfunctory would be generous.
I'm with one of the training units that is disparraged (indirectly) in the tone of the piece. We do a helluva lot of work trying to set up training scenarios whereby units deploying can learn a thing or two about second/third order effects & such. They always fall back on the grunt mentality and come out shooting because that's in their comfort zone.

Bottom line is, they don't believe us when we try to tell them that killing terrorists is a supporting effort and all the other stuff that will actually win the COIN fight is more important. They don't believe it until they're on the ground and being bested by the locals in negotiations and such. I could name a couple of particular brigade commanders on the ground right now who are perfect examples.
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