Thursday, June 01, 2006

A commenter on another blog ... 
...has some lucid thoughts on Iraq - especially at the end.

The tragedy of the event is manifest. In any case, as I stated before, COIN is inherently a very tough nut to crack, and a VERY personal war. It certainly varies from city to city, but I know Samarra personally and I can attest to the dangers of the place. Yes, the responsibility can be placed upon the soldiers. Was it within the rules of engagement (was the warning escalated properly, did the soldiers attempt to stop the car, etc?). I can only speculate on legality, but we faced situations like this before (panicky civilians speeding through clearly labled checkpoints, with wounded and dead resulting, albeit very seldom). The consequences of even legal and sanctioned violence at the soldier can have strategic ripple effects (as we see in this case).

Disabling a car is difficult. Bullets aren't stopped by anything in cars except the frame and engine block (and even then, metal on metal causes ricochets). This is certainly not like the movies. You can only aim center mass of the engine (not tires). Combine this with a speeding car, and you have only the split second reaction of a soldier behind a machine gun or rifle who must rely upon his or her training and judgement. Counterintuitively it is the trained combat arms soldier (the trained killer) that does this the best. He, more than the rear-echelon soldiers, possesses the best judgment, skill, and leadership that actually mitigates the problem of illegal shootings. If it was a traffic control point, then it was combat arms soldiers (infantry, cavalry, armor, artillery, or even engineer). You also don't get any idea of the threat in Samarra, where the threat of a vehicle borne IED has always been high. We had a soldier stand one down, wounding and stopping the driver of a VBIED with his M4 rifle, causing him to detonate the VBIED with in 20 meters of the soldier. He was slightly wounded from a huge explosion that disintegrated the car. His judgment and skill earned him a Silver Star. Such is Samarra (not just SOME city north of Baghdad).

I am sure the soldiers that shot the car are the ones that dealt with the dead and treated the wounded on the scene after it was over. A terrible tragedy, and if the violence was illegal, then they will be punished (we do not hide soldier crimes).

As far as the tactics and techniques of check point operations, they are sound. Nevertheless, bad things happen during COIN, even when soldiers are operating within Law of Armed Conflict and the ROE.

I'm no rubber stamp of military doctrine or decisions made prior to the war. I for one am very confused as to why our Army was so averse to training our junior leaders on how to fight a counterinsurgency, if as the generals the criticized Rumsfeld, the planning for an occupation of Iraq was 12 years in the making. If that is the case, it was never translated into doctrine, and doctrine drives training. No Arabic classes. No studying of successful COIN operations in history (Malaysia) nor failures such as Vietnam. No attempt to develop a Lawrence of Arabia model. No studying of Mao, or of the Algergian wars. COIN was, until recently, relegated to the Special Forces of the military. It wasn't until it slapped us in the face that it became a priority. So those that argue about troops numbers are, in my humble opinion, are dead wrong. More soldiers trained in the conventional war model would have made no difference if they weren't TRAINED to deal with a potential counterinsurgency.

Apparently Gen. Abizaid agrees:

April, 2004: House Armed Services Committee

In your view, and I put this question to the whole panel, could today's chaotic situation have been foreseeable and avoidable? Would more troops have made a difference in establishing security immediately, preventing the looting in the immediate aftermath of the war? Did we put too much reliance on the assurance of the expatriates that this would be a cake-walk, an easy objective? Was our prewar planning for the postwar period adequate? And had it been, could we have avoided this, or would this have likely happened in any event?


Gen. KEANE [Former Vice Chief of Staff USA retired]
Yes. Thank you. In terms of the level of violence that we encountered, I don't think that anything we possibly could have done would have prevented that level of violence. I do believe that the prewar planning to deal with post-regime, you know, the depth of that planning, was nowhere in comparison to what it was to take the regime down. I mean, that is the simple truth of it. So in that sense, we could probably conclude more could have been done in the prewar planning for post-regime operations. And, again, you have to understand, intellectually I think where most of us were, we were not anticipating that level of violence. So that is fair criticism. In terms of troop size, I mean it is so conventional to talk about more troops every time we have another violent act in Iraq. And I don't think there is a person in Washington who—or anybody else in this country that can really make that reasoned judgment, whether they be military or civilian. And when I was the Acting Chief of Staff during the summer, the first thing I asked John Abizaid when he took over from Franks [July, 2003] was, John, do you have enough troops to do the mission? And I said, if you need more troops, don't even think about where the administration is or what your perception is on this; put it on the table, and I am absolutely convinced Secretary Rumsfeld and others will give you the troops you have, and don't think about what the impact will be on the stress of the Army. John had looked at it very closely himself. He is a thoughtful person. He came to the same conclusion that General Franks did; that they really had enough troops to deal with the actions they had. What they were desperately in need of was more targeted, focused intelligence upon which to use those troops against. It becomes a balance here. You know, the more troops you put into Iraq, the more targets you actually create, the more you have to take care of them logistically and move convoys up the road. And what these commanders are doing is drawing that balance. So where I come out on this thing, unless we collectively have lost confidence in Abizaid and Sanchez and their leaders, I think we should support the conclusions that they are coming to, because they have the facts and they have the capacity to make that analysis. And it can't be done here. That is the reality of it. And there is no easy solutions to the challenges we are facing.
Maybe you can answer the question that I have constantly posed in many forums.

Since troop levels were fine for Phase IV, then you would agree that a single combat brigade was sufficient for all of Al Anbar province and that the reason that Al Anbar is still not pacified and has insurgents and foreign fighters is because of every reason other than not enough troops to establish a credible presence and interdict/block any terrorist/insurgent line of communication?
I find the commentary from the blog to be pretty good at illustrating the complexities of the counterinsurgency environment. I also agree with his criticism that the institutional Army was lacking in training its officers and NCOs for the complex environment that we would have a very high likelihood of facing in the post-Cold War environment. If anything, Bosnia and Kosovo should have clued us in to the fact that COIN like scenarios were out there and alive and kicking. The fact that Iraq was such an emphasis since 1991, yet, we had so few Arabic speakers speaks volumes in my mind.

Yet, the comment about troop levels misses the mark. If we weren't trained for COIN in 2003, then the flip side of the author's argument is that we shouldn't have deployed any "untrained" COIN troops. Where would that leave us. Also, while I believe it is unintentional, transitional from the suicide car bomber scenario is somewhat fallacious, for once regime hostilities ended in April 2003, car bombs didn't become a threat again for nearly a year. So, implicitly basing an argument on a threat that didn't initially exist at the beginning of the COIN campaign doesn't fly too well.

Finally, the argument also lies on the assumption that any additional US forces couldn't adapt to the COIN environment. Doing so ignores the Pertraeus' and Chiarelli's of the Army (with Chiarelli being a very prominent example, since it was his 1st CAV division that was the last unit whose deployment was cancelled prior to Baghdad even being seized).

So, the argument is on very shaky ground, and ignores the fact that additional troops were needed to fill the security vacuum, one that insurgent groups and AQIZ filled quite nicely for themselves. In fact, having served in Samarra, I'm surprised that he didn't connect the fact that the AR BN from 4th ID wasn't enough to be able to secure Samarra properly in 2003/2004.
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