Thursday, January 12, 2006

Friendly Fire

Last month, I wrote about US military strategies in Iraq and the damage they have done. There's an article concerning these US military strategies which I'd like to highlight but before that, here's a quick follow up on the last post.

Since writing it, I read something which really amazed and frightened me in equal measure. It seems that some neo-conservatives argue that a Search and Destroy strategy could have
brought victory in Vietnam if the military has just been given enough resources to "complete the mission"(it was an article in one of the neo-con rags but it was too tedious to bother looking for the link). To put that in perspective, there were close to half a million US military personel in Vietnam in 1968. Only the neo-cons could argue that a lack of resources was the problem and not be joking. It is the most ridiculous nonsense.

Ask a general if he's got everything he needs and you can guarantee he'll say no. Every time. Without fail.* It appears that you can also guarantee that there'll be a neo-con agreeing wholeheartedly with the general without even beginning to grasp that they're actually trying to satisfy what is, in effect, an infinite demand. "The generals told us they need a bit more money and a few more troops and that'll be them fully up to strength." Yeah, er, didn't they say that last year too? Anyway, only a neo-con would argue that Search and Destroy could have brought victory in Vietnam. These people really are scarily idiotic.

From ridiculous opinions on the military, let's turn to a more intelligent insiders view of US military behaviour in Iraq. Here's the BBC report and here's the page (courtesy of the US army) where you can download the PDF if you're that way inclined. This article was written by Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, British Army. He served in Iraq "at the heart of a U.S. dominated command within the Coalition from December 2003 to November 2004". I don't agree with everything he says and it's worth bearing in mind that as a serving officer he must be diplomatic in his criticisms of his allies.

The following quotations are from Section 1:
The Extent to Which U.S. Army Performance in OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] Phase 4 Has Fuelled the Insurgency.
(I'd put this below the fold except I never did get the fold thing to work properly.)
The QDR IW Study [US DoD sponsored review]... notes that, in an analysis of 127 U.S. pacification operations in Iraq between May 2003 to May 2005, ‘most ops were reactive to insurgent activity—seeking to hunt down insurgents. Only 6% of ops were directed specifically to create a secure environment for the population’.

‘There was a strong focus on raiding, cordon & search and sweep ops throughout: the one day brigade raid is the preferred tactic’. There was a ‘preference for large-scale kinetic maneuver’ and ‘focus on killing insurgents, not protecting the population’.
Search and destroy and lot's of it. Almost no Clear and Hold though.

On the attitude of US military personal:
This sense of moral righteousness combined with an emotivity that was rarely far from the surface, and in extremis manifested as deep indignation or outrage that could serve to distort collective military judgement. The most striking example during this period occurred in April 2004 when insurgents captured and mutilated 4 U.S. contractors in Fallujah. In classic insurgency doctrine, this act was almost certainly a come-on, designed to invoke a disproportionate response, thereby further polarising the situation and driving a wedge between the domestic population and the Coalition forces. It succeeded. The precise chain of events leading to the committal of U.S. and Iraqi security forces, or reasons for the subsequent failure to clear what had become a terrorist stronghold, lie well beyond the classification of this paper. However, the essential point is that regardless of who gave the order to clear Fallujah of insurgents, even those U.S. commanders and staff who generally took the broader view of the campaign were so deeply affronted on this occasion that they became set on the total destruction of the enemy.
A specific example of Search and Destroy taken to the extreme. Note that the Brigadier considers the operation in Fallujah in April 2004 to have been a success for the insurgents. Note too, that he considers that US miltary commanders acted out of emotion rather than reason. Given the high profile nature of the gruesome incident which provoked the response, it's not unreasonable to ask how far up the chain of command this decision went. Was it, in fact, made at the very top level? By the Commander in Chief and his advisers? It certainly seems possible.

On troop locations:
[T]he QDR IW Study notes that during the period studied U.S. forces were relatively isolated from the population they existed to support: ‘they live in fortified camps away from the population and most face-to-face contact . . . is during cordon and search or vehicle checkpoint operations’. Routine foot patrolling, a key means of interacting and thus gathering HUMINT [human intelligence], was the exception.
These tactics lead to the troops being isolated from the population they are supposed to be protecting. Counter-insurgency strategies at their least effective, in fact.

On an over-reliance on technological intelligence at the expense of human intelligence:
This assists force protection, in the short term, particularly in an environment where suicide bombers are the major threat, but it equally helps to encourage the local sentiment that the troops are a distant, impersonal occupying force which has no interest in the population.
More isolation. The Brigadier goes further though.
U.S. Army personnel instinctively turned to technology to solve problems. Similarly, their instinct was to seek means, including technology, to minimise frequent close contact with the local population, in order to enhance force protection, but this served further to alienate the troops from the population.
Alienation. The perfectly understandable US military desire to minimise the risk to their troops was actually having an adverse effect by alienating the population of Iraq. The reality is that counter-insurgency operations are bloody dangerous and you can't be successful by isolating the troops, even though it will be safer for them in the short term.

The Brigadier's overall judgement:
The Army’s approach to and conduct of operations was a contributory factor in the Coalition’s failure to exploit success immediately after the fall of Saddam. (That is not to say that the outcome would have been different had the Army operated differently, but it might have been).
Although the Army may now be achieving campaign success, it created a harder task for itself by dint of its approach and conduct during the early stages of OIF Phase 4, including well into 2004.
Which, I think you'll find, is a diplomatic way to tell your allies that they've made a right arse of it and they really should have known better.

As I've said many times before, direct comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are not hugely helpful; there are many differences between the two conflicts. Nevertheless, the Brigadiers's criticisms of US military tactics are very similar to the criticisms which caused General Abrams to instigate new tactics in Vietnam in 1969. Were these lessons from Vietnam forgotten or just ignored?

I've not read section 2 yet. It covers the "root causes" of these failings trends. Perhaps that will provide the answer.

* OK, maybe not every single time. At least 99 times out of 100 though.

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