September 19, 2010

In today's Iraq, "sectarian violence is almost zero"

Via National Review, the Wall Street Journal's David Feith interviewed General Ray Odierno. You have to subscribe to read the whole thing, and I'm not going to do that, so what's below is all I could get.

If you're not aware, which is to say not a regular reader of this blog. General Odierno was our longest serving general in Iraq. As a two star he commanded the 4th Infantry Division (2001-2004), which was originally scheduled to invade from Turkey, but after the Turks refused permission went in via Kuwait. Eventually they were made responsible for what is called the "Sunni Triangle," which is the area north of Baghdad. Promoted to three star in 2005, he was sent back to Iraq to take command of Multi-National Corps Iraq in 2006. MNC-Iraq is the operational command, tasked with carrying out the vision of the overall commander. At the time, General George Casey held overall command. Odnerino quickly realized his boss' strategy wasn't working, and told him so. Odierno and several others told President Bush that more troops were needed.

When General David Petraeus took over in February of 2007, he therefore assigned Odierno the task of implementing the new counterinsurgency strategy and positioning the new "surge" troops. Odierno carried out both tasks, earning him the moniker "The Patton of Counterinsurgency." When Petraeus was promoted to CENTCOM, Odierno assumed overall command of Iraq, and post he held until just two weeks ago.

General Ray Odierno

How the Surge Was Won
America's longest-serving general in Iraq says that when they realized the U.S. presence in their communities was permanent, allies came 'out of the woodwork.'
The Wall Street Journal
by David Feith
September 18, 2010

On Sept. 10, 2007, Gen. David Petraeus climbed the steps of the U.S. Capitol to testify that the surge in Iraq was succeeding. Already derided by as "General Betray Us," he was lambasted by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for his testimony's "willing suspension of disbelief."

On Sept. 10, 2010, Gen. Raymond Odierno--Gen. Petraeus's main partner throughout the surge--sits in a New York hotel room and reports matter-of-factly that in today's Iraq "sectarian violence is almost zero."

What a difference three years makes.


Gen. Odierno says that the moment he first thought a surge could work was in December 2006, when he learned that seven of Anbar Province's 13 tribes had decided to fight al Qaeda and join the political process. Fitting, since counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes the imperative of earning the trust and support of the local population.

But trust earned must become trust maintained. That's the challenge going forward. Already some senior Iraqi leaders are suggesting that the U.S. drawdown is overly hasty. Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari, the chief of staff of the Iraqi joint forces, said last month that "the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020." Ayad Allawi, the leading vote-getter in March's election, recently agreed: "It may well take another 10 years," he told Der Spiegel.

Gen. Odierno says he isn't surprised by such comments. He adds: "If the new [Iraqi] government comes on board and says we still think we need some assistance beyond 2011 . . . I think we'll listen."

With a little help from Steve Shippert of Threatswatch, I explained in July of 2008 what really happened in the Sunni awakening in al Anbar and how Obama and the liberal left had it all wrong. The short story is that the awakening and stand down of the Shi'a militias did not occur separately from the surge but as a part of it.

More, what Odierno demonstrates that the notion that the Iraqis (or Afghanis) would be motivated to "step up," defend themselves, and "get their act together" if we threatened to leave is complete hogwash. Human nature just doesn't work that way. Threats to pull out only prompt them to hedge their bets by "making their arrangements" with the insurgents in case they lose. Only firm American resolve motivates the people to openly take our side.

As I have said about a zillion times, insurgencies are not World War II where you have a few years of intense fighting then that's it. They start up slowly, and then tend to explode as if out of nowhere. At this point either the insurgents get the upper hand and eventually win, or the government (with or without outside aid) gains the upper hand. Even if the latter occurs, it usually takes years to finally defeat an insurgency. Insurgencies end not with a bang but with a whimper, and it may be some time before you can be sure it's even over.

Finally, despite candidate Obama's rash and unwise promises on the campaign trail, we are going to be in Iraq for a long time. Odierno is probably right, even Obama will not want to be held responsible for losing Iraq.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 3, 2010

"Lion-6 Out:" A Change of Command in Iraq

I realize that unless they involve violence or political instability events in Iraq are not considered particularly newsworthy these days, but since I've followed the country in some detail these past three or four years it seems logical to report on the change of command that took place this week.

General Ray Odierno marked the end of his address at the change of command-ceremony with is call sign "Lion-6 out," and with that he handed over command to General Lloyd Austin as commanding general for U.S. forces in Iraq. The event coincides with the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat brigade a few weeks earlier.

The 50,000 U.S. troops currently in Ira are in an "advise and assist" role, with the Iraqis taking the lead in combat operations. It is important to note that this is not a sudden change; for the past year or so American forces have mostly been in an advisory capacity with the Iraqis taking the lead. This change more just formalizes what has been going on for some time.

Our new commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin

General Lloyd Austin

And outgoing General Ray Odierno

General Ray Odierno

Other than General Petraeus, Odierno did more to win the war in Iraq than anyone else. Called "The Patton of Counterinsurgency" by people who know what they're talking about, Odierno's role during the 2007-8 surge was to implement the strategic vision laid out by Petraeus. Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower.

Odierno's bio on Wikipedia seems to have it about right:

Raymond T. Odierno (born 1954) is a United States Army general who was the Commanding General, United States Forces - Iraq, a post he held until September 1, 2010.[1] He assumed command of USF-I's predecessor, Multi-National Force - Iraq on September 16, 2008. He previously served as Commanding General, III Corps, from May 2006 to May 2008. General Odierno is known as the operational architect of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 and is credited with implementing the counterinsurgency strategy that, along with the Sunni Awakening militia movement, led to the dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq from late 2006 to early 2008. The Weekly Standard has argued that his employment of forces to quell violence across Iraq "redefined the operational art of counterinsurgency".[2] General Odierno is the twelfth American military officer to command at the Division, Corps, and Army level during the same conflict and only the second to have this honor since the Vietnam War.

General Austin's bio on Wikipedia is, perhaps understandably, a bit shorter

Lloyd James Austin III (born August 8, 1953) is a United States Army general who currently serves as Commanding General, United States Forces - Iraq.[1] He was nominated to replace Gen. Ray Odierno as the top commander in Iraq, with promotion to four-star general.[2] Austin previously served under Odierno in Iraq. On June 30, 2010 he was confirmed by the Senate to replace Odierno as leader of United States Forces - Iraq.[3]

Why is Iraq Important?

The French ambassador to Iraq, Boris Boillon, made this amazing statement in an interview in Le Figaro earlier this week:

Iraq is true laboratory of democracy in the Arab world today. It is there that the future of democracy in the region will play itself out. Iraq could potentially become a political model for its neighbors. And, whether one likes it or not, all this has come about thanks to the American intervention of 2003.

Accuse me of Wilsonianism if you will, but I think the good Frenchman has it just about right. Whatever the reasons we went into Iraq and why we stayed are really less important now than what it will mean for near and long-term history. The American Civil War is remembered by the average person as the war that freed the slaves even as historians continue to debate whether that was it's proximate cause.

Our mission in Iraq may succeed, or it may fail. In the end, though, we have given them a republic, and it is up to them to keep it or not. The Arab and Muslim words desperately need reform, and Iraq may well provide the impetus. I think it can.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 1, 2010

Obama's End of Combat Operations in Iraq Speech

From late 2006 on, I covered the Iraq War pretty intently here at Redhunter. I watched and blogged on every press briefing by one of our combat commanders. I listened carefully to what they said, and whether it contradicted what I'd read in the news elsewhere. I paid a lot of attention to the questions the reporters asked, and where they challenged our commanders and where they did not. I read all sorts of analytical pieces, and not too long ago wrote an extensive book review of Kimberly Kagan's The Surge: A Military History. See Iraq and Book Reviews under Categories at right.

None of this makes me an authority on Iraq, but I did pay attention to what was going on.

Last night President Obama gave a major speech marking the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

Obama Iraq Speech Aug 2010

Photo and transcript, Los Angeles Times

I don't have time to do an exhaustive review of the address, but following are some excerpts and my thoughts.

The President:

Good evening. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home. ...

The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians -and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people - Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

Yes, and no thanks to you, Mr. President.

Does it make me a cad if I point out that while he was still a senator, Obama opposed the surge, saying it wouldn't work?

The fact is that Obama was wrong about the biggest military decision our country has made since the Gulf War.

Not that I expect any politician to apologize and say they were wrong about anything. If they do so, partisans on the other side simply use their apology against them . But you can appeal to the more reasonable members on the other side, and to those in the middle. President Obama could have at least mentioned the surge.

This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq's Security Forces and support its government and people.

Not exactly. Your plan was to withdraw the troops regardless of whether we had achieved victory over the insurgents or not.

Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest- it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people -a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.

It is trite to say that "ending x war is not only in y's interest - it is in our own." Ending World War II was in Germany's interest as much as our own, but only because we had defeated the Nazis.

No we did not win because "we" persevered. You and your party bailed on the war sometime in 2004, as I recall. And I don't recall any talk from Democrats then of shared beliefs with the Iraqi people.

More, and I'll say it again; no thanks to you, Mr. President, or your party, that "a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization." If you had had your way we'd have left the Iraqis to fight it out on their own sometime in 2006 if not earlier.

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq's future.

Not nearly as far as I'd have liked him to go, but I'm sure that saying anything good about George W drives the left into paroxysms of rage. Indeed, Newsbusters reports that what little Obama said in the paragraph quoted above drove MSNBC host Rachel Maddow nearly 'round the bend.

Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power -including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America's example -to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes -a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.

Yes, and I've said this ad nauseum. It's fair to say that our initial approach to Iraq was military-centric, though again in fairness we were told by the anti-war people that it would be a huge challenge just to defeat the Iraqi Army in the initial invasion (remember the "Battle of Baghdad" that so many predicted, and how the Iraqi Army would wall off the city and it would take us weeks or months to break through?)

Although it was difficult the U.S. military changed it's doctrine and figured out that we weren't going to win the war just by killing the bad guys. It took time to develop a true counterinsurgency doctrine and put the right diplomats in place, but we eventually did it.

But while civilians are vital, they can only do their work after the military objectives have been met. The proper order is and must be; defeat the enemy in the field first, then the political process can start and the economy can be rebuilt. In 2006/7 the left insisted it be the other way around and they were simply proven wrong.

Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil.

I guess someone told him that the economy was an issue.

Although of course he did not do so, Barack Obama has much to thank George W. Bush for. By winning the war he mostly took the issue off of the table, and for the time being at least we don't have to worry about "another South Vietnam" and tens of thousands of "boat people." seeking refugee status. There won't be another Khmer Rouge and mass murder in that region, at least not soon and not in Iraq.

But despite our military victory, we can still lose the peace in Iraq. The politicians are deadlocked, and no new government has been formed. A war with Iran could set of sectarian violence. The status of the Kurds has not really been resolved. A million things could go wrong.

This is why it is so important that President Obama not simply declare "mission accomplished" as Bush did and walk away from Iraq, thinking that a caretaker force will wrap things up. He must stay engaged, think strategically, and realize that for all the trouble he has domestically, a foreign disaster could destroy his presidency. There is much at stake, for Iraqis and for us.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 24, 2010

Iraq Briefing - 21 July 2010 - "A certain sense of normalcy" in Iraq

This briefing is by General Ray Odierno, commanding general of U.S. Forces-Iraq. He was in Washington on Wednesday, and gave a press briefing at the Pentagon.

Wikipedia has it right: "Raymond T. Odierno (pronounced /oʊdiˈɛərnoʊ/; born 1954) is a United States Army general who serves as the current Commanding General, United States Forces - Iraq, a post he has held since its creation on January 1, 2010. He assumed command of USF-I's predecessor, Multi-National Force - Iraq on September 16, 2008. He previously served as Commanding General, III Corps, from May 2006 to May 2008. General Odierno is known as the operational architect of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 and is credited with implementing the counterinsurgency strategy that, along with the Sunni Awakening militia movement, led to the dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq from late 2006 to early 2008." At the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom through June 2004 Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division. From June 2004 until May 2006 he was the primary military advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is scheduled to rotate out of Iraq sometime at the end of the summer to a new position back in the United States

As commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq reports to the Acting Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command) Lieutenant General John R. Allen. Marine Corps General James N. Mattis was appointed on July 8 as the new commander of CENTCOM but awaits Senate confirmation. The commanding general of CENTCOM reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who of course reports to President Obama.

This video and others is at DODvClips. More interviews and military news programs is at The Pentagon Channel .

The transcript is at Defenselink.

From General Odierno's opening remarks:

GEN. ODIERNO: Today, since the height of the surge back in 2007, we've closed or turned over nearly 500 bases. We have 16 more that we want to turn over prior to 1 September, and we are on schedule to do that. We have reduced our presence by 75,000 troops since January of 2009 and 32,000 since January 2010. Today we're approximately 70,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines present for duty in Iraq.

Since June of 2009, we've retrograded over 37,000 rolling stock, wheeled vehicles, and nearly 20,000 have gone to Afghanistan. Additionally, 1.2 million pieces of non-rolling stock have left the country. Our military footprint will continue to decline over the next five weeks, and we are on track to be at 50,000 boots on the ground by the start of Operation New Dawn on September 1st.

Our change of mission for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn will officially mark the end of combat operations and signify our transition to stability operations from a military sense. In truth, we've been conducting stability operations for several months. As the president has said and the vice president reiterated on his last trip to Iraq, the United States, though, remains committed to a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq, and we are dedicated to sustaining a long-term bilateral relationship with Iraq.

I think it's important to put the security and political environment in Iraq today in perspective, as it compares to where we were in 2006, 2008 and even 2009. There has been steady, deliberate progress across all lines. There's clearly more to do. But a new baseline has been established.

As I fly around Iraq on a daily basis, I see the streets and markets are thriving with activity whether in Baghdad, Basra and even in Mosul. There's a certain sense of normalcy.

On to the Q & A. There was much that was discussed that is of interest, but we'll focus on the the first two sets of questions. The first is on the Sons of Iraq program, and the second on Iranian Special Groups.

Regular readers know that the Sons of Iraq were a big topic during these briefings over the past few years. Originally called "Concerned Local Citizens(CLCs)" they were eventually renamed by the Iraqis to Sons of Iraq. Concerned Local Citizens is a typically American term, Sons of Iraq typically Iraqi. Search for one of those terms in the "search" section to right, or go to one of the Iraq categories at right and search that way.

Either way, they were an attempt to co-opt outright insurgent members or potential members in Sunni areas. Many Sunnis became insurgents not so much for ideological reasons as economic and cultural ones (the need to prove oneself by taking a few potshots at an American). As such, if we could provide them a job that paid more and was at least to some degree rewarding it meant one less insurgent.

The CLCs/Sons of Iraq acted as a sort of "super neighborhood watch," keeping tabs on their neighborhoods. Although we did not arm them, everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. They straddled the line between police force and American-style neighborhood watch.

In the end it was a very successful program and contributed materially to the defeat of the various insurgent forces. However, once the insurgency was defeated, there was no need to keep them around, at least as a large force. At best they were simply unnecessary, at worst they could morph into an anti-government militia or insurgency themselves.

Two problems have emerged in the past year or so, and they both stem from the fact that most of the SOI were and are Sunni and the Iraqi government is dominated by the Shiites. The government did not want to take over paying the SOI, and they did not want to transition them into civilian jobs. Clearly without a job awaiting them there was the temptation to join AQI, and we certainly didn't want that to happen. As a result, the Americans have been pushing the Iraqi government to do the right things, which they mostly have, but not without some tension.

Q General, I wanted to go back to this issue of the Sons of Iraq. I mean, you mentioned this morning how important it is, how important they are to the movement there and progress there, and that you said it's our responsibility to protect them.

How do you do that when U.S. troops are no longer going to be allowed to involve in combat operations?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I'm not sure I said it's our responsibility to protect them. What I said is we have a sense of responsibility because we've turned this program over to the Iraqi security forces. So what we will do, as we do every other operation now, working through our Iraqi security force partners, we will ensure that the Sons of Iraq program stays vibrant inside of Iraq.

The Iraqi government has dedicated $300 million to this so they can continue to be paid. We're overseeing the transition of the Iraqi security forces to other agencies. And that's the important part. And I always thought that this was an initial building block to reconciliation, and I think it's an important one. And I think that that's why it's important for us to maintain oversight, which is what we do now.

Q But would the Iraqi government be in a position to protect these Sons of Iraq in the future?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again, what they are, they are working with the Iraqi security forces. So the Sons of Iraq that are still conducting security operations are either working for an Iraqi army or Iraqi police unit, and they are responsible to continue to assist them and help them. And we monitor this very carefully, work very closely with our Iraqi security forces partners to ensure this happens.

Q Can I follow up on that? -- you have to make sure that you're going to provide -- continue to provide oversight. Practically speaking, what does that mean? If the Iraqi government decides to pull the plug or reduce their commitment to the Sons of Iraq, what levers does the U.S. have to pull?

GEN. ODIERNO: First, there are absolutely no signs that the government of Iraq is going to pull the plug on the Sons of Iraq. I mean, again, they have dedicated $300 million of their budget to pay them this year. They have -- I met with the minister of Defense two days ago and we had this discussion. They are dedicated to ensuring that they continue to work with the Iraqi security forces.

What's happening now is it's about them transitioning to other governmental jobs. And we're about halfway through that, we got half to go.

So it's important that we -- to continue along that progress.

And the prime minister made a statement -- after the latest -- there was an attack this weekend on Sons of Iraq. And he made a statement of how important the Sons of Iraq have been to bringing stability to Iraq and the critical role they played in 2006 and '7. And I think that's the general attitude.

And the reason they're vulnerable is because Al Qaeda in Iraq realizes this. And as they try to reestablish themselves based on the losses that they've had over the last several months, they are focusing on the Sons of Iraq, because they, in some cases, were once part of the insurgency. So they're trying to focus on them and attack their will. And that's why it's important that us, with the Iraqi security forces, pay extra attention now to make sure they understand that we are going to be there. And they have done that over the last few days, and we will continue to help them do that.

"Special Groups" weren't discussed quite as much in past briefings, but Kimberly Kagan did give them quite a bit of attention in her recent book The Surge: A Military History, which I reviewed here.

Special Groups, a term of the U.S. military, were small, cell based groups created and sponsored by Iran. I'll quote from my own review of her book:

The organizing force in Iran was the Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods(or "Quds") Force (IRGC-QF)(also known as "Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" or "Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps"). The Qods Force is part of the Revolutionary Guards, and they report directly to the Supreme Leader, who as of this writing is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From what I can tell, the IRGC is roughly equivalent to the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel). The Qods Force is responsible for exporting the Iranian revolution. Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example, is probably the most important group formed by the Qods Force.

Qods Force and Hezbollah personnel teamed to train Iraqis in groups of twenty to sixty in Iran so that they would function as a unit; hence the term "Special Group," a term given to them by the U.S. military. Hezbollah training of Iraqis in Iran began in 2005. Special Groups usually remained separate, but possibly teamed with JAM for some operations.

Special Groups functioned alongside and in cooperation with JAM and other militia groups. Some of them came from JAM and other militia groups, being their more extreme members. Perhaps the best description is that Special Groups are an "outgrowth" of JAM and other similar groups

Back to the Q & A:

Q Sir, you have said lately that some special groups in Iraq backed by Iran continue to remain a threat to U.S. forces. Do you have any information if these groups are directly connected to the Iranian government?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, it's very difficult to say they're directly connected to the Iranian government. But what we do know is that many of them live in Iran, many of them get trained in Iran and many of them get weapons from Iran. And they get them from various sources, and it's difficult sometimes to track the exact chain of command; it's difficult to track the funding. But it's clearly being done inside of Iran.

We believe the Qods Force is involved in the training and funding of these groups, so obviously there's some connection. You know, this -- the Kata'ib Hezbollah specifically, we've had some significant threat warnings from them about attacks on U.S. forces for varying reasons. I think they also, by the way, have conducted attacks against Iraqi security forces as well, and this is to create, I believe, some type of instability and lack of confidence in the government of Iraq.

So it's an issue for everyone, not just U.S. forces. We've been working very closely with the Iraqi security forces to target these elements. And we've gotten great cooperation so far from them.

Raymond Odierno isn't the household name David Petraeus is, and certainly Petraeus deserves the lions share of the credit for saving Iraq. General Petraeus set overall strategy in Iraq in 2007-08, and Odierno implemented it.

Essentially, Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower. For this he gained the moniker "The Patton of Counterinsurgency," by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, two people who know what they're talking about.

Overall a very useful and informative briefing, and readers are advised to watch the video and read the transcript.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 12, 2010

Book Review - The Surge: A Military History

The Surge by Kimberly Kagan

Kim Kagan's book is just what the title says it is; a military history of the Surge. It does not cover the political aspects in Washington DC, or the formation of the Surge plan. Nor does she discuss the politics in Iraq or Iraqi society. Most important to note for commenters, she does neither weighs in on whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq in 2003 or on whether the surge itself was a good idea. What she does is simply discuss the military aspects of what happened in Iraq.

Dr Kagan is very well qualified to write on military topics. After taking her Ph. D. in history from Harvard, she taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Yale University, Georgetown University, and American University. She is currently president of the Institute for Understanding War in Washington DC. She has traveled many times to Iraq, interviewing people from General Odierno himself down to lower ranking officers and soldiers. This is not to suggest that such qualifications make her right by definition in her analysis, rather that she has the background to write intelligently on the topic.

Kagan is married to Frederick Kagan, a military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has been described as one of the "intellectual authors" of the surge. His brother is foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan. Their father is Donald Kagan, who is a professor at Yale and a fellow at the Hudson Institute. A more distinguished family is hard to find.

Those who are opposed to our involvement in Iraq will be tempted to dismiss Kimberly Kagan's book because she and her husband did speak out in favor of the surge plan, and as mentioned earlier Frederick's work at the AEI was one of, if not the, impetus behind it (more on that below). But again, this book is not about whether the invasion or surge were good ideas, but is rather a history of what did happen.

Introduction: The Players

The Insurgents

  • Al Qaeda in Iraq - AQI - Sunni - Commanded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri just before and during the years of the surge. Based in Falluhah.
  • Mahdi Army, also knows as Jaysh (or Jaish) al Mahdi (JAM) - Shiite - created and led by the Iraqi Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in June 2003
  • Special Groups - Shiite - Small, cell based groups created and sponsored by Iran
  • JAM and Special Groups were primarily based in the northeast neighborhoods of of Baghdad, called Sadr City
The Sunni and Shiite insurgents fought each other as much as they did the Coalition. JAM and AQI fought each other for control of Baghdad and it's environs throughout 2005 and 2006 because if you controlled the capital you effectively controlled the government. There was in effect several insurgencies taking place at the same time: Sunni v Coalition, Shiite v Coalition, Sunni v Shiite, Awakening Movement v AQI, and insurgent group v insurgent group. Sometimes the insurgent groups cooperated and sometimes they didn't.

Key Events Leading to the Adoption of the Surge Strategy

  • Mid-term Elections - November 7, 2006 - Democrats capture the House and Senate, having run partially on an "end the war" platform
  • Iraq Study Group - December 6 2006 - Report released which recommended major changes in war strategy
  • New Strategy - December 15, 2006- Team led by then-Lt. Gen. Petraeus releases U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24
  • American Enterprise Institute report - December 14, 2006 - Report by Frederick Kagan, Gen Jack Keane (ret) "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" outlines many of the concepts that eventually make up the Surge plan
  • Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno - December 2006 - The Corps commander told his boss, Gen. Casey, that his approach of fewer American troops and handing off responsibility to the Iraqis as soon as possible will not work and recommends to President Bush that he needs at least 5 addition U.S. brigades

Announcement of Surge - January 10, 2008 - The surge plan is announced by President Bush in a nationally televised address

U.S. Personnel Changes 2006-7

  • Multi-National Corps - Iraq - December 14 - Lt. Gen. Pete Chiarelli. is replaced by Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno
  • U.S. National Intelligence Director- January 5 - John Negroponte resigned and was replaced by retired Admiral John M. McConnell will take his place.
  • CENTCOM commander- March 16 - Navy Admiral William Fallon replaced General John Abizaid as CENTCOM commander.
  • Commander of Multinational Force Iraq - February 10 - Counter-insurgency expert General David Petraeus replaced General George Casey as Commander of Multinational Force Iraq.
  • U.S. Ambassador to Iraq - March 26 - Bush U.S. diplomat Ryan C. Crocker replaced Zalmay Khalilzad, as the new ambassador to Iraq.

The Iraqi Leader

Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki or Nouri Kamil al-Maliki - Prime Minister of Iraq, Islamic Dawa Party. Elected PM May 20, 2006.

U.S. Military Unit Definitions

Division - typically commanded by a major general (two star) - 17,000 to 21,000 troops - a division typically consists of four brigades. A division is the smallest permanent unit in the United States military

Brigade (Regiment in the Marine Corps) - typically commanded by a Colonel - 2,500 to 4,000 troops - A brigade is important because it is the smallest unit that consists of all of the "parts" typically needed for a ground unit to fight a war; infantry, armor, artillery, medical, intelligence, helicopters, logistics, etc

Book Summary

The Background

The situation in Iraq was dire by the late summer of 2006. Coalition forces were not able to put down the insurgency that had started shortly after the invasion of March 2003. The death toll among Iraqi civilians and military personnel had been going up. The bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque (the "Golden Mosque"), a Shiite Muslim holy site, by al Qaeda in Iraq on February 22, 2006 and again on June 13, 2007 fueled the fire that was already raging. Some analysts that Iraq was in or headed towards a civil war, and whether that was correct or not from a technical aspect, it was starting to become clear that the insurgents were winning.

As insurgencies vary in nature, the center of gravity varies with each one. Sometimes control of the countryside is all-important, in others it's control of the capital, in still others a key industrial or crossroads. With the war in Iraq, the key to victory was controlling the capital city.

With violence was spiraling out of control in and around Baghdad, General Casey, along with his Iraqi counterparts, devised Operation Together Forward I in the summer of 2006. OTF I kicked off on July 13 and concluded on August 6. It was mostly reactive in nature, responding to insurgent attacks as they occurred.

Because sectarian violence continued to rise, Operation Together Forward II started immediately following OTF I. As with it's predecessor, it involved all elements of the Iraqi security forces as well as American troops.

The plan failed because although we could clear the neighborhoods we could not hold them. There were neither enough Iraqi or American troops. Further, many Iraqi units had been infiltrated by militia members who simply used the offensive to pursue the very violence it was supposed to stop.

Worse, the operation actually increased violence. Coalition troops would clear a Shiite neighborhood of JAM forces, but because they could not stay, AQI would move in and kill residents. Or, in Sunni neighborhoods, we would clear out AQI, only to have JAM move in as soon as we left. Commanders stopped the OTF II in mid-October precisely for this reason. Because coalition forces concentrated on clearing Sunni neighborhoods, they ended up suffering more than the Shiites.

American and Iraqi military leaders operated under fundamentally flawed concepts in 2006 and before. One was that their objective was not to secure the population, but to chase after the terrorists in a series of raids. They could not have made their primary objective to protect the people even if they had wanted to for two reasons. One, they simply didn't have enough troops, and two, the ones they had were based on large Forward Operating bases (FOBs) and thus were separated from the population.

General Casey thought that it was the presence of American troops that was fueling the insurgency, a concept that would turn out to be utterly mistaken. He wanted to get our troops out from responsibility for areas in Iraq and out of the country, thinking that if only we could train the Iraqis fast enough they could take over. This set up a race between the trainers and the insurgents; could we train Iraqis fast enough to defeat the insurgency before it won? The answer proved to be a resounding no.

As such, after we had secured an area, rather than keep our own troops there to make sure the insurgents didn't come back, we rushed to get the Iraqi Army and police in and us out. The Iraqis could not maintain control and before long the area was back in insurgent hands. The average time Iraqi forces could control a neighborhood before insurgents took it over again was 2 weeks, and this despite constant U.S. assistance.

Cart Before the Horse

From 2003 until Gen Petraeus took over, we operated under the premise that if we could get the Iraqi economy going again, and a legitimate government in place, security would follow. Readers will recall that it was primarily the Democrats in Congress who insisted on a series of political "benchmarks." The Iraqi government had to pass certain laws by certain dates or aid would be cut off and the troops brought home.

While there was a certain benefit to the benchmarks, by themselves they would have had no effect on ending the insurgency. Insisting on political progress before security had been established was putting the cart before the horse.

One of the main conclusions of Field Manual 3-24, mentioned above, was that political and economic progress can only occur after security is established. The authors of the work studied the history of insurgencies looking for trends, and it became clear that the path to victory lay in establishing security first.

The Genesis of the Surge

Commanders offered different plans to correct the situation. As mentioned above, Generals Casey and Abizaid believed that it was the presence of American troops that was fueling the insurgency, so favored plans that stressed recruiting and training more Iraqi troops. Lt. Gen. Odierno argued in favor of an increase of 5 to 10 brigades as a way of transforming the military situation. In response, Casey and Abizaid argued that an increase would only have a temporary effect because of the infighting among Iraqi politicians.

In Washington, the Iraq Study Group released a paper arguing for the plan Casey and Abizaid had put forth. The ISG was a ten person non-partisan appointed in 2006 by Congress, having first been suggested by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA-10).

Meanwhile, over at the American Enterprise Institute, scholar Frederick Kagan and retired Army Vice chief of Staff General Jack Keane presented a plan that involved sending 5 Army brigades and 2 Marine regiments to Iraq to support a new strategy of protecting the Iraqi population.

At the end of 2006 President George W. Bush adopted a new strategy for our war in Iraq, which was announced in a televised speech on January 10, 2007. As discussed above, there was a concurrent a change in commanders, the most important of which was the replacement of General George Casey with David Petraeus. The new strategy was explained by Lt Gen. Odierno as military operations designed: create stability and security to protect the Iraqi people, first and foremost in Baghdad. The population and the government of Iraq are the center of gravity. Creating a stable environment in Baghdad should provide time and space for the Iraqi government to continue to mature as a government and continue to guild its capacity.

The team of Petraeus and Odierno considered two strategies to implement this new strategy of protecting the people of Baghdad. One was to attack the enemy in their safe havens outside of Baghdad, the other was to patrol the city's neighborhoods, clearing them of insurgents and then staying to ensure they didn't come back.

The answer came from Petraeus' new counterinsurgency doctrine, as ___ in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. FM 3-24 had been written by a team led by then-Lt Gen Petraeus starting in October 2005, and was released on December
15, 2006.

As explained in FM 3-24, the path to victory lay in securing the population (or "populace," the term used in the book), not in chasing insurgents around the countryside. As such, as one element of the new strategy Odierno deployed his new surge brigades to Baghdad itself with the objective of clearing them of insurgents and keeping them from returning.

The other thing Odierno died was to assign other units to the belts around Baghdad to destroy AQI safe-havens, which extended 20 to 30 miles outside the city. OTF I & II only concentrated on security within the city, the new effort would secure the capital as well as its environs.

Surge Units

via Wikipedia, the 5 additional Army brigades sent to Iraq were:

  1. 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Infantry): 3,447 troops. Deployed to Baghdad, January 2007
  2. 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (Infantry): 3,447 troops. Deployed to Baghdad, February 2007
  3. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Heavy): 3,784 troops. Deployed to southern Baghdad Belts, March 2007
  4. 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker): 3,921 troops. Deployed to Diyala province, April 2007
  5. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Heavy): 3,784 troops. Deployed to the southeast of Baghdad, May 2007

This brought the number of brigades in Iraq from 15 to 20.

In addition, Marines in al Anbar province from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the 1st Battalion 6th Marines and the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines had their tours extended. All troops had their 12 month tours extended to 15 months.

From FOB to COP and JSS

p 32
Before the surge, most U.S. troops were stationed on one of five large well-protected Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), and only ventured out to patrol or take part in specific operations. They tended to be reactive rather than proactive, and reinforced Iraqi operations rather than leading the way themselves. Because the Iraqi forces were not able to conduct offensive operations effectively, they tended to rely on checkpoints. The strategy didn't work.

The first of the oft-cited Zen-like "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency" in the first chapter of FM 3-24 was that "Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be." In other words, keeping our troops on well-protected bases most of the time made them less safe, not more so.

The reason for this was that by staying on their FOB most of the time the troops weren't as familiar their patrol area as they should have been, and because they obviously weren't sharing the same risks as the Iraqi people, the latter weren't going to take the risk of overtly helping our effort. As such, the troops were at a high level of risk from insurgent attack when on patrol or on an operation.

Odierno dispersed the troops from the FOBs into the neighborhoods, where they established Combat Outposts, or Joint Security Stations. The COPs were American only, the JSSs were set up in concert with the Iraqi security forces.

Whether stationed at a COP or a JSS, being in the neighborhood eliminated the problems they faced earlier. As has been reported many times, when the troops arrived in the neighborhoods, the Iraqis asked "are you staying this time?" When our answer was "yes," the Iraqis responded "then this time we will help you." In addition, our troops became intimately familiar with their assigned Area of Operations (AO). From FM 3-24:

7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...

"Will you stay this time" was the question Iraqis asked American commanders when they saw our units coming into their areas. When the answer they got was "yes," the Iraqis decided they could safely support the Americans. With that support came timely, accurate, and actionable intelligence, not to mention more and more Iraqis signing up to serve in their own security forces.

Preparing the Battlefield

It is important to understand the difference between operations designed to prepare or "shape" the battlefield, and "prepare the conditions" for victory, from decisive operations themselves. The former three involve deploying forces to the area nearby or in the area where they willll eventually fight the decisive battle, and getting set up in their bases. This involved setting up the COPs and JSSs, getting supply lines set up, getting to know the neighborhoods, meeting the people, developing intelligence, etc. As part of establishing these neighborhood bases, our commanders became intimately familiar with their AO, and used that information to prepare for the fight ahead.

To be sure, preparing the battlefield involved much fighting. As most of these neighborhoods, towns, and cities were controlled by the insurgents we had to fight our way in. Insurgents then attacked our new bases. We sent out scouts to reconnoiter the area and they fought battles. But these were not decisive actions, but rather getting the troops in place and set for what would become the decisive action later.

So that the fight for Diyala province and eastern Anbar were preparatory operations. Indeed, even clearing operations in Baghdad as late as April and May were preparatory operations for the decisive battles that occurred in the second half of 2007.

Going After the Militias

The additional American troops gave Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the strength and confidence to go after the militias. On January 11 he ordered them to disarm or face attack. Within a few days many Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) commanders had ordered their troops to stand down. Just as or even more importantly, Moqtda al Sadr issued a cease-fire, ordering his JAM forces not to fight American or government forces.

Not all JAM members complied. American and Iraqi forces went after them, arresting or killing rogue commanders and their troops. In addition, Moqtada al Sadr left the country for Iran, which left the organization leaderless and its commanders confused. As a result, JAM fractured and ceased to function as a coherent fighting force.

The result was that JAM was effectively neutralized, at least for the time being. This had am immediate and positive effect on the political scene, because without their militia Sadrist politicians ended their boycott of parliament, and became part of the political process.

The Baghdad Security Plan: Operation Fardh al Qanoon

The Baghdad Security Plan, or Operation Fardh al Qanoon ("Enforcing the Law") began on February 14, 2007. It was not the first true offensive operation, which would not come until June with Operation Phantom Thunder. Rather, it was part of what is called "preparing the ground" for the main battles that lie ahead.

Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and the First Cavalry Division, explained the operational concepts behind the plan:

This new plan involves three basic parts: clear, control and retain. The first objective within each of the security districts in the Iraqi capital is to clear out extremist elements neighborhood by neighborhood in an effort to protect the population. And after an area is cleared, we're moving to what we call the control operation. Together with our Iraqi counterparts, we'll maintain a full-time presence on the streets, and we'll do this by building and maintaining joint security stations throughout the city. This effort to re-establish the joint security stations is well under way. The number of stations in each district will be determined by the commanders on the ground who control that area. An area moves into the retain phase when the Iraqi security forces are fully responsible for the day-to-day security mission. At this point, coalition forces begin to move out of the neighborhood and into locations where they can respond to requests for assistance as needed. During these three phrases, efforts will be ongoing to stimulate local economies by creating employment opportunities, initiating reconstruction projects and improving the infrastructure. These efforts will be spearheaded by neighborhood advisory councils, district advisory councils and the government of Iraq.

In short, the main difference between the Fardh al Qanoon and OTF I & II was that this time we had more troops, and they would remain in the neighborhoods after they had cleared them of insurgents to ensure they didn't return.

The Anbar Awakening

Some people would have us believe that it was the Anbar Awakening alone that turned Iraq around, or that it was developed and was successful apart from the Surge. Neither assertion is true. Kagan

The truth is that (the Awakening) began emerging in 2006 thanks to the hard and skilful fighting and negotiating of Army colonel Sean MacFarland and a number of Marine officers and their subordinates. General Odierno met with Sheikh Sattar abu Risha in December 2006 and encouraged U.S. soldiers in Anbar to continue fighting and negotiating in support of Abu Risha's efforts.

She further explains that

"The presence of U.S. forces conducting counterinsurgency missions to secure the population made the local rejection of al Qaeda possible and effective. The leadership and example of the sheikhs of Ramadi inspired sheikhs in neighboring cities to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi forces. As a result of their efforts, especially in late 2006 and early 2007, al Qaeda no longer controlled Ramadi or Fallujah"


The awakening started when in the summer of 2006 Sunni Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu al-Risha grew weary of al Qaeda brutality against is family and decided to fight back. He enlisted other sheiks in the fall of that year formed the Anbar Salvation Council. Sattar and the other sheikhs encouraged their men to join the Iraqi police, which in Anbar had been basically non-existent.

For U.S forces, securing Baghdad was the primary objective in 2007. We concentrated on what are called "shaping operations" in Anbar and Diyala that year. Shaping operations "create and preserve conditions for the success of the decisive operation...they may occur before, concurrently with, or after the start of the decisive operation."

One objective of our operations in Anbar in 2007 was to integrate all levels of government; central, provincial, and local. De-Baathification had kept many Sunnis out of government, the insurgency frightened many into staying home, and Sunni leaders had boycotted the 2005 election. In 2007 the process of turning this around was started.

Concerned Local Citizens - Sons of Iraq

As in Anbar and elsewhere, Concerned Local Citizens groups were formed in Diyala. They complemented the Iraqi Security Forces, and protected villages when our forces were absent. Some of the CLC members were former insurgents. Having enemy troops join your side is better than killing them because it demoralizes and fractures the enemy. It also gives you another soldier.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Concerned Local Citizens (CLC, later called Sons of Iraq), as they were discussed during many of the press briefings of this time. Essentially, the CLCs were an organization formed by the U.S. as a sort of "super-neighborhood watch." They were paid, but not armed (at least by us, everyone in Iraq seems to own an AK-47), by t he United States. The objectives were several. One, to give a job to unemployed young men who might otherwise fight a job planting IEDs. Another was to turn around former insurgents and bring them into the process. Because they worked in their own neighborhoods, CLC members provided the Coalition with valuable intelligence. Finally, it was a means of combating al Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

In order to be effective Iraqi police had to be recruited from the neighborhoods they would patrol, otherwise they'd be considered "outsiders" and not trusted by the people. Worse, "outsiders" would themselves engage in sectarian cleansing.

AQI Reacts to the Surge

"In war the will is directed at an animate object that reacts."

Carl von Clausewitz

AQI reacted to the surge by attempting to undermine the credibility of Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces by escalating its vehicle bomb campaign. They also hoped to spark the very sectarian violence we were trying to tamp down. Their car bomb campaign was well organized and thought out. The attacks were not at random but targeted specific locations and people. The campaign started in January of 2007 and persisted in intensity through March.

For a time it was act and react. Reacting to their campaign, Coalition and Iraqi forces took actions such as erecting barricades around populated areas such as markets. Denied these targets, AQI went after locations such as bridges. The Coalition, in turn, redoubled efforts to take out the AQI networks that made and distributed the vehicle bombs. Eventually, though the walls and Coalition attacks took their toll and AQI vehicle bombs slowed down.

Operation Phantom Thunder - The Decisive Battle Begins

Operation Phantom Thunder, the start of decisive operations, kicked off on June 15, 2007. It was a highly coordinated corps-wide offensive across all of Iraq that involved all commands and many sub-operations. It was followed by Phantom Strike on August 15, and finally, Phantom Phoenix on January 8, 2008.

Planning for Phantom Thunder had actually begun in December of 2006, even before President Bush announced the "surge" of troops. "Generals Petraeus and Odierno had determined...that securing Baghdad would require a major campaign to dislodge Qaeda from the belts around Baghdad."

By June, Baghdad was encircled by Coalition troops. Not literally, of course, but circled in the sense that we had control of all major road intersections and such.

Phantom Thunder was a corps-level offensive in that it was it was coordinated with all units in the country. Unlike previous operations, in which each division or brigade operated more or less without concern for the others, this time everyone would be working in concert.

The intent, again, was to protect the Iraqi population. Doing so would allow economic and political activity to start again, buying time for the government. Negotiations among political parties and factions only work when security has been established, not the other way around.

Phantom Thunder was the largest counterinsurgency operation in history. While previous operations had degenerated into a game of "whack-a-mole," this time the insurgents were separated from the population. We were also aggressive in avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage, which built all-important trust among the people.

Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike in Diyala Province

Kagan: "The overarching objective of Phantom Thunder was to stop insurgents in the provinces from supporting violence in Baghdad. Controlling Baqubah (the largest city in Diyala), advanced U.S. forces toward that objective."

Following Phantom Thunder was Phantom Strike. General Odierno explained the objectives of Phantom Strike:

"This week, we launched Operation Phantom Strike, a series of targeted operations designed to intensify pursuit of extremist elements across Iraq. With the elimination of safe havens and support zones due to Phantom Thunder, al Qaeda and Shi'a extremists have been forced into ever-shrinking areas, and it is my intent to pursue and disrupt their operations. ...Over the coming weeks, we plan to conduct quick strike raids against remaining extremist sanctuaries and staging areas, carry out precision targeting operations against extremist leadership and focus missions to counter the extremists' lethal accelerants of choice, the IED and the vehicle-borne IED. We will continue to hunt down their leadership, deny them safe haven, disrupt their supply lines and significantly reduce their capability to operate in Iraq" (DoD Press Briefing, August 17, 2007).

Diyala illustrated the benefits of the strategy of securing the population first. (p141) Our primary objective was to control territory, and killing or capturing the enemy was second. (p 116) After eliminating enemy safe-havens, we were able to convince some tribal leaders to join our side, or at least turn against the insurgents. Tribal reconciliation followed the establishment of security.

Although al Qaeda attempted to reconstitute itself, we were able to fragment them into small groups. They were not allowed safe havens, as this time the Coalition had enough troops to secure all critical areas of the country.

In 2006, the Iraqis were supposed to control territory through checkpoints after we had cleared an area. The problem with this approach is that it froze units in place where they could not respond to anything that happened save in their immediate area. More, operations in 2007 and 2008 were successful precisely because their primary objective was not immediate transition to Iraqi control, a control that was beyond their capability. Rather, their objective was simply that of establishing security.

To be clear, combat ("kinetic operations," in U.S. military parlance) operations were not second or subordinate to non-combat ("non-kinetic," i.e. nation building) operations, as has sometimes been charged. Rather, the purpose of combat operations was to allow non-combat operations to take place. Indeed, the two took place simultaneously. The goal of kinetic operations was to separate the insurgents from the population and defending those Iraqis willing to work with us and their new government. Only when they felt safe would Iraqis work with Americans and their new government. To facilitate this, the American strategy was a carrot-and-stick approach, with protection and financial benefits only going to tribal leaders who rejected violence.

Iran's Proxy War in Iraq

Iran began planning operations against American forces in Iraq in 2002, some months before the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom that started on March 20, 2003. While their overall strategy and goals are not completely clear, it is clear that they have supplied weapons, fighters, and advisers to the insurgency in Iraq. Iran has supported both Sunni and Shia groups throughout all of Iraq. Iran also supported Ansar al Islam, a Sunni terrorist group tied to al Qaeda, as well as AQI itself. Iranian support increased with time. At the start of the insurgency, Iranian influence was relatively low. By August of 2007 Iranian influence accounted for half of all attacks on Coalition forces.

As such, Coalition attention to the problems posed by Iran was relatively low at first, and only after achieving success against AQI and other insurgent groups did we turn our attention to Iran.

It didn't take any deep intelligence or decryption of encoded documents to detect the Iranian influence. It was stamped on weapon after weapon captured by the Coalition. Everything from the special copper disks on Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP) to the tail fins of mortars told the tale.

The organizing force in Iran was the Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods(or "Quds") Force (IRGC-QF)(also known as "Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" or "Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps"). The Qods Force is part of the Revolutionary Guards, and they report directly to the Supreme Leader, who as of this writing is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From what I can tell, the IRGC is roughly equivalent to the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel). The Qods Force is responsible for exporting the Iranian revolution. Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example, is probably the most important group formed by the Qods Force.

Qods Force and Hezbollah personnel teamed to train Iraqis in groups of twenty to sixty in Iran so that they would function as a unit; hence the term "Special Group," a term given to them by the U.S. military. Hezbollah training of Iraqis in Iran began in 2005. Special Groups usually remained separate, but possibly teamed with JAM for some operations.

Special Groups functioned alongside and in cooperation with JAM and other militia groups. Some of them came from JAM and other militia groups, being their more extreme members. Perhaps the best description is that Special Groups are an "outgrowth" of JAM and other similar groups

It's possible that Iranian support for insurgent groups was simply to create a "quagmire" for U.S. forces so as to divert attention from their operations elsewhere, rather than militarily eject us from the country. It's also possible that they thought they could infiltrate the democratic Iraqi government and get people more sympathetic to their idea of a theocracy in place. Likely they also simply did not want a successful Western-style democracy on their doorstep. Or perhaps they simply had the more limited goal of ensuring that the Baghdad government could not control the southern portion of their country. Most likely of all is some combination of the above. Either way, it was clear that Iranian influence served to undermine the nascent democracy.

The U.S. countered Iranian influence with both a diplomatic and military response. Ambassador Ryan Crocker discussed the situation in direct talks with high ranking Iranian officials, including the Iranian ambassador to Iraq. The military response targeted JAM and Special Forces directly, capturing or killing leaders, breaking up networks, and intercepting arms shipments. These operations met with some success, but Iranian influence continues to be a problem.

Final Thoughts by Kagan

The last of the surge brigades left Iraq in the summer of 2008.

As can be seen by the following chart, the surge clearly worked

Iraq Security Incidents May 2009

As the surge progressed, violence decreased. By late 2007 it was half that of mid-2005. Attack trends dropped 60 percent in Baghdad in 2007. Civilian deaths dropped 70 percent. Iraq dropped off the media's radar, itself a sign of success.

Three U.S. operations were responsible for the success. The first was Faradh al Qanoon (Baghdad Security Plan), in which Gen. Odierno placed surge units in and around the capital. Next came Phantom Thunder, which cleared AQI from the belts around Baghdad. That was followed by Phantom Strike, in which Coalition forces pursued AQI as they fled and attempted to reconstitute.

Iraqis ended up rejecting AQI and other extremist groups. The "Awakening" in Anbar and elsewhere was evidence of this. However, despite what some in the media insinuate, the"Awakening" was not independent of Coalition efforts and did not turn Iraq around by itself. The Awakening would have failed had U.S. leaders such as U.S. Army Col. Sean McFarland, some Marine officers, and Gen Odierno not seized the moment and encouraged and supported it.

Another criticism one hears is that American forces simply bribed insurgents into laying down their arms. While this is true in some cases, it overlooks the larger picture. Most of those insurgents who took money to change sides or go back to civilian life were also "encouraged" to do so by aggressive and successful American military operations.

Gen. Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 provided the overall theory on how to win, but it didn't get into specifics of what units should be deployed where or precisely how they were to be used. That task was left to Lt. Gen. Odierno, who drew up and oversaw the execution of what was know as the Surge. As Kagan concludes

It was Odierno who creatively adapted sophisticated concepts from conventional fighting to the problems in Iraq, filling gaps in the counterinsurgency doctrine and making the overal effort a success. For all the sophistication of this integrated political-military and kinetic/non-kinetic approach to the conflict, Odierno is likely to be remembered in military history as the man who redefined the operational art of counterinsurgency with a series of offensives in 2007 and 2008.

My Take

One book, and one author, cannot and should not cover everything. Those who may complain because this book does not discuss the domestic or Iraqi politics, or whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq in 2003 or execute the surge miss the point. The fact is that the surge plan worked, and Kagan explains why in this book.

The strongest part of the book is simply that Kagan explains clearly why we failed before the surge, and how the change in strategy coupled with additional troops worked. Although she does not get into the details of counterinsurgency, she discusses it well enough from a higher level so that one gets the idea. If you want to know why we once failed and then succeeded, this is the book for you.

Kagan also does a good job at outlining the various insurgent groups, and how they fought both one another and Coalition troops. Al Qaeda in Iraq, Jaysh al Mahdi, Special Groups, they are more are all there.

This is not to say the work is not without its flaws. There is not much on the commanders, and their decision making process, whether at the division or brigade levels. Discussing units without their commanders seems an omission to me. As someone who watched and blogged on every briefing by a combat commander in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 on, I was hoping for more names to appear.

There is also not enough about small-unit counterinsurgency strategy, but perhaps Kagan just decided to concentrate on the "big picture." There are also some grammatical and I think a few errors in word use, no doubt the result of a work rushed into print without enough editing.

All in all, this is a must-read if you want to understand the war in Iraq, especially the surge and why it was successful.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 2, 2010

A Warning on the Iraqi Elections

We've won the war, now we've got to win the peace. Frederick and Kimberly Kagan sound a warning:

The U.S. must defend the integrity of Iraqi elections The Washington Post Frederick and Kimberly Kagan Friday, April 30, 2010

Concerns over delays in the formation of a new Iraqi government and the prospects for meeting President Obama's announced timeline for withdrawal are clouding views of a more urgent matter: The United States might be about to lose an opportunity for success in Iraq by tolerating a highly sectarian, politicized move to overturn Iraq's election results. Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders' tentative efforts to rein in the "de-Baathification" commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process....

Meanwhile, it is essential to differentiate between the legally sanctioned and internationally monitored mechanisms for Iraqi candidates to challenge election results and the operations of the Accountability and Justice Commission, which reviews candidates' past ties to the outlawed Baath Party.

Before the election, the AJC sought to ban more than 500 candidates it claimed were Baathists. Iraqi courts disqualified some but allowed each to be replaced by members of the electoral lists to which they belonged (akin to allowing the Democratic Party to replace a disqualified Democratic candidate).

Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law List requested that the AJC seek to retroactively disqualify parliamentary candidates it claims were affiliated with the Baath Party -- and annul all votes cast for them. At the commission's recommendation, an Iraqi court moved on Monday to exclude 52 candidates, two of whom won seats -- one with Allawi's Iraqiya list, whose lead over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law List is just two seats. The AJC has put forward more names, including eight who won seats with Allawi's Iraqiya list.

If upheld, these decisions would give Maliki's bloc more seats than Allawi's. If Maliki's list gained four seats, it could potentially form a government with the other major Shiite bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, excluding both the Kurds and Sunnis. That result -- surely disastrous for U.S. interests -- would position Maliki as a potential authoritarian ruler, empower the anti-American Sadrists and their Iranian-backed militias and alienate Sunnis while marginalizing the Kurds. If Sunni seats are transferred to Maliki's Shiite list this way, Sunni Arabs would justifiably feel that Shiites had stolen the election.

Unlike preelection rulings to ban candidates, Monday's decision excludes votes already cast. Thousands of Iraqis stand to be disenfranchised even though they cast their ballots correctly and those ballots were counted. Worse, this decision would set a precedent for the AJC to selectively exclude individuals until a government is formed.

Washington should strongly support Iraqi leaders such as Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Allawi, who have strongly opposed the AJC's illegal effort to manipulate the results. The United States must encourage Iraq's Presidency Council to adhere to the electoral laws and reject the AJC's manipulation. The United States must also ensure that legal processes and court decisions about the elections are not unduly influenced by political or violent intimidation. Above all, the United States must oppose any effort to exclude votes properly cast and counted.

U.S. officials must state clearly that Iraq's government should be formed by Iraqis in Iraq and encourage Iraqis to form a government that ensures real power-sharing and continued political accommodation -- rather than cobbling together a government without any genuine political settlement.

Staying silent is not the same as remaining neutral. This does not mean that Washington should choose a party or prime minister, but the United States must protect the electoral process from politicians (and external actors) seeking to manipulate its outcome.

No reason to hit the panic button, all is not lost, folks, but as the Kagan's say the Administration needs to take action and now.

Frederick W. Kagan is director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Kimberly Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Frederick Kagan was one of the authors of the surge, and is that I cite his wife Kimberly's work often. I've gone though a lot of analysts in the past several years, and many have turned out to be wrong more often than they are right. I cite the Kagan's often because so far they have turned out to be right more often than wrong.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2010

Iraq Briefing - 10 March 2010 - The Drawdown of US Forces Continues

Major General Terry Wolff, commander of the U.S. Forces Division Central (USD-C), spoke via satellite from Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday, providing an update on operations.

Maj. Gen Wolff reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., Deputy Commanding General for Operations. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, Commanding GeneralUnited States Forces - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

USD-C is headquartered by the 1st Armored Division, operating in the in the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Several subjects were discussed in this briefing, the most important of which were:

1) The performance of Iraqi forces in the March 7 parliamentary elections
2) The continuing drawdown of U.S. forces
3) Whether U.S. forces were engaged in combat, or what exactly they do these days
4) A recent minor attack on a U.S. convoy.

All are important, but we'll concentrate on the drawdown of U.S. forces as that's what most on people's minds.

GEN. WOLFF: Great, Bryan. Thanks a lot. I would like to make a very brief opening statement. So that will provide the context you just talked about. So first of all, thanks to the members of the press for being here today. And good evening from Baghdad.

As Bryan said, I'm Major General Terry Wolff. I'm the commanding general of United States Division-Center. As many of you know, Multinational Division-Baghdad and Multinational Division-West were brought together in two separate transfers of authority, which occurred in January. And that created the organization we presently know today as United States Division-Center.

Our team is built around the 1st Armored Division headquarters out of Wiesbaden, Germany, and also the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, which is an AAB out of Al Anbar province.

In Baghdad, we've got the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which is a Stryker unit out of Fort Lewis, the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, which is organized as an AAB, and the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, another infantry brigade.

Additionally we've got an aviation brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas, and the 16th Engineer Brigade. Just as a point of reference, 1st of the 3rd AAB arrived in Iraq simultaneously with 1st Armored Division. But the remainder of these forces that I've previously mentioned have been on the ground for a number of months, before we arrived.

As you all know, Sunday's election was an historic event. The Iraqis in Al Anbar province and Baghdad were protected superbly by the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people came out and voted in large numbers. In Al Anbar there were no high-profile attacks, no attacks on polling centers and no loss of life. In Baghdad, the ISF succeeded in preventing vehicle-borne IEDs and also suicide-vest attacks.

While there were a few incidents which produced casualties, and a number of noise-bottle bombs, the Iraqi security forces secured the population and provided a secure, credible election process. And so before I close and take a question or two or three, I'd emphasize that Sunday's election-day success didn't just happen. The ISF owns security responsibilities in Iraq. The battlespace is theirs. They're in charge. They set the conditions for the elections through their hard work in the months leading up to the election day, and it paid handsome dividends on Sunday.

The ISF task didn't begin on or end on Sunday, as I just mentioned. And since then, they've continued to provide security on a daily basis for the last couple of days. We know that the ISF has an important role to play in the future, and we look forward to continuing to partner with them.

And so with that, I'll take your questions, please.

I think most media accounts back this up.

There are perhaps three measures of how well a new democracy is doing

1) Whether elections are relatively free and fair, and held without violence or intimidation
2) How the victors act when they assume power
3) How the losers act, especially those in power who are turned out of office.

Iraq passed test #1, at least this time. Although there have been several elections, the jury is out on numbers two and three. That said, it's so far so good.

On to the Q & A:

Q General, it's Anne Flaherty, with Associated Press. As we await the election results, do you see any outcome that could change the pace of U.S. withdrawal, or should change the pace of U.S. withdrawal?

GEN. WOLFF: You know, at this point -- at this point, no. You know, we've been told, based on the president's announcement last year at -- during his Lejeune speech, that we -- that USFI would come down to 50,000 folks. And so that's what we believe will occur, and that's the -- that's the planning process we move forward with, to move to that number.

This first series of questions is from from Al Pessin of VOA, who asks whether our forces are involved in combat and the impact of the elections on plans for a drawdown.

The Iraq Casualties website has the details. Follow the link for the complete chart, but here is one of their graphs showing combat fatalities by year. The bars are unmarked, but they're 2003 to 2009. You can see the decline since the success of the surge.

ICasualties as of March 2010

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. So do you have any of your troops actually involved in combat at this point?

GEN. WOLFF: Sure. We work with the Iraqis to help them train a number of different elements. And so -- let me give you an example. Many of these Iraqi brigades have what we call commando elements or strike platoons.

They're little -- they're platoons or companies, commando companies, that help them execute offensive operations. This is in addition to many of the soldiers they have out on checkpoints and doing that sort of duty.

And so when -- let's say a federal police unit goes out and executes a mission of this nature to go get a bad guy. There will usually be a U.S. partner element that will move and operate with them.

And so the answer is yes, we partner in that regard. But the person who's knocking on the door of the house that they're going into is Iraqi. It is a warranted operation, based on rules of evidence under the Iraqi system that have been brought forward, with a Article 4 warrant that has been issued by an Iraqi court.

Q So considering this picture that you painted for us, now that the election has passed, when do you anticipate beginning to draw down the forces in your AOR? And from what level now to approximately what level in August?

GEN. WOLFF: Sure. I won't talk about exact numbers, but what I can say is that -- you know, you've heard us talk about this as a responsible drawdown. Well, some of the responsible drawdown has already happened. I basically took the place of two division headquarters across two provinces. So responsible drawdown began with the arrival of the 1st Army Division assuming its role as the United States Division-Center. We've already had one of the brigade combat teams that were part of the United States Division-Center off-ramp and return to home station.

So in Baghdad province we're down to three brigade combat teams, as you -- as I commented. And now, Anbar, we're down to one; one -- now Anbar is end-stage. In Baghdad, we will eventually come down to one over time. And so the decision that will be made when to start that off-ramp is General Odierno's decision.

We'll skip the rest of the Q &A and move to Gen. Wolff's final comments:

GEN. WOLFF: Well, I would give you a couple of perspectives.

See, you know, you touched on responsible drawdown today. And there's a lot of work that has been ongoing with that. And it didn't just -- doesn't just start or stop with the end of the election process. And so you know, there's a lot of movement that's happened. We're positioning now to turn over a number of American JSSes to the Iraqis. We will also turn over some other bases to them.

It's a fairly comprehensive plan that we've been -- we've been working for a number of months, that our predecessors worked as well, that we continue to refine. And that's based on discussions we have with the Iraqi security forces. So responsible drawdown has been going on for a while around here. And it will continue to September and then beyond.

Secondly I would state that the environment out here is incredibly complex. And while casualty levels seem down, and we acknowledge that the Iraqi security forces did a bang-up job securing their population for the elections, I'd also tell you that we're asking an awful lot of these young American leaders and young American soldiers.

I'd also mention that the Iraqi security forces, again, have grown significantly. Some of you know I worked -- I worked helping train the ISF on my last rotation, in 2006 and '7. It was a -- it was an army of about 110,000. Well, it's grown to about double that. It was a police of barely 150,000; it's nearly triple that. And so the Iraqi security forces demonstrated on Sunday that they're up to the task.

If it were -- if it were a test, they'd pass with flying colors. And I'm pretty confident that they can continue to secure the government of Iraq and the Iraqi people. There's no doubt in my mind that they can do that exceptionally well.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2010

Krauthammer Nails it on Counterinsurgency
Are We Finally Beginning to Understand How to Win?

Charles Krauthammer last night on Fox News as one of the "all star" commentators:

...I think it fits with the interesting strategy that McChrystal has because the objective is not the killing of the Taliban. The objective is to gain the confidence of the civilians.

If you announce in advance you will do Kandahar, the capital [of the Taliban], the prize here, you hope that the small bands of the enemy roaming around will think twice about hanging around and facing the U.S. Marines, because they will lose.

And you are doing is appealing to the less fanatical and less ideological and the less suicidal enemy who will sneak around and join the population and give up the fight and become civilians. And we aren't against that.

The idea is once they get integrated in society, that's OK. You don't want a victory where you have to surrender on the battleship Missouri. What you want is to win the confidence of the population.

I don't know whether to be happy or sad when I read this. I didn't see the video, but Krauthammer seems to think this is some sort of a unique strategy. If so, I'm disappointed, because protecting the population as opposed to simply hunting and killing insurgents was the entire strategic basis of the surge in Iraq. I guess that Charles hasn't been reading The Redhunter.

I've gone over this a kazillion times on Redhunter, but once more can't hurt. Maybe there's a new reader who cares about this stuff.

Our strategy for what became known as the "surge" in Iraq was published in December of 2006 in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24("3-24" is sometimes written as "3024" for reasons I'm not clear on). Long story short, the manual was written by a team led by then-Lieutenant General David Petraeus. A few months later Petraeus was promoted to four-star rank and sent to Iraq to implement the strategy he developed.

The authors of the manual examined the history of insurgency over the past hundred years or so to determine their nature and what strategies worked and which failed. The team included civilians as well as military personnel.

The essence of the new strategy was that raiding from remote bases does not work. Troops must get off their big bases and live among the people. Rather than concentrate on hunting and killing insurgents, troops should focus on protecting the population. There were three basic phases: Clear - Hold - Build.

Small Wars Journal explains it best, and quotes from the section of the manual written by Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen:

Counterinsurgency: FM 3024 / MCWP 3.33.5 defines the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds as the two components in building trusted networks in the conduct of COIN operations:
"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.

I think Dr. David Kilcullen defined hearts and minds as two components of COIN operations quite nicely during a COIN seminar at Quantico, Virginia, several weeks ago.

In addressing the reality of hearts and minds Kilcullen explained how the following 1952 statement by General Sir Gerald Templer, Director of Operations and High Commissioner for Malaya, has been misinterpreted:

"The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan People"

General Templer did not mean (or say) that we must "be nice to the population" or make them like us. What he meant, and his subsequent actions played out, was that success in COIN rests on the popular perception and this perception has an emotive ("hearts") component and a cognitive ("minds") component.

Kilculen continued - what is essential here is making the population choose. The gratitude theory - "be nice to the people, meet their needs and they will feel grateful and stop supporting the insurgents" - does not work. The enemy simply intimidates the population when COIN forces / government are not present resulting in lip-service as the population sees COIN forces / government as weak and easily manipulated. In time, this leads to hatred of COIN forces / government by the population. On the other hand, the choice theory - "enable (persuade, coerce, co-opt) the population to make an irrevocable choice to support COIN forces / government usually works better. The population typically desires to "sit on the fence" and not commit to supporting any side in an insurgency / COIN environment. COIN forces / government need to get the population off that fence and keep them there. This requires persuading the population, then protecting them, where they live. While this cannot be done everywhere, it must be done where it politically counts.

Go to the right sidebar on this blog, and under "Categories" you'll see some for Iraq. Choose Iraq II 2007 - 2008 and scroll away. Time and again you'll come across our commanders saying that the key to victory was living among the people so that we can protect them.

Or you can watch Gen Petraus give the definitive speech on the matter, or just read my summary of it at my October 12, 2008 post: Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It .

Or if you want to hear it from the colonels who commanded the brigades themselves read

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"
Iraq Briefing - 14 April 2008 - "From Clear to Hold and Build"
Iraq Briefing - 09 June 2008 - Job Creation to Defeat the Insurgency
Iraq Briefing - 04 August 2008 - Achieving Durable Security

Did it work? Even the leftist rag Newsweek, something I usually pay absolutely no attention to but saw at my gym just this evening, says so. In an article titled "Rebirth of a Nation: Something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq. It may not be 'mission accomplished'--but it's a start" they basically admit that in the end Bush's surge strategy worked.

Yes yes, I know, we're not out of the woods there yet. There are dangers galore. Ditto that of the United States until the civil rights movement of fifty years ago, if you want to play that game. We won, the insurgents and naysayers lost, and we need to apply those lessons to Afghanistan and wherever else we need to fight.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 22, 2010

Iraq Briefing - 16 February 2010 - A "significant improvement of the day-to-day lives of Iraqis"

Yes I know, you're tempted to skip over this post because Iraq is so... yesterday. Afghanistan is understandably all the rage, and blog posts that are more topical and angry are the ones that generate all the comments.

Does that mean the public has largely conceded that we've won? In part, I think.

There have not been any briefings lately on The Pentagon Channel or DODvClips, and I'm not entirely sure why. Obviously there is not as much fighting in Iraq as there was a year ago, but I wonder if a decision was taken at a higher level to not do as many as they used to. This is pure speculation, of course.

Fortunately our commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, accepted Dr. Kimberly Kagan's invitation to discuss the future of Iraq at a forum she held on February 16.

The entire interview and Q & A is over an hour, and videos and the complete transcript can be found at the Institute for the Study of War website here.

General Odierno was the #2 man in Iraq during the "surge" of 2007-8, and earned a we'll deserved reputation as the "Patton of Counterinsurgency". The analogy is this; Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower. Patton executed Ike's strategy, ditto for Odierno.

Kimberly Kagan's husband, Frederick Kagan, has been accurately described as "the intellectual author of the surge." It was him and retired General Jack Keane (who introduces them in the first video) who first convinced President Bush to change course. Kimberly is founder and President of the Institute for the Study of War.

Between the two Kagans they are probably the two smartest military theorists on the planet. Those who follow this blog know that I have quoted both of them often.

Here is the first part of the interview, with the others below the fold:

DR. KAGAN: ... honestly, General Odierno, I can't -- I can't think of a more critical moment to have you here in Washington. We're three weeks before Iraq's second and quite dramatic election for its new Parliament and therefore for its new prime minister and I think it's a critical time to be studying Iraq, to be thinking about Iraq's future and what really lies ahead.

And so my first question to you is, is Iraq on a path to political success?

GENERAL ODIERNO: Well, I think -- I tell everyone that I think success and victory and all those kinds of things we won't know till three to five to 10 years from now, but I think we're still moving along the path that we have an opportunity in Iraq today that we might never get again in our lifetimes.

We have -- we are involved with the government. We have a relationship with the Government of Iraq that gives us an opportunity to develop a democratic Iraq that has a long-term partnership with the United States and I don't know if we'll have that opportunity again.

So I think it's important that we understand we have an opportunity today and that we have to take advantage of that opportunity.

We have gotten through many different steps forward that I think have gone better than expected. The implementation of the Security Agreement in 2009, I think everyone was nervous about it. I was a bit nervous about it as we went through it, but I would argue it's been a success.

DR. KAGAN: -- politics?

GENERAL ODIERNO: -- lots of theories and everybody would have their own theory on this, but it's clear that, you know, there are -- there are many countries who have -- who have a lot at stake, depending on how Iraq turns out. Some of them -- I'm not going to name specific names, but some (nations) don't really want the democratic process to succeed because of the pressure it might put on their own government.

We have others who want to have a lot of influence over Iraq for many reasons: for the protection of their own nation, for the fact that they believe that they would like to see a weak government that they can control so they can better protect their borders and in many ways so they can control Iraq's development and they don't become a challenger to them in the future as a state on the rise.

So I think it's a combination of all those things. So you have these different agendas, some coming from Sunni Arab countries, some coming from -- from Persian Shi'a Arab countries who are -- who are trying to drive the elections a certain way, and so what we're seeing in the beginning is this sectarian divide.

What we want is we want it to come back together and be about Iraq, not about these other regional countries. It needs to be about Iraq.

QUESTION: Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. You mentioned earlier on that this is an opportunity for the U.S. to be engaged and an opportunity that we may never get again. You seem to be suggesting do you think we are engaged? Do you think the U.S. is engaged as much as it should be at this point, or is there more to be done?

GENERAL ODIERNO: Yeah, I do. I mean, it's a very yeah, thanks. I mean, it is a very complex issue. I mean, we are very engaged. We have 98,000 soldiers on the ground, sailors, airmen, and Marines. I consider that to be very, very engaged. We are spending billions of dollars in Iraq still today. We have the largest embassy in the world in Iraq. So we are engaged across several different levels.

It's not today that I worry about. It's today. It's tomorrow. It's 2011. It's 2012, '13, '14. As everyone knows, all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines will come out at the end of 2011. That doesn't mean our commitment needs to end.

It needs to be a long-term commitment. The commitment just changes. It changes from one based on mutual security and cooperation, with us having forces on the ground, to one that's across the wide spectrum of governmental support economic, diplomatic, security, environmental, educational. And it's how we invest in that that will be important.

And I think so our challenge we have now is how we transition from a military-centric operation to a civilian-led operation, and then after 2011, how we continue to support Iraq's progress. And to me, that's what's very important here. And so that's what we have to make sure we stay engaged with.

I've said before, and the story I tell is about six months ago now my wife had asked me if I ever saw "Charlie Wilson's War." I hadn't seen it. And so I watched it one night. And what worries me is the last scene of that movie, even though it's about Afghanistan, not about Iraq, if anybody hasn't seen it. But Charlie Wilson had gotten billions of dollars to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan against the Russians. And at the end, he went to get $2 million in order to start an education program in Afghanistan, and he couldn't get anybody to help him to support that program.

DR. KAGAN: We had watched the beginning of a reconciliation process among Shi'a groups, and even Shi'a extremist groups such as the League of the Righteous. What's happened to that reconciliation process?

GENERAL ODIERNO: ...One of the things that I've been most pleased with, which I want to make clear to everyone, is in Iraq, the Iraqi security forces have and still conduct significant operations in southern Iraq against these groups. Just a few days ago there was a significant operation in Maysan Province which piked up several individuals from Kataeb Hezbollah.

There's been operations in Basra. There's been operations in Baghdad. There's been operations in all of the southern provinces, Iraqi security force-led, supported by U.S. forces. So they have shown the security force has shown the dedication to go after all target sets if they are enemies of the government of Iraq. And I think that's an important step as we move forward.

DR. KAGAN: And in the category of enemies of Iraq, is al-Qaeda in Iraq still a threat to the government of Iraq? Is it an insurgent group or is it a terrorist group?

GENERAL ODIERNO: Well, first, I believe the only way al-Qaeda in Iraq can be a threat to the government of Iraq is the government of Iraq lets it be. And I'll now explain that.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq, back in 2004 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007, was a broad-based insurgency that had permeated all of northern Iraq and central Iraq and was conducting significant operations throughout Iraq. Over the last since the beginning of 2007 till today, we've been able to make significant progress against al-Qaeda in Iraq, significantly degrade their capacity. It is a shadow of what it once was.

So what they've done is they've transitioned it from a broad-based insurgency into a covert terrorist organization who focus solely on conducting high-profile attacks against the Iraqi people and against the governmental institutions of Iraq.

What is their goal? Their goal is they want to see the government of Iraq fail. And then they want to have ungoverned territory that can be filled by al-Qaeda and other groups that will allow them to maintain safe havens and sanctuaries. They are a long ways from that ever happening.

So what we see now that's frustrating to all of us there is they pick the softest targets possible to kill as many or wound as many civilians as possible because they want to see an overreaction from the government of Iraq. They want to see a miscalculation from the government of Iraq that could push Iraq back into some sort of sectarian violence or lose faith in its own government. They've been absolutely unsuccessful in doing that.

All of our measurements you know, we measure everything. And again, I don't when things were bad in 2006/2007, I said it then and I'll say it now, is the number of incidents and the type of incidents don't necessarily define what Iraq is, but it is a point that you must consider.

And we have consistently continued to come down in every category, to include high-profile attacks. 2009 was about 60 percent less than 2008. And that's after turning over the security file to the government of Iraq. 2010 is continuing to either sustain itself or go down a little bit from 2009. So their capacity to sustain and do this over a long period of time and across the entirety of Iraq is no longer possible. But they can still do attacks.

If I could just, since we're talking about it, I do want to really talk about security in Iraq itself. It's hard to describe this to anybody who's not there every day. But the basic security of Iraq is significantly different than it ever has been.

When you go into Baghdad, if you go into Basra, if you go into Ramadi, if you go into Mosul, if you go into Kirkuk, if you go into any city in Iraq, you see significant improvement of the day-to-day lives of Iraqis. It's completely different than what it was two to three years ago. It's different than it was six months ago.

But the reaction of the Iraqis has been exactly what we'd like to see. They condemn al-Qaeda. They say the best way to fight this is to vote in a democratic process, bring a leadership in to continue to go after these elements. We continue to see that theme across Iraq.

They've rejected al-Qaeda

DR. KAGAN: So concretely, what does that mean? I mean what do U.S. soldiers in Iraq do now in order to --

GENERAL ODIERNO: Yeah, well, one of the fallacies I want to make sure is very clear is I go out four times a week to visit battalions and brigades and the one thing we do not do is stay on our FOBs and do nothing. I want to make that very clear. If you went and talked to a battalion colonel, they get very offended when they read that. They're out every single day. They do 14 to 15 operations, but they're doing it with their Iraqi security force partners. They're right there helping them to conduct these operations.

What's different is we do not do anything unilaterally. Everything we do is completely coordinated with the government of Iraq, and you will never see a U.S. soldier conduct an operation without an Iraqi security force with him, in fact, without an Iraqi security force in the lead of the operation. But they're out every single day working with the Iraqi security force partners. So we still play a very significant role.

DR. KAGAN: You began the discussion by talking about the opportunity that the United States has in Iraq and, indeed, the opportunity that Iraq has right now. What are the long-term U.S. interests in seeing a stable and -- a stable Iraq with a kind of just, accountable and representative government that you described?

GENERAL ODIERNO: Well, first again, (a democratic Iraq will be) a diplomatic and economic and a security partner in a very volatile part of the world. And Iraq has a significant economic upside, not just from its oil industry but from other industries that we think could spin off from that. And that economic -- their ability to develop that economically inside of Iraq. So with economic development and diplomatic development, making this work could have a significant impact across the entire Middle East.

And secondly and lastly, us having a long term strategic partnership, one that is based on common trust and common goals, one that recognizes each other's own sovereignty, over time would help us in my mind to better secure the United States, because that would give us another partner right in the center of the Middle East that can help us to fight terrorism. I will argue that when we leave there, Iraq will have some of the best characters and forces in the Middle East and they can help us to fight this threat against us from many of these other terrorist groups. So I think that's what we have the potential to gain from this relationship I think is significant.

DR. KAGAN: As we look at that relationship, what kind of engagement is needed by the United States in order to realize this opportunity?

GENERAL ODIERNO: Well, I think think General Keane and yourself mentioned it. It's the Strategic Framework Agreement. Most people don't pay much attention to that. When it was passed in December of '08, everybody paid attention to the SOFA agreement, security agreement. The strategic framework agreement is the basis for this and it's the one agreement that Iraq really looks to. That agreement can, really outlines the long term relationship between the United States and the government of Iraq. They want to have people, the Iraqi people educated in the United States. They want to learn from the United States. They want to learn how to develop their economy. They want to learn about our educational system, our medical capability. So by developing these strong bonds between our two countries at the national level I think will be very important in meeting our long term goals.

- to another question

GENERAL ODIERNO:...when I. the reason I come back and try to do some of these things is I worry about those who left Iraq in 2006 and haven't been back. And they think they understand where Iraq is. I talk to every brigade and battalion that comes into Iraq, and the first thing I tell them is, "When did you leave?" I ask them. Some will say, "Two years ago." Some will say, "One year ago." Some will say, "Six months ago." And I say, "If it's three months ago, it's different than it was." Because it's changing so quickly. And so it's important to rotate that expertise out.

DR. KAGAN: No. I was going to ask you if there was anything left that you wanted to say before I have the final word, as I always do.

GENERAL ODIERNO: Yeah, okay. I'm very familiar with that, by the way so I just want to close by saying that it's I am one who believes in the young men and women of this country. I've gotten to watch it for seven years up close. I mean, I've been involved in the Army for 34 years almost now. But for the last seven years I've got to watch it up close and personal, the young men and women who are coming out of our society who choose to do what I consider to be the extraordinary, where especially some that have done it two times, three times, four times, five times. And they do it for a lot of different reasons. But there's one, there's about three common reasons that they always have: that they have a bond with the person that stands to their right and left, that they have a love for their unit or their service and third, they have a love of their country and they think they're making a difference. These are great young men and women. They're smart, they're articulate. They've been able to understand the nuances of change and execute them on the run. We have an incredible young leadership coming up. I'm glad that I'm going to retire soon because I'll never be able compete with these young men and women who are coming up and the experiences that they've had.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 12, 2010

As Usual, Joe Biden is Wrong on Iraq

You just can't make this stuff up:

On Larry King Live last night, Vice President Joe Biden said Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government."

The vice president said he'd been to Iraq 17 times and visits the country every three months or so. "I know every one of the major players in all the segments of that society" he said. "It's impressed me. I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."

At the briefing today, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Biden calling Iraq one of the great potential achievements of the Obama administration given that Biden had previously advocated that the country should be divided into thirds and split among Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis, and then-Sen. Obama opposing the surge of US troops that many experts argue helped bring stability that allowed the reconciliation process to continue.

And to think that some people say Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle are dumb.

Unfortunately, there's no reason to be surprised by the latest idiocy coming from Joe Biden. Not only is the man a walking gaff machine, he's been wrong on almost every foreign policy question of the last 30 years.

Obama is the most narcissistic, arrogant, and vain person ever to occupy the White House, but if (heaven forbid!) Biden should somehow become president he'll be a shoo-inn as number two. Can our Vice-President actually believe that his administration is responsible for our (so far) success in Iraq? Frighteningly, the answer appears to be "yes."

It's bad enough that this administration spends so much of its time blaming it's predecessor for everything. But now they're taking credit for something they weren't even responsible for.

A commenter on Newsbusters reminded me of an analogy that I've heard before:

So let's say my wife has major surgery and it's touch-and-go for quite awhile and the doctor tells us that another surgery is needed to back the first one and hopefully to make it successful. We go ahead with his suggestion and the wife starts doing much better quickly. She still needs to stay in the hospital for various reasons but the big hurdles have been accomplished.

Another doctor takes over for the first one who's now retired and removes her remaining few stitches and turns to me and says "I guess you are happy I was able to save her life."

Whatever you want to think about the wisdom of invading Iraq, or our original strategy while there, it's indisputable that George W. Bush's surge saved the day. I've blogged on this so extensively that from 2007 to 2008 you could just about call this "the Iraq blog." Check out Iraq II 2007 - 2008 under "Categories" at right, and scroll away. Hope you have awhile.

Since we're having such fun with our Vice President let's revisit some of his greatest hits:

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 16, 2010

Iraq Briefing - 13 January 2010 - One Iraq for All Iraqis

This briefing is by Major General Anthony Cucolo, commanding general of U.S. Forces- Division North. He spoke via satellite from Contingency Operating Base Speicher, which is near Tikrit, with reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday, January 13, providing an operational update on progress in his area of responsibility.

MND-N is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga. From the briefing, MND-N consists of "brigades from Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Lewis, Washington; two brigades from Hawaii, an aviation brigade and an engineer brigade; and of course one brigade from my home state of Georgia and Fort Stewart and 3rd Infantry Division and my division headquarters is here. That makes up the 21,000 soldiers."

Major General Cucolo reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, and Deputy Commanding General for Operations. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Before we get to the briefing, a quick review of the overall force structure. Regular readers will note that our presence is much smaller than in the days of the surge and before.

First, a quick review of the force structure currently in Iraq:

Iraq is divided into four major areas of responsibility maintained by forces from three countries. Below are the units that cover these areas.

* Multi-National Division - Baghdad
MND-B is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-B is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

* Multi-National Division - North
MND-N is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga.

* Multi-National Force - West
MNF-W is headquartered by the U.S. II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their area of operations include the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

* Multi-National Division - South
MND-S, also known as the Red Bull Division, assists Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah. MND-S is headquartered by the 34th Infantry Division from Rosemount, Minn.

Prior to this reorganization the org chart went something like this:

* Multi-National Corps - Iraq
* Logistics Support Area Anaconda
* Multi-National Division - Baghdad
* Multi-National Division - North
* Multi-National Division Center
* Multi-National Force - West
* Multinational Division Central-South
* Multi-National Division (South-East)

MNF-Baghdad, North, and Center were each headquartered by a U.S. Army Division. MNF-West was headquartered by a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Central South and South-East by Polish and British troops respectively.

Each U.S. Army division consists of 3-4 brigades. Each MEF consists of 3-4 Regimental Combat Teams. Divisions and MEF are commanded by major generals, and the brigades and regimental combat teams by colonels. Each brigade consists of 3-7 battalions, which are commanded by a lieutenant colonel. A brigade may consist of 3-5,000 troops, a battalion maybe 1,200. Anyone correct me if I am wrong, however.

On to the briefing. General Cucolo gave the briefest of opening statements, so we'll go right to the Q & A. In this first exchange a reporter asks about the Peshmerga, or Armed Forces of Kurdistan. It is also the term used by Kurds to refer to armed Kurdish fighters - Wikipedia. KRG = Kurdistan Regional Government.

Q Good morning, general. This is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra...if you'd also give us an update about the relation -- the relationship between the government of Baghdad and the peshmerga in the you believe that the KRG will agree to have the peshmerga integrated in the Iraqi army?

GEN. CUCOLO: Yeah, I believe so. From what I'm seeing from the senior KRG leadership, yes. Everyone's attitude is, this is one Iraq. It's very positive. Since I've been here, I've been impressed by many things. I've been impressed by the quality of the Iraqi security forces, particularly the Iraqi army. And I can give you vignettes on that, if anyone's interested. But I'm very impressed with the quality, very impressed with the desire for unity. And that goes to the KRG. So I could tell you right now that the current KRG leadership sees on the horizon an integration of the pesh into the Iraqi army, yes.

To be sure, there are strong ethnic, sectarian, and tribal loyalties in Iraq. No one disputes that. But the situation in Iraq is much better than in Afghanistan (see this post of mine), which never had any tradition of strong central government. Iraqis remember the British colonial policy of divide and rule, and the one thing that units them is their desire to keep their country whole. They see division as a Western colonial attempt to weaken them.

There were several other valuable exchanges in this briefing, but we'll only cover one more, because it goes straight to the heart of the good that we are doing there. Unsurprisingly, the question was asked by a non-American reporter

Q General, thank you. This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. My question is that many Iraqis now feel free and freedom and safer. But what is your assessment now in general? How do you feel as far as Iraq is concerned, comparing with Afghanistan? And what can you do or what can they learn from Afghanistan? Because now Afghanistan is focus, not Iraq, in my viewpoint.

GEN. CUCOLO: ...The Iraqis -- Iraqis are wonderful people that want what you and I want.

They want a safe and secure environment for their children. They would like -- they would like a job. They would like a source of income. They would like to feel valued. And, I mean, this is all things that certainly U.S. soldiers are seeing in other parts of the world, and it's not new to us.

It's so different in each province, what I see the Iraqis feeling and what I'm hearing from them. In some provinces, it's essential services. In some provinces, it's concern about a corrupt provincial government, because either the government is -- the provincial government is not delivering what they promised, or they're not seeing the progress they thought. And what I'm detecting overall is that there is a thirst for change and a desire to go out and exercise their freedoms, and -- the freedom to vote, the freedom to have -- to make a choice and have a government that is accountable to them.

So it's really hard -- (chuckles) -- because I've got -- it's hard to explain in simple terms, in short bursts, short sentences. Because, gosh, of the seven provinces that I have some degree of U.S. force responsibility for, each province is so different. Nineveh is different from Kirkuk. Kirkuk is different from Salahuddin, and Diyala is not like anything else. It's just -- it's a hard question to answer succinctly for you, and I apologize for that.

But I -- but I'll tell you what else. The Iraqis, I believe, watched what happened in Afghanistan in their elections. They watched what happened in Iran in their elections. And there's also a desire not to have that happen here, incredible national pride here to do this right.

And I see that in the security forces too. I'd like to give you a vignette about the security forces.

I had -- I had a provincial governor who was voted out by the council, which the council is allowed to do by the provincial powers law. And we see real -- for a U.S. constitutional reference, real Marbury versus Madison stuff going on here.

It's a great thing to watch: the provinces flexing their muscles, trying to understand what they can do. Where does the central government responsibility go, et cetera?

Well, anyway, I had a governor voted out. He did not want to leave. I'm going to fast-forward the story for you. At one point, at one point, the council was frustrated with the speed of the resolution.

The resolution of the issue was going slow, having the governor who was voted out leave office. And they turned to their Iraqi army division commander. And they turned to their chief of police. And they said, that's it, we can't wait any longer, you must arrest him. And the division commander said, I will not arrest him.

And the police -- the chief of police said, I will not arrest him, because there's no warrant for him. There is no legal reason to arrest him right now. Let the -- let the rule of law take its course. And I will stop anyone from trying to arrest him.

There are some good things going on here. And I just hope some of those stories get out.

I hope they get out too.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 17 November 2009 - The First Advise and Assist Brigade Reports

This briefing is by Colonel Mark Stammer, commander of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi-National Division-West. He spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday November 17, providing an operational update on progress in his area of responsibility.

MNF-W is headquartered by the U.S. II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their area of operations include the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Col Stammer's 1st Brigade assumed it's current duties in August. Because of it's current role, it is called the 1st Advise & Assist Brigade.

Col. Stammer reports to Major General Richard T. Tryon, commanding general of the II MEF. Tryton reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

I'll this

COL. STAMMER: Thank you very much, Dave, for that kind introduction.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Colonel Mark Stammer, commander of the 1st Advise and Assist Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, and I'm speaking to you today from al Asad Air Base in Al Anbar province, Iraq. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today. Going to be a real pleasure.

I have the honor to lead almost 5,000 of the finest paratroopers and soldiers in the armed forces today in a unit that traces its lineage to World War II and the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

When I introduce the brigade to our Iraqi partners, I tell them that we offer all the features of a light infantry brigade capable of full-spectrum operations, combined stability operations, route clearance, intelligence, information operations, even civil affairs.

I tell them that what makes us an advise and assist brigade, or AAB, is a complement of specialized officers to help build civil capacity, specialized partnership training to help our troops increase Iraqi security force professionalization, and a whole new mindset that says everything we do is by, with and through our Iraqi counterparts.

Anbar is Iraq's largest province, roughly the size of North Carolina, with a primarily agrarian economy. Most of its 2 million predominantly Sunni residents live within the Euphrates River corridor as it travels from the Syrian border southeast to Baghdad. Our mission is to partner with Iraqi security forces and conduct combined stability operations. Our goals are to improve Iraqi security forces' capabilities and capacity, deny violent extremists opportunities for resurgence and support the growth of political -- I'm sorry, support the growth of provincial governance and economic capacity in order to achieve sustainable security. By accomplishing these tasks, we will enable effective governance, political reconciliation, political and economic development, and the advancement of the rule of law.

With the recent passage of the Iraqi election law, we appear to be only two months away from yet another historic election. The brigade will be there to assist the Iraqis, as they ask us to do so and in accordance with the security agreement.

Finally, during all of this activity, we do everything with an eye on leaving Iraq in a responsible manner. Every relationship I make here, I make with the big picture in mind, because ultimately advise and assist is not an entity so much as it is a mindset and process. That process is our mission and, by its execution, we will ensure an enduring strategic partnership and friendship with our Iraqi counterparts.

Unfortunately the introduction was the best part of the briefing. Col Stammer tended to give short, pro forma answers to the questions, didn't expound on basic points. The entire briefing was only 18:40, which is the shortest I can remember, most lasting just over a half hour. As such, this briefing was not as informative as most.

Nevertheless, we'll cover some of the Q & A, as it does touch on topics of interest.

With the transition from counterinsurgency to stability operations, American forces have been stepping back and assuming a more advisory role. As such, the U.S. Army has created the Advise and Assist Brigade (AAB). From a May 2009 story on the U.S. Army's website

The "advise and assist" brigades will assist Provincial Reconstruction Teams in their missions, will work directly with Military Transition Teams to train Iraqi Army units and with the teams that train the Iraqi Border Patrol and police. The brigades will also work closely with the State Department, U.S. Aid and other government agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations in their area....

BCT stands for Brigade Combat Team. A BCT is how Col. Stammer's brigade would normally operate.

Q Colonel, Luis Martinez again. The AABs, General Casey characterized them as being, in how they're different from the BCTs, in the sense that they have 50 additional officers. Is that -- is that an accurate assessment? And if so, what are those officers -- how do they -- how are they -- what jobs do they carry out that are separate from what a BCT would undertake?

COL. STAMMER: Well, there's -- there's a lot of goodness in being the first of anything, but the first AAB -- you know, we didn't get quite 50 additional officers; we, in fact, got 16. But we organized those 16 professionals in three stability transition teams, and we partnered them with the three most important nodes in Anbar: the Anbar ops command, the provincial government council and the Department of Border Enforcement.

And they serve as the eyes and ears and liaison officers for the commanding general, Multinational Force West, and the principal conduits for me to coordinate with those three entities as well. And to date this -- those 16 men and the techniques that we're using have proven very fruitful.

Q Do you anticipate the arrival of an additional 34 to get your full complement in the future?

COL. STAMMER: No, I do not.

Q Well, if the tasking is for 50, doesn't that complicate your efforts, then, for additional advising and assistance?

COL. STAMMER: Well, I think the future AABs will be filled to -- closer to the 48 or 50 number that's been promulgated in D.C. The 16 officer I -- the 16 officers I have right now I have complemented with additional capability from within my brigade combat team, and right now that is working just fine for us out here.

As you know, the AAB construct will have to be manipulated to the contextual environment it finds itself. So while we all may start from common ground, we'll all depart rather quickly once we get over here into Iraq, depending on where you operate from. The construct that we have is working quite well for our situation here in Anbar at the time.

Of course a big issue is whether the insurgency has ramped up again now that we're withdrawing. The point of the surge was to tamp it down and give the enough Iraqis breathing space to build their security forces and government. The big question was always whether the Iraqis would then be able to take over when we left. From what we've heard here and in other briefings, it so far so good.

This next exchange tells the tale:

Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet, with Al Hurra. Could you... give us an update on the -- on the presence -- or if there is any presence of AQI in the Anbar province, any activities related to al Qaeda in that -- in that province?

COL. STAMMER: Could barely hear you, but I think your first question had something to do with the border with Syria. We partner with the Department of Border Enforcement, the Iraqi army -- and the Iraqi army along the border with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia throughout Al Anbar province. And my experience to date has been very professional with all those organizations.

With regards to your question with AQI, AQI in Al Anbar, again, in my first three months over here, can be best characterized as a group or a -- disparate groups coming together to achieve some short- term common interests, cellular in structure, but nothing that will pose significant challenges to the Iraqi security forces or the provincial government as they continue to mature in Al Anbar


This comports with what else we know, which is that the insurgency per se has been mostly defeated in the Anbar province. As with most all other insurgencies, elements remain around, often for years. The key is to whether they can cause serious disruption or not.

In a later exchange with Louis Martinez, Col Stammer explains the drawdown of American troops. When Col. Stammer's 1st Brigade arrived, they replaced two two Marine regimental combat teams. Marine combat units are now mostly out of Anbar, though their combat logistics regiment, the Marine aviation regiment, and the Multinational Force-West headquarters, remain in Anbar.

After the election, the Multinational Force-West HQ unit will leave. Although the 1st 1st Advise & Assist Brigadewill remain in Al Anbar, they will be assigned to U.S. Division- Central.

The 1st 1st Advise & Assist Brigade is assigned to stay in Iraq until August 2010.

AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and other insurgents are for the most part defeated and reduced to small gangs, but what about the all-important threat of sectarian violence?

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez again. Do you see any incidence of sectarian violence, any uptick, or any significant actions involving securing groups that rise to your level of concern? COL. STAMMER: To date, with my time in Al Anbar, I have not experienced any sectarian violence. While there has been some violence, it has been criminal in nature, and not necessarily sectarian. Q Any violence resulting from -- within Sunni separate -- Sunni factions in Anbar? As there's obviously the political debate going on towards the -- and the ramp-up towards the elections, there are rival groups. Are you seeing any of those groups actually taking violence for their ideas?

COL. STAMMER: No, I would -- I would like to characterize the violence that I have witnessed to date in Al Anbar as predominantly criminal in nature.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 14, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 10 November 2009 - Security is Not Possible without the Support of the People

This briefing is by Colonel Gregory Lusk, commander of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Multinational Division-Baghdad. He spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday November 10.

Multi-National Division-Baghdad is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. The 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team is a modular heavy brigade of the United States Army National Guard. Most of the brigade is from North Carolina, but also comprises elements from West Virginia and Colorado.

Col. Lusk reports to Major General Daniel P. Bolger, commanding general of the 1st Cav. Bolger reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From Col. Lusk's opening remarks:

COL. LUSK: ...Our mission here in Iraq is to secure the population of those that reside within our operating environment, in order to support and enhance the continued development of Iraqi civil capacity.

Since we assumed responsibility for our area in May of this year, from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division -- who had returned back to home station after 15 months of successful operations in support of the surge -- we have set out to accomplish our mission by focusing primarily along two main lines of effort. The first being our partnership with the Iraqi security forces and the combined security operations that we do together, as well as civil capacity.

And we see both of these lines of efforts being inextricably linked to the goal of securing the population. One complements and indeed facilitates the progress in the other.

An important component of our overall campaign plan is indeed partnership, and we do partner in all that we do, whether it be with the Iraqi security forces, local/provincial government or governors and officials, tribal leaders, or with the everyday citizens of Iraq.

Now we recognize that the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces is forthcoming, and partnering is a vital component in order to allow us to continue these efforts long after U.S. forces have either been reduced or redeployed from the region.

So if I could address Iraqi security force partnership for a moment, "by, with and through our Iraqi partners" has been the mantra that this brigade has followed since their arrival here in Iraq....

Now our Iraqi security force partners include the 17th Iraqi Army Division, which comprises about 10,000 jundi, or soldiers; the 2nd Iraqi Federal Police Division, comprised of approximately 3,000 shurta, or police officers; another 2,000 local Iraqi police; as well as about 20,000 members of the Sawa, or the Sons of Iraq; totaling of about 35,000 members of the Iraqi security forces....

In summary, hundreds of projects have been aimed at increasing access to water, primarily drinking and agriculture; have been implemented; as well as dozens of schools have either been built or renovated in order to enhance or improve the educational opportunities for future generations of Iraqis. Dozens of essential service projects, such as roads, sewers and electrical repairs have been undertaken....

By the time we redeploy, we project that we will have committed to over 200 projects and about $20 million total towards this effort, with approximately a million dollars of it being targeted to small, independent business owners throughout our area of operation. ...

Now despite the seemingly large numbers of security forces, the maintaining of hard-earned security gains would not be possible without the support of the people. Many have become our good friends and indeed they often invite us into their homes in order to share a meal, a cup of chai or just simply casual conversation.

And if I could civil capacity for a moment, early on it became evident that enhancing and supporting the expansion of civil capacity would be a vital cornerstone to our mission.

To this end, we have committed a vast amount of our resources in terms of effort, time, money and resident expertise such as engineers, agricultural experts and law-enforcement professionals, just to name a few.

In terms of security gains, you know, our primary mission, as stated before, is to protect the people of Iraq.

As I have said many tiimes on this blog, the all-important task of protecting the population is straight out the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, written by then-Lt. Gen. Petraeus and published by his team of military and civilian specialists in December of 2006. Successful counterinsurgency strategy focuses on protecting the population as the means toward winning their "hearts and minds."

And it is exactly why the counterterror strategy advised for Afghanistan by people such as Vice President Biden will not work. As FM 3-24 says directly, "raiding does not work."

On to the Q & A

Q Yeah, this is Kernan Chaisson with Forecast International. You mentioned one of the things that is going on is clearing IEDs. Could you give a little bit of a feel for how that is working now? ...

COL. LUSK: Okay. And I think I heard Jay, and you were talking about the clearance of IEDs and how we go about doing that. And I think you were particularly interested in the -- in the technology.

...I will say that it's my observation, again, inside of the operating environment that we have, that most IEDs, if indeed are found, are found by the population, which is probably even more evidence of what I've said in my opening statements, that most people have indeed -- are denouncing the violent ways of the past and indeed as an IED -- they consider that as an attack against their neighborhood and potentially a threat to their future stability. So they're very much involved in the process, and therefore they take advantage of tip lines for contacting the Iraqi security forces, or perhaps even if us if they see us going down to -- to let us know that something's going on. So probably more so than anything, it's the population that's helping find any IEDs that are out there.

Section A-60 of Field Manual 3-24: "Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed." So we see from the above answer that the people will help us if we protect them and gain their support.

The Sons of Iraq (SOI) program (originally Concerned Local Citizens) has been a subject in many briefings and discussed much on this blog. Briefly, it was mostly a Sunni operation designed to get "buy in" from the citizens on legitimacy and to provide jobs for men who might otherwise become insurgents. A sort of "super neighborhood watch," the U.S. did not provide them weapons, but everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. When the insurgency was (mostly) defeated, the objective turned to getting jobs for SOI. Originally the mostly Shia government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki balked and dragged it's feet, but consistent and firm U.S. pressure has mostly persuaded them to honor their obligations.

Unfortunately, from the Colonel's answer we see that problems remain:

Q Otto Kreisher again. You mentioned you had 20,000 sons of Iraq in your area. There's been some concern/frustration particularly in Anbar province that the government has not, you know, offered jobs or any future for the sons of Iraq.

What's your experience with how those people are responding to what the government is doing for them?

COL. LUSK: Okay, I think, your question was primarily along the SOI or the sahwa, the transition to government jobs. And I think I could probably summarize by saying that indeed this has got to be a very challenging decision that they're weighing through on a daily basis or considering.

Since our arrival, of course, there was a great deal of skepticism up front, as to whether any transition of the sahwa would indeed take place.

And indeed, the government of Iraq, through the IFCNR and other agencies here in Iraq, has gone through a lot of efforts in order to make that transition occur. And there have been approximately 3,000 in our area that have transitioned to government jobs already.

Now, the balance -- of course, though, the challenges that they have before them, I would think, is the need to fulfill this obligation of transitioning some of the other -- the Sons of Iraq into government jobs, versus when to do so; especially keeping in mind the security needs leading up to the elections. And while I have absolutely no insight as to what they're -- what they're deciding now, I can only imagine that it's got to be a pretty daunting decision that they're getting ready to go through.

Lastly, on the all-important issue of Afghanistan, which has been much in the news lately. The question is, what lessons of Iraq are applicable to Afghanistan?

Q: I just wanted to go back to my question on -- that so much assessments and meetings are going on as far as how to deal and have victory in Afghanistan. What can they learn from Iraq as far as situation in Iraq is now different than in Afghanistan? ...

COL. LUSK: ... there's -- probably about the only thing I can think of that would be -- that would be some continuity between this. ... And indeed it's the importance of relationships and indeed the genuine commitment that you make, to your partners, and your partners not only being the security forces of the respective areas but also the population.

And indeed if the genuine rapport and the relationships are built then I think from that, anything else is possible. So that's probably the one key lesson that probably could -- that could transfer from here to Afghanistan. And other than that, I would just have to say that I'm absolutely ignorant as far as things in Afghanistan personally having not ever been there.

Posted by Tom at 11:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 7, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 27 October 2009 - The Brownwater Navy in Iraq

Note - I'm a bit behind on my briefings due to campaign activities in Virginia. Now that they have been successfully concluded I should be back to blogging as usual.

Major General Richard Nash, Commander of Multi-National Division-South and Major General Abdul Aziz, Commander of the Iraqi Army 14th Division spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon on October 27.

Multi-National Division - South, also known as the Red Bull Division, assists Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah. MND-S is headquartered by the 34th Infantry Division from Rosemount, Minnesota.

Maj. Gen. Nash reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

This is the first time I have seen the briefers in anything other than a studio setting.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

We'll start, as we usually do, with their opening remarks:
The transcript is at DefenseLink.

GEN. NASH: Good morning....We provide command and control for approximately 14,000 U.S. servicemembers. And today, we're speaking to you from the banks of the Shatt al-Arab here in Basra.

Our ongoing mission is to help support the Iraqi security forces, as they increase their security capabilities, to build civil capacity, to improve the lives of Iraq's citizens and to set the conditions for a full transition to our Iraqi partners....

GEN. AZIZ: Good morning....If you look at the scene behind General Nash and I, you will notice military boats. This backdrop is significant, as these boats belong to both U.S. Navy and Iraqi Navy Forces. Working together, they patrol our rivers and marshes, help to guard our borders and intercept, deter and interdict smugglers and criminals from crossing into our country. They are a small part of a larger partnership picture, as my division has ongoing partnerships with not only the U.S. 17th Fires Brigade and the 34th Infantry Division, but also with our own police and Department of Border Enforcement.

By working with our American friends in some areas, such as logistics and training, and with our internal partners in all matters of local security, we are achieving very good results here in our beautiful Basra.

As boats behind us represent our respective forces' working together, our local checkpoints illustrate another successful ongoing partnership between the army and our police.

Many of our checkpoints are now manned jointly by members of both Iraqi forces. The training both sides have received and the trust built between them has been very positive.

As Basra province is home to the second-largest city in Iraq, Basra City it is, along with our only deep-water port and vital oil-tanker facilities, in addition to an abundance of active oil wells.

These aforementioned partnerships all play a very significant role in securing not only our people but the economic interests of the entire nation of Iraq. Working with our American friends, our respective forces have made great progress by complying with the provisions and in carrying out the security agreement plan in southern Iraq.

As Iraqis, we are very confident that the security gains we have made since last year to date will continue in a positive trend and direction and cannot be turned back by criminals or terrorists.

Thank you. And I look forward to any questions that you may have.

On to the Q & A. As is appropriate, the first question is on the nature of the enemy in their region

Q Generals, this is Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service. Al Qaeda is obviously a problem still, what -- but would you discuss who the threat is in your region? ...

GEN. AZIZ: All I can say, for almost a year and a half since the end of the Charge of the Knights operation, the people in Basra are enjoying a normal life and a secure life, except for some skirmishes, skirmishes or some minimal incidents here and there.

GEN. NASH: From our point of view, in all of southern Iraq, we have multiple areas that we're concerned about, not only just in the Basra province. Recently we've seen an uptick in some violence in the northwest area of our -- of our area of operation up in the northwest Babil area and Karbala area.

And again, as you addressed the question, we're looking into an AQI connection and Sunni extremist groups that possibly could be causing strife up there, tried to get sectarian violence started again. But at this point, the Shi'a in the south have been able to resist that urge to reach violent levels again, as has been done in the past, in 2006 and 2007.

Again, I think it's a tribute to the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police, and the DBE is to keep those levels of violence from getting to the point of causing sectarian violence.

The next exchange is on the all-important issue of Iranian influence in Iraq. The Iranian mullahs do not want a democracy on their border, least of all one friendly to the United States. Since the invasion they have been doing all that they can to destabilize Iraq, by doing everything from shipping in weapons, to Quds force agents, to harboring insurgents themselves. Maj Gen Nash himself discussed this in his last briefing:

Iraq Briefing - 08 Sept 2009 - Insurgent Weapons Say "Made in Iran"

Q General Abdul Aziz, not long time, I mean, it's been maybe a few weeks. General Odierno accused Iran that some Iranian elements -- groups keep supporting extremist groups inside Iraq and especially in the south.

How do you respond on that?

GEN. AZIZ: As I said before, the ISF has a full control in Basra. And every now and then -- every now and then, we capture some bad elements and some outlaws and criminals. And what we do with those after we capture them, we bring them before the judge so they can -- they can be punished by the judge. And every citizen in Basra know(s) exactly how those foreign elements work and operate. And they also know and feel and sense how the security forces, the Iraqi security forces, is entitled to protect them and is protecting them from any bad elements. And they know that the ISF, the Iraqi security forces, is working to build a new Iraq. And I thank you.

GEN. NASH: ...we track very closely those networks; share that information. And together, the Iraqi security forces and the U.S. forces attack those networks and bring to justice those that have warrants, to bring them to the rule of law to find justice.

With the transition from counterinsurgency to stability operations, American forces have been stepping back and assuming a more advisory role. As such, the U.S. Army has created the Advise and Assist Brigade (AAB). From a May 2009 story on the U.S. Army's website

The "advise and assist" brigades will assist Provincial Reconstruction Teams in their missions, will work directly with Military Transition Teams to train Iraqi Army units and with the teams that train the Iraqi Border Patrol and police. The brigades will also work closely with the State Department, U.S. Aid and other government agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations in their area....

The battalion headquarters will not "boss" the PRTs, Newell said, but will have a primary mission of supporting the provincial reconstruction teams.

This next question is about the AABs:

Q Sir, this is Jim Garamone again. The last time we were there, you discussed the advise and assist brigade. And I'm just wondering if you can -- you've got a little more experience in how that works now -- if you could share some of the lessons learned from that experience.

GEN. NASH: Jim, I'd be -- I'd be happy to. We have the first AAB -- which is Colonel Pete Newell's 4th Brigade, 1st BCT, is now an AAB here in southern Iraq. And they have responsibility for three of our provinces. We're in the process of having the third of the 3rd come in under Colonel Pete Jones. The 3rd ID also has now been trained as an AAB; has picked up the lessons learned from Colonel Pete Newell's 4-1, and has employed those in their training. And in the middle of November -- (audio break) -- assist brigade.

Again, here in the south we've been operating as an AAD, if you will, an advise and assist division. And so there's a lot of lessons learned, both from the 10th Division and now the 34th, that we're able to pass along to our AABs, in terms of them coming in, working with our Provincial Reconstruction Teams with governance and economics. And again, they're bringing in specialists, field-grade officers and NCOs, to work with our Iraqi counterparts, whether it's Iraqi army, Iraqi police, or the border enforcement....

The closing statements of each general are worth reading:

COL. LAPAN: Generals, thank you again for joining us. I will send it back to you, General Nash and General Aziz, for any closing comments you'd like to make.

GEN. AZIZ: Thank you again for the opportunity to talk about the good things that are happening here in Basra and the future for us and our American friends...

We will continue to provide security to our people, through an army and police force that are capable, competent and nonsectarian. And we will support U.S. forces as they draw down their military and depart Iraq. We are in the lead, ready and prepared for the next step.

On behalf of all my general officers, my soldiers and their families and all the families in Basra, I would like to finish my modest word by giving my most sincere, heartfelt thanks and gratitude -- to my friend, General Nash, and to all the U.S. general officers, soldiers and their families -- as a token of appreciation for all the sacrifices they have made, on and off the battlefield, especially for those who have offered their ultimate sacrifice at the altar of freedom and democracy, to help and assist my beloved country, Iraq.

If I forget -- I cannot forget great historic leaders. Allow me to say openly and in my customary frankness, I am honored, proud and fortunate to meet and serve with and to learn from such great commanders as General Petraeus, General Odierno and Lieutenant General Jacoby. These commanders have contributed diligent efforts and have sacrificed a lot to establish and build this professional Iraqi army that we have talked about today.

GEN. NASH: I'd like to give a special thanks to our Iraqi partners for their assistance in holding this joint press conference. Without their location, their security and resources, this opportunity would not have been possible. I'd also like to thank Staff Major General Aziz for his friendship and hard work as we work together toward a safe, secure and bright future for the Iraqi people.

Americans can be proud of their sons and daughters and the sacrifices that they are making to forge a peaceful Iraqi future. I continue to be inspired by the exceptional hard work and commitment by all the soldiers, sailors, airman, Marines, Coast Guard men -- Guardsmen, and the civilians working diligently to achieve our nation's mission here in Iraq. Thank you

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 9, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 08 October 2009 - The Emphasis is Now on Stability Operations

This briefing is by Colonel Tobin Green, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. On Thursday he spoke spoke via satellite from JSS (Joint Service Station) War Eagle to reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on security operations in Iraq.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team is also known as the Iron Horse Brigade. The Iron Horse Brigade is assigned to Multi-National Division-Baghdad, which is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

Col. Green reports to Major General Daniel P. Bolger, commanding general of the 1st Cav. Bolger, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

This is Col. Green's third tour in Iraq. His first was pre-surge and the second during the surge.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Unique to this briefing, Col. Green refers to several charts on posters and has the camera pan over to them. He also holds up a paper with some charts and has the camera zoom in on them. In all of the briefings I have watched, I have never seen this before. Gen. Odierno has made use of charts, but they were electronically interjected (term?), the camera did not pan to a chart.

Three important topics were raised during this briefing that we'll examine:

1) The number of insurgent attacks and the trending
2) The "fragility" of Iraq
3) Iranian influence

From Col. Green's opening statement:

COL. GREEN: ...Our current mission is to provide support to our Iraqi security forces partners inside the city of Baghdad and to conduct combined counterinsurgency operations with the ISF to disrupt and to defeat the enemy outside of the city....

Security is still the first order of business for the units in this brigade, as well as our Iraqi partners in uniform. Overall, I think we've been making steady progress in this area.

It's been just over three months since the Iraqi security forces assumed control -- they assumed control of and also responsibility for the security situation inside the city. how are we doing? At this point, overall attack numbers, and those include IEDs and the dangerous explosively formed projectiles or EFPs, those attack numbers remain pretty low and are actually at lower levels than those we experienced, in the springtime, leading up to the transition point on 30 June. In terms of attack lethality, casualties among U.S. forces have taken a significant downturn.

Now, we did see an increase in Iraqi security force casualties in the July time frame. And I think most of you are aware what the civilian casualties associated with the 19 August VBIED attack on the foreign ministry and the ministry of finance.

But casualty figures have steadily declined since that time, and I'm encouraged by initial returns. I'm also mindful of still lethal and capable enemy cells and networks that seek to inflict harm on security forces and innocent Iraqis every day.

We've found that the Iraqi security forces with whom we partner, especially the federal police and the Iraqi army, continue to stand up to extremist and insurgent groups like al Qaeda. And the Iraqi citizens continue to reject attempts by these groups to incite sectarian violence....

Moving on to civil capacity, in the post-30-June environment, we have been able to expand on an already-robust civil-capacity effort across the brigade by placing even more of our emphasis and our resources on stability operations. The improved security situation, gained from months and years past, means that the brigade combat team and its embedded provincial reconstruction teams can give increased weight to expanding the capability of Iraqi local government and to improving the quality of life for Iraqi people with greater access to essential services and employment. ...

...I believe we've been able to generate and sustain our momentum in helping the Iraqis build civil capacity because of how we have organized ourselves for this challenge. We can discuss these initiatives more later if you like, but the take-away here is that we've established a structure that closely tied our embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams directly to the brigade, fusing these organizations into one; thereby ensuring better synchronization and unity of effort.

Summarizing, we see the following

1) Security is still the number one concern, so counterinsurgency operations are still ongoing
2) Attacks of all sorts are down
3) Since the "spectacular" attack of Aug 19 civilian casualties are down
4) The Iraqi security forces can stand on their own
5) Since the security has improved so much they are moving to stability operations.

On to the Q & A. First off we get more detail on the security situation. As mentioned above, you'll want to watch the video so you actually see the charts he refers to.

Q Thank you. I'd like to begin. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.

Colonel, you said that the overall attacks are pretty low. Can you quantify those for us, how many you were seeing back in March when you first moved into the area; how many you're seeing now?

And then, can you talk a little bit about who's behind the attacks in your area and who's the target? I assume it's -- it sounds as if it's Iraqi security forces, but just give us a better sense of what you're seeing in security incidents.

COL. GREEN: Courtney, I can. And if you could bear with me, I want to refer to some statistics to help me get the exact numbers. But if I understand you correctly, you really want some more specific details on the numbers of attacks that we've seen that show this decline, and then who I think might be behind those attacks.

So I'm looking at a chart right now that shows the number of attacks that we've experienced by type. And I'll hold it up in front of me, you know, just in case you're able to see it, and I'm not sure you are. ...

And you can see that, after our TOA, we did have a slight increase leading up to the 30 June time frame. And since that period, attacks have actually declined.

Now, this number shows higher in September, but I would just caution you and say that on the 31st of August, the terrain that we're responsible for, our battlespace, essentially doubled. So attacks really are down overall. And then again, if you look at lethality -- and lethality is depicted on the lower charts down here -- you can see that numbers did spike in the June and July time frames, June leading up to the security agreement, July just after. I think this was a high of 122 casualties involving Iraqi security forces. But those numbers have dropped substantially since. And coalition forces are down here at the bottom. They remain real low.

In terms of overall numbers of attacks, I think in the September time frame between our two areas, on the east side and the west side of the river, we had about 50 attacks overall. I want to caution you and tell you that we include every found IED, every found cache, as an attack, because we record those events based upon the enemy's intent. The actual successful lethal attacks are quite less than that.

Now, those are numbers, but who's behind the attacks? We have seen a drop-off in the targeting by Shi'a extremist groups following the 30 June accord. They still occur, but they occur in less frequent numbers than we saw in the spring time frame. On the other hand, we've seen some additional targeting that we attribute to al Qaeda or other types of insurgent or resistant groups.

Even after it was clear that the surge was successful, commanders often described the situation as "fragile," warning that while we had been successful if we weren't careful Iraq could backslide. It was stressed that a premature withdrawal of troops, for example, could leave a vacuum into which insurgent or criminal elements would reappear and perhaps reignite sectarian tension. We stopped hearing Iraq described by briefers that way in 2009, but remembering this description it is natural that reporters will ask if Iraq is still fragile.

In the 01 Oct briefing, Al Pessin asked Gen. Odierno whether Iraq was still fragile. He does so again today:

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. ...If I could just follow up briefly, over the years various officials and officers have used the word "fragile" to describe progress in Iraq. Do you think it's still fragile? Or how fragile is it? Or if not, what words would you use?

COL. GREEN: Yes, sir. I am familiar with that term. And you know, it is combat, so it's difficult when, you know, events like the 19th of August happen. ...

And so you'd look at an event like that, and you'd say: Okay, the enemy is still capable of conducting spectacular attacks and inflicting large amounts of casualties. And I think that remains the case.

However, I do believe that the Iraqi security forces grow stronger each and every day. I see the growth in governance and civil capacity, which is coming along. I think it's got some ways to go. I'm very encouraged by the progress, and I think that, you know, very critical for us right now is to have, you know, elections that go off successfully here in the coming months and then witness the seating of a new government.

And that transition, I think, will be really critical in cementing the gains that we've experienced thus far. ...what I see every week out there is forward momentum right now.

Although more was discussed in this briefing, the last topic we'll cover is that of Iranian influence. Obama campaigned as the candidate who would bring back diplomacy. Today the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gave him their award, mostly for things they hoped he would do in the future. One thing President Obama can do to bring peace to Iraq is to end the pernicious Iranian influence. Let's see him earn his prize by doing that.

Q Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN.

You had made a brief reference about Iranian influence in your sector. How much are you seeing of fighters that may have gone into Iran, for training or -- and then come back in and set up in your sector? And how serious is the Iranian influence in your sector, compared to other parts in Baghdad?

COL. GREEN: Thanks, Mike.

We do see Iranian influence. We also see some influence of foreign fighters or insurgents, who have moved back and forth from other countries. I mean, I've seen some that have migrated in from Syria for example.

Many of our most important targets are individuals who have had some migration or spent some time outside of the country with one of these external actors.

We actually had a detention yesterday that involved a high-value target that had spent some time in Iran, in the not-too-distant past. So that does occur. Remember that my area of operations includes places like Sadr City.

So I don't think it's uncommon that we would have, you know, external influence, the migration of some weapons or materials that have their origin from abroad. You know, we have seen that. But we track it pretty effectively and we track it in conjunction with Iraqi forces.

They assist us as well in that effort. And then as those individuals appear, as those networks become activated, we action them when we have -- when we have the conditions set to do so. Over.

Overall this was an excellent briefing and we learned much of interest. As of now Iraq is on the right path.

Posted by Tom at 8:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 6, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 01 October 2009 - Iraq is "Less and Less Fragile"

This briefing was by our top general in Iraq himself, General Ray Odierno, Commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Last Thursday he spoke with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Even after it was clear that the surge was successful, commanders described the situation as "fragile," warning that while we had been successful if we weren't careful Iraq could backslide. It was stressed that a premature withdrawal of troops, for example, could leave a vacuum into which insurgent or criminal elements would reappear and perhaps reignite sectarian tension.

Today General Odierno addresses this issue of "fragility" in response to a question by Al Pessin of VOA. Before we get to that exchange, though, let's look at part of Gen. Odierno's opening statement, where he discusses the security situation:

GEN. ODIERNO: ... Although security continues to improve in Iraq, it is not yet enduring. There still remains underlying, unresolved sources of potential conflict that have to be addressed, which include regional and factional division, insufficient government of Iraq capacity, violent extremist groups and continued interference from external state and non-state actors.

An area of particular concern is the unresolved Arab-Kurd issues between the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. We fully support the United Nations efforts as they work with the political parties to resolve key issues, including legislation for hydrocarbon laws and revenue sharing and the disputed internal boundaries.

Over the years, the environment and threat have changed, and we have constantly adapted our strategy from focusing on protecting the people in a counterinsurgency fight to concentrating on developing Iraqi capacity. Today, given the hard-forged security gains, we are transitioning to stability operations slowly across the country. And we will continue to responsibly transfer responsibilities to the government of Iraq, the Iraqi security forces and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Though the focus of our forces is shifting from security to capacity building, our strategic goal remains to foster a long-term partnership with a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq. We have a good plan that we are executing, and I'm confident in our way ahead.

Iraq is a state and a society under construction, struggling to define its identity and its place in the world after decades of oppression and violence. The way in which we draw down our forces will impact not only the relationship between the United States and Iraq in the future, but also the nature of the new Iraq....

We must have strategic patience. ...

The Iraqi security forces have made steady progress, and our efforts over the next two-and-a-half years will help solidify the foundation of a professional and competent Iraqi security force. We must leave Iraq with security forces capable of defending the Iraqi people and protecting their institutions.

The things that stand out to me are

1) Iraq is relatively secure, but continued security is not assured.
2) Arab-Kurd issues are still a problem and remain unresolved.
3) We have moved from counterinsurgency to building Iraqi force capacity
4) We are succeeding but must be patient so that we do not backslide.

On to the Q & A part of the briefing.

One thing we heard a lot of in late 2007 and 2008 was that the insurgency had been tamped down, and things were stable, but that the situation was "fragile." We stopped hearing that from briefers in 2009, but it was certainly a question worth raising again.

Search for "fragile" in the search box at right and you'll see what I mean.

Q Al Pessin with VOA. Yesterday and today both, you painted a picture of progress but remaining challenges. Are you still describing the situation in Iraq as fragile? Or can we put that to rest now? Is it irreversible? And you also talked yesterday about Iraq needing U.S. help beyond 2011. What sort of help do you mean? And do you think it will require some military presence, if only for training or air support or whatever it might be?

GEN. ODIERNO: Let me answer the first part first. I think the help I'm describing is that within the context of the strategic framework agreement, that it covers many different areas, from educational, technological, security. And so it has to -- about providing long-term assistance for developing systems, for example, from the military side; also developing economic capacity, developing educational capacity, medical capacity, all of those things. And I think, as we do that, that helps to build their institutions. So that's what I see happening beyond 2011.

Whether that will require trainers or anything else beyond 2011, we have not determined that yet, and that's something that will have to be discussed some time in the future as we get closer.

Q And on the fragility issue?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah, I would say the government of Iraq continues to make progress and move forward. So it becomes less and less fragile and moves closer towards stability. So I guess what I'm telling you, it's a work in progress. I believe, every day that goes by, it becomes less and less likely that it -- you know, some event will cause the -- some sequel to events would cause the government to fail. You know, I think every time we move forward, every day, it becomes less and less likely.

That's why I think the elections are important, because they will go through what we hope to be peaceful elections, the seating of a new government peacefully. And these elections will be entirely run by the government of Iraq.

And I think that will help to really stabilize the institutions as derived from their own constitution. I think that's really important as we move forward.

There then was much discussion about our current plan to draw down to 120,000 troops by the end of October, and somewhere between 110(,000), 120,000 by the end of the year. Watch the video and read the transcript for details, but the essential point is that we are slowly, and responsibly, withdrawing troops as circumstances permit.

Sometimes people ask "how long until we win?" It's an understandable question, because the American people understandably don't want an open ended commitment. Unfortunately, a precise answer is not possible.

Q General, what do you see the chances are that you'll be able to declare victory in Iraq before you leave personally? Do you see that happening before you go?

GEN. ODIERNO: I'm not sure we ever will see anyone declare victory in Iraq because first off, I'm not sure we'll know for 10 years or five years.

What we've done here is, we're giving Iraq an opportunity in the long term, to be a strategic partner of the United States but more importantly be a partner in providing regional stability inside of the Middle East.

They have an opportunity to build an open economy. They have an opportunity to continue to move forward with their nascent democracy. That's not going to happen next year or the year after or the year after that.

It's going to be several years before we know. But the positive piece is, we've given them the opportunity to do that. And I think that's what our goals were, is they now have an opportunity to do this. And that's why I tell that the engagement after 2011 is as important as our continued engagements prior to 2011.

This next exchange is a bit geeky, and probably only of interest to those like myself why have gotten into the nitty gritty of counterinsurgency and counterterror oprerations. Nevertheless it is worth taking a look at because you hear these terms with regard to what we should do in Iraq. Because of that it is important to understand the differences between counterinsurgency and counterterror.

Lt. Col (Dr) David Kilcullen (Australian Army - Ret) was Gen. Petraeus' senior adviser for counterinsurgency during 2007, the first year of the surge. In 2004 he authored Countering Global Insurgency, one of the most important works on the subject of al Qaeda.

Kilcullen defines an insurgency as "'a popular movement that seeks to overthrow the status quo through subversion, political activity, insurrection, armed conflict and
terrorism. By definition, insurgent movements are grass roots uprisings that seek
to overthrow established governments or societal structures" Terrorism, defined as "'politically motivated violence against civilians, conducted with the intention to coerce through fear," is a tactic used by insurgents.

Although all insurgents use terrorism, not all terrorists are insurgents. An insurgency is a more broad based movement, and their issues represent deeper issues in the society. Pure terrorists have agendas that are inherent to their own selves. As Kilcullen puts it, "Terrorists are psychologically and morally flawed, with personal (psychopathic) tendencies toward violence," while "Insurgents use violence within an integrated politico-military strategy - violence is instrumental (but) not central to their approach."

Terrorism by itself is a law-enforcement problem, while an insurgency must be met with a holistic approach, involving the resources of the entire government.

Q Ann Tyson, Washington Post. Sir, many years you've been involved in the Iraq operation, and specifically that was aimed primarily at the al Qaeda in Iraq group, which had ties to the broader al Qaeda. And I'm just wondering if you could reflect on the difficulties of going after a group like that, as a narrow counterinsurgency -- I mean, counterterrorist action, as opposed -- without the broader counterinsurgency effort to support it, and why it is necessary to have both combined.

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first, you have to have -- and your last comment was the most important. You have to have both combined. In order to effectively go after these elements, you have to have counterinsurgency operating by your conventional forces that then can be supplemented by counterterrorism operations by your higher-end counterterrorism forces. It takes a combination of both of these things. You're going to have to -- and the reason you need those forces is because of the connections that go on not only in Iraq but outside of Iraq. And so we want to make sure that you have to understand that.

Now, what we've been able to do in Iraq is sever al Qaeda-Iraq from mainstream al Qaeda. They have -- you know, we -- that's been done for the last year or so, where they have a lot of difficulty communicating to get -- they don't get any support, external support, for their effort any more in Iraq. So what they've had to do is they've degenerated into an organization that has to try to fund themselves inside of Iraq, with a population that is rejecting their presence inside of the country, which has made it difficult for them to raise funds. So that's critical.

And it takes a combination of a counterinsurgency in order to allow the population to feel secure so they can help you against this counterterrorism threat, and you still need the precision of our counterterrorism forces to go after these sometimes high-end, complex, enemy forces that are there.

Much has been made recently of the revelation late last month by our commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, that he had only spoken with President Obama only once. The president has been much criticized for not seeking a briefing or the advice of our commanding general in a war very important to the future of our country. As such, it was perhaps predictable that the question would come up in this briefing:

Q Sir, I'm just wondering, as you see Iraq sort of slip from the front pages and the attention of the administration turn to Afghanistan, do you worry that that is a danger? And also just as a follow-up to that, how often do you speak with the president?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, actually I send a report to the president every single week that I know he reads, because he comments on it all the time.

Q When was the last time you talked to him?

GEN. ODIERNO: A month ago or so. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to go talk to him this afternoon. So today will be -- if you ask me tomorrow, I'll tell you today. So but I also talk to the vice president quite often. The vice president has been out several times. So I feel very comfortable with that.

Once again Gen. Odierno gave an excellent account of the situation in Iraq, and as is most often the case the Pentagon press corps asked tough and intelligent questions. Gen. Odierno is not the household name that David Petraeus is, but among our military leaders is one of the finest.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 30, 2009

Both Extremes Wrong on Counterinsurgency

As President Obama faces his moment of truth on Afghanistan, we again hear differing views on how the war should be fought. There are two extremes that are both wrong and need to be corrected.

The error made by some on the right is that our forces are hampered by overly restrictive Rules of Engagement, and if we only "took the gloves off" our military would win.

There are two errors made by some on the left. One group says that we can adopt the "small footprint" strategy or reducing our forces and fight the war through targeted raids and precision airpower. The other group says that military progress can only come after political progress.

In addition to the links provided below, my source is everything I've written on this blog from early 2007 on, so for background go to "Categories" at right and see the posts for Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'm also not going to argue the case for winning in Afghanistan here, as that is a subject for another post. As such, I would ask commenters to restrict their remarks to a discussion of strategy and tactics.

Error on the Right

You don't have to go far on the Internet to find a conservative complaining that our forces are hampered by restrictive Rules of Engagement. ROEs "determine when, where, and how force shall be used." They determine when troops can shoot on their own and when they cannot, and when they need to ask for permission from above, and when not. They might say, for example, that troops cannot shoot at anyone they see carrying an AK-47 but can shoot at someone carrying an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher). They may say that troops can keep a round in the chamber, or not.

No doubt some of the concern comes from our experiences in Vietnam. There, we will recall, pilots were prevented from attacking anti-aircraft sites while under construction, having to wait instead until they were fully operational. They were forbidden from attacking shipments of war material being offloaded from Soviet ships in Haiphong harbor where they were still easy targets, instead being made to wait until the war material was transported and dispersed in warehouses much harder to find and hit. On and on.

Whatever the rightness or wrongness of these ROEs, what is almost always forgotten is why they were put into place. The reason was the fear of killing Soviet nationals and thus starting World War III, which in turn might have led to a nuclear Armageddon. The experience of the Korean War was fresh in our minds, where we turned an eight month victory into a three year slugfest because Gen. MacArthur foolishly ignored warnings not to move our troops too close to the Yalu river despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that doing so would force them to enter the war. When they did the U.S. military suffered one of it's worst defeats, and in the end we were barely able to hold on to the south.

The "surge" in Iraq was about two things; the first was sending more troops and extending their stay in theater. Specifically, five additional brigades were sent and everyone's stay was extended to 15 months. The second part was a change in strategy. It is this second part that is of importance to us here.

In October of 2005, then-Lt.Gen. David Petraeus was brought back from Iraq to take charge of a new group that was charged with developing a new counterinsurgency strategy. In December 15, 2006 they released their finished product, the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. It is a public document, and can be purchased from Amazon or other booksellers, or if you google for it you can find sites wher eit can be downloaded as a pdf document.

FM 3-24 was the culmination of an intense study by many scholars, both military and civilian, of all insurgencies in the past few hundred years. Perhaps it's most commented on section was the Zen-like "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency" that start on page 47. Those on the right would do well to reflect on them:

1-149 SOMETIMES, THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN (counterinsurgency) is gained by protecting the populate, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained...These practices endure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

1-150 SOMETIMES, THE MORE FORCE IS USED, THE LESS EFFECTIVE IT IS Any use offeree produces many effects, not all of which can be foreseen. The more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Using substantial force also increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda and to portray lethal military activities as brutal. In contrast, using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law the needs to be established. As note above, the key for counterinsurgents is knowing when more forces is needed - and when it might be counteproductive....

1-151 THE MORE SUCCESSFUL THE COUNTERINSURGENCY IS, THE LESS FORCE CAN BE USED AND THE MORE RISK MUST BE ACCEPTED This paradox is really a corollary to the previous one. As the level of insurgent violence drops, the requirements of international law and the expectations of the populace lead to a reduction in direct military actions by counterinsurgents.

1-152 SOMETIMES DOING NOTHING IS THE BEST REACTION Sometimes insurgents carry out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of enticing counterinsurgents to overreact, or at least to react in a way the the insurgents can exploit - for example, opening fire ion a crowd....

1-153 SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENTS DO NOT SHOOT. ...While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation,and restored hope. Particularly after security has been achieved, dollars and ballots will have more important effects than bombs and bullets. There is a time when "money is ammunition." Depending on the state of the insurgency, therefore, Soldiers and Marines should prepare to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role in nation building, not just Department of State and civil affairs personnel.

The reason that these doctrines are successful is also spelled out in FM 3-24; that the only way to beat an insurgency is to get the population on the side of the counterinsurgents. You cannot shoot your way of an insurgency, as you cannot kill insurgents faster than the enemy can recruit them.

Again, FM 3-24:

A-26 Once the unit settles into the AO (Area of Operations), its next task is to build trusted networks. This is the true meaning of the phrase "hearts and minds," which comprises two separate components. "Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents. (much more here)

A-60 ...Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.

The point of ROEs, therefore, is to keep civilian casualties to an absolute minimum, and thus keep the population on our side. Whether anyone likes it or not, people today are far more sensitive to civilian casualties than they were in the past. Long gone are the days of World War II where on or shortly after D-Day, the allies could kill 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians, and no one raised an eyebrow.

Note that I am not arguing for or against the specifics of what General McChrystal has put into place in Afghanistan. It is possible that the more restrictive rules that he has instituted go too far and need to be loosened. My point here is that most of what I hear in this vein is mindless blather from people who have no idea what they're talking about.

Aaron MacLean, writing at The Weekly Standard, sums it up:

...counterinsurgency is a difficult and brutal business of convincing the local population that the monopoly on violence belongs to you, the counterinsurgent, and you alone, that only you can protect them, and that it is in their interest to identify the insurgents to you. Then, based on that intelligence, the counterinsurgent kills. In situations where killing one or two insurgents risks civilian casualties or -- frankly, more importantly -- the perception of civilian casualties, then it is often in the counterinsurgent's interest to hold fire and break contact, and bide time for a better situation. This remains true even when friendly troops are at risk.

Errors on the Left

Some today say that we should bring most American troops home from Afghanistan and fight the war through targeted raids and precision airpower. What these people evidently do not realize is that this is exactly the losing strategy we employed in Iraq in 2004-6.

During that time we kept our troops on five large bases and sent them out on raids. This earned them the contempt of the population, because as often as not the raid hit the wrong house and terrified innocents. As discussed above, whether anyone likes it or not people are very sensitive to this sort of thing, and we an rationalize it all we want with "well do you like al Qaeda better," but it is what it is and we have to deal with it.

This was studied by Gen Petraeus' team as they developed a new counterinsurgency strategy, and one of their conclusions was that

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close to the populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.

In addition, I have watched just about every press briefing by a U.S. combat commander from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they hit on these principles time and again. In particular, see

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

Living among the population builds credibility, as the counterinsurgents are seen as sharing the same risks that are faced by the people. "Are you staying this time?" was the question asked of our troops when they arrived as part of the surge. When they said "yes," the people opened up and provided the quality intelligence that is required to root out the insurgents without harming innocent civilians.

The other thing we heard from the left was that the surge wouldn't work because political progress had to come first. Petraeus' study of insurgencies proved that just the opposite was correct; that political progress could only come after the population was secured. The reason for this is pretty simple; in the hierarchy of needs, people always put their physical safety first. When you're in danger of being killed, things such as the ability to elect your leaders, or even what we in the West call "essential government services," pale in significance.

A related fallacy is the idea that the way to defeat a strong insurgency is not through American troops but through building up the local indigenous security forces. While in the long run this is surely the answer, in the short term it doesn't work. From 2005-6 the Rumsfeld/Abizaid/Casey strategy was to build up the Iraqi security forces and for American troops to keep as low a profile as possible. Indeed, Gen. Casey's theory was that it was the presence of U.S. forces that was fueling the insurgency and that getting them out of theater as soon as possible was one of the keys to success.

This essentially set up a race, because while we were recruiting and training a new Iraqi security force the insurgents were recruiting and training forces themselves. By late 2006 it had become clear that the we had lost the race, as the insurgency was getting out of hand and the country slipping into civil war (or there already, according to some).

The fact is that once an insurgency has gotten to a certain point it is impossible for the government to tamp it down without outside help. Insurgencies almost always catch everyone by surprise, and this one proved no different. Foreign forces allow the government breathing space to get its act together. The goal during this stage is to "stop the bleeding." Again, FM 3-24

INITIAL STAGE: "STOP THE BLEEDING" 5-4. Initially, COIN operations are similar to emergency first aid for the patient. The goal is to protect the population, break the insurgents' initiative and momentum, and set the conditions for further engagement.

We often hear that the political progress and the development of indigenous security forces is taking too long. And indeed we must do everything we can to speed the processes up. More, it is certainly recognized that in the end, foreign forces cannot win the war:

6-1 Success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, upholding the rule of law, and provide a basic level os essential and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.

In the end, counterinsurgency is a difficult process that takes many years to successfully pull off. It's often a frustrating progress, and our commanders occasionally say so. The problems, however, are all part of the standard "friction of war" that Cautzwitz spoke of, and there is nothing that is an insurmountable obstacle.

And again as I and our commanders have said so often, we are not out of the woods yet in Iraq and the country can still fail. But the important lesson is that without the surge Iraq would certainly have failed, with it the country stands a chance.

As I wrote so often in early 2007, what was done was done. The mistakes of the past are behind us and cannot be undone. Arguing about past strategy is useless if one's only objective is to score political points.

I sincerely hope that President Obama does the right thing and sends the additional troops to Afghanistan that General McChrystal has apparently requested. Doing so won't guarantee success, but not doing so guarantees defeat.

Thursday Update

It might make sense to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan using special forces and airpower alone of it was a simple terrorist group. However, it is not a simple terrorist group like the PLO, ETA, IRA, or even Hamas, but an insurgency. Rather than explain why myself please go to the experts who can do it better than I can:

How Not to Defeat al Qaeda by Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan

Countering Global Insurgency by Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen

Posted by Tom at 9:00 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 17, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 10 September 2009 - AQI is Testing the Iraqi Security Forces

his briefing is by Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby, Junior, commanding general of Multinational Corps-Iraq. Last Thursday he spoke via satellite from Camp Victory in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon.

From the website of Multi-National Force - Iraq, MNC-Iraq is "the Tactical Unit responsible for command and control of Operations in Iraq." Iraq is divided into four major areas of responsibility, Multi-National Divison - North, Multi-National Divison - Baghdad, Multi-National Force - West, and Multi-National Divison - South. Each is headquartered by an American division, commanded by a major general. Each reports to MNC-Iraq, and thus Gen. Jacoby. Essentially, the job of the corps commander is to implement the objectives of the Multi-National Force commander, who is currently General Raymond Odierno. The corps commander plans the various military operations and assigns units to specific locations.

Lt. Gen. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, the regional command. Petreaus in turn reports directly to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From his opening statement

GEN. JACOBY: Currently, our enemies are resorting to a campaign of sensationalism through suffering, by directing attacks against Iraq's most vulnerable targets in an attempt to discredit the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. We are seeing determined extremists, insurgents and terrorists employ IEDs against markets, shrines and other places where families gather and civilians go about their daily lives....

Sons of Iraq is another critical area that has seen success. The government of Iraq, which took over the responsibility of paying the Sons of Iraq in May, is now current on pay in all provinces. In addition, more than 5,500 Sons of Iraq have now been transferred into ministerial jobs, with more scheduled to come....

There is a real chance for success here in Iraq, but it's very important to remember our mission is not complete. Our enemies will continue to attack our progress, and they will do it by killing and injuring innocent Iraqis. They will test Iraqi security forces as we move toward the elections and as the new government is seated. But I am confident that Iraqi security forces will pass this test. And now, I'm happy to take your questions.

Indeed for counterinsurgents to succeed the government must be seen as legitimate. There are many factors involved in establishing legitimacy, but the most basic is the ability to provide security.

The Sons of Iraq (SOI) program (originally Concerned Local Citizens) has been a subject in many briefings. Briefly, it was mostly a Sunni operation designed to get "buy in" from the citizens on legitimacy and to provide jobs for men who might otherwise become insurgents. A sort of "super neighborhood watch," the U.S. did not provide them weapons, but everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. When the insurgency was (mostly) defeated, the objective turned to getting jobs for SOI. Originally the mostly Shia government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki balked and dragged it's feet, but consistent and firm U.S. pressure has persuaded them to honor their obligations.

On to the Q & A. In this first exchange Daphne Benoit asks for more detail about the attacks that General Jacoby mentioned:

Q Good afternoon, sir. This is Daphne Benoit with Agence France-Presse. According to your intel, is al Qaeda-Iraq behind most of the spectacular attacks we've seen lately, and if you have a percentage in mind of the attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda? And how big are its -- their network today in Iraq? And are there many foreign fighters, or Iraqis?

GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, thank you for that question. We think al Qaeda in Iraq remains a big problem, and they are greatly diminished since the days of just a few years ago. But they are still able to generate these high-profile attacks that we're concerned about. The frequency of attacks, the scale of the attacks -- not like we've seen in the past -- but the ability to generate a high-profile attack now is causing concern, and I would say it's the targeting of the attacks which causes us the most concern.

And as I said in my opening statement, clearly they're going after targets like civilian population centers, where civilians are meeting, where they're conducting their daily lives. They're doing that to discredit the Iraqi security forces. They're doing that to try to incite sectarian violence...

In the period that we're looking at right now, post-30 June, I consider most of the attacks, the high-profile attacks that you are seeing and that are getting the publicity, are al Qaeda attacks.

Next we have a discussion about AABs, or Advisory assistance brigades. This is the first time they've been mentioned in a briefing. We have heard much about civilian Human Terrain Teams and Provisional Reconstruction Teams, but AABs are new. After googling around a bit they seem to be just what they sound like, specially constructed military units whose specialty is training, advising, and mentoring the Iraqi security forces. They will advise on not just combat but on all aspects, such as logistics, medical, intelligence, etc.

Q Sir, it's Donna Miles with the American Forces Press Service. I'm curious about what you see -- the role of these new AABs that will be flowing into Iraq. Where do you plan to concentrate them? And how will what they're doing support what your goals are?...

GEN. JACOBY: Okay. Thank you. Yeah, the advisory assistance brigades -- it's a concept we believe in. We think it's the right way to go as we move from counterinsurgency and full-spectrum ops to our strategy of being done with combat operations for U.S. forces in August 2010. And then we'll be reliant on our advisory assistance brigades.

I think that the important part about an advisory assistance brigade is, it's -- that it's a mission and it's a mind-set. And it's a series of tasks that we do, and I ran through them earlier. They're advise, assist, enable, train, those kinds of tasks that are clearly within the stability ops realm. We believe Iraqi security forces will be fully capable of conducting the combat operations and other leads in security operations that will be required at that time.

Advisory assistance brigades should be fully on line by August 2010. We're having some good work with brigades right now that have been able to transition into stability ops, learning a lot of lessons, sending those kinds of observations back to the field or back to the training base as we continue to develop the advisory assistance brigades. Great exchange of information between theater and back home in the training base.

We'll look at one last exchange, this time on the all-important issue of whether the Iraqis can maintain stability when U.S. troops are gone

Note that their is no false optimism, and Gen Jacoby does not look at the situation through rose-colored glasses and try to spin us that things will definately get better etc. Lest you think this is a characteristic only of this briefing, I assure you that having watched every briefing by a combat commander for two and a half years briefers without exception are cautious to the point of paranoia about making predictions about the future.

Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. If I could approach the drawdown -- the troop drawdown question again. Both Secretary Gates and General Odierno have said that bringing out an extra brigade by the end of the year would be based on security levels. At the beginning of this briefing, you kind of gave a mixed-bag approach on security. Do you think security is going to be stable enough by the end of the year to bring out an extra brigade?

GEN. JACOBY: I think we're headed in a good direction. We are seeing Iraqi security forces, as I said in my opening statement, meet some testing, and some really tough testing, head on. It's too early, really, to say right now whether the operational environment is going to support accelerated troop withdrawals. We'll be ready to do that if we're asked to and if we think that the security environment has improved.

One of the questions is how much longer al Qaeda can continue these types of high-profile attacks. They're -- they are not frequent. The -- al Qaeda and other insurgent forces such as JRTN and a few others cannot sustain this kind of an operational tempo, and we will see if they punch themselves out.

I will tell you, Iraqi security forces are taking the initiative and working hard to sustain security. And so I'm optimistic in the sense that they are going after the problem and they're not backing down. And so we'll see how the environment improves as we head toward the election.

But I will tell you that it's a volatile time period, and I think the testing will continue. And I think we should expect it to. If the environment is looking at the end of the year like we can accelerate, then I'm sure my superiors will have us take a look at that, and we'll figure out whether we can get it done as the year closes out.

Posted by Tom at 8:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 08 Sept 2009 - Insurgent Weapons Say "Made in Iran"

This briefing is by Major General Richard Nash, commanding general of the 34th Infantry Division and Multinational Division-South. The 34th ID is also known as the Red Bull Divisionand is from Rosemount, Minnesota. Last Saturday he spoke via satellite from Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon

From the MNF-Iraq website, MND-South, "assists Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah."

General Nash reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Issues surrounding the Iranian nuclear weapons program have been in the news recently, and the only reason it hasn't received more attention is that the nation's attention is focused on the healthcare debate and more recently the ACORN videos. These latter domestic issues deserve our primary attention at the moment, but before long we'll have to face the music regarding Iran again. As we learn in this briefing, Iran is busily at work trying to destabilizing Iraq. This, of course, is not a good thing.

From Gen Nash's opening remarks:

GEN. NASH: ...Since we spoke last month, the Iraqi security forces have had tremendous success in establishing security throughout the nine provinces of southern Iraq. I'd like to highlight a good-news story in the Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces, and a productive mission that resulted in a significant capture of weapons and ammunition.

During recent operations, the 10th Iraqi Army Division captured dozens of explosively formed penetrator plates, magnetic car sticky bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, hundreds of machine guns, assault rifles, and thousands of small-arms rounds. Additionally, over a hundred rockets, artillery rounds and mortar shells were collected from cache sites between the arid dunes of northern Maysan and the marshes in the south of the province. Among the recently confiscated items were rocket rails, radios and gas masks.

The Iraqi army is cementing its reputation with the citizens of southern Iraq as a catalyst for peace and adding to their security.

Most of these caches were exposed by tips from the concerned citizens, who refuse to let criminals and terrorists erode security and economic opportunity in their country....

A pretty short opening statement overall and nothing remarkable or new in it. On to the Q & A. Here is where things get interesting, and it's obvious that the reporters know what they're looking for in their questions:

Q: ...Good morning, general. This is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I don't know if you could give us more details about the captured munitions that the Iraqi divisions have found lately in the south. Do you know, what's the source of these weapons, these rockets?

GEN. NASH: ...As I mentioned, the caches that they were able to find, the munitions that I mentioned, certainly have markings on them. And they come from a variety of places. And I'll be quite frank with you; some of the rockets have "made in Iran" on those rockets, but -- as well as some other countries that -- munitions. And they certainly can be munitions that are left over from the previous war, the Iranian-Iraq war in the '80s. Some of them are rather new. But again, they're marked with certain country markings. And those are the things that we try to exploit, look at, find out how new those weapons are, how new those munitions are, as we continue to exploit the networks that are doing harm here in southern Iraq.

Q General, Bill McMichael, Military Times. You said the other munitions, aside from the rockets that were stamped "made in Iran," have come from a variety of places. Could you please be more specific, or tell us why you can't be?

GEN. NASH: Bill, again, you know, if I talked about names that were on there, I'd be pointing fingers. And again, we really don't have information or intelligence that would directly pinpoint it back to a particular supplier. So needless to say, the bulk of what we see would have a stamp on a particular munition that would say "Iran." ...

Q Barbara Starr, from CNN. Well, now I have to follow up and then ask my other -- my real question. On the Iranian weapons, you have seen this for many years now, and you understand the date stamps on the Iranian weapons. So what is the most recent-manufacture Iranian weapons you have seen? And then I would like to just ask a question I need to ask.

GEN. NASH: Follow-up on that, I believe I'll be able to answer it. I believe probably "07" was the latest stamping of a date on a munition that I personally saw and have heard about.

The weapons Nash that we have found have been in Iraq for a few years, but this does not preclude the possibility that there are weapons of more recent manufacture that we simply haven't found. And just because they're stamped "2007 doesn't mean that they weren't brought to Iraq in 2009.

How much of an effect these weapons are having is not stated in this briefing, and as we shall see below Nash says that in his area in recent months "the number of IED attacks has gone down dramatically." However, with American troops due to withdraw from operations more and more, having these weapons around and possibly still being shipped into the country will make the job of the Iraqi security forces all the harder.

The best thing would be to convince Iran to stop supplying the insurgency. A few years ago our ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, held a series of meetings with the Iranians to try and do just that. As I recall they were partially successful but obviously not completely so. President Obama hasn't shown any strength with regard to dealing with the Iranian nuclear question so it's hard to see his administration getting serious about this issue either.

Continuing with the brieving, there was much Q & A about the death of PFC Wilhelm. Wilhelm was either killed by other soldiers or committed suicide, and an investigation by the CID is ongoing. Apparently there was mistreatment of the soldier which of course is a concern to all. Four soldiers have been arrested and an Article 32 hearing will take place shortly to see if there is enough evidence for a courts martial. I won't cover that here as you can watch the video and read the transcript for details.

The final Q & A that we'll look at concerns the overall level of violence, a sign of whether the insurgency is ramping up again or whether we still have things under control. What we have is generally good news and is not challenged by the reporters.

Q Sir, can I come back to that? This is Gordon Lubold at the Christian Science Monitor. But can you give us kind of a -- some sense of the amount of violence across your area of responsibility -- (audio break) -- and also, just kind of characterize what are your troops doing?

GEN. NASH: Okay, let me answer the -- sort of a two-part thing, what my troops are doing and the level of violence. We average a little over 1.3 attacks per day, and that's throughout all nine provinces. And I mentioned earlier in my opening statement, you know, landwise, it's probably the size of Wisconsin geographically. Primarily all Shi'a.

Now, you have to keep that in mind, and the fact that we probably have close to 10 1/2 million people in those nine provinces. So we're averaging a little over 1.3 attacks per day, and this is less than in Baghdad, less than in Multinational Division-North, in the Mosul area, Tikrit area, but slightly more than in Multinational Force-West in the Anbar province.

Since June, the attacks, generally, have dropped slightly in our area. The number of IED attacks has gone down dramatically. The highest month was the month we got here, in May. But that was the highest in eight months, and each month since then, the IED attacks have gone down.

Now, have said -- have -- saying that, in direct-fire attacks on bases in COBs and in our FOBs have increased slightly since June 30th, since out of the cities, since we've complied with the security agreement.

But in general the attacks against the coalition forces -- on the roads, doing their missions, partnering with the Iraqi security forces, going out to the training, to advise and assist, to be part of their operations, as I mentioned -- has gone down slightly.

Now, talking about our soldiers, what are they doing? They're engaged each and every day, like they have been. It's sort of like, now we're commuting to work. Whereas before we were out and about, not so much here in the south, because we were really not part of the -- embedded in the major cities that were part of the security agreement.

Posted by Tom at 7:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 15, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 20 August 2009 - "Frustrated" by Pace of Progress

This briefing is by Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, also known as MNSTC-I (pron "min-sticky"); and also, NATO Training Mission-Iraq. He spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Prosperity in Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon.

From the MNF-Iraq website, "MNSTC-I is responsible for organizing, training, equipping and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces throughout the country."

I am not sure of the exact chain of command here, whether Gen. Helmick reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, directly to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, or to someone else. Either way, Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The latest Order of Battle can be found at The Institute for the Study of War.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Yes, I'm a bit behind on my briefings, but this one is important. I hope to post more briefings later today or tomorrow.

In 2006 progress in Iraq was "one step forward, two steps back." With the success of the surge we heard "two (or three) steps forward, one step back." Either way, progress was difficult and reverses constant. Clearly, the Iraqi Army was ineffective in 2006. The influx of American troops, coupled with a new strategy, gave them breathing room. They're improving, but we are after all talking about a third world country with all the attendant problems.

Last month Gen Helmick expressed some of the frustration that comes with building a new army in such a country. From his opening statement:

GEN. HELMICK: Dave, thank you very much. And good morning to all of you. I just want to say up front I'm very happy to be here today to talk to you about the situation in Iraq and the role of the Multinational Security Transition Command and NATO in Iraq. But first, I must address the horrific attacks that took place yesterday in Baghdad...

One attack in Iraq is one too many, but we must remember where we've been. The Iraqi security forces have demonstrated their increased capability, and the declining number of attacks over time is proof of that. Yes, we have much work to be done, and the U.S. forces will continue to work with the people of Iraq to improve the capabilities of their security forces.

What do I mean by institutional capacity? In short, I mean helping the government of Iraq develop the capacity to train, equip, employ and supervise their security forces. Iraq has come a long way in these last couple of years in being able to field tactically proficient soldiers and police.

But supporting these soldiers and police in the field remains a challenge. The government of Iraq still needs help in establishing fully functional maintenance and logistics systems, as well as help in things like effectively managing the personnel actions required in a nation-wide police system which employs today over 400,000 policemen.

Along with other improvements, the government of Iraq is also making positive strides in the professionalization of their security institutions. Iraq's security forces are visibly proud to serve their nation. Unlike the past, security forces are effectively resisting sectarian and other negative influences. This is in stark contrast from a few years ago when some units refused to follow lawful instructions, or simply melted away.

Here are the relevant Q & A exchanges:

Q Gordon Lubold, with the Christian Science Monitor. So what was the scope of what you provided on the ground to the Iraqis yesterday in the aftermath? But also, are you frustrated -- you've mentioned that -- by request, by request, and that's subject to the security agreement, but I mean, are you guys at all frustrated that the requests haven't been more forthcoming, more requests from the Iraqis?

GEN. HELMICK: No, I don't think we are frustrated because the requests are not forthcoming. If you look -- again, if you take this incident in isolation -- and again, I do not want to discount this, but if you look at the past 18 months, the security trends have been very, very good -- again, at an all-time low. And this clearly is a spike, and there was a breakdown in security.

So I don't think that we are -- or at least I am not frustrated with the lack of requests.

What I am personally frustrated with is that, again, we must continue to develop the capabilities inside the Iraqi military. And we are doing that as fast as we can. My frustration is we -- I am not doing it fast enough. And we want to continue to do that as we move to the timeline of 50,000 in August of 2010 and down to zero in December 2011.

Q Point of view, from that standpoint, what are some of the things that you want to work on with them from where you sit?

GEN. HELMICK: Right. You know, what we have done so far to date is the -- I don't want to say the easy things, but the less difficult things. It's easy to build an infantryman and an infantry unit; it's very, very difficult and it takes time to build an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technician to build a platform for the Iraqis. In other words, airplanes with qualified crews, Iraqi crews that can fly them and analyze the data; for example, in the ISR platform.

In the police side of the house, it's easy to build a policeman; it's very, very difficult and it takes time to build forensics labs for the Iraqis, where they have scientists that are trained, where they can secure a site and exploit the evidence on that site to convict someone vice a confession to convict someone.

All of these things are very, very difficult to do, and it takes time. Another frustration, of course, is building a logistics system for the Iraqis. It is very, very difficult and very time-consuming to build a national logistics system, something that just doesn't happen overnight.

So those are the kinds of difficult things as we move forward into the rest of 2009 and '10 that we really have to focus on and accelerate. That is my personal frustration with where we are today.

As I have said before, I'm certain that our generals use these briefings to send messages; sometimes to the Iraqis, sometimes to the Iranians, mostly of course to the American people. This one was a loud and clear message to the Iraqi government: Get your act together because we are not going to be here forever.

And sure enough, the media picked up on this. Fox News had an article out the same day:

U.S. Training Commander 'Frustrated' By Pace of Progress in Iraq

Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick told a Pentagon news conference that he is not certain he can complete some of the high-tech training -- including for Iraq's Air Force -- by the time U.S. troops are scheduled to leave at the end of 2011.

"What I am personally frustrated with is that ... we must continue to develop the capability inside the Iraqi military," said Helmick. "We are doing that as fast as we can. My frustration is we, I, am not doing it fast enough."

For those who are interested in the details of what's going on in Iraq, and want an excellent primer on building security forces in difficult situations, see Building Security Forces and Ministerial Capacity: Iraq as a Primer, by ieutenant General James Dubik (ret.), who served as the commander of Multi-National Security and Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I) from mid-2007 to mid-2008, over at Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War.

Finally, for the naysayers, yes building an army in a third world country is hard. But it can be done. In the 1980s we retrained several Latin American armies so that they coulddefeat communist insurgencies, and recently our advisors have been helping countries around the world defeat various jihadist insurgencies. Gen. Helmick isn't saying we're losing in Iraq, or that the Iraqis aren't "stepping up to the plate" or whatever. He is simply stating the obvious; that it's hard and that we can do better.

This passage is approvingly quoted in Gen Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

"It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down. The government must not allow itself to be diverted either by counter-moves on the part of the insurgent or by the critics on its own side who will be seeking a simpler and quicker solution. There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks - Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, 1966

Previous by Maj. Gen. Nash

Iraq Briefing - 06 August 2009 - Stability in the South

Posted by Tom at 6:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 4, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 01 September 2009 - Too Much Party Line

This briefing is by Colonel Col. Joseph Martin, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, who on Monday spoke via satellite from Camp Liberty in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team is also known as the Dagger Brigade, which is currently detached from the 1st ID and is now assigned to Multi-National Division - Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. Their area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad.

Col. Martin reports to Major General Daniel P. Bolger, commanding general of the 1st Cav. Bolger, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The latest Order of Battle can be found at The Institute for the Study of War.

his and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

All in all this was a lousy interview in which we got little detail but lots of party line from Col Bolger. It is distressing to report this because in the dozens of briefings from commanders in both Iraq and Afghanistan that I have covered from early 2008 on, only two or three were of poor quality. It's also distressing because the other briefing of Col Martin's that I covered, Iraq Briefing - 23 February 2009 - Still A Third World Country, was quite good. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for this one.

The only reason I am posting this briefing, then, is that one, I am committed to covering all briefings by our combat commanders, and two, it relieves me of the accusation that all I is fawn over and praise our military.

First, this excerpt from Col Martin's opening remarks, which are actually quite decent and informative:

COL. MARTIN: Dagger soldiers are serving as part of Multinational Division-Baghdad under the leadership of 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, and we're assigned to northwest Baghdad and areas to the west of Baghdad, totaling a square mileage of about 352 miles, just larger than the city of Dallas, Texas. ...

The fact remains, though, that since 2004 violence is at all-time low. Since our arrival last October, attacks have decreased by almost 40 percent, with an average per-day attack of less than two, and that's in an area that used to experience 30 attacks per day just two years ago. This achievement is due to the hard work of the soldiers and the partners at the company level and below who relentlessly attacked the enemy, then stood watch to protect the people they came here to protect. ...

Secondly, in the area of partnership, the brigade has attained new levels of confidence with our Iraqi security partners, who are the 6th Division of the Iraqi army and the 6th Brigade of the Iraqi federal police, and of course the local police districts. They are prepared to carry forward, you know, the gains in the security that we've combined to achieve. Dagger units and leaders weren't just satisfied with normal types of partnerships -- patrols, raids, cordons, searches, training. So we took it upon ourselves to develop counter-IED capabilities and tackled the difficult task of assisting to improve the Iraqi army's logistics capabilities and other areas.

In the area of reconciliation, the Dagger Brigade and our embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team-West led by Mark Powell has assisted in the return of over 23,000 families, who were forcibly displaced from their homes previously, which caused tensions within the northwest Baghdad area and frankly beyond.

So again we see that overall violence is at a low since 2004.

On to the Q & A. The fist question was from Joe Tabet, a veteran Pentagon reporter and a fixture at these briefings. Unfortunately, the answer by the colonel completely evades the question and annoyed me.

Q Colonel Martin, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I have two questions for you. Based on the

information that you have, do you agree that August was the bloodiest month in Iraq since a year, maybe more than a year? ...

COL. MARTIN: Well, Joe, that's a great question. First thing I'll tell you is, I think that security is continuing to improve. The attacks that occurred before are an example that there is an enemy out there, but it's an enemy that is decreasing in capacity and is rejected by the people. But the enemy still has the ability to act, and that's why we and our security partners continue to focus together to improve conditions here to eliminate the possibility of a like attack to occur again....

It was mostly downhill from there. In this one Colonel Martin acts annoyed that the reporter asked him a multi-part question:

Q This is Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers.. You spoke earlier about the attacks at the ministries. And you said that it was a sign of their decreasing their capacity. And I'd like to know if you could elaborate on that.

I'm not clear as to why that's a signal of their decreasing capacity, given that they were some of the largest explosions to strike Baghdad, in quite some time, and the closest that these attackers have ever gotten at those ministries or any ministries for that matter.

And also after those attacks, Maliki announced that the blast walls -- there would be a freeze on bringing down blast walls. Is that still happening in your area? And have any Iraqi officials that you work with asked for any blast walls to go up or expressed any concern about further blast walls coming down?

COL. MARTIN: Okay. Nancy, thanks for the multiple questions. I'll try to attack them all one at a time if I could.

What I meant by decreasing capacity is, the number of attacks continue to go down. The terrible attack that occurred on the 19th of August is an example of an enemy that has the ability to continue to strike. But it is in a limited fashion.

And the Iraqi security forces as a result of that have done a great deal of introspective assessing, to make sure that they understand how they can mitigate that from every happening again, number one.

And number two, they continue to assess the overall security situation as a whole, in order to mitigate any attacks, not just vehicle-borne IED attacks but just any attacks that can occur here. ...

His answer isn't bad and does address the issue, but the "thanks for the multiple questions" was unnecessary. As you'll see in a moment, the reporters picked up on it too.

It isn't like multi-part questions are new, either. Reporters typically only get called on once, and many will use the chance to get off as many questions as they can. Many of the briefers do forget all of the questions, and after answering one or two just ask for the rest to be repeated. Some use humor to defuse the situation. Col Martin frankly seemed uncomfortable during the entire briefing. He might be a good military leader, but he's got to learn to interact better with the media. The simple fact is that public relations are a vital part to winning a war whether anyone likes it or not

Overall, I found Col Martin's answers uninformative and party-line.

The bottom line is that warfare is about a lot more than bombs and bullets. This isn't World War II, and whether anyone likes it or not public relations and the information battle is vitally important. It is therefore imperative that our briefers do a good job of presenting themselves and their case before the public. My experience is that this is the case 95% of the time and this briefing was the exception.

Unfortunately the rest of the briefing wasn't any more enlightening. Here's the part where veteran reporter Al Pessin takes what I think is a slight dig back at Col Martin:

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. Two questions, but I'll ask them one at a time for you. First of all, do you feel like the Iraqis were overconfident when they first took security responsibility and that that is why they need to do this introspection that you mentioned earlier?

Ouch. My guess is that Col Martin got an earful from his superiors after the briefing.

Posted by Tom at 9:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 14, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 11 August 2009 - Breaking the Cycle of Sectarian Violence

This briefing is by Major General Robert Caslen, Commander of Multi-National Division-North. On Tuesday he spoke from Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Iraq via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

Most of Iraq is relatively calm, but insurgents remain in the northern provinces. If sectarian violence breaks out again, most likely it will either be in Baghdad or in the north. As such, it is important to pay attention to what goes on in this area.

From the website of Multi-National Force-Iraq, "MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii." Maj. Gen. Caslen and the 25th ID started their current deployment in November of 2008.

Contingency Operating Base Speicher was named after Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher. He was killed when his plane was shot down, while flying a combat mission over western Iraq, January 17th, 1991, during Operation Desert Storm.

General Caslen reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The latest Order of Battle can be found at The Institute for the Study of War.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. More news and videos are at The Pentagon Channel.

The transcript is at Defenselink.

GEN. CASLEN: ...Our partnership has disrupted insurgent and extremist networks; it's degraded insurgent attack capabilities. The Iraqis are fully in the lead. And through the security agreement, Iraq continues to capitalize on these security gains...

This chart, current as of May 2009, seems to confirm these trends, though it looks like there have there have been a few spikes since then.

Iraq Security Incidents May 2009

In response to a question Gen. Caslen sais that "in Mosul the numbers that we're tracking is that before 30 June, the attacks per week were averaging 42. That was a six-month average before then, but it was pretty consistent during that time. And after 30 June, it's down to 29."

In a briefing last April, Col. Gary Volesky of MND-North used the term "mini-surge" then to describe how they were attacking AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq): Iraq Briefing - 14 April 09 - Mini-Surge in Mosul. General Caslen uses this term too.

In this first exchange, note how General Caslen makes clear that the objective is not just to destroy the insurgents but to break the cycle of retaliatory violence between sects, tribes, and ethnic groups:

Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned at the end of your opening statement about the attacks yesterday. Can you talk a little bit about your assessment of al Qaeda's strengths in Nineveh province and in Mosul, if any military assessment has recently found that al Qaeda is spreading out away from Mosul or if that continues to be a center point of their strength in Iraq?

GEN. CASLEN: Thank you, Courtney. No, I think al Qaeda of Iraq, which also has teamed up with Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, as we call it, still remains centered with its leadership and its financial capability in northern Iraq, primarily in Mosul.

What we did is we went after them pretty aggressively when we first got here, with kind of a mini-surge, which started right around January and February. We brought a significant amount of combat power. And over the first five or six months, we had steady attack levels, and then right before 30 June, they dropped off significantly. And we were very encouraged by that. Plus the intel reports said that there were some significant issues that they had, particularly with regard to their financing.

And then after the 30 June transition, there were some spikes in some of their capabilities that you saw, and especially some of the VBIEDs and the S -- the suicide VBIEDs, and the one that you saw yesterday -- which means that they have the capacity and they still have the capability, and they remain a -- I would say a resilient force that has the capability to regenerate their combat power as necessary. So we put a lot of pressure on them. I think that's very evident. But like I said, now that the Iraqi security forces are inside the city, they do remain some sort of resilience and they do have capability of conducting some attacks, as you saw yesterday.

Q You mention they have the capability to conduct attacks. Do you think they also still have the capability to incite a new round of sectarian tension or violence in that area?

GEN. CASLEN: Well, that's an excellent question. The attacks that they had were primarily directed against sectarian sort of issues, like the Shi'a mosque, that you had on Friday, and then the Shi'a population, that you saw yesterday. And some of the attacks in Kirkuk were also on minorities as well.

What you found, though, is -- what's interesting is, what kind of sectarian reaction or retaliation that occurred or failed to occur. You know, what's significant about the surge that occurred in 2006 and 2007 was how the United States forces, working with the Iraqi leadership, broke the cycle of violence. And they broke the cycle of violence by going after leadership, and they convinced the sectarians, once they were attacked, that we can go after their leadership, as opposed to attacking massively against, you know, the -- a retaliatory-type attack.

So what we're doing right now is, when these attacks occur, we'll talk to the leadership and -- of who was attacked, and then we will put together the necessary plans, working with the Iraqi security forces, to go after who conducted that attack and the leadership of that attack, in order to continue to break that cycle of violence, so you don't get the retaliations that you saw a couple years ago.

So AQI is down but not out. They're trying to reignite sectarian violence but haven't succeeded. Yet, anyway. This is in keeping with what Bill Roggio said in April.

Despite the importance of stopping the cycle of retaliatory violence between Shia and Sunni Arabs, just as important are tensions between Arabs and Kurds, and keeping that from turning into sectarian violence.

Q General, hi. Anne Gearan from the Associated Press. Can you talk a little bit, please, about the tensions between Arab Iraq and the Kurdish areas, how close you see that -- -- that -- how close that tension is to actually becoming a shooting war, and tell us a bit about what the American forces do as intermediaries?

GEN. CASLEN: Okay, Anne. Thank you, because that -- (chuckles) -- we spend a lot of time and a lot of energy in that particular area, and that's one of the problems that exists right in MND-North that we address a lot.

I personally think that the Kurd-Arab issues and the tension that exists is probably one of the most dangerous courses of action for all of Iraq and could certainly resolve (sic) in an ethnic lethal-force engagement between Kurds and Arabs.

The issue, as you know, is the resolution of the land that exists between the Kurds and the Arabs, of which both claim to that. And in order to resolve that, there's an article in the constitution that maps the way to try to resolve that. It's called Article 140, and I assume many of you are familiar with that.

But our goal in working with this -- and we're working with it at the tactical level -- and that is to build transparency and also to try to bring both the peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army forces together. And we do that at various institutions, like checkpoints and at our command centers, and we even bring them into our own command centers, and we also bring them into the -- even the police stations, so that they're together. And by being together, they conduct combined checkpoints, combined operations, and what that does is, that builds trust and that builds confidence.

But none of this is going to get resolved unless it's going to get resolved at the senior-most levels within this country, and that's in Baghdad and in Erbil.

And I believe they have the capacity and the capability of resolving it. I think it's going to take leadership from -- the senior-most leadership from this country to get it resolved.

I've been encouraged over the last week when Prime Minister Maliki went to Kurdistan and met with President Barzani. That was very encouraging, has a tremendous rippling effect throughout the entire force, both the peshmerga and the Iraqi army. And so I'm encouraged by that. And I'm also very encouraged by my boss, General Odierno, and General Jacoby and their works to try to continue to bring this towards resolution.

Certainly if anyone can solve the problem it's General Odierno, the "Patton of Counterinsurgency" himself. Counterinsurgency warfare is about not just killing insurgents, but legitimizing the government and building civil society so as to give the people incentive to reject the insurgents. It's all about self-interest.

Q (Daphne Benoit - Agence France-PresseTo follow up, are you confident that the Iraqi security forces are able to face such a violence in Mosul, especially if it goes on at the rate we're seeing right now?

GEN. CASLEN: That's -- no, that's an excellent question. It's a fair question. It may be too early after 30 June to make an assessment or to make a call at this particular point.

If you look at the -- let me give you some statistics on the attacks that have occurred in Mosul. Prior to 30 June, the average number of attacks per week was around 40 to 42. And then if you look at each one of the six or so weeks past 30 June, the average attacks have dropped down to 29. So overall, believe it or not, the number of attacks in Mosul have decreased. We see that as very encouraging.

What has increased, however, is the capabilities to conduct the high-profile attacks, and the attacks are primarily focused on Iraqi security forces, like police. So the number of attacks against Iraqi security forces have increased, and the high-profile attacks, which are these VBIEDs or the suicide vests, especially the VBIEDs, they have increased.

And the VBIEDs are the ones that are really focused after the local nationals and are the high casualty producers. So you see an increase in numbers of casualties post 30 June, but you also have a decrease in the number of attacks.

What we need to do is get in there and break the networks of the SVBIEDs and -- primarily -- and some of the networks that actually do the high-profile attacks, similar to how we had done that prior to 30 June.

Concern about high-profile attacks is something I've heard time and again from commanders. They have been able to reduce the daily level of violence considerably, but stopping the one big attack is always difficult. See for example

Iraq Briefing - 08 May 09 - General Ray Odierno Reports
Iraq Briefing - 18 August 2008 - "al Qaeda is in disarray"

Next, Gen. Caslen discusses the "build" part of the counterinsurgency strategy of "clear, hold, and build," including the all-important issue of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. He does so in the context of the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP), Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRT) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

GEN. CASLEN: ...When we first got here, our primary effort -- in the counterinsugency strategy of clear, hold and build -- in the build phase was to look at the essential service infrastructure....This is a very effective program. It's not only produced a significant number of jobs, but it's got the infrastructure in a lot of areas up and running. And what it does in the end is that it gives the provincial government legitimacy to the Iraqi people; because in order for a government to be legitimate, it's got to provide security and essential services and rule of law, and essential service is a critical component of that. So we're making a lot of progress, and I'm very glad to see it. It's very effective.

That it is critical for the government to be seen as legitimate by the people is straight out of Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. Follow the link for a important quotes from the manual.

Finally, to the all important question, will the gains hold?

Q Yeah. General, considering that -- what you just said about al Qaeda and also what you said earlier, that -- I think you said that the potential for violence between the Arab and Kurd forces is maybe the greatest threat to stability in Iraq. And then you also said that the progress is fragile.

So my question is, how fragile is it? We've been hearing this word now for over a year, since things started to turn around in Iraq. So how fragile is it? How large or small do you think the potential is for either Arab-Kurd civil war or sectarian violence?

GEN. CASLEN: Well, those are -- a great question. They're two separate problem sets.

The problem set of the insurgency is significant. But what you're seeing is the pressure that we put on the insurgence -- United States and coalition forces -- that pressure now is being transitioned to Iraqi security forces, both their conventional forces, their special operating forces, as well. It's already been transferred in the city, and eventually it's going to be transferred, you know, a year from now, across -- when all combat forces come out -- across all of Iraq. And what we're finding is the Iraqi security forces, with some hiccups, are able to maintain the pressure on the networks.

I feel -- this is my personal opinion -- I feel that the networks have degenerated enough that with sustaining the pressure by the Iraqi security forces, they'll be able to maintain the lid on them, and you're not going to get this tremendous resurgence of sectarian counteractivity that you saw back in 2006 and 2007. That -- you know, that's just what I see.

If, however, the Iraqi security forces either degenerate or whatever, and you -- or they are focused on the wrong directions, and there is a capability of one of these networks to gain some energy, that may not be the case. But I'm more confident in what the security forces have been able to do, in what they will do in the future.

The problem set with the Kurd-Arab issues is another entirely different problem set, and that is, you know, the strategic question I always ask is, are the Iraqis -- once the United States leave, are they capable of resolving their ethnic differences peacefully, at the peace table? And when I first got here, I was -- you know, I was concerned about that. But based on some of -- because the answer is, they have the capability to do it. The question is whether their senior leadership will exert the leadership necessary to do that. And I'm very encouraged by the last couple weeks, when I've seen both the prime minister and the president, from President Barzani, get engaged and have -- has exerted some leadership to move this thing forward. I'm also very encouraged by the leadership that our embassy and General Odierno are exerting at this time as well.

So I'm -- so the answer to the second question is, I'm encouraged that we will get this resolved. If we do not get it resolved, then yes, it has potential to go towards lethal contacts, you know, in small separate areas.

Cautious optimism.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 12, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 06 August 2009 - Stability in the South

This briefing is by Major General Robert Nash. He spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base (War) Eagle with reporters at the Pentagon last Thursday

Maj. Gen. Nash is the commanding general of Multi-National Division South, which is headquartered by the 34th Infantry Division from Rosemount, Minnesota. The 34th Divison deployed to Iraq in May

MND-South is also known as the Red Bull Division. Their mission is to "assist Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah."

General Nash reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The latest Order of Battle can be found at The Institute for the Study of War.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From General Nash's opening remarks:

GEN. NASH: ... Our mission here in Iraq is to build civil capacity and transition security to the Iraqi security forces. We do this through partnerships with three subordinate brigades and their Iraqi Security Force counterparts.

It's been just over one month since all U.S. combat forces have been out of the cities. No combat forces in the cities has been the norm in the southern nine provinces here for quite some time. And the Iraqis are fully in the lead to secure their country and their population. My forces are in a supporting role.

Pretty straightforward, brief, and nothing unexpected there. On to the Q & A. Some excerpts:

Q Three members of the -- this is Eric Roper with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Three members of the 34th were killed last month in a rocket attack. Is that emblematic of the environment out there, or is that sort of an anomaly for what you're seeing?

GEN. NASH: That's a -- that's a great question, because I spent time last week with our Family Readiness Group back -- communicating with them back in Minnesota, with the loss of our three specialists, Specialists Wertish, Wilcox and Drevnick -- and explained to them that we still live in an environment that we cannot totally control: indirect fire. And that's what killed these three great Americans.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm impressed that Gen. Nash knew their names off the top of his head.

Q General, this is Shin Shoji from NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Of all the extremists working within your region, how much of attacks can you attribute to al Qaeda or to Muqtada al-Sadr or some of those Shi'ite elements?

GEN. NASH: In the south, the AQI, unless it's up in the northern borders of northern -- northwest Babil, northwest Wasat province and the southern belts of Baghdad, that's where -- if there is an AK -- AQI cell working -- cells working, that's where they would predominately be, and not necessarily here in the south.

The violent extremist networks that we look at come from all walks of terrorism, if you will, that are still trying to disrupt the government of Iraq and the sovereignty of the government of Iraq and cause doubt in the minds of the Iraqi people about the Iraqi security forces.

But the atmospheric that we've taken here in the south is that the people feel very well secure with the Iraqi security forces, with the police and the army. And we're seeing tip lines being used to the Iraqi police for suspected extremists that are attempting to move back, especially back here into the Basra province. So we're seeing the locals really reinforcing, if you will, now the Iraqi security forces across the southern portion of Iraq here in our nine provinces.

My recollection is that that the last holdout of AQI is in the area of MND-North, so this isn't too surprising. What's interesting is that the general doesn't name any specific groups but indicates that they are fragmented.

Most of the questions in this briefing were softballs, which tells me the reporters can't find much to question in Gen. Nash' story. Hopefully that's the reason, anyway.

One more exchange

Q General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. You mentioned that Iraqi security forces didn't want you to abandon them, as you said, in the cities. What's the dynamic between the Iraqi security forces and political leadership with regard to maybe them trying to minimize these -- their level of reliance on U.S. forces? Are you seeing that down there in your area?

GEN. NASH: Well, I would have to answer that -- that is the case. Again, each province in different. Each one wants some degree of help. A lot of them have become independent, if you will, and we respect that. We do joint patrols with them when required. We'll respond to an event, an IED event, if you will, to do site exploitation of things that may be there left as residue that we can work together as a crime scene and be able to work out those networks -- so somewhat more of that, somewhat less of that.

And again, we're working with two ministries, the minister of defense, with the Iraqi army, and the minister of interior, with the Iraqi police, and then the minister of border enforcement, again with our border force. So we have to be able to work with each one of those ministers, what they're looking for. And again, they're in the lead, and we want to be sure that they're taking full credit for all the great things that we're doing, and if we can support them in any way, we'll do that.

We back off when they think that they want to do it on themselves -- by themselves. And they're certainly capable of doing unilateral operations, and we acknowledge that.

Gen Nash is not about to say anything that contradicts the official line from Washington, and for him to directly say "they want us to stay" or even "they don't want us to abandon him" would get him in trouble, so we have to filter his responses through that lens.

Some will say that commanders whitewash the problems in Iraq. Washington Post correspondent and fellow Tom Ricks says that Iraq is unraveling. Journalist/blogger Bill Roggio demurs, saying that Ricks cherry picks incidents. Both are knowledgeable, and both pretty honest, I think. I tend to think that Roggio has it more right this time, but we shall see. My guess is that violence will increase as we withdraw, but that it will be manageable. Either way, as Roggio says, it's too soon to say.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 21 July 2009 - General Bolger's Email

This briefing is by Major General Daniel Bolger, commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, which headquarters Multi-National Division Baghdad. Last Tuesday he spoke from Iraq via satellite to reporters at the Pentagon.

MND-Baghdad is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. 1st Cav deployed to Iraq in February 2009 for what I believe is their third tour.

Bolger reports to Lieutenant General Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced Gen. David Petraeus. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Following are excerpts from Maj. Gen. Bolger's opening remarks:

GEN. BOLGER: ...And here in Iraq I serve as the commander of the Multi-National Division Baghdad, as Bryan mentioned. In this role, I lead about 31,000 U.S. soldiers, as well as some sailors, airmen and Marines. And our mission is to protect the 7 million people of Baghdad, and that's Baghdad province. There's about 6 million in the city proper, and the rest of them live out in the countryside that surrounds the city.

Now, in our operations we work closely with General Abboud Qanbar and the Iraqi Baghdad Operations Command. He commands a much larger force than I do. He has about 150,000 people in all, six complete Iraqi divisions. And for the Iraqis, about a third of them are in the army and another third in the various kinds of police, and the rest are the Sons of Iraq, which are the local version of Neighborhood Watch, and they're very important in this war. They're the former insurgents who reconciled to our side....

As Gen. Bolger's opening statement was relatively short, we'll get on with the Q & A. First, a brief on the situation now vs during the surge

Q Hi, General. It's Laura Jakes with Associated Press.

Wondering if you can talk a little bit more about the numbers of forces you still have, in the city of Baghdad, if any of them are staying in the COPs or the JCCs or JSSs, or whatever situation you have there, forces who are actually living in the city as opposed to Victory or in the Green Zone, and how long you expect that to go on.

GEN. BOLGER: to put it in perspective, at the height of the surge, in 2007, we had about 76 bases in the city and then a large number of even smaller patrol bases numbering up in the hundreds.

Right now, the number of U.S. facilities you'd find in the city would be in the tens, and I mean low tens. And I don't want to give a specific number, because obviously we don't want to disclose exactly where we're operating out of day-to-day, for a lot of reasons.

Now we'll get on with the main show, which was an email by Gen. Bolger that was highlighted in a July 17 story in The Washington Post. Read the whole thing, but the relevant part of the story is this:

The Americans have been taken aback by the new restrictions on their activities. The Iraqi order runs "contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations," Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.

"Maybe something was 'lost in translation,' " Bolger wrote. "We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I'm sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be." He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis.

"This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe," he wrote. "We'll do that, preferably partnered.

Now, then, the briefiing. Leo Shane asks Gen. Bolger about the email:

Q General, Leo Shane from Stars and Stripes. We're hearing a lot of reports of frustration among troops with some of the role changes. I wonder if you could speak to what you're hearing from your guys.

And also, what's the -- you spoke a little bit about the cooperation level. I think we saw an e-mail from you over the weekend that touched on the issues of what U.S. forces can and can't do in the city. What is the cooperation level? Are you getting pushback from the Iraqis?

GEN. BOLGER: Well, I think it's a great question that you ask. And it's really been a challenge for us. You know, you put 180,000 people inside a city of 6 million -- you know, obviously, we reduced our numbers significantly, but we're in and around there -- you're going to obviously get a lot of different interpretations of a 15-page document in English and Arabic, which, aside from some local arrangements we made in terms of orders and mission statements we've given our guys, that's what a lot of Iraqi people heard.

And that document has 30 articles and there's all kinds of things in it. I'm sure some attorneys somewhere could make sense of all of it. But what we've got is just folks out on the ground trying to make sense of it as they're carrying out their task.

In addition, and this was totally to be expected, a lot of the Iraqi public media trumpeted what was in Article 24 about leaving out of the cities. There's -- as I said, there's 30 articles in the agreement. They could have also talked about Article 4, that said that some Americans would be asked to stay to help out. For a lot of reasons, that just got lost. And again, 15-page, single-spaced type in English and Arabic, you could expect some confusion.

Most military operations I've been in I've got a degree of friction. And this one has had some for sure. I think each day that goes by we get a little bit better at working together. The great thing that we really had helping us is we've been under this system essentially since 1 January. So although there were some hiccups right at the beginning, some Iraqi guys saying hey, why are you Americans in the city; you know, we heard an announcement you were all leaving. What are you doing here?

Other cases, where Iraqis came to us and said hey, we need you to do this combat operation, we had to tell them hey, no, you know, we're in a supporting role now. If you lead, we can help you with these things and not those things.

And it took a while. And it's been my experience whenever you're turning a big operation like MND Baghdad or the Baghdad ops command on the Iraqi side, there's always going to be some frictions and hiccups.

One thing I would like to point out, though, is that -- and this has pretty well been seen -- there's not been a lot of confrontation or pushing or shoving or any silly stuff in Baghdad. There's certainly been some scenes where an American or an Iraqi commander, you know, have to come out of their vehicles and walk up and figure out what's going on and all that. But you know, heck, we had that at earlier parts of the war as well, and a lot of that's a function of not speaking the same language and all that.

The one great thing I can state is, from General Abboud Qanbar all the way down to our Iraqi privates and our privates, they definitely know that partnership's the name of the game, especially in the city...

So I think in a lot of ways, it's actually built on what we've done up until now. It's built on years of work. And despite those initial frustrations, I think, it seems to be going pretty well.

The other thing I'd point out, which is equally important, is that the security situation in Baghdad also remains pretty stable. Some people were worried that if we pulled our major combat forces out, we might have a big upspike in violence.....

Of course Gen. Bolger does not directly answer the question. I would imagine that Secretary Gates had a talk with him after the Post story got out.

There is much more of interest in the briefing, particularly some discussion on the Sons of Iraq (SOI) They're former insurgents (mostly Sunni, but some Shia) and some criminals. who were brought into the government as a sort of super-neighborhood-watch/quasi-military-police force. We paid them initially but now the government of Iraq has to pick up the tag. Now that the insurgency is mostly over we're trying to transition them into civilian jobs. As with everything in warfare, everything is simple but the simplest thing is difficult. Some of the SOI are going back to their criminal ways.

So now the big question is whether the Iraqis can do the job without us. The 1st Cav is about to end their current deployment with another job well done. The key now is for the Iraqis do do their jobs well.


Briefing by Colonel Joseph Martin and Mr. John Bennett. Col Martin commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Multinational Division-Baghdad.

Iraq Briefing - 23 February 2009 - Still A Third World Country

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 17, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 14 July 2009 - Turning More Bases Over to the Iraqis

This briefing is by Col. Butch Kievenaar, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Warhorse Brigade. He spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base (War) Eagle with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The Warhorse Brigade is part of Multinational Division-South, which is under the command of the 34th Infantry Division from Rosemount, Minnesota. They are based at Basra Airbase; and operate in Basra province. The brigade is from Fort Carson, Colorado ,and is due to redeploy home next month, having completed a 12-month deployment.

MND-South is also known as the Red Bull Division. Their mission is to "assist Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah."

If I have it right, Col Kievenaar reports to Major General Richard Nash, commanding general of the 34th Infantry Division. Nash, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 of last year replaced Gen. David Petraeus. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. A complete order of battle can be found at the Institute for Understanding War.

This and other videos can be seen at DODClips. The Pentagon Channel has more news and video about our armed forces. The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Below the Fold - Col. Kievenaar's briefing coupled with maps showing pre-surge, surge, and post-surge deployment of U.S. combat troops in Iraq. See how we are reducing our footprint as we hand over bases to the Iraqis.

COL. KIEVENAAR: Good morning. My name is Butch Kievanaar -- (audio break) -- talk to you today about the operations over the last year in the southern provinces of Iraq.

Our brigade and battalions have moved multiple times over the last year, based off the fast and ever-changing security environment here in Iraq. (Audio break) -- provinces of Qadisiyah, otherwise known as Diwaniyah, Najaf and southern Babil, while providing a combat arms battalion to Multinational Division North in Kirkuk, eventually moving to Mosul, and a battalion in Wasit that eventually moved to Babil.

As background, the Brigade arrived in Iraq in September of 2008 where we replaced a Polish contingent in what was formerly known as Multinational Division Center South.

With our assumption -- (audio break) -- transition to the control of the Multinational Division Center, which was under the command of the 10th Mountain Division.

In April of 2009 we moved a portion of the Brigade to Basra and assumed responsibility for the province from the 20th U.K. Brigade on the 1st of May.

During this transition, Multinational Division Center became Multinational Division South, and the 10th Mountain transferred authority to the 34th Infantry Division.

Next month we're scheduled to redeploy back to Fort Carson, Colorado, having completed a 12-month deployment.

I'd like to take a moment to tell you about the Brigade. The Warhorse Brigade is about 4,000 soldiers strong. It comprises two combined arms battalions, a cavalry squadron, one field artillery battalion, a special troops battalion, and a brigade support battalion.

So as you can see the situation in Iraq is fluid. Now that we have beaten back the insurgency (hopefully permanently), we are reducing our footprint. Unlike Afghanistan, the Iraqi insurgency was mostly in urban areas. As part of the surge we moved our troops out of their large bases and onto smaller bases that were among the population they were to protect. Part of what is going on now is a process of U.S. forces moving out of these urban areas and handing the bases over to the Iraqis.

Because we are reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq we are also reorganizing their corps structure. Following is a high-level overview.

From the Multi-National Force-Iraq website, the current organization structure for logistic and combat units is:

Joint Base Balad Joint Base Balad is home to the headquarters of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and what was formerly Logistics Support Area Anaconda, the largest Army supply center in Iraq. The U.S. Army's 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command is responsible for providing logistics support throughout theater. Balad is located approximately 40 miles north of Baghdad.

Multi-National Corps - Iraq
This is the Tactical Unit responsible for command and control of Operations in Iraq. Currently MNC-I is headquartered by I Corps, forward deployed to Camp Victory, Baghdad. The following units report to MNC-Iraq:

Iraq is divided into four major areas of responsibility maintained by forces from four countries. Below are the units that cover these areas. When available a link has been provided to the unit's homepage on the Internet.

* Multi-National Division - Baghdad
MND-Baghdad is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

* Multi-National Division - North
MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

* Multi-National Force - West
MNF-W is headquartered by the U.S. II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their area of operations include the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

* Multi-National Division - South
MND-S, also known as the Rud Bull Division, assists Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah. MND-S is headquartered by the 34th Infantry Division from Rosemount, Minnesota.

Prior to this reorganization the org chart went something like this:

* Multi-National Corps - Iraq
* Logistics Support Area Anaconda
* Multi-National Division - Baghdad
* Multi-National Division - North
* Multi-National Division Center
* Multi-National Force - West
* Multinational Division Central-South
* Multi-National Division (South-East)

MNF-Baghdad, North, and Center were each headquartered by a U.S. Army Division. MNF-West was headquartered by a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Central South and South-East by Polish and British troops respectively.

Each U.S. Army division consists of 3-4 brigades. Each MEF consists of 3-4 Regimental Combat Teams. Divisions and MEF are commanded by major generals, and the brigades and regimental combat teams by colonels. Each brigade consists of 3-7 battalions, which are commanded by a lieutenant colonel. A brigade may consist of 3-5,000 troops, a battalion maybe 1,200. Anyone correct me if I am wrong, however.

Here's a map showing 2004 deployments, just so you get some idea of where these MND structures were:

Iraq Org 2004

Next some maps from the New York Times showing deployments around the country, pre-surge, surge, and post-surge.

Iraq Battalions Jan 2007

Before the Surge - After months of escalating sectarian violence, President Bush announces a plan to add more than 20,000 soldiers and Marines to the United States military presence in Iraq. Insurgents are using the rural belt around Baghdad to stage attacks, but there are not enough American forces to fight them outside the city.

Iraq battalions Jan 2007

Iraq Battalions Sept 2007

At the Height Of the Surge - The last of the surge forces arrive in June. In August and September, American forces clear much of the insurgent activity out of the rural belt around Baghdad. With violence coming under control, American troops establish numerous outposts throughout the city, from which they make daily patrols.

Iraq battalions Sept 2007

Iraq Battalions Oct 2008

A Year Later - The last of the surge units leave Iraq in the summer of 2008. American forces have already started pulling out of cities around the country, particularly in Anbar Province, where troop levels are drastically reduced. There is still active fighting in Mosul, Baghdad and Diyala Province.

Iraq battalions Oct 2008

Iraq Battalions June 2009

The Withdrawal and Changing Roles - Battalions that were living in outposts among the population move to bases at the outskirts of neighborhoods. In Baghdad and other cities, American troops are switching to an advisory role, supporting Iraqi units as requested, following the process started in Anbar Province.

Iraq battalions June 2009

Back to Col Kievenaar's opening remarks:

COL. KIEVENAAR: June 30th marked a significant milestone for the citizens of Basra as the Iraqi Security Forces assumed responsibility for their city.

We have turned over a total of four patrol bases since our arrival to Basra. All four of those bases were handed back over to the Iraqi Security Forces. We are scheduled to close two more bases before we redeploy.

We have also significantly reduced the number of our soldiers inside the city of Basra. Upon my arrival, the Brigade had over 500 soldiers inside the city, and we now have less that 200 soldiers operating inside the city.These soldiers remain at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces and the provincial government to continue our partnership and training from these combined command and control centers.

These locations are predominantly with the Iraqi Army, and I want to emphasize we are only in the remaining locations because we've been asked to stay there, and are there to coordinate, conduct joint command and control training, and provide enablers to the Iraqi Security Forces.All vehicle movements and training events are coordinated daily with the Basra Operations Center, and our daytime vehicle movements inside the city are supported with the Iraqi Security Force escorts.

While my Brigade's primary focus is to train and enable the Iraqi Security Forces, we're also heavily involved in assisting the government by improving essential services for the citizens of Basra.

I don't have a whole lot of commentary this time, mostly because I've said it all before so many times and interested parties can go to the Iraq sections of "Categories" at right.

The key question, of course, is whether the Iraqis can hold on to their republic. In November of 2006 Washington Post columnist said Charles Krauthammer said, "We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it". That was pre-surge. If current trends hold, this time they will be able to keep it.

On to the Q & A. We'll only cover one exchange:

Q My name's David Morgan. I'm with Reuters.

Can you give us your assessment of the threat that Shi'ite militias potentially pose in Basra, and if they are mainly extorting money, does that suggest that Iran's influence has diminished?

COL. KIEVENAAR: Okay. Well, the answer to the first question is because I haven't seen them pursue a real militia agenda, I don't see a significant threat that they pose at this point.And I do not see anything in the foreseeable future that cannot be handled by the Iraqi Security Forces in Basra province.

In terms of whether or not they are receiving support from Iran, there are certain groups that still receive support. But by and large, most of the individuals that we see or deal with on a daily basis are no longer receiving that kind of -- the same support that they were receiving before from Iran.

They're not receiving the money, so they can't pay the people that used to work as part of their groups. They're not able to, as freely as they were before, able to get the resources with which to then be able to attack either the Security Forces or us.

And so the -- what we see now is more legacy-type of ammunition than we used to see before.

But there are things like Kataeb Hezbollah who still receive funding and resources from Iran, and those are the cells that we get most concerned about when you start talking about EFPs and IRAM-type capabilities that you've seen sporadically through the south here over the last two or three months.

In case anyone is wondring, Steve Schippert has demonstrated that these Iranian manufactured Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) are responsible for ten percent of our combat fatalities, and is responsible for many more U.S. casualties beyond that one device.

If President Obama meets with Ahmadinejad, as he seems so determined to do, he will hopefully put this on his agenda, but I'm not holding my breath.

Previous Briefing by Col. Kievenaar
Iraq Briefing - 05 January 2009 - Trying to Ensure Peaceful Transitions of Power

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 1, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 30 June 2009 - An Historic Day for Iraq

This briefing is by General Ray Odierno, Commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, who spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

This briefing is notable mostly because yesterday we handed off security to the government of Iraq for cities across the country. This is a milestone, and Iraqis and Americans should be proud of the accomplishments of our two nations that brought us to this point.

Odierno assumed command of MNF-Iraq on September 16th, 2008, succeeding General David Petraus.

As a Lieutenant General Odierno had previously been commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, a job he held from May 2006 to July 2008. The job of corps commander is to run the war on a day to day basis. He implements the MNF-Iraq commander's vision. Below the Corps commander are the divisional commanders (two-star, or Major General), each of which headquarters a region of Iraq (see org chart)

Called "The Patton of Counterinsurgency" by people who know what they're talking about, next to Petraeus Odierno is the person most responsible for the success of the surge in 2007-08.

This and other briefings can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has briefings, news stories, as well as 24x7 steaming video, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Unfortunately this interview is somewhat marred by a dopey reporter from NPR who acted quite inappropriately during the briefing. I've watched dozens of briefings over the past two and a half years, and by far most of the reporters act professionally, so this was an aberration.

Even so, this briefing is particularly informative, so be sure to watch the video and read the transcript.

From Gen. Odierno's opening remarks:

GEN. ODIERNO: ....As Bryan just said, today is a very important day for MNF-I, as we continue to move towards our objective of a sovereign, secure, stable and self-reliant Iraq. 30 June, 2009, also marks a significant milestone for Iraq, as the Iraqi security forces assume responsibility for security within the cities across the country. It is a day when Iraqis celebrate as they continue to move towards exercising their full sovereignty.

In accordance with the security agreement between the United States and Iraq, U.S. combat forces have completed the withdrawal out of Iraqi cities. A small number of U.S. forces will remain in cities to train, advise, coordinate with Iraqi security forces, as well as enable them to move forward. We will also support civil capacity efforts led by the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad; the government of Iraq; and the United Nations Assistance Mission here in Iraq.

Outside the cities, U.S. forces will continue to conduct full- spectrum and stability operations by, with and through our Iraqi security force partners.

Our combined efforts will establish a layer of defense as Iraqis secure the cities. Our combat forces, partnering with the Iraqi security forces, will secure the belts and borders in an attempt to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries and to limit freedom of movement of insurgents and prevent the facilitation of foreign fighters through the borders....

In order to obtain legitimacy among the people the indigenous government must be in control of its own security, or at least the majority of it. From General Petraeus 2006 U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

6-6 U.S. and multinational forces may need to help the host nation improve security; however, insurgents can use the presence of foreign forces as a reason to question the HN government's legitimacy. A government reliant on foreign forces for internal security risks not being recognized as legitimate. While combat operations with significant U.S. and multinational participation may be necessary, U.S. combat operations are secondary to enabling the host nation's ability to provide for it's own security.

As corps commander Odierno was primarily responsible for implementing the principles espoused in FM 3-24, and as commander of MNF-Iraq he is still doing so today.

On to the Q & A

Q Whatever the number ism (of U.S. troops remaining in the cities), how are you going to convince them basically, the U.S. forces remaining, not to jump in and be helpful, where perhaps you would prefer that the Iraqis take the lead?

What will be different about what they're told to do, in a situation where they might think, their first instinct is, gosh, we can do that better.

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again this is -- I call it -- we are working on changing our mindsets in the city. And I equate it to when we first started the surge, where we had to change our mindset.

So pushing our soldiers back out, getting back into the communities, really partnering with the Iraqi security forces and today, it's the same kind of thing. We have to change our mindset.

Again we go to FM 3-24 to see where this comes from:

1-154 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support....

Next we have a serious challenge from an NPR reporter who insinuates that the military is engaged in a game of smoke and mirrors.

Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR.

I mean, you're reluctant to talk about how many trainers and mentors are in the cities. And it raises a question about whether or not this is just a show or not whether, you know, this is just semantics.

There are essentially U.S. soldiers with guns in the cities. You can call them trainers or mentors. But how different is it from what we saw maybe two-three weeks ago? And if you have U.S. soldiers just outside the cities, I mean, what is this?

Is this just a show for the American people?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I would say, you probably didn't listen to what I just said. Because what I just said was, having battalions and brigades inside a city is significantly different than having trainers, advisers and MiTT teams. And I said, we'll be operating in the belts around Baghdad.

I've been very clear about this, just like we did in the surge. We had -- the reason we had to surge forces is, we had to get people in the cities. And then we had to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries in the belts around Baghdad.

It's the same thing, except the Iraqis will take responsibility for security in the cities. We will continue to do full-spectrum operations, outside of the cities, to work the safe havens and sanctuaries around the cities. And we will continue to do that. And it's legitimate, legitimate operations that we'll continue to conduct outside of the cities.

If you're here in Baghdad, you would know. There is a significant change inside of the cities.

You might think this would end it, but Bowman doesn't learn his lesson. He then goes on to insist that Gen. Odierno give him a number of American troops that will remain in the cities. "if you're going to be so transparent, why can't you tell us how many trainers and mentors are in the cities?" he demands.

Odierno had explained to Andrew Gray from Reuters just a few minutes earlier that the number varies day to day depending on the mission, so that any number he gave today would be inaccurate tomorrow. Our military leaders have learned that once they give a number, even a "ballpark," smartypants reporters will then seek to call them liars if what they find out varies even a little bit.

Watch the video, especially from 8:55 to 9:50, where Odierno just about loses his patience with the incessantly idiotic questions from Bowman. Odierno clearly does not suffer fools gladly.

What's sad is that the vast majority of the time the reporters ask intelligent questions and we do not see sparks fly on either side. I've watched and blogged on dozens of briefings since early 2007. The vast majority are professionals who have done their homework and don't badger the briefers. Bowman has done his profession a disservice with his egregious behavior.

Q General, hi.. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg; have a couple of questions. One, what metrics should the American people -- American public use in July, August and September, as they view events in Iraq, to determine whether in fact the withdrawal was a prudent move? ...

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I would say a couple of things. First, the metrics I look at are -- it really is looking at overall stability inside of Iraq, and that's a combination of several things. That's a combination of number of incidents that occur; that's a combination of high-profile attacks that occur; that's a combination of some political progress; it's the ability of the Iraqi security forces to continue to improve and take on responsibilities. It's all of those things that we'll look at to do our assessments.

I will tell you that incidents in May -- May was the lowest month of incidents on record here in Iraq. June is going along similar lines of May. The problem with June is, is over the last 10 days we've had a couple of high-profile attacks, so that changes it a little bit. But if you compare it back to the dark days of 2006 and '7, there's no comparison. There is not widespread violence here in Iraq. There are points of high-profile attacks. The unfortunate part about that is it takes -- it has inflicted some high casualties on the civilian population here. So we have some more hard work to do to ensure that -- to make it much more difficult, and protect the people of Iraq.

Like everyone else I am worried about what will happen when we pull back our forces. I see articles warning darkly of backsliding. I'm, paying attention, but there's no reason to become alarmed at this point. As Odierno explains, although there have been a few high profile (or "spectacular attacks" as some briefers call them) overall violence is low.

Next, in response to a good question from Jim Miklaszewski of NBC, Odierno addresses this concern more specifically; whether Iraq will backslide into sectarian violence as U.S. forces withdraw:

Q General, Jim Miklaszewski, NBC. One of the missions of the U..S. military over the past six years has really been to tamp down the kind of sectarian rivalries that existed there in Iraq. How convinced are you that the military -- the security forces have advanced to a professional level, a disciplined level, where those old rivalries that have pretty much dominated the way security forces had performed for decades -- how convinced are you that those won't rise up again and create the kind of retribution we had seen that security forces had meted out in Iraq previously?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, Jim, that's a great question, frankly. And I would just tell that we have seen -- again, the competence of the Iraqi security forces has grown tremendously since, again, what I would call the dark days of 2006. And what we've seen is, we've seen the Iraqi army grow professionally. We've seen them conduct operations across the country in a nonsectarian way.

And frankly, the biggest improvement of any force here in the last two years has been in the National Police. The National Police has brought in new leadership. They have gone through a significant amount of training. They are seen as a legitimate, credible force that conducts nonsectarian operations around Iraq. So I feel fairly confident in that.

The local police is the one we probably worry about the most. And that's why we haven't turned over security yet to the local police. They are the ones who might be influenced locally, politically and other things, although they've made great progress as well, but not quite as much. So I believe what I've seen is the professionalism of the National Police. The professionalism of the Iraqi army is significantly better than it was two-and-a-half years ago.

I would be -- I would be unfaithful to you if I told you I think it's a hundred percent across the force. It might not be. But I think the large majority of the force has really moved forward. And I believe that them causing sectarian problems is much -- the chance of that is much less today than it ever has been before.

Q (Jim Miklaszewski) (Off Mike) -- consider that a -- potentially a bigger threat than outside influences like al Qaeda, for example?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, what I worry about is -- it's really -- it's the political drivers of instability, is what I call it. It is the Arab-Kurd political issues that might rise to tensions. It is intra- Shi'a political issues that could rise to tensions. It is intra-Sunni political issues that could cause some tensions. So it's those political issues that we've watched very carefully.

And, of course, again, what I've said earlier is we hope that they will resolve those through diplomatic means, discussions, et cetera, and not go to violence. And that's what they have been doing for the large -- for the most part. And so there's no reason for me to think that won't continue.

But we watch it very closely. And those -- we watch for those indicators. One of the things we watch very carefully is the return -- is a return to any type of sectarian activity. We'll watch if there -- we see an increase in sectarian activity. We'll watch if we see those indicators of insurgent groups returning at a higher level.

I have a lot of confidence that Odierno and his team know what they are doing. This is based on my watching him from late 2006 on, and seeing his accomplishments. Petraeus and Odierno got the job done under the toughest of conditions. I have somewhat less confidence in the Iraqis, but a lot more than the liberal naysayers, who seem to hold all Iraqi leaders, civilian and military, in contempt. My assessment is that things will get rough but the Iraqis will prevail.

Finally, Odierno offers his assessment of where Iraq has been and where it is going.

Q General, Andrew Gray from Reuters again. I -- just wondering if you could tell us something of your personal feelings today, your -- obviously this is your third stint; you were division commander, 4th ID, for the first phase of this, then back as a corps commander, and now as the top commander. As you watched developments today, saw the ceremonies, the celebrations -- and in recent days -- what have been your feelings? What's been your overall sense? What's been dominating your thoughts?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. I would thank you for the question, actually. I would say that, you know, I really look back to 2006 when I first got here as the corps commander when the violence - the sectarian violence and the other violence were so high that it was hard to see a way out.

But, today was just another sign that I have a lot of hope that Iraq is going to be able to move forward as a secure, stable, sovereign Iraq that could be a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East who has a democratic government.

And today gives me more hope towards that, as I see them take on a little more responsibility, but, more importantly, want to take on that responsibility. The Iraqi people want their forces to take that on. They want to see us move out of the cities; they want to see us move in the background.

They're not ready for us to go yet, but they are ready for us to allow them to attempt to exercise their security responsibilities. And to me, that's very encouraging.

And frankly, the last six months have gone a bit better than I expected. I thought the first six months of implementing the security agreement would be very, very difficult, but it hasn't. And we've worked together to continue to move forward under the terms of the security agreement, and that's what gives me hope and belief that we can do this now beyond -- now that we've moved out of the cities...

We continue to have the best soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines in the world. Their sacrifice is incredible. The sacrifices of our families are incredible. And as we move into the 4th of July, I'd just ask each and every one of you, as you celebrate the 4th of July, that you just remember all of our soldiers who are deployed, around the world, both here and in Afghanistan, and remember their sacrifices and their families' sacrifices.

Indeed I will.

Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 08 June 2009 - The Watchword is "Sustainability"

This briefing is by Major General James Milano. He is the deputy commanding general, director of the Interior Multinational Security and Transition Command-Iraq. From the MNF-Iraq website, "MNSTC-I (min-sticky) is responsible for organizing, training, equipping and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces throughout the country."

"General Milano assumed his current duties in Iraq in July of 2008." Gen. Milano spoke via satellite from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

Gen. Milano reports to Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, commander of MNSTC-I . I am not certain if Helmick reports directly to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq or an intermediary. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Although there is much of interest in this briefing, we'll look at the issue of sustainability, since for Iraq to succeed it is vital that the Iraqis be able to pick up where we left off.

One of the most important ways we can see what is happening in Iraq is to simply watch for what issues the journalists concentrate on. If they don't ask about something, it's probably not something to worry about. If they do, then you can be sure their prior investigation tells them that it's still a problem.

From Gen. Milano's opening remarks:

GEN. MILANO: ... According to ABC/BBC poll results released in March, 74 percent of Iraqis say they have confidence in the police, up from 64 percent in 2007 and only 46 percent in 2003. An impressive 85 percent now view their local security situation as good or very good, nearly double the rate from two years ago.

The ABC story on the poll is here, and the BBC story here. Read both stories, but the opening to the ABC story tells the tale:

Dramatic advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq, with declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services lifting optimism, fueling confidence in public institutions and bolstering support for democracy.

On to the Q & A.

As mentioned, we'll concentrate on sustainability, as it goes to the question of the future of Iraq, and whether the Iraqis will be able to maintain what we have given them:

Q Hi, sir. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction, over the last several years, has warned of a sustainment gap, as he called it, where United States tax dollars that paid for reconstruction projects, projects turned over to the Iraqis, and the ministry of interior and other ministries failed to sustain or put enough money into the projects to keep them going.

He's raised this question a number of times. Do you see that as a problem, from where you sit? I mean, are the Iraqis taking over U.S.-built projects and putting the requisite maintenance dollars and money to keep them operating?

GEN. MILANO: I think by and large, in the ministry of interior, the projects that I've seen that, you know, we've built for them and handed over to them are being maintained, some better than others.

But you know, this is part of an overall, comprehensive logistics and maintenance program that we're helping them build capacity toward: supply-chain management, repair-parts management, facilities maintenance.

They do dedicate portions of their budget towards facilities maintenance. But in some areas, I think, they could do that better. But by and large, the projects that I've seen, that we've provided them, are being adequately maintained.

Q Are those SOIs being paid now? Because there's been some concerns, as I'm sure you know, over the last few months that some of these people who have been manning checkpoints and elsewhere have not been paid, going back months or even years.

GEN. MILANO: The SOI are being paid. We did have a few glitches in the payment mechanism back in March, but those have been ironed out. So the SOIs are being paid by the government of Iraq.

Q Hey, General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes again. Going back to 2005, I remember MNSTC-I talking about the ISF having problems with logistics. Why does this continue to be a problem?

GEN. MILANO: Well, logistics is a big challenge, and part of that is exacerbated by their lack of automation, their lack of information technology. It's still very much a papers-based process with multiple signatures and stamps required on pieces of paper to get things moving.

But they are making progress. They're increasing their warehousing capability and management of warehouses. They're getting better accountability on the equipment that we've provided them and that they've bought. So I'm confident that we're making progress in the area of logistics, but I think that's their most pressing need right now, is a comprehensive logistics and maintenance system, understanding the importance of preventive maintenance programs and scheduled services.

So it is a major area, and part of the complexity or challenge in this area, I should say, is the complexity and the diverse nature of the Ministry of Interior. Not only do we have Iraqi police services, we have national police, we have border police, we have oil police. We will soon have electricities police. Facilities Protection Service. Again, 560,000 employees in the Ministry of Interior -- a very widely deployed, disparate force that, quite frankly, there is no one-size-fits-all logistics solution for.

So we're helping them work through that, and we are making progress. But it's going to take a little more time.

The issue of logistics has been a subject of many past briefings. Reporters have pressed military briefers on this, telling me that it is an ongoing issue.

That said, let's not make too much of it. One, I've noticed a clear trend over the past two years in which the situation has gotten better. Two, these are problems endemic to third-world nations. Third, the reporters do not ask about violence or the insurgency, which are clearly the problems we fear most. Gen Milano puts it all into perspective in his closing statement

GEN. MILANO: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. You can see there's a lot of work left to be completed. My advisers and I are fully committed to continuing to build police capacity and a capable Ministry of Interior.

Candidly, the low-hanging fruit's been picked, and we're now reaching for the shiny apples near the top of the tree. Producing a policeman or woman is easy when you compare that to the more challenging efforts, for example, of developing an evidentiary based criminal-justice system, of helping the ministry develop merit-based promotion systems and professional development programs and of developing an understanding of the benefits of a preventive maintenance program.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments have advanced to a new stage of enduring cooperation and partnership, and we remain committed to providing continued support. The security agreement and the strategic framework agreement are the centerpieces of our enduring partnership.

Finally, we're all extremely proud to be serving in these historic times. Your soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians are doing a terrific job.

Again, thank you for allowing me to be with you today.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 23, 2009

Iraq Briefing - May 12, 2009 - Kirkuk Still Under Dispute

This briefing is by Colonel Ryan Gonsalves, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division. Multinational Division-North. Col Gonsalves spoke via satellite from Kirkuk with Kimberly Kagan. Dr. Kagan is founder and President of the Institute for the Study of War.

MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-North is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team is also known as the Blackjack Brigade, is based at FOB Warrior, Kirkuk, and is responsible for the Tamim province.. A complete Iraq order of battle is at the ISW website.

Col. Gonsalves reports to Major General Robert L. Caslen Jr, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division. Caslin, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 of last year replaced Gen. David Petraeus. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Here is part 1. Follow the link here. for the transcript and other 3 parts

The most important thing to note in this briefing is that we are still fighting for control of Kirkuk. Kirkuk is in the north of Iraq, about a third of the way from Mosul to Baghdad. Insurgents have mostly been cleared from the rest of Iraq, and only remain as a force in the north. See Iraq Briefing - 14 April 09 - Mini-Surge in Mosul for more information about operations in MND-North.

From the colonel's opening statement:

GONSALVES: ...Blackjack is currently integrated as part of the security framework in Kirkuk, a disputed area in Northern Iraq. Since arriving, Blackjack was directed to enhance Kurdish‑Arab relations and to disrupt insurgent activities in Kirkuk. Our challenge during the integration was fully understanding the nature of Kurd‑Arab tension and promptly defining the operating environment, so that we could ensure that we were able to contribute to security in the area in a meaningful way with our Iraqi partners.

We have identified thirteen drivers of instability in Kirkuk, and we have worked through the mitigators for each, which have translated into enduring framework tasks for units throughout our area.

Col Gonsalves then breaks down the "drivers of instability" as follows:

1. a disputed status of Kirkuk and the KRG boundary,
2. a perceived lack of legitimate representative governance,
3. security forces,
4. insurgents,
5. oil,
6. drought,
7. SOI transition, (Sons of Iraq, originally called Concerned Local Citizens)
8. delivery of public services,
9. land‑property disputes,
10. the return and absorption of displaced people and unemployment

Maybe I'm not quite counting as he is or I missed something but that's what I got from the text. He continues

GONSALVES: Key enduring tasks for Blackjack include protecting the people, enabling the political process to move forward, enabling communication, building trust within all communities, maintaining neutrality, reporting to our higher headquarters, liaisoning with the Peshmerga and connecting security forces throughout Kirkuk.

Protecting the people so that the political process can move forward is the entire key to counterinsurgency, as spelled out by Gen Petraeus in his 2006 U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. FM 3-24 provided the theoretical basis for the strategy change in what is popularly called the "surge."

It is important to note that security must come first, and only then is political progress possible. It won't work the other way around.

KAGAN: Thank you so much, Colonel Gonsalves, and thank you very much for describing the work that the brigade is doing.

I would like to go back to these drivers of instability that you mentioned and ask you, on the ground in Kirkuk and in neighboring areas, what kind of tension do you see between the Arab and Kurdish population, and how does it manifest itself on the ground?

GONSALVES: Well, for example, in Kirkuk City, the Kurds, the Arabs, the Turkmen, Christians, they all have been working together for a number of years, and they feel very comfortable with them solving their problems at the lowest level.

What we saw when we first got here was a very structured Provincial Council that has been together since 2003, with some minor changes. So they feel that, politically, they can solve their problems.

What they see is suggestions or implementation of programs from the Central Government that disrupt their ability to govern themselves. So, for example, we have had a security group formed from Baghdad to look at how they are going to infuse additional security forces in here, what changes do they need to make, and it has upset a lot of the people. Now what we see is Arabs supporting this working group in order to probably, possibly bring in more Iraqi Army and issue an operations command here, move some of the Peshmerga out, put in some national police. So that those are the things that we see that would drive a wedge or some instability between the Kurds and Arabs.

The locals want more autonomy than the central government is willing to allow. Without more details it's impossible to know who is in the right, but obviously it is something that needs to be cleared up.

Continuing on to the makeup of the enemy insurgents that are still in Kirkuk:

KAGAN: You spoke about enemy groups coming into the area. Can you tell me what enemy groups you are actually encountering? Let's begin with that one.

GONSALVES: Well, right now, obviously, the AQI influence is still here, and that's what we think are the results of the VBIEDs that we saw and the first two round of attacks in March and April, and then the one that happened last night and today, we believe are AQI.

But also, we have a second set here, and that is the JRTN, and we talked about this a couple of months ago, the Naqshbandi. Some of the extremists are funded through Syria, through al‑Duri and his network, some of the former Baathists. We see, you know, anywhere from two to 400 of those elements here within the province, and we are seeing attacks from those individuals.

Now, we are collecting on those cells and acting on those cells and capturing some of those elements, but it takes a while to get into those cell networks and neutralize those cell networks.

So those are the two primary elements that we see here in Kirkuk.

Many Americans correctly worry that for all that we have done to build up the new Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, they are too dependent on us. This is to some extent correct, but in briefing after briefing I have seen commanders stress that it is the Iraqis who are taking the lead in operations, with American forces there only as backup and to provide advice.

KAGAN: Can you tell me what ‑‑ we wonder if you've conducted some operations with your Iraqi Security Force partners against these enemy groups, and if so, could you describe a couple of them for us? For example, we are sort of checking on some operations that were ongoing last month.

GONSALVES: Yes. And obviously, the ISF, both the IP and IA are always in the lead. They are warranted operations, and the majority of the time, we are providing the enablers, the air weapons team or the scout weapons team, ISR assets, medivac, the outer cordon or the Quick Reaction Force (QRF). Those are the types of things that we are supplying them with.

For many of the Iraqi Police, they do the operations pretty much solely on their own, and same thing for the Iraqi Army. Now, obviously, some brigades are more capable than others, and we are working with those to build those capacities and capabilities of those forces up, but we have done ‑‑ like I told you before, we have captured fourteen HVIs (High Value Individuals). Many of those have been done by the Iraqis by themselves, and obviously, with the capabilities that we have, we can locate targets, help them locate those targets.

There is much more, and you'll want to watch the videos and read the transcript to get a full understanding of the situation in Kirkuk.

It is disturbing that we are still having trouble in Kirkuk and Mosul, but the casualty count and level of violence is nowhere near 2006 levels. I haven't seen articles indicating that the situation is getting out of control, and in press briefings the reporters don't seem overly concerned either. I'll keep an eye on the situation and report as necessary.

My overall assessment is that Iraq is a country with huge problems, but one that has progressed tremendously in the space of just a few years. The insurgency remains in the north, but seems to be under control. Whether the Iraqi security forces can keep things under control when we completely withdraw is anyone's guess, but I am optimistic that they can. There will continue to be the occasional "spectacular attack," but we have to put them in the context of the overall trend in violence. Just as important is political, economic, and social progress. The Iraqis are headed in the right direction, but have aways to go. But so far so good.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 12, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 08 May 09 - General Ray Odierno Reports

Last Friday the commanding general of Multi-National Force-Iraq himself, General Ray Odierno spoke with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq. Odierno was in Washington and as one may suspect the briefing room was packed with journalists from U.S. and foreign news organizations. Odierno gave a 5 minute opening statement, and then answered questions for over 40 minutes.

Odierno assumed command of MNF-Iraq on September 16th, 2008, succeeding General David Petraus.

As a Lieutenant General Odierno had previously been commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, a job he held from May 2006 to July 2008. The job of corps commander is to run the war on a day to day basis. He implements the MNF-Iraq commander's vision. Below the Corps commander are the divisional commanders (two-star, or Major General), each of which headquarters a region of Iraq (see org chart here)

Called "The Patton of Counterinsurgency" by people who know what they're talking about, next to Petraeus Odierno is the person most responsible for the success of the surge in 2007-08.

This and other briefings can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has briefings, news stories, as well as 24x7 steaming video, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Although Iraq is somewhat out of the news these days, it should still be very much in our minds. What happens there will affect the region, the general progress of the War on Jihadism (or whatever you want to call it), and our reputation in the world.

Recently there have been a spate of high-profile, or "spectacular attacks" by insurgents that have made the news. As Bill Roggio noted last month, "AQI is down but not out." Watch the video and read the transcript to see how this and other issues are addresed, but below the fold I'll review parts of the briefing.

From General Odierno's opening remarks:

GEN. ODIERNO: ...What I'd like to start out by talking about is, first, we continue to see overall levels of violence at or near the lowest levels since the summer of 2003 inside of Iraq. And overall, from an overall perspective, security in Iraq remains improved.

Obviously, over the last few weeks, the Iraqi people have seen high-profile attacks that remind all of us that the situation still is fragile in some areas. While the number of attacks is low, it's obvious that the terrorists are intent -- are conducting high-profile suicide attacks designed to garner attention and spark sectarian discord within Iraq.

But I would emphasize that this is not 2006 or 2007. We have yet to see sectarian retribution....

The al-Askari mosque, or "golden mosque," in Samarra, was bombed in February 2006 and again in June of 2007 by al Qaeda in Iraq. One of the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam, the second bombing ignited a wave of sectarian violence that turned into near-civil war and threatened to tear the country apart. This sectarian strife was precisely what AQI had wanted. They are obviously trying to do it again.

Although this is somewhat off topic, the insurgent groups in Afghanistan made a decision a year or so ago to switch from attacking coalition forces to directly attacking civilians. Most likely they are trying to emulate the success of AQI in 2006.

The SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) signed (I think) last November, provides for the government of Iraq to take over more of the security, and among other things for U.S. forces to leave the cities. Odierno addresses it:

GEN. ODIERNO: As you know, President Obama announced that, at the end of August in 2010, we will end combat operations and change our mission to one of an advisory and training role. We will maintain a force of about 35(,000) to 50,000 to ensure that we can achieve our new missions while providing sufficient force protection and still target -- and still be able to conduct counterterrorism missions.

According to the security agreement, all U.S. forces will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but this doesn't mean that our relationship with Iraq will end. I remind everyone that we signed two agreements back in December. The second was the Strategic Framework Agreement, which is designed to ensure cooperation in many areas between the United States and the government of Iraq -- areas such as medical, cultural, scientific, economic and other endeavors that will strengthen the country and help our two countries enjoy a long, enduring friendship built on mutual respect as sovereign nations.

On to the Q & A. As it was a long briefing we'll only examine a few of the key exchanges. Unfortunately, unlike in most briefings, the journalists are not identified in the transcript, so you'll have to watch the video to find out who they are.

Q General, what's your current opinion of whether the Iraqi security forces are going to be up to the task of assuming responsibility for the cities on deadline? And do you think there's any chance at this point that this deadline will slip?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, well, frankly, we're basically out of all the cities except for two, Baghdad and Mosul. We are on our way out of Baghdad. We've been slowly turning that over to the Iraqi security forces now for about three months, and I think they've made some pretty good progress.

We still have a major operation going inside of Mosul with all forces assisting and helping out. We expect that to end here within about 30 to 45 days, and then there'll be a decision to be made. I think if you ask the prime minister today, I think he would say that we will be out of the cities by the end of the 30th of June, and it is his decision....

Later, when pressed for how many U.S. troops would remain behind as advisers in the cities after the June 30 deadline, Odierno would not provide a precise number, but said that it might be 20% of what we have there now. However, he stressed that it is all conditions based.

Q General, a follow-up, sir. I know it's hard -- maybe it's hard to answer this question. How do you see Iraq after -- after the U.S. force leave?

GEN. ODIERNO: In 2011?

Q Yeah. How do you see the future?

GEN. ODIERNO: I think -- listen, I can't look into a crystal ball, but there's a couple things I will just say we -- I would ask you to look towards. One is, obviously, the national elections coming up. And I think we had very successful provincial elections. And I would say they were successful because the people voted on issues, they didn't vote on -- based on sectarian issues. They didn't vote based on -- based on potential religious standing. They voted on the issues that affected them every day.

It's going to be interesting to see how the national elections go, either in December or January, coming up. And I think how that goes, how the Iraqi people react to that, what the new government looks like, how does the government transition in the beginning of 2010 will have a lot to say with how the Iraqi government continues to improve and move forward, which prepares them for 2011.

So in my mind, it's much too early to be talking about. I think we're on the right path. I think we're on the right path that in -- at the end of 2011, the government of Iraq will be able to hold its own, will be able to stand up in the regional community, international community, as I look at it today.

If you ask me that a year from now, I might have a different opinion, but I think we're on track for that right now.

This next exchange goes to the issue of sectarian violence and private militia groups. As indicated above, this is the single biggest danger to stability in Iraq. As many have noted, loyalties in countries like Iraq are first clan, then tribe, then sect (Shia or Sunni), and finally country.

Q General, you mentioned before the cycle of sectarian violence. And I think that one kind of welcome development has been that Shi'ite groups thus far, despite the deaths of hundreds of civilians, have not yet responded. Are you seeing either a reemergence of traditional Shi'ite militias? Jaish al-Mahdi, Badr Brigades, are they reemerging? And if not, are you seeing any new groups that worry you that are sort of on the horizon that could be the source of reprisals?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- I think, again, in terms of reprisals, we have several indicators with that. And one of them is, in fact, the formation of militias. We have seen no formation of militias or any -- any movement to form militias, any talk of forming militias in order to go after sectarian violence. So that is a very positive sign.

I think part of that has to do with the basic improvement of governance at the provincial levels that -- based on the fact that we now have provincial governments that are very active, that help us with that problem, and as well as the national government, who's able to address some of these issues. I think that helps.

Now, that said, we watch it very closely because we know what we don't want is some event to cause all of a sudden a -- what I would call a snowball rolling down the hill that accumulates momentum and causes a significant amount of sectarian violence. But again, we don't see any signs of that right now, of all the indicators we look at.

This final exchange that we look at will be of special interest to bloggers and all of you who have Facebook pages (which I'm guessing is probably everyone who reads this).

It turns out that General Odierno has his own Facebook page, where you too can become a fan. I am. Turns out General David Petraeus has his own Facebook page too, and at this point I'm sure most of the other commanders do too (it always being smart to take a cue on this sort of thing from one's boss). Follow the links and become a fan!

Q Hopefully this won't come across like a totally frivolous question --


Q -- but I understand you have your own Facebook page now -- (laughter) -- and that you're somewhat of a fan of social networking in the military.

Q And just talk about that for a minute.

GEN. ODIERNO: ...First, I realized about, you know, six months ago, I didn't -- I didn't know what Facebook was. I mean, I know it's been in place for a while. My son was on -- my -- both of my sons were on Facebook. My daughter was on Facebook. They used to talk about it. They used to talk about -- so my thought was, this is where young people communicate. This is a place where young people get together, they pass information. So I thought -- and really thought maybe it would be a good idea if I tried to do this. And I do it for a number of reasons.

One is to try to put out some information that's not normally seen on the news or, you know -- and something to let them know, maybe, some personal things about me, what it's like to be in Iraq, what it's like to be the commander in Iraq. So that's kind of the intent....

I think it's important for us -- the one thing I've learned over the last six years is you have to understand this global media explosion that we're having in a variety of forms, and that we have to try to figure it out and how we play in that, because people are interested in what the military is doing, because we -- we do play an important role in our nation's security. We do play an important role in the world. And so that's part of the reason why I did it....

Q Well, can I just briefly follow up and ask you -- I mean, because you have so many -- tens of thousands of young people serving in Iraq, what's your view about operational security, about whether it's Facebook or blogging or Twittering, them amongst themselves, them with their friends back home, how do you control this sort of thing?

GEN. ODIERNO: Again -- yeah, well, we put out guidelines and guidance. I mean, and we have to trust, then, that they will abide by the guidelines and guidance. And, obviously, we can check on it.

But, listen, it's going to happen. And that's how they communicate today. So we've got to allow them to do that, but we have to put guidelines on what you can and what you can't talk about.

It always comes down to we just don't want them to put the force at risk. We don't want to put the mission at risk. And so we've tried to put guidelines out that talks about that.

So, you know, you don't talk about future operations, you don't kind of talk about things that might be sensitive, obviously classified things. But, you know, so -- and the soldiers get it for the most part. I mean, we have a few hits and misses once in a while, but they understand that. But you got to let them do it. I mean, that's the bottom line....

Posted by Tom at 9:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 6, 2009

Democracy v Authority in Nation Building

In the wake of Vietnam we forswore nationbuilding. Today we are heavily engaged in at least two such enterprises, Iraq and Afghanistan. Amazing how circumstances force such changes in policy.

But in a sense the West has been engaged in nationbuilding for decades, if not a century, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The Weimar Republic in Germany was a form of nationbuilding in that we pretty much forced democracy on that country in the wake of what was then called The Great War. In the 1950s and 60s, when ex-colonies were becoming nations, we insisted that they choose their government in democratic fashion. While some turned out to be one-man, one-vote, one-time, others, such as India, have turned into successful democratic states.

It is unclear whether our ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan will be successes or failures. What is clear is that it's not easy to create anything like what we would call a democracy in either. One of my pet theories is that we in the West are good at setting up votes, but not so good at instilling true liberty, or creating a pluralistic societies. Germany after World War II was a Western society, so at least had the benefit of having gone through the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Reformation. We pounded Japan so hard that although their society had not gone through these things it didn't really matter. But neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have the Western experience, and we pounded neither into the ground as we did Japan. Thus, perhaps, our difficulty.

It was Rich Lowry's post at NRO's The Corner which set me thinking on this today. He brings up how many conservatives, seeing the difficulty of the project in Iraq, have said "sure these societies are having trouble setting up governments, but so did the United States." This is a fascicle comparison, he says, because it ignores the cultural differences, and that "it's the absence of order and functioning institutions not democracy that is the fundamental problem in these societies."

He then quotes Samuel Huntington from his book Political Order in Changing Societies:

[A] reason for American indifference to political development was the absence in the American historical experience of the need to found a political order. Americans, de Tocqueville said, were born equal and hence never had to worry about creating equality; they enjoyed the fruits of a democratic revolution without having suffered one. So also, America was born with a government, with political institutions and practices imported from seventeenth-century England. Hence Americans never had to worry about creating a government. This gap in historical experience made them peculiarly blind to the problems of creating effective authority in modernizing countries.

When an American thinks about the problem of government-building, he directs himself not to the creation of authority and the accumulation of power but rather to the limitation of authority and the division of power. Asked to design a government, he comes up with a written constitution, bill of rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, regular elections, competitive parties--all excellent devices for limiting government. The Lockean American is so fundamentally anti-government that he identifies government with restrictions on government. Confronted with the need to design a political system which will maximize power and authority, he has no ready answer. His general formula is that governments should be based on free and fair elections.

In many modernizing societies this formula is irrelevant. Elections to be meaningful presuppose a certain level of political organization. The problem is not to hold elections but to create organizations. In many, if not most, modernizing countries elections serve only to enhance the power of disruptive and often reactionary social forces and to tear down the structure of public authority. "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men," Madison warned in The Federalist, No. 51, "the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." In many modernizing countries governments are still unable to perform the first function, much less the second. The primary problem is not liberty but the creation of a legitimate public order. Men may, of course, have order without liberty, but they cannot have liberty without order. Authority has to exist before it can be limited.

Indeed we take public order for granted in the West. We've had our riots, but nothing that came anywhere near doing anything more than keeping some people from going to work for a few days. The American Civil War happened so long ago it's ancient history for us (in the U.S. we slap a historical marker on a house that's 100 years old, something that must make Europeans smile). We entertain ourselves with an apocalyptic movie here and there, but the idea of it really happening... no, not to us.

And this of course is a good thing. When listing the virtues of the West, most of us put things like democracy, liberty, pluralism, freedom, capitalism, tolerance, that sort of thing. Few people would put "public order." Natan Sharansky failed to discuss the importance of keeping public order as a prerequisite to democracy in his much-discussed 2004 book The Case for Democracy

Fewer people, I think, miss the "(already) functioning institutions not democracy," that Lowry brings up. We know that we inherited our institutions from Britain, as our revolution was fundamentally different than the French or Russian Revolutions, which completely overthrew the old order and started anew. In this sense our revolution was Burkean in that it was "to preserve the rights of Englishmen." But I'm not here to argue history.

My point, and question, is how do we take these lessons and apply them to the future? As I've said ad nauseum here on this blog, we are where we are with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan, so I've little patience in refighting the battle of whether it was right to invade either. I'm all for learning lessons, don't get me wrong. For example, one of the biggest lessons of Iraq is that democracy is impossible unless public safety is first ensured.

More to it, what about other third world countries around the world? What will happen with North Korea implodes? Is there any hope in the near term for African or Arab countries? Pakistan may be on the verge of sliding into Taliban-style fundamentalism, so is there any hope for them as well? What about Iran if or when they can rid themselves of their crazy mullah rulers? We tend to think of how we can create democracy and liberty in these countries, but as we've learned just keeping order is a huge challenge. And as we learned with Afghanistan, ignoring a problem won't make it go away. We forgot about that country when the Soviets left and the resulting chaos led to the Taliban, their hosting of al Qaeda, and 9-11.

I don't know the answers, but it's certainly worth pondering, because whether we like it or not I believe the world is going to present us with more challenges sooner rather than later, regardless of who holds the presidency in the U.S.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 1, 2009

Afghanistan Insurgent Attacks Compared to Iraq

Via Kimberly Kagan's excellent Institute for the Study of War comes this from their latest newsletter:

Recently, news stories out of Afghanistan have focused heavily on the increase in violence there. As the U.S. sends more troops into the country to improve the security situation, the upward trend of violence is certainly concerning. However, it is helpful to put the violence into perspective. A new ISW Graph shows how violence levels in Afghanistan compare to violence levels in Iraq. The ISW Graph provides a startling sense of what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan.

And here is the graph:

Afghanistan v. Iraq Violence April 2009 II

I realize it's not completely clear, so follow the link to where you can download it from the Understanding War site directly.

Not to minimize the situation in Afghanistan, but it is useful to put it into perspective. Taking it a step further, via the CIA Factbook here are the population figures for the two countries:


Total area: 437,072 sq km

Area comparative: slightly more than twice the size of Idaho

Population 28,945,657 (July 2009 est.)


Total area: total: 647,500 sq km

Area comparative: slightly smaller than Texas

Population: 33,609,937 (July 2009 est.)


I think most people intuitively know that Afghanistan is the less violent of the two wars, and yet it is still useful to see the actual numbers. However, I've read that American casualties are the same in the two wars on a percentage basis, so when we say Afghanistan is less violent we mean as per the population, not the risk to our troops.

The graph also shows just how violent Iraq really was when things went south in 2006, and really even before then. Had we not instituted the surge things would certainly have spiraled out of control. By the same token, the dramatic improvements in Iraq are made clear as well.

As for Afghanistan, it's not that the violence has really gotten worse, it's just that I think we've noticed it more. There have been some ups and downs but you can't really say there's any trend upward. Senior commanders have said in briefings (covered here) that in the last year or so the insurgents have switched tactics from attacking coalition troops to attacking civilians. This is what their jihadist brothers did in Iraq, and it nearly worked.

All this said, American casualties have been going up in Afghanistan, perhaps because of the increased emphasis there. See for complete details. I am unable to copy their charts and do not have time to recreate them here.

Posted by Tom at 7:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2009

At War with General Jack Keane

National Review TV's Uncommon Knowledge has a must-watch series of interviews with General Jack Keane (Ret.), Vice-Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army at the time Operation Iraqi Freedom was initiated in March of 2003. Having retired later that same year, as a civilian he was instrumental in convincing President Bush to initiate what has become known as the "surge" plan, which saved Iraq from a brutal insurgency.

In the Fall of 2006, I started to follow events in Iraq in much more detail, and became very concerned that we were badly off course. I was much relieved when it became known that a new plan was in the works, and as such blogged about it fairly extensively. Listed at the bottom of this post are some of my initial posts on the surge plan, or just see Iraq under Categories at right. The Wikipedia listing for Keane and the surge plan seem fairly accurate too.


Keane does not whitewash our bad assumptions, initial failures, or his role in them. Given his role in turning things around, it's a shame that he is not more widely known.

You'll have to follow the links to view the five interview segments, as unlike YouTube there's no way to post them here. Each is only 7-8 minutes long, but there will add to your understanding of our war in Iraq.

Without further ado, here are the interview segments, preceded by a short bio posted on NRO:

"During his 37 years in the U.S. Army, Jack Keane earned four stars. Beginning his career as a paratrooper in Vietnam, he rose to command both the 101st Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps. In his final post he served as the Army's vice chief of staff. Gen. Keane retired from active duty in 2003. In 2006, he and military historian Frederick Kagan helped to develop a new approach to the Iraq War which would become known as "the surge." In 2007, Gen. Keane served as an informal advisor to his Army colleague Gen. David Petraeus, as Petraeus put the surge into effect."

At War with Gen. Jack Keane: Chapter 1 of 5
Retired Gen. Jack Keane outlines the origins of the surge in Iraq -- the successful military strategy he helped design.

At War with Gen. Jack Keane: Chapter 2 of 5
Jack Keane describes why changing the U.S. war strategy in Iraq was such a difficult process.
Me - how did a small group of civilians succeed in changing U.S. strategy where the entire military establishment had failed?

At War with Gen. Jack Keane: Chapter 3 of 5
Jack Keane says President Obama's plan to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq is a good one. And was the war in Iraq worth it? Keane says, "Absolutely, yes."

At War with Gen. Jack Keane: Chapter 4 of 5
Can the U.S. military win in Afghanistan, just as it is winning in Iraq? Jack Keane is optimistic -- strategy depending.
Me - Obama still will not use the word "victory" with regard to Afghanistan. Keane isn't bothered by this.

At War with Gen. Jack Keane: Chapter 5 of 5
Jack Keane discusses the multiple challenges facing the U.S. military, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and more.
Me- Keane says that we should be able to fight both counterinsurgency and traditional war, but our Army cannot because our ground forces are still too small. We have mortgaged the future of the Air Force and Navy to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this, morale in today's military is "sky high."

Another Interview

This June 2007 interview with Gen. Keane is also a must-watch. He admits that the insurgency came as a total surprise

Initial Surge Plan Posts

Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq - Phase II Report
The New Plan for Iraq - AEI Update I
New Plan for Iraq VI
New Play for Iraq V
New Plan for Iraq IV
New Plan for Iraq III
New Plan for Iraq II
Here's the New Plan for Iraq

Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 14 April 09 - Mini-Surge in Mosul

This briefing is by Col. Gary Volesky, Commander of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Multinational Division-North. Col Volesky spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Marez with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-North is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Col Volesky's brigade deployed to Iraq in December of last year. The rest of the1st Cav headquarters Multi-National Divison-Baghdad.

Col. Martin reports to Major General Robert L. Caslen Jr, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division. Caslin, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 of last year replaced Gen. David Petraeus. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Col. Volesky speaks about how his team pacified Mosul, the last holdout of Al Qaeda in Iraq. From his opening remarks:

COL. VOLESKY: ...I'd like you all to know that this is the third time in the last five years this brigade's deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In fact, many of my soldiers just left the Diyala province 15 months ago.

We assumed control of Nineveh province on the 19th of January. And as all you know, that's when we were really ramping up to start the elections series here in Nineveh.

And our focus was really at that point to build strong relationships with our Iraqi counterparts and really support them in the establishment of secure locations for the elections. And as you all know, the elections went very well and were a great success.

After the elections, we started to look at the problem set in Mosul and rest -- and the rest of Nineveh province. And our predecessors here did a great job, as you can tell, or as you know. The last six months attacks and violence have decreased significantly lower than they have been in a number of years.

But the insurgencies still were able to conduct operations in Mosul, and there are really three reasons why -- more than three, but three primary reasons.

The first was that there was an ineffective provincial government that didn't represent the majority of the population in Nineveh. And they did nothing, really, of any measure to improve the people's quality of life.

The ISF, all the Iraqi security forces, they were still developing, getting more and more capability, but they were unable really to handle the threat that AQI and the other insurgents were able to do while attacking Mosul. And then finally there were fewer coalition forces here in Mosul. When I was here 18 months ago, the focus was clearly on Baghdad, and we had to win in Baghdad. And so there was not as many forces as there are currently in Mosul to get at the problem with AQI and the other insurgents.

So what we've done is we've really done what I would call our own little surge up here in Mosul. We focused on Operation Nineveh Resolve, which is a subset of the division's Operation New Hope.

And I've got almost twice as many coalition forces in Mosul as my previous -- as the previous unit did. But it's not really how many forces we have; it's really the ability for us to partner with our Iraqi counterparts. And I don't really like using the word "partnering." I prefer "embedding," so that we embed with those Iraqi forces.

As you know, the security agreement changed how we operated here in Iraq in January. We are no longer in the lead. We support the Iraqi security forces, and that's what we're doing here.

The strategy for Nineveh Resolve really focuses on clearing neighborhoods that the enemy has had freedom of movement in and a large amount of influence. But what's different about this operation to past operations is the control and retain or the holding force that we're leaving in these neighborhoods as we clear them. That hasn't really been done before at the level that we're doing it now.

So as we go into a neighborhood to clear it, once that is cleared -- the insurgents are killed, captured or they move out, we leave a holding force there. And we really focus at that point on getting after those drivers of instability in those neighborhoods, which is really the quality of life and the unemployment in those neighborhoods.

So we'll hold it and start immediate projects in those neighborhoods, employing people that live there to do what we're calling "quick wins" in the brigade. And right now, for example, we're doing multiple trash projects, hiring, at times, a hundred people in one neighborhood to collect trash, to give them some employment and get that recruiting pool that the insurgents have reduced.

And how we tie this in to the local government is we brought them in and said, what are their priorities for Mosul? In the past, when I was here in 2004, we just developed the projects on our own and really did not take into account what the true needs of the population were. So we brought in the local officials as well as the director general from the province and had them help us develop these projects so that they get buy-in. And as we move these projects further and further, they take more and more responsibility for them so that we have a sustained system versus just a project that ends and then everyone's unemployed.

In these neighborhoods that we've cleared, we see very rare attacks in those areas, and the people are taking more and more ownership of their neighborhoods. The security forces that are in each of those neighborhoods -- and we've got Iraqi army as well as national police -- they're perceived as the force who's providing security, not the coalition. And that is really what we want to achieve.

To summarize, Col. Volesky first gave hree reasons why the insurgents were successful in Nineveh even after the surge had cleared them from most of the rest of Iraq

1. Ineffective local government that did not represent the people
2. Iraqi Security Forces were unable to handle the threat on their own
3. Too few coalition forces

To resolve those problems, what we did was

1. Assign twice as many U.S. troops to Nineveh
2. Clear and hold areas where the insurgents were strong - "oil spot" theory in action
3. "Quick wins" to win over the population; improvement of basic government services based on the true needs of the people.

Q Hi, Greywolf Six. This is Laura Jakes from the Associated Press. It's nice to see you again.

I was wondering if you could give us a general assessment of the ISF in the province, whether they'll be ready to -- when you all redeploy, and whether they'll really be capable to fight AQI on their own at some point.

COL. VOLESKY: The Iraqi security forces -- again, I was here in 2004 -- and they're 100 percent better than they were. In fact, there are over 25,000 members of the Iraqi security forces in Mosul. And they conduct independent operations every day.

And as I said earlier, these insurgents have focused their attacks on the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqis have not -- have not wavered at all. So we see continued improvement day by day. And as I said, they're conducting independent operations now.

What I really offer them is a lot of what we call enablers -- the aviation, that -- the military working dogs, those kinds of things that really augment their operations. But they're all in the lead right now. I don't own a base and I coordinate all my operations with them.

I'm not quite sure where the "six" comes from, since this is the 3rd Brigade, but if you watch the video Col. Volesky seemed to get it.

3rd Brigade, 1st Cav

Commanders stressing that the "Iraqis are in the lead" has been a theme of briefings.

The journalists do not passively accept whatever they're told, but will challenge briefers if they don't think they're getting the straight scoop. To be sure, it's all done politely, as all involved are professionals. Having watched and reported on dozens of these briefings since early 2007, I've come to respect the Pentagon journalists. They're not like the pretty talking heads (men or women, I stress), who as often as not don't have a clue as to what they're talking about.

Indeed, Laura Jakes does just that in her follow up:

Q If I could just follow up, when I was doing some of the market walks with your guys, there would be a platoon of 20 coalition forces or actually your battalion and then it would be four or five Iraqi security force officers, whether it was IA or whether it was Iraqi police. It was very clear that it was the American forces that were -- even if you were in a support role, that you were doing most of the security. Do you think that the ISF is going to be ready by the time you-all leave, less than a year from now?

COL. VOLESKY: I don't know who you walked around with. I know that if you were walking with a patrol that was with Iraqi police, that is a challenge, because as I think you heard when you were here, they're about 5,000 Iraqi police short. But if you went up to the northern part and saw 7 Nissan, you'd see an Iraqi battalion there. In fact, that's one of the areas we're calling our model neighborhoods and that we want to transition to the Iraqis, because the security there is really good. Attacks there are very rare, and the Iraqi security forces are doing that patrolling pretty much independently of us.

So my assessment is I am optimistic in the progress that the Iraqis are making, and we'll continue to support them. But again, I see great indications that they are well on their way ahead to take over security when we eventually leave.

Q Thank you.

Here Jeff Schogol of Stars and Stripes isn't happy with Col. Volesky's initial comments about their ability to clear and hold areas:

Q And I have a quick follow-up question. My understanding is, Mosul has been cleared several times. If you have to clear someplace more than once, that implies that you're not really holding it. Am I not seeing something?

COL. VOLESKY: Well, that's exactly right. And that's what's different about Nineveh Resolve, is that we've got -- once we clear it, we're leaving, you know, a formation in there to hold that. We are doing night patrolling with our Iraqi counterparts. And as I mentioned, 7 Nissan, you know, that Iraqi army battalion's up there, working with our Steel Dragons that own that or have responsibility to work that partnership with them. And they're -- they are holding that neighborhood.

And again, in the neighborhoods that we have cleared and are holding and have projects ongoing, the attacks are very rare. The enemy has shifted now into going to areas that we have not yet cleared or are going on the main avenues between those because they can't -- they don't have access into those neighborhoods right now.

The problem may be due to a shortage of Iraqi Police, as we heard the Colonel admit to in a later exchange

COL. VOLESKY: ...the Iraqi police are about 5,300 short of what the provincial director of police believes he needs to take over primacy in Mosul. About 4,000 of those are policemen that have died or have gone AWOL. And, you know, about 1,300 are new hires that he needs. So those -- you know, 4,000 was currently on the rolls; 1,300 are more -- additional police that he needs. So there's really a 5,300-police deficiency in Mosul right now....

...the issue becomes the hiring and vetting. I mean, as you know, we want to make sure that the police that come in are ready to be policemen and they have all the qualifications required of them. There has been a vetting program so that we're getting good policemen and rooting out all the bad police. That's the first piece and that takes a while.

The second piece ... is the oil prices have gone down and so there have been some budget issues.

As the Prussian general and military theorist Karl von Clausewitz said, "Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult."

Once again classic wisdom has proved prescient.

Then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus knew this when he led the team that wrote U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, published in December of 1996. From the Field Manual comes this reminder:

6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".

No kidding.

FM-3-24 formed the theoretical basis for the change in strategy that accompanied the surge in troops to Iraq in 2007.

The question is not as important in this exchange as is part of the answer that I want to highlight.

Q Yeah, this is Daphne Benoit again, with the Agence France- Presse. Are you expecting any extra U.S. troops in your province any time soon to help you clear and hold the area, in Mosul particularly?

COL. VOLESKY: Yeah, again, it's not important to focus on how many soldiers I have. What's important is our partnership and embedding with our Iraqi counterparts. I mean, again, we're not in the lead of these operations. We want to make sure we're partners and support what their operations are. Again, then it will resolve as an Iraqi-led operation. We're just supporting it.

So to say how many more, or do I think more coalition forces will come in, frankly, I've got my brigade here and we're going to partner with as many Iraqi counterparts as we have to get at the solution. And, you know, as I walk through neighborhoods, the people are very happy to see their Iraqi forces in the streets.

And that's what we want to continue to reinforce: getting them more -- out there more in the cities with the people and talk to the people and be recognized as the ones that are in charge of security for their area.

Of the many sections of FM 3-24 that I could cite to back up what Col Volesky says here at the end I'll use this one, from the famous "zen-like" section

1-154 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support....

The Iraqis will never be as good as we are, but they don't have to be. All they have to do is convince the people that they are for real and can protect them.

We should remember these lessons now that the focus is in Afghanistan. Although the insurgency there is different from Iraq, the overall principles of how to win remain the same.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 3, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 01 April 2009 - Final Thoughts by Lt. Gen. Austin

This briefing is by Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, who on Wednesday spoke with reporters in Iraq, providing his final update on ongoing security operations.

Gen. Austin assumed command of Multi-National Corps - Iraq in February of 2008. The job of the corps commander is to implement the policies of the commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. The divisional commanders, each of which headquarters one of five regions, all report to General Austin.

However, Austin is nearing the end of his current tour, so as mentioned this is his final briefing. Given the continued improvements in Iraq, it is a job well done and all Americans owe him a debt of gratitude.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports Gen. Odierno, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq. Odierno reports to the commander of CENTCOM, General Petraeus. Petraus, in turn, reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Prior to his present duties, Austin served in Iraq as the deputy commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division from March to May of 2003. This is his fifth briefing that I have covered.

This video and others can be seen at DODvClips. In cases where the briefing was not transmitted back to the Pentagon, I've found a transcript is not provided. As such, I'll not analyze the briefing in my usual manner.

Austin mostly stressed the enormous progress that has been made from the time he arrived. There were a number of questions from the assembled American and foreign journalists, and as always I encourage readers to view the video and judge for themselves.

Posted by Tom at 9:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 12, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 09 March 2009 - Reasons for Success by Lt. Gen. Austin

This briefing is by Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, who on Monday spoke via satellite from Camp Victory in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

Gen. Austin assumed command of Multi-National Corps - Iraq in February of 200,. The job of the corps commander is to impliment the policies of the commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. The divisional commanders, each of which headquarters one of five regions, all report to General Austin.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports Gen. Odierno, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq. Odierno reports to the commander of CENTCOM, General Petraeus. Petraus, in turn, reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Prior to his present duties, Austin served in Iraq as the deputy commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division from March to May of 2003. This is his fourth Pentagon briefing to you in this format as commander of MNC-Iraq.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

What we'll do is list the reasons for success offered by Gen. Austin in his term as commander of MNC-Iraq, and then take a look at what other commanders and analysts have said.

From his opening remarks:

GEN. AUSTIN:...this great progress happened for several reasons. First and foremost, this happened because our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines performed tirelessly and expended every effort for the Iraqi people through the last six tough years in Iraq.

About a year ago, we endured some very challenging times. As we continued to pressure al Qaeda in the north, we found ourselves in a rather significant struggle with Shi'a extremists in the south in Basra and in Sadr City in Baghdad. It was a struggle that could have reversed the gains that we achieved the previous year, but we were able to respond to the challenge because our young men and women in uniform that are serving in Iraq today are just as dedicated to our mission as they were six years ago.

Another reason for the progress over the past year was that we were able to maneuver our forces against the enemy throughout the country. This allowed us to remove seams and gaps that extremists were using in the past. And by -- and by maneuvering the core elements along with the Iraqi security forces, we were able to pursue the enemy over more terrain than we had before.

And through this maneuver, we had great effects on reducing the flow of foreign fighters coming across the border and through the Jazirah Desert in the north, and we were able to expand our footprint in the south to better confront Shi'a extremists and criminals that were moving lethal accelerants into Baghdad and other parts of the country. The combined pressure of coalition and Iraqi security forces on al Qaeda and Shi'a extremist groups greatly reduced their capabilities to operate in this country.

A third reason for the great progress was our partnering efforts with the Iraqi security forces over the past year. And since the Charge of the Knight's operation in Basra a year ago, we have partnered with them in a very meaningful way, and our relationship has strengthened and evolved over time. And today, all of our operations are combined Iraqi and coalition operations. And through partnership, we were able to transition from deconflicting operations to conducting synchronized operations.

The recent safe and secure provincial elections are a testament to this concept of joint synchronized operations towards a common goal.

And the development of our relationship with the Iraqi security forces over the past year has been a testament as well, and the results have been impressive. The 11 attacks on election day, compared to over 300 attacks on election day in 2005, illustrate exactly that point. And in Baghdad, there were zero attacks on the day of elections. Now, this was all due to the tremendous partnering efforts between the coalition and the Iraqi security forces.

And finally, there were several other factors that contributed to the progress of last year. We successfully transitioned the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi government, which demonstrates Iraq's commitment to reconciliation. The improved border security strategy has greatly reduced the number of foreign fighters and lethal accelerants making their way into Iraq, and the improving civil capacity and essential services are positively affecting millions of Iraqi citizens. And the passage of key legislation through the central government, to include the security agreement, has demonstrated progress by the Iraqi government as well.

In summary, the reasons Austin offered that we have been successful in 2008-on were:

  1. The outstanding effort by the men and women of the United States Armed Forces
  2. Our superior ability to maneuver our forces to trap and destroy an elusive foe
  3. The ability to successfully partner with the Iraqi security forces
  4. Successfully transitioning the Sons of Iraq (SOI) into other employment
  5. Securing the border, or at least slowing down the inflow enough to make a difference
  6. Improved Iraqi government services at the local level
  7. Passage of key legislation by the national Iraqi government

Let's take a quick look at some briefings last year and this by our combat commanders to see some of the reasons they have given in briefings for our success at putting down the insurgency.

Last December, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the the 1st Armored Division (which headquartered Multi-National Division-North) gave several reasons why we were successful in his AOR (Area of Responsibility):

  1. An improved Iraqi government. Trust, coordination, and execution of budgets have improved.
  2. The performance of the US military.
  3. The performance of the PRTs (Provisional Reconstruction Teams, a Department of State operation).

Similar reasons were provided by Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Multi-National Division - Center), in a briefing on July of 2008in which he explained that the progress they had made and said that security improvements were based on three factors:

  1. A highly professional and greatly improved Iraqi security force
  2. The Sons of Iraq program
  3. Combined security operations

Later, in December, Col James explained that they had moved beyond simply defeating the insurgency, and offered these reasons for their ability to stabilize the area:

  1. The population knows that they are secure, and because of this they have turned from worrying about their personal safety to focusing on improving their economic situation.
  2. The Iraqi security forces, in particular the army, is now confident and capable
  3. The Iraqi government is relatively competent now, at least at the local level, and the economy is turning around
  4. With the improving situation, both we and the Iraqis are able to concentrate on post-insurgency nation-building.

We need to keep in mind that there wasn't one insurgency in Iraq, but many. Each was regional and each had a different cause, and as such we resolved each one using different methods. A primary lesson of Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 was that an insurgency can vary dramatically from village to village, let alone region to region.

For example, last July, Steve Shippert of Threatswatch explained how the situation was turned around in Anbar (and how Obama was completely wrong on the matter):

  1. The Anbar Salvation Council took matters into their own hands and began to fight back against al Qaeda
  2. The U.S. Marine Corps seized the opportunity and aided them in their fight

Many other commanders have offered similar reasons as well. I think these are fairly representative. Select one of the "Iraq" at right for more.

Looking at the "big picture," in the February 11, 2008, print edition of National Review, Wesley Morgan identified four interconnected efforts that led to the success of the surge throughout Iraq:

  1. The adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics, with U.S. battalions spreading out among the population and earning their trust;
  2. The grassroots reconciliation of many Sunni and some Shiite communities;
  3. A series of meticulously planned corps-level offensives across Baghdad and its surrounding areas. All of these efforts have hinged on one major change:
  4. During 2007, every echelon of the U.S. command -- from the four-star headquarters down through the critical corps and divisional levels to the brigades and battalions in the field -- was closely integrated into a cohesive whole. Without this integration, none of the four efforts that have brought Iraq forward would have made much difference.

Perhaps most famously, there was Gen Petraeus' speech on Iraq to the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC, October 7, 2008, which I termed his "How We Did It" address. You simply must watch it in its entirety. I encourage readers who really want to understand what happened to follow the link and watch the whole thing, but here are a few of his main points:

  1. The surge focused on securing the population.
  2. The only way to secure a population is to live with the population, to share the risk. You cannot "commute to the fight."
  3. You must use all the tools in your kitbag. Military force, yes and necessary. But you can't win with that alone. Yes before you can have legislation you must have security. But by the same token once military force has done it's part you then move into economics and building projects.
  4. We must promote reconciliation by reaching out to those who are willing to be part of the new Iraq
  5. Get the irreconcilables out of society, detain them, and take the pressure off the population. Eventually you might be able to reconcile some of them though and release some.
  6. Education, social services, and job opportunities are important to long term success.
  7. All units must work as an integrated whole. "Fusion Cells" that broke down barriers between intel centers and government departments. Everyone must work together.

My take is that the reasons offered by the various commanders do not contradict but rather complement each other.

On to the Q & A. For our purposes we'll only consider a few of the exchanges. First is a question on the sustainability of what we have achieved so far.

Q General, Chris Lawrence from CNN. With fewer troops there, are you worried about areas that don't seem to be controlled, like Mosul, and some of the tensions that seem to be rising between the Arabs and Kurds?

GEN. AUSTIN: There are always a number of things that could cause us problems. And certainly, you know, I've been clear about the fact that there's work to be done yet in Mosul, in Diyala. There are things that can pull us off track and cause violence to really reignite in a greater way. And so we continue to watch those things and we develop contingencies to address those issues should they arise.

But bear in mind -- you know, I take you back to what I said as a part of my opening statement. You know, I came in or we came in at the end of the surge brigade period there, so as soon as the 18th Airborne Corps came in, we began to off-ramp surge brigades. And so I have been faced with trying to not only maintain the gains that we had achieved, but also continue to improve upon them with fewer forces.

So we've been doing this for some time. And not only were we able to maintain what we had achieved, we were able to drop the level of violence down even further. Again, you know, it's a question of using every instrument of power that you have in the arsenal. It's a question of making sure that you have thought through to significant detail of what your future challenges may be, and it's a question of how much you partnered with your Iraqi security forces to be able to address those emerging issues.

Next we have a question on the Sons of Iraq program. I've noted time and again the importance of this program in defeating the insurgency, as it was discussed time and again in these briefings from 2007 on. Essentially, the SOI (originally Concerned Local Citizens) was a sort of "super neighborhood watch" that employed local Iraqis to take charge of their own neighborhoods. While we did not arm them, everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. Now that the insurgency is mostly over, the program is being correctly disbanded. But because no one wants tens of thousands of newly unemployed young men roaming the streets, it is vital to move them into other employment. This is mostly the job of the Iraqi government, and as with everything else in Iraq there are speedbumps to negotiate.

In a briefing a year ago Gen Austin issued a veiled warning to the government of Prime Minister al Maliki that his government needed to successfully transition SOI personnel to other employment or he was risking reigniting the insurgency.

With this in mind, let's follow the exchange:

Q (Off mike) -- General, final question from Voice of America, and this is related to the previous question. How would you assess the level of political reconciliation in the country -- you talked about a couple of areas -- but also in Baghdad among the parties? And how will that level of reconciliation impact on security leading up to the elections and after the elections?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, you know, reconciliation has been a work in progress for some time and will continue to be so in the future.

I can tell you -- I can point to one significant thing that demonstrates that the government is serious about reconciliation, and that is what I mentioned earlier, the Sons of Iraq program.

You know, a year ago, a lot of people told me that the Iraqi government would never take this program on and manage it themselves. And so here we are, a year later, you know -- the Iraqi government is in control of most of the entire program. And every time that they've made a move to annex more of the program, they've done it in a measured way, and it is a success story across the country. And that's near 100,000 Sons of Iraq that they have integrated and are now in control of and are paying them on a daily basis.

So according to Austin, the speedbumps are being successfully negotiated. I haven't seen other stories to contradict this assessment. Further, and perhaps most importantly, I have not heard the journalists at these briefings ask questions challenging the briefers on this matter.

This final exchange is off topic, but I can't resist. A big name reporter asks a very dumb question:

Q General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. Do you think it's realistic to expect that all U.S. forces will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, or will that SOFA agreement have to be renegotiated?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, hey, Jim, I'll leave that to our senior leadership to -- to address that question there. I think that where we stand right now is that we have a security agreement with the Iraqi -- with the government of Iraq, excuse me -- that says that our forces will leave by 2011. And so from my perspective, you know, we are focused on that. And if there is something that is addressed in the future or is negotiated in the future, that will be really addressed by our civilian leadership.

Did Miklaszewski actually expect the general to say something like "yes, we can't get the troops out on time so we have to renegotiate the treaty?" This proves an aphorism I've thought true for several years; the bigger the name in journalism, the dumber the question.

As always, Gen. Austin comes across as calm, authoritative, confident, and knowledgeable. Between him, his boss General Odierno, and Odierno's boss General Petraeus, our troops are well led.

Posted by Tom at 7:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 23 February 2009 - Still A Third World Country

This briefing is by Colonel Joseph Martin and Mr. John Bennett. Col Martin commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Multinational Division-Baghdad. Mr. Bennett is in charge of in charge of the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 6 (EPRT), which works with Col. Martin's brigade. They spoke via satellite from Camp Victory in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

MND-Baghdad is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

On February 10, 2009, the 1st Cav took over responsibility for MND-Baghdad from the 4th Infantry Division, which is commanded by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond. Congratulations and a job well done to the men and women of the 4th ID.

Col. Martin reports to Major General Daniel P. Bolger, commanding general of the1st Cav. Bolger, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced Gen. David Petraeus. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

COL. MARTIN: ...Our mission here is simple and focused: secure the people, allowing them to continue building civil capacity and returning to normalcy....

I mentioned that we trained for almost 18 months in preparation for our deployment. But even with the best training that any army can experience in the entire world, we've been constantly amazed at the changes that have occurred in just the last four months since we arrived. A new security agreement governs our partnership operations. Iraqi provincial elections occurred without any noticeable violence, and it was Iraqi-funded, Iraqi-led and secured exclusively by our Iraqi counterparts. Our role is to fully support and assist our counterparts in whatever -- in that great endeavor.

And finally, we're seeing U.S. forces move out of selected sites within Baghdad, transferring them to the Iraqi government ministries or security forces as designated by the government of Iraq.....

MR. BENNETT: ...We're truly at ground level. We deal with people.

We're part of the BCT. The EPRT is embedded with it, as journalists are embedded with the brigade combat teams from time to time. However our chain of command, if you will, goes back to the embassy, through the Baghdad PRT, up to the Office of Provincial Affairs, to the ambassador himself.

...The team is small, just seven people.

What do we do? If you compare us to, let's say, Google, we are an active or a proactive Google. The idea is to give sound, current advice and counsel and ideas to the brigade combat team.

In the areas and particular some of those areas affect security; others are more along the political, economic lines. And of course very important is our services.

What we're really interested in is not so much individual things to do but more to uphold or to recover institutions which have fallen on ill times here in Baghdad, for example, the department of public works....

Our idea is to, as the military is mentoring and coaching and dealing with the Army, we're also -- with the Army, U.S. Army -- we're out working with services, working on politics, working on economics....

"constantly amazed at the changes;" this is something we hear quite often from our commanders who redeploy back to Iraq these days. We hear time and again how impressed they are with the changes.

On to the Q & A

The first exchange we'll look at is on the supply of electricity. Much has been written over the years about how the residents of Iraq do not get electricity all day long. I googled around but cannot find a graph that shows current hours per day availability of electricity.

I did find a story published yesterday on Radio Free Europe which said that for the first time total electrical production was higher than before the invasion in 2003. In fact, total production has reached 6,760 megawatts, which is 2,500 megawatts higher than pre-invasion levels. Even better, this summer an additional 2,000 megawatts of generating capacity will come on line.

Even so, we all know it's still a problem because residents do not get power around the clock like they should.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.... If I could also ask a question of Mr. Bennett, you mentioned that you work with the department of public works there in Baghdad. Can you update us ... on the average daily electricity that the majority of people in Baghdad are seeing? It seems like that number has been relatively stagnant for the past year or two...

MR. BENNETT: Let me -- let me answer your questions as you gave them, but in reverse order. On electricity, which is a national question because of national grids and national ministry involved, it's not 24 hours a day in Baghdad, or elsewhere in the country. It's growing that way, and in some areas of Baghdad -- for example, the hospitals, police stations and so on -- it has been and remains 24 hours a day.

However, through much of our three districts that Colonel Martin and I work, it is several hours a day; more in the winter than in the summer, because of the demand going in the winter -- going in the summer, because of the air conditioning and the heat.

Mr. Bennett completely ducked the question.. Fortunately, a few minutes later, another reporter followed up. Perhaps seeing that they weren't going to get out of it, both Col Martin and Mr Bennett gave more direct answers:

Q (General ?), hi. I'm Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes....You were mentioning the electrical grid. If you could explain a little bit more of why we're -- I believe at this point we're still experiencing only partial amounts of electricity per day. What are the root causes for that? And then what it will take to fix that, to get that up to, you know, a normal working city with electricity 24 hours a day.

MR.. BENNETT: Sounds to me like a military problem.

COL. MARTIN: Well, I think in the end it comes down to this is a higher-level problem than us in northwest Baghdad. I know that it's something that we continue to monitor, but it's -- the national grid is something that would be much more appropriately addressed at a headquarters above us.

MR. BENNETT: And the fact is that through many, many years, more consumers, degraded equipment, war damage and so on, there's just simply not enough electricity. The security situation over the last few years contributed to that.

The good news is that we saw that as also an opportunity with some of the people that we have outreach to to be trained as generator mechanics. Small generators are in great demand here on the street, so we have set up some training programs, vocational-type programs, to train people on generators.

So we've turned that lemon, if you will, into a small glass of lemonade.

COL. MARTIN: And we've done some other initiatives as well. Recently we opened a solar power project on a clinic in A'amiriya, where the clinic and its critical services receive continuous power. And that has made a huge difference for that particular clinic. And we're actually looking at some others to expand in that regard.

I would imagine that Col. Martin gave Mr Bennett an earful later with the latter's initial response of "Sounds to me like a military problem. " What was that supposed to mean? Insurgent attacks are way down from years ago.. Surely the problem with electrical production is still that insurgents are blowing up power lines and/or substations?

Perhaps he realized his own mistake because at the next opportunity he addressed the issue more clearly.

I think the lessons here are that despite the progress, Iraq is still a third world country, and Saddam destroyed the country more than we had realized.

Let's compare the U.S. to Iraq using the CIA Factbook:

Per Capital GDP
U.S. - $48,000
Iraq - $4,000

Life Expentancy
U.S. - 78.14
Iraq - 69.62

Infant Mortality
U.S. - 6.3 deaths/1,000 live births
Iraq - 45.43 deaths/1,000 live births

School Life Expectancy (years spent in school)
U.S. - 16
Iraq - 10

U.S. - 99%
Iraq - 74.1%

U.S. - 7.6%
Iraq - 18% to 30% (uncertain)

With statistics like these it drives me nuts when some Americans, on the right as well as the left, demand that Iraq "pay us back" what we've spent there just because they ran a budget surplus this past year. Do these same people want to exact payment from Germany and Japan as well?

Finally, we come to Col Martin's closing statement. Note how insurgent attacks went from 25 per day in January 2007, before the surge got under way, to 1.5 per day today. Yup, the surge has certainly worked....

COL. MARTIN: I've got four things I'd like to leave with you.

One, it's incredible, the progress I've seen since I arrived back here, having served here a couple years ago, in 2003, 2004. Within our area that we're in right now, an area in January 2007 that had 25 attacks per day, currently the attack-per-day ratio -- or the attack- per-day rate is down to less than 1.5. All right, that's 5 percent of what it was in January 2007. That's a function of, first, the Iraqi people and their strength and resilience; second, Iraqi security forces; and third, the strength of our partnership with those security forces and our relationship with the people here.

I'd like to thank each of you for the opportunity to speak about what superb soldiers of this tremendous brigade are doing every day for the people of northwest Baghdad in concert with their security partners. Their discipline and high standards remain the cornerstone of the numerous successes here, and they frankly amaze me every day.

I'd like to send a special thanks to our families and friends back in the greater Fort Riley community out in the middle of Kansas. Their continued support coupled with their caring efforts for brigade rear detachment has allowed me and frankly the entire brigade to focus on point, on mission.

Most importantly, we want to thank Junction City, Manhattan and northeast Kansas and our community partners in Dickinson County for all of their support. It's a great community there, a great place for soldiers to know that their families are cared for. Their continued support allows us to focus on mission and continue to be successful here in Baghdad.

Thank you very much. Have a wonderful evening..

MNF-Iraq reported today that violence in Iraq was at a 6 year low. This represents a 90 percent decrease since the surge began in early 2007.

Glad we didn't listen to Obama on the surge.


Iraq Briefing - 17 December 2007 - Maj Gen Joseph Fil

At the time of this briefing Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil commanded the 1st Cav, which was then just leaving Iraq. His message at the time was straightforward

Now, I want to be absolutely clear that while we have seen significant progress during our tour here, we are very mindful that it is fragile and that there is very tough work ahead. Al Qaeda is down, but it is by no means out. It remains a very dangerous enemy that maintains the ability to conduct attacks against the innocent, and we must continue to pursue them, to attack their networks even as they're trying to regenerate. Likewise, militia and criminal networks are still very potent threats who are continuously seeking to regain power and authority....

I think it's clear that pulling out too quickly, before the Iraqis are truly able to take over these areas independently, would be very risky. And there are some areas in the city where, at this point, it would fail. They're simply not ready to stand entirely on their own.

A few months later, in February of 2008, Fil was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed command of Eighth United States Army and Chief of Staff/United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/United States Forces Korea.

A good promotion for a job well done.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 17 February 2009 - A Stable Situation at the Golden Mosque

This briefing is by Col. Walter Piatt, Commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and Major General Hamed Nameq Yaseen Al-Jubouri of the Salah ad Din provincial and director of police in the Salah ad Din province. They spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. They are responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-North is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawai

Col. Piatt reports to Major General Robert L. Caslen Jr, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division. Caslin in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

The the al-Askari Mosque, popularly known as the Golden Mosque, is considered one of the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam. It is located some 60 miles northwest of Baghdad.

In 2006 and again in 2007, the mosque was the target of two terrorist bombing attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The first was on February 22, 2006, and the second on June 13, 2007. The first attack damaged the mosque's dome, the second destroyed it.

It was the 2006 that helped push Iraq towards civil war. The attack was followed by much violence and reprisal attacks. The 2007 attack less so, as by then the surge was well under way. Here's the mosque after the 2006 bombing:

Al-Askari "Golden" Mosque

This briefing is important, then, because Piatt's 3rd Brigade was in Iraq at the time of these attacks, and after a period of R&R is now back. What Col Piatt says will help us see how much Iraq has changed

From their opening remarks:

COL. PIATT:...Salah ad Din is also the home of the al-Askari, or Golden Dome, mosque. The major industries are agriculture and oil.

The security situation here has improved dramatically in the past year, and much of that progress is directly attributable to the provincial Iraqi police, almost 17,000 strong, commanded by Major General Hamed. I tell him every time I see him that he's one of my bosses, and I sincerely mean that. I'm here to enable his police force to secure the province.

GEN. AL-JUBOURI:...we would have been not able to achieve this process, the elections, without good security in the province of Salah ad Din. The police of Salah ad Din played a very big role and also put tremendous effort -- (audio break) -- succeeding the elections. And that's with the assistance and support of coalition forces and also the Iraqi army and the Sons of Iraq.

We also cannot forget the role of the citizens of Iraq, how they cooperated and assisted the Iraqi security forces in general.

Col Piatt looks very proud of Gen Al-Jubouri, beaming at times as if he was the proud father to his son or daughter who has come far and done well.

As is often the case, the Iraqi is a lot less comfortable in front of the camera than the American. I'm not sure completely sure why this is so. Perhaps because under Saddam no one had to explain themselves before the public.

Col Piatt, on the other hand, looks comfortable and confident throughout. This, I have noticed, is typical of all American briefers, whether military or civilian.

I do not want to disparage all Iraqi commanders, as I have seen a few who spoke confidently. It's just that they seem to be in the minority.

The Sons of Iraq (SOI, originally Concerned Local Citizens), played an integral part in defeating the insurgency. I have discussed them at length on this blog, but essentially they 1) got unemployed Iraqi males off the streets and into a paying job, 2) put them in charge of their own country's fate, 3) provided psychological "buy in", and 4) were a sort of "super neighborhood watch" that provided local intelligence you can't get any other way. They supplied their own weapons, everyone in Iraq seeming to own an AK-47.

Now that the insurgency is mostly over, they need to be disbanded, as you can't have a large militia force that might threaten the government. At the same time it would be dangerous to just let them go, as there is high unemployment as it is. So the idea is to transition them into civilian or military jobs.

One problem is that the SOI were mostly (though hardly exculsively) Sunni, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is mostly Shite. Early in the transition, there were signs that al-Maliki didn't want to transition Sunni SOI.

Acting on this, last September MNC-Iraq commander Lt. Gen. Austin issued what I believe was a stern warning to al-Maliki on this issue. Apparently Maliki took it to heart, because from what I read the transition of the SOI has gone relatively smoothly.

Q Okay. Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned that you have about 17,000 Iraqi police in Salah ad Din. Could you give us some of the other statistics? How many U.S. service members continue to serve there?

And then if -- for either of you, if you could tell us how many Sons of Iraq are still in Salah ad Din and what are the plans for that, will they be eventually transitioned into police, army?

COL. PIATT: Yes. So in my brigade, I have over 3,600 soldiers in Salah ad Din province. And for the Sons of Iraq, we have over 9,000 Sons of Iraq in all of Salah ad Din.

The process that we're in right now with Sons of Iraq is, we're in the middle of transitioning. It's a two-phase -- first, we will transfer the Sons of Iraq oversight, contract and payment to the Iraqi army, and then we will transition Sons of Iraq to other employment, starting with Iraqi security forces, police and army...

Next month, beginning 1st of March, we will register all the Sons of the Iraq...And then we will execute payment alongside of our brothers in the Iraqi army, of all of the Sons of Iraq. And then the Iraqi army on 1 April will help pay them with us, and then on 1 May they will have complete oversight and control for the execution of the contracts of the Sons of Iraq.

With that, some percentage, about 20 percent, will be transitioned relatively soon to Iraqi security forces, police and army. And then the others will remain in their positions where they -- (audio break) -- along checkpoints, along -- throughout Salah ad Din province, until they are transitioned to other -- either other jobs, schools, or to other Iraqi security forces.

Q What's the basic timeline for when you expect those 9,000 Sons of Iraq to be in some other capacity? And so is it and it's -- the expectation is that only the 20 percent that will be transitioned to ISF will remain in Iraqi security force capacity.

COL. PIATT: No. That's the start point...

So what will happen is, they immediately -- some will transition over to police and army. Others will maintain their positions along checkpoints, along key routes in infrastructure, until they are transitioned either to other employment, through vocational schooling, or to the future hires for the police and the army.

So there's no set timetable. But the commitment up front is that they will remain Sons of Iraq, just under the oversight of the Iraqi army, until which time they are transitioned to other employment..

Everybody is interested in when the IA can stand on it's own so we can withdraw more troops. In this next exchange, journalist Joe Baten makes reference to this Feb 17 article in the Financial Times.

Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. The U.S. commander in charge of developing the ISF, General Frank Helmick, told the Financial Times that the Iraqi security forces need at least three years to face or to fight against the insurgents. Would you give me your assessment on that?

COL. PIATT: Well, I can tell you here in Salah ad Din the Iraqi security forces, especially the provincial police, are ready now. What they will need is continued support in professionalization, equipping and training. But when it comes to fighting and combating terrorism in Salah ad Din, the police are the ones who take action first.

In the FT piece t Gen Helmick says that he "hopes the Iraqi army will be equipped and able to stand alone by the end of 2011." This seems about reasonable from what else I read. On the one side we do need to push the Iraqis, on the other we must have reasonable expectations, and remember that we risk all that we have gained if we give in to the extreme anti-war crowd and insist on a precipitous pullout.

Logistics has always been a problem with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police. In briefing after briefing we've seen this come up. Although in general Gen Hamed seemed to give pretty scripted answers, he did make clear that they do need real military vehicles. We've all seen the photos of the IA and IP driving around in pickup trucks.

Q General Hamed, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra again. Just to follow up on what you said, if you could tell us what kind of equipment you need in the near future to handle your mission, your security mission in your area?

GEN. AL-JUBOURI: As far as supplies, we are very good with supplies. We are in a good situation at this time, but the only thing we lack at this time are up-armored vehicles, Humvees in particular. We are talking with -- (audio break) -- about getting a supply of up- armored vehicles, particularly Humvees. And we do have a good understanding that we will get Humvees in the very near future. The Ministry of Interior will supply the provinces of Iraq with up-armored vehicles.

But with regard to the supplies as far as light weapons, all types of weapons, I believe that we have enough at this time. Even vehicles, we do have enough. And I must say that the Ministry of Interior has provided us with whatever we've needed in the past, and they're a good support to us. They provide us several when we need it to endure the fight and continue providing security for the people of this province. Thank you.

This next exchange is important because of the issue of expectations and cultural differences. Of the mistakes we made before going into Iraq, perhaps the worst was that we didn't appreciate the cultural differences that would make our job so difficult.

Q (Joe Tabet/Al Hurra) Quick question, General Hamed, we've heard in the past about corruption cases among the ISF in your area. Could you update us on that?

GEN. AL-JUBOURI: I speak on behalf of the police of Salah ad Din.

And I must say that we have not had any indications of corruption within the police of Salah ad Din.

We also have a team that works closely with us and are -- that checks and also visits different IP police stations throughout the province. It visits police stations in the districts and subdistricts and villages of the province -- (audio break) -- and no indications. So be assured that there is no corruption amongst the police of Salah ad Din. And I don't believe that we've had corruption in the last six years.

However, there were some U.S. units that did have some -- that did think that there was some type of corruption in the police force of Iraq or in the police force of Salah ad Din. However, they searched that -- they investigated it. They did not find anything and there is no corruption....

COL. PIATT: I have a note to add, that I agree with General Hamed...we work side by side with our Iraqi partners every single day.

... I completely agree with him that in the police force we just are not seeing corruption. We're seeing uniformed officers on the street manning checkpoints. We're seeing professional leaders leading district police stations throughout Salah ad Din province. It's just amazing to see.

Maybe, but I'm not totally convinced. Did Joe Tabet really expect an admission of corruption? Maybe he was just looking to compare their answers what what he's discovered or heard elsewhere.

Corruption is a way of life in third-world countries. The issue is one of legitimacy, not corruption per se. In the end, the key to winning insurgencies is that the people must believe that the government is working toward their interests. The reality is that in third-world countries the people tolerate, or expect, a higher level of corruption that we do. As long as we can hold it down to tolerable levels we'll be ok.

Finally, the Golden Mosque:.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Michael Carden from American Forces Press. Can you talk a little about the infrastructure situation in your province, mainly update us on the of the Golden Mosque?

COL. PIATT: One thing I will tell you is, our brigade was here in 2006-2007. And we were in Northern Iraq. And we were gone only 12 months. And when we -- (audio break) -- Salah ad Din, what we saw on the ground was really absolutely amazing, to see the security progress that this province has made....

So the golden mosque, it was, again, a very, very good scene for us to come back here and see the progress made in Samarra, where so much was destroyed and so much hope was destroyed and the town was very, very violent last time we left here. And it required a heavy force of coalition forces, police and army. Now you see markets are opened up. The mosque is being reconstructed at an accelerated rate. But not only is it being reconstructed and there's some normalcy returning to Samarra, pilgrims are returning. And we see thousands of pilgrims from other countries coming into Iraq to visit the shrine and they're not having any security incidents.

Col Piatt inspires a lot of confidence, General Hamed Nameq Yaseen Al-Jubouri less so. We'll see how it plays out, but the news from Iraq is good and getting better.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 09 February 2009 - "A New Normal"

This briefing is by Colonel Richard Francey, Commander of the 41st Fires Brigade, currently assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Camp Victory, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

The 41st Fires Brigade, also known as the Railgunners, is based at FOB Delta, which is just outside Al Kut in Wasat province, southeast of Baghdad, and bordering Iran. Although they are an artillery brigade, from what I can tell in the briefing they seem to be in a role similar to other combat brigades.

Col. Francey reports to Major General Jeffery W. Hammond , commanding general of the 4th ID which headquarters MND-Baghdad. Hammond in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Although there is much of interest in this briefing, the main message was simply that Iraq is turning into a normal country. From his opening remarks:

COL. FRANCEY: ...The latest indication that things are headed in the right direction here was the successful execution of the provincial elections last Saturday. The security was planned, rehearsed and executed by the Iraqi security forces. And the elections were run by the Iraqi high electoral commission.

The electoral process was handled smoothly and professionally. Most atmospherics indicate that the populace believes the election to have been safe, secure and legitimate.

Conditions as a whole are good. Security is stable; essential services improving. And with day to day freedoms of democracy recognized, a new normal is being embraced.
I'd be happy to take any of your questions at this time.

Before moving to the Q & A, I must make a comment about Col Francey's style. When I first started watching, I thought that Col Francey was reading some of his answers from a sheet of paper, especially as he answered the first question. In the next minute or so I realized that wasn't the case, and thought that just a personal habit of his to keep his head down. Observing further, he simply looked tired and worn out, as if he hadn't had much sleep recently. His answers were halting and he looked as if he was having trouble thinking and forming answers.

I also think it may just be a problem he has with eye contact, as he often avoided looking into the camera. He seemed to get better as the briefing went on, which leads me to think it was mostly an issue of fatigue.

All in all, a somewhat strange performance and quite out of the ordinary. I wish there was another briefing of his that we could compare this one to.

Q Colonel, this is Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers. There has been some concern that the bad actors that were perpetuating the violence in the past are still there, and that they are laying low until the American forces leave. What evidence do you have about where those, for example, former Sadrists were? Have they left the country, or left your province? Are they laying low? What intelligence do you have about some of those people who were perpetuating violence in the past?

COL. FRANCEY: Yeah, and, well, just let me apologize if I misled anybody. Things are stable, but there are still some bad people out there, and we continue to work to kill or capture them every single day. It's an ongoing condition. But let me just try to give you an example of what it is that I face every day.

When I got here I -- (audio break) -- were pretty good shape. I saw it as a window of opportunity to try and win the hearts and minds and start to work with the Iraqi government to start the reconstruction effort, and work in schools, water projects -- all of those types of things. And the results were a population within Wasat that started tasting freedoms that they had never tasted before. And they enjoy those freedoms.

So now what we are seeing, as some of the bad actors start returning, these people don't want to give up those freedoms and don't want to return to what -- the way it was. They are calling on the tip line, they're coming to the front gate, and they're saying, "So-and-So is back. Follow me. I will lead you to them." It's exciting to watch it.

This is pretty much what we hear from all briefers; we've stomped the insurgency down, but they're still out there and if we aren't careful they may come back.

"Hearts and Minds" is one of the most misunderstood phrases in all of warfare. The full explanation is here, but the short version is

Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.

Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.

Note that it has nothing to do with making the people like the counterinsurgents. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts.

Further, we need to remember that this is an insurgency we're fighting, not the Wehrmacht. Insurgencies tend to peter out, they're not won in grand World War II fashion. As Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen (Australian Army, ret), senior advisor to Gen Petraeus in 2007 for counterinsurgency told Charlie Rose, "There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years."

It has been said many times that the first thing the Iraqis said to us when we started the surge, sending troops back into their communities, was "Are you staying this time?" When we said yes, they helped us. They had not helped us nearly as much earlier because we did not stay. This will also be true in Afghanistan. Only when the people are convinced that the counterinsurgents are there for the duration will they commit to their side.

The first task of counterinsurgents is providing security for the people. Without that nothing else is possible. But once that has been achieved, it is essential that they move toward providing essential services and a representative government for the people. In the end, the people will only commit to a government that serves their interests.

In the same interview cited above Kilcullen said that in the end "All counterinsurgency solutions are political." and that "The role of the military in counterinsurgency is to hold the ring and create space that allows the political process to take place." It's obviously this latter stage where we are now, but that doesn't mean all military operations are over.

Q Colonel, it's Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service. You mentioned that -- you mentioned earlier that essential services are improving. Can you quantify that? How much are they improving?

COL. FRANCEY: Not enough. The -- you know, you just look across, there's still plenty of places that are -- don't have fresh drinking water, clean drinking water; many places that the sewerage is in very, very bad disrepair, if there is any sewerage.

And trash is a rampant problem in most of the bigger cities.

You see some of the projects ongoing. And do I think there are enough? No, and it's the party line that I continue to preach, to the provincial government, every time I have an opportunity.

I think they can do more. And we saw some movement, over the last three-four months. Don't know if it was tied, as part of their electoral process. But we have seen quite a few projects over the last three or four months. Hopefully that will continue, once we seat the new provincial governments as well.

That was a no-holds barred answer. And about what you can expect in most third-world countries.

Q Hey, Colonel, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News again. Do you see any -- given the fact that your province is primarily Shi'a, do you see a lot of influence from Iran in any way? Are they -- is Iran trying to help out with its agriculture problem, try and come in and provide infrastructure to curry favor with the local Iraqis in the area or anything?

COL. FRANCEY: Mm. Yeah. You can imagine being the -- one of provinces that borders with Iran -- every time I get a visitor, that's the number-one subject everybody wants to talk to me about. Iranian influence is in Wasat. You got to recognize, if you were in southern Texas, Mexican influence would be in Texas. It's something that's there. It's always been there and will always be there. (Audio break.)

What is the malign influence that we want to balance or defeat? The Iranian influence will be there. You can see it both in non- kinetic -- I see certain projects that will start popping up in different areas, and I know it's not GOI money, and I know it's not U.S. money. So I can -- and I now there aren't any outside investors coming in quite yet, no.

I would say I'd love to have some come in any time.

So, yeah, I think there is a lot of Iranian influence that's ongoing. To what degree -- I think it's still very manageable. You talk to the people on the street and they don't want it there. And there seems to be a pretty strong push across the -- with Iraqis for -- (audio break) -- nationalism. And I think they'll be okay.

Q Could I follow up on that, please? You said that the Iranian influence is manageable. Could you elaborate one what manageable Iranian influence looks like?

COL. FRANCEY: You know, if I have people in Wasat that don't have food, but Iran is importing watermelons or fruits and vegetables, is that Iranian influence within Iraq? If I have them importing other construction materials that are being used, because it's not coming in from other -- (audio break) -- influence that's not all that bad.

I see -- if you move up to some of the towns up around the border, you'll see some clinics or schools that are being worked on and, no, it's not our money but it's a pretty good project. And not saying that I can definitely attest to that being Iranian money that's building that school, but if it is, is that such a bad thing? I don't know.

Is it -- what's manageable? If the people have their individual freedoms and they're allowed to be Iraqis and not be leading down a path of Iranian support, then I think it's okay. But people will -- the people will speak, when I talk to the people -- (audio break) -- official positions, they'll tell you, we see it out there. We don't like it, and we're going to get rid of it. We just need time.

We can't just "seal the border" and be done with it. Since time immemorial the people in the region have engaged in commerce, and you can't just cut it off. I remember reading Michael Yon's account of what he saw at the border (can't find the link just now) and he was amazed at the enormous number of vehicles that passed through each day.

What Col Francey is saying then that Iran and this part of Iraq are intertwined just as the U.S. and Mexico along our respective border and it is what it is. We may be able to cut off illegal immigration (if we had the fortitude) but to eliminate all trade would be counterproductive. Ditto with Iraq and Iran. The key in each case is to keep out the people you don't want.

An interesting if somewhat odd briefing.

Posted by Tom at 7:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 4, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 02 February 2009 - Big Changes in Basra

This briefing is by British Major General Andy Salmon, who is the general officer commanding Multinational Division Southeast. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Basra, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

Multinational Division Southeast operates in the southern part of Iraq, including the cities of Basrah(Basra), An Nasiriyah, and Al Amarah. The division is headquartered by elements of the British and Australian militaries. General Salmon took command of MND-Southeast in August of 2008, replacing Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner.

Although Maj. Gen. Salmon is with the British Army, as part of Multi-National Force-Iraq he reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of MNF - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Readers who follow the situation in Iraq will recall that before the surge, and even for a time after, Basra was considered lost to militia forces. Long story short, a determined Iraqi effort led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, backed by coalition forces, seems to have turned the situation around.

Anyway, let's see what the generals says, and what the assembled journalists question him about:

From General Salmon's opening remarks:

GEN. SALMON: ...Now, to a certain extent, there has been a big difference, and I think if you look at the situation we find ourselves in now in Basra, compared to where we were without (Operation)Charge of the Knights, in the words of Ambassador Crocker, there has been a radical transformation.

A couple of days ago we saw the first all-inclusive elections, I think a big step in the right direction for the future of Basra and Iraq. One-point-four million people had registered to vote. We had about a 50 percent turnout, more in the city and less in the rural areas, overall.

But they were safe and secure, and it was really important to the Iraqi security forces. It was a litmus test for them. And the fact that they passed with very minor incidents was a testament to the way that they developed since Charge of the Knights over -- in the last six months.

I think what's really impressed me about their performance was their ability to plan, their attitude, the way they handled incidents and responded to them very sensibly, in a measured way, and the fact that they kept a reasonable level of tempo going throughout the last few weeks.

And overall, it continues with this great consolidation from the Iraqi security forces. They're more resilient. They've now got a security architecture we've helped build in place, and there's more joint cooperation between Iraqi army and police, and to a certain extent they're working in a much more harmonious fashion....

House prices have doubled. There are fuller markets. Smaller businesses are cropping up all over the place. And some of the work that we've done, for example, on the microloan side of life, has provided an extra 900 jobs. And restaurants are busy. And people are starting to really enjoy themselves.

Most homeowners in the United States have seen the value of their house decline recently as a result of the recession. Rising prices signal increased demand, which will in turn spur construction. All very good news.

With increased prosperity come increased expectations, something that Gen. Salmon mentions also in his opening statement. The people have " tasted freedom recently...and they want more of it." At the same time they are demanding more of their politicians to deliver more services better and more efficiently. In other words, it's politics like a normal country.

As Salmon concludes, "It's the start of a new chapter." Now it's up to the Iraqi people to make the most of it.

On to the Q & A. As always, the issue of when coalition forces will come out is important. We'll skip most of this first exchange and get right to the heart of the matter

Q General, this is David Morgan from Reuters. As you know, Prime Minister Brown set out three goals that would have to be accomplished before British troops could withdraw from Iraq. One was to hand over control of the Basra airport to the Iraqis. Another was to hold provincial elections. And the third was to revitalize the economy. Have those goals now been met? And if so, how soon would you expect to see British forces begin to withdraw?

GEN. SALMON: the main, you know, we've completely met, you know, the conditions and the tasks that the prime minister has set up.

When I say "in the main," the qualification, of course, is something that we can't deal with, which is the long-term building up of national defense forces and the enablers and the capability, which is not something that we're committed to doing, because that's not what was agreed. So that's being done....

I think overall, we are very much on track to deliver the prime minister's conditions. And with that in mind, then we will see British troops start to transition. They will finish the mission by the 31st of May, and British troops will be out of Iraq by the 31st of July.

While the Iraqi Army has made great strides towards tactical proficiency and overall professionalism, regular readers of this blog know that logistics has remained a problem. We have seen the journalists bring this up time and again in these briefings. While the situation seems to have improved recently, that they still ask about it is telling.

Q Yes. General, this is Joe Thabet with Al Hurra. Talking about the good picture that you mentioned earlier, how do you assess the Iraqi force's readiness and capability in Iraq? And what do you think what the Iraqi forces need in the future to handle security task and security mission?

GEN. SALMON:... The training establishment, which is obviously fundamental to a developed and professional army, is starting to look much better. And we're now seeing a much more -- greater effort and willingness to say that actually training is an important part of our development, so let's get down here. So I think that's pretty good.

I think where there's going to be a lot of work is over logistics and making sure that the chain of resource flow and logistics flow, materiel flow, is much more coherent and much more effective. And partly, this is to deal with budget execution, and also, you know, capacity.

So I think there's much more work required on the enablers, and I think that is part of MNSTC-I, you know, and the Iraqi ground force's command long-term development and aspirations.

What happens when the British leave? What coalition force, , if any, will take over?

Q General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes. Can you talk about what kind of footprint the British will leave behind at the end of July that the Americans might have to fill?

GEN. SALMON:...actually, we're not going to have a vacuum when the British forces redeploy back to the U.K. We're also going to make sure that we attend to the naval training. So that will continue as a coalition force, led by the Brits at the moment. We've got U.S. Marines, Royal Marines, U.K. navy, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. So the continual development -- again, in terms of national defense, sovereign (issue ?) of the Iraqi navy, we'll be leaving a residual force to be able to complete that task. And that's a long-term thing.

So what I'm saying is that there's a very different mission (surfacing ?). We know, in terms of the new security agreement, that coalition troops have got to be out of the city, aside from mentors and trainers, by the summer. And that's exactly what's happening.

So there aren't going to be any vacuums. There will be some level of military presence to make sure that situational awareness is all right. But essentially it's a very different mission. It's more of a rule-of-law/civility/growing-civil-capacity type mission. So that's what's actually happening.

Q (Off mike) -- your answer, it sounds like -- that no U.S. troops will have to replace some of the British troops that are departing. Is that correct?

GEN. SALMON: That is correct. But at the same time, I know that the commander on the ground here will want to make sure he has some situational awareness. But he won't be replacing U.K. troops man for man.

In other words, it's up to the Iraqis to take care of themselves in Basra once the British leave.

Finally, as part of his closing remarks, a word from the general about future challenges:

GEN. SALMON:...It's the start of a very significant phase in the Iraqis' path from, you know, what has been, you know, a failed position, a failed- state position to probably where we have been just before the elections, you know, a fragile state, and on the cusp now of increasing the capacities, you know, obviously subject to some of the things that I've talked about happening towards, you know, a more stable state.

And I think what needs to happen is, there needs to be this compact between citizens of Iraq, civil society, politicians, civil servants to make sure that governance is reformed and actually delivers, to the needs of the people, something that we haven't seen in Iraq for some time.

We also need to make sure that we set the conditions for sensible economic investment and attract international investors who are going to help trade and commerce and also do their bit, in terms of being part of this compact. And I think the international community needs to be part of that too.

So looking at the United Nations, I mean, only the other week, I spoke to an EU rule of law mission that were interested in joining in on the law and order pillar down here.


Iraq Briefing - 14 July 2008 - The British in Basra

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 2, 2009

Elections In Iraq: A Victory for Democracy

Last Friday, January 30, most Iraqis went to the polls to elect local provincial representatives. Provincial councils are similar to an American state legislature. Representatives were elected to 14 of Iraqis 18 provinces. There was no voting in the four Kurdish provinces, as this is to come later.

We will not know full results for weeks, but we do know a few things right now. First, they went off mostly peacefully, which for any third-world country is an achievement in itself. Second, from the accounts I have read they were mostly fair, another achievement. Finally, this represents the fourth election in Iraq since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is more than have taken place in any other Arab country.

These have got to count for something. I don't care how opposed you were to OIF, you have to admit that it's a good thing that Iraqis can choose their own leaders. More importantly, I am cautiously optimistic that this moves Iraq in the direction of liberty. Voting is all very fine, but if it results in rule by Hamas it's all for naught. The point is to push societies towards concepts of individual freedoms, and adopting the things we specify in the Bill of Rights.

Clearly the Iraqis have a long way to go, and they could still backslide. As mentioned above, we don't know the full results, or the exact percentage that voted. But we have to take this one step at a time, and as a rule are not voting for Hamas-type parties. The editors of National Review call it a "quiet victory," and I think they're right.

Most news reports have it that secular parties did better than their religious counterparts. This is generally a good thing, but of course secular parties can go off the rails too. The Middle East alone has seen a few Ba'athist parties that were quite fascist in nature. Saddam Hussein's only party was Ba'athist, for example, as is the ruling party in Syria.

Further, the Sunnis participated fully this time, having realized their past mistake of boycotting the 2005 elections. Just as important, the Sunni parties who appear to have done well were the ones based around tribal loyalties who are not anti-American as is the Islamic ones.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party also appears to have done well, beating out the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which consolidates his position. As the name implies, the Dawa party is religious, but all in all seems better than the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which is the major Shiite religious party.

Walid Phares, two of whose books on the worldwide jihad I have reviewed here, offers his usual cogent analysis of what the elections mean. Following are excerpts:

Why are the Iraqi elections important to Americans and the rest of the international community? Simply because it will show, or won't, that "spreading democracy" is possible in that part of the world, a principle against which Jihadist forces, authoritarian regimes and many critics within the West have challenged....

2) The Jihadist forces of Iraq, including al Qaeda, dislike the rise of a democratic culture and the pro-Iranian militants plan on using the system to their advantage. Massive violence didn't erupt in diverse areas such as the Diyala province or in cities such as Mosul but few incidents. But here again the preparedness of Iraqi forces, assisted by the Coalition, will tell about the readiness of the country to manage its own elections in the future.

3) The level of participation will tell us if popular trust in elections is taking root and any numbers higher than 60 % will confirm this....

5) These elections will produce a new majority in Iraq, which will be always determined by coalition building. However, one result is certain: there will be no return to a single-party dictatorship. Iraq may break in pieces, but it will never return to a Saddam-like monstrosity; and that is what authoritarians in contiguous countries fear the most.

The seeds of elections are now planted in Mesopotamia. With more than 140 political party and associations, hundreds of newspapers, publications, dozens of radio and TV stations, a mosaic is in existence. It will be hard on the Iranian Mullahs and on al Qaeda to crush all this diversity...Once young Iraqis (who will be voting for the first time), along with women who have broken the walls of gender exclusiveness and minorities emerging from the underground, have tasted and tested this democratic exercise, a resistance to fascism and totalitarianism is born.

Let's hope he's right. Not wearing rose-colored glasses, Phares cautions that "these are the early baby steps of Iraqi democracy" and the forces of totalitarianism, namely Syria, Iran, and, well, just about every other Muslim country in the region will work to kill the baby in it's cradle. A gruesome analogy but apt.

Additional Coverage

Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent news roundup. As with Phares' piece above, check them out, but the titles alone are pretty telling:

Washington Post - In Iraq's North, Vote Tallies To Define Loyalties, Dispute, by Ernesto Londono

Washington Post - Maliki's Party Poised to Win in Key Regions, by Ernesto Londono

Washington Times - Iraqi election hints of party shift, from AP

New York Times - Secular Parties and Premier Lead in Iraq, by Alissa J. Rubin

New York Times - Election: What The Papers Say, by Stephen Farrell

LA Times - In Iraq, security trumps sectarianism at polls, by Tina Susman

Associated Press - Sunni party likely big winner in northern Iraq, by Kim Gamel

LA Times - Iraq vote turnout fails to meet expectations, by Monte Morin

Washington Times - Election troublesome for some Shiites, by Brian Muphy of AP

Reuters - Vote sows seeds of greater calm in Iraq's north, by Tim Cocks


Iraq Briefing - 26 January 2009 - The Upcoming Iraqi Elections
Iraq Briefing - 05 January 2009 - Trying to Ensure Peaceful Transitions of Power

Saturday February 7 Update

Bill Roggio reports in The Weekly Standard the good news that the Sadrists did poorly:

The results of Iraq's provincial elections are in, and the parties backed by Muqtada al Sadr's political movement fared poorly in regions of southern and central Iraq where he is considered to be influential. In Maysan province, which used to be run by the Sadrist movement, the Sadrists received 15.2 percent of the vote, placing it in second. In Baghdad, where the neighborhood of Sadr City has two million Shia supposedly under his influence, the movement received nine percent (tied second place). In Basrah, the movement received five percent (fourth place). The Sadrists finished third and fourth in Najaf and Karbala respectively. These provinces used to be considered Sadrist "strongholds."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who was said to have been defeated and humiliated by Sadr during the operation against the Mahdi Army in Basrah and in Baghdad, did quite well. His party won the elections in nine of the 14 provinces where elections were held, including in Baghdad, Basrah, and Maysan. Of the 10 Shia-dominated provinces, Maliki's party finished first on nine of them.

Sadr's Mahdi Army took a real beating last year at the hands of the Iraqi security forces and the Coalition. This year, the Iraqi people gave the Sadrist movement another beating, this time at the polls.

Posted by Tom at 9:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 26 January 2009 - The Upcoming Iraqi Elections

This briefing is by Colonel Todd McCaffrey, commander of the Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, currently assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Camp Taji, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

Camp Taji is in a rural region approximately 60 miles north of the city of Baghdad in the Baghdad Governorate. MND-Baghdad is, of course, responsible for Baghdad and the surrounding region. It is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. The 4th ID, along with McCaffrey's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, is nearing the end of their tour and about to relocate back home.

Although the 2nd Brigade is formally part of the 25th ID, as part of MND-Baghdad Col. McCaffrey reports to Major General Jeffery W. Hammond , commanding general of the 4th ID. Hammond in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

As always, we learn from these briefings in several ways. One, what the briefer says. Two, what they don't say. Third, what questions the journalists ask, and fourthly what they don't ask. Finally, we should compare these briefings to reputable news sources and commentators. With these things in mind, we will proceed.

Although there is much of interest in this briefing, the January 31 provincial elections are the most important thing that was discussed. After reviewing Col McCaffrey's opening comments, this is where we will spend most of our time.

Also following is a primer on the elections and what they mean for Iraq.

From Col. McCaffrey's opening remarks:

COL. MCCAFFREY: ...Over the last 14 months, we've seen a remarkable drop in violence, and a corresponding development of economic growth and Iraqi security force capabilities. And as you all are very much aware, we find ourselves poised on historic provincial elections later this week. In my mind, being here to watch the Iraqis conduct these elections is a perfect conclusion to this tour, and marks an important milestone on this nation's continuing development in democracy and freedom for its people.

While the upcoming elections are a culmination of our tour, there has been much progress that's brought us to this point....

When I last conducted one of these press conferences, I reported that insurgent activity was down nearly 500 percent from a comparable point a year earlier. Since that time in September, we've watched a further 50 percent decline in insurgent activity in northwest Baghdad. It's now very common to go for days without a single violent act in our area. And when attacks do occur, they tend to be isolated, ineffective and focused on the Iraqi security forces, who operate independently and provide the day-to-day security across the region.

Sunni insurgent groups have been pushed out of the towns and villages across our area, and are forced to find fleeting refuge deep in rural areas where it is increasingly difficult for them to plan and stage attacks....

While the insurgency here is not completely defeated, it's now only capable of conducting localized criminal activity that's increasingly within the capability of the local Iraqi security forces or institutions to handle. ....

Candidate posters seem to be everywhere, and there's a palatable excitement in the air. The Iraqi security forces are well prepared, they're well rehearsed, and I believe they have a very solid handle on election security. This is, without question, an Iraqi-led event, and we're honored to be able to see the Democratic process up close and personal.

No doubt the elections will be a major test of the new Iraq. I'm not really worried about election day violence this time. What concerns me is whether any party will emerge with a clear mandate, and whether any incumbent losers will step down gracefully. The latter was discussed more detail by Colonel Butch Kievenaar (2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID): Iraq Briefing - 05 January 2009 - Trying to Ensure Peaceful Transitions of Power.

Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has some very useful primers on the elections.

Excerpts from their Election Fact Sheet:

On January 31, 2009, fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces will hold Provincial Elections. Elections in the Kurdish region, including the provinces of Kirkuk, Dahuk, Arbil, and Sulaymaniyah, will be held at a later date. Iraq's last Provincial Elections were held in 2005.

The Iraqi Provincial Elections will be a critical step towards a more stable and sovereign Iraq if they are legitimate. The Sunni, who boycotted the 2005 Iraqi elections, will have the opportunity to achieve proportional representation in the country's provincial councils. Iraq's nascent political party system will have a chance to develop, and Iraq as a whole will be given the chance to demonstrate its ability to hold free and fair elections with a minimum of Coalition support. In short, the elections are a critical test of Iraq's ability to conduct the most fundamental function of a sovereign democracy.

  • A total of 502 parties have registered to participate in the election, and a total 14,431 candidates, including 3,912 women, will be vying for 440 open seats on the provincial councils of Iraq.

  • 80% of the political parties had formed after the 2005 elections.

  • There is an average of 33 candidates per position.

  • 36 Coalitions will participate in the elections.

  • A provincial council is a governing body similar to an American state legislature.

  • Under the Provincial Powers Law of March 19, 2008, provincial councils and governors are given significant authority. The councils have the power to make laws for the province and to allocate funds for projects within that province.

  • Provincial Elections were originally scheduled for October 1, 2008, but were delayed due to disagreements over electoral procedure for Kirkuk, a city hotly contested between Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomen. The Provincial Election Law, passed September 24, 2008, calls for Kirkuk's elections to take place later, under a separate process.

(emphasis added)

"...if they are legitimate." That is certainly the crux of the matter.

A year ago February then-Lt Gen Odierno discussed the importance of the people believing that their government cared about them and had their best interests at heart in what I called his "exit interview". Odierno was leaving his post in Iraq as commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq for home. The plan was for him to become Army Chief of Staff, but when Adm Fallon was fired from CENTCOM and Gen. Petraeus promoted to fill his place, it was felt that no better person could take over in Iraq that Odierno, the "Patton of Counterinsurgency" himself. Anyway, the important thing is what Odierno said during this interview:

As long as they (the Iraqi people) feel safe... they will continue to support us... if they feel rejected by their government.. that will be a turning point on what decision they make.


We need to push the (Iraqi) government to move forward, we need to push the government to be unified with all Iraqis. Those are the kinds of things that if they don't happen could derail the sacrifice and progress that's been made so far this year.

So the importance of the elections is pretty clear. I think that an honest assessment is that once Gates took over as SecDef and Petraeus at MNF-Iraq we've had a no B.S. policy. Petraeus himself said as much in what I call his "how we did it" speech last October before the Association of the United States Army.

Not surprisingly the first question about the elections was about the possibility of violence:

Q Colonel, can you talk about what the potential is for violence in the run-up to, in the aftermath of these elections?

COL. MCCAFFREY: Well, I think the potential is always there for violence. We have not seen a significant increase in violence from the norm, and I think partly for the reason that is of course there is a remarkable Iraqi security force presence on the streets. They are, as I mentioned up front, very well rehearsed and very much in the lead for security.

I'm quite confident that's going to continue through the elections, and I'm very optimistic. I watched elections here in January of '05, and there is a significant change in the character of the Iraqi security forces, both the army and the police, and the cooperation that they're operating with one another. And so I'm very, very optimistic as we make the run-up to the elections.

And then I would -- you know, forecasting across our area, and knowing the brigades we operate, I would imagine we'll see a similar security environment after the elections as well. So it's a very -- it's a positive step here and one I'm -- I sleep quite soundly at night knowing how the Iraqis are operating here.

Col McCaffrey seems pretty confident. I hope it's well placed. As we've seen in many briefings these past few months commanders have stressed that the Iraqi Army is in the lead and we are in oversight role.

Q Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. What do you foresee successful elections will do for your area? How will things -- how will that change things? ...I mean, do you expect to see, you know, changes in the way things are run, concrete changes in the way people's, you know, daily lives go?

COL. MCCAFFREY: You know, I'm not a politician, so I'm not sure how that will work over time. I imagine that the people will be satisfied with their elected leaders, and that will bring about a change in their attitude and at least their belief that they have a voice, which they may not feel in all cases they have right now. So I'm optimistic that that will be a change.

But what people on the street see as change all the time is the fact that markets are increasingly stocked with goods, they can move around much more freely than they could months ago, and their security forces are the ones on the street and they recognize very, very clearly that the Iraqi security forces have the lead here and that they are in control.

Indeed much of winning a counterinsurgency is getting the people to believe that the government can and will win. This is the "minds" part of winning "Hearts and Minds" - perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in all of warfare. See here for explanation.

Q (Al Pessin from Voice of America)So if I can follow up, to go back to Andrew's question then, if the elections go smoothly, as you expect, and if it results in a greater public satisfaction with their living situation, as you hope, then doesn't that pretty clearly indicate that a month or two from now, you won't need nearly as many U.S. troops in that area as you have now?

COL. MCCAFFREY: I'm not sure I could put a timeline at all on, you know, whether a month or two is the right time. I would tell you very clearly over time, you'll need fewer troops here in our area. And the Iraqis will continue to do what they're doing more independently. So undoubtedly over time, there will be a requirement for fewer coalition forces....

Although this last exchange is somewhat off topic, we'll cover it because it has been a recurring theme of these briefings. Although the Iraqi Army has made tremendous progress in the area of tactical ability, logistics and supply have been problems. Most briefers are asked how the Iraqi Army units in their areas are faring in this area. The reporters know it has been a problem, and want to keep track of whether we're making progress

Q Yeah, Colonel, it's Al Pessin. Just to follow up on that, I don't think you mentioned supply and logistics, which is what we had been hearing all along was one of the major lacking factors for the Iraqis. Are you doing that for them, or are they starting to do that themselves?

COL. MCCAFFREY: You know, especially at the brigade level, the Iraqi brigades are pretty self-sufficient. I think the logistics piece, in a broader sense, really higher than the brigade level, is really where they've had challenges. And we work with logistics battalions to help them do that.

I'll be honest. The logistics battalions that we've worked with have had phenomenal development, and I think they're working to integrate them in a broader scale. But at the brigade level, where they're out there in the field and living in joint security stations and on checkpoints, they seem to be supplying their soldiers with food, water, fuel, ammunition, as required, those things, quite capably in our area. So at the tactical level, the logistics seem to be working pretty well where I am across the brigades that we operate with.

I will report on the elections probably a few days after the occur, as by then we should have reports not only of the results but the situation on the ground at the polling places. Stay tuned.

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 12 January 2009 - Partners with the Iraqis

This briefing is by Colonel Burt Thompson, who is the commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division,Multi-National Division - North.. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala province, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

From the MNF-Iraq website, "MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii." Col Thompson's 1st Stryker Brigade assumed their duties in September of 2008. Their Area of Responsibility is Diyala Province.

Col. Kievenaar reports to Major General Robert L. Caslen Jr, commander of the 25th ID. Caslin in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

As always, we learn from these briefings in several ways. One, what the briefer says. Two, what they don't say. Third, what questions the journalists ask, and fourthly what they don't ask. Finally, we should compare these briefings to reputable news sources and commentators. With these things in mind, we will proceed.

There was much of interest in this briefing, but we'll concentrate on how the Stryker Brigade has been partnering with the Iraqis. This is important because as we reduce our force levels the Iraqis are must take the lead. The faster they learn, the smoother the transition will go.

From Col Thompson's opening remarks:

COL. THOMPSON: ... Since we arrived here, our primary effort was to maintain and establish security, a safe and secure environment. That's our critical enabler here in Diyala province. Governance is the primary line of effort for us here in Diyala, working closely with Governor Rah from the Diyala governance here and the provisional council. So we spend a lot of time -- as a matter of fact, my deputy commander is the primary-line- of-effort lead for the brigade in Diyala province.

Next to that is essential services, reestablishment of and continuation of essential services in Diyala, on behalf of 1.2 million. And then close to that is economics, helping Diyala province spend three years' worth of budget. And we're working down the list of projects there that they could spend money on....

I know I've said this a hundred times but it bears repeating: Security must come before economic and political progress. Until the surge we put the political cart before the security horse. One of the primary lessons of Petraeus' US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 is that you cannot have either political or economic progress unless you have security. Once we got our cart in order we were able to make headway against the insurgency.

Back to the colonel's opening remarks:

... Sons of Iraq transition is the second area I'll talk to you about. Huge effort in registration of Sons of Iraq. We have nine thousand and twenty -- or 9,062 in Diyala province. We've registered those and are now in the process of transitioning them to the government of Iraq. And I'd be willing to talk about that and the ceremony we conducted on 4 January when we transitioned those over to the government of Iraq control....

The Sons of Iraq (SOI) were an integral part of our strategy to defeat the insurgency. They've been discussed in many briefings, and as such the subject of many posts on this blog. Now that we've mostly beat the insurgency, they're rightly being disbanded. But you don't just discharge thousands of young men without a plan to put them at work elsewhere. Of course there are politics involved. How smoothly this transition goes will be a key to the future stability of Iraq.

Back to the colonel:

...And then finally, elections, which is where we spend the majority of our energy right now, as you can imagine, getting ready for the 31 January elections. Done some very detailed planning and coordination meetings with not just the Iraqi security forces, but with the provincial government authorities and the council here. We've done combined planning efforts and we've made a lot of progress in that area....

The key to all this and the key to the success of the elections is making sure that, one, we seat the new governance. So as soon as the elections are over, about a two-month period of time where we've got to properly seat this new governance in Diyala province and then continue to partner with them and move ahead....

Elections have been discussed in the past several briefings, including the last one in which Col. Butch Kievenaar discussed the challenges of making sure that incumbents give up their power peacefully.

On to the Q & A part of the briefing. Before we do, however, a few quick quotes from FM 3-24 about the army of the host nation:

1-154 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support....

6-1 Success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, upholding the rule of law, and provide a basic level os essential and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.

We might add the Clauswitzium dictum that

Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.

It all seems so simple from afar. But history shows that building up the military of third-world countries to where they can be effective is no easy task. It took us years to get the El Salvaroran army to go from being a 9 to 5 "barracks force" to where they could effectively fight the FMLN. Getting the various political parties to accept the democratic process was no piece of cake either.

And through it all the left in the United States wanted to abandon the fight. At times it was a near-run thing, but fortunately their views did not prevail and we were able to beat back the communists.

Likewise, Iraq was a near-run thing but President Bush finally did the right thing in firing Secretary Rumsfeld and Generals Abizaid and Casey, and allowing the team of Gates, Petraeus, and Odierno to implement what is called the surge. We have mostly won the military aspect, but much remains to be done.

Now, on with the Q & A:

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. You were just talking about the Iraqi security forces. Maybe you can talk a bit about how you think their capabilities are right now, maybe since your arrival or just before the arrival, and how you're looking at them now and, as you just talked about, into the elections. Are you also backing off a bit on patrols, or -- and do they have the lead on those? Maybe just kind of talk a bit about how that's working in your AOR.

COL. THOMPSON: I mentioned earlier that we went to school in -- on Diyala province before getting here. And I dialogued with two brigade commanders prior to getting here that spent, collectively, a year's time here in Diyala. I had a good feel for, one, the key leaders in the Iraqi security forces, specifically the army; not near as much the police, because they made some key changes to some of the key leaders in the police force.

So I felt pretty confident about the brigades in the 5th Iraqi Army Division, which is resident here in Diyala province. I felt good about the Diyala ops center commander, and also what we call the PDOP, their provisional director of police, General Damoukh , here. So I felt comfortable about their capabilities.

Obviously, as a commander, I spent the first 30 to 60 days pretty -- pretty much complete with my assessment of where they stand. And I think what you'll see is -- what I see is, individually, they're pretty competent. The equipment they've got, the kit that they have now, in many ways is just as good as some of ours.

Where you start seeing a little bit of a disparity is when they get to the collective -- a collective level, where we can do company combined arms live-fire exercises and operations here in Diyala, they can do those as well. But as far as integrating all instruments of power -- air weapons team, artillery, direct-fire weapons systems -- they got a ways to go there.

But again, the partnership, by, with and through, we spend a lot of time working with our partners. Every Iraqi battalion and brigade, all the way down to the squad and platoon level, has a partner. And those partners are from 1-25 Stryker Brigade. And so we've taken partnership serious. And quite frankly, we've raised it to a higher level.

You know, the SOFA and the security agreement says there are certain limitations for U.S. forces. I don't see it that way.

I see it as an opportunity not to get out there on point to clear these objectives, but to allow the Iraqis to get out front. And we partner with them, and we're brothers in arms, and we continue to move them forward. We take our tactics, techniques, procedures and our skill sets, and we rub up against them extremely hard. And the end result is we rub off on them.

And you can see their improvements every single day. My counterpart is Major General Khalid. He's the 5th Iraqi Army commander. And I can tell you, he has been working now for -- what? -- five-plus years with coalition forces, and you can't help not to have some goodness rub off on you. And so collectively, with the ability to integrate, to plan, to coordinate, to synchronize and efficiently and effectively execute operations, day by day they're improving.

So my assessment in the past 60 days is, yeah, they've got a ways to go, but quite frankly, you've got to understand that they've built this thing from scratch. They don't have the logistical systems we have, in many ways the technologies that we have, although that's even getting better, with the majority of our forces getting some of the same weapons systems that we have here in Diyala.

The Iraqi police. The Iraqi police, a little bit slower to get it professionalized; certainly have got the kit and equipment and they look professional, but you know, teaching them, again, the rule of law, order, justice, fairness -- all that stuff is a continuous process. And they're improving every single day.

Quite frankly, the Iraqi security forces, both the army and police, they have a herculean effort in front of them to maintain stability. And to me, that's the most important thing we can do. And the important gift I can give them is the ability to maintain a safe and secure environment here in Diyala. And that's what we've focused on an awful lot....

Q Can I ask a quick follow-up? This is probably not the best question, but with their level, are you confident that they are going to do a -- a good job during the election? I mean, you seem confident already, but do they have all the command, coordination, control in place to be able to pull off the security in the election without actually having to pull you guys in as well?

COL. THOMPSON: Yeah. And it's not a matter of pulling us in. To be honest with you, we want to be there. But we're transparent as we can possibly be.

We spent six hours yesterday with all the key players, to include those from the disputed zones up north, working through our security plan, painstaking detail.

In a couple of days here, we're going to do a full-up combined arms rehearsal where we'll bring and help facilitate and allow Iraqi counterparts to lead that rehearsal on the ground, just like a full-up rehearsal that we do in the Army: working through all the elements from movement of ballots to maintaining security of civilian population as they move through this processing of balloting; looking at physical security at each one of the polling sites or the voting sites, from the T-walls to the barrier materials, through the steps that we have to go through to, one, verify the individual, verify his identity, screen him to make sure he's not got any weapons or IEDs or anything else, and then moving those individuals -- to include female searchers, you know, to take into account the cultural differences here. So there will be a safe and secure election.

As mentioned above, it's interesting to see what the journalists challenge and do not challenge about what the briefer says. For example, I remember when they stopped challenging reports of military progress against the insurgents when the surge was going on. For awhile they were skeptical that the Iraqi security forces were getting better, but now I don't hear that so much.

Not the questions tend to be about the SOFA and it's implications. We also hear questions about how well the various parts or levels (federal vs local) of the Iraqi government work with each other, and also about how fast the Iraqis are taking over funding of their own operations.

Lastly, a story that illustrates the above points. We often hear that "the Iraqis don't like us" and/or want us gone, and I've no doubt that's true among may segments of the population. But it would be too simplistic to simply paint all of Iraq with one broad brush. My impression from these briefings and elsewhere is that the Iraqis serving their country in their military appreciate our forces and the sacrifices we are making on their behalf better than their countrymen:

COL. THOMPSON: On 16 October, when we had the indirect fire attacks that killed two of our soldiers, it would absolutely humble you to look at, one, the audience. On the front two rows were all of my counterparts. They didn't come because they had to; it was the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army commander, all our brigade -- subordinate brigade commanders and Iraqi counterparts. And I'm telling you, you rub up against them enough, you're going to rub off on them, and what's rubbing off on the Iraqis here is something that's good. We're teaching them the value of life -- you know, dignity, respect for others, rule of law. And quite frankly, day in, day out, the more we push and rub, the more is rubbing off on them. And it's going to take them time, but we are, one, quite proud of the progress that they're making, and we're not going to give up on them.

"We're not going to give up on them." This is more important than it may sound at first. In 2006, when the war was going south, the anti-war types wanted us to threaten the Iraqis with a pull out because they though "that'll show 'em to get their act together." This was always meant more for their domestic audience than the Iraqis, but it was flawed policy nonetheless. What worked is when we showed the Iraqis that we would not abandon them, and the insurgents that we would not give up.

So yes, we should and will eventually pull our troops out of Iraq. But it's still important not to do it too fast. We will generate a lot of bad will if we are seen as abandoning them before the situation is stabilized. Surely Generals Petraeus and Odierno are communicating this to incoming President Obama. I hope he listens.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 6, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 05 January 2009 - Trying to Ensure Peaceful Transitions of Power

This briefing is by Colonel Butch Kievenaar, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Warhorse Brigade. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Echo in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

Although the Warhorse Brigade is formally part of the 4th Infantry Division, which headquarters Multi-National Division - Baghdad, they are currently assigned to Multi-National Division - Center. MND-Center is also also known as Task Force Mountain, and is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division. The Warhorse Brigade arrived in Iraq in September of 2008.

Col. Kievenaar reports to Maj. Gen. Oates, commander of the 10th Mountain Division. Oates in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There is much of interest in this briefing, so I encourage readers to watch the video, which is 32 minutes in length. However, perhaps the most interesting exchange was about what happens after an election, when the incumbent does not get reelected. We in the West have grown accustomed to peaceful transfers of power; not so in places such as Iraq. Whether incumbent Iraqis accept defeat gracefully is anybody's guess.

From the colonel's opening statement:

COL. KIEVENAAR:...The Warhorse Brigade is responsible for the Najaf province, as well as southern Babil. Covering such a vast area is only possible due to the dramatic improvements in the security situation that the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are providing to their citizens. This is my third OIF deployment, and I can tell you from my previous experiences that the Iraqi Security Forces have greatly improved and on a day-to-day basis provide the security that their population currently enjoys.

We work hard every day to professionalize the ISF leaders and to help them develop sustainable systems to ensure that the security forces can provide security well into the future. The focus of their training is no longer on individual soldier skills, but is on small unit tactics, on battle command, logistics, intelligence analysis and combined operations.

As I stated, the Iraqi security forces have made great progress. My first deployment in OIF was as a squadron commander in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and we operated out in the Al Anbar province. I returned to Baghdad in 2006 as the division G3, the operations officer for the 4th Infantry Division, which was Multinational Division-Baghdad.

The progress of the Iraqi security forces from then to now is amazing and rewarding, because I've seen it from the beginning. The Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are conducting complex operations, both unilaterally and then some with our assistance. We've conducted combined operations with the Iraqi security forces; have targeted, identified and captured high-value targets. The Iraqi security forces, partnered with our forces, have captured six of our top 10 high-value targets....

When we go out on patrol, they are all combined with the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi security forces are in the lead, with our forces providing assistance. Instead of having 10 U.S. soldiers to every one Iraqi soldier or police officer, we see a much more balanced ratio.

Iraqi security forces taking the lead is something we've heard in recent briefings by other commanders. We know it's working because levels of violence are not going up.

On to the Q & A. The big question everyone is asking in the U.S. is "when can our troops come home?" On the one hand we certainly want to draw down as much as possible. On the other we do not want to lose all that we have gained. As such, we need to understand that withdrawal needs to be in stages. We are, after all, fighting a counterinsurgency war, and things don't end all-of-a-sudden World War II style.

Al Pessin gets to the heart of the matter. Typically, he asks a followup question to make sure he's getting all of the information. This time he asks two. Pessin is one of the more astute journalists and asks the hard questions.

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from VOA. Just to follow up on that thought, what impact do you anticipate then from the June deadline if any? And what preparations are you making?

COL. KIEVENAAR: What I expect is that by June, the JSSs and COPs that we are in; we will have withdrawn and handed those back over to the Iraqi security forces. And that was part of the plan even without that strategic agreement.

We are currently in two JSSs and a COP, well, correction, two COPs at this point. We have Iraqi army, Iraqi police. We have joint command and control. And that's where we do our joint patrolling from.

They have moved from, when we first got here, with very few forces there, to a much more robust presence and command and control capability. They are now the ones planning the operations.

We will continue to work through those and help them, to get through the election period that is the end of the month, and then reassess.

But we believe at that point we will be ready to start to back out of those, because they no longer require us to be there, and that they are -- both the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police -- working very effectively together in joint command and control for their own country.

Q To follow that, then, where will your troops go? I mean, how far away will they go? And how would you describe their role after they've withdrawn from the urban areas?

COL. KIEVENAAR: Well, they won't go very far. I mean, all that will happen is, is they will withdraw back -- as a basing piece -- back to the FOBs that we're in. In terms of the operations, they'll -- we'll continue to do joint operations with the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.

We are working on what we call professionalizing their security forces. That's focused on their leaders, their NCOs, and teaching them how to train, how to sustain themselves; working with the battalion leadership, the brigade leadership and the division leadership on how to do effective targeting -- instead of doing a sweep operation or a cordon and search, doing precise targeting -- and how to integrate both the intel with your maneuver.

And so we are working all of those things and we'll continue to work all of those training objectives with them as well as joint operations. It just means we won't live in the town as we currently do in those COPs and JSSs.

It being somewhat hard to translate into civilian-speak just what exactly the colonel means, Pessin asks a clarifying question:

Q So you'll continue to do joint operations with the Iraqis, including operations in the cities, but you just won't live there. Is that right?


Thankfully Col Kievenaar kept his answer simple this time. I googled for "JSS" and "COP" but couldn't be sure I found the right definition.

Another question dealt with the upcoming elections.

It has become somewhat easy to set up reasonably fair elections in most non-Western countries. The hard part is setting up a second set of reasonably fair elections. Even harder than that is getting incumbents to relinquish their seats. All too often "one man, one vote - one time" has become the watchword across the world.

It is all very fine that we have Hamid Karzai elected as President of Afghanistan, and Nouri al-Maliki elected as Prime Minister of Iraq. The question is what will they do if they lose the next round. Equally important are provincial governors in Iraq, which is what the next round of elections in Iraq are all about.

To his credit, Col. Kievenaar is not shy about discussing this challenge. Here's an excerpt from the following exchange:

Q And Colonel, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters, here. Can you give us your assessment of the security situation around the provincial elections? Are you anticipating incidents? Are you making plans to make any changes to take account of the elections?

COL. KIEVENAAR:...Where we think the critical period is, is between those that get elected and those that do not. And if I was the governor and I was in power and then I did not get reelected, this country has not gone through a peaceful transition of power. And so that's what we're looking at. That's what we're trying to help them with. And that's where we see the greatest friction point.

And we use our election that just happened with the -- for president as a great example of how there was a change from one party to another, in terms of who's going to lead the country, and how the current incumbent is working very hard to hand over the reins of power, to the incoming president, and how that is being done peaceably and amicably versus what they're used to, which has been a coup, how they have changed power in the past.

I'll certainly be looking to see how the Iraqis react to any close voting results.

Lastly, we'll catch up on the state of the Iraqi Army and police, and then we'll assess the threats in the Warhorse Brigade's provinces.

Q Colonel, Bill McMichael, Military Times. You called the progress of the ISF, since your last tour in OIF, amazing and rewarding. I wonder if you could be a little more specific and tell us how far the Iraqi military and separately the Iraqi police, in your area of operations, are from operating completely independently.

COL. KIEVENAAR: Okay. I'll start with the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi army, from my last rotation, was really just forming itself and did not have really good battle drills and really good individual soldier skills to execute the COIN (counterinsurgency) operations we were asking it to do.

It was trying to grow, train and execute at the same time, and the tempo that it was facing really didn't allow itself to train properly.

What I see now is an army that is fully capable on its individual skills, is capable of unilateral operations, especially in a COIN environment, and is now focused on also training itself while it is doing that, and now has a -- at least in the province that I'm responsible for, the enemy level is low enough now that they have the ability to train -- cycle forces off to train while they're executing operations.

From the police perspective: One, there's a lot more. Two, they are much more proficient. It was a challenge the last time I was here to get them to conduct patrols, to man checkpoints. And if we weren't there or we didn't take them out on the patrols, they wouldn't go. That's not the case now....

So far so good, but what I'd also liked to have heard about was logistics, which has been a big problem for the Iraqi Army, as it is for armies in third world countries in general. In many of these briefings we've heard about the inability of the central government to supply all that is needed, though it does seem to be getting better.

Here's the exchange on the threat levels in Kievenaar's AOR (Area Of Responsibility):

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Just briefly, you sort of answered it a little bit earlier, but what exactly is the threat level in your AOR? Are you looking at -- and who's involved? Is it mainly AQI or is it thuggery or -- and it seems to, down the road, tend to get worse. Do you have any confidence in the Iraqi army, Iraqi police since it has been a relatively quiet area that they would be able to actually control it without the help of the U.S., or with limited help of the U.S.?

COL. KIEVENAAR: To answer the kind of the overall piece, it's, yes, I think they can control it. In April, March and April of last year, this was not a very calm place. And the Iraqi army conducted an operation they call "Lion Bounce (ph)" in which they got rid of a lot of the significant JAM influence that existed in Diwaniyah province. Since those operations, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of events that occur. Now, we don't have a huge al Qaeda presence in the province that -- or the provinces that I'm responsible for. It is mostly what we call JAM special groups or criminals.

What we have right now is a situation where your low-level fighters, those guys that would then go out and do something if somebody gave them money, gave them direction and gave them resources, they're still around. But they're not doing anything because none of their leaders are here. Their leaders have been targeted, picked up or they're hiding in a neighboring country. And every time they come in, try to come back into this country, they're effectively targeted and picked up. The example is the six HVTs that we picked up since we came into the province.

Without that leadership, without the money and without the resources then they basically return to their normal lives. And so we have a very safe and secure environment right now and I don't see anything on the horizon that their security force, both the police and the army, cannot handle.....

Nothing shocking or terribly new in this briefing, which is a good thing.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack