Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Low Profile in Iraq

Just came back from vacation in an undisclosed location. I am trying to catch up on things. On my way home I was thinking how we can change the character of our involvement in Iraq. Here's my quick version of captain playing general.

Strategy for Iraq: Bottom-line Up Front

I don't like the terms "pulling out", "withdrawal", or "cut and run" when it comes to what we can do in Iraq. I like the term "lowering our profile". That's probably what we should be talking about instead of the above mentioned terms. It is evident that we are lowering our profile in Iraq, and we should.

Our troops have played an extremely crucial role in all of Iraq's decisive steps towards democracy: the invasion was conducted superbly, Saddam Hussein was deposed and captured, elections in January 05, the constitutional agreement, and then the elections of December 05. All very good things and very important to the overall goal in Iraq. On the side there's the whole WMD issue, the poor planning to respond to the insurgency while in its embryonic stages, and the fact that Zarqawi is still at large.

Our military has been the main character in this drama. To deal with an insurgency you need a strategy that includes more than military operations. The socio-political and economic aspects of the "stability operations" and counterinsurgency portion should also take center stage along with the purely military options. Military operations are one of the means to a final political goal.

One of the main roles of our military right now is to get the Iraqi troops up to speed. You can't train an army - to our standards - overnight. Training an effective Iraqi force that will be able to handle the security mission all by itself will take time and patience. Most of the remaining US light infantry troops in Iraq will be working in training the Iraqi Army and conducting combined operations with Iraqi units.

Our presence in Iraq will still be robust; it will just have a different character. The current mix of forces is not really stopping the insurgency in the country. To be sure, there is no evidence that the insurgency is growing, (and I don't think it is) but at this point the insurgency does not have to grow, they just need to stay in the field, conduct one or two high-profile terrorist operations per week and they are still "in the game". They can't lose, but they don't have to "win".

On a personal note, I think deposing Saddam Hussein and trying to create a stable and democratic government in Iraq was a good decision taken by our leadership. I "supported" the decision. For us in the military, it does not really matter if we "support" or not the decisions made by our leadership. I don't really think in those terms. We have a mission - we assume that our leaders already weighted all the options before deciding to act - and we do it to the best of our ability. The word "support" does not accurately describe what we feel when we suit up to get the job done. If anything, it is the ultimate support. We "support" the effort with our presence, our hard work, long days and nights, our sleepless nights. We, and our families, "support" the effort with our blood, sweat, and tears.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the decision to go into Iraq, one has to admit that the post-invasion effort was completely botched due to a lack of planning, vision, and historical knowledge of the area. At first, we were received relatively well by the Iraqis. I had friends who traveled the country doing the ground truth analysis for the bombing campaign during the summer of 2003 and they tell me they felt relatively secure everywhere they went. The same ground truth analysis could not have been done a year later because the security situation had deteriorated so much.

But lets assume that the Iraqis greeted our entrance in 2003 with much rejoice and warmly welcomed us into their country, knowing that we were there to bring democracy, to bring hope. Now, let's do something we as Americans don't like to do. Let's put ourselves in the shoes of another people (meaning not-Americans, Iraqis in this case). When was the last time there was a power outage in your neighborhood? If I told you had to live with six-hours a day of electricity for the next year, would you be happy? When was the last time you heard a loud explosion in your neighborhood? Have you ever heard the sound of a car-bomb explosion? Have you ever heard the screams of the wounded after such an attack? Would you be happy if I told you are going to hear at least one explosion each week for an indefinite amount of time? When was the last time you heard gunfire late at night in your neighborhood? I am talking shots fired in anger. If you did hear gunfire, did you feel safer after you heard it? Wouldn't you like to live somewhere where you did not have to hear this? Where you happy to be in a traffic jam this morning on you way to work? Was there a Humvee in front of you with their weapons pointed at you? When was the last time your house was searched by the military? By the police? Was the search a pleasant experience for you? Granted, these could be seen as mere annoyances in the big scheme of things, but they still matter. I am not even going to go into the number of Iraqi deaths after the occupation. To be sure, Saddam Hussein was running a reign of terror against his own population and it's at fault for the majority of the serious political, economic and infrastructure problems that we are facing in Iraq, but our occupation plan certainly needed to account with more fidelity this serious problems taking into account that the occupation was not going to be a "plug-and-play" operation.

Now is time to lower our profile.

If we leave, will the insurgency mutate into warring Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions? Will Iraq break-up into three different countries?

Will the Iraqi Army that we are currently training be competent enough to deal with the insurgency within the next two years?

At this point, we are playing catch-up when it comes to training the Iraqi security forces. After the fall of Saddam there was immediate coherent plan to bring stability back to the country, and we overlooked the real dangers of terrorism and insurgency. This failure of planning was followed by a failure in reaction as the terrorist and insurgent threat slowly but surely began to emerge in the fall of 2003.

Very little attention was paid to the fact that Iraq was a fractious country divided by Sunni, Shiites and Kurds factions hostile to each other and that the only thing keeping them in check was the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. We deposed the Saddam regime and occupied the country (an army of infidels in the eyes of many Iraqis) and the failed to provide basic needs like electricity and security to the country. Now we find ourselves in the midst of an embryonic civil war in Iraq.

What about the recent (Dec 15) election? Holding an election with such a high turnout (more than 70%) is definitely a step in the right direction. As evidenced by the high turnout, from all religious factions, the Iraqis greeted this chance to vote with a warm reception. In fact, amidst the chaos in Iraq, there seems to be a glimmer of hope. One of the best polls gauging the feelings of Iraqis was recently conducted by ABC News in partnership with Time magazine, the BBC, and Japanese and German news agencies. Here's a quick breakdown on the numbers that I found interesting:

The Good

The Bad

The Ugly

Iraq is a very complicated country. The collapse of the Baathist uncovered the country's deep divisions. The US made a series of key strategic errors in dealing with this situation. These mistakes primarily stemmed from a lack of preparation on our part.

Now we have a situation in which the Sunni Arabs have lost most of the power they had under Saddam's regime and they clearly resent it and the Shiites now comprise most of the government and the military. At some point, the two factions need to sit down and iron out their differences if they want a unified Iraq. This is easier said than done as there are many sub-factions within both camps.

As far as the insurgency goes is hard to tell if is growing or dwindling in terms of numbers. They are probably neither rising nor diminishing in numbers. When it comes to troops-level for an insurgency, the numbers are always unreliable. Besides, even several thousands of insurgents can do considerable damage to the Iraqi infrastructure and reconstruction efforts and cause a low but steady number of coalition casualties to keep eroding domestic support for the war.

No matter how well things go, the US will continue to have a role in Iraq, but the character of that role will probably shift to accommodate the new reality that we are facing.

So we reduce our footprint well below the 100,000 troops level. The fact that we have so many units on the ground in Iraq - conventional Army fighting irregular forces - is partially why the popular support for the war is eroding so rapidly. Once the troops levels are down - and based on the changed character of the operations as result of the phased-down - the number of casualties should go down too, and our presence in Iraq will have a lower media profile. Remember, we still have troops in Afghanistan and nobody is advocating bringing those troops home. Additionally, we run low profile operations all over the world that the media does not cover because the media tends to go for the "easy story". Remember too that for years, during Operations Southern and Northern Watch we were sending pilots into combat missions in Iraq and the media hardly covered that, why? It was a low-signature operation, with no casualties, and as such it was not "sexy" for the media to cover. So, here are the main points of what I think we should do:

1. Keep infantry units that live, train, and operate in close coordination with Iraqi units. The reins of this conflict should be turned over more and more to the Iraqis. At this point, this is their war to win. And it is a mental war more than it is physical. Our military has done an outstanding job in Iraq, but insurgencies are not won with military might alone. The perception of our forces as occupiers needs to be diminished. True Iraqi leadership needs to surface. We'll hold their hands for a while, but ultimately they have to walk on their own and led by their own people. The more the Iraqis work out their military, political, social and economic problems on their own, the less the better. There is a current perception that if you work too closely with the "American infidels", you will be branded a puppet or worse a traitor in the eyes of other Muslims. Decreasing our presence will help curtail this perception and will lead to more cooperation among Iraqis without this stigmatized American intervention. We don't need a massive presence to achieve security at this point. We needed that in Summer 03 and we blew it. Small groups of our troops working side by side with the Iraqis can make a big difference.

2. Special Operations Forces. SOF working closely with airpower assets has been a staple of both OEF and OIF. SOF operate below the media radar. They gather and respond to actionable intelligence and can request air support for their operations. They are the component of our military that is best trained to handle irregular warfare. They constitute a human network and at such are better equipped to handle the human network of the insurgency.

3. Airpower. I am talking mainly about non-kinetic support (ISR and airlift), with a small percentage actually dedicated to kinetic (ground attack) operations. For the air component the counterinsurgency fight is mostly (sortie percentage wise) an ISR fight. Air and space assets can provide most of your intelligence support (IMINT, SIGINT, etc), except of course, HUMINT. For ground attack ops we'll have joint terminal attacks controllers working with the SOF as spotters for targets. Pretty much what we are doing right now. The Iraqis are not ready to conduct this terminal attack control mission, and I doubt that they will be ready in the near future, or that we will be willing to accept the risk of having Iraqis calling air strikes.

Those are my thoughts for now. I am sure I'll think of some more practical stuff. It's nice to play armchair general every one in a while.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Urban Operations

I've been out of town for a week, and unable to post. Here's a quick view of urban combat ops from an airpower perpective. Urban operations will probaly be my main focus for the foreseable future with a sprinkling of other stuff I am working on.

In the last 20 years (basically since the end of the Cold War) the United States armed forces have been involved in a wave of urban operations in Iraq, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia, to name the most prominent. Current stability operations in Iraq consist mostly of operations in urbanized terrain. To engage an adversary that's intermingled with noncombatants in an urban environment requires a measured combination of force and finesse. The last thing we want is a Stalingrad or a Grozny situation in our hands. Iraq is a highly urbanized country with many major urban areas connected by a modern system of roads and where the insurgents can move from one city to another with relative ease. The hi-tech version of war that characterized the first phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom does not translate well once were involved in stability operations in an urban environment.

From an airpower perspective, our intentions are not to turn cities into ruins (as happened in Stalingrad and Grozny), but to operate in the urban environment without causing major disturbances to the population. From a kinetic standpoint this means killing the “bad guys” without causing collateral damage. No matter how important the contributions the contributions of airpower are to stability operations in urban environments, the mission is still primarily one conducted by infantrymen: soldiers and marines. Airpower is mainly a behind-the-scenes player in this kind of operation. An enemy mixed together with the civilian population sometimes has to be located and identified using the naked human eye of a soldier or marine on the ground. Fierce fights in hyper-urbanized terrain (Baghdad, Mosul, etc.) where our troops are going against insurgents mixed together with civilians are best fought from the ground. Stability operations are primarily low-tech operations.

That’s not to say that airpower can’t act as a force multiplier in this kind of urban operations.

It is likely that the United States will be involved in more urban operations within the next decade. More and more people in the developing world (or the non-integrating Gap to use Dr. Barnett’s term) are moving into urban areas. Our future adversaries in the Gap will probably operate inside an urban environment in an attempt to negate the United States’ technological and operational advantages. The world is increasingly becoming more urbanized. Insurgents, guerrillas, and terrorists will probably seek refuge in urbanized areas to exploit the limitations of our sensors, weapons, and communications technology. We saw a glimpse of the possible future last year in the Iraqi town of Fallujah. Insurgents might also move between dispersed urban areas as happens in Iraq so that our forces have to “fish them out” from a number of dispersed “seas”.

To be sure, conflict will still be waged in a variety of environments other than urban, (jungle, desert, mountains, ocean, etc.), but the urban environment, with its physical and societal complications is not one that we can continue ignoring in our planning and training for long. Simply put, our smart adversaries will probably operate from a city to increase their survivability. It would almost be unavoidable to conduct military operations in urban terrain. Last year in Fallujah, we saw the prototype of how events might unfold in the future and an example of how the U.S. can conduct combat operations in a built-up area. The major contribution of the air component in this case was the ability to conduct persistent air surveillance, and precision air strikes. Additionally, before the November ‘04 sweep into the city the air component provided a constant presence in the city – via surveillance and strikes - and set the stage for the ground operation. This was particularly important due to the fact that prior to the large-scale ground assault the city was considered denied territory by coalition forces. Fortunately, we were able to keep the pressure on the insurgents and shape the battlespace prior to the land portion of the campaign.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

4th Generation Warfare and Netwar: The Basics

Currently I am reading on 4th generation warfare (4GW) and netwar. As a US service-member serving in the 21st Century much of my career has been spent fighting 4th Generation adversaries: drug cartels in Latin America, terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East. Naturally, I am interested in finding out more about these opponents. Thankfully, there's quite a bit of literature on the subject. The most clear and concise explanation on the subject of 4th generation warfare can be found in Global Guerrillas. John Robb provides details on the subject in a no-nonsense format similar to a military briefing. This is Mr. Robb's definition of 4GW:

4GW can be defined as a method of warfare that uses the following to achieve a moral victory:

Undermines enemy strengths (this may seem obvious, but most of modern warfare has involved direct attacks on enemy strengths -- find the enemy army and destroy it).

Exploits enemy weaknesses.

Uses asymmetric operations (weapons and techniques that differ substantially from opponents).

Another excellent effort to clarify the concept of 4GW comes from retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes in his book The Sling and the Stone. According to Col Hammes 4GW "uses all available networks - political, economic, social, and military" to achieve its goals. According to Hammes (and anybody in the military knows this is true) we are far better equipped, trained, and - more importantly - psychologically prepared to fight a "short, intense war", like Desert Storm or the "major combat" portion of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Another concept used to describe this multifaceted type of conflict is netwar, described in detail by John Arquilla and David F. Ronfeldt in the RAND publication The Advent of Netwar. This is their definition of netwar:

The term refers to societal conflict and crime, short of war, in which the antagonists are organized more as sprawling "leaderless" networks than as tight-knit hierarchies.

According to Arquilla and Ronfeldt, netwar blurs the line between peace and war, offense and defense. However you want to call it, 4GW or netwar, this kind of war extends beyond the military realm and goes deep into the political, economic and social realms. To use Thomas P.M. Barnett's phrase is a war that occurs within the context of everything else.

Both Global Guerrillas and The Sling and The Stone pointed me in the direction of an excellent article on the subject of 4GW/netwar titled The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation. The article, co-written by William Lind (and published in the Oct 1989 Marine Corps Gazette), is a no-nonsense mini-handbook for understanding modern war. Mr. Lind and his co-authors outline the challenges of preparing for the next war in a 4GW environment.

A great resource full of articles on 4GW is the Defense and the National Interest web site. The article titled "Fourth Generation Warfare" maintains that in our current circumstance we seem to be going back to war being waged by both state and non-state actors with state vs. state war being the exception rather than the norm.

Whether 4GW is truly new or an old form of warfare with a new garment, the fact of the matter is that we are currently still struggling to define the concepts and strategies that will help us fight this type of war. Our leaders are still struggling over how to call the combatants who wage 4GW:

"Over the weekend, I thought to myself, 'You know, (in reference to the Iraqi insurgency) that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,'" Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, said of his ban on the I-word.

"It was an epiphany," he added, throwing his hands in the air. Encouraging reporters to consult their dictionaries, the defense secretary said: "These people aren't trying to promote something other than disorder, and to take over that country and turn it into a caliphate and then spread it around the world. This is a group of people who don't merit the word 'insurgency,' I think."

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, standing at Rumsfeld's side, evidently didn't get the memo about the wording change. Describing combat in Iraq, he paused and said, "I have to use the word 'insurgent' because I can't think of a better word right now."

Monday, December 05, 2005

NGA Reinventing Itself

All right, I've "slacking" on my posting. Reason? I've been extremely busy at work and actually outside work too.

Anyway, part of what I've been researching it's the use of
commercial satellite imagery for intelligence and disaster relief by our national intelligence agencies, particularly the National Geospatial Agency (NGA).

agency is providing much of their support to the Hurricane Katrina and Pakistan earthquake relief efforts using commercial satellite imagery.

This type of
high-resolution commercial satellite imagery (1-meter resolution and better) will continue to play an increasingly important role in supporting the imagery needs of our government when it comes to disaster relief and military operations.

So far NGA has been one of the biggest customers of this commercial technology, after recognizing that these commercial satellites provide a much welcomed force multiplier to complement our government satellite systems.

Space Imaging is one of the companies that currently provides high-resolution satellite imagery.

Another company that's involved in this sector is
Orbimage. This commercial provider of earth imagery products actually acquired Space Imaging last September.

Orbimage has the high-resolution
OrbView-3 satellite in orbit, capable of providing 1-meter resolution imagery.

Last September too, Orbimage received new orders totaling $6.1 M under its
ClearView contract with NGA. Clearview is a NGA-commercial satellite sector partnership by which the U.S. government buys imagery collected by existing commercial satellites.

DigitalGlobe is another commercial firm that provides high-resolution earth imagery products and which also supported the Katrina relief with imagery products.

I see all this as the start of the reinvention of NGA from a sluggish government organization to a more agile -and disembodied- enterprise that will closely resemble a professional service firm that delivers outstanding services to its clients. These clients include anything from local, state, and federal agencies involved in disaster relief, to the warfighters on our war on terror.

I am optimistic (optimism ain't for wussies) that our intelligence agencies will be forced to further break with tradition and will be forced -mainly due to "competition" from virtual organizations like al Qaeda and the like- to completely reinvent themselves in the next 15 years. One step towards this reivention is to borrow a page from Forrest Gump: "Don't own nothin' if you can help it. If you can, even rent your shoes."

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