Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sonny On the Road

I'll be out of town for a few weeks (I hope 2 weeks, but it might be more). I don't know if I'll be able to post much during my time away from home. For OPSEC reasons, I don't really want to say where I'm going, but I doubt I'll have time or access to an internet connection long enough to post. Actually, finding time to post might prove more difficult. I am taking my laptop with me, so I'll be able to write. But, it seems like we are going to be busy. Last time I was out of town, I stopped in Vegas on my way home. Here's a picture I took of the Chinese Garden at the Bellagio. Now I have to finish packing and figure out what books to take on the road.



Friday, February 24, 2006

Topic: Iraq


New York Times, February 23, 2006, Pg. 1, Blast At Shiite Shrine Sets Off Sectarian Fury In Iraq, By Robert F. Worth, BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 22 — A powerful bomb shattered the golden dome at one of Iraq's most revered Shiite shrines on Wednesday morning, setting off a day of sectarian fury in which mobs formed across Iraq to chant for revenge and attacked dozens of Sunni mosques.



The insurgents are in a fight in which they don't have to win. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. Simply staying in the fight is considered a victory for the insurgents.

The insurgents are going the "soft" way. The soft target way. And that's a good thing for them. Relatively early on, the insurgents realized that taking on Coalition forces head on was suicidal. The last straw came in the form of the battle for Fallujah. Once and for all, the insurgents realized that congregating and "holding ground" in a city actually plays to the strengths of the US military. Going the soft way for the insurgents means, forget holding a city, forget setting up sanctuaries and congregating in one geographical area, forget force-on-force engagements with the US, it means concentrating on soft civilian targets.

Thinking Like an Insurgent (My exercise in thinking like the enemy)

As an insurgent I can still attack the US troops without confronting them head-on, I can set up IEDs and still keep a steady flow of casualties. But I am going to concentrate in lucrative soft civilian targets. My chances of success and survival are better in most cases when I go with a soft target. Striking a very significant soft target, like the Shiite shrine in Samarra gets me more local and international attention than if I killed several US troops. And my chances of surviving and setting up other attack are far better.

Bombing a politically, religiously and ethnically important target like a Shiite shrine provokes chaos more effectively than if I try an attack against the well-trained US forces. It intensifies the civil war that's already in progress in Iraq. Because this is already a civil war. Chaos also halts whatever progress the Iraqi government can gain. I can create chaos and show to the world that the US is not in control. That the Iraqi government is not in control of the situation. It shows that I can pick and choose where and when I strike and that I can cause the US and Iraqi government forces to operate in damage control mode for a while, until I attack again. I don't have to attack every day, or even every week; I just need a steady flow to keep me in the minds of my opponents. As soon as they recover from their damage control posture, I hit again. My aim is not to knock them down, but to wear them down.

I know that the fury is already there. The Sunnis hate the Shiites. The Shiites hate the Sunnis back. Both Sunnis and Shiites hate the Kurds. An the US is in the middle. And we can all hate the US together. And blame them for everything that goes wrong. I just have to stir up the fury. Blowing up a golden mosque should do the trick and then some. Provoking chaos is easy in Iraq. I have to undermine the political gains that the US forces and Iraqi government have attained. Denying victory is my game.

By striking a sensitive and soft target I can initiate a chain of revenge attacks. I know that if I bomb a Shiite mosque, the Shiites will be furious. They will react in kind. It all adds to the chaos. All I want is disorder at this point. So yes, the Shiites will attack my fellow Sunnis, but that's all part of the plan. The Shiites are kind of helping me out by reacting with more violence. The US and Iraq troops will be tied up for a while. I can plan at my leisure and then surface again in a few weeks. This is a home game for me. I am not longing to go home. This is my home. I can work the chaos until I die. And then, others will probably take my place.

The chain of revenge attacks that I set up when I hit a soft but lucrative strategic target ties down manpower and equipment and disrupt operations. Disruption, more than destruction is my game. Anything I can do to disrupt the country's already shaky economy will help me in my struggle. Is this a civil war? Even an optimistic assessment of the situation will conclude that this is at leat a low-level civil war. Remember back in the fall of '03 when this was a low-level insurgency?


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Some Thoughts On Blogging

First, if you happen to be reading this blog, after you are done here, please visit these other blogs that I recommend, in alphabetical order:

Global Guerrillas: John Robb has a very clear and concise way to explain the trends that currently dominate our current war. If you are remotely interested on military subjects and finding out about the dark side of globalization, please click on the hyperlink.

Phatic Communion: My favorite blogs are the ones that promote out of the box thinking. I get enough of "we can't do that" in the military, so the blogosphere is a great oasis of open, intelligent thinking, sort of a more disciplined version of "anything goes". More disciplined because other bloggers, or readers can call you on the carpet in the comments section if you stray too far into bullshit territory. I hope that made sense. Anyway, click the hyperlink to Curtis' site and you'll see what I mean.

tdaxp: If you want a serious trip, go to this site. Dan discusses all kind of subjects ranging from warfare to Lebanese babes. It's all done with a healthy sense of humor, but under the humor, you will find the larger truth.

Zenpundit: This is where I find out what going on in terms of ideas. The way I see it, Zenpudit is a blog of ideas. Mark will bring to your attention some of the best ideas and writing on the blogosphere and the greater internet. One of the first sites, after the Early Bird, I read every morning to find out what's going on.

OK, now to some of my thoughts...

I started blogging to keep some of my thoughts organized. To keep track of some of the things I was reading or working on. To force me to write on a regular basis. Having other people read what I was writing was secondary. But, if you put things on the internet, somebody will eventually find it and notice what you write. Although this sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable, it kind of forces me to write better and it also puts my thoughts under the scrutiny of other people. Blogging has really exposed me to things that were unknown to me before. There is really a stimulating exchange of ideas in the blogosphere. We get to actively participate in dialogues instead of passively receiving information. Pretty much every blogger has a comments section where you can comment and react immediately to what they have posted. I wish TV had that. In fact, I don't really watch TV; I find it numbing.

One of the dilemmas of a military blogger is that you can't blog about everything you know or have seen out there in the field. I've been back from Southwest Asia since summer 05, and even though I still know what's going on "over there", I base my postings on open source reporting peppered with unclassified comments based on my experiences on the subject. You won't find secrets on FX-Based.

I wish I had more time to blog, but I have to work a lot of hours. Like many of the troops back from the field, I am know working towards bettering our force based on what I've seen out there. I can mainly affect things in my career field and that's, of course where I concentrate on. Not a job as big as the generals who are working towards transforming whole services, but nevertheless important.

One of the most difficult things about blogging is picking out subjects to blog about. I also want to make justice to the subject I am blogging about.

OK, now I have to work on another post.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Topic: Iraq: Three Spheres

The sooner we realize how resilient the insurgency in Iraq is, the sooner we will beat it. The United States military has a single engagement with the insurgents in Iraq, however, in an insurgency, fighting on the battlefield is only one the many arenas in which we must excel to win. The war in Iraq started as a pseudo-third generation warfare (3GW) affair (pseudo, because in the information age, a pure 3GW is almost impossible to wage) and now, of course we are facing a 4th generation warfare opponent.

The Iraqi insurgency operates as a network. Networks are resilient organizations. Why is this network so robust, yet flexible?

The Iraqi insurgency operates within the most active Islamist theater of operation

The jihadists operate a worldwide network that, much like our own U.S. military regional combatant commands (CENTCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, etc), is divided into theaters of operation. There are Islamist groups operating in the Americas, Western Europe and North Africa, however, the most active theater for the jihad is the Greater Middle East. Iraq is located in a central position (geographically and politically) within this theater.

Iraq's geographic position - borders with Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran - allows the relatively easy flow of people (recruits, supporters, etc), materiel, money, doctrine and techniques. Bombings, suicide attacks, kidnappings, beheadings and other terrorist activities are common activities in this theater. Al Qa'eda (a predominantly Sunni organization) has regional partnerships in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kurdistan with a presence in Jordan and in mostly Shiite Iran. Affiliation with Al Qaeda does not imply direct sponsorship or control from a core Al Qaeda leadership (who is mostly on the run anyway); Al Qaeda (as a movement, not an organization proper) provides influence, not direction.

If the Sunnis operate under the umbrella of Al Qaeda, the Shiites have their own (though interconnected) associations and blueprints for the region, particularly Hizbullah, an organization capable of conducting operations throughout the entire theater. Basically, the Middle East, more than any other theater, provides an optimal environment in which a Islamic insurgency can operate.

Iraq is literally in the middle of that optimal environment for insurgency and our troops have to operate inside that environment. The optimal environment for insurgency is compounded by the fact that Iraq is a very weak state. Saddam Hussein's rule crippled Iraq's economic growth since the early years of the Iran-Iraq war. The fall of Saddam's regime also exposed deep fracture lines in the impoverished country. The insurgency operates in an environment or ecosystem that contains multiple spheres.

The Religious/Ideological Sphere. According to CENTCOM, in terms of manpower, 90 percent of the members of insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq are Sunni and native Iraqis. At the most, 10 percent of the insurgents are foreigners. While small, the foreign element is mostly Sunni. The foreign element of the resistance is predominantly violent and composed of Islamic fundamentalist that go to Iraq to wage jihad. In addition to personnel, the foreign element offers financial and material support to the insurgency.

This majority Sunni in the insurgency (whether native or foreign) share common ideological roots based on the precepts of Neo-Salafism. So, even though the Sunni insurgents are organized under dozens of groups, most of them share the same ideology: broadly Salafi in orientation. Since Salafism and Wahhabism (both movements advocate a "purist" and authoritarian outlook of Islam) originated and has flourished in the Middle East, logically there a more Salafist per-capita in the region than in any other part of the world.

Throw an "Infidel Army" into this Salafi-rich environment and you have a recipe for discord. I am not saying that all Iraqis or Arabs are Salafists or Wahhabist, but certainly, the ideas advanced by both of these variants of Islam have a more fertile ground to grow in the Middle East than in any other region. Our involvement in Iraq demonstrates that the native, civilizational, tribal, religious, and political issues present in such ideological war have to be fought out mainly by our Iraqi allies on the ground and other Islamic states. Iraqi leadership is paramount in this war.

The problem is one of different interpretation of the same events. We see our troops as liberators, the Iraqis initially saw them as liberators who removed Saddam, but then the troops were seen by many as an unwelcome foreign element, as invaders. According to an ABC News poll results released in December of 2005, half of Iraqis, when asked, said it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

The Cultural Sphere. Our troops in Iraq operate inside an Islamic and mostly Arabic cultural sphere. There are problems inherent with a Western armed force operating inside an Islamic country. Jihadist groups inside of Iraq share the Islamic faith with most of the population while our troops, infidels in the eyes of many Iraqis have to work inside a population that often identifies them as "invaders" and "crusaders".

The insurgents and the Iraqi population also share Arabic as a common language. One of our weaknesses is our lack of troops proficient in foreign languages, specifically Arabic. Small wars tend to be less net-centric and more human-centric. Small wars usually not won or lost on the battlefield, they are won on the political and cultural realms. Small wars are face-to-face affairs were our formidable military technology takes a backseat to personal relationships.

Iraq is a semi-industrialized country with a relatively decent road infrastructure. This allows insurgent groups from remote parts of the country to communicate effectively, and sometimes train together. The fact that it is relatively easy for the insurgents to share information contributes to shared consciousness. The insurgents also share a common Arabic and Islamic civilizational overlay with the Iraqi population in which they reside.

To wage a war in the cultural sphere interoperability is key, and by interoperability I mean the seamless integration of all the agencies (US military, Iraq security forces, intelligence services, civilian government, etc.) into a combined plan of reconstruction, that while national in scope is managed at the local level. Each region, each town in Iraq is unique and our approaches need to account for those differences.

As Westerners, we take for granted our ability to evaluate credible information-we consider sources and always keep a healthy dose of skepticism; this is a product of living in a democratic society and exposed for years to a number of media outlets and information sources. The Iraqis are just now experiencing the possibility of information being disseminated without the approval of a totalitarian regime. For many Iraqis, what we in the US would call urban legend, they perceive as fact. Conspiracy theories concerning the American presence abound. The battlespace in Iraq is as much in the streets and roads as it is in the minds of Iraqis.

The Personal/Human/Psychological Sphere. We discussed the big picture that is the Islamic civilization; then we moved to the medium size picture that represents the Iraqi culture; now we move to the personal, the human or psychological sphere in this conflict.

To survive in an totalitarian regime, the majority of the population is stripped of personal power. The way to gain power is through a patron and not though personal accomplishments, merits, or talent. Once you have a patron you can improve your life a little bit, provided you are passive and don't rock the boat, and demonstrate devotion to your patron. The Iraqis had to live under this conditions for decades. The liberation of the Iraqi mind is still ongoing.

More than physical effects the insurgents rely on psychological effects to achieve their goals. The insurgents know that it is impossible to physically destroy or even put a significant dent in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, but they want to mentally wear down who they consider to be occupiers. The attacks also aim to create alienation between the so-called occupiers and the general population who blames the US and Iraqi government forces for not providing security and, in the case of the US forces, for perpetuating the dangerous situation by overstaying their welcome.

In Iraq, chaos erupted when we removed the crucial piece that was ruthlessly keeping it all together: Saddam Hussein. Crime spread like wild fire after the removal of the regime. We all remember the images of widespread looting across the country. The perception was that nobody was in charge. The Iraqis were simply unable to govern themselves. And we just were not ready to quickly fill in the vacuum.

A Western force in an Islamic country will inevitably cause a civilizational conflict. Our knowledge of Iraq culture and language is sketchy at best. Psychologically, as Americans, we tend to misunderstand other cultures by virtue of our tendency to mirror image every body else. Assuming that Iraqis perceive, understand and act in a way that would seem "logical" to an American is counterproductive to winning the psychological battle.

The way I see it, Samuel Huntington's clash of civilization is alive and well in Iraq. We are facing a opponent that calls for a jihad against all infidels (basically those outside Islamic civilization), and justifies the murder of innocent civilians based on religious decrees. An enemy that engages in ritualistic violence, like the beheading of captives in front of a large audience. The Iraqi insurgency is a very unique modern phenomenon. It has some elements that reflect the 20th century guerrilla wars waged in China, Vietnam, Latin American and Africa, but with a uniquely 21st century flavor: a mixture of religion and ideological factors mixed in with elements of classic tribal warfare a la 19th century British colonial wars all under an Information Age context. A clash indeed.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Net-Centric Discussion: Today's Wars


Just like our victory in the Gulf War (Desert Storm) was, in many ways, forged in the jungles of Vietnam, our potential future triumphs are being created by the next generation of our nation's military leaders in the streets of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. What are we learning from today's wars? Many discussions, inside and outside of the military, have centered on this issue. Regardless of the discussion in many forums regarding the differences of network-centric warfare (NCW) and fourth-generation warfare (4GW), I suspect that most of our future leaders understand that this is a false dichotomy and that NCW and 4GW are but flip sides of the same coin; they both represent ways in which we are going to be fighting wars in the Information Age. In postmodern war, the old meets the new in peculiar and unpredictable ways. Witness the extraordinary convergence of 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century styles of warfare in evidence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are literally thousands of lessons (that apply both to NCW and 4GW) that we have learned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, here's ten.

1. Don't count on the elusive. The elusive is that which we can't easily understand. Some of our mistakes have come from lack of understanding of our adversaries' internal workings. Basically, we tend to project American or Western values into our adversaries. For example, the US misjudged how the North Vietnamese would react after the gradual-response Rolling Thunder air campaign; they just did not respond to the "signals" in the way that the US was expecting. In Iraq, we misjudged the resilience of the Saddam regime after Desert Storm and then after the Iraq War in 2003, we misjudged the response of the Iraqi population and the growth rate of the insurgency.

The elusive can be assessed, but it can't be counted on. We should not count on best-case scenarios or that the enemy will react with American-like logic. We should concentrate first on what we understand, on the tangible. Victory in warfare (whether NCW or 4GW) is still defined by the application of decisive force at the right time and place. The way we wage war should be grounded in reality and not in dreams or ideology.

2. Don't go to war by yourself. We can win either way, alone or with a strong coalition, but when we go alone we increase our chances of "winning ugly". The more obvious we make our case for war against a potential adversary in the international stage, the more support we'll get from our key allies. No matter how much we bitch about Europe (especially France), I believe that the Europeans are our natural allies.

We took care of the "low-hanging fruit" that was Saddam's regime in Iraq through a preemptive, but necessary war. We could have done a better job of not alienating the Europeans in the process, but that's now in the past. Today, the Iranians and North Koreans are pretty much making our case for us.

Sometimes I wonder if Bush's preemption doctrine died prematurely on the roads of Iraq.

Like Dr. Barnett, I am not so worried that we can't win a war by ourselves; I am worried about the "peace" that immediately follows the conventional portion or "big war".

3. IO the crap out of the battlespace. Information operations or IO are crucial in winning an Information Age war. When it comes to IO, in many cases, the battlespace includes the whole world. This is related to the "elusiveness" lesson in the fact that we are not very good at it. Is related to the "don't go at it alone" lesson in the fact that we went to war with Iraq with a "with us or against us" attitude that has proven to be ultimately counterproductive.

From a regional perspective, in Iraq and Afghanistan the IO fight has been waged as an afterthought. Wars in the Information Age are primarily wars for the hearts and minds of people. This should be easy for us Americans. We are the land of freedom and prosperity. The light of the world. Unfortunately, we are also perceived in much of the world as an imperial (or at least neo-imperial) power. It can be difficult to make the case for Goliath, but it can be done.

4. An initial intense air campaign always helps at the start. We learned that during Desert Storm and now we've made this a part of the American way of war. Nothing can beat airpower when it comes to putting decisive conventional force at the right time and place. Shock and awe still works. This is not to say that airpower can not benefit from the synergy provided by land forces; witness the successes of Desert Storm where the massive amount of ground forces amassed in the Arabian desert acted as an anvil to our airpower's hammer, the marriage of special ops and airpower to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the closely coordinated maneuvers of Iraqi Freedom that toppled Saddam's regime in three weeks.

Major initial destruction still counts as long as the essential targets are justified. Bombing civilians is counterproductive in an Information Age battlespace. Regardless of what the critics say, when waging war, the US currently takes the most care in not harming civilians ever witnessed by any nation in the history of warfare. It is almost a function of being the Leviathan force that you are going to be condemned for all collateral damage.

5. You need a broad range of capabilities. When you are the US and you face an array of threats from state and non-state actors your options and capabilities need to be equally extensive, from satellites and stealth bombers to infantrymen in close quarters door-to-door combat. Forecasting what our forces will need in the future is very difficult. Usually you don't know what you need until you need it. Our current operations in Iraq do not look like anything we were training for (at least in my service, the Air Force) back in the 90's.

6. Open armored and exposed infantry warfare will be very rare. Our adversaries will likely shelter their forces in cities and populated areas. They will try to compel the US to fight in a urban environment where they can offset our technological prowess. The enemy will take propagandize any strike in an urban area regardless of how justified or collateral damage. The enemy will not stay put in one place waiting for our air strikes.

7. Get the OODA loop in the field. My main criticism of NCW is that, when let loose, net-centricity tends to foment micro-management. This can be the topic of a whole book and is one of the most frustrating aspects of waging post-modern war. The OODA loop is closely related to the sensor-to-shooter cycle that involves finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging, and assessing the results or F2T2EA. We call this F2T2EA cycle the kill-chain. In the Air Force is all about shortening the kill-chain. Matched up to Desert Storm and Allied Force, each of these F2T2EA/OODA loop actions needed a progressively smaller amount of time to be accomplished, with the only exclusion of deciding. The "D" takes a long time if you take it out of the field and put it in the HQ, especially if the HQ is not even in the same country as the shooters.

8. Take advantage of the politization of enemy military forces. Adversary forces associated with a nation-sate will likely have combined military and political responsibilities. In other words, they are structured more to fit the regime's domestic security needs than to conduct joint maneuver warfare operations. Even more so than in the US case, their "D" in the OODA loop will likely be their most limiting factor.

9. Interoperability is key. Since Desert Storm, there's been significant advances in intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) fusion and comms connectivity, yet access to information required by field components at the tactical level continues to be widely different among the components. Interoperability is key to joint warfighting. Our services' capabilities need to be seamlessly integrated. We are improving in this area, but we need to get better. This is not an easy task for a modern military force. The good news is that we are probably the best is the world when it comes to interoperability; compared to American standards, potential nation-state adversaries like Iran and North Korea do not have mature combined arms capabilities.

10. We need to emphasize forward leadership. Wars are fought by human beings. No amount of technology will compensate for poor leadership. We have the technological edge, but more importantly we have the leadership edge. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wars of people. Our tactics in both countries rely more on the leadership of our company-grade officers and NCO's than on technology. Leadership and not technology is what makes our armed forces the best in the world.

The revolution has already happened and was partially televised. Regardless of all the debates in what we call "the corridors of power", captains, majors and NCO's are the ones who quietly implement revolutions.

Suggested Reading:

Blueprint for Action : A Future Worth Creating. Thomas P.M. Barnett. The book starts with a debate on the false dychotomy of NCW and 4GW. After that, it gets better.

The Tiger's Way: A U.S. Private's Best Chance for Survival. H. John Poole. Our adversaries prepare to outwit our technology, and take on many times their number.

The Challenge of Command: Reading for Military Excellence. Roger H. Nye. Not directly related to NCW or 4GW, just highly recommended reading for junior officers and NCOs.

Transformation Under Fire : Revolutionizing How America Fights. Douglas A. McGregor. Read this book if you want to understand transformation where is mostly needed: in the Army. Perhaps its only flaw is that it's too Army-centric.

Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War. Evan Wright. For my money, this is the best book written on the "big war" part of the Iraq War. The most accurate presentation of life in the Marines. (I am not a Marine, but I have worked closely with them in Iraq. The Marines rule. Semper Fi.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Topic: Iraq

Attacks

According to the Department of Defense, at the end of 2004, the number of trained and equipped Iraqi security forces was around 96,000. That number has grown to 227,000 in January 2006. Today, Iraqi forces outnumber US forces in Iraq, who currently number 138,000. The Iraqi forces are also taking a more aggressive and noticeable role in fighting the insurgency.

The insurgents in Iraq have broadened their target list to include the growing number of Iraqi forces operating across the country. This fact explains the increase in insurgent attacks from 26,496 in 2004 to 34,131 last year, an increase of 29%. The insurgents are definitely aiming for the weakest link in the stabilization forces in Iraq, and that link is the Iraqi forces.

Numbers alone can paint an imperfect picture. Just because the number of attacks jumped 29% from one year to the next does not mean that the strength of the insurgents is growing or that they are "winning". Often what we see in the media is an unsophisticated representation of the problem that simply assumes that more attacks is an accurate measure of insurgent strenght and indicates that we are failing in Iraq.

Numbers are just numbers. Think about it. The 34,131 includes every single attack that the military reports, whether is a car bomb resulting in dozens of casualties or a mortar round that lands in an empty field and causes no casualties. Most of the attacks carried out by insurgents are of the latter variety and totally unsuccessful. The insurgents have about a 25% success rate when it comes to their attacks. Success in this case is defined as attacks that cause damage or casualties.

673 US troops were killed in Iraq in 2005, versus 714 in 2004. The number of wounded dropped from 7,990 to 5,639, a drop of 26%.

The most serious threat in Iraq to our forces comes from remotely detonated roadside bombs (improvised explosive devices or IEDs). This type of attack remains as one of the major problems for the Coalition forces. IEDs caused 900 deaths out of a total of 1,748 combat deaths, or 51.5% during the entire post-Saddam period, from March 2003 to January 2006. IEDs are by any measure the most effective tactical weapon of the insurgents. Things are actually getting worse in the IED front. From July 2005, to January 2006, IEDs killed 234 US service members, out of a total of 369 total combat deaths, or 63.4%. IEDs attacks are successful even when they cause no casualties because they tie down manpower and equipment.

At the strategic level, how effective are these thousands of attacks in swaying the views and behavior of the Iraqi population? According to ABC News fourth installment of "Where Things Stand in Iraq", published last December, Iraqis are far more hopeful about their personal situation than they were in June 2004, when the third installment was published. Seven in 10 Iraqis responded saying that their lives were going well, but paradoxically only 44% of Iraqis say they believe things are going well in their country.

One troubling trend is that suicide attacks increased in 2005. The number of suicide car bombs rose from 133 in 2004 to 411 in 2005. There's also been an increase in the number of successful attacks against Iraqi officials, Iraqi forces, and their families, and well over 2,700 Iraqi officials and Iraqi forces were killed in 2005. There's also been numerous attacks against reconstruction and aid projects to weaken acceptance of the US-led transition command in Iraq. At least 276 civilians working on US aid projects had been killed by March 31, 2005.

Success

If the roughly 25% success rate in insurgent attacks is a good measure of victory the insurgents are failing miserably. There are no indications that the insurgents will be able to significantly increase their effectiveness. Just like the insurgents, we also learn and adapt from our experiences. The insurgents are also unable to establish sanctuaries within Iraq. Witness our success at rooting them out from Fallujah. They can't win any major military battle. On the other hand. The insurgents are limited to attacking our weak spots. That being said, we need to remember that the mission of the insurgent is not to attain victory, but to deny victory.

Winning

We can win in Iraq. Unlike Vietnam, we are not in a quagmire in Iraq. We need to understand that fighting asymmetrical warfare against a savage enemy is meant to be frustrating. If we abruptly run way from Iraq, we would be running away from all the moderates in the Middle East. We would be leaving these moderates at the mercy of the terrorists. Who's going to believe us then when we pledge our support for reform in the Middle East, when we are so quick to turn our back and retreat. War is not easy. Is not meant to be.

Further Reading

Here's a link to The Brookings Institution site, where you can find the Iraq Index, a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion, and security data, updated frequently.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What we really need now

Things we need more of in the armed forces:

An open exchange of ideas. Currently, we are getting a lot of real-world experience in combat, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and stabilization operations all over the world (especially, but not exclusively, in Iraq and Afghanistan). We need to make sure that the lessons we learned today are not forgotten down the road. True, each war, each operation is unique, and you can't fight today's war with yesterday's war plans, however, we should avoid reinventing the wheel every time we conduct a new operation.

We need to engage in give and take conversations on how to deal with our current challenges. We need to keep an open mind to ways of addressing those challenges. And keep the free-flowing exchange of ideas. Let's look where we have wasted our energies and resources, where we have lost opportunities. And let the boss know what you think. Don't deprive him or her of the opportunity to learn and grow from what your ideas and experiences.

Today, we operate in a vast information space. The battalion on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan that walks the beat in the same area repeatedly for a whole deployment has a far better notion of what's happening in that part of the country than someone who is far detached. But if that information does not flow up the chain, it can't be combined into an overall assessment. In fact, it's lost to our analysts who's job is to understand the strategic implications of our actions.

As Westerners we come from a tradition of fierce war makers. In large part, our ferocity stems from the fact that we go to war as free men and women. The military is not a democracy, but we come from a democracy and a democratic tradition that goes back all the way to classical Athens. Democracies are unmatched when fighting wars. From the time of Thucydides democracies have been the most adept type of governments at war making. Witness the military prowess of Republican Rome, the Renaissance city-states, Victorian England and democratic America, all democracies (if we expand the classical definition of democracy) that projected military power far beyond what their rather limited territories and populations might otherwise suggest.

Out-of-the-box thinking. We live in a world that is, frankly, all screwed up. A world that, in the large historical arc, is just getting out of 500 years of European dominance and transitioning into more diluted ways of supremacy. We Americans are paying for that now. The Europeans used to physically dominate the world. After the Europeans empires collapsed were left behind to pay the bill. Today we are dealing with deformed areas of the world that are the product of poor border settings. The European empires divided populations that were meant to be together and joined populations that were meant to be apart. We are going to have to deal with the problems that will inevitably arise in those parts of the world (see Dr. Barnett's non-integrating Gap). And every time we go into these places, and take action militarily, we realize the limitations of our military technology.

Our military is in a state of flux, from the Cold War, to the post-Cold War, to the post-9/11, to the post-Iraqi Freedom environment. We are wrestling with how to fight the war on Islamic terrorists while trying to reconfigure the military for future (conventional, and non-conventional) threats. We are playing with different ideas on how to accomplish this. We are finding new ways of organizing our information and our institutions. We are finding new ways of connecting our capabilities.

The very nature of warfare is changing. In the past, competing nations tended to focus on building the largest conventional forces and obtaining the most advanced major weapons. That was part of the theme of the Cold War. The U.S. emerged from the end of the Cold War with unrivaled conventional military forces and with most advanced weapon systems. Basically, if you want to oppose the U.S. you better go the unconventional, and asymmetrical way.

During the last two decades we have been involved in this so-called revolution in military affairs (RMA). We've seen how the RMA has paid off from Desert Storm in 1991 to Iraqi Freedom in 2003. We saw the triumph of these RMA in Iraq in 1991, but we also saw its limitations ever since President Bush declaration of Mission Accomplished in 2003. Now it's time for a new revolution to address our future potential adversaries who are likely to engaged us with asymmetrical means.

If you want to beat out your adversaries, you've got to be able to learn faster than they do on a continuous basis. We need leadership that will bring new insight into this fluid environment. Leaders in the mold of Stonewall Jackson who recognized that the conditions of warfare changed fundamentally between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of our Civil War in 1861. Likewise, we need to recognize that the circumstances in which our forces will be involved in the future will be very different from a purely conventional engagement a la Desert Storm.

We need leaders who can figure out ways to get things done within the unusual, sometimes even strange, constraints of a large organization like the U.S. military. Leaders that figure out how to work the organization, bypass the hurdles, create great collaborations (in the mold of special forces and airpower during Enduring Freedom), and accomplish the mission with success.

Our Will

Our adversaries, either terrorists or hostile states, cannot succeed in either a conventional or an asymmetrical conflict against us, should we bring the complete, total package of our assets to the fight. When our nation's will is fully engaged in war, we can become the fiercest of enemies. Witness our relentless bombing of German and Japanase cities during WWII. We've actually been fighting the War on Terror in a subtle manner with an economy of force rarely seen in warfare from a nation whose homeland has been severely attacked. We need to convince our adversaries that in General Sherman's words "war and individual ruin are synonymous terms".


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