Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sitting Around a Map

Another crowded, smoke-filled room with forty or so people gathered around another long table with a projector at the end throw up a picture of a map on a too-small screen. From my position, the whiny fan on the aged Canon digital projector obscures the voices coming from the other end of the long, rectangular room.

Today at the command center, many of the provincial players from nearby Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) gathered at our weekly meeting. Normally used to discuss the previous weeks SIGACTS, or Significant Actions, the agenda from this week was to highlight the impact of the ISF ongoing turf wars. Now, these are not turf wars where one group encroaches on the territory of another. The problem here is ISF units in our areas are hesitant to engage outside of their given Area of Responsibility.

The cloud hanging over the table is the assassination of another influential sheik the previous night. The enemy, conveniently dubbed as al Quada, uses a policy to alienate the highly successful Sons of Iraq contracted-militias from ISF and Coalition Forces. The strategy is clear; alienate the people from the Government of Iraq and Coalition Forces by attacking a linchpin of Coalition support.

Areas of Operations, or Areas of Responsibility, are pieces of land handed to us by our higher headquarters with the intent of preventing conflicting operations between friendly forces. In a perfect world, all the Areas would bump up against each other to provide maximum coverage to throughout the province. However, this is not a perfect world, and the Areas do not bump up against each other.

As each representative from the Iraqi Army, various Iraqi Police departments, and the National Police go to the map and draw their Areas, it become apparent that there are 1) a lot of overlapping areas and 2) a lot of gaps with no one claiming responsibility. Not surprisingly, the murder of the influential sheik happened in one of these gaps.

Also not surprising, is the use of these areas as enemy safe havens. Overlapping areas of responsibility appear to be in cities and on major highways. The gaps and enemy safe havens appear among rural areas and agricultural communities, well off the beaten path and difficult to access with the Coalition new, larger IED-resistant MRAP vehicles. By looking at reports of enemy activity and traffic through the province, we see that our enemy knows where the gaps are and is exploiting them to his advantage.

This is changing. All the professionals around the table now look at the map and see themselves hamstrung by poorly coordinated lines arbitrarily drawn on a map without much consideration for history or the enemy. The Coalition Force commander quoted Sun Tzu when he called this first step, "seeing ourselves."

Our next step is to take our maps and gaps and identify the enemy, his patterns, and his networks. This is called, "seeing the enemy." This includes sharing intelligence in a country where mishandling your 'source' could get someone killed. That portion will probably prove difficult given the turbulent history of distrust between the different Iraqi Security Force entities. Sharing will be a challenge.

We'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Being There is Easy, Not Being There is Hard

We sat in a long conference room staring at a projection of our counterparts' planned mission. It was a brigade level sweep of a nearby area, plagues of late by an increase in violence and insurgency. A few weeks back, insurgents targeted and successfully assassinated a local Sheik and his family with a roadside bomb. Two weeks later, gunfire killed his chosen successor. The pattern was clear: assassinate influential Sheiks with ties to the Coalition and the Sons of Iraq. Reestablish a stronghold for the insurgency in a rural area where Coalition Forces rarely travel.

Different interpretations of events followed and different courses of action developed. The Coalition was in the middle of facilitating reconciliation between the area’s three tribes. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Army planned a large-scale operation intending to break the back of an insurgency operating in the area with impunity. The Coalition plan relied on partnership and finesse. The Iraqi Army’s was the proverbial hammer to the nail.

Both plans were good. Tribal reconciliation would address many related problems: governance, security, and infrastructure. A military operation would show insurgents that although the Coalition would not chase them deep into rural areas, the Iraqi Army would. The coalition aimed to gain support to key leaders in the area. The Iraqi Army plan would take support directly to the populace.

It would be best if interested parties synchronized both plans, but they did not. One was to occur with 72 hours of the other. The Iraqi Army’s plan jeopardized the Coalitions hard-won partnerships of the previous five months. Our team made many attempts to bring the sides to a common table to delay the Iraqi mission and synchronize the two efforts, but for a variety of reason, it failed to happen. The Coalition made in clear to our Iraqi counterparts:

This mission jeopardizes the bigger picture. We will not stand in your way, but if you go, this time you go it alone.

Our Iraqi counterparts conducted their final back briefs, rehearsals, lined up their vehicles, and prepared to move out.

So where does that leave our Military Transition Team? We are the advisors to our Iraqi Army counterparts. This week we put hundreds of man-hours into assisting their planning efforts. It was a good plan based on solid intelligence and backed up with many, many arrest warrants. As Combat Advisors we build credibility and rapport by ‘being there.’ Whatever our counterparts plan and execute, we are alongside them throughout.

When they go to fight, we fight alongside them. As Coalition members, we bring and coordinate the ‘force multipliers’ ranging from additional surveillance to attack helicopters to additional U.S. ground forces. Most important, we are also the conduit to Coalition Medical Evacuation, or MEDEVAC, the air evacuation assets and Coalition Force hospitals that provide the countries best chance for the critically wounded. Many Iraqi Soldiers, or “Jundi,” survive horrific battlefield injuries because of Coalition MEDEVAC brought by their Combat Advisors.

As a Soldier and Combat Advisor, I wanted and needed to be there with my Iraqi brothers. As a member of the U.S. Army and Coalition Forces, I understood the bigger picture and advised them against conducting the operation. We were stuck in a hard place between supporting our counterpart’s tactical mission and supporting the Coalition Forces strategic campaign.

In the end, we voted the only remaining way we could, with our presence. Our boss informed his counterpart, an Iraqi General Officer, that when the unit deployed a few short hours later, his combat advisors and all we bring to the table, would not be in his order of march. In this business, we call it the “Silver Bullet,” something you can only fire once.

It was the last option, and not a pretty one. By sending them off alone, we placed at risk all the credibility we built as Combat Advisor by “being there.” It was the best choice among a collection of good options. Sacrificing the credibility and effectiveness of a ten-man team for the overall security and stability of a region is a small price to pay. With that, we went to bed and waited for Iraqi Army to drive off into the night, hoping they all return in one piece.

This job is hard.