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.