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.