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September 30, 2004

A mild Fisking.

Joe Gandelman, over at A Moderate Voice, has this interesting post up about how Vice President Cheney changed his mind regarding the utility of taking down Saddam in the years intervening between 1992 and 2002. I should take this time to note that Joe also is member of Dean Esmay's stable of writers.

Using information from this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he notes that Vice President Cheney is quoted as saying in 1992:

And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?...

And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq....

For the record, I agreed with him then. And I was on active duty as a combat arms soldier.

Joe next throws up this quote from Mr. Cheney:

All of a sudden you've got a battle you're fighting in a major built-up city, a lot of civilians are around, significant limitations on our ability to use our most effective technologies and techniques.Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq.

Gandelman himself then closes with this:

But the guy who made these comments -- Vice President Dick Cheney -- talks differently today.

And None Dare Call It Flip-Flops.

None dare call it a flip-flop because it isn't.

The mandate for Desert Storm didn't include going to Baghdad. There wasn't a plan to go to Baghdad. There wasn't an intent to go to Baghdad. The Arab allies weren't going to support going to Baghdad. And we, as a military force, weren't very well prepared to go to Baghdad, because it wasn't what our orders said to do. No one expected (nor would we have planned for) the Iraqis to fold after 45 days of combat, only four of those in direct fire contact. All of a sudden the road to Baghdad was open. Remember how hard it was to keep the Third Infantry and Marines supplied on the March Upcountry in 2003? Same thing would have been a problem for going to Baghdad back in 1991... but THAT WASN'T THE MISSION and no one expected that it would be. Had the mission been to depose Saddam, well, sure, it would have been nice and we probably could have gone on - but everybody was short-term happy with the mission accomplishment and wasn't looking for a new mission - and it would have been a much larger force we were trying to sustain over those distances.

As for Saddam being worth the casualties - 9/11 changed that calculus now didn't it?

As someone who spent the latter part of his career in the Army involved in reinventing how we trained and what we trained on, I perhaps can offer some insight.

As an Observer/Controller at the National Training Center prior to Desert Storm, we trained brigades to fight conventional fights in open terrain against conventional enemies. And we did it well. And when we fought the Iraqi Army in a conventional fight in open terrain we turned that Army into mush and junk. Granted, they were poorly led and poorly trained - but in those few places where we did run up against marginally well-led forces, such as 73 Easting, it was still no contest. (N.B. - the 73 Easting link takes a long time to load, but the text is there and you can start reading - and what's the irony of my linking to a paper written by the tanker who stole my first wife away - though in the final analysis, he did me a favor!)

But in examining the war and it's aftermath, combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we saw that the near-to-mid term threat environment was changing, and we needed to change with it. "Blackhawk Down" in Mogadishu (really the whole Somalia deployment) really brought home that we didn't have a doctrine for, nor did we adequately train for, urban combat - which was looking to be more and more likely the kind of fight we'd find ourselves in.

No soldier likes city fighting. It's even more messy, chaotic, and dangerous than close-quarters direct-fire combat in open terrain. It's a knife fight that tends to wipe away a whole lot of conventional military tech advantages. In other words, for a mech army, it's an asymetric environment.

We also ran into the bogeyman of Military Government issues, i.e., if you take it, you're responsible for it - but that's a much harder nut to crack and we're busy learning by doing now. Which would be true of any Army trying to do what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, with the Marines leading the way, with visions of Hue in their minds, we started building MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training sites, started thinking hard about how to bring our tech strengths to bear on the problem while still keeping our large-scale combat capability, and how to train the individual soldier for the new challenges. Much money, sweat, time was spent reinventing urban combat skills and not just dusting off the old WWII/Korea era TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures). And we started leavening in the lessons we were learning from the Peacekeeping and Enforcement operations in the Balkans - where it became very obvious that the junior leaders, the Company Commanders and below, were really key to success. They had to be soldier-diplomats... and we were training near pure warriors up to Desert Storm. The "Strategic Corporal", where a young man at a checkpoint, 19 years old and an E4 (junior enlisted) could find himself confronted with a situation that could turn into an International Incident because Christiane Amanpour was there with a camera crew - and there was no time to call higher and ask for an answer. The Corporal had to act - and make a good decision right then and there.

Training had to be adjusted to include that kind of situation. With the Joint Readiness Training Center leading the way - role players were introduced into training, actors who would portray all the 'white' elements on the battlefield that soldiers would have to deal with. Mayors, bus drivers, people being evacuated who wanted to bring their dogs with them - and who would get belligerent when the soldier solved the problem by shooting the dog (yes, we put laser engagement system harnesses on dogs so they could become casualties - shooting the dog was not usually the 'best' answer, either). And there is a role-player media person there to report it. And faux-CNN broadcasts are done, and real journalists are brought in to conduct interviews, so senior people can learn how to deal with real journalists - and the effects of all those actions are fed back into the training, so that the 'locals' may well become more hostile. Or they might become very cooperative.

With the change in the battlespace encountered in Afghanistan, the National Training Center in California changed dramatically. The old mines out there were made safe and modified and reopened as cave complexes. Villages dot a once-empty landscape. Actors portray the locals - we even brought in expat Iraqis to help train the role-players. Units have to conduct long convoy movements - and deal with IEDs, ambushes, etc. They have to conduct major military operations in one area while simultaneously conducting SASO (Stability and Security Operations) in the region and move their logistics along routes that might find them having to fight their way through... and the fighters blend back into the local population. In other words, they have to fight the Three Block War.

We've re-learned that while any echelon can lose a war - they are won by companies. And Company Leaders are crucial to combat and SASO success. I've put a Wall Street Journal article in the extended post that illustrates just what I'm talking about.

One of the finest and most compassionate Armies to march on this planet wears an American flag on it's collective shoulder.

So yes, Joe, something changed in the 10 years that intervened. The world didn't get more dangerous, we just learned the hard way that it was dangerous - something our geography had shielded us from.

And the US military was well on it's way to learning how to fight the fight that it didn't want to fight in 1991 - and didn't want to fight in 2003, but found itself with no choice. (I should note that I know OIF was an 'optional' war at the policy level - what I mean here is that no army with a collective brain *wants* to fight in a city!)

So no, I don't see it as a flip-flop. But given how long it just took me to explain why it isn't - do you really wonder why Cheney hasn't bothered? Would the MSM take the time? Especially the visual component, vice the written?

Shoot - how many of my readers got this far?

Hat tip: Jack at Random Fate for the pointer to Joe's piece. Cross posted to Mudville Gazette.

By GREG JAFFE Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL September 22, 2004; Page A1

RAMADI, Iraq -- In the space of four minutes in May, two Humvees in Capt. Nicholas Ayers's unit were hit by roadside bombs. In the chaos, one vehicle was left alone as soldiers, injured and under fire, took cover in a school and radioed for help.

By the time Capt. Ayers arrived on the scene, Iraqis had looted the Humvee's machine gun and high-tech gun sights. Losing equipment to the enemy is a mistake that can ruin an officer's career. Standard Army practice holds that the area should be searched immediately.

Instead, Capt. Ayers, 29 years old, took a risk. He went to the village sheik's house. As a sign of respect, he said, he wouldn't search the village. But he gave the local leader 48 hours to find and return the equipment. "If we don't get the equipment back, I am going to come back with my men and tear apart every house in this village," he recalls saying. If the gear was returned, he promised to reduce patrols in the area.

The gamble ran counter to Capt. Ayers's training, which states that the longer troops wait to search an area, the less chance they'll find what they are looking for. His bosses told him he had made a huge blunder. Two days later, though, the sheik returned every scrap of looted equipment to the Army. Later, he would pay a heavy price for that move.

"I was floored," Capt. Ayers says. "The incident made me rethink the tactics I was using, my relationship with the local sheiks. It made me rethink just about everything."

Fighting the volatile, growing insurgency in Iraq is putting increased responsibility on younger, lower-ranking officers, who are learning through improvisation and error. For the Army, the heavy reliance on officers such as Capt. Ayers is a significant change. As the war in Iraq has turned into a far different kind of battle than the Army expected, it is triggering major shifts in how the service uses and equips soldiers and remaking its historically rigid and hierarchical command structure.

In May 2002, before the Iraq war, a study commissioned by the Army's top-ranking general concluded "the reality in the Army is that junior officers are seldom given opportunities to be innovative, plan training or to make decisions; fail, learn and try again."

Earlier this summer, the same team, led by retired Lt. Col. Leonard Wong, concluded: "Junior officers have become the experts on the situation in Iraq, not higher headquarters." The fast-moving insurgency is forcing lower-ranking officers, who spend more time in the field, to take a more prominent role.

Sharing Knowledge

Captains are sharing lessons via e-mail and on Web sites such as www Subjects range from dealing with sheiks to teaching a heavy-armor unit, accustomed to fighting inside 70-ton tanks, how to patrol on foot with rifles. Lt. Gen. William Wallace has told superiors that officers returning from Iraq who attend the Army's elite Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., know more about counterinsurgency than their instructors. The change has forced instructors there to shift from traditional lectures to discussion-oriented classes.


See information on casualties since major combat ended and continuing coverage of developments in Iraq.

"This is entirely a bottom-up war. It is the platoon leaders and company commanders that are fighting it," says Maj. John Nagl, third-in-command of an 850-man battalion based nine miles from Fallujah.

It's a shift the Army never made in Vietnam -- the last time it fought an insurgency. In that war, the Army fought essentially as it had in World War II, with large formations commanded by senior officers and lots of firepower. Younger officers in the field advocated a different approach, involving smaller patrols and the training of local forces, but the Army rejected such ideas, says Maj. Nagl, who wrote a 2002 book on insurgencies.

Maj. Nagl concludes the Army was "organizationally disposed against learning how to fight and win counterinsurgency warfare." Recently the Army's top officer, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, gave copies of Maj. Nagl's book "Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam," to all his four-star generals.

When Vietnam ended, the Army didn't significantly change its way of operating. Instead, it was eager to return to its roots and prepare for more-conventional battles against the rigid Soviet Army. In 1987, Col. Robert Leicht, then a professor at the Army's Command and General Staff College, set out to teach a class on counterinsurgency warfare. He visited the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School in North Carolina, looking for lessons from the Vietnam era. "The old graybeard there told me that in 1975 he was told to get rid of all the Vietnam stuff," Col. Leicht says.

'Pathological Resistance'

Today, some question whether the Army is changing fast enough. Bruce Hoffman, who served as a senior U.S. adviser in Baghdad on counterinsurgency this year, says the U.S. military has shown an almost "pathological resistance" to adapting to the demands of guerrilla fighting. Like many experts, he says the Army's success in Iraq will depend largely on the ability of officers on the ground to come up with new solutions to defeat the insurgency. Battling guerrilla warfare depends less on firepower, and more on human intelligence, cultural sensitivity and reconstruction.

"The big challenge the Army faces is harnessing the experience of the young field officers and incorporating it into training and doctrine," Mr. Hoffman says.

Army officials say the service is adapting to new demands. Gen. Schoomaker says the Army is in the midst of the most wide-ranging changes since World War II, aimed at better preparing it for the kinds of wars it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I've compared this to tuning a car engine while the engine is running, which is not only a complex task but dangerous as well," he said recently.

In Capt. Ayers's sector, in the heart of the Sunni triangle, locals nicknamed him "Mosool Kabeer" or "Big Chief." In addition to running raids and patrols, his duties have included overseeing a 200-man Iraqi police force and millions of dollars in reconstruction projects. Earlier this year, local guerrillas felt so threatened by him they distributed fliers in town offering a reward for his assassination.

The vast geography of the region is one reason young officers are given such latitude to innovate and make decisions. Capt. Ayers is one of four company commanders who report to Lt. Col. Thomas Hollis, whose battalion is responsible for about 1,500 square miles. In the kind of warfare he was trained for -- using tanks, heavy artillery and air power -- his unit would cover one-tenth of that area.

"I tell my captains you have to understand the inner workings of the communities in your area," Col. Hollis says. "You have to figure out who the key leaders are, you need to know who their relatives are, and what businesses they are involved in."

Capt. Ayers and his peers are far less influenced by the Army culture that has long viewed firepower-intensive, tank-on-tank battles, like the 1991 Gulf War, as the epitome of land warfare. Many of today's captains were in junior high school when the 1991 war was fought. Capt. Ayers, the son of a Vietnam veteran, grew up in Southern California, and went on to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Before coming to Iraq in August 2003, the defining event of his career was his deployment to Kosovo.

In Kosovo, Capt. Ayers was in charge of four small towns, populated by a total of about 4,000 people. Based on his experience there, he knew he had to figure out who was in charge of the area. In Kosovo, that was easy. Each town had a mayor. In Ramadi, there is a confusing network of more than 100 tribes, subtribes, sheiks and subsheiks. Loyalties shifted. "I quickly learned that everyone here likes to say they are in charge," he says.

To get a grip on who was really running things, Capt. Ayers sent his men out with a survey. He asked the locals who their top sheik was and then crosschecked the answers against what the sheiks were telling him.

Capt. Ayers also set out to win over his sector's police force. Because local police know the culture, speak the language and are aware of age-old grudges, they are far more likely to spot the enemy. When Capt. Ayers first asked the Iraqi police to patrol with his men, they told him they wanted nothing to do with Americans. After weeks of fruitless negotiations, he cajoled two patrolmen into his Humvee. Between midnight and 1 a.m. they drove through his sector's empty streets, as Capt. Ayers tried to assure them they could work together.

He met with the police chief, Lt. Col. Mohammed Saleh Taher, almost daily, shared meals with his family and got vehicles, guns and body armor for his men. Soon Capt. Ayers convinced the police chief to fire anyone who refused to patrol with the Americans. Desperate for a paycheck, the Iraqi police climbed into the U.S. Humvees.

Brutal Attacks

The public cooperation drew brutal attacks from the insurgents. In January, they murdered Col. Mohammed and three of his bodyguards at the colonel's home. Two days later, they attacked the police station, killing five more Iraqi police officers.

After the murders, Capt. Ayers handed out crisp $100 bills to the families of Col. Mohammed and the bodyguards so they could bury their dead. Most of the families were poor, some living in houses with broken windows. "Col. Mohammed was a good friend of mine," he said, as he handed out the money and expressed condolences. "We are working to make sure that whoever did this will not get away."

Col. Mohammed's family told him that the police chief's second-in-command had played a role in the chief's murder. Capt. Ayers believed the second-in-command was involved with the insurgency. He felt safer dealing with the third-in-command, Col. Mohammed's brother -- even though locals and other police officers said the brother had a drinking problem and had been extorting money from his men in exchange for promotions.

"I knew [Col. Mohammed's brother] wouldn't have me killed and I couldn't say the same for the alternatives," says Capt. Ayers. Working with Col. Hollis, he arranged to have the second-in-command transferred to a city near the Syrian border. Despite suspicions, there wasn't definitive evidence that the man had been involved with the murder of Col. Mohammed or the insurgency. No one has been arrested for the killings.

The murdered colonel's brother was promoted to chief of police, even though locals complained he continued to extort money from his officers.

"How much corruption is too much?" Capt. Ayers asks. "That's something they don't teach you before you come here."

Capt. Ayers took lessons from his fellow captains. In April, Capt. Jesse Beaudin convinced a friend from the U.S. to send backpacks, notebooks and pencils for schoolchildren. Kids mobbed troops for the goods whenever they went out on patrol. "The kids provided security. No one attacked us when we were surrounded by children," Capt. Beaudin says. After hearing about this tactic at the dining hall, Capt. Ayers's men also wrote home requesting school supplies.

The battalion's captains also worked together to fashion a solution to attacks on supply convoys. In April, the attacks were so severe that some military fuel sites in western Iraq were down to two days' worth of fuel. Units were running low on water and food.

Most of the convoy attacks began with a remote-detonated roadside bomb. The Army had long assumed most of the bombs were laid at night. Capt. Ayers sent out small teams of snipers with night-vision equipment to pick off people planting bombs. They couldn't find any.

Talking with fellow company commanders, Capt. Ayers guessed that the bombs were being laid during the day. He theorized the locals were too scared to stop the insurgents or to turn them in to the Americans. Capt. Ayers asked his boss, Col. Hollis, if he could pull some his troops out of the villages and post them on highway overpasses around the clock. Instead of trying to catch the insurgents, he would try to deter the attacks with an overt presence.

The roadside bombs stopped almost overnight. In May, Col. Hollis ordered his other company commanders to adopt the same approach. Since then there hasn't been an attack on the 38 miles of highway overseen by the battalion -- a huge change from April when the U.S. was losing a service member to injury or death on the stretch every 36 hours.

Although the tactic has been effective, soldiers hate sitting for hours and watching traffic. They worry that cutting back on neighborhood patrols has given insurgents free rein in town.

On a recent day, Capt. Ayers and his troops jumped in their Humvee and raced toward a giant column of smoke rising near the police station. Insurgents in a white Opal sedan had fired into an Iraqi truck that had been hauling equipment for the Americans. When the wounded truck driver pulled over, insurgents set the vehicle on fire.

At the scene, Capt. Ayers picked up the spent shell casings to identify the weapon the insurgents used. He interviewed witnesses and studied the skid marks the truck had left on the road. The Army had never trained him for detective work, but he picked up these skills on the job.

When the fire was extinguished, the charred truck was towed to the police station. The next morning, insurgents launched a rocket attack on Capt. Ayers's base. The barracks' windows were blown open, but no one was hurt. A similar attack in May killed eight soldiers. Later the same day, insurgents lit the charred truck, still parked in the police department's lot, on fire again. The terrified police didn't try to stop them.

Capt. Ayers went back to the police station and confronted the new police chief, Maj. Khalid Ibrahim, who had been appointed by the new Iraqi Interior Ministry. (The previous chief, whose appointment Capt. Ayers had arranged, had been transferred for firing his pistol at one of his officers and demanding money from his officers.)

"How could you let this happen?" Capt. Ayers asked Maj. Khalid, pointing to the still-smoldering truck.

"I am very sorry," the 50-year-old chief said.

"You don't need to apologize to me, you need to do better," Capt. Ayers replied.

The chief promised to step up patrols in the area where the rockets were fired.

Back at his barracks, surrounded by pictures of his wife and two children, ages 1 and 2, Capt. Ayers seemed to be looking for something positive in the day's events. The new chief is an improvement over his predecessor, he said. "Every day that Iraqi police station is still standing is a victory. It is a small bastion of government control," he added.

Last week, after 12 months in Iraq, Capt. Ayers returned to his home in Kansas. He's prepared a tome full of advice for his replacement. In the book are histories of the local sheiks and tribes, their grudges and fleeting alliances. There is a section on funeral etiquette.

He also wrote a section on the sheik who helped him get the machine gun back. A few days after the incident, insurgents, angry that he had aided the Americans, murdered the sheik's son. "I thought if he had enough influence to get the stuff back, he also had enough influence" to protect his family, Capt. Ayers now says. "I was wrong." Capt. Ayers says he advised his replacement to handle the sheik with deference.

Capt. Ayers, who was recently selected by the Army to teach at West Point, has begun to think about how a young soldier could prepare for what he's been through. Before deploying to Iraq, he and his soldiers fought a giant mock tank battle at the National Training Center. It wasn't helpful.

Instead, he says, "I guess I'd drop soldiers in a foreign high school and give them two days to figure out all the cliques. Who are the cool kids? Who are the geeks?" he says. That would be pretty close to what he has been doing in Iraq, he says, with one big exception: There would also have to be people in the high school trying to kill the soldiers.

Write to Greg Jaffe at

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