Winning hearts and mind with artillery fire
One continuing thread of the Iraq War is how we talk of info ops and sophisticated COIN, but in practice seem to rely on firepower (usually airpower, as seen here). Using heavy firepower in urban landscapes requires describing our activities carefully, least they be misinterpreted as possbile atrocities or even war crimes (I believe there is also a legal difference, as we are to some extent an occupying power — unlike, for example, 1944). Here is a recent illustration of this problem. (Hat tip to Abu Muqawama and Noah Shachtman at Wired)
Transcript of DoD “Bloggers’s Roundtable” with Colonel Jon Lehr, Commander of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division (23 May 2008) – Excerpt:
SHACTMAN: I remember spending some time with you last year and you talked about you believed in the power of artillery to really persuade the local population to not work with insurgents and to work with coalition forces. And so I wonder now, nine months later, if you still hold that view and if you guys are still using artillery to the extent you were last fall?
COL. LEHR: Well, that’s a great question and one I like talking about. Eleven thousand five hundred rounds, I still believe in the carrot and stick, based on the propensity of this culture to — how they deal with power and authority. And it goes back to — it serves a couple purposes, the whole terrain denial piece.
One, we deny terrain to insurgents, (movement ?) routes, IED placement, those types of things. But it also sends a significant message when we start concentrating on a particular area for four or five days at 75 to 100 rounds a day in a given area, it has a profound impact on the population. Just like if I would start shooting artillery around your neighborhood.
We always do the collateral damage assessments and we will not — we have mathematical formulas that we know the effect, the physical effect of the round going off on anything nearby. So that’s not an issue, but it’s just the psychological impact.
If I would start shooting artillery around your neighborhood, it would quickly get your attention and cause you to start asking questions. Why are they doing this? And most of the time, 99 percent of the time they know why we’re doing it. We just received a series of IEDs that damaged vehicles, hurt our soldiers, et cetera. So they quickly get the message.
And I’ve seen at least six separate times where it brought tribal leadership to the table, and they say, okay, we understand what you’re doing and we’re willing to help you. I think it’s just another tool in the kitbag, lethal, non-lethal kitbag. And you’ve heard the expression “carrot and stick,” and I believe — I’m convinced that it works pretty well in most situations in this culture.
Read the full interview and imagine how it might sound to locals, As I said about one of Kilcullen’s presentations:
A trained anthropologist, Kilcullen starts with this: “Everyone sees Iraq differently, depending on when they served there, what they did, and where they worked.” Applying that insight to his slides, how would the people of Iraq react were they translated and broadcast in Iraq – and to a wider Islamic audience via al Jazeera?
Other interviews show the Colonel to have a sophisticated knowledge of both COIN and Iraq society.
- DoD “Bloggers’s Roundtable” on military operations in Diyala province (17 October 2007)
- DoD “Bloggers’s Roundtable” on military operations in Diyala province (26 March 2008)
- “Like A Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone“, Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent (23 May 2008) — It is too short to excerpt; worthwhile reading.
Colonel Lehr appears to be exceptional in his use of artillery in Iraq. National Public Radio obtained a white paper warning that the US Army’s artillery expertise is atrophying: “The King and I: The Impending Crisis in Field Artillery’s ability to provide Fire Support to Maneuver Commanders”, Sean MacFarland, Michael Shields, Jeffrey Snow (Colonels, US Army), no date shown. Here is the PDF; here is the NPR story. As an example, “Over 90% of fire supporters are assigned outside their military occupational specialty (MOS).”
Update: reports of punitive raids in Iraq by US forces
The following report describes a punitive raid, sending troops to kill and destroy civilian targets in hope of influencing their leaders to fear and obey us. Worse, it meets the textbook definition of terrorism.
“For its part, the US is pressuring the Iraqi government to disassemble the militias — and to install Cabinet members who will further this goal. To this end, U.S. forces launched two raids into areas dominated by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13. The second raid — in Shula, a neighborhood controlled al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army — was large enough to demonstrate the full power of a coordinated U.S. push backed by armor and aircraft. The fact that this raid did not target Sadr City, al-Sadr’s center of power, likely means the strike was not intended to seriously damage the Mehdi Army. However, it did prove that the US is still a formidable force in Iraq.”
— “Iraq Update”, Stratfor, 15 November 2006
Also our assult on Fallujah also looks like a punitive strike. We ravaged the city and called this “victory.”
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- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
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Posts about the war in Iraq:
- The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
- Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
- Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
- Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008