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Winning hearts and mind with artillery fire

26 May 2008

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.

  1. DoD “Bloggers’s Roundtable” on military operations in Diyala province (17 October 2007)
  2. DoD “Bloggers’s Roundtable” on military operations in Diyala province (26 March 2008)
  3. 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.”

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about the war in Iraq:

  1. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
  2. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
  3. Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
  4. Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 May 2008 3:51 pm

    Update: this post was revised upon publication of the transcript DoD. The excerpt from Shactman’s article at Wired was replaced with the full exchange from the transcript.

  2. GI Wilson permalink
    26 May 2008 4:11 pm

    Lehr appears to only get part of what it takes to succeed in an insurgency.

    One must ask does Lehr have as good anunderstanding of Arab culture as he does artillery … nothing wrong with kinetics but kinetics are not always the only solution … seems Lehr hijacked an excuse to use kinetics (Lehr followed the guidelines about collateral damage)

    … in Arab culture absorbing a bludgeoning/beating is seen as heroic and courageous. It all revolves arounf courage and honor in Iraqi culture too!

    Suggest a read of “The Arab Mind” on courage and honor for beginners. Suicide bombers/insurgents generally unimpressed by artillery; just another fast track to Paradise. S/f GI

  3. 26 May 2008 4:39 pm

    GI Wilson sent me the relevant text from “The Arab Mind” by Raphael Patai (2002). Here is a brief excerpt from the chapter “Bedouin Values — Courage”:

    “It is rather difficult to distinguish between the arab concepts of bravery and courage. It would seem that bravery is expressed primarily in a man’s willingness to risk his life for the benefit of his group. Courage, on the other hand means essentially the ability to stand physical pain or emotional pain with such self-control that no sound or facial expression betrays the suffering he is undergoing.”

    The author than shows the level of courage expected of men with powerful examples from Egypt and Arab tribes in the Jijaz.

  4. Yours Truly permalink
    30 May 2008 1:23 pm

    How the hell do you even win hearts and minds by occupying their lands? Worse,by using artillery fire on them?
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Good question. I guess because we are bringing them peace and civilization.

    You go to the heart of this issue. How does one justify this under “just war” doctrine? Such violence is justified if we are doing something for them, not if we are occupying them for our benefit. Our priorities seem to be building massive bases and foreigner-friendly laws on mineral (oil) development (laws more favorable to us than Canada’s). Shelling people to obtain these things is …

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