Your COIN at work

 I love reading about our awesome new COIN tactics.  Sophisticated info ops, winning hearts and minds of the locals — so unlike our Vietnam era tactics of

  1. intensive use of air power, 
  2. sweeps (search and destroy or clear), and
  3. training popular front militia.

So we turn to this week’s news stories to see COIN done right.

I.  Residents says Iraqi soldiers warn them to leave Sadr City“, AP  (8 May 2008) — “Residents say Iraqi soldiers warning them to leave homes in Sadr City for security reasons. … go to Sadr City to go to nearby soccer stadiums {for how long?, in what conditions?}.”

II.  resource tradeoffs and the war on ideas“, March Lynch posted at Abu Aardvark (9 May 2008) — “the US government is cutting loose one of its best analysts of al-Qaeda’s use of the internet in order to save money which doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in the Pentagons budget.”

The articles and excerpts 

I.  Residents says Iraqi soldiers warn them to leave Sadr City“, AP  (8 May 2008) — “Residents say Iraqi soldiers warning them to leave homes in Sadr City for security reasons.”  Excerpt:

Iraqi soldiers for the first time warned residents in the embattled Sadr City district to leave their houses Thursday, signaling a new push by the U.S.-backed forces against Shiite extremist who have been waging street battles for seven weeks.  Iraqi soldiers, using loudspeakers, told residents in some virtually abandoned areas of southeastern Sadr City to go to nearby soccer stadiums, residents said. UNICEF says about 6,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Sadr City, most of them from the southeastern section.
 
U.S. forces have increased air power and armored patrols in an attempt to cripple Shiite militia influence in Sadr City, a slum of 2.5 million people that serves as the Baghdad base for the Mahdi Army led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.  The U.S. military is trying to weaken the militia’s grip in the slum and disrupt rocket and mortar strikes from Sadr City on the U.S.-protected Green Zone, which includes the U.S. Embassy and key Iraqi government offices.
 
Several civilians were injured in rocket or mortar attacks that hit downtown Baghdad this week.  The battles started in late March after the Iraqi government opened a crackdown on militias and armed gangs in the southern city of Basra, including some groups Washington says have links to Iran.  At least four people were killed and 13 injured in clashes late Wednesday in Sadr City, Iraqi health officials said Thursday. It was not clear whether any militants were among them.
 
On Wednesday, Claire Hajaj, a UNICEF spokeswoman based in Jordan, said up to 150,000 people — including 75,000 children — were isolated in sections of Sadr City “cordoned off by military forces.” She said about 6,000 have fled their homes.

II.  resource tradeoffs and the war on ideas“, Marc Lynch, posted at Abu Aardvark (9 May 2008) — “the US government is cutting loose one of its best analysts of al-Qaeda’s use of the internet in order to save money which doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in the Pentagons budget.” Excerpt:

I’ve linked several times to the outstanding work done by RFE/RLanalyst Daniel Kimmage on al-Qaeda’s internet operations, including his definitive study of Iraqi insurgent media(with Kathleen Ridolfo) and his more recent report on al-Qaeda’s internet media production network.  There are very few people inside or outside the government who have worked harder or thought more deeply about how jihadists use online media, drawing on the original Arabic sources rather than from second and third-hand conjecture.  It is clear that everyone working on the issue has learned a tremendous amount from those reports, even when we don’t agree on how to interpret his findings. 

The relevance of his work has grown along with the general appreciation of the importance of information operations to al-Qaeda’s strategy, and a sense (rightly or wrongly) that the internet is a central front in this battle.  Just a few days ago,  State Department Coordinator of the Office for Counter-terrorism Dell L. Dailey stated that terrorists consider information operations a principle part of their effort, use the Internet for propaganda, recruiting, fundraising, and increasingly for training. It has made the Internet a virtual safe haven.”  So understanding how that works has got to be a top priority, right?  Especially given the widely noted shortage of analysts with Arabic language skills? 

So imagine my surprise to learn yesterdaythat ‘”the president of RFE/RL informed the analysts there that because of budgetary shortfalls, he had no choice but to fire them.”  I’ve heard that Kimmage and Ridolfo are two of the analysts who have been given notice.   

That’s right:  the US government is cutting loose one of its best analysts of al-Qaeda’s use of the internet in order to save money which doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in the Pentagons budget. Whether it’s because of the fall of the dollar or because of the costs of Iraq, or more narrowly because of the Broadcasting Board of Governors need to pay the bills of the al-Hurra TV white elephant, this speaks volumes about both our real resource constraints and our real priorities.

I don’t know how Kimmage himself feels about the situation, but I’m pretty peeved.  Anyone else working on these issues should be too. 

Please share your comments by posting below, relevant and brief please (max 250 words). Too long comments will be edited down (very long ones might be deleted). Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information about the Iraq War

  1. The Iraq War – articles by Fabius Maximus
  2. The Iraq War — other valuable articles and reports
  3. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq 

2 thoughts on “Your COIN at work

  1. I personally attempt to reduce my critique on current COIN ops. It is quite futile. They’ll go on anyways and the reactions to critique are never constructive. Some active soldiers respond with extreme aggressiveness as they have so many emotional ties to the conflict and accumulated a lot of propaganda. Others simply respond with accusations of me being anti-American or lacking crucial information.

    Yes, the similarities to Vietnam are striking as much as there are differences (of course). I doubt that it will be “won” in less than five more years of intense participation. The Iraqi factions decide about war and peace, victory and defeat – the influence of foreigners on the end date of the war is limited to their ability to choose a date for withdrawal.

    Even a “victory” wold be a Pyrrhic victory in a useless and needless war anyway. If and once the war is lost, we’ll see lots of accusations, excuses and myths. The same old story; but this time, they won’t excuse failure with dense forests.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Been there, done that. My experience has been much the same.

  2. There are a lot of theories, many papers and all respect to Kilcullen and his like .. a lot of theorising based on limited data. Science does not work like that, we need more data before we can start creating theories and models.

    Are we all into theology or science?

    This is how I’d do it. I’d research all the people on the other side of the US/UK/USSR/China/Israeli/Syria/etc COIN operations. I would not talk to the initiators, I would not read any theory. This is an important point, do not colour your basic research.

    I’d build a team of people, the front line staff, the front line researchers would be multi-ethnic, with good language and people skills. They would have similar skills to the best reporters or oral historians.

    Then I’d send them to Vietnam, to talk to all the (old and dying off, so if someone wants to do it they’d better get in quickly) ex-Vietcong people, the leaders, the front line soldiers, the ‘water carriers’, the families, the suppliers, the bystanders, the watchers …… I’d want to know everything “how did you live”, “how did you” keep the faith, what worked for you, what the ‘other side’ (ie us) did that didn’t work or did work, what scared you, what gave you joy. How did you respond to ….. And so on and on. I’d let them tell me their stories.

    I’d have teams in Chechnya and do the same. I’d go to Lebanon and talk to Hezbollah. I’d go to Northern Ireland and talk to IRA people. I’d go to Somalia and talk to the people and fighters there. When safe I’d go to Afghanistan, after the US leaves I’d put teams of people into Iraq.

    I’d collect data everywhere.

    Not from the side of the aggressor COIN people, but from the other side. That’s why I made my comment: “Hezbollah has forgotten more about COIN than we will ever know”. Because they were on the receiving end for 10 (more actually) years of Israeli COIN operations .. and won.

    So if you really want to learn about it go to them and others like them, be humble, come with respect, listen to their wisdom …. ‘grasshopper’.

    Listen, listen, listen.

    And then, and only then, we can start to build theories and models.

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