Army leaders lament the lack of "human intelligence" in Iraq
Greg Jaffe has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about the struggle by U.S. commanders in Iraq to fight a war without sufficient amounts of "HUMINT", or "human intelligence". A consensus seems to have emerged that our commanders have sufficient combat power ("boots on the ground") to do their job now in Iraq -- but that they don't have sufficient intelligence to fight the guerilla networks they now face in Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who commands all of the 35,000 U.S. troops arrayed across Baghdad, came here in July with orders to transform the city into a stable and secure place. Since he arrived, 16 of his troops have been killed and about 170 wounded. In his left front pocket the general carries 16 laminated cards, each bearing a picture of a dead soldier, his address, date of birth and the names of his spouse, children and parents.Emily Hsu also writes on this issue today in Inside the Army (subscription required), saying the Army is looking to deploy some of its latest C4ISR ("Command, Control, Communications, Computing, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance") systems to Iraq to help bridge the HUMINT gap. Specifically, the Army hopes to speed the procurement processes for a few systems that have the potential to aid commanders in visualizing the enemy and the battlefield in Iraq.
While Washington debates whether President Bush should send more troops to stabilize Iraq, Gen. Dempsey says what he really needs is better intelligence to track down and defeat the enemy. "Right now, I have more than enough combat power. What I need to know is where to apply it," he says.
Gen. Dempsey's predicament spotlights a larger trade-off the Pentagon made in its vision for the Army over the past decade: As the Army shrank in size, it focused on winning high-intensity conventional wars and didn't emphasize the intelligence needs that are essential to victory in guerrilla fights.
As a result, the Army is short of interrogators and counterintelligence soldiers, forcing commanders in Iraq to improvise solutions on the fly -- and make some significant mistakes along the way. Overwhelmed by looting and guerrilla attacks, for example, the U.S. relied on mass arrests to restore order, which bred resentment and suspicion among Iraqis and may have fed the enemy's ranks.
"We haven't fought a war where human intelligence was the coin of the realm for decades," says Brig. Gen. John Custer, the senior intelligence officer at U.S. Central Command, which oversees troops in the Middle East. With the Army fighting guerrilla wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, "we're coming to realize the value of human intelligence on the battlefield."
Systems being eyed include an automated language translation service, as well as the "PackBot" unmanned ground vehicle, which has been operationally tested in Afghanistan clearing caves and compounds, DOD and Army officials said in an Oct. 1 interview with Inside the Army.Analysis: While I applaud the initiative of the Army in pushing forward its procurement in these areas, I don't think this will be enough to cure the problems that Mr. Jaffe writes about in today's Wall Street Journal. Specific, actionable, credible, exploitable intelligence is the kind of stuff that generally comes from having smart intelligence operatives and analysts on the ground in Iraq, working at the muddy boots level. You can leverage technology only so much to manage information and speed up your OODA loop. At some point, you simply have to go out there and get good raw information to feed into these intelligence systems. That's the real crux of the problem.
Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, met late last month with officials from the Army Research Lab to generate possible dollar figures and time lines on which these two capabilities might be put into the hands of the soldier in Iraq, these sources said.
Decisions on the deployments are pending specific allocation of the $87 billion supplemental request which has yet to be approved by Congress. The exact number of systems that may be deployed and when they will "roll-out" to the field is "still on the drawing table," one official said.
In much of Iraq, I think this intelligence gathering effort is going well. There is a direct correlation between our relations with the Iraqi people and our ability to collect intelligence from them. In places like Basra and Mosul, where coalition troops have stabilized the situation, this effort is going well. In Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle, it's going less swimmingly.
One bit of good news is the increasing "Iraqification" of the stability mission. The graduation this weekend of the first battalion of Iraqi troops is a step in the right direction, and it may ultimately become the key to this intelligence problem. It should be obvious that Iraqis can collect intel better than Americans -- if only for linguistic and cultural reasons. If deployed with American forces in the tough spots, these troops will contribute a great deal towards the gathering of actionable intelligence about Iraqi guerilla networks. Learning about your enemy is never easy. But I think that these Iraqis represent our best hope in gathering the intel we need to accomplish our mission in Iraq.
Update: Terry Boyd has a great story in the European Stars & Stripes about the way intelligence gets used at the tactical level to conduct a raid.
Earlier in the week, Chenoweth had been relayed a tip that Maj. Gen. Rafi abd Al-Latif Tilfah al-Tikriti, former head of Iraq's security apparatus and No. 15 on the United States' most wanted list, may be hiding along with two other Saddam loyalists in an area at the confluence of the Tigris and Diyala rivers.Great reporting from one of the few reporters still embedded with the force in Iraq. Also see this story on the "Three Block War" from Mr. Boyd.
At 2 a.m. Wednesday, a hunting party of 300-plus people gathered at Muleskinner Base on the southern edge of Baghdad. Six hours earlier, the 1st AD units involved — the 2-6 and 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment — spent an hour rehearsing the raid in a soccer field. Company commanders and platoon leaders walked soldiers through an improvised layout of the area including the three target compounds.
Nothing is left to chance.