Intel-Dump

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Can the Witmer sisters stay home?
That's the question I pose in this Slate "Explainer" column which was just published. The short answer is that these two sisters can ask the Army to reassign them after the death of their sister in combat, but that this hard choice is theirs alone to make.

Coda: I've gotten some e-mail on this subject that I thought I should respond to online. Most of the e-mail has said that it would be horrible to send these sisters back into combat. I agree -- it's horrible to send anyone into combat. But that's a decision that sometimes has to be made. And I would argue that it would feel horrible to these women, who by all accounts are excellent soldiers, for them to leave their comrades behind in Iraq. Stephen Ambrose didn't call his book "Band of Brothers" for nothing. The bonds between soldiers are as strong as the bonds between brothers -- and in today's Army, between sisters too. I think these sisters will have a really hard time exercising their option to be reassigned from combat. And in fact, I think this option is harder because of the fact that the Witmer sisters are in the National Guard, and will thus have to see their comrades in daily life after this deployment is over. My prediction: the daughters go back to Iraq.
Congratulations
to appellate litigator Howard Bashman, whose weblog How Appealing will soon migrate to the webpage of Legal Affairs magazine. I had the chance to work with Howard during our filing of an amicus brief with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, and I have been a big fan of his 'blog for a long time. It really is better than the AP wire for legal news. It only makes sense for him to join with Legal Affairs, a magazine that I also respect a great deal. This promises to be a mutually beneficial relationship, and we the readers stand to benefit the most.
The future of the Army's future combat systems
: Noah Shachtman has a few good reports here, here and here on the latest developments with the Army's programs to buy the next generation of military hardware. In a nutshell, the multi-billion dollar FCS program is experiencing significant growing pains, with many Army leaders questioning its wisdom in light of the need to fund current operations. Read Noah's articles at DefenseTech and in Wired for more.
New rules proposed for private military contractors in Iraq


Last Friday, I wrote an essay for Slate arguing that it was in our interest to rethink the rules governing the conduct of American contractors in Iraq -- especially those providing "private military contracting" services such as security and convoy escort. Today, Mary Pat Flaherty and Dana Priest report in the Washington Post that the Coalition Provisional Authority is also becoming concerned about these issues, and that they're seeking to implement a number of control mechanisms on contractors in Iraq.
Many operational details are spelled out only in the contracts between security firms and the companies and government agencies that hire them, according to several private security firms.

The CPA now restricts the weapons private security teams may use to small arms with ammunition as large as 7.62mm and to some other defensive weapons. A Dec. 31 coalition rule spells out circumstances under which security firms can use deadly force, including self-defense, the defense of people or property specified in their contracts, and the defense of civilians.

Coalition contractors and their employees currently are subject to the legal jurisdiction of their parent countries because there is no Iraqi legal system, a CPA order states.

But with the June 30 handover, that condition "becomes a major issue," and "there is not a lot of clarity yet" on what laws will govern security firms, said Mike Baker, chief executive of D.C.-based Diligence LLC, which provides security for both government and private operations in Iraq.

Attempts to coordinate operations between private security firms and the military -- and operations among the companies themselves -- have been underway for months. But that pace has quickened.

* * *
The brutal killings of four American security contractors in Fallujah two weeks ago prompted 13 Democratic senators led by Jack Reed (R.I.), to ask the Defense Department to provide a tally of how many private armed non-Iraqi security personnel are in Iraq. In their letter, the senators said that "security in a hostile fire area is a classic military mission. Delegating this mission to private contractors raises serious questions."

"Policy is way overdue in this area," Reed said.
More to follow...
Are soldiers heroes?
Andy Rooney answers "not really" with a sharply written op-ed for the Tribune media service. BlackFive, a former Army paratrooper, shoots back with a more convincing response. From where I sit, it looks like Mr. Rooney took an extra dose of cynicism this morning which has skewed his sense of proportion and reality.
Gen. Abizaid requests more troops for Iraq

Two brigades may -- or may not -- be enough to secure the country

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that Gen. John Abizaid has sent a formal request up to the SecDef for two more brigade combat teams -- roughly 7,000-10,000 troops -- to give him the resources he needs to do the job in Iraq. The request comes at the same time that the Army is tweaking its rotation of troops through Iraq to keep the maximum amount of combat power on the ground for the longest period possible.
An expected deployment of thousands more troops for duty in Iraq answers congressional calls for backup and comes as administration officials work to prevent allies from following Spain's planned withdrawal of its forces.

But the request Monday also revealed the Pentagon's lack of options for finding reinforcements. Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the Central Command, called Iraqi security forces a "great disappointment." As a result, most of the new troops are almost certain to come from the thinly stretched U.S. Army.

* * *
Abizaid has a reputation within the Pentagon as a straight shooter, but some observers were betting on further increases.

"If Abizaid says he needs two brigades, one can be certain that that's the very minimum he needs, given the reluctance by him and other commanders to acknowledge that they need any more troops at all," said former ambassador James Dobbins, who supervised peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia and now works for the Rand Corp.

* * *
The U.S. force in Iraq peaked at roughly 155,000 during the invasion last year. Despite the addition of 200,000 Iraqi police, army and other security forces since then, U.S. troop strength has dropped by only 25,000.

Current and former Army officials have noted that when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki warned Congress before the war that 225,000 U.S. troops then poised for attack around the Persian Gulf would be needed for years, Pentagon officials called his estimate wildly inaccurate.

"This is what Shinseki was talking about. This is what everybody's been talking about," retired Maj. Gen. William Nash said. "The failure to do it right at the beginning means that we're going to have to do it at the end with a lot of deaths and a lot of trouble and it's going to be much harder now. The insurgents are building momentum."
Analysis: Precisely -- MG Nash is right. I'm going to beat the proverbial dead horse again by saying that our failure to plan effectively for Phase IV (post-war stability) and our failure to resource Phase IV allowed the Iraqi insurgency to take root last spring in a chaotic operational environment. The result today is that we face a mature, dug-in, well-supported insurgency with lots of weapons and recruits. It's hard to overstate the importance of these initial failures. By not planning for our rapid success, and by letting chaos reign in those first few weeks, we lost control over Iraq and ceded the initiative to the insurgents. It has been a very long struggle since April 2003 to retake the initiative. We have prevailed in a number of cities, from Basra to Mosul, and our nation-buildling efforts have done a lot for the Iraqi people. But to be successful, we have yet to establish the basic security necessary for a free society and market economy to flourish.

Insurgent ambushes of Iraqi-driven supply trucks on the highway from Baghdad yesterday -- and subsequent refusal of Iraqis to move commercial goods along that road anymore -- threaten this stability. American contractors, such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, have suspended convoys along these roads until they're made safe -- delaying nation-building efforts dependent on KBR shipments. This isn't just a military "line of communication" -- this road is also a civilian artery of commerce. Without the freedom to move people and goods around the country, and Iraqi economy will sputter and die. If we don't fix the security situation, we will not be able to rebuild Iraq. It's that simple. Security comes first, because without it, people are afraid to do their jobs and leave their homes.

So what can be done now? I hate to say it, but we have to get more combat power into Iraq. That probably means disturbing the Army's carefully drawn unit rotations for OIF 3 and OIF 4; it may also mean the mobilization of additional National Guard enhanced brigades. Absent some major political change in Europe or Washington, I don't see our NATO and UN allies jumping into this one to save our bacon. So we have to plan for this one on our own, and we have to give Gen. Abizaid the resources he needs to succeed.

Update I: Greg Jaffe and Chris Cooper have a good report on this subject in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) as well, wherein they describe the changes in the threat which are driving this need for more forces.
Senior military officials in and around Fallujah said that the enemy now appears far more determined than the former Baathists and Saddam Hussein loyalists who initiated the insurgency. "The enemy has become more fanatical, and some Iraqis here are clearly taking up the call to arms," said one senior Army official based in western Iraq. "These people are being spun up by religious leaders who are being backed by terrorists."

One increasingly worrisome scenario for military officials is that determined, fanatical fighters continue to mount successful attacks on civilian contractors and aid workers throughout the country. Such attacks might force commanders to divert troops now focused on battling radicals to play a greater role providing security for convoys along Iraq's highways.

Since the war began, 30 employees of Halliburton and its subcontractors have been killed. At any given time, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root has 700 trucks on Iraqi and Kuwaiti roads, the company said. Securing those supply lines against insurgent attacks is a massive undertaking, according to military officials.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Justice Department presses the legal fight against terrorism

Case could test the outer limits of a federal law designed to attack support to terrorism

Paul Barrett reports in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) today on a case going to trial in Idaho which illustrates a key aspect of the Justice Department's war on terrorism: the use of 18 U.S.C. 2339b to go after people who provide "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations. The law has provoked sharp criticism because of its use against so-called "little fish" -- people whose only crime was to contribute small amounts of money or other support to organizations on the State Department's FTO list. However, DOJ officials respond that these are the vulnerable points of global networked terrorism, thus the need to prosecute them.
The weapon is a law aimed not at masterminds or bombers but at secondary players who provide terrorists with "material support and resources." The phrase provides a flexible net, and prosecutors have used it to charge 57 people in Detroit; Lackawanna, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Tampa and other cities since Sept. 11, 2001. But some federal judges, uneasy about the provision's vagueness and its potential to squelch free speech, have begun to poke holes in it.

Now, the case of Saudi graduate student Sami Omar al-Hussayen could help determine how aggressively the government will be able to pursue alleged promoters of terrorism: people who raise money, offer advice or amplify calls to violence.

No one disputes that Mr. Hussayen, a 34-year-old Ph.D. candidate in computer science, is a loving husband, a gentle father of three young boys and an esteemed leader of the Muslim community in this small town. But in its indictment, the government accuses the University of Idaho student of setting up a series of Web sites and an e-mail group that recruited fighters and collected funds "for violent jihad in Israel, Chechnya and other places."

The most incendiary message that has come to light in government court filings is an "urgent appeal" posted in February 2003 by another individual in the e-mail group that Mr. Hussayen allegedly helped to moderate. It called on Muslim-American soldiers to "provide information on potential targets for attacks," such as U.S. military bases in the Middle East and the bases' drinking-water supplies.

* * *
In the Hussayen case, the government seeks for the first time to apply the material-support statute to someone whose primary alleged crime is promoting militant Islam online. Mr. Hussayen, whose partially completed Ph.D. thesis addresses computer-network security, is accused of offering expert advice, among other forms of aid, to the Islamic Assembly of North America by helping set up and edit Web sites such as www.alasr.ws, an online Arabic magazine. In court papers, the FBI says that in June 2001, the site carried an article by a Saudi-trained Kuwaiti cleric titled, "Provision of Suicide Operations." An excerpt in English translation says in part, "This can be accomplished with the modern means of bombing or bringing down an airplane on an important location that will cause the enemy great losses."
Analysis: This case raises huge First Amendment issues which will may eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. Past prosecutions for material support under 18 U.S.C. 2339a and 2339b have focused on the giving of tangible things -- money, for example. The use of this statute to prosecute speech which provides material support to terrorism is a very novel use of the law, and one that is sure to result in a challenge on First Amendment grounds.

In the past year, federal courts have ruled parts of this law unconstitutional on vagueness grounds, but they have not yet applied the Supreme Court's test for speech that incites crime. The 9th Circuit ruled in Humanitarian Law Project v. Ashcroft that two terms in 18 U.S.C. 2339a's definition of "material support" were void for vagueness -- "personnel" and "training." U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins ruled earlier this year that another term in 18 U.S.C. 2339a's definition -- "expert advice and assistance" -- was void for vagueness. These decisions gutted the material support laws, but it's not clear that these decisions have had an effect beyond the 9th Circuit where they are binding authority.

However, the challenges so far have been successful on technical grounds -- the vagueness doctrine. This case seems almost tailor-made for a challenge on First Amendment grounds -- does 18 U.S.C. 2339b comport with the test from Brandenburg v. Ohio for speech that incites violence? In Brandenburg, the Court held that "advocacy of the use of force or of law violation" is unprotected when it is:
1) "directed to inciting or producing" ... (usually requires specific intent)
2) "imminent lawless action" (time horizon must be short)
3) "and is likely to incite or produce such action."

The takeaway points from this test are that the first prong requires specific intent; the second prong requires a very short time horizon for the speech, and the third prong is extremely hard to prove in court. (Thanks to Eugene Volokh, my First Amendment law professor, for teaching me about this stuff last year.) I actually taught Brandenburg to the students in my Law & Terrorism class, and we applied this test to 18 U.S.C. 2339b in class. It was not clear whether the statute would survive, and in the instant case, I'm really unsure whether the courts will be willing to uphold its use to prosecute the speech of Mr. al-Hussayen.

More to follow...

Update I: Eugene Volokh has a very provocative (and lengthy) law review article in draft form on crime-facilitating speech and whether there should be an exception to the First Amendment which allows for the prosecution of this speech. I highly recommend reading it if you're interested in this subject, because he covers the entire legal terrain on this issue in the piece.
Iraq dangers lead to restrictions on reporter movement


The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an interesting story this morning on the orders from several media organizations to their reporters in the field telling them to stay safe in Iraq. In the past two weeks, one Japanese reporter has been taken hostage and two NYT reporters have been detained at gunpoint. The risk of death, injury or capture has many editors telling their troops in the field to play it safe.
So far, there are no reports of major U.S. news organizations completely pulling out of Iraq. But the street violence has become so intense and unpredictable that many reporters are staying indoors, taking only short trips or traveling with the military rather than risk being kidnapped or killed.

* * *
In the wake of two attempted kidnappings of its reporters, the New York Times also has asked its reporters to stay within city limits, for now. Still, the newspaper plans to rotate a few more reporters to its Baghdad bureau in the next two weeks. "I think you have to ask yourself periodically, 'Is it safe to be there at all?' But so far, the answer has been quick and unanimous, 'Yes,' " said Executive Editor Bill Keller.

Other reporters are staying inside, in part because this weekend's anniversary of the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue was expected to prompt a new wave of violence in Baghdad. "We've told them to stay in their resident hotels and not to venture out for even midlevel stories," said John Stack, vice president of news gathering at News Corp.'s Fox News Channel.
Analysis: The interesting thing here is that so few reporters have not been hurt or killed recently. You might recall that reporters and photographers got images and stories from within the crowd of Iraqis that killed the contractors in Fallujah, or that we've seen images from other gory events in the past two weeks. For the most part, the Iraqis are protecting the media, because they want their mayhem to be broadcast around the world. As RAND terrorism expert Brian Jenkins said so many years ago, "terrorism is theater." If the Iraqis can't get their actions seen, and their message heard, then they will fail.

I don't mean to suggest that U.S. media are aiding the enemy by their coverage; they're not. They're just covering the news, for the most part, and doing their jobs. But I want to point out that there is a very complex interaction of factors on the ground in Iraq that allows reporters to operate in places where soldiers could not, and that given the dangers in Iraq, I'm surprised that so few reporters have been killed thus far. I think it's prudent for these major media organizations to protect their reporters in the field, even at the expense of getting the story. But I would not be surprised if a few enterprising reporters are still able to go out and get the story, given the Iraqi interests in having their side heard. We'll see.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Iraqi battalion refuses to fight Iraqis


In what may be the worst possible development for U.S. officials hoping to hand sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30, 2004, Tom Ricks reports in the Washington Post that a newly-minted Iraqi Armed Forces battalion has refused to go fight in Fallujah against Sunni Muslims fighting U.S. forces there. Mutiny in wartime is always a bad thing; it's a worse thing when the overall security strategy hinges on the ability of the Iraqi armed forces to pacify their own population.
BAGHDAD, April 10 -- A battalion of the new Iraqi army refused to go to Fallujah earlier this week to support U.S. Marines battling for control of the city, senior U.S. Army officers here said, disclosing an incident that is casting new doubt on U.S. plans to transfer security matters to Iraqi forces.

It was the first time U.S. commanders had sought to involve the postwar Iraqi army in major combat operations, and the battalion's refusal came as large parts of Iraqi security forces have stopped carrying out their duties.

The 620-man 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Armed Forces refused to fight Monday after members of the unit were shot at in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood in Baghdad while en route to Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim stronghold, said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who is overseeing the development of Iraqi security forces. The convoy then turned around and returned to the battalion's post on a former Republican Guard base in Taji, a town north of the capital.

Eaton said members of the battalion insisted during the ensuing discussions: "We did not sign up to fight Iraqis."

He declined to characterize the incident as a mutiny, but rather called it "a command failure."

The refusal of the battalion to perform as U.S. officials had hoped poses a significant problem for the occupation. The cornerstone of the U.S. strategy in Iraq is to draw down its military presence and turn over security functions to Iraqis.

* * *
Eaton added: "The lines are blurring for a lot of Iraqis right now, and we're having problems with a lot of security functions right now."

A soldier with the 1st Armored Division, who has recently been engaged in combat in Baghdad, said many of the Iraqi security troops with whom he has worked are no longer reporting for duty. "I think what we are seeing is not some mass quitting and mutiny by ICDC [Iraqi Civil Defense Corps], but rather just plain fear," the soldier said. "And all it takes is one Iraqi to take the lead in leaving, and they all do out of fear."
Analysis: Why won't the Iraqis fight, when U.S. soldiers with arguably less at stake will? What are the reasons for this refusal? Fear is clearly part of the decision calculus for these Iraqis. They know they're not as well-trained or -equipped as their U.S. brethren, and they're probably multiplyin U.S. casualties in their head as the likely outcome for their lesser force. Sympathy for their fellow Iraqis is probably a good reason. Imagine the most vile group of Americans -- neo-Nazis who have recently blown up a church or synagogue, killing scores of innocent Americans -- and then imagine the difficulties that our FBI or local SWAT teams would have if they were told their orders were to clear this separatist stronghold. ("Clear", as a tactical task, roughly means to painstakingly eliminate every enemy soldier from a piece of terrain, as opposed to "defeat" or "destroy", which doctrinally mean killing/capturing enough enemy troops that they stop fighting.) I think that it would be very hard to convince our security forces of the justness of this task, and thus I can imagine the difficulty in getting the Iraqis to go fight.

So why do U.S. units fight? It's a combination of unit cohesion, solid leadership, belief in their training and equipment, and a certain historical fatalism that the best way to go home is to win. Dr. Leonard Wong led a study by the Army War College last year of this question -- which looked at morale in both the U.S. and Iraqi armies. Here's what it found:
As a means of comparison, they began by interviewing Iraqi Regular Army prisoners of war to examine their combat motivation and unit dynamics. The researchers then interviewed U.S. combat troops fresh from the fields of battle to examine their views. What they found was that today's U.S. soldiers, much like soldiers of the past, fight for each other. Unit cohesion is alive and well in today's Army. Yet, Dr. Wong and his fellow researchers also found that soldiers cited ideological reasons such as liberation, freedom, and democracy as important factors in combat motivation. Today's soldiers trust each other, they trust their leaders, they trust the Army, and they also understand the moral dimensions of war.
But what about U.S. agencies whose job it is to apply force to U.S. civilians? How do local agencies like the LAPD do it, or national agencies like the FBI? A National Guard unit tasked to do riot controL? It's not easy. The short answer is that is that they have built an organizational culture over time which motivates individual soldiers to do these tasks despite the moral difficulty with using force against fellow citizens. In law enforcement, the moral deprecation of the enemy (criminal population) is important, because law enforcers have to believe that they're doing good by using force. Similarly, police commanders engaged in riot control operations have to find some way to justify their actions, and it's generally accomplished with public safety imperatives. And of course, there are sanctions that are applied to anyone who falls out of ranks. U.S. cops or soldiers who don't play ball will be ostracized by their peers, and will likely also face administrative and/or criminal penalties as well.

All of these U.S. systems -- unit cohesion, leadership, administrative incentives/penalties -- take time to develop, along with the organizational culture which allows a unit to do these things. Even the Iraqi Army, as studied by Wong et al., lacked the organizational culture necessary to stand in fight. We should not be surprised that the infant Iraqi armed forces lack the will to fight, and especially that they lack the will to fight their own countrymen. I think this is a pretty strong indicator that (1) we cannot turn over sovereignty until we have crushed the most dangerous parts of the Iraqi insurgency and (2) that we must leave some force in Iraq to continue the fight until the Iraqis can build a viable force.
What went wrong in Iraq last week
: Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Anthony Shadid, two of the Washington Post's veterans in Iraq, have a lengthy report on the mistakes and successes which helped foment the current uprising underway in Iraq. It's an excellent piece of reporting and analysis, and I highly recommend it.
Read the book... or wait for the movie
: The AP reports that Sony Pictures Entertainment has purchased the movie rights to Against All Enemies, the book by former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke. A lot of the book is quite dry, but the story from inside the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, will likely make for good movie material. No deal details were released, nor was a production timeline.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Measuring gains and losses in Iraq

"The lid of the pressure cooker has come off"

The situation in Fallujah, as well as the rest of Iraq, has been fluid for at least as long as the current engagement has been going on. As the saying goes, the issue is still very much in doubt. Thus, despite extensive reports in the NYT, WP and LAT, I'm reticent to read the tea leaves as pointing to a particular end. MG David Petraeus' question is certainly apt here -- "Tell me how this ends. I think that Virginia Postrel articulates this point well on her weblog:
I have the same problem blogging on this topic that I do blogging on every little twitch in the economic statistics: It's too hard to separate the transient noise from the long-run trend, and the long run is what matters. Things are bad in Iraq right now, but is this a last-gasp effort by our enemies, the beginning of a quagmire, or, most likely, something in between whose conclusion depends largely on our response? Rushing to judgment, especially from afar, is a prescription for foolish conclusions and bad policies.

One reason pundits focus so much on the political, as opposed to substantive, effects of economic or military developments is that political effects do take place in the short run. Plus it's easier to understand poll numbers than to peer through the fog of war (or the complexity of the economy).
Virginia's thoughts, refined by years of economic analysis, are spot on. In war, it is very difficult to see the forest through the trees -- to piece together those indicators on the battlefield in order to a form a complete picture of what's really going on. American military doctrine calls this "situational understanding", and it's a very hard thing to acquire through the fog of war. So, I'll try to focus on some discrete details of the engagements in Iraq to make observations, and I'll only make a tentative guess as to the big picture.

The AP reports that (Iraqi?) government negotiators have moved into Fallujah to broker some sort of agreement -- either a lasting peace or temporary cease-fire -- with the militants for humanitarian purposes. The American command appears to be blessing this effort with a temporary pause in combat operations.
FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) -- Government negotiators entered the besieged city of Fallujah Saturday as fierce battles raged elsewhere in central Iraq, including Baghdad. Forty Iraqis were killed, two U.S. servicemembers and two Germans were missing, an American civilian was captured and a Red Crescent official was gunned down.

Several members of the Iraqi Governing Council met with Fallujah city leaders, trying to win the handover of people who killed and mutilated four American civilians last week. They also want the insurgents to give up foreign militants in the city, council member Mahmoud Othman said.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the military was seeking a cease-fire during the talks, but explosions and sporadic gunfire continued to be heard Saturday afternoon in the city. The Marines largely remained in the industrial zone they hold in the eastern part of the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad.

Some Marines moved a few blocks into a nearby neighborhood, breaking into homes, witnesses said, in an apparent attempt to clear out gunmen firing on them. An AC-130 gunship airplane raked insurgent positions with gunfire Friday night.
Analysis: This is a very interesting development. It runs counter to the old maxim of American diplomacy, that we never negotiate with terrorists. By negotiating with the insurgents in Fallujah (or by blessing the Iraqi negotiations with them), we have elevated the status of these insurgents to something approaching a legitimate military force. My sense is that we're offering humanitarian aid to the civilians in Fallujah and safe passage for them in exchange for the handoff of the actual people responsible for last week's ambush and mutiliation of the contractors, and we probably also want some agreement to let Iraqi police/military units patrol Fallujah without being attacked. Prediction: the insurgents will tell us to go pound sand. In a week, they have inflicted significant losses on an elite American unit and held their ground, and their situational understanding probably tells them they are winning right now. At most, they will allow humanitarian convoys to enter the city, but they won't let Iraqi civilians leave en masse, because that would deprive them of a significant source of protection against American firepower.

The Los Angeles Times reports on another large development relating to the battle for Fallujah. Several members of the nascent Iraqi Governing Council appear to be severely disenchanted with American tactics in Iraq, to the point where they have announced their departure from the IGC or their thoughts about doing so. Given that the IGC is America's hand-picked governing body for Iraq, this obviously presents major political and strategic problems.
One council member, angered by this week's heavy fighting in Fallouja and the prospect of a U.S. move against the militia of an anti-American Shiite cleric, suspended his membership Friday. Four others say they are ready to follow suit.

A sixth council member, Adnan Pachachi, a respected former diplomat who less than three months ago had accompanied First Lady Laura Bush to the president's State of the Union address, harshly criticized U.S. actions as "illegal and totally unacceptable."

* * *
"The coalition has opened too many fronts in Iraq, alienating a large swath of the population," said Hachim Hassani, who is representing the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni Muslim group, on the council. "The Iraqi people now equate democracy with bloodshed."

The council members say the only move that would stop them from suspending or resigning their membership is the U.S. military's agreement to halt military operations in Fallouja long enough for council members to engage in negotiations with the local community to try to forestall further bloodshed.
Analysis: I'm no Iraq expert or trained political scientist -- see Juan Cole's site for that perspective. However, this development has some major strategic implications. First, the Iraqi tactics are becoming clear -- they are operationalizing the "bond" theory of insurgency. This theory posits that the institutions of a given society -- political leadership, the military, the people -- are bound together by relationships which themselves can be targeted. The Iraqi insurgents right now are targeting the bonds between the American people and its political leadership, through the infliction of American casualties. They are also targeting the same bond in the Iraqi society. To some extent, they are succeeding in both campaigns. But this development on the IGC is most disturbing because it shows that they are really succeeding at breaking the bond between the Iraqi people and their current governing body.

Now, it's always been known that self-determination is a messy thing, and we should not be surprised that battlefield events have unpredictable (and unwanted) consequences for Iraqi democracy. But I think that we should take steps to protect Iraqi democracy while it's in its fragile infancy, and not allow the insurgents or terrorists to pull at its levers while it's at such a sensitive point. We must find some way to keep the IGC together, with a membership that represents most of Iraq, or else we will not be able to hand over sovereignty in 80+ days. And if we let the IGC be weakened by insurgent tactics, we will effectively be setting it up for failure.

The Washington Post reports this morning on the battlefield tactics being used in Fallujah, as well as the progress of the American offensive around the country. It does not surprise me to see the U.S. winning slowly as it applies combined-arms firepower to each enemy stronghold in Fallujah and elsewhere. Even the most disciplined, well-trained, and well-armed force would be overwhelmed by this synchronized application of firepower -- let alone an ad hoc force of insurgents. The deliberate speed of the American advance is likely a function of risk management; commanders are doing what they can to minimize casualties through the use of standoff firepower and caution. Clearing buildings takes time, and the price of speed is measured in blood. American forces appear to be taking back some of the ground gained by insurgents thus far, but the issue is still in doubt, according to The Post.
Sadr has taken refuge in Najaf, and his militia, called the Mahdi Army, maintained control over the city Friday while U.S. forces have remained outside. In Kut, another southern city held by insurgents since Ukrainian troops retreated earlier in the week, about 1,000 U.S. troops fought Friday to reassert coalition control.

Fighting between insurgents and coalition forces was also reported in the northern cities of Mosul, Baqubah and Muqdadiya, as well as Karbala, the holy city where Shiite pilgrims have been gathering for a religious observance this weekend.

In Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, fighting continued between Italian forces based on the south side of the city and Sadr's militiamen on the north side, across the Euphrates River. Explosions rang out across the city shortly after midnight as an Italian army brigade moved across the river. By Friday evening resistance was "minor and manageable," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy for operations.

In Baghdad, explosions echoed across the city during the night after a day marked by several mortar strikes around the center of the capital. Shiites and Sunnis prayed together outside each other's shrines, and worshipers continued to donate tons of food for residents of Fallujah.
The Post and other media also report on the possible kidnapping of several persons by the insurgents, including possibly several Americans. Reports are still sketchy, but it looks like insurgents ambushed a fuel convoy and took several hostages in the process. CNN reports with some more fidelity on this developing situation, but it's still not clear what's going on.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An Australian television network broadcast footage on Saturday of armed militants in Iraq holding a man who appeared to be an American, as U.S. and coalition forces searched for foreign nationals who have been kidnapped or reported missing in recent days.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation showed a car stopping on a highway and masked, armed men getting out and asking journalists to look at a hostage, who was sitting in the back seat next to a gunman.

A journalist asked the man what happened and the man, white and middle-aged, replied in a slight Southern U.S. accent that "they attacked our convoy. That's all I'm going to say."

It is unclear if the man on the video is referring to an incident Friday when a fuel convoy was attacked near Baghdad International Airport.

* * *
The Pentagon said two U.S. soldiers and four civilian contractors -- some of them American -- are unaccounted for after a fuel convoy was attacked near Baghdad International Airport Friday. The four were from the same company.
Analysis: We need to be very careful about this risk, because American prisoners in Iraqi hands are a very powerful bargaining chip. The insurgents have likely seen the way we responded to the capture of American scouts in Kosovo, and the capture of American soldiers (including PFC Jessica Lynch) in Iraq. They know our creed of not leaving behind a fallen comrade, and the extent to which we will act to bring prisoners home alive. Thus, they may now have a strategy of opportunistic kidnapping. American soldiers -- and contractors -- must take additional measures to ensure they do not travel in small groups that make them vulnerable to kidnapping. We can't afford to give the insurgents these kinds of chips to play poker with.

How does this end? Some parts of Iraq remain in coalition control, and a lot of good nation-building work continues without interruption. But the situation in many parts of the country remains quite fluid -- and violent. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw painted a very realistic picture of what's going on, based on the information he's received through his government and ours:
"[T]here is no doubt that the current situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced."

* * *
"It is plainly the fact today that there are larger numbers of people, and they are people on the ground, Iraqis, not foreign fighters, who are engaged in this insurgency," he said. "The lid of the pressure cooker has come off, and some of the tensions and pressures which were there and would have come out in any event have to a degree been directed toward the coalition."
How do you put the lid of the pressure cooker back on? The short answer is that you can't. If that's the right metaphor, and the lid has literally been blown off, then we must wait until things simmer down until we can restore peace and order in Iraq. Of course, we cannot (and should not) wait passively. American forces ought to hunt down and capture or kill as many insurgents as possible, because these people will come back to fight another day if we don't. But we should recognize the broad nature of this uprising and the extent to which disaffection and dissent permeate Iraqi society. And in the long term, we must figure out a way to allow this kind of dissent and to structure the Iraiq democracy so as to survive it -- and indeed, to incorporate this kind of dissent into Iraqi democracy through free speech, free elections, and other peaceful means.

Trust me -- I know this task is easier said than done. But no one said that nation-building was easy.

Update I: Check out the excellent analysis here, here and elsewhere at Back to Iraq, a weblog written by journalist Chris Allbritton (it's called that because he's trying to raise money through the 'blog to send himself back to Iraq.)

Thursday, April 8, 2004

From the Intel Dump archives -- on the lethality of street fighting


As American forces closed to within striking distance of Baghdad last year, lots of people began to speculate on how the U.S. Army and Marines would take down Baghdad and deal with the urban fight. In the face of casualty estimates in the hundreds or thousands, some readers asked me to explain why urban combat was so bloody. This week, as combat operations in Fallujah and elsewhere have claimed the lives of more than 40 young Americans, I thought it might be useful to reprint the note I wrote on March 28, 2003.

Why is urban combat so bloody?

A number of readers have written in with questions about urban combat and the various forms it may take for the U.S.-led force in Iraq. I should state up front that I have no crystal ball; it's not clear how warfare will unfold in Iraq's major cities. However, there are some basic truths about urban combat which we've learned in places like Hue, Saigon, Mogadishu, and from other nations exploits in places like Chechnya. This is an illustrative list of some of the issues we may see if we take the fight into Iraq's cities.

1. Three-dimensional combat. It's commonly said that urban warfare takes place in three dimensions -- whereas surface warfare or desert warfare takes place in just two. That's because of the vertical dimension to streetfighting, where threats may come from above, below or to either side of you. This adds a great deal of complexity to the fight. This complexity generally aids the defender, since he's fighting on his home turf and has the ability to ensconce himself in buildings, sewers, and other places where he can fight from.

2. Cover and concealment. The U.S. has a major technological advantage on the open battlefield because it can see the enemy from a long distance away and shoot to kill that enemy -- either with artillery, tank fire, or even rifle fire. In urban combat, this advantage basically disappears. Enemy soldiers can hide in buildings with relative ease, and there still aren't a lot of technical means to find them. (Hard to see through buildings) One sniper can hole up in a large building and wreak havoc by shooting through windows, holes in the wall, and ventiliation shafts. In urban combat, the enemy has a million places to hide -- and it takes tedious, detailed work by infantry to root them out.

3. Civilians and paramilitaries. Distinguishing between civilians and soldiers in urban areas becomes a lot more complicated, because there are a lot more civilians and a great incentive for soldiers to blend into that population to avoid deliberate U.S. targeting. We've already seen a lot of unconventional warfare by the Iraqis, and it stands to reason that they would use it even more in an urban setting. American forces also found in Mogadishu that civilians often take up arms and fight as paramilitaries when fighting against an aggressor. If we don't do the Civil Affairs and humanitarian missions right, we may face intense resistance from Iraqi civilians with AK-47s fighting as paramilitaries and guerillas. That's pretty much our nightmare scenario. (See Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down for more on how this issue played out during the Battle of Bakara Market in October 1993)

4. Communications. America's military works on mostly FM-based communications systems which generally require line-of-sight transmission paths. The concrete, steel and glass in urban areas interferes with these commo systems and makes it hard for units to talk with one another beyond a few blocks. This is an acute problem at the lowest level -- the infantry squad -- where soldiers fight with battery-powered radios that may or may not be able to punch out of a concrete building.

5. Force structure. Since Vietnam, America's military has substituted capital more and more for manpower (in macroeconomics terms). The basic idea was to send a bullet (or bomb), not a man, whenever possible. We have poured money into cruise missiles, tanks, helicopters, ships, and aircraft that can hit a target from miles away without involving the muddy-boots work of the infantry. Unfortunately, urban combat requires a wholly different sort of force. As T. R. Fehrenbach wrote about the Korean War, this kind of war can only be won by nations that are willing to put their young men in the mud. Our military -- even with the reserves -- does not have a substantial amount of infantry. It has a high tail-to-tooth ratio, meaning that there are a lot more support troops than combat troops in the military. And of course, most are not infantrymen -- they include tankers, combat engineers, artillerymen, etc. One immutable truth of urban warfare is that it requires a lot of infantry.

Bottom Line: I can't predict what will happen in Baghdad or Basra. Our military has done a lot of homework in recent years to get better at urban combat, especially the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army's light infantry community. My hope is that we wait on the outskirts of the city and use unconventional means to draw out civilians and take down Saddam's regime. But as one famous general quipped, "Hope is not a method."
Update: Not much has changed since then about urban combat -- it remains a Hobbesian form of warfare where technological advantages are often offset by the complex terrain and presence of civilians. For more on this subject, see this story by ABC News; this newsletter on Urban Combat Operations from the Army's Center for Lessons Learned, this review of Russian military operations in Grozny, and this article in the Boston Phoenix on urban ops.
The problems with private military corporations

Most do good -- but lingering issues of control, accountability and propriety remain

Dana Priest (one of the best reporters at the Washington Post) and Mary Pat Flaherty have an article in this morning's Washington Post that ought to stir the pot about the wisdom of employing private military contractors to provide security and other functions in Iraq. My first reaction while reading the story was "WTF?" - a military acronym that is usually accompanied by raised eyebrows and a certain sense of incredulity. Basically, Ms. Priest and Ms. Flaherty tell a story of private armies coalescing in Iraq to meet the threat and fill a vacuum left by the U.S. military.
Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.

Many of the firms were hired by the U.S. government to protect its employees in Iraq. But because the contracts are managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the coordination between the CPA and the U.S. military is limited, and by their accounts inadequate, the contractors have no direct line to the armed forces. Most of the firms' employees are military veterans themselves, and they often depend on their network of colleagues still in uniform for coordination and intelligence.

"There is no formal arrangement for intelligence-sharing," Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad, said in an e-mail in response to questions. "However, ad hoc relationships are in place so that contractors can learn of dangerous areas or situations."

The demand for a private security force in Iraq has increased since the war ended, said officials with the CPA, the U.S.-led authority that is running the occupation of Iraq. There are about 20,000 private security contractors in Iraq now, including Americans, Iraqis and other foreigners. That number is expected to grow to 30,000 in the near future when the U.S. troop presence is drawn down after the June 30 handover to Iraqi authorities.

The presence of so many armed security contractors in a hot combat zone is unprecedented in U.S. history, according to government officials and industry experts.
Analysis: There are lots of issues in this story to parse, including many specific operational issues that have developed in the past few days. I'm going to take a swing at some of those issues, and offer some thoughts about why we should be concerned about the growing use of private military contractors (PMCs) in Iraq. Unfortunately, I'm writing something on this up tonight for publication and thus I can't share my thoughts right now. More to follow...

Update I: As promised, here is the article I was working on relating to problems with private military corporations. This article captures some of the legal issues associated with this practice, which has grown by leaps and bounds during the last two years of America's global war on terrorism.

Update II: In addition to these issues, there are some other non-legal issues worth considering in connection with PMCs. Here is a brief rundown of some of the issues I think deserve discussion:

- Intelligence and information security. The Post's article contains this very interesting description of the way that intelligence passes between military and PMC command centers:

Many of the firms were hired by the U.S. government to protect its employees in Iraq. But because the contracts are managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the coordination between the CPA and the U.S. military is limited, and by their accounts inadequate, the contractors have no direct line to the armed forces. Most of the firms' employees are military veterans themselves, and they often depend on their network of colleagues still in uniform for coordination and intelligence.

"There is no formal arrangement for intelligence-sharing," Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad, said in an e-mail in response to questions. "However, ad hoc relationships are in place so that contractors can learn of dangerous areas or situations."

* * *
"There is absolutely a growing cooperation along unofficial lines," Edmunds said. "We try to give each other warnings about things we hear are about to happen."
This is problematic for a few reasons. First, we should be wary of any ad hoc systems of intelligence that share classified information with non-governmental organizations. Yes, there's a threat, and yes, we have a vested interest in protecting contractors and NGOs. However, we also have an interesting in protecting classified information, especially to the extent that it reveals sources and methods of collection. Some of these contractors (e.g. Blackwater) clearly have experience with classified stuff, and they can probably be trusted to secure this information. But there is no way to control this stuff once it gets out into an ad hoc contractor network. Without appropriate control measures, this intelligence could reach the wrong people and do significant damage to the U.S. intelligence community.

- Military force structure and PMCs. The size of the U.S. military is capped by law in a number known as "end strength". This figure is stated in each year's National Defense Authorization Act, with a tiny bit of wiggle room for the services based on when and how this number is calculated. The Pentagon has not-too-secretly evaded this constraint since Sept. 11 by mobilizing hundreds of thousands of reservists to support the war on terrorism at home and abroad. The Pentagon currently has 174,378 reservists on active duty. The outsourcing of military functions (and support functions) to private military contractors represents another kind of end run around the end strength limitation. It allows the U.S. government to put more boots on the ground without paying for more military manpower, or the institutional overhead that goes along with each soldier.

- Constitutional issues of accountability and control.: The Constitution divides the war powers of the United States between the President and Congress, in a scheme that's supposed to provide for immediate reaction in case of an armed attack, as well as deliberate consideration of the decision to declare war by Congress. The use of private military contractors frustrates this carefully constructed balance of war powers by allowing the executive branch to evade various Congressional control mechanisms, from funding conditions to reporting requirements. In an age of global networked terrorism, the consequences of American foreign policy may well wash up on our shores and affect our population in deadly ways. Thus, we should be wary of any mechanisms which allow the executive branch to freelance an aspect of foreign policy or military action, without ensuring there are adequate controls in place to make sure the national interest is being upheld.

Update III: Also see this article by David Wood of the Newhouse News Service on the issues associated with the use of private military contractors. It even includes a reference to the "daily intel dump from the local military HQ."

Update IV: Josh Marshall has an interesting e-mail from a friend of his who's an ex-military intel guy working in Iraq for a private military contractor. The e-mail comments on the current situation and offers some analysis of moves by the CPA and CJTF leadership.
DoD investigators hit the body armor black market


Investigators from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service announced today that they had executed search warrants in seven states relating to a probe of black market sales of American military body armor. The alleged black marketeers were selling the body armor, and associated small-arms protective inserts, mostly to soldiers and civilians headed towards Iraq who were not receiving the gear from their units or employers.
DCIS agents, working with agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, launched a multi-state execution of search warrants in Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. There were 27 subject interviews conducted in various states and two arrests warrants were executed.

The investigative activities this week are the culmination of covert operation "High Bidder," conducted by the DCIS since July 2003. This operation has identified individuals who have attempted to sell military issued outer tactical vests (OTVs) and/or small arm protective Inserts (SAPIs) over the Internet. To date, the operation has executed 30 search warrants and prosecuted seven individuals. Subjects included current and former military members and civilians. This investigation is ongoing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

"There's only one front, and that is the country of Iraq."


Those remarks came from Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of operations for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, during a press conference today. BG Kimmitt was taking exception to reports in major newspapers such as the NYT and WP which portrayed the violence of the past few days as a two-front campaign by Sunni and Shiite Muslims respectively to eject American forces from Iraq. Here's the context of BG Kimmitt's statement:
Q. Thanks. Luke Baker from Reuters. General Kimmitt, you used the phrase "destroy the Mahdi Army" on several occasions. Can we interpret from that that this now is your biggest concern, bigger even than the insurgency you're facing? And how are you going about sort of adapting to fighting a war on two fronts?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, first of all, we are not fighting a war on two fronts. There's only one front, and that is the country of Iraq. We are -- at this point, it would appear that -- in the Al Anbar province, working towards restoring civil order in Fallujah -- that program, that operation, is going quite well at this point, on schedule, on target.

With regards to the southern and the central portion of Iraq, as we continue to go against the Mahdi Army we're getting our foothold into this. We are now understanding more and more about the Mahdi Army -- how they operate, where they operate, against whom they operate.

So in terms of fighting two fronts, I think that is probably a misrepresentation. We've been fighting simultaneous operations in this country for quite a while, and we don't seem to -- have not encountered any problems continuing the operations up to this point.

Q. Just a very quick follow. Will you take on the Badr Brigade as well? Do you intend to disarm them?

GEN. KIMMITT: It is very simple with regards to militia. The policy is well known, the policy is well understood. Militias are outlawed in this country. Those militias that take to violence, they will become a target for the Iraqi security forces and the coalition.
Analysis: I think that BG Kimmitt is 100% correct. This is not a two-front battle. This has become a nationwide uprising that is quickly spiraling out of control. The picture painted by NYT, WP and LAT correspondents is one of an escalating situation in several different parts of the country, with several different insurgent elements at work behind these uprisings. The Coalition Provisional Authority may be able to isolate the al-Sadr uprising in Baghdad or the violence in Fallujah as the work of a few discrete groups. However, I do not think that it can apply the same box to the uprisings in Kut, Najaf, Karbala, Kufa and Kirkuk. The Post's report describes an Iraq on the brink of total civil war:
In Fallujah, an epicenter of the Sunni resistance, U.S. Marines attempting to root out insurgents pushed toward the center of the city, drawing heavy rifle and grenade fire. After a contingent of Marines was attacked by gunmen hiding in a mosque, a U.S. jet and a helicopter took the unusual step of bombing the compound's outer wall. Witnesses told Arab journalists in the city that as many as 40 people were killed in the bombing, although the U.S. military said it had no reports of civilian casualties.

In central and southern Iraq, fighters loyal to Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite cleric who vowed Wednesday to turn Iraq into "another Vietnam for America," tightened their grip on the holy cities of Karbala, Kufa and Najaf. Members of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Sadr, seized control of Kut, a city to the southeast of Baghdad, when Ukrainian troops withdrew after an overnight gun battle.

The U.S. military's director of operations in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said American troops would "destroy the Mahdi Army."

The unrest also spread to northern Iraq for the first time as U.S. troops in Hawijah, near Kirkuk, fired on an angry mob protesting American tactics in Fallujah, killing eight Iraqis. Although Baghdad's Sadr City slum, the site of bloody clashes earlier in the week, was largely calm, violence erupted in other parts of the capital. Shortly after nightfall, gunmen opened fire on a U.S. base in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Kadhimiya and on another in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya.
We ought not minimize the threat from this uprising, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is doing with the news about the current fighting in Iraq.
The recent surge in violence has involved both a rise in attacks by Sunni insurgents and a new militant campaign by Shiite forces loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr. At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disputed characterizations of the violence as a popular uprising. They said battles have involved relatively small numbers of militants, estimating the size of Sadr's militia at 1,000 to 6,000 fighters.

"There's nothing like an army or large elements of hundreds of people trying to change the situation," Rumsfeld said. "You have a mixture of a small number of terrorists, a small number of militias, coupled with some demonstrations and some lawlessness."
I respectfully disagree. This is the most intense combat that American forces have seen since the war, and in many respects, it is more intense than the combat seen by American forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The casualty reports support this argument. The most intense fighting of the war occurred in two places: Nasariyah, where the Army's 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed and 18 Marines were killed in one day; and Baghdad, during the final assault on the city by the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines. Those engagements included thousands more troops than the battles being fought right now, and yet the casualty numbers were lower than they are today. Moreover, U.S. troops did not engage in this kind of bloody streetfighting during the war -- they simply backed off and used standoff firepower to respond to dug-in threats. The need to minimize collateral damage and win decisively has meant the increased use of infantry to do the job this time, and the result has been more American casualties.

We also should not minimize the threat this poses to the long-term goals and objectives of the U.S. and Coalition Provisional Authority. The Pentagon has responded by tweaking its force rotation plan to keep more boots on the ground in Iraq. And The Post also reports that the U.S. has asked more than 12 nations to contribute forces to protect the U.N.'s mission in Iraq. Yet despite those measures, I think this uprising has the potential to do several things. First, it can (and probably will) derail the U.S. plan to transfer sovereignty on 30 Jun 04. Second, it can and probably will require elections to be postponed, because it's hard to see how any meaningful democratic elections can take place amidst this violence. Third, this violence will certainly delay any U.S. exit from Iraq, and require us to keep large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq for the duration of 2005 and possibly 2006. Army planners are already working on the contingency plans for that eventuality.

How does this end? I don't know. At this point, I'm not even sure how we define victory or success in Iraq, and how we conceive of an exit that will allow us to achieve that victory without seeing it vanish 6 months later in a bloody civil war. This is an issue that absolutely must become part of the 2004 presidential election debate -- how do we win in Iraq, and how do we get out?

Update I: John Hendren, an LA Times reporter who's spent a lot of time in Iraq during the past year, has a story in tomorrow's paper that's aptly headlined "Uprising Could Signal a Second War for Iraq". I think his analysis is right on target. Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has the most telling quote of the story: "We're at a tipping point in Iraq, with a real danger of losing control of the situation."

Update II: For a more optimistic analysis of the situation, see this column by Austin Bay over at StrategyPage.Com.

Update III: Word reached the soldiers in the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division yesterday that their tour in Iraq would be extended by four months in order to bolster the U.S. force in Iraq. 1AD has primarily operated in Baghdad, where part of the current uprising is rooted, and its soldiers have seen both the highs and lows of the counter-insurgency effort in Iraq. I can only imagine what this order must've done to soldier morale in 1AD. However, I think this was a good decision, because having more troops on the ground will make it easier to mass combat power against the insurgents, and that will ultimately result in less U.S. casualties and a greater likelihood of mission accomplishment.

Update IV: Notwithstanding the orders received on the ground by 1AD (see Update III above), the Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon is still thinking about how it will bolster the U.S. force on the ground in Iraq.
[CENTCOM Commander Gen. John] Abizaid, who is directing the war in Iraq, ordered commanders this week to craft plans in case conditions worsened and he called for more troops. As of Wednesday, he had not made that request of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said.

There are now 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, 20,000 more than called for under the current Pentagon plan because new units have arrived before those they are replacing have left.

But some soldiers who planned to depart soon have been ordered to remain on duty, Di Rita said. "At this moment, they're being used in combat activities," he said.

Asked if their yearlong tours of duty had been extended, he said, "Not yet."

Overtaken by events

I was completely wrong about the U.S. response in Fallujah

In this Findlaw.Com and CNN.Com column, I argue that the U.S. will likely take a deliberate and cautious approach to quelling the violence in Fallujah. Additionally, I argue that the U.S. is likely to follow the international law norms of necessity, proportionality and distinction because it's in the U.S. interest to do so.
In Fallujah, commanders are likely to err on the side of proportionality for at least two reasons. First, the world will be watching the American response, and it will judge the justness of America's continued occupation by the judiciousness of our force.

Second, the use of force will have an effect on the Iraqi mob responsible for the incident. Too much force could provoke a backlash and foment a new Iraqi insurgency; too little force could show weakness and also provoke more insurgent activity. Obviously, these two considerations counsel taking some middle path among the options.

Ultimately, American commanders will likely choose a path in Fallujah which conforms with necessity, proportionality and distinction not only because the law requires, but also (or, from a more cynical point of view, primarily) because it's in our interest to do so. Such a middle path will likely include increased patrols of the city, searches of suspected insurgent homes and weapons cache sites, checkpoints to limit the flow of people and materiel into the city, and curfews to control the population at night. The U.S. response will likely not include massive air or artillery bombardment, such as that employed during World War II or more recently by the Russians in Chechnya.

Historically, nations have always tended to follow the laws of war when it was in their interest to do so, and Fallujah presents another case of where American operational interests and legal imperatives converge.

Thus, American forces will likely respond in Fallujah with measured, precise force against those who can be proven to be responsible -- and no one else. Such a response will both comply with the laws of war, and help to win the hearts and minds of the many Iraqi citizens who weren't part of the mob.
Uh, waiter... one large order of crow please? I did a fair amount of research over the weekend and contacted several smart folks to see if this was a good argument before filing my story. However, events in Iraq have subsequently proved my predictions wrong, and thus I feel obliged to take some responsibility. I still think my legal analysis of the contractors' status in Fallujah was accurate, along with the points about which Iraqi and international laws apply to the killings of the Blackwater employees last week. However, my ultimate argument and conclusion has been overtaken by events and proven wrong. Of course, this is a risk whenever you go out on a limb and try to predict the future. And as we used to say in the Army, "the enemy gets a vote too". Even if the U.S. plan was to go into Fallujah with judicious force, that plan did not survive first contact with the enemy.
DoD lawyer files suit to challenge tribunals


Neil Lewis reports in tomorrow's NY Times that one of the JAG officers assigned to defend a Gitmo detainee has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Constitutionality of the military tribunal order under which his client will be tried. The NYT story is essentially a follow-up to this report by Jess Bravin in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. (subscription required) (Thanks to How Appealing for the heads up, which also provides a link to the complaint filed in this case. How Appealing really is better and faster than the AP for legal news.)
The suit asserts that Mr. Hamdan, a Yemeni, was never involved with Al Qaeda or with any military action against American forces in Afghanistan. He is described as a Muslim pilgrim who went to Afghanistan on the way to Tajikistan. Failing to get there, the papers say, he took a job as a driver on Osama bin Laden's Afgan farm and later became a driver for Mr. bin Laden himself.

The tribunal system set up by the administration does not provide for review in any civilian courts. Appeals may be taken only up the military chain of command.

The new suit, before Judge Robert S. Lasnik, asserts that the Constitution guarantees civilian court review of the military justice system. Military officials have contended that the prisoners are unlawful enemy combatants and as such are not entitled to the protections of American law or international treaties.
Analysis: This is a great case of zealous advocacy by a military lawyer. The Secretary of Defense and his staff support the tribunals, and this officer's chain of command runs straight to the SecDef. Yet, he's willing to set aside pure careerism in order to challenge the validity of the White House's tribunal order in federal civilian court. Of course, it can be argued that he may be enhancing his career by taking such a zealous stand. You see, JAG officers may ultimately work for the SecDef, but their respective services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) control their careers and promotions for the most part. The service JAGs don't really like the tribunals, so he's likely to be taken care of by his own service chain of command. Nonetheless, I still think it takes major league cojones (or chutzpah) to fire a direct shot like this at the SecDef. You don't see that many military officers, regardless of the rightness of their views, willing to fight publicly with the Pentagon like this.

The cynical side of me wants to say that the SecDef and his staff planned this all along -- that they want zealous JAG officers to fight the tribunals in court because it will lend the tribunals a veneer of legitimacy and respectability. Perhaps. But what's the practical difference between allowing such dissent for spin purposes, and actually establishing a process which includes some modicum of fairness and due process. At some point, the lines become blurred. And at the end of the day, I'm pretty confident that these JAGs will execute their professional duties by fighting for their clients to the best of their ability.
Pledge break
: Thanks to everyone who has graciously supported this site so far. I'm happy to report that I have raised enough money to purchase my new domain (www.intel-dump.com), the new software I'll need, and the server space/bandwidth necessary to run a professional weblog. I will likely transition this site in early May after I finish finals and before I start my bar study course.

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On the offensive in Fallujah

Violence spreads; casualties mount on both sides -- how does this end?

On Apr. 5, Tony Perry (who's embedded with the 1st Marine Division) and Edmund Sanders of the L.A. Times reported that the Marines kicked off their offensive to retake Fallujah and establish U.S./CPA rule over the lawless city where four contractors were brutally slain last week. Perry was embedded with the Marines from Camp Pendleton during the invasion of Iraq last year, and his reporting has generally been some of the best from Iraq. Here's how he described the start of the offensive:
All roads leading to this city of 300,000 were cut off and barricaded with tanks and concertina wire. Working through the cold and windy desert night, Marines set up camps for detainees and residents who might flee.

Before dawn, several Marine positions on the fringes of town were hit by mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenade fire; one Marine was reported killed.

The Marines called in air support to take out some enemy positions and said in some cases the attackers were working in groups as large as 12.

Witnesses reported gunfire overnight and said at least four homes had been hit by U.S. aerial strikes.

At daylight, Marines in armored Humvees began distributing leaflets asking residents to stay in their homes and help identify insurgents and those responsible for last week's killings. They also took over the local radio station and used bullhorns to get the message out.

* * *
Marines said they had no plans to conduct random door-to-door searches; they intended to work from a list of addresses where intelligence suggested suspects might be hiding and weapons might be stored.

"Everyone's in position; now we'll see it develop," Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division, said shortly after 10 a.m. today.
And develop it has -- but not in a good way for American forces. Tony Perry reports today how the Fallujah mission turned into a bloody street fight that has claimed dozens of Iraqi and possibly more than a dozen U.S. lives.
Insurgents, meanwhile, were demonstrating a resolve of their own.

When Marines entered the neighborhood in tanks and helicopters, insurgents held their positions and fired back with rifles, mortars and small arms.

Residents reported that insurgent cells, which had been lying low in recent days, had a higher profile Tuesday, openly carrying weapons and positioning grenade launchers in the middle of the streets. One carload of Iraqis was captured while attempting to plant homemade bombs in the road.

"We will continue to resist them," said Abu Khamis Khulaifawi, who described himself as part of the insurgency in Fallouja. "We have enough mortars, enough rocket-propelled grenades and enough light arms."

Insurgents also appeared to have a strategy to defend the city.

They have blocked streets with buses and other vehicles in an attempt to divert military vehicles and have used an antiaircraft gun ? later destroyed ? to try to shoot down helicopters. One copter was hit by small-arms fire but not seriously damaged. The insurgents are using buses to transport fighters around the city and have darted in with cars to retrieve their dead after battles.
That's a big change from the kind of "hit and run" tactics the Iraqis have demonstrated to date. Even during the war, it was rare that Iraqis or their out-of-country compatriots would stand and fight against U.S. forces. The result is that U.S. forces have to now painstakingly clear each piece of terrain they want to hold -- a very tough and bloody process in the 3-dimensional urban battlefield. Pamela Constable, a Washington Post reporter embedded with the 1st Marine Division, adds this report today on the fierce combat in Fallujah:
Officials said Marine units in Fallujah encountered well-armed and well-orchestrated resistance by local guerrillas. Snipers fired repeatedly at patrols from rooftops and windows, and others lobbed mortars and rockets at military convoys and bunkers dug around the perimeter of the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad.

"As soon as we pulled up, they started shooting at us," said Lance Cpl. Jamil Alkattan, 23, whose unit entered the city at 2 a.m. Monday. "There were mortars, rockets and bullets flying everywhere. They were definitely waiting for us. It seemed like everyone in the city who had a gun was out there."

* * *
One company commander said that as his squads moved through residential areas, they were fired on from inside a mosque, and snipers took potshots at them from numerous hiding places. Many enemy fighters wore black clothing and had scarves wrapped around their faces.

"As soon as we crossed the line, there was a huge change in tone in the people, a real uneasy feeling," the commander said at an early evening briefing. "Little kids made roadblocks."
That's the picture in Fallujah so far -- a bloody street battle that is far from over. The AP and Washington Post report this morning that it has escalated even further, with a U.S. helicopter firing missiles into a mosque complex, killing 40 or more. In Ramadi, an Iraqi insurgent raid killed 12 Marines and wounded as many as 20. Those numbers make that one incident the most bloody battle of the war so far, with the exception of one day at Nasiryah where 18 Marines died (10 due to a errant U.S. airstrike). And the New York Times reports that Sunni and Shiite Muslim elements around the country have begun to rise up in armed opposition to the U.S. and coalition forces, with violence spreading to at least 4 other cities besides Ramadi and Fallujah.
Mr. Sadr, whose followers on Sunday began the most serious insurrection of the postinvasion period, said, "I will put the city with the golden dish between Ali Sistani's hands after liberation."

The golden dish refers to the golden shrines of Najaf, some of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. Najaf, south of Baghdad, is the home of Ayatollah Sistani, who is considered much more moderate than Mr. Sadr. On Sunday, Ayatollah Sistani issued a religious decree urging Iraq's Shiites to stay calm.

So far, though, followers of Mr. Sadr have not been heeding it. His black-clad militiamen have rolled over Iraqi security forces in a number of cities, including Kufa, Najaf, Nasiriya, Basra and Baghdad, and taken over government offices.

The string of successes seems to inflate Mr. Sadr's popularity and draw more recruits to his Mahdi Army , a private militia that attracts both idle youth and adults with jobs. In some cities, like Kufa, his followers have completely replaced police and security forces, essentially establishing an occupation-free zone and patrolling towns in blue and white government cars that just days ago were driven by the newly formed Iraqi security forces.

Mr. Sadr has moved from a mosque in Kufa, where he was holed up Monday, to his main office in Najaf, in an alley near the city's holiest shrine. Hundreds of militiamen were protecting the office. On Tuesday night, military flares could be seen burning over the area.
Analysis: The unbelievably rapid escalation of violence in Iraq leads me to ask the same question that MG Petraeus asked historian Rick Atkinson during the war: "how does this end?" MG Petraeus is a pretty smart guy, and he might have had an inkling during the war of the latent insurgency brewing in Iraq. There has been a qualitative and quantitative paradigm shift in that insurgency during the last week. Put simply, major combat operations have resumed in certain parts of the country. The threat has taken the initiative and launched a coordinated campaign of urban violence aimed at several key operational and strategic goals:
(1) Destroying the developing bonds between the U.S./CPA and the Iraqi people;
(2) Inflicting sufficient casualties on the U.S. -- military and civilian contractors -- in order to reduce support for the war at home and hasten the exit of U.S. forces;
(3) Rally jihadists around the world to the cause of the Muslim insurgents fighting an invasion of Western infidels;
(4) Demonstrate the capability of the Iraqi insurgents to resist both U.S. and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps assaults, with the idea that success in the near term (even with heavy casualties) will make the U.S. look weak and inspire more Iraqis to resist.
(5) Escalate the level of violence to the point where international reinforcements and U.N. involvement becomes unlikely;

The key qualitative change in this insurgency has been the addition of a virulent Islamist ideology from Moktada al-Sadr. Before being shut down, his newspaper called for this kind of violent action; his preachings have given the Iraqis a new cause to fight for -- a new reason to stand and fight. CPA officials have issued a warrant for his arrest, with the approval of an Iraqi judge, but that has only enhanced the moral standing of al-Sadr with his backers. It's hard to see how this will end, short of absolute U.S. dominance on the battlefield and the eradication of this insurgency -- jihadist by jihadist, block by block, city by city.

In response to the escalating violence in Iraq, U.S. officials hinted earlier in the week that they would reconsider the troop levels in Iraq. The current rotation of U.S. troops was previously planned to result in a net decrease of 20,000-40,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. However, there have been indications that this plan has changed, and that more troops may even deploy to Iraq in the near future to help fight this insurgency. USA Today confirmed that report, adding that the rotation of troops would be delayed to keep as many as 24,000 troops in theater beyond their projected departure date.

Will that be enough? What will it take to defeat the Iraqis? It's still too early to tell. It's hard to estimate the aggregate size of this insurgency from the disjointed reports filed in the major papers, but it looks to me like U.S. forces are facing an enemy in the hundreds or low thousands -- at the most. If that's true, and the U.S. is able to concentrate its combat power, there may be enough boots on the ground now to win this thing. That may require the U.S. to shift its forces away from other cities and missions to this one, which may incur some operational risk of insurgencies in those cities. The situation is still very fluid, and it's hard to tell whether the U.S. concept of the operation will be successful. My gut tells me that U.S. commanders will not simply throw more combat power at the problem if that results in diminishing returns; we will instead try to find the enemy's center of gravity and focus on that. But I think this is a long way from being over, in any sense of the word.

More to follow...

Update I: Noah Shachtman has some interesting stuff (here and here) on this over at DefenseTech, partly based on his reporting about urban warfare technologies.

Update II: Josh Marshall passes on an e-mail from a private security consultant in Iraq about the situation on the ground there, as of about 48 hours ago.
Hey Josh ... thanks for the concern . I wrote the other day but power went out. This place is HOT! I am driving with max Iraqi bodyguards (whom I have just finished training), max weapons and max bodyarmor. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING with this Moqtada Sadr thing? Were they just bored with Fallujah. The place is a hornets nest now. Armor is all over the streets but doesn't seem to have disrupted most city life ... I told [a reporter] two weeks ago we were "one massacre away from the second Intifada of Iraq." Well I think we are there now.
I'm not yet ready to say that this is the second Intifada of Iraq. But this violence has the potential to escalate to that point, particularly if it spreads any more than it already has. Unfortunately, the thing that we need the most right now is more boots on the ground -- preferably from other countries and the U.N. However, the current violence makes that all but impossible, since few countries want to send their troops to Iraq to keep the peace, let alone conduct counter-insurgency operations. The insurgents know that.

Update III: Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who's an expert on Iraq, has some well informed comments over at his site.

Update IV: The casualties have started to filter through the Pentagon's casualty notification system, and we now have public releases giving the names and hometowns of the men who have given their lives during the latest wave of violence in Iraq. A quick survey of the Defense Department press release repository at 8:30 Pacific time on 7 April indicates that 12 of the last 15 press releases from the Pentagon have been casualty announcements. This is the bloodiest combat since the war, and in terms of intensity, probably tougher than anything except for specific fights in Baghdad, Nasariyah and Najaf during the war.