U.S. Army Interaction with the Iraqi Population
Well the British have their own problems in Iraq
Brigadier Nigel R.F. Aylwin-Foster, British Army..............................
U.S. Army Interaction with the Iraqi Population
Western COIN [counterinsurgency] doctrine generally identifies the ‘hearts and minds campaign’— gaining and maintaining the support of the domestic population in order to isolate the insurgent—as the key to success. It thus sees thepopulation as a potential instrument of advantage. It further recognises that military operations must contribute to the achievement of this effect and be subordinate to the political campaign. This implies that above all a COIN force must have two skills that are not required in conventional warfighting: first, it must be able to see issues and actions from the perspective of the domestic population; second, it must understand the relative value of force and how easily excessive force, even when apparently justified, can undermine popular support. Likewise, whilst S&R operations imply a more benign environment, nonetheless it is critical that the actions of the military should not serve to alienate the local population. The alternative doctrinal approach concentrateson attrition, through the destruction of the insurgent, and thus sees the population as at best a distraction to this primary aim, and in extremis a target for repression.11
Clearly, Western liberal democracies cannot resort to repression of the population, but they do have varying perceptions of the balance required between the two doctrinal models and the extent to which military operations should focus on the destruction of the insurgent versus his isolation from the population.
The most striking feature of the U.S. Army’s approach during this period of OIF Phase 4 is that universally those consulted for this paper who were not from the U.S. considered that the Army was too ‘kinetic’. This is shorthand for saying U.S. Army personnel were too inclined to consider offensive operations and destruction of the insurgent as the key to a given situation, and conversely failed to understand its downside.
Granted, this verdict partly reflects the difference in perspectives of scale between the U.S. and her Coalition allies, arising from different resourcing levels. For example, during preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over forty 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small section of the city. Given the intent to maintain a low profile prior to the launch of the main operation, most armies would consider this bombardment a significant event. Yet it did not feature on the next morning’s update to the 4-Star Force Commander: the local commander considered it to be a minor application of combat power.12
Notwithstanding, there is little dispute that U.S. forces in Iraq over this period were more offensively minded than their Coalition counterparts. For a start, U.S. Rules of Engagement (ROE) were more lenient than other nations’, thus encouraging earlier escalation. One senior Coalition officernoted that too much of the force remained conceptually in warfighting mode in the post combat phase, and failed to understand that every soldier becomes a CIMIC [civil-military cooperation] operator in COIN and S&R operations.13
Conversely, some U.S. officers held that their allies were too reluctant to use lethal force. They argued that a reluctance to use force merely bolstered the insurgents’ courage and resilience, whilst demonstrating Coalition lack of resolve to the domestic population, thus prolonging the conflict. It was apparent that many considered that the only effective, and morally acceptable, COIN strategy was to kill or capture all terrorists and insurgents; they saw military destruction of the enemy as a strategic goal in its own right. It should be stressed that this does not imply some sort of inherent brutality or lack of humanity: examples are legion of the toughest U.S. soldiers in Iraq exercising deeply moving levels of compassion in the face of civilian suffering, and often under extreme provocation. The issue is more a conceptual one about relative views of the value of lethal force.
The same contrast in national perspectives applied at the operational level of command. At various key decision points the instinct of the U.S. senior chain of command differed from its Coalition counterparts. Yet it would be simplistic and misleading to suggest that U.S. senior commanders simply did not understand the importance of popular support. At least 2 evidently did. Major General (MG) David Petraeus, as Commanding General (CG) of the 101st Division and responsible for Northern Iraq in the period after the fall of Saddam, swung his troops routinely between offensive operations and an equally vigorous domestic construction and restoration programme.14 He is widely accredited with maintaining relative peace and normal functionality in Mosul, a city with an ethnic mix easily liable to ignite into civil conflict. Likewise, MG Pete Chiarelli, CG of 1st Cav Div, responsible for the demanding and volatile Baghdad area of operations in 2004, referred in briefings to his Division’s SWETI ops: Sewage, Water, Electricity, Trash, Information. He considered his role to be as much city chief executive as soldier. Before his Division’s deployment to Iraq he took his senior commanders and staff on a seminar with U.S. industrialists, because he realised from the outset that they would need to understand how to manage a population and restore and rebuild a city at least as much as they would need to know how to kill and capture terrorists.
The other widely held view, amongst non-U.S. participants in theatre, was that the U.S. Army was too often insensitive to the cultural nuances of the situation. In practical terms this amounts to a variation of the ‘too kinetic’ theme, since the effect was potentially the same—to undermine popular support for the Coalition campaign.
However, to apply the judgement of cultural insensitivity universally would be similarly misleading. Troops could undoubtedly be damagingly heavy-handed, as they could in any army, but there were many reported instances of U.S. Army courtesy and empathy with the local population. As an illustration of the contrasts, one senior Iraqi official who worked closely with the Coalition had his house twice subjected to routine search by U.S. Army personnel.15 On one occasion the troops displayed exemplary awareness of cultural sensitivities, such as appropriate treatment of women in the household. On the other, the aggressive behaviour of troops from a battalion newly arrived in theatre led to his formal complaint, with consequent apology from a U.S. General Officer.
Obviously the latter occasion was simply a mistake and betrayed, if anything, a lack of training: it was hardly likely to have been indicative of command
intent. Nonetheless, another U.S. General did assert that it was unreasonable and impractical to expect front-line soldiers, given their training and pre-eminent warfighting role, to develop the levels of subtlety or master the wider range of skills predicated by the hearts and minds campaign. He implied that their employment must perforce be restricted to combat tasks, leaving post conflict engagement with the populace largely to other organisations, such as the Army’s reservist dominated CIMIC units, and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. The QDR IW Study suggests that the latter General Officer held the more common view. It notes that, in an analysis of 127 U.S. pacification operations in Iraq between May 2003 to May 2005, ‘most ops were reactive to insurgent activity—seeking to hunt down insurgents. Only 6% of ops were directed specifically to create a secure environment for the population’. 16
‘There was a strong focus on raiding, cordon & search and sweep ops throughout: the one day brigade raid is the preferred tactic’. There was a ‘preference for large-scale kinetic maneuver’ and ‘focus on killing insurgents, not protecting the population’. U.S. Army personnel, like their colleagues in the other U.S. Services, had a strong sense of moral authority. They fervently believed in the mission’sunderlying purpose, the delivery of democracy to Iraq, whereas other nations’ forces tended to be more ambivalent about why they were there. This was at once a strength and hindrance to progress. It bolstered U.S. will to continue in the face of setbacks. But it also encouraged the erroneous assumption that given the justness of the cause, actions that occurred in its name would be understood and accepted by the population, even if mistakes and civilian fatalities occurred in the implementation. This sense of moral righteousness combined with an emotivity that was rarely far from the surface, and in extremis manifested as deep indignation or outrage that could serve to distort collective military judgement. The most striking example during this period occurred in April 2004 when insurgents captured and mutilated 4 U.S. contractors in Fallujah. In classic insurgency doctrine, this act was almost certainly a come-on, designed to invoke a disproportionate response, thereby further polarising the situation and driving a wedge between the domestic population and the Coalition forces. It succeeded. The precise chain of events leading to the committal of U.S. and Iraqi security forces, or reasons for the subsequent
failure to clear what had become a terrorist stronghold, lie well beyond the classification of this paper. However, the essential point is that regardless of who gave the order to clear Fallujah of insurgents, even those U.S. commanders and staff who generally took the broader view of the campaign were so deeply affronted on this occasion that they became set on the total destruction of the enemy. Under emotional duress even the most broad-minded and pragmatic reverted to type: kinetic. Much has also been made in open sources about the failures of intelligence in theatre.17 A detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is germane that U.S. forces put relatively little emphasis on HUMINT [human intelligence], concentrating instead on using technological assets to gather intelligence, the significance being that the latter can serve to keep the troops separated from the local population. This assists force protection, in the short term, particularly in an environment where suicide bombers are the major threat, but it equally helps to encourage the local sentiment that the troops are a distant, impersonal occupying force which has no interest in the population. It denies one avenue for nurturing popular support. Similarly, the QDR IW Study notes that during the period studied U.S. forces were relatively isolated from the population they existed to support: ‘they live in fortified camps away from the population and most face-to-face contact . . . is during cordon and search or vehicle checkpoint operations’.18
Routine foot patrolling, a key means of interacting and thus gathering HUMINT, was the exception. On balance, and notwithstanding many examples of highly effective interaction with the Iraqi population, the empirical evidence supports the following broad conclusions about the U.S. Army in theatre over this period: • There was a doctrinal issue: some accepted that the key to success was to gain popular support, in order to drive a wedge between the terrorist and his lifeline. Others believed that the best concept was to concentrate on destruction of the insurgent. Similarly, some commanders believed that there was a pragmatic limit to the range of skills and approaches a front-line soldier could be expected to acquire, which de facto limited their value in terms of significant hearts and minds activity.
• There was a training issue: a significant proportion was unaware of the doctrine, or the relative importance of influencing the population through appropriate interaction.
• Intuitively the use of options other than force came less easily to the U.S. Army than her allies.
• High levels of emotivity, combined with a strong sense of moral authority, could serve to distort collective judgement and invoke responses to insurgent activity that ultimately exacerbated the situation.
• Despite its own multi-cultural nature, the Army was not culturally attuned to the environment.
• U.S. Army personnel instinctively turned to technology to solve problems. Similarly, their instinct was to seek means, including technology, to minimise frequent close contact with the local population, in order to enhance force protection, but this served further to alienate the troops from the population.
posted by Steve @ 12:49:00 AM