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Looking at implications beyond the lessons learned through establishment eyes


While Iraqi conventional and auxiliary forces could "not match the US forces in marksmanship, tactical technique, and the ability to adapt rapidly" in intense close combat, they:

did show "considerable competence in shielding forces, in reaching similar conclusions as their opponents on what constituted defensible terrain, and in demonstrating the ability to maneuver forces despite coalition control of the air and tremendous advantages in technical means of gathering intelligence. The Iraqis successfully shielded some of their equipment and managed to mount coordinated counterattacks… executed ambushes and, in some cases, attained tactical surprise. They found ways to close the range and, in more than one case, fought effectively enough to compel reaction.

So much for the popular received wisdom that US ground forces achieved "absolute tactical dominance based on Iraqi ineptitude," equipment, and actions. The Center for Army Lessons Learned issued On Point in May 2004, an 'after action' report issued after Baghdad fell but without the achievement of OIF's strategic goals. While parts of On Point dealt with tactical lessons learned, the Survey Group authors, which included Major Wilson, who recently asserted that the US invaded Iraq without a Phase IV Post-combat plan for occupation and stabilization, and that the Army fails to recognize a "a people's war" even as they fight it, also looked at implications that transcend tactics and will only be become clearer in later training and combat developments.

The report went so far as to examine US vulnerabilities though its own analyses as well as those of other nations. Iraq learned and applied lessons from Desert Storm, Serbia, and Chechnya, and I think that Iraqis prospered the farther they moved to asymmetrical warfare. On Point's identification of a wide range of Iraqi threats from army to insurgents, the "combination of enemy conventional, unconventional, and information operations" along with a number of conditions that included humanitarian assistance, and changing political/social factors were signposts for the insurgent/jihadist attacks still to come.

It becomes quickly evident that apparent success in urban operations meant Phase III combat operations in urban areas, and not a Phase IV rejuvenated insurgency. With the advantage of hindsight it is painful to read:

Rather than simply viewing urban areas as complex terrain occupied by an enemy force, Army planners took the approach that a city is a system of systems. Political, civil, social, religious, military, power generation and distribution, transportation, water distribution, and a host of other systems combined, interacted, and adapted constantly. Understanding these systems and how they interacted seemed key to understanding how to conduct military operations there. Accordingly, intelligence officers and planners joined traditional intelligence analysis with the system-of-systems approach in an attempt to truly understand Iraqi cities--starting with Baghdad.

How woefully inadequate this appears today. The paramilitary threat that confronted US/UK forces was not anticipated. While it was understood that urban operations "would be characterized by a series of transitions: battles and engagements followed by security operations and humanitarian assistance," only the very few anticipated the "frequent transitions from major combat to support operations and back again."

Worse, our intel capability to predict and interdict insurgent actions has paled in comparison to our early successes against uniformed, conventional forces:

military intelligence and national intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance means worked well. For the most part, [we] knew where the Iraq uniformed forces were, could target them, and could provide data on their whereabouts to tactical units. Tracking the paramilitary forces and estimating Iraqi intentions proved more difficult.

Now it is US/UK forces that are on the receiving end as insurgents improve their intel gathering and penetration capability as they build organizational depth:

The insurgents have good sources in the Iraqi interim government and sometimes in local U.S. and coalition commands… 'sympathizers' within the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces, as well as the Iraqis working for the coalition, media and NGOs, often provide excellent human intelligence without violently taking part in the insurgency… [Civilians and noncombatants] are often pushed into providing data because of family ties, a fear of being on the losing side, direct and indirect threats, etc.

Our intel assets did not have the humint streams to gather operational information on Iraqi forces, relying instead on signals intelligence collection that insurgents have learned to counter:

U.S. intelligence is optimized around characterizing, counting and targeting things rather than people, U.S. dependence on Iraqi translators and intelligence sources is a key area of U.S. vulnerability and one the insurgents have learned to focus on.

I fear that we are nearly as blind as we were in the early days of the Afghan effort. Much as in Afghanistan, insurgents countered by restricting cell phone use for C2 while increasing use of couriers and the net, and halted bank transfers in favor of off-books charities and criminal activities for funds.

Technology's impact was also diminished in Phase IV as US forces had difficulty in tracking insurgent/jihadist elements and so controlling the fight. Precision munitions had to be used much more sparingly. The "rapid fielding" of urban combat equipment was not rapid enough for resourceful insurgents with IEDs, RPGs, and suicide bombers.

Part 2 of Implications

Gordon Housworth

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