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Winning (and Losing) the First Wired War 396

Posted by Zonk
from the distributed-tactics dept.
Noah Shachtman writes "The Iraq war was launched on a theory: That, with the right networking gear, American armed forces could control a country with a fraction of the troops ordinarily needed. But that equipment never made it down to the front lines, David Axe (just back from his 6th trip to Iraq) and I note in this month's Popular Science. That's a problem, because the insurgents are using throwaway cellphones and anonymous e-mail accounts to stitch together a network of their own."
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Winning (and Losing) the First Wired War

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  • by bunions (970377) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:37PM (#15369435)
    ... but I don't really think that was the theory the Iraq war was launched on.
    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Friday May 19, 2006 @08:20PM (#15369898) Journal
      Silly you. You probably thought it was about WMDs, bringing democracy to Iraq, securing Iraqi oil supplies or some such nonsense. Actually, the plans for Iraq started as a bet between a couple of generals.
      General #1: Y'know, I'll bet we could control a country with a fraction of the troops ordinarily needed if we just had the right networking gear.
      General #2: You're full of shit.
      General #1: Wanna bet?
      General #2: You're on!
      Now comes the more interesting question: What do you think the prize was? I'm thinking it was $1. [imdb.com]

      • Generals, please... there's no fighting in the war room.
      • Shinseki vs Rumsfeld (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Bowling Moses (591924) on Saturday May 20, 2006 @01:26PM (#15372573) Journal
        It's a little more like this:

        Rumsfeld: We're invading Iraq to take their oil...I mean, destroy their WMDs!
        Shinseki: Okay, that'll take several hundred thousand men.
        Rumsfeld: Nonsense! It'll take six Special Forces guys armed with bananas!
        Shinseki: No, it'll take several hundred thousand men.
        Rumsfeld: Who's the expert here soldier? You with your decades of hands-on military experience or me with my |337 Risk skillz?
        Shinseki: ...
        Rumsfeld: Okay, just to make you feel better, we'll send Rambo as backup.
        Shinseki: [shakes head in disbelief] Sir, Rambo is a fictional character.
        Rumsfeld: YOU'RE A FICTIONAL CHARACTER!
        Shinseki: Calm down, sir. After we beat the Iraqi Army, "Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers...would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this." Again, that's several hundred thousand pairs of boots on the ground!
        Rumsfeld: Boots...why didn't you say so in the first place! Here's the plan: six heavily banana-laden Special Forces guys (backed by Rambo with a big, pointy knife) will fly in with cargo blimps and pummel Iraq with hundreds of thousands of brand new boots until they surrender their oil.
        Shinski: There's so much wrong with that I don't even know where to begin.
        Rumsfeld: Maybe you're right. Forget new boots, just get the boots from the Marines after they complete basic training. Nice and stinky--that'll show the Iranians!
        Shinseki: You mean Iraqis.
        Rumsfeld: Well, for now at least.
        Shinseki: Exactly how many countries is this administration planning on invading? We don't have enough troops! Iraq alone will require several hundred thousand men!
        Shinseki: What is your fascination with "several hundred thousand men?" Are you gay? I'll bet that's it. You just told me you're gay, so under "Don't ask, don't tell" you told, so you're fired!
        Shinseki: [resists urge to strangle jabbering senile old fool]Sir, I don't know what world you live on, but it isn't the same one as the rest of us. Reality isn't subjective. Iraq will require several hundred thousand troops.
        Rumsfeld: [pouts]Haven't you heard? We're all postmodernists in this administration. Reality is what we say it is, so if I say six soldiers armed with bananas (supported by Rambo and a big pointy knife) can successfully secure Iraq's vast oil wealth by dropping several hundred thousand pairs of stinky boots from cargo blimps, then by God that's what will happen or my name isn't Queen Elizabeth the Great!


        Quote taken from wikipedia [wikipedia.org] from exchange between Senator Levin and General Shinseki before the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
    • It should be (Score:3, Interesting)

      by argoff (142580)

      ... but I don't really think that was the theory the Iraq war was launched on.

      It should be. The bottom line is that the internet and the information age are exposing US cluture to the rest of the world in a big way. It is difficult for even the US government to deal with the internet, but I think that many don't understand that for Islamic countries like Iran, Saudi, and Egypt - it is a complete and absolute culture shock. Countries like Iran and radical sects just didn't decide to lash out at us one

      • Re:It should be (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JahToasted (517101)
        Holy Shit! You did not just say that copyrights cause terrorism, did you? Yeah, copyrights can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but damn... Take a breather and get some perspective dude.
  • wired war (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:38PM (#15369437)
    Cellphones are wired now?

    Jeez I must have an uber fancy one then...
    • Cellphones are wired now?


      Jeez I must have an uber fancy one then...


      My phone tries to be wireless, with limited success. It gets tired and stops working a few days after I disconect the wire.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:41PM (#15369457)
    From a technological, and business standpoint if you think about it.

    Essentially they are an ISP onto themselves, but then if the Iraqi's or Al Quaeda are the customers, using networks to cover a larger amount of ground with less troops is exactly the same as Verizon overselling their bandwidth. It's great because most of the time, terrorist cells only activate in short bursts, similar to grandma checking webmail... But if ever multiple cells decide to work all at the same time, I fear the marines may be in for a slashdotting!
    • If insurgents are using untraceable cell phones to plan attacks, it would seem the simple answer is to have the cellular network stop accepting calls from disposable phones. Either the number is registered to someone, or you can't make a call with it. Then we can give that NSA terrorist phone call pattern matching program a real test!

      The reason we are losing in Iraq is because we are trying to have a small number of troops fight a small number of insurgents. This doesn't work because the in that environment, the insurgents get to choose when to fight.

      We are never going to be successful until we have enough troops and equipment in Iraq to control transportation and communication.
  • Wait, that's how terrorism is being funded. By Nigerian bankers. Damn you, Mr Obawutube - next time you send a missive asking for help getting six million dollars out of the country and offering half of it in return for someone's help, try adding a 'Are you a member of a Al Queda' Yes [ ] No [ ]' at the bottom.
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:43PM (#15369464)
    I thought that signals intelligence gathering was one of the few types that the United States was really good at. I would be surprised if the NSA is not intercepting every single call on those disposable cell phones. The free e-mail accounts might take a bit more work to monitor, but surely the NSA could ask their buddies at AT&T and other backbone providers to intercept all of the emails coming out of Iraq and forward them on to the NSA for scanning into their Echelon system. If the insurgents are managing to elude our intelligence gathering efforts with disposable cell phones and hotmail then what does that say about our vaunted intelligence agencies? My tax dollars at work...or not as the case may be.
    • Apparently disposable cell phones are VERY common in developing nations. This means that there is a lot of people to track. If someone can switch phone numbers on a regular basis, tracking and snooping on them can be very hard if a majority of the traffic is legitimate.
      • Honestly, I realize that cell phones are culture changing, but can't we either control them 100% or if not, just keep them shutdown and force locatable landlines to be used instead?

        Worst excuse for not winning a war ever. Though, I can't believe it would have been a military decision.
        • Um, how exactly? Just start blowing up every geosynchronus sattelite in the entire Middle East? The people in charge of the military (big corporate) might not take kindly to that at all.
        • but can't we either control them 100% or if not, just keep them shutdown and force locatable landlines to be used instead?

          You do realize of course that the "war" with Iraq is over and we are currently in a joint peacekeeping operation with the Iraq government. To do any of this we would have to get the governments approval. Yea that would go over like a lead brick..
      • If the disposable cell phones in Iraq were just made to emit an inaudible but intense ultrasonic ring at random times when not in use, they wouldn't be as convenient as they currently are for setting up remote trigger mechanisms in IEDs.
    • War Stories (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:55PM (#15369524) Homepage Journal
      Stopping terrorists means the Terror War funds dry up. Instead, you can spy on domestic political "enemies". Just like in the Drug War, where less drugs means less war means less funding, and you can't keep your population under surveillence.

      Both those wars are unwinnable, never expected to win, designed and prosecuted by the same people, and directed against the naive American public - with foreigners as expendible props from Central Casting.
    • Even if they do- they're speaking in arabic, it needs to be translated. Most likely, they're speaking in arabic in code. WHich could be very difficult to crack, if anything got lost in translation you may not be able to. You'd almost have to have an arabic speaking code breaker. There can't be too many of those. ANd most likely, the code cycles every few days, the enemy isn't stupid.
    • by Paladin144 (676391) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:57PM (#15369532) Homepage
      I would be surprised if the NSA is not intercepting every single call on those disposable cell phones. The free e-mail accounts might take a bit more work to monitor, but surely the NSA could ask their buddies at AT&T and other backbone providers to intercept all of the emails coming out of Iraq and forward them on to the NSA for scanning into their Echelon system. If the insurgents are managing to elude our intelligence gathering efforts with disposable cell phones and hotmail then what does that say about our vaunted intelligence agencies?

      I'd bet that those calls are being recorded, too. But so what? How do you know who is calling whom if the phone can't be traced? Perhaps they steal the cell from businessmen, use them for a few days and then abandon them. The NSA could track them back to their legitimate owner, but what about the insurgent that was actually using it?

      Without a relational database filled with tons of other personal information, just intercepting a phone call isn't going to do squat. You need voiceprint software, you need street-level info on the caller. Is he a real threat? Where does he hang out? Which faction is he involved with? Simply intercepting a call tells you none of this, usually. And how many Arabic speakers does the NSA employ? If it's anything like the CIA, not nearly enough.

      You know, maybe we wouldn't be losing this war so badly if the NSA concentrated on getting intel in Iraq instead of spying on Americans at home. It seems that they are doing a bang-up job of infringing on our rights [gregpalast.com], but they haven't actually achieved any meaningful successes when it comes to defeating terrorism.

      Kinda makes you wonder if fighting terrorism is the real goal....

      • Cell phones in iraq (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tibman (623933)
        I could have replied to almost anyone's post.. but yours was convenient. Their cell phone service is wayyy different than say America's. I bought a cell phone and was talking to my buddy in less than a minute, literally. Once you have a phone that can take those wtfchips, you can use most of the networks there. If you went too far south, you had to switch to one of those kuwaiti wtfchips. I had to buy cards to deposit money onto my wtfchip.. that was the worst part. I'd ask some hodgi for a $10 card
    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Friday May 19, 2006 @08:09PM (#15369862)
      They are too busy monitoring calls between American citizens within the United States.
    • If what Colin Powel presented to the UN is representative, and signals intelligence is supposed to be one of America's better areas, then I'm very concerned.
  • by Aaron England (681534) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:48PM (#15369484)
    Terrorists would love to have the kind of Command, Control and Communications (C3) that the US military enjoys. The reason they don't is because doing so would give them a large footprint and make it easy for us to round up senior leadership (by simply following the comms back). So they are forced to engage in decentralized command and control and an ad hoc communications network.

    This again offers the advantage of making it hard to find senior leadership while it has the disadvantage of not allowing them to utilize their assets in a centralized manner which would be far more efficient and effective.

    • Well, "terrorists" is a rather loose term these days, especially amongst Americans, but since we're talking about the Iraqi insurgents in this article, I have to say they seem to be doing rather well with their improvised communications arrangements.
      • How are you measuring their effectiveness? By the number of bodies they kill? That's the standard of a military force that wants to lose. You measure effectiveness by your ability to meet strategic goals.

        If their goal was to prevent free elections in Iraq, they have failed.
        If their goal was to defeat us through attrition and failed public support, they have failed.
        If their goal was to create a lawless Iraq through instability and/or civil war, they have failed.

        I simply don't see how you can say they h

        • by Tx (96709) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:17PM (#15369609) Journal
          I measure their effectiveness by the fact that the coalition forces are still there several years after they expected to be able to pull out, and by the fact that the insurgency is still going - the main aim of such a campaign is to be a continuous thorn in the side of their enemy, and to keep going, both of which the insurgents are doing very well.
          • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:28PM (#15369667)
            The insurgency is still viable. Not only viable, it is growing.

            If the insurgency can outlast our occupation, they have, by definition, "won".

            Strategically, there are more factors than just them fighting us. There's also our huge debt and deficit. There's also the price of a gallon of gas.

            We are NOT fighting this war to "win". That is obvious because we are not focusing on the strategy that will allow us to remain in Iraq long enough to outlast the insurgency. As a country, we need to start rationing and saving. Just like in WW2.

            Instead, we're sending the National Guard to Iraq, and then to the Mexican border. Because we cannot afford to correctly handle either situation.

            The insurgency will "win" when we leave.
            And we will leave before the insurgency dies. Because we will be broke.
    • It is commonly claimed that command economies are bad whilst decentralised greed economies are good. Why is running a large military organisation different?
      • Because the military isn't a democracy. Not everyone's opinions/needs/wants matter the same.

        In order to operate effectively, the US military maintains a clear cut chain of command: you obey the person with more shiny things on his shoulders than you. The primary purpose is to avoid conflicts in the decision making process. Officers have aids and what-not to help them avoid making stupid decisions, but the final word comes from the highest ranking officer or NCO. You simply can't afford to take the time i
      • I'm not sure what's the exact reasoning for why decentralized economies and centralized militaries work. But one advantage that a centralized force will have over a decentralized one is that they will be more informed, and perfect information of the battlefield is one of the greatest force multipliers.
    • by monopole (44023) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:33PM (#15369678)
      Terrorists have no use for the DoD's C4ISR (command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveilence, reconisance) capability. Because it generates a huge foot print, is highly sensitive to decapitation attacks, is massively centralized and is extremely dependent upon huge resources. In fact, terrorists love to disrupt just such systems. For example the central command post for disaster response, and the corresponding antennas for New York were located in and on the World Trade Center.

      This is the central point of asymetric warfare. Effective insurgencies employ highly decentralized, organic and redundant C3I structures which degrade gracefully under attack. The highly centralized C4ISR structure of Iraq's Regular Army collapsed over a period of days as a result of decapitation attacks, twice. On the other hand the insurgency remains highly effective despite intensive attacks over a period of 3 years. As for intelligence, the insurgency is quite effective as evidenced by the number of ambushes, assasinations and kidnappings sucessfully pulled off. You can't fight termites with a sniper rifle.

      To provide another analogy, the bane of Organized Crime is accounting. While the Mafia (which developed from a Sicilian insurgency) is often resillient to conventional procecution over their violent crimes, the need for systematic accounting and banking often proves to be their Achilles heel.

      While terrorists and insurgencies can and do exploit high tech is is usually in a fashion quite different in structure of established goverments. Read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" for a good example.
      • You completely missed my point.

        Summary of what I said: Terrorists would love to use our C3, but they can't, so they use ad hoc comms and a decentralized C2.

        We are arguing the same thing.

    • So they are forced to engage in decentralized command and control and an ad hoc communications network.
      Peer to Peer war? Well that explains how piracy supports terrorism, doesn't it...
  • I'm kinda glad... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton (230700) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:49PM (#15369490)
    Not that America isn't a superb nation (ignoring the current administration), but I get a bad taste in my mouth about the idea of any nation having the capacity to control another *on the cheap* over the long term on a military basis.

    Still, this can be seen as more of a failed experiment than a conclusive result. When the tools are available, and less humanity necissary for the military control of a population... well, tyranny can then become something greater than a Thomas Paine pamphlet [amazon.com] can help fight anymore.

    The automated undermining of freedoms is a scary concept.

    Ryan Fenton
    • From reading the article it seems the vision is working out pretty well - for the upper levels of command, but does not yet work as well for real soldiers in the field.

      The idea is sound, it's just that equipment needs to improve to the point where it's more reliable and durable. And it will, so really what we are reading about is just the Military 0.9, with an RC not far off.
    • but I get a bad taste in my mouth about the idea of any nation having the capacity to control another *on the cheap*

      I feel the same way sort of but then again if we did have to go to war with another nation I'd rather see our country completely decimate another country than have a bloody war which would cost the lives of many American soldiers.

    • Still, this can be seen as more of a failed experiment than a conclusive result.

      Which one are we talking about, national defense, or occupation and nation building?

      IMHO the idea of a smaller force, highly trained, highly mobile, and highly lethal has not been disproved for defensive purposes. Better weapons and communications do allow you to kill and disorient more enemies.

      But nation building is entirely different. The goal of converting Muslims to westernism and providing social services is totally

    • Still, this can be seen as more of a failed experiment than a conclusive result.

      I have a feeling that the military views this more as a live beta test, with the strengths and weaknesses of the system being identified and evaluated.
  • That's a problem, because the insurgents are using throwaway cellphones and ...

    One does not think their communications going down so fast was a cooincidence? I am sure the spooks and military knew just where to go to get the phone systems down PDQ.

  • This is kinda the sense I get about our military technology. It is often waaaay too expensive and does not get used effectively. Don't get me wrong there definately are great technologies in use today as well. It is just that overall we spend billions for things we never use or use ineffectively).

    Right now it seems technology cannot crush an insurgency in the jungle or in the desert. Political solutions seem much more cost-effective as well.

    Our military technology is geared to win wars of aggression ver
    • Political solutions seem much more cost-effective as well.

      Politics has many solutions... some of which involve subtle (or not) defense contractors---most of whom don't want peace and security in the world. Also, it's not their own money politicians are spending on these things... so who cares about another few billion?
  • by yagu (721525) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ugayay]> on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:52PM (#15369506) Journal

    If you've been reading the recent slashdot articles, and seen the decisive actions governments are considering, it's only a matter of time before these terrorists are reined in. All they need to do is quickly enact legislation that, among other things:

    • requires all throwaway cellphones to be registered with the government
    • outlaw anonymous e-mail accounts
    • (and, from recent article) require all terrorists to register and provide any and all encryption keys
    • (and, also from recent article) prohibit terrorists from using and having access to any network tools.

    Sheeesh, how simple can this be?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    what about all the things that are going right in iraq?

    --your pal, sean hannity
  • by killjoe (766577) on Friday May 19, 2006 @06:55PM (#15369522)
    You can't control a country with troops. There are three basic components to controlling masses of people. These are religion, Television/Media, and placation.

    If you can get people converted to your brand of god it's easy to control them, the more people who believe in your god the more control you have. The vast majority of the worlds population believes in some god or another.

    You need to be able to constant bombard the populace with your message and you need to be able to change this message subtly and continuously. In oder to do that you need television. The vast majority of the population view television every night after work. For the vast majority of people their entire waking hours are spend either at work or in front of the TV. As a bonus television makes your eyes focus on a very narrow depth of field which is surprising similar to a hypnotic state. Television is successful mostly because it puts people in a mildly hypnotic state during which they are prone to suggestions. Why do you think people spend a dollar for colored, sugared water?

    Finally you need to fill their bellies to kill their ambition (apologies to Lao Tzu). You need to keep them fed and comfortable so that they don't take action against you. You will need to increase wealth till everybody can go to church and afford a TV.

    Voila, you are now controlling a country and you don't need a 150,000 soldiers. The largest economy in the world, the richest country in the world with a population of over 300 million people and taking up vast almost unthinkable amount of space is controlled by a surprisingly few people. Much less then 100,000. Hell much less then 50,000.

    Look at it another way. A very small cabal of neocons got their boy electected, got themselves into positions of power and took over a country and all it's natural resources with the full consent of the US population. These people (less then a 100 really) "controlled" the US population into waging a war for their beneift/profit/ideology/god.

    • by cnettel (836611) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:03PM (#15369557)
      As a bonus television makes your eyes focus on a very narrow depth of field which is surprising similar to a hypnotic state. Television is successful mostly because it puts people in a mildly hypnotic state during which they are prone to suggestions.
      *staring at the screen* *feeling a bit dizzy* You're absolutely right!
    • There are three basic components to controlling masses of people. These are religion, Television/Media, and placation.

      The 3 components are Fear, Solidarity, and Distraction. (of which you give examples of the latter two)
      Hardline dictators control with fear - Kidnap a few people, torture the outspoken and the majortiy will be quiet. Iraq was controlled by the Sunni minority in this way. W is trying to control the US in this way with fear of terrorism.
      Religious leaders/Fanatics control with Solidarity (na
    • Why do you think people spend a dollar for colored, sugared water?

      I think the real question is why do you think people spend 2 dollars for plain water?

      Then factor in that they can get it with sugar and colour for half the price...

      Nevermind with alcohol...
    • Finally you need to fill their bellies to kill their ambition (apologies to Lao Tzu). You need to keep them fed and comfortable so that they don't take action against you.

      Gotta disagree with you here. Looking at my own country's history (Ireland), during the times when Ireland was poor and short of food it worked better for Britain. When a population is short on food and basic supplies, they are less likely to worry about ideological issues such as government and are more concerned about surviving. A f

  • Incompatibility (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Stoned4Life (926494)
    From the article: "...FBCB2 relies on a classified radio band to communicate. BFT, designed later ... uses more-open satellite transmissions; troops can share information at greater distances, but they can't get the kind of secrecy that FBCB2 provides. The Army is working on a bridge between the two systems so that they will be able to share some basic information, but for now they are mostly incompatible. Feldmayer won't be able to see where the tank is leading them, and he won't be able to use FBCB2's Ins
  • by wealthychef (584778) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:07PM (#15369574)
    Clearly, what needs to be done is for Congress to pass a "Stop Terrorism NOW" bill that bans cellphones and private email accounts. They are too dangerous if they can be used by terrorists!
  • by creimer (824291) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:08PM (#15369577) Homepage
    Disposable cell phones and anonymous email accounts should be banned. If terrorists are using them at the grassroot level, maybe the American voting population could do the same thing to throw out the current administration. Opps... I didn't meant to say that out aloud. Now Dick Cheney will be hunting me down for my RNC card. :P
  • by DaFallus (805248) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:09PM (#15369580)
    Iraq's slaves^H^H^H^H^H^H^H citizens, behold the fruit of your labours! The Mobile Oppression Palace! I don't need to tell you that occupation forces are expensive. But with the Mobile Oppression Palace our dignitaries can oppress your entire country for pennies a day.
  • by mr_burns (13129) on Friday May 19, 2006 @07:17PM (#15369608)
    I seem to remember the telegraph having been used extensively during the American civil war. Warfighters have used communication technology for thousands of years. Even Sun Tzu talked of using flags and drums for communication.

    If by "wired war" we're talking about the use of telecommunications technologies we have to consider the telegraph. The American civil war is the first conflict I can think of where it was used as a strategic communications tool but it had been around for about 20 years by that point, so it's possible that telecommunications had been used in a major conflict prior to that.
  • That's a problem, because the insurgents are using throwaway cellphones and anonymous e-mail accounts to stitch together a network of their own.

    So...maybe this is just rocket science, but...given the country IS in a war state, how about restricting the cell phone networks to just phones that are registered to residents, and not allowing SIM cards that aren't registered or sold in-country? Anyone who needs a phone for business purposes will have a legitimate address (home or business).

    I don't know speci

    • Hell, here in the US you have to get a credit check, and we're not in the midst of a civil war.

      Where have you been? I can walk into a store and buy a Tracfone [tracfone.com] with cash, activate it on their site or with the phone itself (I think), and buy prepaid minutes at any on the billions of 7-11s that are all over the place (4 within walking distance of my house).

      This model [tracfone-orders.com] is only $19.99 and comes with 60 minutes.
  • War and occupation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday May 19, 2006 @08:38PM (#15369981) Homepage Journal

    The article misses an important point, I think. It speaks about the full spectrum of US involvement in Iraq as if it were all one affair. The invasion was successful in that American forces rapidly toppled the Iraqi government and defeated those Iraqi forces that presented resistence. That was a purely military operation, and the American technology that was designed for high-intensity conflict worked quite well.

    However, at the conclusion of the invasion, American forces had to switch to peacemaking activity. American units in Iraq are part of a larger civil-military effort, and regardless of whether you feel the effort will succeed in the long run or not, it clearly hasn't succeeded yet. The invasion lasted 21 days. The peacemaking effort has lasted three years. According to the Army's own manual on low-intensity conflict [globalsecurity.org], peacemaking operations run into trouble if they last too long:
    The long-range goals of a peacemaking operation are often unclear; therefore, these operations are best terminated by prompt withdrawal after a settlement is reached, or by rapid transition to a peacekeeping operation (see Chapter 4) . Unless the peacemaking force has the necessary power, both military and political, to compel a lasting settlement, it may find itself attempting to govern in the face of opposition from both parties. Extrication from such a situation may be difficult and the force may leave the area having made the situation worse than it was before it intervened.

    Low-intensity insurgency/counterinsurgency operations have always been markedly different than all-out war. Technology is not the force multiplier that it is in high-intensity operations. The most important factors in the success of counterinsurgency operations are political. Troops on the ground are constantly engaged in diplomacy, as the article demonstrated. But soldiers and marines do not conduct their negotiations in a vacuum. If the larger political context is not positive, soldiers confronting insurgents are fighting an uphill battle.

    In Iraq, the locals know the physical environment. They know the cultural environment intimately. They know the individuals and organizations that influence a particular area. Regardless of sectarian schisms, they share a common religion. Technology gives occupiers no advantage in dealing with these advantages enjoyed by insurgents. Getting involved with the locals and making them feel comfortable often requires taking some risks in order to demonstrate good intentions. The American approach, which emphasizes technology and force protection above all else, may actually hinder the development of trust between locals and American forces.

    The larger issue is that while Saddam placed his trust in generals who only gave him news he wanted to hear, the Secretary of Defense seemed to feel that American warfighting technology would win the war and somehow obviate the need for occupation of Iraq. As we have found out, the miscalculation was enormous.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday May 19, 2006 @10:38PM (#15370392) Journal
    The general consensus in the media, popular culture, and commentary on places like slashdot seems to be that the conflict in Iraq is totally lost, but despite Bush's dumbassery, I'm still not convinced that's the case. There's an interesting article [commentarymagazine.com] ("The Real Iraq") I was reading today by Amir Taheri [wikipedia.org], about how the realities he finds in Iraq are different from what the media portrays. He also discusses a number of signs which cause him to believe conditions in Iraq are getting progressively better (especially compared to what they were pre-war).

    I'm still not entirely certain I agree, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. A quote:

    Since my first encounter with Iraq almost 40 years ago, I have relied on several broad measures of social and economic health to assess the countrys condition. Through good times and bad, these signs have proved remarkably accurateas accurate, that is, as is possible in human affairs. For some time now, all have been pointing in an unequivocally positive direction.

    The first sign is refugees. When things have been truly desperate in Iraqin 1959, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1988, and 1990long queues of Iraqis have formed at the Turkish and Iranian frontiers, hoping to escape. In 1973, for example, when Saddam Hussein decided to expel all those whose ancestors had not been Ottoman citizens before Iraqs creation as a state, some 1.2 million Iraqis left their homes in the space of just six weeks. This was not the temporary exile of a small group of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, which is a common enough phenomenon in most Arab countries. Rather, it was a departure en masse, affecting people both in small villages and in big cities, and it was a scene regularly repeated under Saddam Hussein.

    Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen on our television setsand we can be sure that we would be seeing it if it were there to be shown. To the contrary, Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.
    • by sjofi (307114)
      News today:

      http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/ar ticle548945.ece [independent.co.uk]

      Across central Iraq, there is an exodus of people fleeing for their lives as sectarian assassins and death squads hunt them down. At ground level, Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold on a massive scale.

      As a sidenote I think the argument that lack of refugees is a sign of things getting better in Iraq is pretty stupid...
    • > There's an interesting article ("The Real Iraq") I was reading today by Amir Taheri, about how the
      > realities he finds in Iraq are different from what the media portrays. He also discusses a number
      > of signs which cause him to believe conditions in Iraq are getting progressively better
      > (especially compared to what they were pre-war).

      This article indeed paints a very different picture of Iraq than the one we usually hear about, but some of its claims cite little or no corroborating evidence.

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