Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Friday, May 20, 2005

Peer Review: French Military Looks at US Performance in Iraq

Le Monde's military correspondent Laurent Zecchini reports on a French study of the performance of the US military in Iraq. Not only were US forces were completely unprepared for insurgent war but applied the tactics of "massive reconnoitering" borrowed from Sherman's March to the Sea. Unlike the British, US forces don't make the slightest attempt to respect the locals. The French analysts think that prevailing Protestant beliefs in predestination may have only increased the mayhem and bloodletting.

The French military authors a critical assessment of thirty months of US operation in Iraq.

Just because France did not participate in the invasion of Iraq it did not mean its military experts ignored methods with which the US military conducted its “stabilization operations” between May 2003 and December 2004. A study was carried out by the Centre de Doctrine d'Emploi des Forces (Force Deployment Doctrinal Center) headed by General Gérard Bezacier and is published in a special edition of the journal Doctrine. The study shows that the tactics employed by the US military evolved in the light of experience but that the errors committed in the first months resulted in hefty consequences.

The first mistake made by US high command was doubtlessly the failure to modify its methods between the end of the conflict and the beginning of the stabilization phase. The monitoring of terrain from large protected bases, rather like forts in the middle of “Injun” territory, was counter-productive. The inflexible attitude of its patrols, the systematic toying with passers-by, the conversing without removing sunglasses and the language barrier made acceptance by the population extremely artificial.

Coupled with ignorance of the cultural milieu and weakness in the intelligence system--which has not yet been able to break the counterinsurgency--stabilization operations were often disastrous. They’d often resort to massive encirclement of neighborhoods where, with loudspeakers blaring hard rock, their soldiers would forcibly enter homes and round all the men. They scoffed at complex traditions of hospitality, at personal honor by humiliating men in front of their families and at the sanctity of holy places, which they would enter with weapons, etc., according to the journal article.

The British, however, ensured the establishment of good relations with the populace from the outset. They behaved courteously and alway kept their weapons pointed towards the ground,-- which doesn’t hinder their being used in case of aggression--and observed the catchphrase: Smile, shoot, smile. In contrast to the Americans, the British always thought that their accessibility and consequently, their apparent vulnerability, indirectly offered them a greater security thanks to a better image among the populace.

Little by little the US high command realized that the “terrorists” were better organized and more numerous than they believed. When dealing with the insurgent threat, say the French experts, their only possible avenue was total extermination. So they reverted to body counts. Not only did they refuse to negotiate with the “evildoers”, but following Protestant logic, Iraqis did not become “bad guys”, they were born that way. It was therefore only a question of deploying sufficient means to eradicate them.

The Americans quickly understood that their troop levels were insufficient. To achieve the same ratio of coverage in Iraq as in Bosnia, they would have needed 364,000 troops; for that in Kosovo, 480,000 troops. But Coalition troops numbered only approximately 160,000. Moreover, the tactics they used were often contradictory. While one division would practice the British approach, another would behave like Israelis: demolishing homes, arresting entire families, replying to mortar attacks with artillery, etc.

With an average rate of two killed in action per day, the situation of US troops in Iraq is far from resembling that in Viet Nam (20 KIA per day from 1965 to 1972) or that of the French in Algeria (9.6 KIA per day for seven years).

In its strategy of “city siege”, the US Army would use what some officers call infernal columns, harking back to the methods employed by General William T. Sherman during the US Civil War, which are heavily-armored inter-service phalanxes supported by artillery. Furthermore, all US units are upping their numbers of elite marksmen and increasingly rely on armed drones.

The pronounced American preference for technological solutions was demonstrated in Fallujah: the Marine division which since its arrival on Iraqi soil has vaunted its blending with the populace and its velvet glove approach, transformed itself into just the opposite when it built Citizen Processing Centers in the city where the DNA of every man in town was sampled, their voice registered, their iris scanned, and their fingerprinted taken. Their databanks of this information are shared with the FBI and the CIA. The male residents are required to permanently display a special identity badge and are forbidden to drive their cars—the preferred weapon of suicide bombers.

For the French military, another tremendous US failing was the problem of counterinsurgency intelligence. Their first obstacle is one of military culture: the specialization in weaponry within the US Army casts aside the use of the soldier as a gatherer of intelligence. The intelligence community has always shown a pronounced preference for technical intelligence gathering to the detriment of human intelligence.

Military Intelligence personnel had very little training in looking for indicators or in dealing with civilian prisoners. When they realized this deficiency, they had FBI teams brought to Iraq to advise their forces in the field.

Article appears in the April 30th edition and is available in the on-line archives [subscription required].


Blogger Traveller said...

"Inflexibility" seems to be an ongoing problem with everything that touches the current administration. Zenophobia is right up there, too. Hubris probably crowns the image of the ill-prepared American military.

I always seem to tangle with American military in conversations. It's very hard to discuss anything with people who think -- not just that they're right but that they must be perceived as correct at all times. Very hard to afford them the respect they lay claim to.

I also recommend the report from the returning journalist posted today at Asia Times.

Reading Zecchini's account, one is torn between anger and tears. Today anger wins.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Postman said...

You provide an excellent service to monoglots like me. Keep it up.

I have a friend, ex Legion Etrangeres Para who works with USAID in Iraq.

He would echo everything said in the article but he is also exremely critical of the US vehicle fleet and dismisses the wide wheel base Humvees with such a huge turning circle, as a death trap which with the (now) obligatory armour makes them very slow, with a very high centre of gravity - he says none of the experienced staff would ridein them preferring the speed of a very powerful GM SUV with plenty of firepower on board.

The lorries are basically an uprated wartime GM 5 ton truck, they have a top speed of about 40 mph, are not armoured at all and handle like a pig - nor are they air conditioned. (Ditto Humvees)

He also tells of considerable racial differences, that there is animosoty between blacks, red neck good ol' white boys and Hispanics, as well as derision about Hispanics just joining to get a visa - this does not help form a coherent unit.

He also says hookers operate in the green zone, porn videos / DVD's circulate, as do drugs, although not easily obtained.

It seems to me that the US have re-created the Turkish system of fortified garrisoned towns, with occasional forays into the hinterland leaving the local clans / sheiks a free hand if they keep the peace in their own way - Ditto Afghanistan. It failed to work for them as well.

It seems from reports coming out that the Badr Brigades and especially the Sadr's Mahdi army are stepping up their activities and internecine strife is getting the upper hand.

You might like to look at..

This was published early March 2003 before the invasion commenced.

I've taken Baghdad what do I do now?
What is uncertain is the aftermath. This is the variable never publicly factored into the thinking(?) of the Tony Sopranos of Dubya's gang; their deeds plant the seeds of future, furious, frightening resistance. As many as half a million Iraqi soldiers may be intentionally killed and perhaps 100,000 civilians written off to collateral damage. Think of the grief of millions after this slaughter, the conversion of that grief into rage, combine that with the internecine struggles based on historical ethnic fault lines (that the Ba'ath Party has repressed), and we begin to appreciate the explosive complexity of post-invasion Iraq.

This invasion will also ignite the well financed fires of Arab and Muslim (of all shades, hues and fealties) humiliation and anger. Either in the sands of the desert or on city streets, far from this war, the body bags will build up.

…. Kurdish nationalists have long experience with betrayals and alliances of convenience, and have first hand experience of American perfidy. After an invasion, they will defend themselves from Turkish incursions. They will not lose the autonomy they have gained over the last eleven years in Northern Iraq. This not only puts them at odds with US ally Turkey, it may also put them at odds with the US itself, even with US wishes that they participate in indigenous actions against Iraqi forces. A complication of post-invasion Iraq will likely be the demand that US commanders disarm the Kurds.

Counting the cost... eventually

The course is charted, arrogant use of the military is all the US ruling class has to maintain its dominance. After Iraq, asymmetric warfare, "terrorism," will be directed at Americans, American institutions, American targets, and American allies. When the rest of the world recognizes how thinly spread the US military is, thinly spread physically, and economically, because it is not a sustainable institution in its current incarnation, rebellions will occur. Indeed they have already started. The response of the weakening US will be to lash out, often with unforeseeable consequences, just as the consequences of this impending invasion are unforeseeable, and unknown.

I note that it is only in recent weeks that the Pentagon has set up a section on "Asymmetric warfare" - a term first used I think in the Malayan Emergency in the 50's by the British Army.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Thank you, PK, for the comment. I think was shocked me was the "infernal columns" story. The US is still using Sherman's tactics after nearly 150 years. Burn and bomb everything and shoot what gets in your way.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Mark from Ireland said...

I have to echo everything that pk has said. The fact is that the US forces are quite simply dreadful at this sort of thing. I spent time in the Balkans as a peacekeeper. We used to dread going out with the Americans or being called out to any "incident" involving US forces.

They simply have no idea whatsoever on how to cool a situation down. They're ill-equipped and ill-trained.

NUR WRT your comment:

Institutionally the US army was largely formed by your civil war and WW I. Which led to the docrine of "never send in a man when you can send in a shell."

4:39 PM  

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