The US Surge in Iraq and Other Thoughts on Counterinsurgency

In John’s post earlier today Jim, Foolish Literalist asked a question regarding the US Surge in Iraq, specifically whether if it wasn’t just the US paying off the Sunnis in Anbar. As someone who was assigned as the cultural advisor for a brigade combat team that was part of the Surge in 2008 (the second and final rotation of Surge brigades), I had a front row seat to what the Surge was and was not about. Jim is correct, but…

The US Surge in Iraq had the following components:

  1. A reversal in policy towards the Sunni tribes in Anbar that allowed a change in theater strategy so that US commanders could engage with the Sunni, and eventually some Shi’a, tribes involved in the Awakenings (Sawha).
  2. These engagements would leverage the Sawha and the tribes to create the Sons of Iraq program, where we paid Iraqis to serve as local security forces that were networked throughout each operational environment (OE).
  3. We Surged brigade combat teams (BCTs) into the city of Baghdad, as well as the agricultural areas surrounding the city of Baghdad in order to stop anti-Iraqi Government forces (al Qaeda/al Qaeda in Iraq, Jesh al Mehdi, etc). These are called qadas – the BCT I was assigned to was assigned first to Madai’an Qada, which was south and east of Baghdad and, by late 2008, also to Mahmudiya Qada, which is south and west of Baghdad.
  4. The Surged BCTs within the city of Baghdad were intended to restore order and normalcy after the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad in 2005 and 2006. The reality is that US forces in Baghdad did not so much as pacify the violence and stop the cleansing as stepped in after the cleansing had occurred, consolidated the Iraqi clearing into US forces holding. By doing so we basically blessed off on the results of the inter-sectarian cleansing and made it an irreversible fact on the ground and the de facto reality to this day in Baghdad. The Surged BCTs in the qadas were there to keep anti-Iraqi government forces from entering Baghdad to cause trouble.
  5. By 2008, as the first group of five surge BCTs was preparing to rotate home, and their replacements to rotate in, we began to more fully transition to working with the Iraqis to rebuild. Using counterinsurgency terminology we were moving from clearing and holding to holding and building.
  6. All of this was supposed to be done in a by, with, and through manner. Basically working with our Iraqi military, law enforcement, intelligence, governmental, community, and business partners. (This has worked far better in the fight against ISIS than it ever did prior to 2010. Some of this has to do with the Iraqis really wanting help this time, some of it is we’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years.)

That is pretty much the reality of the Surge. But there’s a few additional caveats I want to make. The first is that we were not really doing counterinsurgency (COIN). Despite all the ink spilled and digits digitized between the COINTras and the COINDinistas from 2007 on, we were not doing COIN in Iraq! What we were doing was adapting concepts from FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency. With the exception of Special Forces and some personnel in joint, multinational patrol bases, US forces in Iraq were not living among the host country population. Sure, we took the real estate we thought made tactical sense, fortified it, built bases on it – from patrol bases (PBs) to combat outposts (COPs) to forward operating bases (FOBs) to camps, and then we would roll off them for missions and return to them to reside. This is not what FM 3-24 means by living among/with the host country populace. The Iraqis could not enter one of our bases without permission, without being screened.

We drove from place to place in heavily fortified vehicles because of the IED threat, dismounted armed and armored, and proceeded to do whatever business we had to do. I’m almost 100% convinced that the first patrol that I and two of my teammates went on through Jisr Diyala’s market in Spring 2008 is etched in the local memories as two security contractors (me and one of my teammates) and an Army patrol escorting a US senator or congressperson through the market (we still tease him about it 9 years later – we love you Larry!). The patrol leader in charge of our security, and properly wary of the bad guys looking to exploit our newness in theater and having improper knowledge, kept us moving through, which partially negated why I wanted to tour the market – to get an idea of how well stocked it was, where the goods were coming from, and who and how many locals were in the market. Technically we were following GEN Petreaus’s oft stated concept, adapted from MG Buford’s own cavalry directives during the Civil War, to move mounted, work dismounted. But it was only a technicality.

Finally, in regard to the US Surge in Iraq, the closest we got to actually doing counterinsurgency was trying to work by, with, and through the Iraqis. This covered everything from training Iraqi security forces to overseeing the Sons of Iraq programs to working with local leaders, elected and traditional tribal and religious leadership. Unfortunately, regardless of all the tactical successes from 2007 through 2009 we had no strategic success. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that a hallmark of a good COIN strategy, working by, with, and through the local population is that while you are working by with and through at the tactical (local) level you also have to do so at the theater strategic (national) level. The idea being that as you’re tactically building with the host country population you then pull that layer up to tether it to national government and attach the two. In Iraq, even when there was an effort to do this, the connection points always missed. This was the result of failures of the national command authority (Bush 43 Administration) in DC and their strategic priority of elections and a SOFA agreement, instead of reconciling the various Iraqi societal elements with each other, to their government, and their government to them. It also resulted from not listening to the Iraqis. Or listening, but not hearing. One of the things my teammates and I discovered after taking five months and doing in depth interviews with sheikhs, imams, and other local leaders, as well as more impromptu engagements with internally displaced Iraqis,* is that the Iraqis still had scores to settle with each other. This was also clear if one paid attention to the news reporting from Anbar and of officials from Maliki’s government between 2006 and 2009. The Iraqis were telling us that inter-sectarian violence was coming once we left. And when we did they proved that they weren’t just being hyperbolic.

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By Request: Ric and Zooey’s New Vests (Open Thread)

Ric and Zooey have been wearing their new vests for two days now – ten minutes yesterday and twenty today. They are not fond of them. The vests seem to unbalance them, and they walk kind of drunkenly. Sometimes they just fall over on their sides and lie there. But there are periods in between when they act almost normal. They are also trying to figure out how to get them off, but a thick velcro band under the stomach and another around the neck are hard to get out of if I fasten them tightly enough.

Tuesday Afternoon Open Thread

I originally titled this “Wednesday Afternoon Open Thread” because it just cannot be only Tuesday. But alas, it is.

Here’s a lovely shot taken by faithful reader cope of a pre-dawn Atlas rocket launch at Cape Canaveral:

I’m on the opposite coast, but if it’s clear enough, I can see launches from over here on the left side of the state. One time about 10 years ago, several of us were having a few beers around dusk, and we happened to notice what looked like a launch trail on the eastern horizon. As we watched it climb into the sky, it appeared to separate into component parts that zoomed off in different directions.

I’d never seen anything like that — none of us had. We looked on the NASA website, which said it was a military launch and no information on the payload was available. Still have no clue what it was. But now Trump controls it.

Speaking of Trump, what’s your prediction for tonight’s MAGAt rally in Phoenix? Mine is that Trump makes the pundits who praised last night’s “presidential” teleprompter recital look like the idiots they are by letting his freak flag fly.

Seems to be a pattern with Trump: Handlers trot him out to pretend to meet the baseline requirements for head of state. Trump dimly senses that this suggests he’s less than fabulous unscripted. So he finds a way to undo it all.

At any rate, I hope everyone stays safe. Open thread!

I got a good reason

Another out-of-touch limousine liberal:

Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, was forced to make her social media presence private after sparking outrage with an Instagram post that flamboyantly bragged about a slew of designer labels she was wearing while disembarking an official Air Force jet.

The caption on the now-deleted photo read: “Great #daytrip to #Kentucky! #nicest #people #beautiful #countryside #rolandmouret pants #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf #valentinorockstudheels #valentino #usa”

But at least she gets how middle Americans feel:

“Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable” Jenni Miller, a mother of three living in Portland, had commented on the photo.

Linton swiftly lashed out at Miller with the following rant on the post, which has since gone viral:

Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more sacrifices toward our day “trip” than you did.

At some level who gives a fuck what Steve Mnuchin’s trophy wife says on Instagram? On another, you can be sure as shit that if an Obama appointee’s wife had done this, that appointee would resign within 24 hours.

These assholes have spent 30 years wanking about the size of Al Gore’s house so fuck them.

Iran’s Claim of Five Days

We may see magnification and misrepresentation of some things Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s chief of atomic energy, said.

Let’s get an accurate translation first: Ariane Tabatabai speaks Persian. Her tweetstream starts here. I’ll collect what she translates for easier reading.

What Salehi actually said: “We are so prepared for snapback, that, really, the other party will be surprised. In just 4-5 days, we can start enriching [uranium] at 20%.”

That was several days ago. Tabatabai translates a more recent statement:

If we decide, we can start 20% enrichment in Fordow in maximum 5 days. And this means a lot. From a technical and professional perspective, this would send a signal, and the adversary would understand that. If they torpedo the JCPOA, North Korea will tell then, ‘you don’t stick to your promises.’ Imagine they’d want to solve DPRK politically. If they withdraw from JCPOA, North Korea will tell them, ‘you concluded a deal with Iran, and Iran insists it wants to stay in, so why did you leave?’ Then the North Koreans will ask what kind of guarantee there would be if they reach a deal. If JCPOA is dismantled, everything will part apart, foundation of international relations. And so will credibility of countries like US

Let me expand.

Five days is about what it would take to replumb the centrifuges at Fordow, now set up for enriching lighter nonfissile isotopes, to enrich uranium to 20%. That 20% is probably a rounding-up from 19.75%, which doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is. Twenty per cent is defined by the IAEA as the lower limit of weapons grade uranium. The higher enrichment level Iran was producing for a research reactor was 19.75%, so that it would be in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But even if 20% – weapons grade – is what Salehi intended, that’s not a big deal. The number of centrifuges at Fordow means that the quantities enriched would probably be on the order of grams per month. A bomb would require hundreds of kilograms of 20% uranium. That’s an impractical bomb and impossible goal with only the centrifuges at Fordow.

But 20% is a jumping-off point for further enrichment to a realistic weapons grade, generally taken to be over 90%. That would require still more centrifuges, or a program of constantly replumbing the centrifuges at Fordow for batches of stepped-up enrichments.

In order to do any of this, Iran would have to throw out the IAEA inspectors, so we would know as they started.

The bottom lines are

  1. The JCPOA is working. Iran remains about a year from a bomb.
  2. Salehi felt he had to bluster back at Trump’s bluster about desiring to find Iran in noncompliance.
  3. Opponents of the JCPOA are running with this and exaggerating it. So don’t believe what you may hear about Iran having a bomb in five days. Yes, there was one idiot headline that said that.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.

War Pigheadedness

“Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly face defeat.”

I just read President Carrot top’s speech from last night, and the usual suspects are, predictably, participating in the usual “presidential pivot” mutual masturbation society after party:

Ugh. To the speech. What the fuck does this mean:

But to prosecute this war, we will learn from history. As a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically in the following ways.

A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options.

We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.

I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.

Another fundamental pillar of our new strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome. Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.

Did I miss Bush and Obama announcing our attacks from a podium or something? And learning from history? How in the fuck is sending in a paltry force of 4k troops and expecting anything different learning from history. A refresher- Bush’s “surge” in Iraq was about 20k troops, but it may have amounted to more in theater briefly because they also extended the tour for folks already there. Trump is sending 4k more.

And just what does 4k troops mean?

Basically, nothing. Whenever you hear of troop numbers, you need to understand that sending 4,000 more soldiers somewhere does not mean you are sending 4,000 more trigger pullers. The vast majority of these 4,000 soldiers will be logo toads dealing with supply and logistics and maintenance and signals and what not. This probably amounts to about 800 actual combat troops being sent there. That’s basically a batallion. They’ll be able to do what- build another firebase? And you can’t have all of them on patrol at once, because soldiers need sleep and rest, they need to pull security, etc.

Again, I have not been in the military for almost twenty years, so I am not an expert and my numbers may be wrong, but from where I sit, this isn’t a fucking plan. It’s a blood sacrifice.

If the most abrasive, arrogant, and imperious President we have ever known thinks all he can get is political support for 4k more troops, it’s game over, man. I heard McMaster pushed for 50k more troops and was rejected, and that wouldn’t have been enough.

This is bullshit. After sixteen years, the American people have moved on. We have lost the will to fight in Afghanistan, as we should have. It’s just a waste of blood and money. All we are doing now is feeding the war pig. Stop sending Americans off to slaughter for no reason. Bring home the troops now.

Demand elasticity for the ACA

Elasticity is simply how much does a change in price lead to a change in the amount of something bought. Items that are very inelastic in the short run can see large changes in price with small changes in demand. Gasoline is a good example. Items that are very elastic will see the quantity purchased fall off dramatically with a minor price increase.

There are two types of elasticity in the ACA markets that interest me. The first is the buy or no buy decision. What does a small change in price mean on the decision to buy or not buy insurance ? The second is what plan does one choose when the decision to buy a plan is made?

I am interested in these as the upcoming policy year is going to be a mess with an incredible amount of discontinuous data in the ACA markets because of a variety of pricing decisions insurers and state regulators are making right now. The most common decision that insurers will need to face is how to do they price Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies. They can choose to assume that CSR will show up, they can choose to assume it will not be consistently paid. If they assume that it won’t be paid, insurers can load the CSR obligations into all premiums, into Silver only premiums or into on-Exchange Silver premiums only. In single insurer regions and states, we will see incredible opportunities for Silver gapping.

Evan Saltzman at Penn has an interesting review of consumer behavior regarding differential pricing in California and Washington. I think this work will be extraordinarily relevant in 2018:

(1) high own-premium elasticities of −6.9 to −7.8, but low insurance coverage elasticities of −0.5 to −0.6;
(2) minimal response to the mandate penalty amount, but significant response to the penalty’s existence, suggesting consumers have a “taste for compliance”;

What he is saying is that people who are in the market will readily switch if there is a better deal. The market is not particularly sticky for the people. This confirms other reports and research. He is also saying that the decision to get into the individual market is a highly resistant decision. Post-subsidy premiums that are significantly lower in 2018 compared to 2017 will be needed to move people into the market.

And we might get that. In states that are adapting Silver only loading plans to deal with CSR uncertainty, Bronze and Gold plans will be dramatically less expensive in 2018 than they were in 2019 for people who earn under 400% FPL. Zero dollar Bronze plans will be common for individuals making over 300% FPL as Silver Benchmarks will now be priced thirty actuarial value points above Bronze instead of six to eight actuarial value points above Bronze.

On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Juicers who are are on the road, traveling, or just want to share a little bit of their world via stories and pictures. So many of us rise each morning, eager for something beautiful, inspiring, amazing, subtle, of note, and our community delivers – a view into their world, whether they’re far away or close to home – pictures with a story, with context, with meaning, sometimes just beauty. By concentrating travel updates and tips here, it’s easier for all of us to keep up or find them later.

So please, speak up and share some of your adventures and travel news here, and submit your pictures using our speedy, secure form. You can submit up to 7 pictures at a time, with an overall description and one for each picture.

You can, of course, send an email with pictures if the form gives you trouble, or if you are trying to submit something special, like a zipped archive or a movie. If your pictures are already hosted online, then please email the links with your descriptions.

For each picture, it’s best to provide your commenter screenname, description, where it was taken, and date. It’s tough to keep everyone’s email address and screenname straight, so don’t assume that I remember it “from last time”. More and more, the first photo before the fold will be from a commenter, so making it easy to locate the screenname when I’ve found a compelling photo is crucial.

Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the pictures!

The eclipse was amazing, I hope you had a chance to enjoy it. Hopefully it was an omen marking the beginning of the fall of trump.

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Tuesday Morning Open Thread: It’s A Start


Apart from preparing for tonight’s Phoenix campaign rally (don’t forget the anti-nausea meds), what’s on the agenda for the day?

One last farewell. Look backwards — but don’t stare at the eclipse!…

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Pre-Dawn Open Thread: Oh, Look, the Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver Had A Town Hall!

I still haven’t been able to find any info on whether Trump decided to upstage Ryan with his Big Boy Great Game Adventure Speech, but would it be a surprise either way? Per Refinery29:

The Ryan town hall began 30 minutes later than originally planned to accommodate Trump’s nationwide address where he outlined a new strategy for troops in Afghanistan…

CNN extended invitations to people from Ryan’s district and selected the questions that were asked. That has led to criticism from Democrats who say the Republican Ryan has been hiding from Wisconsin voters since he hasn’t held a town hall open to everyone since October 2015.

Ryan’s Democratic challenger, Randy Bryce, said he did not receive a ticket to the event. Instead, he raised money to run a pair of television ads during the broadcast, including one where he poses three questions for Ryan to answer about health insurance, Trump, and equal pay legislation.
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Late Night Roundup: Statler, Waldorf & Groucho Review Trump’s “Afghanistan” Speech


“Let’s Get This Over With” edition:

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It Really Is the Little Things

As you all know, I am a fan of getting pedicures. Or maybe you don’t know. Now you do. I love them. I like the soaking in the hot water with the jets blasting, I love that they are all nice and neat and comfortable when they are finished, and I love the foot massage afterwards followed by the hot damp cloth on the feet. It just feels so good.

I try to go once a month in the summers because I wear flip flops a lot and I get a lot of calluses, but in the winter, I go less frequently because I just lather on thick coats of eucerin in the morning and then throw on my wool socks, and my tootsies are nice and soft all day long. I honestly don’t know why more men don’t go other than “herp-derp not macho truck how bout them bears,” because in the army I was trained to take care of my feet. Whatever.

At any rate, today when I went, as usual I was the only guy in there, and about halfway through a teenage heavyset girl came in and sat down to get her feet done. I don’t know what the right word is these days, but I will just say she was not very bright and the prospects for that ever changing dramatically appeared to be rather grim. But she was super happy, bubbly, and very pleasant, and apparently going to the Bruno Mars concert tomorrow night. She was in getting the full mani/pedi for her the concert, and she was super adorable about the whole thing.

It was really funny because she wanted to make sure everyone knew she was going to the Bruno Mars concert- every sentence went something like this: “What color should I get my fingernails for the BRUNO MARS CONCERT?” or “Do you think gold toenails would be the right color for the BRUNO MARS CONCERT. And on and on. Her mother was sitting right next to her, and every time the girl said “Bruno Mars” I could sense mom dying a little on the inside because she has probably heard the name eleventy bazillion times in the last two days alone. At one point, the mom’s phone ran with some ringtone I didn’t recognize and the girl blurted out “Guess what my ring tone is? 24k MAGIC BY BRUNO MARS without giving anyone a chance to guess because really, did we need too? I audibly chuckled.

But what was great about the whole thing was that no one in the place was a dick about things, and everyone got kind of excited with her. At one point there was a gaggle of about 5-6 salon employees near her helping her choose just the right color of gold or black or whatever it was she finally settled with- I suggested she get something that glows in the dark but was ignored, and it was just a fun time because she was so happy and made everyone around her happy.

It was really nice and I am glad I went when I did. And I hope she has a blast tomorrow night.

Live Feed: The President’s Address on US Strategy in Afghanistan

Open Thread: If Someone Persuades Trump He’ll Have to Cover Secret Services Expenses Himself, Will He Quit?

We Survived

Here’s a time series of the eclipse as seen from Rochester – also had a bit of cloud cover at the end.

Open thread.