UPDATED: Email from a Marine in Ramadi: No way to tell if this email that's been going around is authentic, but it sounds realistic. [Actually, it appears to be written by the father of a Marine named Jordan after discussions with his son on leave after seven months in Ramadi.] First it discusses our weapons, then their weapons, then tactics, then strategy (attrition).
1) The M-16 rifle : Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the talcum powder like sand over there... Fun fact: Random autopsies on dead insurgents shows a high level of opiate use.
The M-16 had chronic jamming problems in Vietnam. One of the first newspaper articles I can remember reading from when I was around 8 was about a letter-writing campaign by Marines' parents complaining to the Pentagon about their sons' M-16's jamming in the jungle. Can't the Pentagon fix something when it has 38 years to work on it?
2) The M243 SAW (squad assault weapon): .223 cal. Drum fed light machine gun. Big thumbs down. Universally considered a piece of ****. Chronic jamming problems, most of which require partial disassembly. (that's fun in the middle of a firefight).
Is there such a weapon as the M243 SAW, or is that supposed to be the M249 SAW?
3) The M9 Beretta 9mm: Mixed bag. Good gun, performs well in desert environment; but they all hate the 9mm cartridge. The use of handguns for self-defense is actually fairly common. Same old story on the 9mm: Bad guys hit multiple times and still in the fight.
4) Mossberg 12ga. Military shotgun: Works well, used frequently for clearing houses to good effect.
5) The M240 Machine Gun: 7.62 Nato (.308) cal. belt fed machine gun... Thumbs up. Accurate, reliable, and the 7.62 round puts 'em down. Originally developed as a vehicle mounted weapon, more and more are being dismounted and taken into the field by infantry. The 7.62 round chews up the structure over there.
6) The M2 .50 cal heavy machine gun: Thumbs way, way up. "Ma deuce" is still worth her considerable weight in gold. The ultimate fight stopper, puts their dicks in the dirt every time. The most coveted weapon in-theater.
7) The .45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol round out there. Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on one. With few exceptions, can reliably be expected to put 'em down with a torso hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK military model and supposedly love it...
8) The M-14: Thumbs up...
9) The Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle: Thumbs way up. Spectacular range and accuracy and hits like a freight train. Used frequently to take out vehicle suicide bombers ( we actually stop a lot of them) and barricaded enemy. Definitely here to stay.
The sniper in "Jarhead" was trained on this, although the gun doesn't appear in the movie version. Blasts hell out of just about anything.
10) The M24 sniper rifle: Thumbs up.... Snipers have been used heavily to great effect. Rumor has it that a marine sniper on his third tour in Anbar province has actually exceeded Carlos Hathcock's record for confirmed kills with OVER 100.
11) The new body armor: Thumbs up. Relatively light at approx. 6 lbs. and can reliably be expected to soak up small shrapnel and even will stop an AK-47 round. The bad news: Hot as **** to wear, almost unbearable in the summer heat (which averages over 120 degrees). Also, the enemy now goes for head shots whenever possible. All the stuff about the "old" body armor making our guys vulnerable to the IED's was a non-starter. The IED explosions are enormous and body armor doesn't make any difference at all in most cases.
12) Night Vision and Infrared Equipment: Thumbs way up. Spectacular performance. Our guys see in the dark and own the night, period. Very little enemy action after evening prayers. More and more enemy being whacked at night during movement by hunter-killer teams.
13) Lights: Thumbs up. Most of the weapon mounted and personal lights are Surefire's, and the troops love 'em. Invaluable for night urban operations.
Bad guy weapons:
1) Mostly AK47's The entire country is an arsenal. Works better in the desert than the M16 and the .308 Russian round kills reliably. PKM belt fed light machine guns are also common and effective. Luckily, the enemy mostly shoots poorly. Undisciplined "spray and pray" type fire. However, they are seeing more and more precision weapons, especially sniper rifles. (Iran, again) Fun fact: Captured enemy have apparently marveled at the marksmanship of our guys and how hard they fight. They are apparently told in Jihad school that the Americans rely solely on technology, and can be easily beaten in close quarters combat for their lack of toughness. Let's just say they know better now.
2) The RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenade]: Probably the infantry weapon most feared by our guys. Simple, reliable and as common as dog****. The enemy responded to our up-armored humvees by aiming at the windshields, often at point blank range. Still killing a lot of our guys.
3) The IED [Improvised Explosive Devices]: The biggest killer of all. Can be anything from old Soviet anti-armor mines to jury rigged artillery shells. A lot found in Jordan's area were in abandoned cars. The enemy would take 2 or 3 155mm artillery shells and wire them together. Most were detonated by cell phone, and the explosions are enormous. You're not safe in any vehicle, even an M1 tank. Driving is by far the most dangerous thing our guys do over there.
Lately, they are much more sophisticated "shape charges" (Iranian) specifically designed to penetrate armor. Fact: Most of the ready made IED's are supplied by Iran, who is also providing terrorists (Hezbollah types) to train the insurgents in their use and tactics. That's why the attacks have been so deadly lately. Their concealment methods are ingenious, the latest being shape charges in Styrofoam containers spray painted to look like the cinderblocks that litter all Iraqi roads. We find about 40% before they detonate, and the bomb disposal guys are unsung heroes of this war.
4) Mortars and rockets: Very prevalent.... Marine's base was hit almost daily his entire time there by mortar and rocket fire, often at night to disrupt sleep patterns and cause fatigue (It did). More of a psychological weapon than anything else. The enemy mortar teams would jump out of vehicles, fire a few rounds, and then haul ass in a matter of seconds.
5) Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and "Google earth" for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the captured GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of Intel when captured.
Who are the bad guys?:
Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi Al Qaeda group. They operate mostly in Anbar province (Fallujah and Ramadi). These are mostly "foreigners", non-Iraqi Sunni Arab Jihadists from all over the Muslim world (and Europe). Most enter Iraq through Syria (with, of course, the knowledge and complicity of the Syrian govt.) , and then travel down the "rat line" which is the trail of towns along the Euphrates River that we've been hitting hard for the last few months.
See below for an article disputing the contention that foreigners play a significant role in the fighting.
Some are virtually untrained young Jihadists that often end up as suicide bombers or in "sacrifice squads". Most, however, are hard core terrorists from all the usual suspects (Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.) These are the guys running around murdering civilians en masse and cutting heads off. The Chechens (many of whom are Caucasian), are supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters. (they have been fighting the Russians for years).
In the Baghdad area and south, most of the insurgents are Iranian inspired (and led) Iraqi Shiites.
If true, this is not good news, not at all. If the Shi'ites start fighting us on a large scale, well, forget it.
The Iranian Shiia have been very adept at infiltrating the Iraqi local govt.'s, the police forces and the Army. The have had a massive spy and agitator network there since the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80's. Most of the Saddam loyalists were killed, captured or gave up long ago.
Not what the Bush Administration claims!
Bad Guy Tactics: When they are engaged on an infantry level they get their asses kicked every time. Brave, but stupid. Suicidal Banzai-type charges were very common earlier in the war and still occur. They will literally sacrifice 8-10 man teams in suicide squads by sending them screaming and firing Ak's and RPG's directly at our bases just to probe the defenses.
They get mowed down like grass every time. ( see the M2 and M240 above). Jordan's base was hit like this often. When engaged, they have a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that's the end of that more often than not. These hole-ups are referred to as Alpha Whiskey Romeo's (Allah's Waiting Room). We have the laser guided ground-air thing down to a science. The fast mover's, mostly Marine F-18's, are taking an ever increasing toll on the enemy. When caught out in the open, the helicopter gunships and AC-130 Spectre gunships cut them to ribbons with cannon and rocket fire, especially at night.
Interestingly, artillery is hardly used at all. Fun fact: The enemy death toll is supposedly between 45-50 thousand. That is why we're seeing less and less infantry attacks and more IED, suicide bomber stuff.
"Evolution in action," as Pournelle and Niven say.
The new strategy is simple: attrition.
The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover.
Welcome to Guerilla Warfare 101.
They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties and therefore schools, hospitals and (especially) Mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons and ammo and flee to when engaged.
They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans or the new Iraqi govt. Kidnapping of family members (especially children) is common to influence people they are trying to influence but can't reach, such as local govt. officials, clerics, tribal leaders, etc.).
The first question in a guerrilla war is: Are you willing to go to the mat with the bad guys, to play as dirty as they do? The second question is: Is your country willing to to back you in going to the mat for as long as it takes?
The essential psychological problem in convincing the local populace to side with us rather than with the indigenous guerillas is that we have a nice country to go home to on the other side of the sea, while they all live there and don't have anywhere else to go.
The French wiped out the terrorist bombing organization in Algiers in 1957 by rolling up the cells using torture to extract information. It worked, but when the French people found out about it, they lost enthusiasm for the war, and De Gaulle eventually pulled the plug.
A civilized country can win a guerilla war, like we won in El Salvador in the 1980s, if we have a local proxy force to do the dirty work. (Our biggest problem in El Salvador was keeping the
Salvadoran rightwing savages from completely disgracing our anti-Communist cause with their over-enthusiasm.)
The first thing our guys are told is "don't get captured". They know that if captured they will be tortured and beheaded on the internet.
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier. -- Kipling
Zarqawi openly offers bounties for anyone who brings him a live American serviceman. This motivates the criminal element who otherwise don't give a hoot about the war. A lot of the beheading victims were actually kidnapped by common criminals and sold to Zarqawi. As such, for our guys, every fight is to the death. Surrender is not an option.
The Iraqi's are a mixed bag. Some fight well, others aren't worth a ****. Most do okay with American support. Finding leaders is hard, but they are getting better.
That sounds diplomatic. I suspect his son had a saltier opinion of his "allies."
It is widely viewed that Zarqawi's use of suicide bombers, en masse, against the civilian population was a serious tactical mistake. Many Iraqi's were galvanized and the caliber of recruits in the Army and the police forces went up, along with their motivation. It also led to an exponential increase in good intel because the Iraqi's are sick of the insurgent attacks against civilians.
As well they should be.
Blowing up civilians wholesale is probably a less effective tactic for guerillas than murdering snitches and collaborators retail. Perhaps foreign guerillas lack the kind of intel needed to discriminate between friend and foe among the local population?
The Kurds are solidly pro-American and fearless fighters.
Are they doing us any good, or just pursuing their own aims by ethnically cleansing Arabs and Turkmen from the Northern oil region?
According to this Marine, morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see things like "Are we losing in Iraq" on TV and the print media.
I'd like to see our death rate trend downward. Instead, the per day average in October and November have been the highest since January.
For the most part, we are satisfied with equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria.
What are landmines for?
The Iranians and the Syrians just can't stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally (with, of course, permanent US bases there).
Attrition has worked in the past, but it has also failed (Vietnam) or proven enormously, almost civilization-destroyingly costly (WWI). One big question is: In Iraq, a society based on honor and vengeance, how many new insurgents do we create for each insurgent we kill and for each civilian we kill accidentally? You can see from the obsession with high caliber weaponry above that we're no doubt killing a lot of bystanders with bullets that keep on flying and even smash through walls.
Has anybody tried to graph these casualty vs. recruitment curves to see what's actually happening?
In general, pursuing a strategy of attrition means that you've lost the strategic initiative. You're counting on the other guy to keep doing dumb things that get him killed in numbers faster than he can replace. War, however, smartens combatants up quickly. Thus, you're seeing the bad guys get in a lot fewer firefights and instead rely more on their stand-off weapon, the remote-control IED.
Another big question: whose learning curve is steeper? Our boys came in superbly trained, but inexperienced in the local environment. They came in with virtually no experience at guerilla war, but familiar with their own neighborhoods. It's not at all clear who is getting smarter faster.
The Washington Post raises questions tonight about the importance of foreign fighters:
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post Foreign Service
BAGHDAD -- Before 8,500 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers methodically swept through Tall Afar two months ago in the year's largest counterinsurgency offensive, commanders described the northern city as a logistics hub for fighters, including foreigners entering the country from Syria, 65 miles to the west.
"They come across the border and use Tall Afar as a base to launch attacks across northern Iraq," Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which led the assault, said in a briefing the day before it began.
When the air and ground operation wound down in mid-September, nearly 200 insurgents had been killed and close to 1,000 detained, the military said at the time. But interrogations and other analyses carried out in recent weeks showed that none of those captured was from outside Iraq. According to McMaster's staff, the 3rd Armored Cavalry last detained a foreign fighter in June.
In a recent interview, McMaster maintained that, before insurgents were driven from Tall Afar in September, foreigners were at least partly responsible for the "climate of fear" that pervaded the city -- a result of beheadings, suicide attacks and the abduction of young men to conscript them as fighters.
"They trained indigenous terror cells and moved on somewhere else," he said.
That's always been one of the obvious loopholes in the Flytrap attrition strategy of inviting all the anti-American fighters in the world into Iraq and then killing them all there: newcomers are mobile. When they hear the U.S. Marines are coming to town, they skedaddle and leave the poor dumb locals to die. Of course, the alternative possibility is that there never were many foreigners in Iraq in the first place.
The relative importance of the foreign component of Iraq's two-year-old insurgency, estimated at between 4 and 10 percent of all guerrillas, has been a matter of growing debate in military and intelligence circles, U.S. and Iraqi officials and American commanders said. Top U.S. military officials here have long emphasized the influence of groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent network led by a Jordanian, Abu Musab Zarqawi. But analysts say the focus on foreign elements is also an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the insurgency in the eyes of Iraqis, by portraying it as terrorism foisted on the country by outsiders.
"Both Iraqis and coalition people often exaggerate the role of foreign infiltrators and downplay the role of Iraqi resentment in the insurgency," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who is writing a book about the Iraqi insurgency.
Playing up the foreign fighter role offers us a potential save-facing deal with the Sunnis: "Patriotically turn your guns against the foreigners, bring us the head of Zarqawi, and we'll guarantee you Sunnis a share of the oil wealth in return for peace." (It would sure help if we could figure out how to guarantee everybody their cut of the oil money without us hanging around to dole it out.)
One issue the article doesn't address is the popular idea that the foreigners are most responsible for the suicide bombings on civilian targets. One of the advantages of suicide bombings is that they don't leave anyone around to be captured and interrogated, so we really don't know for sure. We're all hoping that the suicide bombers are foreigners rather than Iraqis because if we can get the Iraqi victims' relatives to believe they were the work of foreigners, then there is more hope for reconciliation within Iraq. There are thousands of murdered Iraqi civilians whose kin must avenge their deaths if they are to call themselves men of honor, and if they believe they must avenge themselves upon other Iraqis, well, killing is going to go on a long time in Iraq.
If foreign fighters are significant, well, it's not terribly hard to close off a border: that's what landmines are for.