Small Wars Journal

Marine Corps Manual Offers Blunt, Revealing Portrait of Afghan War


Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/12/2012 - 10:56am

Gian---you are right again about the surge---just why is there no open and direct debate on the surge---would argue that the massive discussion on COIN after 3-24 was designed to "cloud" our view on just about anything around the term insurgency.

IE---was the core Sunni insurgency (excluding the groups around AQI) built on actually just three core groups---1920 which was nationalistic and former Baathists/military/intelligence, Ansar al Sunnah (Arab/Kurdish who had been in Iraq before we arrived) and the Islamic Army in Iraq a secular leaning Salafi/nationalist gorup.

All the tens of other named groups were really sub groups of the core using multiple names for opsec reasons and for giving us a perception of facing hundreds of fighters.

Would argue that now IAI and the JRTN (formerly 1920) have actually merged as a single representative of the Sunni's although maintaining spearate IO web sites outwardly thus the Sunni are prepared for the coming civil war that in their eyes will occur.

So maybe we just blew the whole Iraq campaign as we focused on say AQI and it did not fully understand that one had to operate against the whole of the ecosystem as a single group. In AFGN we seem to focus on the Taliban for awhile then Haqqani then HiG--we seem to be able to not have learned from Iraq that the focus should be on the whole system. We also failed to fully understand just how the Shia groups played into the overall ecosystem as well.

A question that comes to mind for Iraq that has never been addressed was just how deep and just how active were the Iraqi Salafi groups in Iraq before we arrived in 2003? It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to address.

Just my thoughts.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/12/2012 - 5:38pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill M: We failed badly in "understanding" developments in Iraq in the 90s reference the deep ongoing Salafi movement that the Iraqi Intelligence Service were hounding and when possible killing.

These Salafists were the key to the launching of the Sunni Insurgency straight into a phase two guerrilla war starting in Jun 2003 and reaching their ops tempo by March 2004 and we simply did not know anything about them in April 2003 when we arrived in Baghdad.

Groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq were totally new to us although they were at the forefront of driving the Salafi Sunni insurgents ie Ansar al Sunnah and had deep ties to Revolution 1920 which is now the JRTN and now closley tied to the Islamic Army in Iraq.

Not so sure we even understand how to "learn" from "lessons learned".

Taken from a 2004 article:
According to knowledgeable Iraqi sources, after the defeat of Iraq in the first Gulf War of 1991, a group of fundamentalist Sunni clerics had tried to organize a Salafi movement in Iraq for the overthrow of Saddam Hussain's Ba'athist regime with the aim of setting up an Islamic state. On coming to know of it, Saddam crushed their movement and jailed some leaders, while others managed to escape to Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. Among the leaders of this Salafi movement were Omar Hussein Hadid, reportedly a former electrician turned mullah; Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi; Sheikh Zafir al-Ubaidi; Moyaed Ahmed Yasseen, reportedly arrested by the Iraqi army on November 14; and Abu-Abdullah al-Hassan bin-Mahmud. These sources claim these Salafi elements are in the forefront of the anti-US insurgency.

Example of a lessons learned in Iraq---the actual forking of the Sunni insurgency came at the hands of AQI in their killing of fighters and cell leaders belonging to 1920, IAI,and al Sunnah which led to a very sharp round of infighting (openly discussed via the internet about the killings and internal fighting by IAI/1920/al Sunnah) with AQI taking the losses.

At the same time the Sunni tribal leaders who had been under AQI killings/pressure took the opportunity to side with 1920/IAI and the insurgency was forked---the idea that the US Army had a hand in the "Awakening" really needs to be discussed---but from "lessons learned" we were highly successful in the "Awakening" so it can be exported to Afghanistan and off we went with it.

Bill C.

Thu, 01/12/2012 - 5:20pm

In reply to by gian gentile

Interesting how a premature consideration of "lessons" helped cause all of this (both Afghanistan and Iraq) to spiral out of control:

a. The "Lessons of Afghanistan" Influence Intervention into Iraq: "And here is where, I think, they (the Bush Administration) are drawing on the lessons of Afghanistan. Nobody knew what the response to American intervention in the fall of 2001 was going to be. But what actually happened was a great surprise: The fact that we had used force, we did intervene in that unpromising country, and we were welcomed, we were cheered. And I think that experience has had a profound influence on the thinking of the administration about Iraq and other issues. (John Lewis Gaddis, Jan 2003).

b. The "Lessons of Iraq" (Perceived Success of the COIN Surge) Influence Operations in Afghanistan: (As per COL Gentile's comments elsewhere and immediately above.)

Note the circuitous route of these so-called lessons; wherein, the lesson of Afghanistan cir. early 2003 (they will welcome you!) help to cause us to intervene -- and intervene as we did -- in Iraq; and how the lessons of Iraq re: the perceived success of the COIN surge help to determine how we will operate later back in Afghanistan.

I guess we might learn from these unfortunate experiences to wait a little longer before we (1) declare something to be a "lesson" and (2) rely on and act upon said "lesson."

gian gentile

Thu, 01/12/2012 - 9:40am

Once the United State committed to long termn, armed naton building (around the early 2004 timeframe) and then supercharged with the faux-lessons of success from the Coin Surge in Iraq, the Taliban have become an operational enemy of the US military in Afghanistan. They are an operational enemy because the US has adopted armed nation building as its operational framework which requires a large military occupation, and the Taliban resist this. Yet once we got past 2002 the Taliban have not been our strategic enemy which all along has been AQ. As Bing West has argued we are fighting the wrong war, and in my view the wrong enemy however tactically proficient we have become at it.

But in war it is first and foremost strategy that counts and must be in charge of tactics. Unfortunately the American military has been guided by the imperatives and principles of armed nation building which have eclipsed better strategic thinking which should have gotten us out of the armed nation building business long ago simply because it is not worth the amount of American blood and treasure to carry it out. There were other ways yet because of the arrogance of success produced by the belief that the Iraq Surge worked and optimism that it produced we were blind to see other options.