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March 13, 2006 1:01 PM   Subscribe

WarFilter: Why hasn't the Iraqi insurgency acquired more advanced weapons?

Where did all Hussein's anti-tank missiles go? Why hasn't an interested third-party bought them up off the black market, scratched off serial numbers, then fired them at M113's and M3's filled with soldiers? It would seem like the perfect weapon system for urban guerrillas fighting a highly mobile enemy.

I can only imagine how the Battles of Fallujah would have turned out if the insurgents weren't fighting with 50 year old technology (RPG's, rewired howitzer shells, and AK-47's).

For that matter, where are the gazillion shoulder-launched heat-seekers that are supposedly a dime-a-dozen on the black market?
posted by trinarian to Law & Government (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
They are using RPG's. Also they modify artillery rounds to make IED's.

Many items were captured and destroyed. More gets captured all the time.

Incidentally, the US military is using technology that's closing in on 50 years or more!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:09 PM on March 13, 2006


Who would this interested third-party be?
posted by Orange Goblin at 1:12 PM on March 13, 2006


They use AK47s because that gun is very simple, very good, and very easy to get. Why would they complicate their lives with anything else?
posted by beagle at 1:15 PM on March 13, 2006


According to this CNN article, Iraq's infrantry were equipped with what we've been seeing... RPGs, AK-47s, etc.
posted by justkevin at 1:16 PM on March 13, 2006


Yesterday's NYTimes front page story on Saddam's mindset during the leadup to the war may be enlightening:
"The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense."
posted by togdon at 1:16 PM on March 13, 2006


There are some indications that Iran is helping to design more effective IEDs, if not building them outright and smuggling them in. I imagine the Bushies are waiting for just the right time to make hay over this so it dovetails with any other motive they may have to strike against Iran.
posted by Brian James at 1:16 PM on March 13, 2006


Where did all Hussein's anti-tank missiles go? Why hasn't an interested third-party bought them up off the black market

Consider the possibility that the high-end equipment that was hidden and survived could be sold by Iraqi officers for much-needed cash and smuggled out of the country. Those same officers would then use the cash to get themselves out of the country, or to set themselves up in civilian life. I imagine that folks from Syria and Iran picked up some nice stuff relatively cheap.
posted by frogan at 1:24 PM on March 13, 2006


Meaning that the insurgents -- the low-level grunts with a grudge -- weren't left with much. Hence the IEDs.
posted by frogan at 1:25 PM on March 13, 2006


I imagine the Bushies are waiting for just the right time to make hay over this so it dovetails with any other motive they may have to strike against Iran.
You think?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:35 PM on March 13, 2006


Since the 50 year old weapons you mention seem to be working quite well, I don't think there's going to be much clamor for weapons that require a truck to move around and trained specialists to opporate. In addition, you can assume that the heavier weapons were available to the Iraqi army during our invasion, and they didn't work well against us at all.

In a nutshell - Perhaps the insurgents are just using the best tool for the job.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:40 PM on March 13, 2006


They don't NEED more advanced weapons.

They need mobility. They need anonymity.

They need weapons configurations that are cheap and simple to repair, restock, and replace. That can be used by people with little training that work in small teams.

The Kalshnikov uses 5.45mm ammo that is cheap and plentiful and circulated in the black market gun trade for 30 years.

The tactics of an insurgency do not require anything other than small arms and simplicity. If they start trying to be an Army, with big sophisiticated modern weapons (that are easy to track and hard to buy and hide) they will get the shit bombed out of them.
posted by tkchrist at 1:51 PM on March 13, 2006


I just don't understand how anyone could make the claim that a man-portable anti-tank or anti-aircraft missile couldn't wreak some serious damage, especially in a tight urban enviroment. Seems hella better than burying explosives and waiting for someone who didn't notice to drive over it while you sat back like Wile E. Coyote with a detoner next to the scene of the crime.

Interested third party: any filthy rich oil sheikh, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, et al.
posted by trinarian at 2:41 PM on March 13, 2006


frogan: good point on the "selling off" theory... but who would they have sold them to other than people who wanted to use them in the region.


"Many analysts believe that Iraqi ground forces have retained a very strong capability in one particular area: anti-tank warfare. While the army lost large numbers of anti-tank weapons during the war, it is still believed to retain quantities of good equipment - including MILAN man-portable guided missiles; HOT, AS-11s and AS-12s mounted on PAH-1 and SA.342 helicopters; and AT-2s mounted on Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters. In addition, there is a range of weapons mounted on armoured vehicles, including HOT, MILAN, AT-1, AT-3 and AT-4 guided missiles. The army still has several thousand 85 mm and 100 mm anti-tank guns and heavy recoilless rifles."

1996 Jane's World Armies
posted by trinarian at 2:51 PM on March 13, 2006


trinarian, the MANPADs ATWs that are available in places like Iraq are not much better than the RPGs and the IEDs that are being used. They could only really get their hands on first, or in some cases second generation weapons. The list of countries making third generation MANPADs is relatively short, and none of them would really be willing to be caught sending them to Iraq (or are more or less on 'our' side).

In addition, what makes you think they aren't using the odd one? If the USA were to lose an Apache to a MANPAD wouldn't it be better to say it was a lucky shot with an RPG?

tkchrist's analysis is correct. I would only add there there are AK* weapons using pretty much every conceivable calibre of ammo, and I've no idea what Iraq's use.
posted by tiamat at 2:54 PM on March 13, 2006


should read MANPADs & ATWs.
posted by tiamat at 2:55 PM on March 13, 2006


but who would they have sold them to other than people who wanted to use them in the region.

trinarian had it -- Interested third party: any filthy rich oil sheikh, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, et al.
posted by frogan at 3:08 PM on March 13, 2006


Your post reminded me of an opinion that Louis L'Amour (the Western writer) had, and which filled many his books... that as soon as the Native Americans picked up guns to use against the Europeans, they were doomed. It made them dependent on the presence of Europeans to fight them off, and made it impossible for them to ever really win. They'd probably have lost anyway, but Mr. L'Amour was of the opinion that they hastened their own loss dramatically.

A resistance/insurgency that is completely self-sufficient is far more dangerous. Big weapons are hard to move around and hard to track. It takes a BIG weapon to kill our armor, and the Army is incredibly good at finding and taking out that kind of weapon; that's what they've trained their entire professional careers to do. They are, bar none, the best in the world at doing that. (or at least, they were, god only knows what it's like now.)

The way to deal with a force with vastly superior firepower is to confuse them. Soldiers aren't police; they're not good at investigations and sorting out truth from fiction. They tend to use the tools they're trained with... which all involve loud explosions and lots of dead bodies.

Blending into the population serves the insurgents well, because when the soldiers overreact and blow up the wrong people, they make more insurgents, and make the remaining non-insurgent population much less likely to want to help.

It's not a war about bullets, and it never has been. Bullets are a symptom. By enticing us to kill and torture the wrong people, the insurgents win far more than they ever would if they just killed a few tanks here and there. Remember, we've spent nearly 300 billion dollars in Iraq, and it's going up fast. Tanks only cost about 4.5 million, so they've already done equivalent economic damage to destroying over sixty-five thousand M1 Abrams.

Offhand, I'd say they're doing just fine with AK-47s and RPGs.
posted by Malor at 3:16 PM on March 13, 2006


I think trinarian and Malor nailed it. But also consider this. The US has complete air superiority -- they own the sky. Anything not made for movement by one person or two can be literally destroyed at will if taken into the open.

Tanks, howitzers, and what-not were destroyed early, and those that used them died. RPGs, mortars, and AK-47s seem to be not only what the insurgency needs, but all they had available to them. Any thing Saddam had that was bigger than that was probably shrapnelled years ago* -- or if it wasn't, it had to have been carted off in the night, and it must have remained hidden and unused all this time.

The second an Iraqi brings out some large, immobile weapon -- it is toast. If they can't carry it away from the scene of an attack, they die. What you see them using is what they have available to them in that category.

* It seems so weird that we have already been fighting this war for years.
posted by teece at 3:28 PM on March 13, 2006


Pollomacho: your point is taken (sorry it took so long in the thread), but the current B-52 is only the airframe of what flew for Strategic Air Command. Even the M-16 has gone through revision. RPG's are an ancient anti-tank weapon that could perhaps go head-to-head with an old Jeep or a Sherman's underbelly, but it's pretty worthless against the kind of metal running around Iraq unless they get a really lucky shot. The armor on the feild today is designed to have a T-62's shells bounce off in battle.

Tiamat: good point that an odd one might be used here and there. i've seen too many pictures of non-flipped burning M1A2's and Bradley's to think it's all IED's. Without doing the research (very sporadic internet connection), wouldn't there be a metric asston of 80's era and manportable ATW's left over from the pre-demise Cold War build-up flowing out of Russia to anyone who wanted one throughout the 90's? Something designed specifically for our 80's era armour that's fighting in Iraq?
posted by trinarian at 3:29 PM on March 13, 2006


Or rather, tkchrist and Malor nailed it, sorry.
posted by teece at 3:32 PM on March 13, 2006


Malor: Your point is taken about D'Amour and using overly-complex systems...

Also, doing quick wiki research... using the right warheads, both the MILAN and RPG-7 can puncture >330 mm of steel. The only difference is range and accuracy. I was under the impression that RPG's were not shaped charges like most shoulder-fired ATW's.

I guess I was assuming something similar to the TOW - which is man-portable and extremely lethal - was developed and extensively built by the Russians and that the Iraqi's would have purchased many in their fight against Iran - which involved a lot of armor.
posted by trinarian at 3:44 PM on March 13, 2006


The insurgents are engaged in urban warfare. They're smart enough to know not to take on tanks because they're not "cost-effective." Destroying tanks is very risky and costly in terms of manpower and munitions resources from the insurgents' POV. For all the effort it takes to destroy one, the "cost" to the US is a piece of equipment from a near-unlimited defense budget and the lives of 2-3 operators. On the other hand, firing an RPG at a lightly-armored Humvee or detonating a hidden IED in the middle of a patrol is very cost-effective. It kills a few US soldiers, wounds a few more, ties up tremendous medical and support resources to care for the wounded, and severely impacts morale and mental readiness. Soldiers are trained to deal with death - seeing a squadmate torn up, missing limbs, and screaming is something else.

A smaller force wishing to drive out a larger force of invaders with more manpower and resources needs to focus on making the cost in human lives too much to bear. The insurgents know this so they're skipping the fancy weapons needed to destroy fancy equipment.
posted by junesix at 3:59 PM on March 13, 2006


The War Nerd, a column by a war enthusiast, has never gotten much play on Mefi but he's written about the beautiful simplicity of IED's in the past:

IEDs: The Lazy Man's Insurgency

Shaped charges
posted by spork at 4:09 PM on March 13, 2006


I would only add there there are AK* weapons using pretty much every conceivable calibre of ammo, and I've no idea what Iraq's use.

I think they are suing the 1973 and Chinese variant. But you're right... the AK will throw just about anything. Again the beauty of the thing. 'cept they are heavy mother fuckers when you start carting around the high capacity clips. But that's why they hire kids. To cart around ammo.

OFF topic: Not as openly callous as some people think... accusing the insurgents of using Child Warriors as combatants etc. they mostly schlep things around (though some DO use children as active combatants). US forces do the exact same thing. "Interpreters" are often combat valets.

Common practice. Sounds rather sick, but that's the first thing my old man did in Vietnam - during the early Advisory days 62-65 - pay a vietnamese kid to haul around his extra war kit. It was practice they inherited from the French - who wanted to keep people employed.

PS. This is not often done during fire fights. Usually to and from staging areas. Just so you know.
posted by tkchrist at 4:24 PM on March 13, 2006




I guess I was assuming something similar to the TOW - which is man-portable and extremely lethal - was developed and extensively built by the Russians and that the Iraqi's would have purchased many in their fight against Iran - which involved a lot of armor.


a TOW is a lot of things, but "man portable" isn't one of them. I would say that 5 or 6 men could carry the tripod, launcher, and all the stuff around, but not very far, and not very fast. Furthermore, the backblast area for such weaponry is extremely large, which would make the operator a very pretty target, very quickly.

Another factor is the amount of training required to successfully maintain and accurately fire such weapons. Russian saggers (which are roughly comparable to a TOW) are notoriously inaccurate even with well trained operators.

Like some people alluded to above, the "insurgents" don't need heavy weapons to win, they need to get us to leave.

The insurgents generally don't fight straight out infantry battles against the Americans, because they tend to lose pretty hard...so what they are trying to do is to keep the pressure up until we leave. They don't have to win, they just need to not lose.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 4:39 PM on March 13, 2006


Sorry to be a pedant but the AK-47s that Iraq uses are 7.62mm rounds, it's the AK-74 that uses 5.45mm rounds.
posted by furtive at 5:03 PM on March 13, 2006


it's the AK-74 that uses 5.45mm rounds.

Yeah. I got confused, too.
posted by tkchrist at 5:14 PM on March 13, 2006


This is a great question, I have wondered on it a little too.. I think we could do with more discussion on this subject in general.

The first link in the Infantry Journal post mentions that the insurgency was using mortars regularly, but they have started to run out of the systems (not the ammunition though), and they have changed tactics.

tiamat's ideas about shoulder launched SAMs is probably spot on. Does anyone know of a tabulation of US weapons systems lost to insurgent attacks? That information could be very telling.

Finally, the B-52s record is vile and astonishing isn't it. When trench warfare started during WWI the British pulled mortars from the Napoleonic Wars into service. There is also the Colt 45 of course. Personally, I don't think the M-16 comes close to qualifying on this scale. It hasn't been as many years to begin with, and it has also been through at least one complete design revision. Any other examples of extraordinary longevity in weapons systems used in modern warfare?
posted by Chuckles at 6:22 PM on March 13, 2006


"Many analysts believe that Iraqi ground forces have retained a very strong capability in one particular area: anti-tank warfare. While the army lost large numbers of anti-tank weapons during the war, it is still believed to retain quantities of good equipment - including MILAN man-portable guided missiles; HOT, AS-11s and AS-12s mounted on PAH-1 and SA.342 helicopters; and AT-2s mounted on Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters. In addition, there is a range of weapons mounted on armoured vehicles, including HOT, MILAN, AT-1, AT-3 and AT-4 guided missiles. The army still has several thousand 85 mm and 100 mm anti-tank guns and heavy recoilless rifles

Most of these weapons require both trained personnel and regular training to be effective. These options are not available to the insurgency. The use of MANPADS is not particularly easy (as seen by the failure to down civilian aircraft in 2002). The AT-2 ans 3 are wire guided and thus easily defeated by modern armour. Most of the weapons listed above are the systems that the US equipment is designed to defeat (being Russian made and all) – defeating IEDs did not play a part in much modern armour/battlefield mobility design. Furthermore a lot of the warheads used for conventional munitions (artillery and SAM warheads) are being used as the BANG bit of the IED. So the short answer is that they are using Iraqs more advanced weapons - just not in he manner that they were designed.
posted by dangerousdan at 8:53 PM on March 13, 2006


Thanks for all the answers.... it's gotten me to think maybe the weapons available are enough for the task at hand. At least one side seems to be familiar with the defensive side of the Powell Doctrine (Know your political objectives; match military objectives to political objectives; no more, no less).

I always assumed there was a man-portable anti-tank weapon system that could lay waste to armored vehicles pretty easily (not just tanks, you can fit many infantry inside the Armored Personal Carriers like the M113 and the more powerful Bradley), and the root of the question was why aren't they being used by insurgents.

The answer seems to be that a truly lethal man-portable system does not exist and that a shaped-charge RPG is more lethal than I assumed.
posted by trinarian at 9:00 PM on March 13, 2006


More War Nerd on RPG's, RPG's vs M1's (appears to be broken at the moment; here's the Wayback Machine copy) and how best to deal with them.

Bloodthirsty little f*ck, but he writes like a dream.
posted by flabdablet at 3:50 AM on March 14, 2006


Money, Concealment and Effectiveness. Those are the three reasons why they use what they use. To expand -

Money - resources for guerilla warfare are limited. Barring that which has been stockpiled prior to the beginning of operations a guerilla force regardless of it's local/national support is going to have difficulty purchasing weapons and supplies in an occupied country. Arms dealers are going to be shut down sooner rather than later if they start trying to sell Gen3 NVGs, ATGMs etc. Money is inevitably scarce for those working against occupying force (no nations economy survives being attacked by a foreign power without being significantly devalued). The money that you do have must be used wisely, so you don't buy electronic doodads, you buy what's available and you buy as much as you can - regardless of what it is. Don't look an RPG gift-horse in the mouth. Evidence of the effectiveness of the RPG is available in the day to day news of the war - they can certainly penetrate light armoured vehicle sides, roofs and rears and are (if fused correctly) moderately effective against helicopters. Mortars can be home made (I made one with my dad when I was about 10 - had a range of maybe a couple of hundred yards using petrol to launch tin cans) and are extremely effective if they are portable and used sparingly. Artillery counterbattery radar is great in a field battle but when you fire a couple of mortar rounds into a US base from the middle of a residential area they can't shoot back without risking civilian casualties.

Concealment - guerillas must blend in with the populace to avoid counterattacks. Strike and retreat are the watchwords. Weapons must therefore be man portable, reliable (who knows when you will get the opportunity to perform basic maintenance with lack of time/access/supplies) and above all they must be able to be disguised or buried. It is still legal in Iraq for a household to have an AK47 for "home defence" IIRC and unless someone goes to the enormous effort of registering each and every one and performing comparitive ballistic testing it's going to be pretty tough to prove that any one individual weapon has been used. Weapons must be small or capable of striking from hiding - the aforementioned mortar attacks are an example - the US military can flatten virtually any other military with it's firepower but what it cannot do is direct that firepower without risk to the surroundings. Fallujah was a perfect example of this; a PR nightmare simply because the hostile forces were within a city surrounded by civilians. The Marines could have scorched the city easily but by retaining the advantages of asymmetric warfare and learning the lessons from the same gamebooks as the Marines*1, the insurgents managed to clear out all but the most valuable members, leaving just kids defending their homes and honour.

Effectiveness - Why would insurgents need to use MILAN, TOW or whatever? They have access to howitzer shells and explosives that were not adequately protected after the invasion. The VC used to boil out the content of unexploded US ordnance in Vietnam for use in IEDs and to think the Iraqi guerilla movement would not do so is to not understand the methodology of the groups. To use the weapons of the invader against the invader not only saves on provisioning equipment yourself but also gives your own men a morale boost "See? We use the weapons of our enemy against him!" It's like some sort of bizarre High Explosive Judo. As far as the effectiveness of weapons is concerned, for some time the IRA was using homemade weapons against British troops in Northern Ireland, from mortars to IEDs and even submachineguns made from steel piping. Whilst reliability of some of these weapons was often poor they were used effectively by making the most of the inherent advantages. Mortars can be used in urban areas because of their indirect fire and ease of transports. IEDs can be concealed - the British Army and RUC constabulary lost more than a few lives investigating the "come-on" type bombing method used by the IRA (distract with a smaller device - during investigation detonate a second, larger device). An IED also requires little supervision which has the benefits of putting less members of the guerilla force in harms way. When you have a finite number of men at your disposal and when the loss or capture of even one could spell disaster this is of prime concern.

The sad fact is that all that I have written above I could have written for you before the war and the insurgency begun. It's not rocket science and it's not like it isn't known in military circles. For some reason the military in the USA seems unwilling or unable to learn and adjust to a different type of warfare. The DoD is busy spending money on F22s and F35s when it should be looking into ways of better defending infantrymen and teaching those same troops how to deal respectfully with people of other cultures.

*1 USMC and US Army MOUT manuals are all available on the internet and it's a poor guerilla force that doesn't learn about the tactics that will be used against them.

I could have written more (hence the numbered footnote which I shall leave) but unfortunately will be heading off to work shortly. If anyone is interested I would be happy to write further when I get home tonight.
posted by longbaugh at 4:25 AM on March 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


For some reason the military in the USA seems unwilling or unable to learn and adjust to a different type of warfare.

Because there's no money in it for the contractors. People are cheap. Body armor's cheap. Language and cultural awareness training is cheap. Also, you fight the last war. We beat Iraq in the first Gulf War with tanks and air power, so we're stymied because the same thing isn't working this time.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:38 AM on March 14, 2006


"For some reason the military in the USA seems unwilling or unable to learn and adjust to a different type of warfare."

I disagree. I think the military is doing as good a job as can be expected..the problem is that politicians and the public don't understand low-intensity conflict. I cant speak for the any service other than the Army, but they have been talking about this type of warfare for years and years, even before the end of the cold war.

The problem with what is happening in Iraq isn't that the military isn't doing a good enough job fighting, the problem is that what is wrong with Iraq cant be resolved through military means. In order for the Iraq war to end successfully, Iraq has to become a stable nation...and that cant be imposed militarily, at least in a way that americans would accept.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2006


I disagree with this reading that the US military is doing all it can to address shortcomings in it's methods in Iraq. British troops on the ground have been taught that confrontation is not the way forward, respect for citizens of a country is not gained by driving at full pelt through a neighbourhood with the hatches battened down. It comes from constant communication and contact with local representatives and the application of aid and support.

Language training and better defined presence is worth it's weight in gold for gaining support with the locals. As has been mentioned in the blue previously, British troops in Basra have used different techniques gained through experience in Northern Ireland all the way back to Aden to improve relations. Whilst Basra is not as "hot" as some of the places US troops are stationed there is still a massive difference in how operations are carried out.

I have a massive amount of respect for the USMC who have studied 4th generation warfare and LIC for decades now. Their warfighting laboratory has paid off in spades in instances of both combat and noncombat. It seems to be the Army that is dragging it's heels. I can understand that it is some sort of bureaucratic inertia that prevents a change to the style and subjects of training but that doesn't excuse the fact that the US Army has been imbroiled in guerilla warfare in at least one place for nearly 40 years and you'd think maybe they'd have adjusted to that change since the end of the Cold War. There isn't likely to be a stand up conventional war akin to the NATO-WARPACT any time soon (barring something incredibly ridiculous happening in NK or China) and the future of warfare is this nebulous type which we are all involved in right now.

Adjustments must be made and whilst it would have been preferable to do so before the invasion it is important to realise that it still isn't too late to start applying them so that whatever presence we do leave in Iraq is best placed to act in a more professional and positive manner when dealing with the people whose lives we have affected so very greatly.

stupidcomputernickname - It seems as though you've served in the Army but you must know that there is a huge difference between talking about changes and implimenting them. If you have served I shall ask you direct - were you given language training and information about cultural differences? If so and you've been stationed in Iraq were you encouraged to use these or were you ferried between safe areas at top speed shut away from the people you were supposed to be helping? Also please be aware that I am not directing criticism at soldiers themselves, more at the Army and those responsible for making the decisions that affect the men on the ground and their ability to complete the mission.

I'll leave you with my favourite quote as an example -

"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."
Gaius Petronius Arbiter (27-66AD)

Nearly 2000 years later and it holds true even to this day.
posted by longbaugh at 10:36 AM on March 14, 2006


...a truly lethal man-portable system does not exist...
See Javelin. The technology exists, but it's not readily available to the insurgents.
posted by forrest at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2006


stupidcomputernickname - It seems as though you've served in the Army but you must know that there is a huge difference between talking about changes and implementing them. If you have served I shall ask you direct - were you given language training and information about cultural differences? If so and you've been stationed in Iraq were you encouraged to use these or were you ferried between safe areas at top speed shut away from the people you were supposed to be helping? Also please be aware that I am not directing criticism at soldiers themselves, more at the Army and those responsible for making the decisions that affect the men on the ground and their ability to complete the mission.

I served from 1983-1992, and never saw active service, in Iraq or anywhere else. I was an infantryman though, and my training and service was split about 50/50 between mechanized training (to fight the Soviets in Germany) and "light", which was geared almost exclusively toward Central/South America. The mech training was very high-intensity oriented (no time to deal with civilians while the Russians are rolling over you), but the light infantry training had a lot of spanish language and cultural acclimatization type things. don't get me wrong-- our focus was mostly on standard infantry things, like reacting to ambushes, etc, but the "soft" skills were certainly an important part of our training.

Now, my experience is over 10 years old, but I was reading Colby Buzzell's book My War and he discusses the training he received on cultural and language topics before his deployment. The book is fascinating to me mostly because it was written by a low-ranking infantryman who wasn't in one of the "elite" units, which gives him an experience that I can recognize more easily than stories about the more exotic units that I only had a passing interaction with.

Another issue is that different parts of Iraq seem to have different threats. In the north and the south, areas dominated by kurds or shiites, the threat to troops is not as severe as in the central, sunni dominated portions of the country. I remember back in 2003 right after the invasion, a great deal was made when British troops (wonderful, first class troops) switched from wearing standard combat kit to berets. In Basra, that was not a bad decision, but it wouldn't have worked out too well in Baghdad, where the majority Sunni population wasn't as happy to see us as the Shiites in the south or the Kurds in the north.

There was a really neat article in Military Review a couple of months ago by a British Brigadier that brought up quite a few points like yours. It is interesting reading (PDF, sorry). The letters to the editor in the current issue are good too.

I apologize for the length of my post, but I appreciate the conversation.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 11:21 AM on March 14, 2006


Not at all scnn (though I'll ask you to forgive me if I shorten your name) I seem to recall Aylwin-Foster's comments were an FPP here some time ago and along with the SAS trooper's recent comments (again FPP'd in the Blue) they paint an image of an Army leadership out of touch with it's role in the world. I don't blame the troops on the ground as they are not getting the political, financial or training support that they need. I mentioned above that Basra is a significantly safer place than (for example) the Green Zone so I'll certainly concede that troops would be able to get away with a whole lot more.

I would say that being posted to Europe or South America is different to a posting in Asia or the Middle East. Cultural mores tend to be related in the West and these don't necessarily translate (I'd also hazard that it's easier to learn German and Spanish than it is to learn Middle Eastern dialects).

Hopefully nobody will come in here and tell us to stop chatting ;)
posted by longbaugh at 12:34 PM on March 14, 2006


[still listening]
posted by trinarian at 2:16 PM on March 14, 2006


Here is the MetaFilter thread for that Military Review article - US Army counterinsurgency.
posted by Chuckles at 2:39 PM on March 14, 2006


Even if I stipulate all of the points made about the Army's institutional problems (i.e. lack of cultural awareness, emphasis on military solutions to political problems, etc), I don't think that any of the problems are germane to the situation in Iraq right now.

The roots of the problem that the coalition faces today extend all the way at the beginning of the conflict, when the decision was made to invade, and I don't really believe that a greater amount of cultural sensitivity would placate either the irridentist sunnis or the islamists who are trying to incite civil war.

So, the Army works on doing what the army was designed to do-- kill bad guys and protect the good guys. If we can continue to do that long enough to get a stable Iraqi government formed, we win, and can go home.

As an example, I guess I would cite the less horrible situation that exists in the British occupied south and the American occupied north. I don't think that the relative calm in either region is much related to differing civil affairs techniques by the occupying troops-- I think its because the population in those regions is less interested in driving the coalition out prematurely.

I don't think that the mess in Iraq could have been avoided, once the decision to invade was made. I don't know what the end game will be, but it would have to be a pretty good one to make me start thinking that invading Iraq was a good idea.

Anyway, I have really been enjoying this discussion.

Cheers,



(And just to lay my cards on the table: I didn't vote for President Bush either time, but I don't think that he is Satan or Hitler reincarnated. I think he is doing what he thinks is best -- I just don't think he makes very good policy decisions. I wouldn't have invaded iraq in the first place, but now that we are there, I certainly know who I want to win).
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 6:41 PM on March 14, 2006


US general says no proof Iran behind Iraq arms:
The top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday the United States does not have proof that Iran's government is responsible for Iranians smuggling weapons and military personnel into Iraq.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:56 PM on March 14, 2006


Anyone looking for info on MANPADS, the single best report I've found is:

Bolkcom Christopher, Andrew Feickert and Bartholomew Elias. (October 22, 2004) Homeland Security: Protecting Airlines from Terrorist Missiles, Reference Code RL31741 (Washington D.C., Congressional Research Service for the Library of Congress) http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RL31741.pdf
posted by tiamat at 5:18 AM on March 22, 2006


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