British General Blasts US Military on Iraq Counter-Insurgency
Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster has a trenchant critique of the US military’s failures at counter-insurgency and doing ordinary politics in Iraq. He says that he found attitudes toward the Iraqis among US officers to border on the racist. (The article is the first listed at the moment, and requires Adobe Acrobat to read it.) The BBC reports that many US officers are upset, dismissing Brig. Gen. Aylwin-Foster as “a snob.”
Aylwin-Foster writes (emphasis added),
“My overriding impression was of an Army imbued with an unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, passion, commitment, and determination, with plenty of talent, and in no way lacking in humanity or compassion. Yet it seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a pre-disposition to offensive operations, and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on. Many personnel seemed to struggle to understand the nuances of the OIF Phase 4 environment post-war reconstruction and politics]. Moreover, whilst they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate, at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism. To balance that apparent litany of criticisms, the U.S. Army was instrumental in a string of tactical and operational successes through the second half of 2004; so any blanket verdict would be grossly misleading . . .
Western COIN [counterinsurgency] doctrine generally identifies the ‘hearts and minds campaign’— gaining and maintaining the support of the domestic population in order to isolate the insurgent—as the key to success. It [sees the] population as a potential instrument of advantage. It further recognises that military operations must contribute to the achievement of this effect and be subordinate to the political campaign. This implies that above all a COIN force must have two skills that are not required in conventional warfighting: first, it must be able to see issues and actions from the perspective of the domestic population; second, it must understand the relative value of force and how easily excessive force, even when apparently justified, can undermine popular support . . .
The alternative doctrinal approach concentrates on attrition, through the destruction of the insurgent, and thus sees the population as at best a distraction to this primary aim, and in extremis a target for repression . . .
The most striking feature of the U.S. Army’s approach during this period of OIF Phase 4 is that universally those consulted for this paper who were not from the U.S. considered that the Army was too ‘kinetic’. This is shorthand for saying U.S. Army personnel were too inclined to consider offensive operations and destruction of the insurgent as the key to a given situation, and conversely failed to understand its downside.
Granted, this verdict partly reflects the difference in perspectives of scale between the U.S. and her Coalition allies, arising from different resourcing levels. For example, during preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over forty 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small section of the city. Given the intent to maintain a low profile prior to the launch of the main operation, most armies would consider this bombardment a significant event. Yet it did not feature on the next morning’s update to the 4-Star Force Commander: the local commander considered it to be a minor application of combat power . . .
Conversely, some U.S. officers held that their allies were too reluctant to use lethal force. They argued that a reluctance to use force merely bolstered the insurgents’ courage and resilience, whilst demonstrating Coalition lack of resolve to the domestic population, thus prolonging the conflict. It was apparent that many considered that the only effective, and morally acceptable, COIN strategy was to kill or capture all terrorists and insurgents; they saw military destruction of the enemy as a strategic goal in its own right . . .
in an analysis of 127 U.S. pacification operations in Iraq between May 2003 to May 2005, ‘most ops were reactive to insurgent activity—seeking to hunt down insurgents. Only 6% of ops were directed specifically to create a secure environment for the population’. 16 ‘There was a strong focus on raiding, cordon & search and sweep ops throughout: the one day brigade raid is the preferred tactic’ . . .”
Aylwin-Foster instances the US military reaction to the killing of four private security agents in Fallujah, 3 of them Americans, in late March of 2004, as an example of the way the ways in which an angry self-righteousness could sweep the US officer corps and lead them to fall for the guerrilla tactic of baiting them into alienating the population.
Although he is careful to note exceptions and qualifications, the general paints the US military in Iraq as, on the whole, isolated from the Iraqis, unable to understand them and perhaps not very interested in doing so, having a preference for violence as a means of dealing with problems, exhibiting self-righteousness and hotheadedness, being overly optimistic, and largely unwilling to question the orders of high commanders or to pass back up word of failures or problems.
The BBC says that a rebuttal is being prepared.