View Full Version : Will the Trigger-Puller shift mission?

Abu Suleyman
10-09-2007, 04:15 PM
I have been reading a lot, especially from the Democratic outlets, about shifting the mission in Iraq to more support, and less combat. My question, which I will answer in part as I see it, is this. Will the commanders on the ground actually willingly, and quickly, shift mission if the order comes?

I think not. This is born of my own personal experience, which is naturally limited, but it is supported by a logical thread as well. We all know that soldiers are supposed to salute and move out when orders come, but most people would admit that, as with any bureaucracy, the degree to which that mission is fulfilled depends on the person following the order, and how they interpret it. This is why everyone, from General to private, must be supervised to some degree to make sure that the mission is accomplished. I believe that there are several impediments to shifting from combat to support.

1) Training. I cannot imagine an outcome where force protection is not allowed. That being said it is not in the training or doctrine of any branch of the American military to be passively force protective. As long as there are convoys rolling on the Lines of Communication, the natural instinct of pretty much every commander will be to patrol the areas around those LOC's, and precipitating combat operations. From there it could be a slippery slope to massive operations.

2) Inertia. People keep on doing what they are doing, and people have been fighting the war the way they have been fighting it for nigh on five years now. People are going back for as much as their fifth deployment, and changing those habits will be hard.

3) Culture. Commanders want to have the statistics. If the previous commander had twenty named operations, it is in military culture that you should have twenty five, or thirty. We measure everything, and every measure should improve if you are good commander. Moreover, it is not culturally 'cool' to tell a war story that begins "When I was a battalion commander, we had this one meeting..."

(I am not saying that commanders are worried about their OER's as some people might cynically suggest. Instead, what I am pointing out is in American culture, and the military especially, everything should always improve. Therefore the metrics we use have direct bearing on the results we get. We use kinetic action as a major metric, and the culture of the military makes changing from kinetic to non-kinetic metrics difficult.)

None of this is to say that transitioning from direct action to supporting roles in Iraq is impossible. I merely believe that simply pronouncing that there will be a change from kinetic to support roles does not mean that it will necessarily happen. I think that needs to be taken into account when planning. The solution may be as simple as more direct oversight by higher ranking or civilian authorities, or it may be as complex as a complete overhaul of the system within which we operate.

I am asking here to see if my suspicions are correct. A discussion of the implications would most likely be better served in a more strategically oriented forum.

10-09-2007, 04:29 PM
Is there any particular reason why the U.S. military is incapable of doing what the British military is doing right now in Basra province?

When politicians talk about transitioning to a training & support mission, they are also talking about a major drawdown of troops, including most combat brigades. The military itself is already preparing for this (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/03/AR2007100302464.html).


News of Iraq's arms deal came as Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Raymond+Odierno?tid=informline), the top U.S. commander for day-to-day operations in Iraq, told editors and reporters at The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/The+Washington+Post+Company?tid=informline) yesterday that he expects a U.S. troop presence will be required in the country for a minimum of "at least three to five more years" and will involve 25,000 to 50,000 troops, depending on security conditions.

Detailed planning is underway for the U.S. military (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/U.S.+Armed+Forces?tid=informline) to begin scaling back its primary mission from one of fighting a counterinsurgency to an advisory and training role, which will involve pulling U.S. troops out of Iraqi cities and closing some U.S. bases, Odierno said. Odierno and Talabani, who met separately with Post editors and reporters, said they expect their governments to finalize a long-term bilateral security pact in 2008 ...

Ken White
10-09-2007, 05:49 PM
For Abu Suleyman:

1) True on training, doctrine and inclination. However, units will do what they're supposed to do. Might there be a maverick or rabble rouser who goes overboard? Always possible. In Desert Storm, of all the Divisions involved only the 24th got a little carried away and that got stopped pretty quickly. Far from even probable on the slippery slope you envision, I think.

2) Wrong. After arriving in Baghdad, it took 18 months for the Army to realize they were doing more harm than good; another 18 months to turn the big bureaucracy around and it's taken 18 months to get the changes that started in mid-2005 thoroughly embedded. Those habits have been changed for some time and many -- including our juvenile, ignorant and incompetent media -- have missed that. The number of folks on their fifth deployment is microscopic; those that have that many reenlisted or stayed because they like what they're doing. There's a reason the Army and Marines reenlistment rates are higher than ever -- particularly in the combat arms units. These kids are sharp, they know what they're doing, they're quick studies, they like what they're doing and they aren't habit bound.

3) WE don't do numbers, academia and the media do. You are correct that they are a current American fad but they are a habit, not a requirement. While there will be some who want to react the way you suggest, I suspect they will be few in number and hopefully will be deterred by someone above or below them with some sense. As an aside, anyone who plumps for 'metrics' in war as proof of anything is severely deluded.

IOW, I think your suppositions are mostly wrong.

For Tequila:

Not incapable, just not yet ordered by their civilian masters to do so because there are other considerations. Little things. Like the external security of Iraq, insuring that China and India get all the oil they need, encouraging those in the neighborhood to continue ridding themselves of anti-social types and more...

Abu Suleyman
10-10-2007, 01:56 PM
In reading these responses, I fear I may have inadvertently caused offense, and that was not my intent. I do not mean to suggest incompetence, but rather I am wondering what the organizational lag time would be.

Just to give some background, (and I apologize for the vagueness, for OPSEC concerns) but this question stems out of personal experience. When I went to Iraq almost two years ago, we were told to prepare to be in Tactical Overwatch when we arrived, shifting to Strategic Overwatch during the year deployment. While there we even held several "transfer of authority" ceremonies with the Iraqi's in various regions. After a year of missions we were still involved in daily patrols, and constant involvement in the local area. I still have visibility on the area, and nothing has changed. I am the first to confess that we did not carry out the intent of the mission. Maybe we were the mavericks that Ken mentioned.

Also, Ken in regards to your disagreement, I don't think that we disagree as much as you think. I am not speaking of ad infinitum continuation of mission as is, but as I said before the operational lag time. While I concede a change in I am not yet convinced that we have seen strategic change. I am willing to admit that my visibility on that is limited, and that the engagement of nationalistic groups to the exclusion of Al Qaeda and Jihadi groups may in fact constitute a welcome change of strategy.

Your answer on the matter does illuminate what I was asking; lag time is about 18 months. It is interesting to note that 18 months is about a rotation and a half, or enough time to completely swap out all players, and for them to work up their own tactics, and possibly strategy. If this theory is to bear itself out, with the extension to 15 months, the lag time will be longer. That is something that needs to be taken into account in planning for these things, and in measuring for success.

Finally, and almost as an irrelevant side note, I must respectfully disagree that the military does not involve itself in statistics. Someone is gathering an awful lot of statistics, and the obsession with measurements of success is common at the Division level and above (which is admittedly not within the scope of 'trigger pullers'). Nevertheless, while no one will admit it as a statistic, every battalion, and every brigade keeps a list of all the missions it went on. Some paint them on walls; others make videos; others write books. Even if the unit does none of those things, everyone tells stories. All of this is a form of record keeping, and while not strictly reducible to numerical values, they are a form of statistics, and they certainly have the same effect on the psyche.

Again, I have no doubt of the ability to shift mission over time, but the real question is how much time. More important, what is the cause for the lag, and if needed how can it be sped up?

Ken White
10-10-2007, 03:32 PM
I tend to be overwordy sometimes and my attempts to be more concise lead to seeming abruptness occasionally.

I agree that we are not in disagreement :) to any real extent. I was being sarcastic (should've used the icon) on the 'metrics' bit. I know all too well of the bureaucratic predilection for numbers that Robert Strange MacNamara foisted on the Armed Forces of the US. During the years before I retired and throughout all my second stint as a DAC I fought metrics on every possible occasion. I won a lot of battles but, sigh, lost the war...

I do believe that numbers are not a valid proof of much of anything in combat -- other than to give the Intel Analysts something to play with (sometimes to good effect, sometimes not).

The lag time I'm pretty sure is just the result of nothing more than the lumbering elephantine bureaucracy that DoD and the Services have all become, that and the terrible stifling of iniitiative that is too prevalent. It can be sped up if the right guy is in charge. If he's not, then we will lumber along and it'll probably work out; the kids always make it work.

Pragmatic Thinker
10-13-2007, 02:10 PM

Thank you for clarifying that point because I was about to ask you what military you served in prior to retirement? Sit in any staff especially O-6 and above and it becomes apparent that "metrics" are used to measure everything especially when we're trying to paint a positive result in some endeavor. It helps our human minds 'frame' success using numbers... I agree they don't mean all that much but they are out there.


Ken White
10-13-2007, 03:53 PM
Thank you for clarifying that point because I was about to ask you what military you served in prior to retirement? Sit in any staff especially O-6 and above and it becomes apparent that "metrics" are used to measure everything especially when we're trying to paint a positive result in some endeavor. It helps our human minds 'frame' success using numbers... I agree they don't mean all that much but they are out there.

I think the absolute overemphasis on metrics stems from two sources; Business School graduates in uniform and an over reliance on 'data' to 'prove' things to the excessive number of 'consultant's and think tanks we hire. Fallacious logic on both counts IMO. All three counts, in fact. ;)

Screw up manufacturing Widgets and you sell the bad ones at a discount and get a tax write off for the whole thing. Screw up in combat and someone's going to die unnecessarily. Business and Soldiering are not at all compatible.

Had a Battalion Commander once, good guy. Had two big charts behind his desk. One had "Things that are important" and listed AWOL, DR, Article 15s, etc. The other had "Things that are unimportant" and listed Indiv Tng, Marksmanship, ARTEP completions etc. He was being sarcastic. The Bde Commander tolerated (and agreed with) the charts. The first General that saw it pitched an absolute fit and the Charts disappeared... :rolleyes:

Yes, 'metrics' are out there -- and most do more harm than good IMO... :(