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Thread: Our Enemies Aren't Drinking Lattes

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Our Enemies Aren't Drinking Lattes

    5 July Los Angeles Times commentary - Our Enemies Aren't Drinking Lattes by Max Boot.

    "Amateurs strategy. Professionals talk logistics." That well-worn saying, sometimes attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley, contains an obvious element of wisdom. Modern militaries cannot fight without a lengthy supply chain, and the success or failure of major operations can turn on the work of anonymous logisticians.

    Yet there is a danger of professional soldiers becoming so focused on supply lines that they lose sight of larger strategic imperatives. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we may already have crossed that threshold...

    Some front-line units continue to operate out of spartan outposts where a hot meal is a luxury and flush toilets unknown. But growing numbers of troops live on giant installations complete with Wal-Mart-style post exchanges, movie theaters, swimming pools, gyms, fast-food eateries (Subway, Burger King, Cinnabon) and vast chow halls offering fresh-baked pies and multiple flavors of ice cream. Troops increasingly live in dorm-style quarters (called "chews," for "containerized housing units") complete with TVs, mini-refrigerators, air conditioning/heating units and other luxuries unimaginable to previous generations of GIs.

    No one would begrudge a few conveniences to those who have volunteered to defend us. But the military's logistics feats come with a high price tag that goes far beyond the $7.7 billion we spend every month on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. troops in those countries consume 882,000 liters of water and 2.4 million gallons of fuel every day, plus tons of other supplies that have to be transported across dangerous war zones. Centcom has more than 3,000 trucks delivering supplies and another 2,400 moving fuel — each one a target that has to be protected...

    Successful counterinsurgency operations require troops to go out among the people, gathering intelligence and building goodwill. But few Iraqis are allowed on these bases, and few Americans are allowed out — and then only in forbidding armored convoys.

    Most of our resources aren't going to fight terrorists but to maintain a smattering of mini-Americas in the Middle East. As one Special Forces officer pungently put it to me: "The only function that thousands of people are performing out here is to turn food into [excrement]."

    How to explain this seemingly counterproductive behavior? My theory is that any organization prefers to focus on what it does well. In the case of the Pentagon, that's logistics. Our ability to move supplies is unparalleled in military history. Fighting guerrillas, on the other hand, has never been a mission that has found much favor with the armed forces. So logistics trumps strategy. Which may help explain why we're not having greater success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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    Default The failure of the enemy's logistic battle

    The other side of this story points to the utter failure of the enemy's strategy of attacking the US logistics. Most of the attacks on US forces since the end of major combat operations have been on convoys, yet even low priority items like latte makings are getting through. While these items are probably justified for morale reasons they also have an effect of lowering enemy morale. There is a scene in the movie Patton where a German officer shows one of his superiors a chocolate cake that had been in an area recently overrun. He noted to his commander that it was still fresh. It was a scene where the realization of defeat became clear.

    Not being a latte drinker, I would not give much priority to that item in my logistics list. Boot's larger point about the ratio of support to combat troops does make sense, but in this war the support troops have been more involved in combat operations than in the past, because they are more likely to be attacked than combat troops, who usually only come under attack when they are on the offensive. Perhaps the guys in Motor T and Supply are just trolling for the enemy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Merv Benson
    The other side of this story points to the utter failure of the enemy's strategy of attacking the US logistics. Most of the attacks on US forces since the end of major combat operations have been on convoys, yet even low priority items like latte makings are getting through. While these items are probably justified for morale reasons they also have an effect of lowering enemy morale. There is a scene in the movie Patton where a German officer shows one of his superiors a chocolate cake that had been in an area recently overrun. He noted to his commander that it was still fresh. It was a scene where the realization of defeat became clear.
    The bad guys haven't failed because they aren't attempting to cut off our logistics. They are simply hitting convoys because they are vulnerable. Mobile targets, yet fixed to specific routes. These attacks force us to react and put a disproportionate amount of resources into protecting and moving those convoys. Not to mention the additional effect of making some troops on the convoys trigger happy, resulting in innocent casualties that continue to inflame the insurgency. Simple and classic insurgent tactics.

    And contrary to the WWII example, the comforts on the FOBs do nothing to demoralize the bad guys, but instead serve as an example for their perception of our decadence and soft living. And our comforts are definitely exploited for propaganda value when locals are doing without power and running water.

    However, in contrast to the FOB piece above, I offer this article from the NY Times:

    In Ramadi, Fetid Quarters and Unrelenting Battles
    The Government Center in the middle of this devastated town resembles a fortress on the wild edge of some frontier: it is sandbagged, barricaded, full of men ready to shoot, surrounded by rubble and enemies eager to get inside. The American marines here live eight to a room, rarely shower for lack of running water and defecate in bags that are taken outside and burned.

    The threat of snipers is ever present; the marines start running the moment they step outside. Daytime temperatures hover around 120 degrees; most foot patrols have been canceled because of the risk of heatstroke.

    The food is tasteless, the windows boarded up. The place reeks of urine and too many bodies pressed too close together for too long.

    "Hey, can you get somebody to clean the toilet on the second floor?" one marine yelled to another from his office. "I can smell it down here."

    And the casualties are heavy. Asked about the wounded under his command, Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of the Bronx, rattled off a few.

    "Let's see, Lance Corporal Tussey, shot in the thigh.

    "Lance Corporal Zimmerman, shot in the leg.

    "Lance Corporal Sardinas, shrapnel, hit in the face.

    "Lance Corporal Wilson, shrapnel in the throat."

    "That's all I can think of right now," the captain said.

    So it goes in Ramadi, the epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency and the focus of a grinding struggle between the American forces and the guerrillas...

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    Council Member SSG Rock's Avatar
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    Default My observation.....

    I read this piece and immediately my mind took me back a couple weeks to a similar article that seemed to indicate that we are beginning to take concrete steps in defeating the insurgents at thier own game, in that we were pushing some smaller bases into more or less friendly towns so that our troops could begin to build rapport with the locals (I think its a good idea) by living and working among them. And then along comes this article.

    Are our forces on the same page? I think that what we gain in force protection by building super bases, we lose in the battle to win the support of the local population.

    I wonder, in what other areas are our forces not on the same page. I can't come up with any other examples off the top of my head, but it seems to me that if we discover a TTP that works we should implement it everywhere practicable.
    Don't taze me bro!

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    Council Member MountainRunner's Avatar
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    What I read as the real take-away in this article is the impact of Little America on our soldiers and on the locals. The papers and discussions on Cultural Warfare will probably shift the classic "Amateurs strategy, Professionals talk logistics." to append something like "Realists understand the enemy".

    Readings of Galula, Mao, and Nagl (to name just a few) have key take-aways of not alienating. One of the take-aways of the Shadow Company movie by Nick Bicanic (on the private security industry in Iraq) is how the Brits, in their bases and their interactions, get to know the locals, living and eating with and like them. Boot is right on, but he needs to go further.

    Do you get awareness by living (or "hiding" as locals may see it) within fortresses? As General Abizaid put it, when he was still CENTCOM commander: "The long term battle is develop an Officer Corps (and Senior NCO Corps) that is as comfortable and acculturated operating in this region tomorrow, as we were operating in Central Europe yesterday." Does this happen when drinking lattes on the "front" lines?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MountainRunner
    Do you get awareness by living (or "hiding" as locals may see it) within fortresses?
    Unfortunately, that lack of awareness fixed itself in place early on, when Bremer and the CPA occupied Saddam's palaces and erected massive Texas barrier walls to keep themselves separate from the general population. "Hiding" is a generous reading of how the locals viewed it at the time. They expected better of us. But then, so did I.

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    Default Texas barrier wall?

    The only Texas barrier wall I can recall was at the Alamo and that did not work out too well. As some one who has lived in Texas for nearly 50 years, I don't think I have ever run into the term. I do think that our effort in Iraq will be more successful than the defense of the Alamo.

    This discussion of logistics does remind me of a story from Vietnam that I beleive I saw in the message traffic at the 3rd Marine Division Communication Center where I worked before becoming XO of a rifle company on the DMZ. It was a Chu Hoi report on a defector who told of having two rockets strapped to his back before he was sent south by the NVA. He described how he almost drowned trying to keep the rockets above the water when crossing a river. He then told of trying to dodge Marine patrols as they worked their way south. At some point they could no longer avoid contact and the leader of the group asked for his two rockets which were quickly fired. His next order was to "go get two more." At that point he had a "farewell to arms" moment and decided to change sides. I don't think he was particularly concerned about the NCO clubs and PX's.

    I do think there is a tendency to overthink enemy motivation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The enemy criticism of our cultural differences springs from his religious bigotry and a culture of grivance going back to the crusades and a latte is not going to make a difference either way. There are still plenty of Iraqis who see the US liberation as "democracy, whiskey, sexy" and think that is a good thing.
    Last edited by Merv Benson; 07-07-2006 at 03:12 PM.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Of course, there's also the concern that maintaining this FOB standard of living creates a huge drain on supply lines and manpower that might be used for better things. We saw pretty much the same thing during Vietnam. Makes you wonder sometimes about the learning curve...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Merv Benson
    The only Texas barrier wall I can recall was at the Alamo and that did not work out too well. As some one who has lived in Texas for nearly 50 years, I don't think I have ever run into the term. I do think that our effort in Iraq will be more successful than the defense of the Alamo.
    A Texas Barrier is a very tall concrete barrier, of which several can be linked together to form an imposing wall (usually referred to as T-walls). It's the big cousin to Bitburg and Jersey barriers. I'm sure you see Jersey barriers all the time - they're the most common type of concrete barrier here in the US.

    The bad thing about concrete barriers is that they turn into secondary frag when a large IED/VBIED initiates next to them. Many facilities in Iraq have switched to large HESCO barriers, which are geo-textile fabric filled with sifted soil/sand. There's no significant frag material in the HESCO barrier, and the sand/soil is very effective at absorbing blast.

    Of course, if the filler isn't sifted, the HESCO can also contribute to the effect of the blast. The Italians in Nasiriya had several casualties back in '03 that were directly attributable to rock-filled unsifted soil in the HESCO barriers that disintegrated when the VBIED initiated.

    Edit to add:

    I hunted through my files and found a couple of pictures of Texas barrier T-walls for you. This first one is in Tikrit, and it was set up to connect a few separate buildings into one larger walled facility. It wasn't taken specifically for the wall, but put yourself in the OP and you get the idea:



    This one is from a much greater distance, but you get a clear perspective of the size. This is just a section of the tremendous length of T-wall that separates the IZ from the rest of Baghdad. The Great T-Wall of Iraq:


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    Council Member Stu-6's Avatar
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    Ok I am thinking of something but I am not really sure where I am going with this.

    I have been thinking about this idea of US troops living in isolated “mini-Americas” and Robert Pape excellent study of suicide terrorism Dying to Win; in which he argues that nationalistic rebellion against occupying powers is the principle cause of suicide terrorism. What I am wondering is maybe one of the major reasons for the difference between the amount of resistance different occupying powers experience is the way in which they occupy. To put it more simply by making ourselves so different from the Iraqis we increase the amount of resentment they feel towards us. This if true would mean that our efforts to create a better situation for our deployed troops have increased the danger to them.

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    Policing Iraq: Protecting Iraqis from Criminal Violence
    Public opinion surveys show that Iraqis feel the greatest security threat they face is not the insurgency or sectarian conflict but pervasive criminal violence. For a people accustomed to a stifling regime security presence under Saddam Hussein—and the correspondingly safe streets—the post-intervention upsurge in murder, home invasion robbery, kidnapping, carjacking, and rape is fundamentally disturbing.

    The inability, indeed, the seeming lack of interest, of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in controlling criminal violence angered ordinary Iraqis and fueled initial support for the insurgency. The U.S. military's use of Iraqi police in counter-insurgency operations reinforced the impression among Iraqis that the United States was less concerned with their welfare than with implementing an exit strategy.

    This impression was re-enforced when the U.S. military created a new Iraqi National Police composed of counterinsurgency units made up of former soldiers. These units performed well in combat, but were infiltrated by Shiite militias and have carried out sectarian violence. Distrust of the police is widespread, particularly in Sunni areas...
    This apparent lack of concern over the safety of the average Iraqi citizen against vicious, violent crime is contrasted with our heavy focus on providing our troops with the comforts of home inside large, heavily guarded FOB's - not to mention the hard fact that not a few innocent civilians have been shot by nervous troops at TCPs outside these basecamps.

    The FOB lifestyle is but one of a number of factors that, when put together in the perception of many Iraqis, fuels resentment and lends energy to the resistance. Most of these factors mean little when looked at in isolation, but when taken together, a thinking Iraqi gets pissed off - and the thinking insurgent fuses them effectively for the propaganda mill.

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    Council Member MountainRunner's Avatar
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    Outside the kinetic frame of reference includes the awareness, as reported in regional press, that one of the few major / massive projects in Iraq that is on-time is the construction of the US Embassy in Baghdad (with imported labor). Between force protection, power supplies, and capital projects there are significant seperating factors that would seem to fit the Dying to Win model.

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    We encountered the same "firebase mentality" in Vietnam. Sometimes it really makes me wonder how many people in decision-making positions actually bother to read lessons learned reports, let alone military history.

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