Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Concord, MA
Observations & Insights on Iraq from Army Retired GO Conference
This if from an e-mail I received today, the content of which had been forwarded by a third party. I normally wouldn't post something received in that manner, but most of it reads authentic and I believe it is of interest to this forum. (I did edit the content a little bit)
...The conference was primarily organized to explain the modular brigade concept, and it featured a panel of officers who had either very recently returned from commands in the combat zone or were about to deploy there in the next two months. Three of the recent returnees were Colonel H.R. McMaster (3rd ACR), Colonel Rick S.(Special Forces), and Captain Walter Szpak (EOD).
Despite the objective of the conference (i.e., the modular brigade concept), it quickly devolved into a 3½ hour question and answer period between the panel and the 54 retired generals and admirals who attended. I wish I had a video of the whole session to share with you because the insights were especially eye opening and encouraging. I'll try to summarize the high points as best I can.
- All returnees agreed that "we are clearly winning the fight against the insurgents but we are losing the public relations battle both in the war zone and in the States". (I'll go into more detail on each topic below.)
- All agreed that it will be necessary for us to have forces in Iraq for at least ten more years, though by no means in the numbers that are there now.
- They opined that 80% to 90% of the Iraqi people want to have us there and do not want us to leave before "the job is done".
- The morale and combat capability of the troops is the highest that the senior officers have ever seen in the 20-30 years that each has served.
- The Iraqi armed forces and police are probably better trained right now than they were under Saddam, but our standards are much higher and they lack officer leadership.
- They don't need more troops in the combat zone but they need considerably more Arab linguists and civil affairs experts.
- The IEDs and EFPs continue to be the principal problem that they face and they are becoming more sophisticated as time passes.
Public Affairs: We are losing the public affairs battle for a variety of reasons. First, in Iraq, the terrorists provide Al Jazeera with footage of their more spectacular attacks and they are on TV to the whole Arab world within minutes of the event. By contrast it takes four to six days for a story generated by Army Public Affairs to gain clearance by Combined Forces Command, two or three more days to get Pentagon clearance, and after all that, the public media may or may not run the story.
Second, the U.S. mainstream media who send reporters to the combat zone do not like to have their people embedded with our troops. They claim that the reporters get "less objective" when they live with the soldiers and marines - they come to see the world through the eyes of the troops. As a consequence, a majority of the reporters stay in hotels in the "Green Zone" and send out native stringers to call in stories to them by cell phone which they later write up and file. No effort is made to verify any of these stories or the credibility of the stringers. The recent serious injuries to Bob Woodruff of ABC and Kimberly Dozier of CBS makes the likelihood of the use of local stringers even higher.
Third, the stories that are filed by reporters in the field very seldom reach the American public as written. An anecdote from Col. McMaster illustrates this dramatically. TIME magazine recently sent a reporter to spend six weeks with the 3rd ACR as they were in the battle of Tal Afar. When the battle was over, the reporter filed his story and also included close to 100 pictures that the accompanying photographer took. TIME published a cover story on the battle a week later, allegedly using the story sent in by their reporter. When the issue came out, the guts had been edited out of their reporter's story and none of the pictures he submitted were used. Instead they showed a weeping child on the cover, taken from stock photos. When the reporter questioned why his story was eviscerated, his editors in New York responded that the story and pictures were "too heroic". McMaster had read both and told me that the editors had completely changed the thrust and context of the material their reporter had submitted.
As a sidebar on the public affairs situation, Colonel Bob McRee, who was also on the panel and is bringing a MP Battalion to Iraq next month, invited the Colorado Springs Gazette to send a reporter with the battalion for six weeks to two months. He assured the Gazette in writing one month ago, that he would provide full time bodyguards for the reporter, taking the manpower out of his own hide. The Gazette has yet to respond to his offer.
Ten More Years: The idea that we will have troops in Iraq for ten more years sounds rather grim, even though by contrast, President Clinton sent troops to Bosnia and Kosovo nearly ten years ago. And they're still there with no end in sight. While Iraq is clearly a different situation right now, the panelists believe that within a few years at the most, it will become very much the same - a peace keeping, nation building function among factions that have hated one another for centuries. There is factionalism and there was bitter fighting in the Balkans before NATO intervened and with peace keepers, the panelists believe that Iraq will be a parallel situation. This, by the way, is why they all believe that linguists and civil affairs military personnel are so necessary for the future.
Iraqi Attitudes: The panelists agreed that the public affairs problem manifests itself most significantly in the American public belief that the people of Iraq want us out of their country which we are occupying. They have served in different parts of the country but each agreed that we are wanted and needed there. I refer you to the anecdote from Col. McMaster and the thousands of pictures available on the internet of the U.S. forces shown in very cordial relations with the locals. Of course, our media's obsession with Abu Graib and, if the initial reports regarding the small group of Marines at Haditha prove to be true, then those attitudes will change somewhat.
Iraqi Forces: Every one of the returning commanders had experience in joint operations with the Iraqi soldiers - and in the case of some of them, with the local and national police. They are all are supportive of the quality of the forces, but culturally, they believe that we may be expecting too much from them as a pre-condition for handing over greater responsibility for area control. McMaster said that he worked with the army and the police at Tal Afar and was not the least bit reluctant to assign major responsibilities to them in the operations that were conducted.
Col. S.'s Green Berets, on the other hand, caught a national police lieutenant who was directing the emplacement of an IED by cell phone in order to disrupt a convoy - immediately after the lieutenant had been briefed on the convoy's route. The good news in this situation was that they were able to reroute the convoy, safely, and track the lieutenant's entire network through the use of the speed dial on his phone. Having terrorist infiltrators in both the army and the police force remains a problem. But by no means does that detract from the courage and determination of those who are loyal to the new Iraq.
Explosive Devices: The combined command in Iraq is becoming increasingly effective in countering the significant threat posed by the IEDs and EFPs. The frequency of attacks has decreased in large part through training to recognize the threat, the new technology which helps to discover where the devices are emplaced, the infiltration of some of the terrorist cells, etc. However, the technology being used by the terrorists is also improving measurably. In the past six weeks, two bomb making sites were found, raided and the bad guys arrested. In both cases, the head bomb makers were master's degree graduates (one in chemistry and one in physics) from American universities. That's a lot of brain power to bring into the fight, but we also have some pretty talented people in the military, industry and academia who are doing their best to even the odds.
Conclusion: This is more than I had intended to write on the subject - so what's new a lot of you might say - but it is a subject that doesn't get the proper balance from other sources, in my judgment at least. I trust the information that we received far more than anything that I have heard or seen in our usual news sources. The most disturbing thing that I heard was that our MSM is changing the stories filed by their own people on the scene because they sound "too heroic".