03 January 2010

The Inherent Dangers of Working By, With, and Through

The story of the Haqqani network's attack on the CIA is not garnering the attention it deserves, because of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab's Christmas Day attack. Prior to President Obama's decision to send 30,000 troops to bolster General McCrystal's counter insurgency plan, the media pontificated in length about a policy focused more on counter terror (Predator Drones) and sending advisors to train the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). There is a fallacy in the idea that America has the option to send advisors to train foreign security forces instead of sending combat soldiers. The Military Transition Teams (MiTT) and Special Forces ODAs are combat soldiers. We are now sending Assist and Advise Brigades (AAB) to Iraq and Afghanistan which are Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) task organized to train security forces. Their mission is a vitally important part for any COIN operation. The goal is to work By, With, and Through, host nation (HN) forces, so we can transition authority and control to that host nation. There is an inherent danger for our soldiers who conduct this vital mission, and I think looking at the patterns of previous attacks, on our advisors, can help us develop ways to mitigate this risk. First, I want to analyze four attacks in Northern Iraq because I happened to be there for three out of the four attacks. We at al Sahwa were fortunate enough to partner with Kurdish soldiers on the east side of Mosul. Our brothers in 3/3 ACR on the west side of Mosul did not always have this luxury, which is why they bore the brunt of these attacks. As I write this post, our former unit is gearing up for a deployment to Iraq and will be task organized for the AAB mission. I believe their biggest threat, on their future deployment, will be attacks from Sunni AQI infiltrators.

On December 26, 2007 in Mosul, CPT Rowdy Inman and SGT Ben Portell were killed along with three CF soldiers wounded by a partner Iraqi Army (IA) soldier. The shooter turned his weapon on the CF while Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) ambushed their patrol. There may have been another accomplice in the attack and the shooter fled into the city after he emptied his magazine. This attack is different from rest that I will analyze, because the CF patrol was already at high state of readiness due to responding to the AQI ambush.

On November 12, 2008 in Mosul, SGT Jose Regaldo and SPC Corey Shea were killed along with six CF soldiers WIA in the courtyard of an IA Combat Outpost (COP). Open source media reported that the attack was a result of a heated argument between the CF and IA. I doubt the accuracy of the NY Time report for the reason of the attack, because the IA provided the only statements. What is important from this story is the security posture of the soldiers inside the courtyard and that the attacker is a Sunni Muslim from the Jabouri tribe. Usually, part of the patrol provides outer security while the remainder of the patrol take a relaxed posture, we in the military are all guilty of this. A dedicated enemy can inflict considerable casualties to soldiers relaxing in courtyards because they are lulled into a sense of security, have no where to seek cover, and usually down grade their protection posture by removing heavy body armor.

On Nov 25, 2008 west of Mosul, CPT Warren Frank and MSG Anthony Davis were killed along with two CF soldiers WIA by one of their partner IA soldiers. The MiTT was conducting humanitarian assistances by distributing food along the Syrian boarder. The attacker was a private with less than a year in the unit. After discharging his weapon, Mohammad Saleh Hamadi fled in an IA Humwv driven by a fellow IA soldier.

On May 2, 2009 south of Mosul, a low ranking, Sunni, Iraqi soldier killed two and wounded three CF soldiers. The IA soldier fired into a courtyard near the entrance of an Iraqi COP, while a second shooter sprayed covering fire allowing the killer to flee.

There are several similarities I want to highlight. 1) All of the attackers were low ranking soldiers with about a year of time in service. 2) Three quarters of the attacks occurred inside courtyards where the CF soldiers were in a relaxed security posture. 3) All of the attackers were Sunni Muslims. 4) Three quarters of the attackers fled after conducting their ambush. 5) In all cases there were no more than two attackers. Keep these similarities in mind as we look at two attacks in Afghanistan.

On November 12, 2009 in the Helmand Province, an ANP officer killed five British soldiers and wounded six others. The single shooter was labeled as a rogue police officer with sympathies to the Taliban's cause. The British soldiers were on a roof top with the ANP officer, and had shed their body armor while they took a few moments to relax. There was no information on what the ANP officer's rank or tribal affiliation is, but he did successfully flee the joint check point.

On Dec 29, 2009 in northwestern Afghanistan, an lone ANA soldier killed one US soldier and wounded two Italian soldiers, before fellow CF soldiers shot and wounded the attacker. The attack happened inside a joint base, and the media reported that the Afghanis believe the attacker was mentally ill.

Recently the NY Times reported that there was an influx of ANA/ANP recruits because we raised the salary from $180/Mo to $240/Mo. In September, 831 Afghanis joined the ranks, while over 2600 have joined in the first week of December following the pay raise. The Times also reports that the Taliban pay between $250-300 a month. While this is unconfirmed, it does point out that the Taliban can save $10-60/Mo per fighter by sending them to join the ANA/ANP. I believe we will see an increase of this attack trend over the next two years.

Our soldiers cannot avoid the dangerous job of partnering with host nation security forces, but there are some measures they can take to reduce their risk.
1) On joint patrols the leaders need to ensure their soldiers who are not actively conducting security keep their body armor on and weapons within arms reach. The majority of the CF soldiers KIA were in the courtyards without wearing body armor.
2) While they are back at the joint COPs, it is important that the CF have an area they can relax where their partnered unit doesn't have access to. We used this set up in Mosul by having a protected area inside the COP, guarded by soldiers at the entrance. The ISF leadership were escorted to the command post, usually without their weapons. In almost every example the killed and wounded were relaxing in close proximity to low ranking soldiers. In my personal situation, the Iraqi privates never had access to our command post or sleeping area. I have not found one case of a high ranking official perpetrating an attack like these.
3) All LN soldiers need to be put in the BAT system pictured here. Since none of the attacks were suicide mission (because they attempt to flee), I think collecting the biometric data of you partnered soldiers could help identify would be culprits. This action could also make the attacker think twice before he conducts an attack.
4) Any new recruits should be vetted as much as possible. It is important to know what tribe the soldier hails from. If the tribe is known to have pro-Taliban ties, you will know who to keep a closer eye on. It is important to watch the interactions between the soldiers. Key in on soldiers who are "loners", because they will be the only soldiers who can make a successful getaway following an attack, since the others won't know where to look for him.

None of these methods will result in a 100% solution, but they will reduce the inherent risk involved working By, With, and Through.



  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/04/2010 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. These news brought me sadness in the minds of the reader.There is confusion and violence everywhere.