I wanted to know who had taught him to tame a crowd by pointing his rifle muzzle down and having his men kneel. Were those gestures peculiar to Iraq? To Islam? My questions barely made sense to Hughes. In an unassuming, persistent Iowa tone, he assured me that nobody had prepared him for an angry crowd in an Arab country, much less the tribal complexities of Najaf. Or they fire warning shots. American gunfire would have made it impossible.
The Iraqis already felt that the Americans were disrespecting their mosque. The obvious solution, to Hughes, was a gesture of respect. Hughes made it sound obvious, but, shortly before the Americans invaded Iraq, the Army had concluded that its officers lacked the ability to do precisely what he did: innovate and think creatively. At forty-five, Wong is handsome and voluble, with the air of a man who makes his living prodding the comfortable.
The Army had so loaded training schedules with doctrinaire requirements and standardized procedures that unit commanders had no time—or need—to think for themselves. Some of the generals were suspicious, others openly hostile.
Then came Iraq. Every war is different from the last, with its own special learning curve, but there is a growing sense within the Army that Iraq signals something more significant. In the American Civil War, Army manuals taught Napoleonic tactics, like close-order formations, even though they were suicidal against rifled muskets that could kill accurately at three hundred yards. In the First World War, the French, British, and German troops persisted in attempting to storm trenches before recognizing the defensive supremacy of the machine gun.
He and an active-duty officer flew to bases all over Iraq, interviewing lieutenants, who lead platoons of about thirty soldiers, and captains, who command companies of one to two hundred. These officers, scrambling to bring order to Mosul, Fallujah, and Baghdad, had been trained and equipped to fight against numbered, mechanized regiments in open-maneuver warfare. They had been taught to avoid fighting in cities at all costs. Few had received pre-deployment training in improvised explosive devices, or I. None had received any but the most rudimentary instruction in the Arabic language or in Iraqi culture.
They were perhaps the most isolated occupation force in history; there are no bars or brothels in Baghdad where Americans can relax, no place off the base for Americans to remove their body armor in the presence of locals. Every encounter was potentially hostile. Yet he found the opposite. Platoon and company commanders were exercising their initiative to the point of occasional genius. There may be a generational explanation. While most high-ranking officers are baby boomers, most lieutenants and captains are of Generation X, born in the mid-sixties or after.
Gen X officers, often the product of single-parent homes or homes in which both parents worked, are markedly more self-reliant and confident of their abilities than their baby-boomer superiors, according to Army surveys of both groups. Baby boomers moved up the ranks during the comfortable clarity of the Cold War, but the Gen Xers came of age during messy peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti. Gen Xers are notoriously unimpressed by rank, as Donald Rumsfeld discovered in December, when enlisted soldiers questioned him sharply about the lack of armor on their vehicles.
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This turns out to be a positive development for the Army, because the exigencies of the Iraq war are forcing the decision-making downward; tank captains tell of being handed authority, mid-battle, for tasks that used to be reserved for colonels, such as directing helicopter close-air support. The younger officers have another advantage over their superiors: they grew up with the Internet, and have created for themselves, in their spare time, a means of sharing with one another, online, information that the Army does not control. Instead of looking up to the Army for instructions, they are teaching themselves how to fight the war.
The Army, to its credit, stays out of their way. Then, in October, , came Operation Urgent Fury, against the government of Grenada, which should have been relatively straightforward but instead was a mess. Communications were so poor that soldiers had to rely on pay phones. Intelligence was so spotty that troops used tourist maps to find their way around the island. Nineteen service members died in the operation, some needlessly. Dark-haired at fifty-four, he shares with most of his colleagues a strikingly direct manner of speaking. For efficiency of conversation, Army officers are tough to beat.
Trained to convey critical information under stress, they enunciate like radio announcers, in complete, unhesitating sentences.
The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq
Moreover, they tend to be good listeners, with a refreshing ability—and willingness—to get to the nub of a difficult issue. In its early days, the lessons came not from combat but from the training centers in California and Louisiana where troops go to experience a week or two of lifelike combat. The Web changed everything. The reviews contain tips on everything from running field kitchens to avoiding mortar attacks.
At Fort Leavenworth, thirty analysts, all of them military retirees, digest the reviews, identify trends, and reconcile the lessons with established Army doctrine. But the centerpiece of call is its Web site, which is restricted to military personnel, Defense Department civilians, and coalition allies. Mostly, officers use it before they are deployed, to train soldiers in Iraq-specific tactics.
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One call lesson on I. In Iraq, it is available at the battalion level, but rarely at the company level. The task force posts on siprnet intelligence that it gathers from all four military services and a hundred and thirty-three different government and private agencies, ranging from the F. It uses F.
Iraq's hardest fight: The US battle for Falluja 2004
Benner showed me a picture of a road sign that had a big bomb hidden inside it. The problem with both call and the I. The Army identifies a need, prepares a response, and hands it down from the top. Officers in the field can e-mail questions to call , and usually get a response within twenty-four hours, but most officers told me that the information often seems stale or, having been processed in the maw of Army doctrine, irrelevant.
So officers look for help elsewhere. Majors Nate Allen and Tony Burgess became friends at West Point in the nineteen-eighties, and at the end of the nineties they found themselves commanding companies in separate battalions in the same Hawaii-based brigade. Commanding a company is often described as the best job in the Army; a company is big enough to be powerful and small enough to be intimate. But the daily puzzles a company commander faces, even in peacetime, are dizzying, and both Allen and Burgess felt isolated. Because of the Internet, what had started as a one-way transfer of information—a book—quickly became a conversation.
Among them was a captain based at West Point who was familiar with a Web site called Alloutdoors.
Iraq's hardest fight: The US battle for Falluja - BBC News
Burgess and Allen liked the Alloutdoors model, which allows for lots of unmediated, real-time cross-chat and debate. They figured that such a site for company commanders would replicate, in cyberspace, their front porch. In March of , with the help of a Web-savvy West Point classmate and their own savings, they put up a site on the civilian Internet called Companycommand.
Companycommand was an affront to protocol. The Army way was to monitor and vet every posting to prevent secrets from being revealed, but Allen and Burgess figured that captains were smart enough to police themselves and not compromise security. The sites, which are accessible to captains and lieutenants with a password, are windows onto the job of commanding soldiers and onto the unfathomable complexities of fighting urban guerrillas.
Companycommand is divided into twelve areas, including Training, Warfighting, and Soldiers and Families, each of which is broken into discussion threads on everything from mortar attacks to grief counselling and dishonest sergeants. Some discussions are quite raw. Captains post comments on coping with fear, on motivating soldiers to break the taboo against killing, and on counselling suicidal soldiers. They advise each other on how to kick in doors and how to handle pregnant subordinates.
Two Decades of War Have Eroded the Morale of America’s Troops
Do not let a casualty take your focus away from a combat engagement. I asked him about his plan for after the fall of isis. Unsurprisingly, then, the current military leadership has, if anything, been more assertive about the necessity of non-DOD support than they were during the Obama years. General Joseph L. Yet, in response to strong pressure from the DOD to fund nonlethal components of U.
Without a real integration of all instruments of American power, our recent military successes could potentially leave us no better off than we were after our military victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq. Believing the mission complete, the Obama administration followed those successes by limiting diplomatic engagement with Iraq, planning sharp cuts in civilian programs, and slashing economic assistance. A few years later the country was ripe for the rise of a new threat, which came in the form of isis. When we create a vacuum, something fills it.
In other words, simply by emphasizing the sort of soft power the current administration disdains, Iranian-backed militias are seeking to turn American and Iraqi tactical successes into Iranian strategic victories. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has expanded lethal counterterrorism operations in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia—more than quintupling the number of such operations during the final six months of the Obama presidency.
But an onslaught of counterterror raids does not make a policy. One would think that almost 17 years of war would have taught the American people and their elected leaders the limits of a strategy that focuses only on the use of military force without a broader endgame, but in fact we have moved in the opposite direction. Now we have a government that seeks to wage war without even the slightest interest in committing to precisely those efforts that our own military leaders insist are essential for victory.
We just want to take scalps. Tough love, but still.