Monday, January 6, 2014

One Vet's Thoughts On Fallujah

Fallujah sucks. It was, is, and will remain for quite some time a hell-hole. Allowing it to fall back into the hands of national socialists (Ba'ath Party loyalists) or violent religious extremists (such as the Al Q'aeda terrorist network) is less than foolish and irresponsible. It is a reprehensible sin.

When people find out I survived four tours to Iraq, they inevitably ask "where were you over there?". My answer is to pull out my map of Iraq and point at it. I did four tours, and none of them had the same "duty location". None of them included my staying at any FOB for the entirety of any tour. In fact, there were no FOBs, COBs, or real bases in Iraq during my first tour.

I fought in the "ground war" or "initial invasion" or whatever buzz-term is currently in vogue to describe the initial push into Iraq, the fight up through Najaf, across the dam, into Baghdad then up into the "Sunni Triangle" halting near Tikrit. I redeployed in early July 2003 only to be volun-told to sign a waiver that would have me back in Baghdad by New Years Day 2004.

I cannot talk much about my duties during that second tour. I can say that I was deeply involved in finding the bad guys so that the door-kickers could deal with them. Sometimes, when I found them, it wasn't safe for door-kickers. So we used other methods of engagement.

That meant I sometimes had to "go outside the wire". I would have to assist in what is called "site exploitation". The police would call it "processing a crime scene for evidence" then "analyzing forensic reports". Sometimes that meant I had to be there to make sure certain questions were asked, and to hear the answers first-hand. It varied. But, I was one of a handful of interlopers that "had to be there", sometimes. It was ironic how units that were welcoming only due to professionalism the first time around would insistently invite, request, demand I come back and help out during subsequent missions.

Then there was Fallujah. I rack my brain unsuccessfully to find a place I loathe more.

I took a visit there in April of 2004. I had recommended some actions from my "air conditioned palace chair" in Baghdad (I didn't work in any of the palaces, mind you). Next I knew, I was on the ground helping to "direct traffic" in order to at least appear the operations were more surgical. When 70% of the male population over 12 years old is most likely a member of some terrorist, insurgent, or Ba'ath loyalist cell and the other 30% are linked to organized crime, not much pinpoint precision is needed to hit a bad guy. In fact, you couldn't swing a dead cat in Fallujah without hitting a few of them.

After a bloody battle, one of the worst since the "ground war" was declared "mission accomplished", some suit in the US State Department made a deal with the devil. We pulled out and left Fallujah to a group of Iraqis.

Yes, we fought hard, shed a lot of blood, took the hill, and gave it back. If you have ever watched "Hamburger Hill", that is what we did on May 1st, 2004. When I got back to my comfy chair in my cooled to 90 degree not-in-a-palace "office", one of my Chiefs (US Army type "Chief" as in Chief Warrant Officer, not a Navy Petty) asked what I thought about the peace deal struck in Fallujah. My response was a very poor Arnold Schwarzenegger impression "Oh, We'll be bahck."

I laughed a couple of weeks later when Geraldo Rivera announced he was going there. His pretty up-armored SUVs looked like somebody put a unarmored Chevy Bronco in the middle of a range and yelled "free beer for whoever lands the most hits". Luckily nobody was seriously harmed by his foolish escapade.

True to form, we were back in Fallujah in September. I will say that there were other operations in and around Fallujah prior to the second battle. Without breaking any laws, I can say that we knew the "cease fire" and "peace deal" had done nothing but allow Fallujah to become an Al Qa'ida and Ba'ath Loyalist safe haven. We had an agreement. No US Boots were on the ground inside the city until the second battle. We kept up our side of the agreement, though the Iraqis were not capable of meeting their side.

So, we did what we call "shaping operations". We did them in a rather surgical and precise manner. We did our best to make sure the badder of the bad guys had some bad days. The problem was that the environment was too target rich. By the time the second battle of Fallujah began, most "good people", women and children had sneaked out of the city. Not many remained.

That second battle was bad. It was hard. It was some of the hardest urban combat the US Military has ever engaged in. Chris Kyle has some great passages from his perspective of the fight in his book.

Well, after my 4th tour, we pulled out of Iraq, officially. Unofficially, we still have combat advisers there. That was the job I did during my 4th tour. I can say with pure confidence that the Iraqis were not yet ready to handle their own affairs.

The events of the last few days prove that. Fallujah, like Hamburger Hill, was given back to the terrorists.

Look, kids, there is something in military operations called "key terrain". It is spots on a map that you take and hold at all costs. Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad were among the pieces of key terrain in Iraq. It was universally stupid to gain control of them just to surrender them after we won.

We pulled out of Iraq too early. the Iraqis were not yet ready and our mission was not yet complete. There should have been proper metrics, goals, and gateways to meet. Setting a hard date was foolish. What was our hard date to pull out of Germany after WWII? Here is a hint, we are still there. The Occupation Medal for WWII was issued to those stationed in Berlin all the way until 1991. The wall fell in November 1989.

Now it appears all those lives may have been lost in vain. The vanity is that of the current Commander-In-Chief, his Secretary of Defense, his last Secretary of State as well as the current one, and any General Officer who has been too cowardly to stand up and tell any of the above that they are evil, idiots, or both.

Al Q'aida has retaken their favorite stronghold in Iraq. Ramadi may also fall to them soon. That will set up a pipeline between them and the Al Q'aida linked groups in Syria. That will also set up pipelines to Afghanistan (through Iran).

Politicians were warned (by even bin Laden's own words) that all they had to do was be patient and wait us out. I really, really, really hate to say "I told you so". When I do, it usually means somebody died.

Well, I told you so.