A retired military intelligence professional reacts to al Qaeda Iraq marching on Baghdad
A few months ago, a few former and retired military intelligence analysts uttered the words they wish they never had to say: “I told you so!”
Al-Q’aeda Iraq (AQI) and their political arm, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), now known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) retook the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Those cities were hard-won, a couple of times over, by both US forces and the forces of the new Iraqi government.
The first time we handed Fallujah over to indigenous forces, the results were disastrous. Those indigenous forces broke every promise they made and set the city up as a terrorist paradise. Due to the agreement, we couldn’t do anything. No US or coalition forces were allowed to set foot inside the city. Eventually, enough intelligence data and evidence justified surgical airstrikes and an eventual house to house clearing by conventional forces (bolstered by Navy SEALS and a few other special operators). It should have been a lesson learned the hard way, but well learned.
After all, the Fallujah experiment failed for many of the same reasons Saigon fell. We pulled our major combat forces out of Vietnam too soon. We had placed our forces under rules of engagement that were too restrictive to properly engage a decentralized insurgent force, the Viet Cong. Granted, the VC were a Maoist insurgent group. However, AQI and ISI learned from Mao and the Taliban.
The Taliban taught them “the waiting game”. When the USSR fought the mujahedin in Afghanistan, the extremist Islamic theocratic oligarchy waited until the Soviets pulled out. Then they stepped in and filled the power vacuum. Then they provided cover for Osama bin Laden, who used Afghanistan as a base of operations and training for al-Q’aeda.
So went Fallujah and Ramadi a few months ago.
When we stomped on Fallujah and Ramadi in 2003 and 2004, the terrorists squirted to Mosul, Tikrit, Baqubah, and Kirkuk. Now, without a major coalition force to bolster the Iraqi forces, AQI and ISIS stomped on Fallujah and Ramadi. They retook control of Anbar province, establishing a cross-border refuge for the AQ linked forces in Syria. Thus spreads the theocratic and tyrannic oligarchy. Next they squirted, retaking Mosul, in northern Iraq. It places them within spitball range of Irbil, a city once lauded as an example of success in Iraq.
Within days of retaking Mosul, AQI and ISIS retook Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. Rumors are the Jaysh Iraq (Iraqi army) and Shurta Wattaniyah (Iraqi Federal Police) just tossed down their weapons, abandoned their posts, and gave up, not unlike the initial resistance Saddam’s forces gave the US during the initial invasion.
Now, ISIS spokesmen claim they are headed to Baghdad to settle old scores with the current government and Prime Minister Al-Maliki, a Shia’a Muslim, much disliked by the Sunni minority.
Back in 2009, the newly elected Obama administration announced surge and reconstruction missions successful and coming to a close. He gave a timeline for a withdrawal of forces. Adviser teams were no longer allowed to travel out to advise their ill-equipped and barely trained Iraqi counterparts. Senior officers rated the Iraqi forces as well-trained, mostly for two reasons. One, it made them appear more successful than ground truth displayed, thus helping them as they sought promotion. Secondly, it was a practice of telling the boss what he wants to hear. That is something that military intelligence professionals are trained to avoid doing. We are trained to tell the truth and give an honest assessment.
Numerous times, I stated the Iraqis weren’t ready. They had no intelligence assets or network established that could adequately collect on insurgents or terrorists. They lacked adequate weapons training. They lacked discipline. Heck, they had a 12mm machine gun (similar to an American M2 .50 caliber) and a whole five bullets. The weapon was not well-maintained. The Iraqis had a bad habit of setting up an over-watch position, leaving the weapon in place, and walking off as though the weapons would magically shoot bad guys without a gunner pulling the trigger. This is not the indigenous force the Obama Administration told US Citizens that Iraq had ready to take over their own security.
And the Iraqi military leadership sang the same song each time we asked for their input and self-assessment. They needed money. They needed equipment. They needed better pay. They needed better training facilities. They needed better soldiers and policemen. The bottom line, the Iraqi leaders echoed factors the US military intelligence personnel on the ground warned — they weren’t ready. West Germany was more ready for the Cold War. Did we abandon them? No. But we abandoned Iraq, failing to complete the mission to rebuild the country and establish a stable, self-supportive government.
Shinseki retired after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because he was wrong. I retired in 2011 because I was right and I could no longer be part of decisions that marked incompetence, irresponsibility, and surrender. Obama surrendered Iraq to AQI and ISIS. Now he plans to surrender Afghanistan back to the very people from whom we liberated Afghanistan, the very forces of evil that gave refuge and support to al-Q’aeda.
It begs the question: is Obama incompetent, stupid, or just plain evil?