Gen. Stanley McChrystal writes in Foreign Policy today:
When I first went to Iraq in October 2003 to command a U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) that had been tailored down to a relatively small size in the months following the initial invasion, we found a growing threat from multiple sources -- but particularly from al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). We began a review of our enemy, and of ourselves. Neither was easy to understand.
Cosmic or on the level? McChrystal continues:
Like all too many military forces in history, we initially saw our enemy as we viewed ourselves.
And then what? Did the light dawneth? Does McChrystal now see that the ideologically-driven, enemy-influence-operation-ensured elimination of Islam and its teachings from policy- and strategy-making has been an unmitigated disaster for the United States?
If you think that's what's coming next, I've got an old, inter-borough suspension bridge I can get for you cheap.
It's back to the drawing board for McChrustal et al -- literally.
In a small base outside Baghdad, we started to diagram AQI on white dry-erase boards. Composed largely of foreign mujahideen and with an overall allegiance to Osama bin Laden but controlled inside Iraq by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, AQI was responsible for an extremely violent campaign of attacks on coalition forces, the Iraqi government, and Iraqi Shiites. Its stated aim was to splinter the new Iraq and ultimately establish an Islamic caliphate.
And that's the end of that. There is no further mention of Islamic aims, law (sharia), tactics, the doctrine of jihad, nothing. But there is plenty of diagramming.
By habit, we started mapping the organization in a traditional military structure, with tiers and rows. At the top was Zarqawi, below him a cascade of lieutenants and foot soldiers.
But the closer we looked, the more the model didn't hold. Al Qaeda in Iraq's lieutenants did not wait for memos from their superiors, much less orders from bin Laden.
No dry erase boards?
Decisions were not centralized, but were made quickly and communicated laterally across the organization. Zarqawi's fighters were adapted to the areas they haunted, like Fallujah and Qaim in Iraq's western Anbar province, and yet through modern technology were closely linked to the rest of the province and country. Money, propaganda, and information flowed at alarming rates, allowing for powerful, nimble coordination. We would watch their tactics change (from rocket attacks to suicide bombings, for example) nearly simultaneously in disparate cities. It was a deadly choreography achieved with a constantly changing, often unrecognizable structure.
Over time, it became increasingly clear -- often from intercepted communications or the accounts of insurgents we had captured -- that our enemy was a constellation of fighters organized not by rank but on the basis of relationships and acquaintances, reputation and fame. Who became radicalized in the prisons of Egypt? Who trained together in the pre-9/11 camps in Afghanistan? Who is married to whose sister? Who is making a name for himself, and in doing so burnishing the al Qaeda brand?...
And what, pray tell, is that? Is there something, anything of importance or relevance these fighters share besides relationships? Alas, not even "brand" loyalty is interesting to Gen. McChrystal and the rest of the postmodern brass -- even though, as Maj. Stephen Coughlin could show him, jihad, the enemy threat doctrine, makes a really great PowerPoint presentation. McChrystal continues:
In warfare, you make decisions based on indicators. When facing the enemy, you estimate its tactical strength and intuit its planned strategy. This is much simpler when the enemy is a column advancing toward you in plain sight. Our problem in both the Iraq of 2003 and the Afghanistan of today is that indicators popped up everywhere, unevenly and unexpectedly, and often disappeared as quickly as they emerged, flickering in view for only a moment. ...
Could that possibly have anything to do with the fact that the "insurgents," as McC himself puts it, have "the advantage of living amid a population closely tied to them by history and culture"? (No, he never, ever even once mentions "religion." Forget Islam, sharia, jihad, etc.) Who knows? Not part of his thought processes. He continues on to the epiphany:
Shortly after taking command of the JSOTF, I visited one of our teams in Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, which was at that time under the able command of then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus and the troops of the 101st Airborne Division. Although Mosul was still less violent than some other areas of the country, it was clear that al Qaeda was organizing to aggressively contest control of the city -- and, from there, all of northern Iraq....
That's a revisionist diss. Mosul, of course, is where pre-Poohbah Petraeus' implemented a hailed "hearts and minds" policy whose short-term success on vapors (and cash) has given way to a morass of barbarism. (Good, let's do the same thing in A-stan.) McChrystal, apparently, was inspired.
That night, on the plane back to Baghdad, I drew an hourglass on a yellow legal pad. The top half of the hourglass represented the team in Mosul; the other represented our task force HQ. They met at just one narrow point. At the top, our team in Mosul was accumulating knowledge and experience, yet lacked both the bandwidth and intelligence manpower to transmit, receive, or digest enough information either to effectively inform, or benefit from, its more robust task force headquarters. All across the country -- in Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Diyala -- we were waging similarly compartmentalized campaigns. It made our hard fight excruciatingly difficult, and potentially doomed.
The sketch from that evening -- early in a war against an enemy that would only grow more complex, capable, and vicious -- was the first step in what became one of the central missions in our effort: building the network. What was hazy then soon became our mantra: It takes a network to defeat a network.
A Stickee situation.