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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

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Joby Warrick. Black Flags: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Islamic State.  New York, NY: Doubleday, September 29th, 2015.  416 pp.

The author Joby Warrick is a journalist whose career includes covering the Middle East.  Previously I read the author’s first book titled The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA.  I enjoyed this present volume a lot more both in terms of the subject and writing style.  In Black Flags the author focuses on what was formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and how the organization later evolved into the Islamic State.  The book was filled with a lot of facts that I didn’t know before but learned from here.  The work was so fascinating that I had a hard time putting down the book.  Given how I am reading this book on the eve of the Iraqi and Kurdish army’s invasion into the last stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq in the city of Mosul, I found this very timely and eye opening.

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Counterstrike by Eric Schmitt Thom Shanker

 

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker. Counterstrike.  New York, NY: Times Books, 2011. 336 pp.

Radical Islam isn’t going away anytime soon so this book definitely has its place.  This is the story of the United States’ effort in Counter-Terrorism following September 11th.  It is the incredible story of how various parts of the Government matured in their fight against Al Qaeda.  The book focuses not only the frontline agencies against terrorism such as the State Department, the CIA, the FBI and the military but also certain key individuals that have shaped the policies in their respective agencies.  We read in the book the story of the early days after September 11th in which the government was struggling to know who their enemy was.  The book does not cover up the embarrassing extent of the ignorance of various officials in the government concerning Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.  But as the government kept moving forward in its war against Al Qaeda we find that certain men eventually shaped institutional changes to their agency in order to adapt to the stateless terrorist threat of Al Qaeda.  For example, the book talks about how the intelligence community at first collected everything as potential data but this led to an ineffective process of sorting out and producing good intelligence analysis.  Soon “intelligence triage” was developed in order to better handle incoming potential intelligence data along with directing it at the right analysts.  The academic world also had a place in the war on terror in which the intelligence community wisely saw that the academic world can better analyze certain data especially those that weren’t urgent actionable intelligence; this led to the founding of the Combating Terrorism Center based at West Point.

I appreciated how the authors described various elements of the government starting to work together in order to defeat Al Qaeda.  This was dramatically different compared to the pre-9/11 world where government agencies’ jealousy meant an agency become territorial with what they were willing to share and do.  Before 9/11 communications between the FBI and CIA faced many difficulties; the FBI’s computer network system was out of date and incompatible with the other government agencies.  That would eventually change.  We also read in the book of how the military and the intelligence community grew to become better reliant with each other.  The military improved their ways of gathering information and intelligence and also improved on how this was shared to the intelligence community.  In turn the intelligence community enhanced their evaluation and analysis in order to hand over to the military “actionable intelligence.”  I love the example of how a platoon of US Army soldiers unknowingly stumbled upon an intelligence treasure trove in Sinjar, Iraq that was then properly exploited by the intelligence community that helped the military to operationally downgrade Al Qaeda in Iraq.  There is also the story of the book of how the NSA would also have people sent to Iraq to better assist the military.

The book also had a discussion throughout the book about deterrence theory against Al Qaeda.  We see a whole chapter devoted to the discussion about Cold War deterrence theory and the problem with it in relations to Al Qaeda.  Obviously, it is difficult to get someone to back down when they are willing to martyr themselves in the attempt to destroy the West.  However I think the book makes a good point that there is a role of deterrence as a tool against Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists once we understand the network nature of Al Qaeda and other radical terrorist groups.  This new deterrence theory recognizes that in order for Al Qaeda to function there is the need for a terrorist network that is able to provide logistical needs.  Not everyone in this network is a suicide bomber since a suicide bomber himself would need someone who is a recruiter, a financier, trainer, etc.  This new deterrence theory is not necessarily directed towards the bombers and fighters themselves but towards those supporters who have much more to lose since they are still committed to being of the world (so to speak) and attached to certain things that allow the US leverage.  Recognition of this also means that our tools against Al Qaeda isn’t just military but also other means such as legal, financial and cyber capabilities.  As the book mentioned, “it takes a network to fight a network.”

The book also talked about the problematic and at times ironic relationship the US has with Pakistan in the War on Terror.  I also found it informative that the authors discussed the threat of the loan wolf home grown terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda.

While the book was published before the current geopolitical threat of ISIS, I think readers will find this book informative as to the historical development in the long war against Islamic terrorism.  Highly recommended work.

Purchase: Amazon

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The Gamble General David Petraeus

Purchase: Amazon

Thomas Ricks has written another wonderful book on the military and the importance of having the right generals during war.  In this book he looks at the Surge of the Iraq war and the military leadership involved with the great “gamble” of achieving some kind of nominal success in winding down the war.  Most Americans have little understanding about the Surge and those who are better informed often know about the Surge in the context of the heated partisan debate in 2006-07 between Republicans and Democrats sitting on Capitol Hill.  Indeed few understood the strategy and operational perspective of the leaders “on the ground” and I think that include many politicians.  It does not help that very little has been written about the military leadership that led the actual Surge since few journalists in my opinion are capable of understanding or appreciating the operational side of the military.  I think Ricks is an exception to the rule and his writing as a journalist over the years has matured and display a great understanding and appreciation of military strategy and the importance of the right personnel at the level of General officers.  For some he is a must read as a great introduction for military intellectuals.

In order to appreciate the surge one must first understand the military’s involvement in Iraq prior to the surge.  Ricks in the book is blunt in his discussion of the early years of the Iraq war with its bad leadership, blunders and shortsightedness among those in the officer corps.  He argues that bad leadership will result in ugly outcomes like that of Haditha and similar episodes.  I know the incident in Haditha is rather contentious but he does make a point that how the Battalion commander and upper echelon commanders handled the incident show a lack of understanding of the basic premise of counter-insurgency is to win the people rather than further alienate them from the military’s objective.  Ricks sees Haditha as a sort of turning point.  The early years of Iraq was a difficult time as many Battalion, Regimental, Brigade and even Division Commanders didn’t understand just what kind of war they were waging.  Ricks pointed out that the ones that did understood were actually the outsiders such as General Petraeus.  General Petraeus was different than most of his peers in many ways: unlike most of the Army’s leadership in the early years of Iraq his career was spent mostly among light infantry rather than the heavy infantry (think Mechanized infantry).  There is an unspoken code that officers are to separate themselves from political connection but Petraeus was comfortable with courting political support and in fact desired that.  Petraeus was also highly educated and open to discussion among civilians for their expertise.  This play a crucial role in his formulation of his doctrines on Counter-insurgency as General Petraeus is the one who led the re-writing of the modern Army’s Counter-insurgency manual.  I have heard in the past that Petraeus wrote the manual with the legendary Marine Corps General Mattis but what I didn’t know before and learned in the book is how many people and how diverse was the make up of the group that help consulted and wrote the Counter-Insurgency manual.  Petraeus had all kinds of experts ranging from the expected military officers to human rights lawyers and civilian historians of the military.  What I appreciated in the book is how the author pointed out that for General Petraeus, the metric for measuring success in his strategy is not merely winning territory but winning the people instead.  He saw the people not as “collaterals” in the way of a military objective but instead the people was the objective and the prize.

The war being conducted badly was what eventually drove politicians to re-evaulate how the war was being conducted—and it was also what led George Bush to finally be open for new and fresh military leadership.  I appreciate the author describing the relationship of the old leadership versus the new leadership that was going to lead the surge.  In particular I was delighted to read about the relationship between General Petraeus and Odierno who were both very different in temperament and approach but both worked together well.  Previously I had thought of Odierno as the General who merely was famous for helping the US pack up after major military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and I had no idea how much of a role Odierno  played in the surge.  I’m glad I read this book!  Odierno was the one who was the “hammer” while Petraeus was the soft spoken leader so to speak.  Together they worked out a balance in approaching the insurgency.

There are far too many things I learned from the book and one should get a copy for oneself!  At the time that I read this book towards the end of 2014, I realize that this book was published in 2009 and the book was limited in its coverage of Iraq between 2006-2008.  Obviously one can’t help but to think of the future of Iraq.  The author was realistic in my opinion and was no mere cheerleader for the Surge—he also caution that the objective of the Surge might fail if politicians don’t allow troops’ presence to continue longer and the author also saw that Iraqi politicians has the ball in their court to build partnership that stretches beyond partisanship in particular with the Sunni-Shiite-Kurds divide.  How true that is in hindsight as 2014 has turned out to be the year of ISIS’ expansion.  I think we must not forget that Iraq has now been more or less divided into three powers, the very thing that America wanted to avoid with Iraq’s future.  I read this book with much nostalgia thinking about my own time in the military and deployment in Iraq.  Like the author, I have many mix feelings, saw the Surge as a success but one with many limitation as to how far it will go if its not followed up on the political end both in Iraq and the United States.  One thing that the author didn’t see coming that I can’t help thinking about as I read the book was how much of a role the current conflict in Iraq with ISIS owe its ability and strength from the “Sons of the Awakening” that the US military employed back in 2006 and onwards.  Many of these were Sunni militants who switched sides who sought employment with the US as militias against Al Qaeda.  Since the Iraqi government with its Shiite majority would have never supported this make shift army and didn’t want to incorporate them into the regular Army, what would have happened to these military aged men who were trained, armed and unemployed?  It doesn’t require rocket science to connect the thought that these men would obviously be a source for ISIS to tap into once the Americans’ departure left a vacuum.  I have come to a stronger opinion that the United States should really think long and hard before we train any militant groups as we can never predict what it will mean for us and the region five, ten and twenty years down the line.  If history tells us anything, we often train and equipped our future enemies.

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Note: For the next few weeks on Sunday we will feature a review of books outside of theology, philosophy and apologetics.  Each review of a non-Christian book will also have a section titled, “What’s in it for the Christian?” The Generals American Military Command from World War II to TodayPurchase: Amazon

This book is a wonderful study on generalship in the United States Army from World War two to the present with Iraq and Afghanistan.  The author has written in the past about the military before, most notably about the Marine Corps boot camp.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much the author Thomas Ricks has grown in his understanding of the military since his first book on the military in 1997.

The thesis that the author argues for in the book is that the Marshall concept of Generalship worked in World War Two.  To be more specific, the concept is on how the Army manages General, and how under the old Marshall system it was expected that generals would be relieved and fire in order for the system to work and battles to be won.  Under the Marshall system, relief from command wasn’t necessarily the end of one’s military career like how it is understood today; generals were moved to other command since sometimes those who were not effective in combat command but were better leaders in other area of the Army (logistics, training, etc).  The Marshall’s way of managing generals was very effective but since World War two the book argues that the US Army has deviated from this concept.  Today generals are never relieved by the military itself (though there are political removals such as the infamous case of Douglas MacArthur by President Truman).  The book argues that as a result of the neglect of the Marshall system this has led to a crop of many poor generals who negatively affected the outcome of operations, battles and entire wars, not to mention the waste of lives and money.  What’s worst is that there are often no repercussions for generals who failed; in the modern military a private who lost his rifle will face more punishment than a general who lost a war.

Students of military history would love the author’s discussion about how General Eisenhower balanced the various charismatic generals during World War two such as General Patton, British General Montgomery and General Bradley.  The book also surveyed the Generals in the Korean War as the first war that failed to implement the Marshall system and how various Generals blundered but were not relieved.  This would continue on into the Vietnam War where it was even more pronounced with General Westmoreland and other lesser known generals.  The book also surveyed the more recent Iraq War and I agree with the author that the beginning of Iraq the military had some pretty bad generals (personally, General Sanchez comes to mind).  The book even covered the Iraq War right up to the surge (the author focuses on the surge in two other books after this volume) with General David Petraeus and notes how long it took before the right generals were in place leading the war effort was also the same duration that the US military took to win World War two in the Marshall system.

While it was not the main focus of the book, I did appreciate the author’s contrast between the Army’s handling of general officers versus that of the Navy and the Marines.  The Navy holds their officers to higher accountability and how they regularly relieve officers for ships that hit ground and get stuck.  Unfortunately, the author said that the sample size for the Marine Corps was too small, but Ricks does note how the Marine generals led their Division out of Chosin Reservoir as a combat effective unit while an adjacent Army unit with poor leadership ended up being hammered.  Ricks also talked about how during the Iraq War the Marine General Mattis who commanded the first Marine Division relieved a regimental commander of the first Marines for going to slow during the invasion and that this became international news.  However, during world war two such an event was frequent occurrence and not even worthy of being international news since it was assume the goal of victory was more important than allowing commanders to save face.

This is an excellent book for civilians and military like.  I think those in military should read this book, whether officers or enlisted so one can get the bigger picture.  In summary, the book presents a strong case to modify the maxim that “Amateurs study strategies, professionals study logistics;” we may add, “The Army leadership must study management of personnel.”

What’s in it for the Christian: A big theme in the book is accountability.  Christians have stressed the importance of accountability, given our fallen nature.  Accountability is something that is needed even outside of the military—and especially in the ministry, which is concerned with matters of eternity.  The author notes how different officers have different abilities, and just because one might not be able to lead in combat command that does not mean they are not useful for the military elsewhere.  Christians who are familiar with the Bible’s teaching of spiritual gifts—that we all have different gifts though it is different from each person to person.  As a Christian, this book was also insightful concerning human nature and the art of balancing different personalities in a group or a church that one leads—it has challenged me to appreciate how being a team player is a virtue.

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hmong soldier

I am posting this during a time when daily news in Iraq is rather saddening with the increase of ISIS atrocities.  In the middle of this massacre, it made me thought a lot about whether there are beginning to be parallel between Iraq and Vietnam.

Among the minority group that the United States used in fighting the Communists in South East Asia during the Vietnam War was the Hmong People, a tribal group that lived primarily in the mountain region of Laos.  Unfortunately after Vietnam fell, the Hmong people were left to fend for themselves.  They fled in masses and some later became refugees in America.

While the world watch the political scene, God was working to bring many Hmong to faith.

The following three videos are the story of how God brought them to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior among the Hmong people, particularly those in America.

Watching the videos was rather emotional for me.  On a more personal note, my own family were personally involved in the Vietnam War and had to flee to America because of their involvement with America’s war against the Communist.  Relatives were killed because of their covert work with Americans.  Survivors fled their country and eventually was sponsored by churches to America.  I see parallel with my family’s story with that of the Hmong people.

Which brings me back to Iraq: Please pray that God will use the current crisis in Iraq to reach many people for Himself.  May the Church be ready to adopt this next wave of refugees, and to evangelize and show compassion to them.

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Unrelated author’s personal note: If you follow our blog, I want to give a personal update.  Much has transpired since I’ve been on vacation.  I think the Lord has changed me and my perspective in this unforseen event with our ministry while I was gone on vacation.  I think I have been challenged to grow deeper in Christ in a good way but much of it will never be told publicly.  Thank you all who have prayed for me online here this anonymous prayer request, in heaven you will know what was prayed for and that the Lord answered.

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I thought I take some break from some heavy stuff from my personal life to talk about another heavier topic: ISIS.

There are weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq; it’s called ISIS.

Coming from the US what people are posting of themselves that is trending right now in social media is the ice bucket challenge; meanwhile coming from the Middle East what people are posting of themselves that is trending right now in social media are graphic video of people kicking the bucket. Obama’s action against ISIS is a drop in the bucket and I think it has to do with his intent early in his presidency to end the war on terror being on his bucket list.

Somebody online has asked me in light of my rhetoric if that means i’m for a military operation involving massive ground troops.  Here’s my thoughts:

I propose a better plan than massive ground troops: I think a better plan is to hit this new Islamic State where it hurts; hit them logistically. I am sure you have heard the military maxim: “Amateurs study strategy ; experts study logistics” you can’t wage war unless you have capital to support your army; I don’t care if you are a die hard radical but you can’t establish any state without beans and bullets; even extremists will start having low morale. The resources that ISIS have to finance their army is stolen goods from their victims and oil that they sell in the black market.  Concerning captured assets, these can only last that long since it will be used up and then there is a need to continually expand and find more victims.  But expansion itself is costly and unpredictable.  The biggest stable source of funding the war is oil  But who do they sell it to? It has to be someone that can refine crude oil. Turkey? Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? Turkey want to expand their own brand of Isamic Neo-Ottoman empire vision and I doubt it’s them; Saudis and Kuwait has been supporting those against Assad and their are many Wahabi sympathizers if not Wahabis Sunnis themselves that share this particular ideologically. I submit we disable their ability to process oil by means of Naval blockade of the oil, and the use of air bombing and Special Operations Forces against oil assets in ISIS hands.

We need to stop our not so covert effort at equipping the Free Syrian Army as well since FSA are terrible fighters and their gear keep on falling into ISIS hands.  Just look at the uniforms, weapons and heavy vehicles ISIS has.

Hopefully Iran and Russia would continue to be opportunists and arm Assad in Syria and Iraq, both countries whom ISIS are fighting.  If these countries continue to arm both those countries it helps us not to give up more of our military hardware.   Don’t forget Iran has a strong motivation to expand in their region and be pro-Shiites (which ISIS is against) in Iraq and Sryia; Russia also has renewed their influence in the Slavic states and the Middle East (Russia is pro-Assad with a naval base in Syria and trainers right now fighting in Syria and they just recently entered the Iraqi scene by selling attack helicopters and having “trainers” on the ground in Iraq to teach and carry out actual Attack helicopter sorties).

The only thing we need to do is destroy the oil capability of ISIS selling oil and we will see the end of cash flow sustaining their Islamic State and we will see their ability to field an army dwindle (insurgents need to eat too, have weapons and ammo, maintain the wear and tear of fighting vehicles, etc). This weakened ISIS will become more like a loose network of thugs and terrorists than an Islamic that it is now.  Then Iraq, Syria and the Kurds (who have now sold their captured oil to their ironic historic enemy of Turkey which is how the Kurds fund their fighting) can then finally have the opportunity to reclaim territory the next few months from ISIS although I don’t think full control will be possible but at least it will become something more like Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas areas for terrorists than an actual Islamic state that it is now.

What do you guys think?

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It seems suddenly the world’s attention has shifted since last week to notice the horrific development in Iraq with ISIS.  Things has deteriorated for the worst the last four months and especially with this last week.

I think its important to see the bigger picture:  Its not just a bunch of terrorists guys running around as the “Junior Varsity” members of Al Qaeda as Obama called it in January 2014.  ISIS has begun making their Caliphate Islamic State.  They have taken over major cities, control oil centers and funding their state by selling them in the black market.  They have picked up the weapons left over from the fleeing Iraqi Government, picked up other weapons from other fighting groups in Syria and even controling a strategic dam.  Their Islamic Theocracy has begun with the violent cleansing of different Muslims, Christians and other minorities.

The following videos that are dispatches by Vice News gives us a little more perspective on the ground.  We can see that what we have here is really the breaking down of Iraq as a country, the fear that many had when the US was occupying Iraq.  The breakdown is now on sectarian lines.  These dispatches is fascinating in that you see every group mistrusting other groups and also how the Kurds are also taking this opportunity to advance their claims on territory in light of the Iraqi military running away.

As you watch these videos one must realize these were produced a few weeks ago and things have gotten worst since these were put online.  The Kurds are more involved with direct combat with ISIS.  ISIS has captured more grounds.  The Kurds have been running low on ammunition and there’s a major refugee crisis.  Two failing state (Iraq and Syria) are unable to put down ISIS and don’t forget the direct foreign involvement in weakening the two states that are trying to put them down (the US arm the FSA against Assad in Syria, etc).

I’m praying for the Christians and other minorities.  I’m praying that God will use this to bring people to Himself.  I’m praying for peace for the sake of people who have suffered so much.   I’m also praying for God’s justice and imprecatory prayers towards those who are in ISIS that will not repent.

 

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