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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pyscho Milt: Iraq from the perspective of a US Army officer out of Tel Afar

As some readers might remember, Pyscho currently lives in the Persian Gulf region. His latest email:
Here are some views on the Iraq conflict from a conversation I had recently with a US Army Major on his way home after serving in Tal Afar. I’m not a journalist and it was just a killing-time conversation, so if it fills you with “Why didn’t you ask him…?” type questions, don’t bother to ask them!

Anyway, here’s what I learned:

The new tactics for training Iraqi security forces (soldiers and police) are working well. Last November, Iraqi forces trained the old way melted away at the first sign of trouble. I didn't get details on how they used to do the training, but it sounded like Iraqi units were placed alongside US units but left to themselves otherwise. The old officer class from the corrupt conscript system weren't up to providing training to US standards. The new system involves embedding a small number of American advisors into Iraqi units to teach them how a Western army does things (shades of Vietnam? I wasn’t game to ask). This has apparently produced a quantum leap in the quality of the Iraqi forces. Large numbers are now operating, and these ones don't back down when faced with gunfire.

Iraqi forces are now taking over the handling of prisoner interrogations. This proves useful to the American soldiers due to the lack of "Geneva Convention issues" for Iraqi interrogators. Information is gained more quickly by Iraqis. (The usefulness of info retrieved through torture is of course open to question.) The use of Iraqi security forces also means intelligence from locals is arriving in much higher volume – up to 400 items per month (I think it was per month) from a figure of about 9 items earlier when handled by Americans through interpreters.

Increased info from the public has made the capture or assassination of insurgent leaders possible. 5 out of 6 leaders were killed in Tal Afar during this unit's time there. At least one killing involved the use of a drone aircraft to follow the guy's car around all morning so they could note down the buildings he visited, before sending in the hit squad. The Major apparently saw video from the drone aircraft, in which the insurgent leader's car is visible. The car stops at an intersection. A van comes
into shot, stops next to the car, the side door slides back, the car starts forward as the driver stomps on the accelerator, but the car is full of holes before it even gets 6 feet. Again, no “Geneva Convention” issues. One down, who knows how many to go.

American tactics differ with the type of unit deployed. Infantry generally do better, because they're used to getting out of their vehicles and moving around on foot. They get to know the locals and provide a "beat cop" presence. Armoured units are more used to staying in their vehicles while patrolling – which hands neighbourhoods over to the insurgents and leaves the soldiers only responding to ambushes.

The insurgents generally have no fire discipline – they tend to shoot the entire magazine, often without aiming. Given their body armour, American soldiers have to be pretty unlucky to get killed by insurgent gunfire. The main danger is snipers, particularly imports from Chechnya. The unit killed one, and the Major was glad the insurgents had sent him out sniping rather than setting him to work training insurgents how to do it.

Main problems:
1. Head shots (duh). American helmets are works of sheer genius, but it’s still possible for a sniper to get a fatal head shot.
2. The shoulder just at the top of the body armour – it’s possible to get shot
through a lung and/or major blood vessels, esp. from above.
3. The armholes. They had one guy killed by a bullet that penetrated next to his left arm, went right through his chest and exited next to his right arm. They also had one instance of an officer having a bullet travel the length of his forearm and exit by the elbow, without disabling him. Sheer luck plays a big part in all this.

This unit was operating Strykers (LAV3 to NZers), rather than HMMWVs [AL: Hummers]. The troops rated them as an ideal urban warfare vehicle – fast, manouevrable, good armour and firepower (when fitted with gun turret and slat anti-RPG armour, which NZ probably wouldn't have). Strykers could get round corners faster and down sidestreets that tracked vehicles wouldn't have attempted, and could chase down cars. They were able to drive even with most tyres shot out.

Downsides: the wheel hubs are dependent on good maintenance – they had several instances of wheels falling off due to bearings losing lubricant, and recovering a lost road wheel isn’t something you’d want to have to do in a firefight. The main downside however was poor off-road performance, possibly due to the extra weight of the slat armour. They rated the Stryker as no good at all off-road in wet conditions, which doesn’t bode well for NZ.


Posted by Antarctic Lemur | 10/25/2005 08:17:00 AM