Why the US still dont understand how to win

#1
It's not often I start shouting at my monitor but today it happened as I read the article below.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0330/p01s04-woiq.htm

Some quotes:

"With his platoon's lone interpreter elsewhere, he is effectively rendered speechless."

US soldier: "I don't hate all Arabs just because a few of them blew up the World Trade Center, so why should they hate all US soldiers just because one shot their father?"

Iraqi who's had his house taken over for an OP: "What can I do?" he wonders. "We adapt and we survive and we give tea to our guests. But I would like an option beside the murderer Saddam Hussein or the lawlessness and humiliation of foreign occupation."

The battle for Iraq will be won or lost within the minds of the locals and their neighbours. The kinetic arena is secondary. This requires that we be able to both understand the locals and talk to them. It also mean that kinetic operations should not be undertaken unless they have positive effects in the information battlespace - regardless of how many insurgents get killed.

I cannot understand why the US - a country that put men on the moon - cannot teach it's soldiers to talk Arabic. It is perhaps the single most powerful thing they could do to win the locals over. It does not require expensive technology - although maybe that's the problem (I note that money is being spent on electronic translators). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is sheer bloody-minded arrogance that stands in the way.

And that arrogance spills over into an inability to understand what makes the locals tick. Any viewpoint that differs from middle America is ignored or dismissed as incorrect - I would single out the fact that most Iraqi's primary loyalty is not directed towards the Iraqi state as perhaps the most problematic area.

So, what do we do ? However satisfying it might appear telling the US to get bent and leaving them to clear up their own mess is not in our interests, so how do we get them to get a clue ?
 
#2
One point: I'm a reasonably intelligent bloke, educated to degree standard and well-versed in study techniques. I took an Arabic course and found it to be extremely difficult. After three terms of evening classes I was just about reaching the point where I might be remotely useful in a very basic social scenario.

It's a difficult language to speak (although not, ironically, to read and write in my experience). The idea that the US Army/ USMC could easily build in decent Arabic language training to sub high-school diploma equivalent infantry recruits just like that is pretty unrealistic. Look at how long it takes us to teach linguists.

Of course, their force protection model doesn't give much opportunity for meaningful immersion with locals to hone it I suppose.
 
#3
They don't have to speak it even to a basic level

Just a few pointers like "good morning", "good evening" and a few little helps to understand the culture will help them integrate and gain the locals trust and respect a little. It is something I try to pick up whereever I go, business or pleasure, for that very reason. You'd be amazed how locals are if you can speak a little of their language, I have managed to get all sorts of favours and purchases out of the locals in this way. You show you are willing to try, and they will try back. And often have a good giggle at each others charades and pre-school language skills.
 
#4
Given the questions we tended to have for the locals, simple 'Sobah al Khairs' and 'shukhrans' don't exactly cut it. The interpreters are pretty much mandatory, be they locally recruited, or DoD linguists.

The comment about the kinetic operations is spot on, I don't understand why (if you did) you posted it as an example of silliness.

Most line troops have it figured out, don't sell the soldiers short. A lot of the problems are at a much higher level, and unfortunately won't be fixed by simply waving a magic want.

NTM
 
#5
chocolate_frog is bang on the money here!
It's a question of being sensitive to the local culture and traditions and respecting them as far as operational exingencies allow. It's what the Brits do!

Unfortunately, many Septic squaddies are "blessed" with the corrosive mindset that "Hadjis" are somehow inferior and as such can be disregarded as humans. They only entertain the "Septic way of life" as being the way forward for the world, albeit grudgingly accepting that some "Yoorapeyans" might be able to come to their way of thinking, given time and a little encouragement.

You can be totally fluent in the language, but if you go around booting in peoples' doors in the dead of night, manhandling the womenfolk and generally being a complete, ignorant barbarian, it does tend to upset the locals a tad. In that case, your linguistic skills will count for nothing.

And then the Septics really do wonder why "the Hadjis" don't appreciate them! The mind boggles!

MsG
 
#6
I heard a snippet on the car radio today (Jeremy Vine show Radio2) where the guest basically said that the USA have lost any respect that they had in world circles. (I was working so I missed the majority of the piece)
 
#7
spike7451 said:
I heard a snippet on the car radio today (Jeremy Vine show Radio2) where the guest basically said that the USA have lost any respect that they had in world circles. (I was working so I missed the majority of the piece)
I can't help feeling that there's a lot of bandwagon jumping going on, especially in the media, which has led to the septics being like the Tories - no-one dares admit to liking them, but somehow a lot of people seem to.

I'll go on record. I spent a lot of time with the US Army and Marines while I was in and I've spent a lot of time in the USA since I got out. I liked the US armed forces immensely, even if they were very, very, very different from us in many ways and I always enjoy being in the US - however, despite what we all think we know and understand about the USA from being immersed in the culture through movies, TV, music, all that, it is a foreign country and some of the underlying assumptions are really strange to Brits.

They're our closest allies (and vice versa) and we have occasionally had sharp words across the Atlantic - and arguably there are probably some being exchanged while I type, Joint Strike Fighter, anyone? - but the relationship is too close and too mutually respectful for any bunch of media commentators or strategic imbeciles to screw completely.

Add to that the fact that the US has the single most powerful military machine, by at least an order of magnitude, on the planet and entire languages have disappeared from human history when the septics get annoyed enough and it's probably a good idea to stay friendly with them :D
 
#9
Again and again, I see postings that transcend the thread and deserve some sort of wider publicity. Sticky does not cover it. Glad its writing above is just such a reply. Maybe because it almost exactly mirrors my experience in terms of service and employment. Additionally, I worked as a civdiv for major US company based in London. The guy who said divided by a common language is right. I felt one problem was that, in percentage terms, so few Americans had ever experienced life outside their own state or region.
During the period that I served, soldiers had the opportunity/requirement to learn enough collequially to get by. I still have smatterings of Japanese, Korean, Malay, Arabic, Swahili and some French - problem now is they get all intermixed. There was the Minden Poison Dwarf period when the Army went into panic mode to get us to speak German. Language labs were set up all over the place and attendence was required if one wanted a passable CR. These achieved a very good grip of the language and customs in a fortnight. I don't know what the benefit was or what happened about plat-Deutsch but they showed what can be done if the will is really there.
Only one note of warning. In my old regtl museum was a wheelbarrow and spade. Exhibits of a murder trial in Germany where three Displaced Persons had been arrested for black marketing by a CMP NCO who spoke perfect and very fluent German. The three planned their attack on him whilst walking along - in plat-Deutsch. So, language on i t's own is not everything.
 
#10
I spent a couple of decades watching the British Army with its centuries of constabulary experience bungling in Belfast. I'd cut the Yanks who apart from the USMC have little small wars experience a little slack here. Basra does not look like a British military triumph either. Iraq is just a damned hard assignment for an army.

I think there may be a basic cultural problem at the back of this, the Yanks are deeply uncomfortable with long colonial operations.

The 3rd Armored Cavlary seems to be doing a soldierly job out in Tall Afar:
Having spent part of January there, I do not doubt that the town amounts to a genuine success story. Even from the parapets of Tall Afar's centuries-old Ottoman castle, a visitor gleans evidence of real progress. After assaulting the city and putting a halt to the gruesome depredations by insurgents, Washington poured millions of dollars into Tall Afar, and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment launched 150 infrastructure and cleanup projects.

It also locked the place down, establishing 29 patrol bases throughout Tall Afar, stationing Abrams tanks at intersections and rebuilding from scratch the local security forces. Most important, it planted itself directly at the heart of a once-hostile population center, establishing the Americans as an essential buffer between the town's feuding sects.
and the La Times complains:
The date for handing off the city to Iraqi security forces has in fact been moved up, as the White House intends to draw down troop levels in Iraq to 100,000. If anything, however, Tall Afar shows the folly of doing so.
It's not that the Yanks don't realize they have problems in this are. Leavenworth published this hefty PDF last year from Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster
 
#12
"The idea that the US Army/ USMC could easily build in decent Arabic language training to sub high-school diploma equivalent infantry recruits just like that is pretty unrealistic."

But it hasn't been "just like that"...it has been 4 yrs since the invasion of Afghanistan, and 3 yrs + since the invasion of Iraq. Easily enough time to have some US military language skills on the ground from about now.
 
#14
Things like this don't help:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,148650,00.html

Congress approved the policy in 1993. It allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and do not disclose their sexual orientation.

Of those who left, 757 held critical jobs for which the Pentagon (search) offers re-enlistment bonuses because of their specialized nature, such as data processing technicians and translators.

Many who were discharged had intelligence-related jobs. Also, 322 spoke foreign languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Mandarin, which the Pentagon has called critical skills amid threats from terrorists.
But, not to worry, the US armed forces can get all the translators they need from the over-achieving high-fliers with tattoos on their necks and hands that they're now letting in. :wink:

Fair & balanced reporting from you, as per usual, T6. "My boss says it's true, so it must be right." :wink:

We pay as much attention to hearts and minds as we do to killing the bad guys.
If you're talking about the hearts and minds of Bechtel, Halliburton and Lockheed Martin stockholders, you might be right.

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06428t.pdf

The security situation in Iraq has deteriorated since June 2003, with significant increases in attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces. In addition, the security situation has affected the cost and schedule of rebuilding efforts. The State Department has reported that security costs represent 16 to 22 percent of the overall costs of major infrastructure projects. Second, inadequate performance data and measures make it difficult to determine the overall progress and impact of U.S. reconstruction efforts. The United States has set broad goals for providing essential services in Iraq, but limited performance measures present challenges in determining the overall impact of U.S. projects. Third, the U.S. reconstruction program has encountered difficulties with Iraq's inability to sustain new and rehabilitated infrastructure projects and to address basic maintenance needs in the water, sanitation, and electricity sectors.U.S. agencies are working to develop better performance data and plans for sustaining rehabilitated infrastructure.

As the new Iraqi government forms, it must plan to secure the financial resources it will need to continue the reconstruction and stabilization efforts begun by the United States and international community. Iraq will likely need more than the $56 billion that the World Bank, United Nations, and CPA estimated it would require for reconstruction and stabilization efforts from 2004 to 2007. More severely degraded infrastructure, post-2003 conflict looting and sabotage, and additional security costs have added to the country's basic reconstruction needs. However, it is unclear how Iraq will finance these additional requirements. While the United States has borne the primary financial responsibility for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq, its commitments are largely obligated and future commitments are not finalized. Further, U.S. appropriations were never intended to meet all Iraqi needs. In addition, international donors have mostly committed loans that the government of Iraq is just beginning to tap. Iraq's ability to financially contribute to its own rebuilding and stabilization efforts will depend on the new government's efforts to increase revenues obtained from crude oil exports, reduce energy and food subsidies, control government operating expenses, provide for a growing security force, and repay $84 billion in external debt and war reparations.
 
#15
crabtastic wrote
Things like this don't help:

www.foxnews.com/story/...50,00.html

Quote:
Congress approved the policy in 1993. It allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and do not disclose their sexual orientation.

Of those who left, 757 held critical jobs for which the Pentagon (search) offers re-enlistment bonuses because of their specialized nature, such as data processing technicians and translators.

Many who were discharged had intelligence-related jobs. Also, 322 spoke foreign languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Mandarin, which the Pentagon has called critical skills amid threats from terrorists.
But, not to worry, the US armed forces can get all the translators they need from the over-achieving high-fliers with tattoos on their necks and hands that they're now letting in.
Fair & balanced reporting from you, as per usual, T6. "My boss says it's true, so it must be right


I find it difficult to believe that in a country of 300 million, the loss of 322 people, some of whom speak Arabic can't be replaced and the don't ask , don't tell program will be the the cause of our ultimate demise.

No doubt other militaries have far more enlightened policies regarding gays in the military which has added to their success on the battlefield.





The US military is learning how to fight a counter insurgency far faster than it did in Vietnam and is learning lessons from Vietnam and other counter insurgencies. It took the British 12 years to win in Malaysia.
http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2006/03/22/publiceye/entry1431158.shtml

The big question is whether civilians and politicians will give the military enough time to learn what is necessary to accomplish its mission. I hope the public can be as wise as the military in learning the lessons of Vietnam
 
#16
NEO_CON said:
The US military is learning how to fight a counter insurgency far faster than it did in Vietnam and is learning lessons from Vietnam and other counter insurgencies. It took the British 12 years to win in Malaysia. The big question is whether civilians and politicians will give the military enough time to learn what is necessary to accomplish its mission. I hope the public can be as wise as the military in learning the lessons of Vietnam
Hasty as ever. I note for the record that it took the US considerably less than 12 years to lose in Vietnam. I blame that Walter Cronkite, myself.
 
#18
A blogger from Baghdad

Her account of a raid carried out by the Iraqi security forces, supported by the US.

It doesn't paint a very positive picture, not by a long chalk. If this is typical of the conduct of US and/or Iraqi (and/or British, to be fair) troops, then it's hardly surprising if the hearts and minds battle is being lost.

I agree with whoever said above that knowledge of the language doesn't necessarily win you brownie points if you're kicking in the door and shouting at the women. But an understanding of the language often, even usually, goes hand-in-hand with an increased awareness of that culture. Certainly, without speaking the language, you can't ever really understand a culture.

sm.
 
#19
People keep mentioning that we as Brits have experience in the 'Counter insurgency' field because of colonial wars and then the series of campaigns leading upto and including N.I. However thats at a tactical level. Down at soldier level its a different story. Your average 18 year old squaddy has no idea about doing eagle VCP's in Belfast. Or doing a medic based hearts and minds op in Malaya. Etc etc.

The reason why this takes time is because its going to be the 18 year olds of Telic 1 Who are gonna be the Platoon Sergeants and Sergeant majors at the end of the campaign. When the lads who are in and serving at the time gather the individual low level experience when they get into command positions they can make the difference. The Anti terror Wars and The Counter insurgency campaigns are won by the faces on the ground. Not by the faces in goverment positions (If anything they put a face on the enemy).

So the yanks now with their experience in Nam can add tactical experience to the battlefield experience of some of the most combat experienced troops in the Western world to eventually go on to victory in a very Sh1tty campaign!
 
#20
NEO_CON said:
The big question is whether civilians and politicians will give the military enough time to learn what is necessary to accomplish its mission. I hope the public can be as wise as the military in learning the lessons of Vietnam
OK, Neo- calm yourself down. No need for bold type, old boy.

The problem with this statement is two-fold. The first is that it reflects Rice's position that the failings of US policy toward Iraq are tactical and not strategic. The second (and related) point is your presumption that it can be fixed.

There are a number of problems with the US strategy, and I would refer you all to Stephen Biddle's article "Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon" in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs for a fuller account of the problems that stem from overuse of the Vietnam analogy. Maybe, like Vietnam though, there is not going to be a 'military' solution to Iraq. Maybe there are fights you can get yourself into that you cannot win, no matter how good you are. The application of military force, despite it being the ultimate expression of national will and capability, is not a cure-all.
 

Latest Threads