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  • Darren Lindeman

Issues with Iraq's military ergonomics and the Islamic State's Mobile Crust strategy

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

The United States' military doctrine in the Gulf war and invasion of Iraq is an example of network centric warfare. The definition of network centric warfare is using computers for signals and intelligence distribution between geographically dispersed forces. The key to the success of network centric warfare is not technology but also on the human factors of management and these include training, doctrine, organization and leadership. The Russian military intervention in Syria which began in 2015 includes advise, assist missions and air strike operations. Russian special forces have partaken in tactical reconnaissance, forward air control, light fire support and operation advisory against their opponents. This implicates circumstantially that Russian troops may engage in high risk environments for their objectives. Gradual participation in the conflict allows for a nation to increase combat readiness through learnt experiences under different and shifting circumstances and is a hall mark of learning in mobile insurgencies and or squad sized warfare.

Russia may also be testing new network centric capabilities in Syria. The first and second Gulf war are examples of utilizing a network centric warfare approach against a conventional foe. Insurgents and insurgency organizations unlike conventional armies are reflexive. My definition of the phrase reflexive is how the organization of a fighting entity changes to current and future battle field demand in a non linear or sporadic fashion. Therefore each soldier's role is not viewed through a formal division of labor but by his multi input to the non tangible fighting efficiency of a force. This idea takes into account that insurgency armies are largely informal in structure. Insurgencies therefore may benefit from the lack of inefficient protocols, rules of engagement and regulated command and control all the while having better resource allocation. These resources include financial, military and intelligence resources. Tactical competence and violence of action is one of the hall marks of the Islamic State as seen in the fall of the Northern Iraqi security forces during 2014.

Therefore adaptation, learning and improvisation of tactics, techniques and procedures is highlighted as a strength of the Islamic State. Tactical competence has been noted as a weakness of the Iraqi armed forces. The fall of Mosul is highlighted as a military disaster and a military failure in intelligence, tactics, leadership and corruption. As much as war is based on the mixed input of organization and logistics, tactical competence and its influence over an operation is very important and is the backbone of a military capability. Tactical competence and morale are both inter relating factors in military performance. High tactical ability leads to confidence, to which morale can be improved as soldiers believe in their own aptitude. Looking historically high morale does not necessarily highlight tactical competence but indicates a willingness to accomplish military objectives and determination. Besides tactics, corruption also played a large part in Iraq's military inefficiencies. The U.S military spent nearly 25 billion on training, equipping and sustaining Iraqi security forces by 2012, a whopping amount.

This should be considered against Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service's annual budget never exceeded 700 million annually before 2017. Yet it was Iraq’s counter terrorism forces which persevered Iraq’s ability to conduct its subsequent military offensives post fall of Mosul against the Islamic State. The term Praetorian is highlighted as the CTF and Iraqi special forces brigade under the CTF were trained initially as an unconventional warfare unit. The fall of Mosul and subsequent other Iraqi cities shows the demand for formations whom can operate in sporadic and attrition based ,urban warfare scenarios. Therefore, the CTF forces’ doctrines during the Iraqi state’s re – offensive and especially during urban warfare scenarios follows much conventional procedures in urban warfare. These include frontal offensives, armored spearheads, urban maneuvering and holding ground as opposed to utilizing an exclusive mobility, deception-based strategies and sporadic assault tactics.

Under the stresses of war the re – alignment of political and social cultural support to the capacity of Iraq’s counter terrorism security forces is betters and enables efficiencies in these organizations and particularly to its logistics and command aptitudes. If the saying is one year of war is equivalent to five years of peace time readiness then the Iraqi context would apply. Under attrition demands Iraq's CTF ISOF and the ministry of Interior’s Emergency response division had to find new recruits to fit their operational demands from attrition battle. Inevitably this intense formalization and battle readiness come directly from operational demands and therefore for selection processes for new recruits are short and may emphasize flexibility. The effectiveness of Iraq’s CTF and MOI brigades’ highlight’s effective formalization of new recruits during ongoing battle and covering attrition shortfalls. This idea of fast training – induction and formalization of combat roles, therefore, open the idea of how these forces are actually trained.

Observing that much armies across the world are much thoroughly state trained and recruited. Many times, when armies are unable to build domestic capacities foreign contracting, is used. However, as much supply of veterans globally are finding means to promote and sell their trade, so does the cost of military training go down. The idea of a formalized, state sanctioned training protocol being an exclusive source of training is questionable as there are other alternatives. The concept of training fundamentals and capacity building is somewhat strange and given this situation three points is high lighted. 1. Whether or not free markets can take over some aspect of military training and operations at efficient prices. 2. Whether or not state should demand or provide capacity and what is the optimal equilibrium 3. What is the idealized skill set for combat efficiency of a soldier and their respective units. Armies as is anything is at times highly inefficient in resource allocation.

Such is for example that the salary of a U.S marine or army private whose military occupation is a cook earns a higher salary then a fighting ISOF soldier. Therefore, if Iraq was to learn anything during its wartime is effective and particularly efficiency procedures for its military forces. Referring back to the failure of Iraq’s military; capacity building therefore in Iraq’s military should follow the example set precedent by its praetorian formations. These include the tactical competency, morale and leadership qualities that were distinguished by these formations in wartime. In terms of performance metrics, the Iraqi military is a failed, corrupt and bureaucratic institution. However, one under highlighted aspect of this in effectiveness may factor in the civilian soldier concept and the lack of a warrior ethos so to speak. The idea of the military especially in the United States Army have featured many civilian — soldier — oriented passive approach to its image and values and this is differentiated from the Marine corps.

Most if not all military have an objective clause and they mainly are paraphrased to the extent of 'defense of the sovereignty and integrity of the state’s people and institutions'. As Iraq is a sectarian state the nation toting idea would definitely not be a sell out to potential recruits. Is it plausible that U.S. military planners overlooked the cultural narrative of a soldier and their cultural fore bearer of the warrior… If the United States Army was the central organizational model that Iraq’s own army followed in its organization culture therefore this begs the question of the lack of a warrior ethos. This might have contributed to poor morale and leadership in the Iraqi security institutes. In my own view, the Iraqi security forces in early 2019 are in a strategically optimistic position due to the decline of the Islamic State and the high sustaining military budget and acquisition of equipment and infrastructures for it’s security institutions. There are however conflicting views to how the security institutions should be rationed with resources and the degree of political acknowledgement to their authorities.

Iraqi militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Units for example took much part of military operations. Therefore this begins the questions of what are the roles, objectives and level of resource support these entities should have. Iraq’s experience with the Islamic State, should also bring in better efficiency procedures in the management of military resources. With this in mind therefore military efficiency should be the contextual vocal in which decisions are made and not only other formal priorities like leadership and corruption. These include efficiencies in creating a training framework, logistic, military infrastructure, wages and equipment and technology procurement. In my opinion one cornerstone of developing Iraq’s security capacity is to create better efficiency literacy. Looking in hind sight it was the management and accountability of Iraq’s relief and reconstruction fund that led to the geo political disaster that occurred subsequently. Military resource inefficiency likely has contributed to the fall of Mosul and the Islamic State territorial gains in 2013-2014.

To achieve military efficiency Iraq should considering optimizing resources allocation in building informal methods of military capacity. As the Islamic State showed improvisation of military equipment is effective against a state which has billions of dollars invested in training and use of this equipment. Circumstances dictate in war and therefore standardization is the irony in which a military entity is supposed to benefit from economies of scale. However, much times inefficiency and lack of creativity are highlighted and looking at the military performance of other Arab Sunni states, this has serious consequences to tactical competence. Therefore, the military should adopt a resource allocation policy which removes much unneeded bureaucracy. For example, formations whose performance, cohesion and aptitude on a professional basis qualify for better payment should be allocated preferential military resources. Formations whom are manned but combat ineffective, should be disbanded and replaced.

Inefficiency of the military bureaucracy is emphasized as a major obstacle and that beyond changing executive personnel an efficiency committee with the utmost of executive authority be in place to instigate change. The committee should have the parliamentary and judicial support to support efficiency measures in military resources. With relation to this efficiency is how the Islamic State fights. In the defense of Mosul beginning during the end of 2016, the Islamic State had used mobile warfare and in particularly the crust strategy.

The Islamic State's crust strategy.

The crust strategy is an interesting concept which positions the Islamic State fighters along a sporadic front. The objective is to enable continued sporadic attacks along the rear and on critical element of the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. The Crust strategy presumptive relies on a few factors for it to achieve it's objective.  The first is deception and intelligence. The Islamic State mobile fighters have to blend in or manage their mobility and presence without alerting the Iraqi security forces or other invading forces. The second factor is logistics and the managing of essential transportation for ammunition and fuel for example. The third is mobility and that the Islamic State cells can operate independently and not get strategically cornered. Therefore it is reasonable to assume the crust strategy is a deviation of the unconventional rear assault designed to highlight mobility and maximize the advantage of the fog of war.

However an element is also on the suicidal nature of the assault so the attackers are more prone to take risk reward initiatives. The crust strategies however open an interesting point on counter Islamic State tactics. These are counter mobile reflexive warfare. If a state's military is not sufficiently trained and technologically invested, this adds more layers of difficulty for the units and formations dealing with reflexive warfare. Have state armed forces dealt with counter reflexive battles then? Hezbollah, the Iranian Quds force and Syrians Syrian Arab Army have been fighting precisely this form of battle for a long time. The three entities have fought the Islamic State over many years, with precisely mobile tactics and infantry denominated maneuvers. Therefore the state's adapted linear considerations of war with a non linear and mobile enemy. 

To defeat the Islamic State one should consider a well motivated and highly trained force. They should emphasize mobility, improvisation and patience. The force should also emphasize a pure mobile aspect, akin to marauding horsemen fighting a European army in the crusades. This perfect mobility and dominance by fire power would likely reduce the effectiveness of the enemy's own mobility terms. The emphasis on mobility terms however depend on the space of the battle field and it's environment, and whether or not it favors certain type of maneuvers. Tactical literacy on the individual level also play a large role. One of the advantages of Eurasian and Chechen fighters in Syria was their tactical literacy. This was evident in their battlefield myth , foreign fighters here to die. 

Another consideration may be on firepower. Mobile terms should also be backed by firepower to hold and prevent forces from being overwhelmed. This also increases the confidence in the maneuver so that the forces would not be as easily out of position.