During the past six years of combat rotations to Iraq, United States Army Special Forces have refined their lines of operation, or LOOs, to meet the ever-evolving challenges presented on the battlefield of counterinsurgency, or COIN.
The LOOs directed by combined joint special-operations task forces, or CJSOTFs, in Iraq and Afghanistan have varied greatly over time and have included: targeting enemy networks, conducting tribal engagements, conducting information and psychological operations, conducting combined lethal operations and developing networks of influence. However, one LOO that has remained the constant emphasis for the 10th SF Group in shaping the battlefield in Operation Iraqi Freedom is the conduct of foreign internal defense, or FID.
Joint Publication 1-02 defines FID as “participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness and insurgency.” The 10th SF Group has prioritized FID, emphasizing military training and combat-advising, to improve the capabilities of Iraqi Security Forces, or ISF, and ultimately to protect Iraqi society from insurgency. During OIF V and VI, SF Operational Detachment-Alpha 0324 learned that effective FID not only led to improved employment of ISF but also enabled the ODA to develop strong networks of influence and effectively accomplish the desired effects along their assigned LOOs.
Based in Kirkuk during OIF V, ODA 0324 spent the first half of its deployment conducting FID training with 84 Kurdish soldiers of the 4th Iraqi Army Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance Company.
In July 2007, the ODA conducted training in the military decision-making process, or MDMP, reassessing how to more effectively shape the operational environment.5
The 1-10 Infantry BCT followed suit and employed the SOI program across its entire sector. The new alliance was the single largest volunteer mobilization since the war began.6 The expansion of SF’s influence and the long-term shaping of the operational environment was made possible by the foundation of FID training. The ODA’s ability to neutralize a previous AQI stronghold and promote the primacy of the ISF was no aberration.
The ODA found that multiple friendly elements redundantly focused on insurgents in the Kirkuk City area, collected intelligence from the same sources and partnered with the same Iraqi elements.
Meanwhile, the detachment’s intelligence preparation of the battlefield indicated that the greatest threat had shifted to an area outside of Kirkuk City: Diyala Province was teeming with violence between al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, and Jaysh al-Mehdi, or JAM.1 Intelligence indicated the Hamrin Mountains, running along the Salah ad-Din/Kirkuk provincial boundary, provided an unimpeded supply route into Diyala for AQI.2 The key AQI node at the northern end of that supply line was the Zaab Triangle, formed by the towns of Bayji, Hawijah and Sharqat, with Zaab Village at its center.
There were virtually no coalition forces, or CF, and few ISF forces in the triangle because it was on the seam between three CF brigades and four provinces: Ninewah, Kirkuk, Irbil and Salah ad-Din. AQI firmly controlled most of the Zaab Triangle. The Hamrin Mountains essentially formed an AQI “supply snake” into Diyala Province, with the Zaab Triangle at its head. The ODA’s MDMP concluded that the best way to attack the snake was to cut off its head. >Top
In August 2007, therefore, ODA 0324 constructed a combat outpost in the heart of the Zaab Triangle, co-located with the largely AQI-corrupted 18th Strategic Infrastructure Battalion, or SIB. The ODA established close ties with the commander of the 18th SIB, mitigated his corruption, and initiated intensive FID training with his best platoons. The ODA advised NCOs from the 4th Iraqi Army ISR Company who were training platoons of the 18th SIB Scout and Quick Reaction Force, or QRF. This was a noteworthy accomplishment, persuading the Shiite Kurdish soldiers of the 4th IA to train with and later conduct missions alongside the Sunni soldiers of the 18th SIB. The FID training promoted a healthy competition between the Iraqi units to be the best ISF direct-action force in the area, demonstrating a vast expansion of the ODA’s influence.
The QRF platoon leader soon introduced the ODA commander to a retired major general of the Iraqi police. The general commanded the loyalties of the dominant tribe in the area. The timing of the meeting was crucial. AQI had recently killed a tribal member because it believed he had cooperated with U.S. forces. AQI had established the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, implementing strict, radical Sunni Sharia law, and it maintained dominance in the general area.
AQI regularly distributed ISI newsletters full of propaganda against the government of Iraq, or GOI, and the U.S. government, and it corrupted local leaders of the ISF and government. AQI conducted grisly executions for minor infractions of the Sharia law, including beheadings in the center of towns. Through those coercive tactics, AQI gained the ability to collect local taxes and command control of the area. However, with the execution of the tribesman and the arrival of ODA 0324 to the area, that was all about to change.
The ODA developed a close relationship with the general and the area tribal leaders, who previously had been wary of CF, ISF and the GOI. The ODA fostered the development of a tribal sahawa, or “awakening,” against AQI, in the form of a network of concerned local citizens. The sahawa organization slowly began providing the ODA with atmospherics and intelligence. With that intelligence, the ODA began combat-advising its counterparts in the 4th IA, ISR and 18th SIB to conduct direct-action raids against AQI facilitators and weapons caches.
As the ODA and FID partners degraded AQI control of the area, the sahawa grew in its strength, willingness and ability to provide intelligence. Local ISF also began cooperating more with the ODA and even asserting itself to enforce the GOI rule of law. The regional police chief began coming to sahawa meetings and cooperating fully with the ODA. The commander of the 18th SIB also grew less corrupt and began to employ his line companies in ODA-advised clearing operations against AQI.
On Sept. 17, 2007, the ODA and the 18th SIB Scout Platoon were en route to recover a cache when the combined force was caught in a two-sided ambush in a tight alley in the AQI stronghold of Hugna. All the FID training paid off — the SIB Scouts responded professionally.
The combined element returned fire, pushed beyond the kill zone and quickly began clearing back through that portion of the village. The ODA synchronized maneuver of the combined assault force, the Humvee-based support-by-fire elements, close air support from the 2-6 Cavalry, and a company-sized QRF provided by the 18th SIB and the 5-82 Field Artillery Battalion.
The action resulted in no friendly casualties, 14 detained AQI operatives and one enemy killed. The dead man, Baha Turki Abd Shabib, had been on the ODA’s high-value target, or HVT, list. He was the AQI leader of the Hugna area and had been linked to the deaths of more than 60 innocent Iraqis, including the notorious beheading of an Iraqi soldier. Shabib had been responsible for manufacturing IEDs and directing numerous IED attacks against CF and ISF.3 The operation was an ISF victory and resulted in the degradation of AQI in the Hugna area.
Also in September 2007, the ODA received a tip from a sahawa contact about a regional AQI leader in Old Zaab Village. The ODA and the 18th SIB QRF Platoon conducted a daylight time-sensitive raid and arrested Sattam Hamid Khalif, the area AQI leader, former Baath Party leader and 3/25 BCT HVT, who had been the primary target of nearly a dozen CF-led raids since 2003.4 The celebration in the streets over his capture lasted for the next several days.
Sattam’s capture was a huge psychological blow to area AQI. In just three months, the ODA had trained the formerly stagnant 18th SIB and advised them as they performed 32 successful direct-action operations, captured or killed 43 AQI operatives and recovered seven caches. These operations demoralized the AQI in the Zaab Triangle and asserted the ODA-advised ISF as the authority of the area.
In a third activity in September 2007, the ODA arranged a “Sons of Iraq,” or SOI, contract between the sahawa and the 5-82 Field Artillery Battalion to assist the ISF in securing the IED-laden roads of the northern Zaab Triangle. This SOI contract proved so successful that the 5-82 FA expanded the concept to other groups across its sector of the southern Ninewah Province.
In October, the ODA encouraged the 1-87 Infantry Battalion, in Hawijah, to work closely with the Zaab ISF and to initiate a SOI program for the sahawa in order to secure the roads of the central Zaab Triangle. From the beginning, the ODA influenced the Kirkuk provincial government to co-sign the SOI contract to ensure the sahawa’s loyalty to the GOI. Seeing the value of the SOI program, the 1-87 commander employed it across his entire battalion battlespace. The effect was rapid and remarkable. Camp McHenry, the 1-87 headquarters in Hawijah, had received daily indirect fire for the previous year; but by November 2007, the attacks had ceased.
Detachments from the 10th SF Group accomplished similar results across all of northern Iraq during OIF V.
ODA 0324 had a similar experience in gaining influence through FID during OIF VI in the holy city of Najaf, the capital of the Shia world. The previous ODA in Najaf focused on conducting leader engagements and collecting atmospherics and had conducted only four SF-advised ISF operations during the previous year. The provincial governor and the provincial director of police had a standing agreement with JAM in Najaf that JAM would not be targeted if it refrained from conducting attacks there. Therefore, JAM and JAM Special Groups, or JAM-SG,7 had freedom of movement in Najaf while they facilitated and planned attacks in other provinces. So while JAM-SG conducted attacks against CF convoys in adjacent provinces, in Najaf, the ISF elements, the police and the IA’s 30th Brigade, 8th Division, were stagnant. On the surface, Najaf appeared calm; in reality, it resembled a turbulent JAM-SG beehive.
Soon after its arrival in May 2008, ODA 0324 implemented an intensive FID training program with the burgeoning An Najaf SWAT, or ANSWAT, and special-forces platoons within the 30th IA BDE. The ODA revamped the ANSWAT qualification course program of instruction, or POI, into a five-week course that began with a challenging selection phase, followed by an operator training phase. The ODA helped the ANSWAT commander select NCOs to run future qualification courses and sustainment training for the unit. The ODA taught the ANSWAT NCOs how to lead training and then supervised them as they trained the unit. By September 2008, Najaf had a 110-man SWAT company that was fit, motivated, tactically sound and sustainable. >Top
Brigadier General Majid, commander of the 30th IA, witnessed the development of the ANSWAT and grew receptive to the ODA’s suggestions. He accepted the ODA’s recommendation to unite the three special-forces platoons in his brigade into one unit, the 30th IA Brigade Special Forces Company. The ODA conducted an assessment of the IA special-forces soldiers and developed a training POI. The soldiers had been trained by SF in the past, and the ODA determined that they needed to refresh their skills in combat marksmanship and small-unit tactics, or SUT. Once that was complete, the ODA leveraged its new influence with Majid to supply the special-forces company with flashlights for their weapons and trained them extensively on nighttime marksmanship and SUT. Those night skills proved critical during subsequent operations.
The training and skills-development of both Iraqi units led to a healthy competition to be the best in Najaf. Each unit wanted more training and combat-advising from the ODA to improve their skills and reputation, which expanded the ODA’s influence significantly. Soon the commander of the Najaf police’s Thu Al Fuqar Battalion approached the ODA to request training for his “special platoon.” This was significant because he, the provincial director of police and the lieutenant governor had served in Badr Corps8 together for decades and now formed the true power trio in Najaf.
Although the governor held the governorship,9 those three actually possessed more power in the province because of their standing within Badr Corps and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.10 In recent years, the secretive Thu Al Fuqar had gained a reputation as a rogue but effective unit that operated on behalf of the Badr Corps. The ODA capitalized on the opportunity to gain better access and influence with these actual leaders of Najaf, trained the police battalion’s special platoon, and later combat-advised its operations to effectively neutralize a JAM-SG IED cell in northern Najaf.
The FID program expanded the ODA’s influence in intelligence-collection, as well. Cooperation with the ISF units’ intelligence sections helped the ODA develop more reliable targets. The expansion of the ODA’s influence with provincial leaders also led to relationships whereby key governmental leaders often shared valuable intelligence with the ODA. Ultimately, the FID program enabled the ODA to develop dependable intelligence and served to influence the provincial governor and ISF leaders to begin approving SF-advised direct-action operations to arrest mid- and high-level members of JAM-SG seeking refuge in Najaf.
The Hay al-Rathma neighborhood, in the Sadr City of Najaf, was long considered a JAM-SG controlled area, off-limits to ISF and CF. On Oct. 23, 2008, the ODA gained intelligence and approval to conduct a series of raids against three targets in Hay al-Rahtma. The ODA combat-advised the 30th IA Brigade SF Company in the successful arrest of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq’s number-three HVT, Ali Hamza Hadad; the ODA’s HVT, Sayid Jihad Musawi; and the Multi-National Division-Central’s HVT, Nasir the Fat. Those raids ended Hay al-Rahtma’s status as a JAM-SG safe zone.
From October 2008 to January 2009, ODA 0324 continued to combat-advise the ANSWAT, the 30th IA Brigade SF Company and Thu Al Fuqar during 23 raids across the An Najaf Province with 21 of them (91 percent) resulting in the arrest of the primary target. In all, 38 warranted JAM-SG insurgents were put behind bars. These terrorists included an unprecedented nine HVTs of the MNC-I, MND-C and Task Force-17. Intelligence feedback indicated that not only was Najaf no longer a safe haven for JAM-SG but also that terrorists who once found sanctuary in Najaf were fleeing the province to seek refuge elsewhere.
The ODA’s FID program not only led to degradation of JAM-SG but also enabled the ODA to expand its influence into the rural tribal areas of the province. The commander of the 5th Department of Border Enforcement, or DBE, approached the ODA to request training for his Cobra Force. The ODA provided some training and developed a relationship that would facilitate intelligence-gathering and access to area sheiks.
The sheiks were totally disenchanted with the GOI, especially the Badr-led provincial government and police. In November 2008, the ODA learned that several sheiks were so angry with the provincial government that they were making plans to conduct a provincial coup with 300,000 armed tribesmen. Through FID training and integrating Civil Affairs projects funded by Najaf’s provincial reconstruction teams, the ODA was able to gain great influence over the 5th DBE and the tribes and eventually convinced the sheiks to conduct a “democratic revolution” instead of an armed one.
For the first time, these tribes began to acknowledge the new GOI and became involved in the democratic process. The sheiks began organizing conventions and political rallies. During the 2009 provincial election, they won six seats in the Najaf provincial parliament and helped elect the new Najaf governor, Adnan Zurfi, of the Beni Hassan tribe.11
ODA 0324’s ability to build confident and competent ISF, to persuade previously distrustful Shia and Sunni tribes to support the GOI, and to influence provincial and ISF leaders to support effective direct-action operations that ended AQI and JAM-SG sanctuaries was all made possible by the ODA’s robust FID programs.
The detachment’s ability to gain influence and shape the operational environment through FID during OIF V and VI was no anomaly. The 10th SF Group ODAs had similar accomplishments in dozens of outstations across Iraq. During OIF V and VI, the 10th SF Group-led CJSOTF-AP conducted 4,644 FID training events, an average of 15 events per day, with a unit of only brigade strength. Direct extensions of the 10th Group’s FID priority, CJSOTF elements brokered 3,011 tribal engagements and conducted
1,783 direct-action operations, resulting in the capture of 1,138 primary targets and 1,743 persons of interest. FID, as exemplified by ODA 0324 and all 10th SF Group elements in OIF V and VI, directly expands SF influence, and it will remain paramount to successful COIN campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
1 Jaysh al-Mehdi is an Iraqi paramilitary force created in June 2003 by the radical Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. JAM was responsible for most of the insurgent violence in southern Iraq from 2004 to 2007.
2 Kirkuk Province is also known as At Ta’mim Province to westerners.
3 The Hugna ambush story is reported at: http://www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14106&Itemid=128.
4 The ODA paid out the standing $10,000 reward for the information that led to Sattam Hamid Khalif’s capture.
5 Information about the effects of the Hawijah SOI program come from: http://www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18614&Itemid=128.
6 The USA Today report on the SOI mobilization: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2007-11-28-iraq-wednesday_N.htm?csp=34.
7 Jaysh al-Mehdi – Special Groups are the cell-based Shia insurgent organizations operating within Iraq, backed by Iran. These groups have some connections with Jaysh al-Mehdi and are largely funded, trained and armed by the Iranian Quds Force.
8 The Badr Corps (also known as Badr Brigade or Badr Organization) was based in Iran for two decades during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It consisted of thousands of Iraqi exiles, refugees and defectors who fought alongside Iran in the Iran–Iraq War. Returning to Iraq following the 2003 coalition invasion, the group became the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
9Although the Najaf governor was a member of ISCI, he was a moderate who was new to the party. ISCI leadership expected him to follow the guidance of the lieutenant governor.
10 The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is an Iraqi political party currently led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Its support comes from the country’s Shia Muslim community and the Islamic Republic of Iran. It was previously known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
11 The tribes won six seats on the An Najaf Provincial Council under the political party names of “Loyalty to Najaf” and “Najaf Unity”: http://www.niqash.org/content.php?contentTypeID=75&id=2395&lang=0.