"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

23 July 2009

Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq

The chosen book of this week has been Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq by Mike Tucker and Charles Faddis.

I have always enjoyed Mike Tucker's books, especially Hell is Over and Among Warriors in Iraq.
This one has an interesting premise, covering the actions of the intelligence community before and during the Iraq War. I found Operation Hotel California to be engaging and well written. Its format basically takes shapes during the author's conversations with clandestine operatives who have returned stateside.

The content of a book like this is inherently unverifiable. I can't confirm through research much of what is said, specifically the harsh line the author takes towards a particular military commander and elements of CIA headquarters. Additionally, the events of any memoir are clouded through the lens of personal experience, which makes me take accounts with a grain of salt.

Part clandestine war memoir, part commentary on the military/ intelligence strategies put in place at the outset of the Iraq War, Tucker leaves you with with plenty to think about. For me, three things stuck out:

1. Finishing the Job
Tucker and Faddis recount moment after moment where, due to bureaucracy, apathy, service/departmental/agency rivalry, or simple incompetence, known terrorists are allowed to escape. They claim that the opportunity to eliminate significant numbers of Ansar al-Islam and Al-Qaeda in Iraq was passed up time and time again, to the dismay of clandestine teams on the ground who spent the time gathering intelligence at great risk to themselves.

They recount another episode at the beginning of the war in 2003, where Kurdish peshmerga with the aid of clandestine teams, were set to destroy a rail line that was vital to the transportation network of the Iraqi Army. Headquarters decided that the Iraqis had to be warned of the impending attack before it took place, putting the covert operatives in great danger.

Personally, one thing I don't understand, is fighting a war while tying the hands of your war fighters. Either you are at war, and the powers that be have the stomach to do what needs to be done, or not. Fighting half-halfheartedly just seems to get a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

Tucker and Faddis are of the opinion: "Dead terrorists build not cells. Dead terrorists open no offshore accounts. And dead terrorists do not kill Americans and our allies."

2. The Kurds
Mike Tucker has written about the Kurds before, and I have great respect for the warrior spirit. I had not realized before this book what a significant role Kurdish peshmerga played in military operations and clandestine operations in Northern Iraq. Reading this account of their actions in Northern Iraq in 2002-2003, that respect only deepens.

Despite the fact that the U.S. has made many promises to the Kurds in the past and failed to live up to them, Tucker and Faddis report that they fought bravely beside us to take down Saddam. They aided the clandestine teams by providing supplies, weapons, ammunition, intelligence, manpower, and networking with important players in Northern Iraq.

Tucker and Faddis also report that many players inside the Beltway took Kurdish support for granted, and continued to make promises to them that they did not keep. They also did not take seriously Kurdish concerns about what the consequences would be for them to support the Americans. The Kurdish generals wanted reassurance that the Americans had a plan to deal with Saddam's surface-to-surface missiles in range of heavily populated Kurdish cities. After all, the Kurds had more than hypothetical experience with Saddam's brutality and use of chemical weapons. According to Tucker and Faddis, they got little more than lipservice, and it was up to the Kurds themselves, with the clandestine operatives and limited number of special operators, to come up with a plan of protection.

Despite this, from the early preparations for war in 2002, to the March-May 2003 period where combat operations officially began, Tucker and Faddis state:
"The Kurds were brilliant and did not fail us."

3. "The Lost Surrender of Mosul"
The final point that stuck with me was the discussion of the possible, ultimately failed, surrender of the Iraqi Army essentially as the war began.

Tucker and Faddis claim that "getting the 5th Corps Iraqi Army to surrender was one of our core objectives, since March 2002, and necessary to the surrender of Saddam's Northern Front--150,000 Iraqi Army soldiers." They claim such a surrender would allow Iraqi Army elements not willing to fight for Saddam in Southern Iraq to fall in line, reassured that the Americans would finish the job this time. This was essential to the whole Iraq war strategy, as it would allow the smaller fighting force Rumsfeld insisted on using to be effective. The Iraqi Army, police force, and other administrative elements hypothetically would be under American control and could be used to keep law and order intact.

Elements of the Kurdish peshmerga, and clandestine operatives operating in northern Iraq had no contact with US military units in the area until the 173rd Airborne dropped in. They had not been notified of the clandestine activity in the area or received any of the intelligence the clandestine teams had spent so much time gathering. After initially working together with these teams in the area, Tucker and Faddis claim that a Lieutenant Colonel with 10 Group Special Forces cut off all communication between the clandestine teams and the military on the ground in the area. They could only communicate with command elements. Faddis claims this was due to a select few individuals with in the military structure and in Washington that "did not want the CIA to get credit for the surrender of the main force of the Iraqi Army."

After at least 14 months of work, the Kurds and counterterrorist teams set up a meeting between the "Iraqi Army 5th Corps Commander, the mayor of Mosul, key tribal sheiks, and former senior Baathists to offer the keys to the city to the United States and the Coalition....verbal surrender was already agreed on." The Lieutenant Colonel with 10th Group Special Forces was to come and accept the surrender because back in Washinton, SecDef Rumsfeld had decided the CIA could not accept the surrender of any Iraqi Army elements.

Tucker and Faddis claim that on April 11, 2003, the LtCol went into this meeting with a belligerent attitude and with little to no understanding of Iraqi/Arab/Near East culture. He then set forth a series of bureaucratic conditions to accept the surrender and issued demands to the mayor and commanders, without consulting those who had been working with these individuals. Tucker and Faddis claim that no consideration was made for cultural norms and this caused to the meeting to break down, and ultimately, the surrender of the city of Mosul and over 50,000 Iraqis and their accompanying military apparatus to be lost.

Faddis states: "They went from happy to surrender to us, to very unhappy to be in our presence, at the drop of a hat." Tucker and Faddis claim that this type of action, along with the disbanding of the Iraqi Army by Paul Bremer, as well as a general lack of cultural knowledge, contributed to the roots of the insurgency in Iraq.

For Tucker and Faddis, the lost surrender of Mosul was key to the failed Iraq strategy and the development of the insurgency. It symbolized how ego, lack of cultural knowledge, petty rivalry, and a power structure back stateside which was divorced from reality on the ground got a lot of good people killed. They claim because of this event, the U.S. lost years and billions of dollars, as well as a lot of good men.

If this happened as they claim, it really makes you stop and consider "what if." How could this one event have changed the whole course of the war? How many men killed in Mosul and northern Iraq could still be alive? Once again, it forces you to consider how the actions of those in control effect those that have to execute those orders. People who do not have their lives on the line, who are not on the ground, so often get lost petty rivalry and personal concerns. These things often have catastrophic consequences, whether it be the intelligence communications breakdown that contributed to 9/11 or the loss of a potential surrender of significant numbers of enemy forces in a shooting war.

Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq is an engaging look at what was going on in the shadows in the early days of the Iraq war. Had me wincing at several points with the "what ifs" and "no ways." Worth the read.

1 comment:

Ball State Marine said...

we should really have a discussion about some of the things going on in southern afghanistan, i think you would find them interesting.