Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
March 20, 2006
One Hundred Miles of DesertBy Greyhawk
In which we attempt to answer the question: If you put a group of reporters in a room and explain Operation Iraqi Freedom to them very, very slowly and carefully using very simple terms, will they attain any level of understanding?
Read Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli's briefing from the second day of Operation Swarmer and you'll find a great illustration of the press disconnect from ground truth in Iraq. After an opening statement updating the misreporting of the "civil war":
...the press was actively tracking and reporting every single mosque attack, but the vast majority of the reporting was off the mark. I recalled reports of hundreds of mosques attacked and 30 mosques burning in Baghdad in one night. These reports were terribly inaccurate....the General outlined progress and explained plans for the upcoming months.
Following that came questions and answers, and Operation Swarmer was foremost on everyone's list. Bear in mind that this is only the second day, no one has had time to read the full (280+ words!) press release, and reporters are still confused about the nature of the operation. They think it's a massive air attack on a city somewhere - but it's really a search for weapons caches and insurgents in a one hundred square mile desert area:
Q General, this is Bob Burns from AP. I'd like to ask you a question about Swarmer. Is there a reconstruction, economic development piece that goes hand in hand with this operation or is it strictly an offensive operation?You have to appreciate that the General is now trying to frame an answer about the "economic development piece" that doesn't make the reporter look like an uninformed buffoon, and that he in turn might not fully grasp the fact that the reporters are convinced a new version of "shock and awe" is ongoing:
GEN. CHIARELLI: There's a -- we work all lines of operation in every single operation we conduct, and I think Swarmer will be no different from any other one. We consider that an essential part of what we're doing. And I think you can tell by Swarmer it was conducted in the desert, for all practical purposes, in an area about 10 miles by 10 miles. It was a large operation consisting of Iraqis and U.S. forces. Again, it's one of those changes that has taken place since I came back to Iraq. Had we tried to accomplish a mission like this 11 months ago, it would have been primarily U.S. forces. But in this case -- I think you've all seen the numbers -- is we have primarily Iraqi forces supported by U.S. and coalition forces. And I can tell you that we will work all lines of operation, including reconstruction, in support of the Iraqi people in that area at the completion of the operation.But the next questioner on the topic didn't catch that bit about this being an operation in the desert:
Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra Channel. Would you please give us more details about the Swarmer operation? What kind of resistance are you facing in Samarra?So the General tries to explain once again:
GEN. CHIARELLI: First of all, Swarmer was an operation out in the desert. It really marks a change, and it marks an evolution -- our ability to get outside many of the large metropolitan areas and begin to do and conduct operations based on intelligence we receive both from U.S. sources, from Iraqi sources in areas where we think insurgent networks are operating. And that's really why the size of the operation was the way it was, is that it was a huge area -- 10 kilometers by 10 kilometers (sic) [10 miles by 10 mile]. We had intelligence that -- we had anti-coalition terrorists and foreign fighters working in that area, and it took a lot of Iraqi soldiers and U.S. support to get into the area that we wanted to work.Moments later the third reporter to ask a Swarmer question still hasn't caught on to the fact that the operation is taking place in the desert:
Q This is the other Lisa, Lisa Meyer, from AP Radio. I've got two questions about Operation Swarmer. I'm wondering if you could describe what the composition of the leave-behind force will be once the operation is completed, whether it will be Iraqi or American, both; whether it will be police commandos, whatever. And also about the timing of it. Could you explain to us -- there are some people that say that there's a political subtext here, and I'm wondering if you could describe whether in fact there was a long period of time that transpired between conception and execution.And by this time the General must be wondering if his mic is working:
GEN. CHIARELLI: I really can't -- I can't figure out why people did the analysis that they did. I think that anybody's who's been on the ground -- and there are a lot of folks that have been on the ground -- I think today we had some people up there -- will see that this is a largely uninhabited area that is 10 miles by 10 miles; it is a huge area where we had some direct intelligence but where we felt what we needed to do was really look through that entire area, look for these caches. There's a science to hiding this stuff, and we went out there with that in mind.Or maybe it's April Fools? Because that could explain how the fourth questioner missed that subtle hint about the operation occurring out in the desert:
Q General, Al Pessin from Voice of America. I wanted to follow up on the second Lisa question. When we heard about the series of operations in northern Iraq last year, the idea was that you were leaving Iraqi forces behind to secure the areas. Are you not doing that this time? I understand it's at least the second time that this particular area's been assaulted. So are you planning to then leave it and perhaps end up having to do this again?The general then tries one last time to explain that as we turn over the cities to the Iraqi troops you'll see more rapid deployment of US and Iraqi troops to more remote locations (the desert, for instance) in hopes of catching some of the bad guys who have been driven from the towns:
GEN. CHIARELLI: It's a great opportunity. I think operations like Swarmer are operations you're going to see more and more of as we turn over more of the large urban areas to Iraqi forces. We're going to get out into some of these areas -- they're very manpower intensive -- to take a look and to look at intelligence that we've gotten, areas that we may not have been able to get to before, areas that the Iraqis are particularly, given their capabilities, good at moving into and helping us find the kind of things we found on Swarmer -- that we'll continue to do these kinds of operations.So there you have it, a general trying his best to explain that this operation - initially involving 1,500 US and Iraqi troops - is designed to check out a 100-square mile desert area where some insurgents were holed up, while a few hundred thousand other coalition forces are holding the cities. In short, what we've been planning on doing all along.
And here's the next evolution:
This is also the year of the police, where we are providing police training teams and unit partnerships and mentoring to help develop the capability of the police force, much as we have with the army. Once trained, these police forces will take responsibility for securing urban areas, allowing the army to move out of the cities for more of a focus on national security.But if you ignore all those facts, numbers, and plans you can make a good "whack-a-mole" story:
Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the operation casts "serious doubts" on U.S. policies in Iraq and said it was "another version of Whack-A-Mole."Because it fits on bumper stickers.
And of course, if you ignore everything the general said about operation Swarmer, then go check it out for yourself, you could be disappointed to discover he was telling the truth.
Meanwhile, something else from Lieutenant General Chiarelli's briefing almost went unnoticed:
As I left Iraq -- I can only speak of Baghdad. And in fact, I think Baghdad was the only location in Iraq in March of 2004 where we had actually turned over battlespace to Iraqis. We had a brigade headquarters and two battalions inside Baghdad. I come back to Iraq with what you all see every day -- us turning more and more battlespace -- it's hard for me to even keep track of it on a daily basis -- over to Iraqis to the point where by this summer, about 75 percent of Iraq will be in -- that battlespace will be owned by Iraqi units.President Bush recently announced a much more humble "goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006" - making him much more pessimistic about our progress then his commander on the ground.
I wonder how the press missed that disconnect. You'd think they'd be all over it...
Posted by Greyhawk / March 20, 2006 10:10 PM | Permalink
... Just an observation, folks: 99% of what you read in the paper was written by people who wouldn't know the difference between an aircraft carrier and a submarine, or between an M1A and an M-16. If your going to read the crap they write at all, read ... Read More
I know Ace already linked this, but if you haven't seen it there, you must visit Mudville Gazette to read this DoD press conference on Operation Swarmer. After all the press asked their questions, I think I would be forgiven Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com