UAVs over Sadr City
November 9, 2008 11:31 AM   Subscribe

A sanitized look at the use of UAVs 1.9 miles above Sadr City, Iraq. [print version]

60 Minutes is granted access to information about the use of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) over Sadr City as part of Ray Odierno's counterinsurgency strategy. The video includes footage from both unarmed and armed drones used to provide so-called "persistent surveillance" of the city and to execute direct attacks on groups identified and tracked over hours or days.

Other parts of the strategy include a nearly two-mile long concrete wall separating the city:
"It seals off about a quarter of Sadr City and it's been beautified, with local artists painting murals of peaceful, happy scenes, that have to be approved by the U.S. Army. To get from one side of the wall to the other, the locals have to go through "entry points" and are checked when going back and forth."
Awakening Councils Concerned Local Citizens Sons of Iraq [mefi], another component in the strategy, have had their salaries reduced from $300 per day the U.S. was paying, to about $250 to be paid by the current Iraqi government. 2008 per-capita income is approximately $1,200.
posted by odinsdream (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nowhere To Hide: Killer drones that can see through walls.
posted by homunculus at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2008


Heartwarming.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:45 AM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


So it's technology that will be coming home broken, wounded or in body bags then? Neat.

That said, this is - with the glaring exception of cutting pay - a legitimate way to fight an insurgency. The wall seems arbitrary. And maybe it is. But it's a method of intelligence collection and reducing insurgent contact with the population.

The technology is more for fighting battles (destroying bases of operations, etc) than winning.
But at a wall personnel can become more acquainted with the population get to know people and the local rhythms and learn to spot unusual behavior. Plenty of other ways to do this. But a wall - ok.

On the one hand, reducing pay is good because they population can lean on U.S. forces for protection, might be more willing to talk to them, etc. On the other hand - it's a big step back overall. We're supposed to be past that stage and getting out of there.

I really don't see, especially in the light of cutting pay and knowing some armed men who have been visibly seen as protectors by the population, how any local leaders can be considered effective.
I mean - logistic support (money, equipment, trained folks like doctors, engineers, etc) is one method of manipulating the political scene. Village A is all about getting rid of the insurgents, provide a lot of info, etc. they get priority over Village B who isn't so actively on the counterinsurgency side.

But this - were not going to throw in an extra $50 a head? Let them go join criminal outfits instead? WTF?

(Typically when a situation looks like it's being run by someone with a split personality I think there is more than one interest at work at least equal to the one that's visible. I'm hard pressed to think Odierno is the only big dog out there running a playbook)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:58 AM on November 9, 2008


Thats $300/$250 a *month*, not per day.
posted by thandal at 11:58 AM on November 9, 2008


How would insurgents fight back against something like this?

The wall seems arbitrary. And maybe it is.

It looked to me like a honey trap, force the insurgents out in the open so we could track em with drones and kill them - it appears to have worked with only 6 US injuries. Amazing.
posted by stbalbach at 12:18 PM on November 9, 2008


Too bad all this involved enforcing our will on the people of Iraq... the very same people who believe, according to polls, that attacks upon U.S. occupiers are justified.
posted by markkraft at 12:36 PM on November 9, 2008


60 Minutes is granted access to information

Give me a fucking break.

And this robotic see-through-walls technology is just terrifying.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:40 PM on November 9, 2008


How would insurgents fight back against something like this?

Stop being idiots, dur.

We were playing the tech card in Vietnam with mobile people-sniffers, Igloo White, and computerized ID database centers in Thailand backing the Phoenix program. All these efforts had some measurable positive effect on the relative security of the Saigon government, but in the end it was the imbalances of both military power and underlying unified political will between PAVN and ARVN that decided the issue.

Shiite commando teams launching rockets toward the Green Zone is just low-level harrassment, and winning this battle doesn't really mean much in the overall scheme of things, breathless CBS fluffjobs to the contrary.
posted by troy at 12:43 PM on November 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


My fellow prisoners citizens, it's all coming home. Obviously.
posted by peppito at 12:58 PM on November 9, 2008


Thats $300/$250 a *month*, not per day.

Sorry about that, I must have mixed up my figures between various sources. It was hard to get a firm number anyway.
posted by odinsdream at 1:00 PM on November 9, 2008


Well, it is a bit of a fluffjob, but it was also a symbolic victory -- or more accurately, a denial of a symbolic victory for the insurgents. If it did indeed bring them back to the table it probably had a lot to do with stabilizing Maliki's political position following a virtual civil war.

Counterinsurgency may use different high-tech tools over the years but ultimately boils down to intelligence and patience. The guerrillas are denying a conventional-military pitched battle, so you have to draw them into battles where you define the conditions (honeytraps, as noted) and force them into conflict with the civilian population. Strategically it all makes sense.

There wasn't anything in this story, of course, about whether there were any independent assessments of civilian casualties. Ultimately, though, the Iraqi government appears to have made the necessary call. The rocket attacks on the Green Zone were seriously undermining its authority.
posted by dhartung at 2:12 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


troy:We were playing the tech card in Vietnam

Not to the extent that we are today. Not even close really. Think about it: the weapons of the Iraqi militias (AK, RPG, explosives) and their strategy (ambush, hide within local populations etc) are in general equivalent to those of the Viet Cong. Meanwhile, US forces bring to bear a vastly larger array of effective and advanced systems than they did in Vietnam.

The UAVs alone are a game-changer, especially in asymmetrical conflict. The "persistent surveillance" is key. We can watch a road for guys burying IEDs; we can detect a rocket being fired and determined its launch site; we can identify and track vehicles and individuals, and do it without risking many casualties, if any. A commander can decide either to take out the target or follow it back to base or to a rendezvous point and coordinate an assault there, as happened in Sadr City.

The telling statistic in that article is the number of US KIA in that battle: six.

troy:winning this battle doesn't really mean much in the overall scheme of things

Huh? It seems to me that al-Maliki moving against the Shi'ite militia is an important development, and that any battle in Sadr City, given its history and that of its namesake, is an important one to win. And the "low-level harassment," as you call it, is a symptom of the disease: the destabilization of Iraq socially and politically, caused by an ill-advised invasion and the subsequent multiple insurgencies that followed shortly after. We have to find a way to shut off the spigot of new recruits to these groups, or at least to slow it to a trickle. I think that, in Iraq at least, we are getting closer to achieving that goal.
posted by kurtroehl at 2:51 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The UAVs alone are a game-changer, especially in asymmetrical conflict. The "persistent surveillance" is key. We can watch a road for guys burying IEDs; we can detect a rocket being fired and determined its launch site; we can identify and track vehicles and individuals, and do it without risking many casualties, if any. A commander can decide either to take out the target or follow it back to base or to a rendezvous point and coordinate an assault there, as happened in Sadr City.

The telling statistic in that article is the number of US KIA in that battle: six.



rebel scum.
posted by geos at 3:01 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


We have to find a way to shut off the spigot of new recruits to these groups

IMO the mistake is thinking this is an effort that we can win, or lose, for that matter.

The Iraqis are going to settle this among themselves regardless of how much military technology aid we throw at one side or the other.

We didn't lose the Vietnam War, the RVN did. Focusing on the nuts and bolts on how we "took out" some military threat or leadership cell is missing the forest for the trees IMO.
posted by troy at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2008


According to Odierno, the Predator flies at about 10,000 feet and is quite silent, making it difficult for the enemy to hear.

This leads me to conclude that the EBE's who pilot UFOs through vast oceans of time and space aren't nearly as sophisticated as we think they are. They must be here to taunt us, intentionally "buzzing" us with Model-T level machines that are easily seen by everyone.

But due to this disparity in stealth, it's only a matter of time before one of our Brave American Machines shoots down one these pesky invaders. The EBE's will soon be detained like all the rest, at Gitmo, though I'm sure extra-small orange jump suits will need to be procured.

It's entirely possible that their biology is totally different than that of Earth organisms, and not based on water. Thus we may have to "ammonia-board" them or something.
posted by Tube at 3:29 PM on November 9, 2008


Nowhere To Hide: Killer drones that can see through walls.

Interesting. I looked up the coordinates that are shown in the picture accompanying that article. Both are in the middle of nowhere a little west of Jinan, China.

First coordinate.
Second coordinate.
R 530, the closest air force base in South Korea.
Second closest base.

I wonder where they got the image, and why that UAV was flying around China.
posted by odinsdream at 3:39 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Come on odinsdream, the factory has to test them before they ship them.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:51 PM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hah, I'm not declaring victory here, troy, just pointing out that over time we've become much more effective at fighting what is, indeed, a war that we may not be able to "win" in the traditional sense. But to say that it's a mistake to think we can win is just silly, and to say that US technology in the hands of the Iraqi military and police is irrelevant is equally silly. Of course the Iraqis will be the ones to truly settle things - that's what everyone wants! - but that does not mean they do not need our support, or that our support has no purpose.

As for Vietnam... no one person or government "lost" that war. It was a long-term collaborative effort, for which the US bears a great deal of responsibility. I just don't understand. You say We didn't lose the Vietnam War, the RVN did, and then assert that specific engagements in Iraq are unimportant. So your point seems to be that we need to leave it to the Iraqis ASAP because 35 years ago the RVN acquiesced, and that somehow "we" had nothing to do with it one way or the other. Makes very little sense to me. I think it's you who is missing the bigger picture, which is that the way we "take out" threats has changed, and is saving American lives. It may also help the Iraqi gov't gain control. These are good things, yes?
posted by kurtroehl at 4:18 PM on November 9, 2008


Odinsdream, I think you forgot the negative sign in front of the longitude. That puts the target in the Nellis AFB bombing range instead of in Jinan.
posted by Stig at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2008


Odinsdream, I think you forgot the negative sign in front of the longitude. That puts the target in the Nellis AFB bombing range instead of in Jinan.

Aw, that's way less cool.
posted by odinsdream at 5:12 PM on November 9, 2008


The U.S. will leave with phony pride and phony victory, but they most certainty *will* leave, because that is what the Iraqi people demand.

Indeed, it never served our interests to be there in the first place.

And a few years down the road, we're probably going to see Iraqi terrorists targeting Westerners or overthrowing our puppet government, either by force or democratically... most likely with Imam Moqtada al'Sadr leading the way.

We haven't won the hearts of Iraqis, so we have won nothing.
posted by markkraft at 5:20 PM on November 9, 2008


kurtroehl writes "The UAVs alone are a game-changer, especially in asymmetrical conflict. The 'persistent surveillance' is key. We can watch a road for guys burying IEDs; we can detect a rocket being fired and determined its launch site; we can identify and track vehicles and individuals, and do it without risking many casualties, if any. A commander can decide either to take out the target or follow it back to base or to a rendezvous point and coordinate an assault there, as happened in Sadr City. "

And yet they can't figure out a way to remotely decouple a sling so labourers aren't exposed to sniper fire. Not "shiny" enough I guess.
posted by Mitheral at 5:45 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Odinsdream, I think you forgot the negative sign in front of the longitude. That puts the target in the Nellis AFB bombing range instead of in Jinan.

Aw, that's way less cool.


It's better than this: I reversed the latitude and longitude and ended up exactly where I live.
posted by eye of newt at 6:20 PM on November 9, 2008


But to say that it's a mistake to think we can win is just silly

Just sayin' that . . . it's not our war, it's theirs. We can & should certainly help the faction of Iraqis we support "win", whatever group that is & whatever the definition of "win" is at this point.

Hint: I'll know a sufficiently stable situation has been achieved when the whole country is a Green Zone. Whether this occurs in my lifetime is not certain but entirely possible.
posted by troy at 9:46 PM on November 9, 2008


The civilian casualties caused by aerial bombardment is the number one most important underreported story of the war. It's a huge black mark on the whole U.S. involvement.

Nothing the U.S. military is trustworthy and this is no difference. The reduction of violence in Iraq can be better explained by changes in the political climate than any changes in strategy by the U.S. military. These changes in strategy have lead to less U.S. casualties, which is nice, but in the long term scheme of things doesn't matter much to what will happen in Iraq.

The major cause of the reduction in violence was caused by the Sunni tribes recognizing that boycotting the political process and siding with Al Queda was a losing strategy. This happened before the surge, though the money from the U.S. certainly helped.

So that leaves the Sadrists. But the one question no in the U.S. seems to ask, is why are we fighting them? As far as religous Shiite organizations in Iraq, they are the least pro-Iranian, and they have no interest in politics or "terrorism" outside of Iraq. But even in the early stages of the war, they were marked off as the bad guys and the U.S. initiated several useless confrontations with them. We should have started paying them off right when we took over Baghdad.

The only thing that makes sense is that the other Shiite parties played the U.S. into taking care of their Sadr problem for them. This actually makes Maliki look really smart. Keeping the U.S. army from attacking Sadr city until the Sadr death squads have finished up removing a viable Sunni presence from Baghdad, and once they were finished sicking the Yanks on them.

I'm also quite sceptical that the Sadr militia is actually beaten. Sadr has shown he knows when to back his forces off. Plus I'm pretty sure he will have lots of recruits:

"as sniper fire came in from every direction; Charlie Company retaliated with massive tank fire.

"We fired 800 tank rounds in this fight. We haven't fired that many tank rounds since the start of the war," Hort told Stahl.

800 tank rounds in the middle of crowded slum, not mention all the hellfire missiles means a lot of dead brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. No wonder Maliki still seems so scared of the Sadr.
posted by afu at 9:46 PM on November 9, 2008


I'm also quite sceptical that the Sadr militia is actually beaten.

I wonder what Harry Summers would make of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. I wonder if American "control" of Sadr City (as well as the rest of Iraq) is analogous to Summers' assessment of American "tactical victory, strategic defeat" in Vietnam.

When Obama pulls out an entire corp from Iraq to send to Afghanistan, what's going to happen?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:16 PM on November 9, 2008


"tactical victory, strategic defeat"

Seems to already be the case in Iraq, seeing how it lead a party most closely linked to our largest strategic competitor in the region.
posted by afu at 10:19 PM on November 9, 2008


“The reduction of violence in Iraq can be better explained by changes in the political climate than any changes in strategy by the U.S. military”

But they’re reciprocal. One can affect the political climate with strategic alterations.

That said, I don’t think that refutes your point. Indeed, it supports it.
Bribes cost, failed commitments cost more.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2008


Trying to do with technology what could easily be done with community trust and respect.

Some good may come from this, but the whole thing has slipped so far down the evil slope that any difference it makes may be trivial.
posted by asok at 6:50 AM on November 11, 2008


The Iraq Math War: Why the CDC and the Pentagon sought to discredit the first scientific tally of Iraq's civilian death toll.
posted by homunculus at 5:36 PM on November 12, 2008


Deadly Mosul: 'Like Baghdad About 18 Months Ago'
posted by homunculus at 7:10 PM on November 12, 2008


'Sticky' Bombs Hit Baghdad
posted by homunculus at 5:29 PM on November 14, 2008


Iraq cabinet approves troop agreement with U.S.
posted by homunculus at 10:12 AM on November 16, 2008


Proposed Iraq security pact calms Iran's concerns, too</a.
posted by homunculus at 3:11 PM on November 18, 2008


Military to Interpreters: Drop Dead
posted by homunculus at 10:12 PM on November 18, 2008


Iraqi Lawmakers Brawl Over Security Pact

Oh dear.
posted by homunculus at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2008


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