Advisers in Iraq: What They Do, What They Can Do

In the CNN article, “U.S. readying plan to send advisers to Iraqis fighting ISIS in Anbar“, a rather sterile description of the role of an advisor is provided by Col. Edward Thomas, spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “To be clear, this is not a change in mission nor is it a combat role, as they will be operating in the same advisory role as the other locations.” In the same article, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, expands it a little: “…train-advise-and-assist mission into the Al- Anbar Province.”

The key difference is “assist”, which does not mean opening doors, changing tires, or carrying luggage. Nor is it mission-creep, because the operational definition of “adviser” has always been usefully elastic. In his book First In, Gary C. Schroen, who lead the first C.I.A. mission to Afghanistan post 9/11, provides a personal view of the highly customized assistance to various indigenous forces in the early-phase of the U.S. intervention. Some of the forces that comprised the Northern Alliance had all the discipline and purpose we now ascribe to the Kurdish Peshmerga. Some commanders were exceptionally brave, inspiring, and professional.

But chapter 41 describes the defense of a position by a motley group of untrained or elderly Afghans, who might be a good model for the Albu Nimr tribe, advised by “Craig”, chief of the C.I.A.’s first team operating in southern Afghanistan. The  retreat of facing Taliban-allied forces had been achieved by massive application of air power from high flying B-52’s, with targeting provided by U.S. operators of which “Craig” is an example.

Separated by about 700 yards, the Taliban-allied elements, which included Chechens and Arabs, knew exactly the quality of the opposing force, so a shock assault was mounted, by three fighters. Quoting, “…and Craig could make out the figures of two, now three men…The three stood in line, arms raised above their heads, each holding an AK-47 and shouting…”

You did not misread. Three fighters went up against Craig’s 60 Mujahedin, charging across 700 yards of open ground. And the shouts? The taunts of Homer’s Iliad. Continuing, “…Sixty men, all armed, frightened by three men running towards them…” Acting as the adviser, Craig yelled, “Tell the men to shoot! Shoot!”

With the proviso that the following description of Afghan marksmanship applies only to the lowest category, the traditional firing position is to hold the weapon as high above the head as possible, and spray like a garden hose. In a slight upwards step of competency, the weapon is held lower, but emptied on full automatic, so that the burst climbs to the sky.

The account has more detail, and then, “…it was too much for the Afghans, and again, the shout of “Chechnya” rose in the air.  As if on signal, the entire group of 60 turned and began to run…”  The three were Chechens. Having crossed 700 yards of open ground, they occupied the positions formerly held by Craig’s Afghans. One grabbed his crotch, and wiggled his manhood. There are Chechens fighting in Iraq today, and they are some tough [expletive goes here.]

Craig had a problem. He and his partner could have easily shot the Chechens as they dashed through the open, but that could have resulted in fatal humiliation of his Afghan allies. So he resorted to a higher power, a B-52 loitering in the area, which dropped a GBU-31 within feet of one of the Chechens, who at the moment of detonation was offering Craig a kind of salute delivered with the middle finger of the hand.

For the Afghans, it was a morale building lesson, that the opponent was not invincible.  As much as technique, morale is a part of training.  One could argue that a B-52 strike was a gift of victory without valor, but one of the gifts of democracy is the understanding that the less valor, the better.

In the interest of precision, the term “Tactical Air Control Party” is a designation of the regular armed forces. The same function, or subset of target designation, is provided by special forces with various designations.