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Stealing the Enemy's Urban Advantage: The Battle of Sadr City (usma.edu)
246 points by jspencer508 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 207 comments

I had the "pleasure" of participating in these events as an 18 year old infantryman. Living in an outpost with a generator and no running water, tightly nestled away between AQI and JAM. Mortars in the morning, IED or two in the day, and skirmishes at night while the engineers brought in the T-walls. Character building, to say the least.

My ETS date was June 2002, I was a 19k (tank crewman). My first day as a civilian I swore into the Air Force reserve. Word was they were stop holding tankers and calling them back in. No effing way I was going to war with the low lifes and criminals I served with in tank platoons in the late 90s. I understand recruiting did a lot better after 9/11, more motivated people. All I knew was if the Air Force has me the Army couldn’t get me. Peace brother.

Wow, that would be a great answer for the YC application's "Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage?" question.

It was a fascinating and terrifying read. I’m glad you made it out.

Thank you for your service.

Nice to see I'm not the only 11B on hackernews. I was there as well from Nov 07 - Feb 09. Spent most of my days at Hope/SUJ. Had the "pleasure" of months of fighting and helping with the T-walls on route Aeros. Good times.

Have you read Sebastian Junger's book Tribe? If not, you likely should; I found it very interesting but cannot speak to some of his reporting on and experience with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

> Tanks began to fire 120-millimeter canister rounds (in essence, shotgun-type rounds that, once fired, open into hundreds of tiny pieces) down streets from their main guns. The canister rounds blew the trash off the streets and, in many cases, exploded IEDs lying in wait for the patrol.

The interesting part that most people don't think about (and is extremely relevant in a MOUT setting) is the pressure shock coming out of a main gun, which can be deadly for up to 200m:

The overpressure from the tank 120-mm cannon can kill a marine found within a 90-degree arc extending from the muzzle of the gun tube out to 200 meters. (Marines MOUT Manual)

When firing it down a narrow, building-lined corridor, the effect can be far longer, and even without the canister shot it would likely be enough to clear a large section of the street.

> Tanks began to fire 120-millimeter canister rounds (in essence, shotgun-type rounds that, once fired, open into hundreds of tiny pieces) down streets from their main guns.

Are the resulting pieces effectively flechettes but lawful?

No, they're not flechettes. According to the manufacturer, the projectiles are tungsten spheres.


(There's even a sales brochure.)

Honestly I'm surprised that a military ordinance page is so clean and straight forward. It also feels a little strange to see marketing material for military weapons.

In ~1992/93 I lived in Reno Nevada. Around the corner from my house was a gun store, owned by this Chinese guy. I liked guns and military stuff (my brother is Colonel in USAF) and so I would go in there quite frequently. And I was on friendly terms with the owner...

He had a huge cannon that you could pay him $500 to drive out into the desert and shoot [0]

I was 17, it was early 90s and Nevada. He had just imported two shipping containers of new (mfr date 1968) Chinese made SKS rifles and was having a special on them, $99.

I bought one - and was talking to the guy and he pulled out a three ring binder and said "want to see what that can do?"

And he opened it up and he had effectively a catalog of pictures of the fatal wounds various weapon rounds would cause. (pictures of dead people)

I was deeply disturbed. I never went back in there...

(He also offered to sell me claymore mines which he had up on the top shelf all around the store... [THIS SIDE TOWARD ENEMY])

[0] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/61-K_Aut...

This reminds me of the time I stopped in a knife store off the highway while on a road trip in perhaps Arizona or New Mexico. The shopkeeper approached me and asked if there was anything he could help me find. I jokingly said something like "whattya got that can kill a man?" Without missing a beat and completely deadpan he said, "Oh, you'll want to look at these over here," while leading me to a large case of butterfly knives. I couldn't tell if he was playing along with my joke or not, kinda spooked me.

what's your expectations from guns exactly then?

I didnt mean it like that - I enjoy guns, and knowing how to use them, be safe with them etc...

But pre-internet, actual printed out physical pictures which were developed in a 3-ring binder to a 17-year-old in 1992 was a disturbing dose of reality.

The vast, overwhelming majority of guns in the US are bought for target shooting or hunting, and will never be fired at a human target. So I can totally see feeling blindsided by this.

ironically how there are guns designed exactly for target shooting, for example, the models used by Olympic shooters are even cheaper than some rifles, yet all the people with a gun hobby will promptly ignore those and buy the ones specifically designed to kill people instead, while claiming the killing purpose of gun means nothing to them. sounds like the reasoning of someone buying a yellow hummer because they need a minivan.

To use the car analogy, a lot of people buy cars that are fun to drive. They aren't buying said cars to run people over with.

I think we need tighter gun control in the US, but I really wish people would stop acting like literally anyone who owns a gun is a dangerous maniac. It's childish and not constructive.

And I wish gun owners would stop ending conversations about gun control by threatening to put me and mine against the wall when the revolution comes.

Both sides could stand a dose of empathy and common sense. Its true that not all gun owners are dangerous maniacs, but guns are dangerous and a lot of them are used in crimes by irresponsible people. It's also true that not all advocates for gun control are neo-communists who just want to confiscate all guns and put Christians into camps.

Gun policy should just be a public safety issue, but politics and the catch-22 nature of the 2nd Amendment have turned it into an intractable religious war.

Who the hell are you arguing with that makes that kind of threat?! I definitely haven't seen conversations turn to anything like that around here.

Check out the big weapons expos like IDEX in Abu Dhabi, or SOFEX in Jordan. Full of glitzy polished consumer-oriented display booths showing off the most advanced and modern ways to kill people and fuck shit up.

Watch high-level military officials and politicians from despotic oil-world countries shopping for weapons like suburban husbands shopping for patio furniture at a home and garden show. Displays and sales pitches tuned to key in on bogey-men-du-jour. Worried by Iraninan-sponsored insurgency? We've got Just. The. Thing:



True. I've been to a few and its surreal.

The other weird site that is how much money is spent on crap, that's clearly crap.

Even with my fairly limited military experience, it's easy to walk around a show and see so much expensive junk you know that a government will pay waaayy too much money for and some soldier will get stung with. Everything from cheaply made webbing that would fall apart in seconds, CBRN kit I wouldn't wear to a pub incase Guinness farts accidentally dissolved it, useless ballistic protection, overly elaborate radio systems that don't work, good awful weapons that jam even completely clean w/o rounds in them testing at a show...you name it. So much military crapware out there

LOL, fascinating. Normally I frown on scammy purveyors of overpriced shit, but in this case I'm all in favor of it.

Ride the DC Metro, especially around the Pentagon, and you’ll see lots of ads for various military hardware. It’s always a bit surreal seeing a poster advertising a stealth destroyer or a fighter jet.

I was almost expecting to scroll down and see product reviews.

You'd be surprised how much stuff you can find. Google just about any weapons system using the right terminology and you'll be greeted with brochures and high level datasheets galore.

Perhaps you will enjoy this infomercial for the Bofors 3P round:


"Tired of Sticky Infantry Concentrations Clogging The Movement of Your M1 Abrams Tank?"

TANK COMMANDER (looking exasperated): “There’s Got to Be a Better Way!”

(opens a wooden cabinet inside the tank and a bunch of miniature soldiers, too many to fit in the cabinet, fall out on his face)

Surprised? You shouldn't be, it's a big business/industry and it's legal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Companies_by_arms_sales

Wonder why titanium? It's relatively light so it'll slow down with air resistance very quickly. It's like shooting aluminum spheres but harder.

Edit: op misquoted the page. They're tungsten which would be more in line with what I'd expect. Tungsten in both very heavy (ever heavier than lead) and very very hard.

That was a typo on my part, which I've fixed; thanks for pointing it out. They're tungsten spheres.

> for close-in defense of tanks against massed assaulting infantry attack

Do modern tanks frequently face massed infantry charges?

(I know, I'm being way too literal, I was just amused by the image of a bunch of guys with Lee-Enfield rifles and pot helmets surging out of a trench to assault an Abrams.)

Until recently, there was no suitable ammo for the main gun of the Abrams to counter infantry. It has multiple machine guns, but there are times when you really want to make a point.

Maybe this is a dumb question, but would an HE round in the general area not get the point across?

(I just googled for the ammo types available to the Abrams, and I learned that the latest-version multipurpose HEAT round has a fucking anti-aircraft mode, which enables a proximity fuse and a puff of black smoke on detonation, so you can track your shot WW2 flak-style. I know it's for helicopters, not planes, but still. Crazy.)

At the time, there were only two main gun rounds, APFSDS and HEAT. Both are designed for destroying armored vehicles, and don't really explode like a Hollywood artillery round. APFSDS fires a DU dart at it's target, and HEAT is a shaped charged designed to penetrate armor with a plasma jet.

Same reason people use a shotgun for home defense not a grenade! Limited penetration. much lower required accuracy. If you miss you don't send a shell in a random direction. You can shoot at targets very close to the tank barrel.

Wasn't that one of the main MOP's for Russian infantry to attack German tanks in WW2? Run up to it, stick a grenade in a weak spot, run away as fast as you could? I assume modern tanks would be quite different from WW2 tanks, but still - someone has done it before.

My grandad drove a wrecker in a tank destroyer group in WWII, deployed to Europe. He didn't talk much about it until his mind was on the way out, but said one of the more effective techniques to disable tanks was dumping gas on the engine intake.

Soviets did improvise a lot of anti-tank weaponry, but that's because they didn't have anything decent in service for pretty much the entirety of the war. Their standard-issue anti-tank rifles were so underpowered, the crews were instructed to shoot at the observation slits, and if those weren't accessible, then at the antenna (to at least disable the radio).

These days, infantry taking on a tank would just use an RPG or an ATGM.

I'm sorry, but where aren't flechettes lawful?

Canister rounds, from my knowledge, result in ball projectiles (ballistic flight) while flechettes are finned (aerodynamic flight).

I didn't think they were lawful but this book review says I was mistaken: https://www.lawfareblog.com/deadly-metal-rain-legality-flech...

I thought that using plastic flechettes was illegal because you can't x-ray to find and remove them.

I think the resulting pieces are simply fragments of metal. Better resembling buckshot or small metal bits than flechettes.

i.e., more like this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fragmentation_(weaponry) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shotgun_shell#Buckshot

and less like this:


Resulting pieces are over a thousand tungsten balls that just wipe out everything in front of the tank up to a 500m.

> [JAM] Snipers would also shoot at the crane cable or the lone soldier that was forced to climb a ladder to unhook each concrete wall. Special operations forces snipers were extremely useful in a counter-sniper role. Nevertheless, there were situations where confirmed snipers and fighters that could not be engaged by US snipers had to be targeted with air-delivered, precision-guided bombs or Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rounds that could penetrate the buildings’ layers of concrete. One instance that required a concrete-penetrating option was when a JAM sniper occupied and fortified one of the few five-story buildings north of the Gold Wall was being constructed and at a key intersection where he was able to engage the wall-building team. Direct fire placed on the building did not affect the sniper’s fortified position. 1-68 CAB’s solution was to drop the building using the GMLRS. But for the duration of the Battle of Sadr City, coalition forces used fewer than three mortar or artillery fire missions because of the risk of collateral damage, the prospect of injuring civilians, and the potential political ramifications both locally for the government of Iraq and internationally for political support to the coalition forces.

Don't bring a sniper rifle to a combined-arms fight, I suppose. It's interesting & typical of modern war that the politics of the fight constrain the weapons choice much more than the tactical situation.

> It's interesting & typical of modern war that the politics of the fight constrain the weapons choice much more than the tactical situation.

Not just modern war, but pretty much for most of history.

Clausewitz's maxim that "war is a continuation of policy by other means" ought to be interpreted as a reminder that war is (or at least should be) subservient to the political goals that are fueling war, and that the military needs to be a tool, not a driver, of the government's foreign policies. Sadly, not all governments do a good job of remembering this fact, and that is often where the great military failures start from.

a JAM sniper occupied and fortified one of the few five-story buildings north of the Gold Wall was being constructed and at a key intersection where he was able to engage the wall-building team. Direct fire placed on the building did not affect the sniper’s fortified position. 1-68 CAB’s solution was to drop the building using the GMLRS.

There's companies that are researching or selling very precise indirect fire weapons. Basically, they're like the smart naval turret guns scaled down to around 20 or 30mm. You can fire a shell through a window and tell it to explode just inside. One of these on an APC, perhaps? (For all I know, these weapons were present, but the building was also fortified against them.)

>There's companies that are researching or selling very precise indirect fire weapons. Basically, they're like the smart naval turret guns scaled down to around 20 or 30mm. You can fire a shell through a window and tell it to explode just inside.

These exist and are slowly becoming more mature. There was one that was tested in the early phases of what became the XM8 program in the early 2000s. So far the weapons that fire them seem to always wind up being too bulky/clunky/finicky for adoption by any military.

Yeah, you're thinking of the XM29 "Objective Individual Combat Weapon," which was an assault rifle with the 20mm programmable grenade launcher on top. H&K essentially removed the smart grenade system to create the XM8. They also made the XM25, which was just the smart grenade launcher bit. All of those weapons never got past prototype, though all of this research eventually produced the M320, which is a non-smart under-barrel 40mm grenade launcher.

There's also South Korea's K11, which is the same concept as the XM29, and seems to actually be used, though I can't find much info about its effectiveness.

The conclusions from the failure of the XM29 I believe was that it isn't trivial to operate a smart grenade launcher, and the 20mm grenade doesn't have as much lethality as you would like. But perhaps the K11 was able to rectify these issues. I personally think this need for precise, powerful fires could be filled by a crew-serviced weapon mounted on an APC/IFV. Doesn't even have to be a smart grenade, could be a special autocannon or something.

The Mk-19 has been in service since Vietnam.

Of course, but it doesn't have programmable grenades. Though apparently in the last few years some air-burst grenades have been developed for it. The idea of these programmable grenade systems is being able to lay down very accurate fire, where you can program the grenade to punch through a wall and detonate 1m after it comes out the other side.

There's also the Mk-47 grenade launcher which has smart munitions.


I didn't know they had smart munitions, interesting. I guess what I'm picturing is a Mk-47 with smart munitions mounted on a remote weapons station on an APC/IFV. Putting it on an armored vehicle makes it more maneuverable of course, but it also provides protection to the gunner. Unlike warfare in a more open setting, due to the presence of buildings you may have to get well within the range of small arms fire to have line of sight to your target.

And apparently there's some work being done on equipping Stryker's with the XM813, a 30mm Bushmaster autocannon that can fire programmable air bursting rounds. Which might accomplish the same thing.

In the article, the Strykers proved to be too vulnerable in the urban environment. They brought in Bradleys and M1 Abrams tanks instead.

Very true. Well, the Bushmaster prototype could probably be put on the Bradley in place of the Bushmaster that's already there. As for smart grenades, I don't think there's an obvious place to put one on a Bradley, but some versions of the Abrams TUSK included a CROWS remote weapons system with an HMG, maybe you could replace the HMG with the grenade launcher?

There's definitely a need for armored vehicles better suited to urban combat. Maybe the Army's Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle program will provide something. I don't know much about how vehicle armor works, but maybe there's room for optimization? I mean, it's not like the enemy here is firing APFSDS rounds, or using advanced ATGMs. It's all IEDs and RPGs at close range. I know there's stuff like having a V-shaped hull improves performance against mines, and slat and cage armor to deal with explosively formed penetrator type weapons, but I wonder if there's other techniques that can produce a survivable vehicle without needing a full, 60+ ton tank

Yup. EFPs are no joke.

Right. I was answering the last part of the comment, perhaps should have made that more clear.

Reading between the lines, they didn’t want to fight whoever was in the building, they wanted the building gone and were given a great excuse. It would have been a permanent place of strength and intelligence for the enemy.

Iv'e seen rounds with that feature (explode 1 meter past wall) for carbine use.

It's been a few years, and technology moves fast.

Interesting. Not sure if that would have worked here or not. The article doesn’t say how much direct fire they laid down, but it IS a pretty big jump up to a MRLS.

>>"[..] typical of modern war the politics of the fight constrain the weapons choice much more than the tactical situation. "

That's a luxury that you only can afford when the asymmetry of force is huge and you are going to win anyway.

I'm not sure that I agree. I guess it depends on what you mean by "win". If you mean win that particular engagement, sure. But if by "win" you mean accomplish the objective, which in this case included not having the local population hate you for obliterating their city, then I don't think it's a luxury nor do I think you can win without such considerations. And really, I'm not sure that it's fair to say that the US has "won" either of the two major asymmetric wars it's been engaged in for the last 17 years, even with all of the political constraints they've ostensibly tried to follow.

By "win" I mean to kill the opponent in that specific battle.

>>"[..] I'm not sure that it's fair to say that the US has "won" either of the two major asymmetric wars it's been engaged"

In order to know if the US has won, we would need to know what were the goals of those wars in the first place. I'm not sure we know that.

The decay and destruction of their infrastructure was basically a foregone conclusion when we started the wars. Without our intervention and continued presence the damage would have been much higher. This in no way excuses or justifies us starting the conflicts to begin with, but, our rules of engagement are very strict and err heavily in favor of preventing civilian casualties, too a fault, many soldiers would say. This also means minimizing. Look at the battle of Ramadi. We /definitely/ won there. Then we lost it, and won it back. So it is quite possible to win these wars, but they require advanced warfare skills at a tactical and strategical level and the political will to not back out. We only last Ramadi because of politics.

Politics, in the large sense, is also the only relevant actor in a conflict: the military victory at Ramadi (either one) was rather inconsequential for the larger goal of bringing peace.

True. I guess the point was we can win wars and battles, our combat machine is unparalleled. Political will and decisions decide if we win or not.

And asymmetry of military budgets, because using a $100K rockets to kill a single low-rank enemy combatant would simply be too expensive for majority of countries...

Using a $100k rocket to avoid losing 5 soldiers that end up costing a million bucks each when you factor in training, salary, healthcare, death benefits, etc... makes a lot of sense.

Human wave tactics only work well if your army consists of poorly paid conscripts with no benefits, and even then they aren't terribly effective.

One of the big takeaways I got from the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary series is that it really was a war that nobody could win. The NVA was completely outmatched and would have been crushed if the US wasn't trapped behind political barriers like the 17th parallel. At the same time the US couldn't win because the South Korean government and army was hopeless. All the US could do was "accidentally" walk into ambushes and try to kill as many North Vietnamese as possible in the hope that the government would become so weak that even the South Vietnamese army could take it.

The big takeaway is never get involved with someone else's civil war.

>>"if the US wasn't trapped behind political barriers like the 17th parallel."

The NVA would have been crushed if the USA crossed that barrier and nobody else get involved in the conflict. The low probability of that happening is the reason for not crossing, so, it's actually a military barrier.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagon_Papers#Actual_objecti...:

"The memorandum begins by disclosing the rationale behind the bombing of North Vietnam in February 1965: The February decision to bomb North Vietnam and the July approval of Phase I deployments make sense only if they are in support of a long-run United States policy to contain China."

>>"The big takeaway is never get involved with someone else's civil war."

It seems that, more than a civil war, it has the characteristics of a proxy war.

from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagon_Papers#Role_of_the_Un...

"As acknowledged by the papers: We must note that South Vietnam (unlike any of the other countries in Southeast Asia) was essentially the creation of the United States."

> The NVA was completely outmatched and would have been crushed if the US wasn't trapped behind political barriers like the 17th parallel.

I agree with your "big takeaway". But the above is egregiously mistaken.

For two reasons. With Viet Nam, we're talking about a country that resisted invaders (France, China) with great tenacity and success. The North had a sense of nationhood, and favorable terrain, and a largely united political/military leadership. The US dropped more bombs on Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia than during the whole of WWII, drafted all the young men the country could stand, applied money and expertise, destroyed one if not two Presidents, and still did not come very close to winning. Hanoi and the northern mountains were never seriously threatened by US forces. One could go on.

Second reason. The US had just suffered a defeat/stalemate in Korea due to Chinese counter-invasion when it seemed the US might cross the Yalu River. The US did not want that to happen again in Viet Nam. Thus, in a very real "hard power" sense, the US did not cross the Viet Nam borders into Thailand or Laos, because of not wanting to engage China directly along a second front. This is not a political limitation, it's a very direct military limitation.

Resisting against France wasn't that much a big deal: it was just after WW2, France had lost control of Indochina during the war, drafted soldiers were never sent there and political support was never that string, especially with the big communist faction in France.

Think you got mixed up a bit there.

Ken Burns Vietnam documentary series was about Vietnam (1960s - 1975 ?), not the Korean War (1950 - 1953), no?

The 320,000 South Korean troops who rotated through the Vietnam War over 10+ year period were great troops according to many US veterans who were there.

And also I do not agree with the broad generalization that South Vietnamese troops were hopeless.

Yes, South Vietnamese. Specifically the SVA. It seemed pretty clear that the morale was poor and the leadership was corrupt and/or incompetent. The idea that they would be able to invade, capture, and hold Hanoi without direct US help seems implausible at best.

I never said it doesn't make a sense for US Army to do it, but that very small number of other countries could afford that approach. That's something only superpowers can pull off.

Getting involved in someone else's civil war worked out pretty well for both France and the United States around 1780.

Not for the Louie the 16th - the cost of bankrolling the AWI way was one cause of the French revolution

Like Vietnam?

I'm not sure we can call the Vietnam war an exercise in contention:

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Freedom_Deal#Cambodi...:

"U.S. bombing of Cambodia extended over the entire eastern one-half of the country and was especially intense in the heavily populated southeastern one-quarter of the country, including a wide ring surrounding the largest city of Phnom Penh. In large areas, according to maps of U.S. bombing sites, it appears that nearly every square mile of land was hit by bombs with roughly 500,000 tons of bombs dropped. [..]"

There's some evidence, from people analyzing videos of the fight in Mosul, that now we take out snipers with Nanodrones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5LdagBBo-k

This was represented in the movie American Sniper. Chris Kyle was providing support for those building the walls. Not sure if it was in Sadr City

> had to be targeted with air-delivered, precision-guided bombs or Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rounds that could penetrate the buildings’ layers of concrete.

Wow, I'm very not used to reading military text. They write "a concrete-penetrating option" but they mean "we blew up the building and everybody inside it".

I truly wonder how many innocent lives could be saved if military people would start writing honestly.

I suspect you might be very unpleasantly surprised by how little things would change. Additionally, they were quite honest about what they did:

> 1-68 CAB’s solution was to drop the building using the GMLRS.

It is, of course, quite possible that "drop the building" is insufficiently honest for you. I'm sure the author could have written "explosively annihilated the five-story building under construction, most likely killing any person inside or atop it". Though I confess I'm not sure what this phrasing would add that "drop the building" does not. Perhaps you can enlighten me?

In this case, the intended audience appears to be mainly subject matter experts. So they use the jargon of concrete-penetrating because that appears to be the relevant technical detail that guided the munitions choice.

There isn't [much of] an explosion with rockets. They are [mostly] kinetic energy weapons. A GMLRS is fired way up in the sky with a HIMARS launcher system, and then down to the ground - usually through a roof of a building. It will fragment upon hitting the ground floor, hopefully taking out a couple of the internal load-bearing walls.

It [primarily] creates an implosion, not an explosion, which is why it's such a good weapon system for reducing collateral damage in an urban warfare setting. You can level a building and barely scratch the exterior walls of the building right next to it.

EDIT: Modified the portions in square brackets. I stand corrected - there is a small explosive charge on the ends of the rockets.

We really are inventive killer apes throwing ever faster rocks at each other.

That's very interesting! Thank you for the detail.

>It is, of course, quite possible that "drop the building" is insufficiently honest for you. I'm sure the author could have written "explosively annihilated the five-story building under construction, most likely killing any person inside or atop it". Though I confess I'm not sure what this phrasing would add that "drop the building" does not. Perhaps you can enlighten me?

That's just ridiculous. Silly and snarky. But you know that. The GP wanted honest, not more verbose; plain language that describes the reality, not pseudo-objective jargon that conceals it. What makes it horrific is that you're joking about killing lots of people.

"Drop the building" is also a euphemism, like "light up" to mean to kill. Making murder sound bland and neutral. But I suppose it must be, to the "subject matter experts".

"Drop the building" is not a euphemism here. It does nothing at all to disguise the effect of the action or pretend it's anything less than immensely destructive to both property and life. It describes an action taken deliberately, with intent, to destroy and kill.

My point being that the article is neither euphemistic nor dishonest. It is quite straightforward and clear about actions, goals, means, and expected outcomes. I understand if some people might disagree and consider the wording used to be insufficiently evocative for their own personalized interpretations of more broadly recognized vernacular.

To be clear, I am in no way, shape, or form joking about killing people. I am pointing out that the article treats the matter with gravitas.

I would argue that being able to destroy a single building with an air strike is a HUGE reduction in 'killing lots of people' compared to wars past, where large bombers dropped thousands of bombs over entire areas of a city hoping to weaken/destroy infrastructure the enemy was using.

> dropped thousands of bombs over entire areas of a city hoping to weaken/destroy infrastructure

I'm pretty sure that in a lot of cases, hitting urban area was the goal, with theories that killing civilians will help win the war.

Pedantic nitpick: “drop the building” isn’t a euphemism. It literally reflects the intended action that will lead to the desired result (if the insurgent dies great, if not the threat is eliminated anyway).

To say "drop the building" when it means "destroy the building (and everyone inside)" has that same horrifying whitewashing feel that "light up" has for me. The bland language allows people to do things they otherwise (hopefully) couldn't/wouldn't.

"Drop" is a term of art from the demolition industry. The U.S. Army does a lot of non-combat demolition work, the Corps of Engineers in particular, and the language carries over quite naturally.

In this case, "destroy the building" is less accurate than "drop". Their goal was complete demolition, to prevent the building from being occupied by more fighters. The intended audience of this article will understand the language clearly.

The article describes the problem as a building that extends above the surrounding 3-story neighborhood. (5 if I remember right) That is the problem to be solved, so carving off the top couple stories would do the job.

There are less-practical solutions. One could pull out the 2nd and 4th stories, like playing a game of Jenga. One could shove the whole building down by two stories, fully intact, giving it two basements.

So "drop" seems especially fitting here. The highest point needs to drop by two stories.

It's domain specific language. Its meaning is absolutely clear to those involved.

This is technical writing in the same way that "the function returns a pointer to an array containing the last n bytes from the network buffer" is the technical version of "it gets data from the internet".

Once you start seeing militarese for the technical writing that it is, a lot starts to make sense. In this case, they're listing the constraints of a problem, and describing the solution that was selected. Believe it or not, the choice of ordinance in this case is called a "firing solution".

My point is this: they are writing honestly. In fact, it quite common to refer to "kills" on the radio, and in after-action reports. Where the "its dead" level of analysis suffices, the military will say "it dead".

Consider instead how many soldiers might perish if the focus shifted away from "firing solutions" and towards accurate descriptions of agony.

The former is the job of the military. The latter is the job of the journalist. Both have important roles to play, here.

"firing solution" is a set of numbers that describes how you get the ordnance there. It's a gunnery term.

btw, since we're being pedantic about terminology, it's "ordnance", not "ordinance" -- the latter means laws.

Points taken. I should clarify that my experience is with French infantry, which I suspect accounts for the slight difference in vocabulary.

Re "firing solution", I've heard it used both in artillery (i.e.: "solution to a parabolic equation") and in a more general context of "tactical solutions". The latter might be an informal term, in US parlance, though.

Could very well be. My perspective is US Naval and ground warfare gunnery.

> I truly wonder how many innocent lives could be saved if military people would start writing honestly.

People didn't die because of writing. They died because someone used the building to shoot at people and couldn't be flushed out with smaller weapons. So, the answer to your question is "probably zero"

The argument is that using euphemisms must serve some purpose, or otherwise they would not be used.

That purpose is to hide the brutality of war, from either the writer, or the reader.

In either case, allowing to hide the brutality makes it arguably more palatable to commit it (writer) or legitimize it (reader), and therefore contributes to it.

I can’t put numbers on this, obviously, because nobody can. But just denying the argument with a sort of its-not-guns-that-kill-it’s-people-argument is intellectually dishonest.

I think you, or the original comment author, are mistaking technical language for euphemisms though and so the psychological analysis that euphemisms are hiding the brutality of war is not even wrong because there is no euphemism. As another comment points out "concrete penetrating" is a description that tells the class of weapon and the reason the weapon was chosen (to attack a target protected by concrete). The author isn't euphemisming but rather just using language appropriate to the context and the intended audience.

If it’s just language, what does “drop the building” actually mean? Last I checked, you can only drop stuff you can actually pick up. You can, however, drop things onto buildings, some of which may collapse them.

If you insist that “dropping” is for some reason preferable to “demolish” or “collapse”, say because it’s shorter or the military has trouble spelling those actual terms, I am sure you can find me a reference in non-lethal industries involved in the destruction of construction using the term. My superficial research seems to indicate that those wielding wrecking balls instead of laser-guided missiles see no need to obfuscate their doings.

"Drop" is a widely used colloquialism in demolition, to the point that it's practically a term of art. It's ubiquitous both in civilian demolition work and in the Army Corps of Engineers. In demolition work you'll hear it at least as often as "demolish". Nothing wrong with "collapse"; it just isn't used much. I've never heard anyone use "destroy" when talking about demolition.

I just searched google both for [drop building] and [drop demolish]. Neither search yielded examples for the use of “drop” in such a way. I was similarly out of luck with the Oxford American dictionary, Googl New, and Scholar. Ca to link an example?

From http://www.controlled-demolition.com/biltmore-hotel:

> precisely placed explosive charges dropped a 28-story building almost in its tracks.

> "It's the heaviest steel we’ve ever worked on," says Mark Loizeaux, of Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI), Towson, Md., which dropped the brick-clad structure for contractor Wells Excavating Co., Inc., Oklahoma City.

> CDI’s detonation sequence aimed to drop the building in a southerly direction in what is called a controlled progressive collapse in order to lay out the demolished structure to ease removal of debris.

> In 1975 CDI demolished a 32-story reinforced concrete building in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the only building taller than the Biltmore to be dropped with explosives

From http://www.controlled-demolition.com/travelers-building:

> Controlled Demolition Incorporated’s team was able to complete asbestos abatement/environmental remediation, prepare the structure for implosion and drop the massive structural steel building just 2 weeks

> Controlled Demolition Incorporated's DREXS (Directional Remote Explosive Severance) System sequentially severed the 4 inch thick flanges of the buildings' support columns to drop the structure without damage to a Boston Fire Department facility just 30 feet away.

The query demolition "drop a building" yields a plethora of results.

Can you pick up a database?

Edit: to be clear, I’m against the pedantry at play here. Subject matter experts talk in their specific jargon. We do it in tech, why would the military be any different?

First, a minor point, but it's not true that "drop" refers only to things you might pick up. You could drop an egg which would break, you could drop something down a bottomless pit, you could drop a facade, etc. It's also not the case that you couldn't "pick up" a "dropped" building, either by cleaning the rubble or rebuilding it.

Second, "drop" may be colloquial but I don't see how it's disguising the action and the consequences. It seems to me there are similar objections to "demolish" - it's like a construction project, or "collapse" it's an unintentional tragedy. If I had to argue for "drop" I suspect it's advantage is that it describes how you want the building and the rubble to fall - down instead of out.

I'd be willing to consider the merits of different word choices, but what I think we should be hesitant about is drawing deep psychological conclusions from word choices that may be entirely coincidental or have a different motive than you think. E.g. "The author uses terms like 'drop' to disguise the horror of war and if such language weren't used we'd have less war." That feels like an overreach to me.

I was referring to picking stuff up before dropping them.

Not that the specific example is that relevant, as others have notice. I think it’s hard to deny that the military uses euphemisms: “soft targets”, “neutralize”, and “collateral damage” come to mind.

From there, it’s a small step to wonder what the intend may be. And even independent of intent (I could see an argument for using euphemisms with good intentions, or just to avoid very human emotions, much like medicine does), if that choice may still have the consequence of making difficult choices easier than they should be.

In any case, I was mostly just arguing that the idea that “language is meaningless, bombs kill people” is somewhere between ignorant and naive.

It's pretty hard to argue with that last sentence, but I think your armchair analysis of language used outside of your realm of experience is leading to you to take unecessary offense.

"Soft targets" include people, yes, but the term generally refers to any unhardended, unarmored, or unprotected thing.

"Neutralize" encompasses any kind of condition that removes a soldier from the battlefield, including death, injury, debilitating trauma, etc.

"Collateral damage" is similarly broad. It's any shit you didn't mean to fuck up.

No doubt these terms are used euphemistically at times. But I also can't, off the top of my head, think of any others that could directly replace them accurately and concisely, while also satisfying the demands of folks who lack the experience (or the desire perhaps) to understand their utility in context.

This is, honestly, quite ridiculous in context. It might be true that, say, someone launching an ICBM might be shielded from the horror of the violence with clinical terms. When you are in urban ground combat it's not as if you say "hmm, it makes it feel better if I think of it as only shooting the building!" You are perfectly fine with killing because YOU'RE BEING SHOT AT and you're afraid you're going to die. The correct criticism, if you're looking for one, is that Soldiers and Marines learn to put on a facade of ultraviolent aggression so as to not confront the reality, and as a result they lose perspective and maybe go too far in some cases, and that's what you need to watch for (I was a platoon leader in Iraq)

This is simply how military tactics and strategy are talked about in an academic sense. It might be weird to think that Military Science is an academic discipline when you're not used to talking about war all the time, but when you're at West Point you take these classes and this is the tone. It's because you're not going to stop every 5 minutes to reflect on those who died in combat -- that would be kind of crazy, and there are plenty of other contexts where the moral and ethical issues of war and combat are discussed in great depth.

To make an analogy, your comment would be like my reading a Computer Science paper about something technical and then commenting: "why is this person writing about technology in such technical terms? Is it because they don't want to confront the negative consequences of technology on our political and social fabric? Don't they care about the privacy issues?" It's kind of just a way to say that you wish they were talking about what YOU want to talk about.

It's not a euphemism. It's an accurate description of what matters. I would have chosen "collapse the building" or "level the building", despite being undisturbed by the death. The writer isn't about to distract from the topic at hand by going off on an opinionated tangent about death.

Wow, I wish you had written my comment. Well put!

It’s an unfortunate symptom of our times that we need to spell out every argument in minute detail, lest someone will do a bad-faith hack job willfully misunderstanding it.

They died because the military chose to level an entire building to kill a single person.

No, they demolished the building to prevent it from being re-occupied by more fighters. Remember, U.S. forces were prohibited from entering Sadr City, so they really had no other way to do so.

>I truly wonder how many innocent lives could be saved if military people would start writing honestly.

How much would you reckon?

In MBA lingo, reducing cost often means laying off people, ruining their lives. Or paying as little as possible to employees, keeping them in perpetual servitude.


Rockets can and do “blow up” they’re just the part of a missile which carries the reaction mass. Most missiles in the military sense have a rocket component, except for cruise missiles with turbofan engines. In short, rockets tend to have explosive payloads. “Rocket” just refers to the type of engine, and makes no claims about the nature of the warhead.


I think we’re talking at cross purposes here. You’re talking about the meaning as it relates to a given set of weapons systems, I’m talking about what the word “rocket” actually means. As in the R in RPG, which is notable for its explosive warhead, or any number of other rocket propelled explosive devices. More generally I’m also talking about rocket engines, the presence of which indicates a rocket. As I said, there are a variety of rockets in and out of the military, some with explosive payloads, some with nothing more than an aluminum powder payload.


Yes, and it’s not exactly modular is it, nor is there a version sans grenade. Still, I’ll play this if you prefer.


9M22 ROCKET. The 9M22 is a fin-stabilised rocket with a steel high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) warhead. The 9N51 warhead contains 6.4 kg of TGAF-5 explosive composition, and generates some 3,920 pre-fragmented fragments.

I would add rhe AS-11 and 12 as two more rockets with explosive warheads.


General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems is the system integrator of the 2.75-inch (70mm) Hydra-70 family of rockets. These rockets include unitary and cargo warheads for use against point and area targets, providing the user a lethal and lightweight weapon system with multi-mission capability. The rocket system contains three components: the MK66 MOD 4 rocket motor, one of the nine warheads, and the associated point-detonating, omni-directional, remote-set fuze(s). When these components are combined, they provide a tailor-made solution to the warfighter’s situational requirements.

I would add the now defunct Mk.4 FFAR to the list, along with others.


Redacting your comments makes it look like you're trying to hide your mistakes. If you no longer stand behind the content of a comment, it's probably better to just put an edit at the top.

Fair enough. This subthread was a semantic argument about whether the term "rocket" pertained also to any incendiary munitions to which they were attached. I maintained (and still maintain) that a "rocket" - especially a guided one - is not inherently explosive.

However, this semantic argument was in the context of a discussion about GMLRS, which - after checking - do in fact have a small explosive charge attached.

Anyway. End result is that my substantive comment about GMLRS does contain the correction. And this semantic argument seems all the more pointless now. Hence my removal of my comments.

A more prudent stategy, I think, would have been for the sniper to change position. As they say in the military - proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.

Urban combat tactics are fascinating. I’m reminded of this post that explains how the IDF in the early 2000s would try to “walk through walls” in urban combat. It also discusses how the film ‘Die Hard’ is a study of architecture. [0] The underlying essay referenced in the post is brief and interesting as well, discussing how those urban tactics were influenced by postwar French thought, in particular the ideas of Deleuze & Guattari.

[0] http://www.bldgblog.com/2010/01/nakatomi-space/

Mouse-holing, which is essentially what you describe, is a pretty old tactic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mouse-holing

The IDF also extensively used "neighbour pressure"[1][2] and "human shields"[3] against civilians as operational Urban Warfare techniques in the 2000s. Basically grabbing an innocent civilian and sending them into a dangerous location nearby to clear the trail in front of you in the knowledge an enemy is less inclined to kill a neighbour.* Of course, how is that innocent civilian supposed to know where a landmine or tripwire is placed? Something not as readily available to US forces in Iraq.

[1] "IDF to appeal human shield ban"


[2] https://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/wp-content/uploads/201...

[3] https://www.btselem.org/topic/human_shields

*Yes this is a war crime and a violation of Geneva Convention. Even the Israeli Supreme Court said it shouldn't be allowed.

I’ve seen the same tactic used in the Syrian Civil War, especially during the battle of Aleppo. I’m on my phone and can’t easily searched for image references but the first image link that I could find [1] is pretty self-explaining. Too bad YT took down almost all of the videos related to the war, even the non-gory ones, it was a good resource for amateurs like myself interested in modern-day warfare and tactics.

[1] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/security/2013/10/syria-d...

These guys did some really great work archiving as much as they could.


Various groups at the ICC have been documentating videos from the conflict for potential use in trials.

Jesus fuck, that's scummy.

Permit me to agree but to ask the obverse question. They are dealing with an enemy that routinely uses hospitals and dwellings for military purposes. Both are war crimes.

But... Could it be (not trying to take sides here for the sake of this though experiment, honest) "cheaper" in terms of civilian lives to use a few as shields? In other words, suppose taking an opposing officer's family hostage saves 100 lives on your side and 500 lives on their side. Ethically, which is the right decision? Kill one family to save many or kill many more soldiers and perhaps more civilians?

This is the decision Harry Truman had to make... I think.

That's a thorny ethical question, but it's not really relevant to what the IDF has apparently been doing. The article says they like to grab random nearby civilians and force them to do things like remove suspected IEDs and, literally, stand in front of Israeli soldiers in a firefight in hopes that the enemy will hesitate (they often don't). It's not just a few psychos; the IDF as a whole is claiming in court that they have a right to use random bystanders as ablative armor. That's unequivocally evil.

Using human shield is a war crime [1]. But they appealed(?) regardless?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_shields_(law)

There's an excellent account of how the US forces in Vietnam forgot and re-learned the lessons of WW II urban warfare during the Tet offensive in the battle for Hue in Mark Bowden's "Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam" [0]. It's an excellent study of urban warfare and in general a great military history. Includes first hand accounts by soldiers and civilians from all sides. Highly recommended.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Hue-1968-Turning-American-Vietnam/dp/...

In terms of military doctrine, one thing that really struck me recently was learning that urban areas are considered similarly to mountain ranges and water from a theater-maneuvering point of view. Your tanks will get bogged down in a town just as fast as if you tried to drive them through a swamp. With the rise of increasingly large urban centers, a modern conflict could be very different than the second world war... At least until the slaugherbots are perfected :P

Urban combat is terrifying. In an open field a tank is pretty hard to counter since they can see further and shoot better than a person. It's very hard to hide, especially from IR.

In a city there is almost an uncountable number of places for someone to hide and launch an ambush. They can get extremely close to a target without being detected, which opens up a lot of options for anti-tank warfare. They can also block paths extremely easily (with say a dried up cement truck) and neutralize combat vehicles. They also have a good idea of where you will be when planting IEDs, unlike in a wide open field.

One big lesson of the Libyan and Syrian Civil Wars was that, in an even close-to-symmetric war, large urban areas modified for military use are more effective than purpose-built fortifications for defense.

In the day of fluff blog/medium posts, it's great to see something like this with it's incredible detail and exhaustiveness. I'll always be amazed that one of the main weapons in modern times is concrete. I worked for years as a contractor (geeky contractor, not merc-like contractor) for the DoD and it is fascinating to read this in-depth coverage of battle zones.

> I'll always be amazed that one of the main weapons in modern times is concrete

Oh, not just modern times. It was the same in Roman times as well, and when concrete was not available (either before, or after the Romans), rocks wood and earth would do the job!

This article linked in OP's submission has more information on the role of concrete in modern battlefields


Two previous HN discussions:

The Most Effective Weapon on the Modern Battlefield Is Concrete (2016): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18651154

The Most Effective Weapon on the Modern Battlefield Is Concrete (usma.edu): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12962776

It did make me wonder why JAM didn't use some of their rocket / IED teams to attack the concrete batching plants.

Good god just thinking about the resources and costs behind what this report describes is staggering. If the collaborative insight, intelligence, engineering, planning, and... just... human effort poured into this microcosm was directed towards building something, what would we have? Probably something a lot more useful than a ruined city and a bunch of graves.

You're making the mistake of thinking that this amount of resources and effort was available in some kind of global pool to be allocated to anything, anywhere.

The truth is that aside from maybe the human effort this would've gone to some other war or battle or simply be left unspent.

If, on the other hand, you're making the observation that war and violence sucks and that humanity would ultimately be better off if we tried to work together. Then absolutely I'm behind you 100%.

The "global pool to be allocated to anything, anywhere" is called the economy. When concrete is not needed for walling people in, Iraqi concrete factories don't work extra shifts. The people who would have had to work there become employed at other jobs.

In the short term, a soldier who doesn't have to neutralize Sadr City probably does get assigned to some other war mission. In the medium term, his unit is not called up again and he returns to auto mechanic or whatever other productive thing he can do. He puts his effort into raising kids instead of raising barriers.

War does have an opportunity cost.

I like to think that a strong military creates security which allows innovation to increase. The US is able to produce and innovate at such a high level because we're kept stable by a strong military.

Battles like this ideally help us learn more efficient and effective tactics and strategies that can be used in future conflicts.

It's a necessary evil but I sincerely believe we're all better off because of these investments. Maybe someday we'll have world peace but for now, we're a violent species. Thank goodness the liberal democracies of the world have the dominant militaries.

> It's a necessary evil but I sincerely believe we're all better off

except for the million dead Iraqi civilians that is

The US military is probably the most effective logistical system in the world right now. Which is why, if you pay careful attention to the news, you'll notice that the US military is usually among the first responders to any major disaster worldwide, be it in the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Europe.

"Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."

Seems like a rather grand claim to make without supporting evidence. The military have little incentive to be cost effective due to the sanctity of military budgets in the USA, and by construction they use very few local resources which is inefficient.

Maybe you are right about the second claim if you impose the rather arbitrary restriction of ”foreign military force”, but rather obviously the first responders are always the locals. If those happens to include US forces it is a reflection of the maximalist approach to foreign policy the USA follows rather than a feat of logistics.

Read up on REFORGER, or on the build up prior to the 1st Gulf War. The amount of men and materiel moved in both instances was simply incredible. The Second Gulf War used far fewer forces, but was still an amazing display of logistical prowess. The US may not be the most cost-effective, (I'd give that to the Brits), but in terms of capability and overall effectiveness, they don't have a peer.

He didn't say cost effective.

Yes. The broader context of why it started and what the result has been is very depressing. The article even says “There were many other terrorist groups, criminal gangs, and war profiteers involved”. It is referring to the non ‘allied’ side but should probably apply to both, particularly the bit about profiteers. The regimes in place before the conflict were terrible, but the end result seems only marginally better at colossal humanitarian cost.

Some ideas:

* multi-storey farms, with "JIT" food production: lots of our food production is wasted, what if we streamlined it, by locating food production centers closer to population centers? Homeless people/other "undesirables" could be given some work maintaining a food production source they can be proud of (availability high tech solutions for various problems, lunch and learns with power point presentations and fancy marketing speak, rapid solution iteration by close interaction between (think, same office) engineers and green-collar food workers)

* traditional farms will keep their roles as is, but will have attached to them food preservation facilities, so that they can build stockpiles for when JIT fails us (natural disasters, etc.), and also be able to sell preserved stockpiles in general as special foods in supermarkets (bunch of "culinary engineering" will have to be done to take traditional preservation methods which have tasty output, and mass-produce it, or better yet, come up with new methods (with tastier output))

* public washrooms with automated cleaning facilities (janitors who maintain the washrooms are inducted into a 24 month MOS on mechanical design and robot construction---they don't need to be become experts on the physics, just aware of the possibilities so that they can combine their experience with this knowledge to come up with designs for engineers to construct, and are then responsible for testing in the field, and iterating on design)

* people who are willing to take risks exploring (maybe again, many "homeless" people/undesirables) could be recruited into fancy programs with the goal of most expansive deep sea exploration to date: mountains of geological, biological, meteorological data for scientists to explore; plus, an excellent training ground for deep space exploration (hostile outdoor environment, massive pressure differentials making structural design complicated)

* programs which involve the "mentally disabled" (think Down's syndrome, or other "obviously mentally deficient" illnesses) not in order to study them as "specimens" to be kept in the confines of their home, or a nursing home, but by involving psycholgists/neuroscientists to work with them in order to figure out the answer to: "sure, they suck at XYZ, is there anything they truly excel at? are there jobs/work/problems that other humans dislike doing which the "disabled" enjoy doing extremely, and are particularly well suited for? are there surprises regarding their capabilities (i.e. could it be that certain illnesses make you extremely good at certain types of mental tasks, which we don't know of because we simply don't interact with such people enough)?

* similar to last point, except for elderly, rather than treating them as old junk---figuring out ways to take advantage of their experience, for their benefit, and that of humanity

* fusion reactors

* deep space asteroid-mining

* energy storage research

* UI research

There's a lot of bizarre stuff in your comment but using the homeless for deep sea exploration!? WTF

How old are you? I would guess in your teens.

In the developing world, most food waste occurs at the food production stage. Think about cost effective cold storage in places with intermittent access to electricity.

In the developed world, most food waste occurs in the home and at restaurants. Localized food production improves local food supply resiliency and access to fresh, healthy food items. But it might also come at the cost of food security in less developed, less wealthy places.

Pretty much anything is better than promoting human misery, which is what the article describes.

Various other western countries have slashed their military spending, but the resources don't seem to be allocated to positive endeavors of a similar magnitude.

That's arguable. Peer countries (Germany, France, UK, Japan, etc) spend multiples of the US on foreign aid on a per capita basis. They also spend more on their domestic safety nets.


What is interesting is how certain techniques in warfare are conserved. Reading about how a concrete wall was constructed to hem in the opposing forces and force their capitulation in 2008, brought to my mind the Battle of Alesia in 52 BC by Julius Caesar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Alesia).

In that battle, as in the battle for Sadr City, the Romans were constrained from a direct assault on the city. The Romans built a wall surrounding the city, cutting off the enemy from supplies. Eventually, the Celtic warriors inside the city were forced to try to attack the Roman wall and were defeated (as was a relieving force trying to attack the Romans from the other side). The Celtic leader Vercingetorix surrendered (he was taken to Rome as a prisoner and eventually strangled), and this cemented Julius Caesar's reputation as a brilliant commander.

That these two battles separated by over 2000 years and with completely different weaponry, still share the same basic plot, is to my mind amazing.

>That these two battles separated by over 2000 years and with completely different weaponry, still share the same basic plot, is to my mind amazing.

I agree. I also found it fascinating when they mentioned how when placing the wall pieces, the soldier unhooking the segment was at risk from enemy sniper fire, and how a mantlet could be used to protect the soldier. Mantlets has been around as long as sieges and were there to shield trench diggers from castle archer fire. It's incredible how many historical parallels can be drawn here.

I think it really underscores the importance of studying history not just in war, but in all things.

I recall reading once that one of the reasons the Spanish were able to conquer S. America is that, with writing, the commanders had available to them a thousand years of military knowledge.

This is mentioned in the article:

"Operation Gold Wall employed medieval siege warfare tactics with a twist. Instead of a city’s population withdrawing behind castle walls to wait out the besieging army, coalition forces brought a modern version of a siege engine up to the edge of JAM’s safe haven and built a wall around the enemy. This was very similar to the ancient tactic of circumvallation, an example of which was seen when Julius Caesar built a twelve-foot-high, eleven-mile wall around Alesia to defeat 60,000 Gauls in 52 BC."

For an no-nonsense analysis of the battle of Alesia, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SU1Ej9Yqt68 on the Historia Civilis channel.

Sounds like the Battle of Alesia was a conventional siege, whereas Sadr City was, well, "urban warfare", a battle to weed out the rebels from lived-in neighborhoods.

The Battle of Alesia wasn't a conventional siege in the sense that the defenders weren't behind a wall to defend themselves from open attackers, but the attackers were behind the walls using it against the defenders. The wall is offensive in this context, as a type of blockade, instead of a defensive structure.


> Their only warning was when their garbage wasn’t picked by a contracted trash collector at the same time it typically was each week. When they called him, he was adamant that he was not coming.

"Some of you guys are cool. Don't go to <blank> tomorrow"

I wonder what other kinds of "canary" one can setup in such a situation.

I was an infantryman in a outpost on the east side of Sadr city. There was only a few platoons at this place at a time. I was on guard that morning and all of the sudden there was a mass migration of all males leaving the area. It was so surreal. Most of them were just clearing out because they knew shit was about to go down and they didn't want to be around for it when it did. But seeing thousands of people just walk from their neighborhoods was crazy.

I've always loved history, especially military history, however this is the first time I've read an article in this format regarding events I was actively involved with. I spent my formative years of 2006-2008 involved in OIF, and again in 2009-2010, and reading this has been both humbling and surreal.

This article reads like a classic WWII historical analysis of some specific battle, and its kind of amazing that can even be done for this, because the way I remember most of my time during OIF, the whole thing was a jumbled mess of Army politics, confusion, and misinterpretation.

I guess that gives valuable perspective on how reliable the ww2 accounts are. I think any account of military events that doesn’t honestly recount the actual confusion on the ground is rather suspect.

One would hope that higher levels of command always think of how uncertain all information they get from lower levels is, but reading accounts of events written in this dead certain and authorative voice is a bit worrying. Only the number of enemy casualities hints at the uncertain state of basically all combat accounts.

This article reads like a classic WWII historical analysis of some specific battle

This was a very WWII kind of battle.

Thanks for your service.

I never know what to say to that, but thank you for saying it :)

> The role and effectiveness of concrete in reducing violence across Baghdad cannot be understated. Concrete barriers had been used throughout Iraq for years to reduce the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) emplaced along major roads. But during the surge, concrete barriers were widely used to limit the enemy’s ability to maneuver freely across Baghdad. The first surge unit in Thawra District, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, led by Col. Billy Don Farris, emplaced over thirty miles of concrete barriers. One of the first uses of concrete was to protect the Adhamiya neighborhood by building a three-mile wall around it—which would earn a nickname: the “Great Wall of Adhamiya.”

> The barriers used to form the walls were named after American states to denote their progressive size. The smallest, Jersey barriers (three feet tall; two tons), were used to block roads and slow traffic approaching checkpoints. Medium to large barriers—Colorado (six feet tall; 3.5 tons), Texas (six feet, eight inches tall; six tons), and Alaska (twelve feet tall; seven tons)—were used to construct checkpoints and protective walls around markets, mosques, and other areas where crowds were being targeted by bombs and shootings. The Texas barrier, due to its width and ease of transport, among other reasons, was predominately used to create the safe neighborhoods. But it was the massive T-walls that were used to create coalition and ISF bases and to maximize protection and prevent infiltration. Similar in size to Alaska barriers, the massive twelve-foot-tall, six-ton T-wall, with its interconnecting edges, created an effective barrier.

Curious how folks interpret these statements as reinforcing or undermining their positions on the US Border Wall debacle. Is it a possibility that POTUS, upon hearing reports similar to this from Iraq, might be likely to want to reuse the approach?

Conversely, why is this effective in Iraq? Can opposition forces not build tunnels or lay ladders over these walls?

It's effective in Iraq just like it would be effective here: great for reducing blast radius, building serpentines leading up to vehicle checkpoints, and -- more pertinent to this discussion -- increasing the time it takes to breach a barrier.

Just like any security system, from asymmetric encryption to a steel military weapons vault, you can't make something perfectly secure. You can only make it difficult and time-consuming to breach the target. https://www.internationalvault.com/images/standards/class-a-...

The concrete barriers in Iraq can be and have been breached. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2016/0430/Pro-Sa...

And that's the crux of the issue: a militarized Green Zone has forces ready and able to respond when a breach attempt is detected, whereas remote New Mexico desert does not. The timescale of an unlawful entry event is a total mismatch for the amount of delay this particular security measure will introduce in an immigration context -- it's like using single-pass DES for strategic intel against an adversary with a botnet.

I think a given person's interest in building a wall is highly correlated with how much of a threat they see Mexican/Central American immigration. If you've ever used the phrase "caravan", then you probably think it's a severe problem that calls for drastic measures to protect America. If you've ever used the phrase "net-migration", you probably think those immigrants are not a threat, to life or economy, and you think that using violence and fortification against them is racist.

From what I understand from reading a lot of stuff (including Sebastian Junger's book War), the barriers were needed because of regular and persistent attacks with bombs and gunfire, and I haven't heard even the most alarmist pro-wall person claim that level of violence from illegal immigrants.

99% Invisible just released an episode about the tunnels used in smuggling drugs from Mexico into the US - https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-tunnel/. Basically, the tunnels cost $1-2M or more but paid off in a matter of weeks. Getting past concrete barriers in Iraq may have been strategically valuable but didn't have a business model.

I would imagine that climbing the barriers puts you in a very undefended position for at least a couple minutes.

"Conversely, why is this effective in Iraq? Can opposition forces not build tunnels or lay ladders over these walls?"

Walls create an impedance. Building a tunnel is a lot more effort (time, equipment, labor, etc.) than walking in. Employing a ladder is exposure; ladders are really hard to conceal.

People that claim a border wall is necessary and will be effective, such as the National Border Patrol Council, the union of border patrol officers, aren't actually ignoramuses. They don't believe or claim a wall is a perfect passive deterrent. It is a force multiplier, and like the Sadr City wall, will be effective while it is patrolled, maintained, etc.

I think that they key difference is urban vs rural environments. Walls are effective in urban environments to focus the movement of people into checkpoints - in Sadr City or El Paso.

A difference is that along the non-urban sections of the US-Mexico border, a wall needs to prevent individual persons from crossing. In Baghdad, the reason for division was to prevent large munitions, vehicle borne IEDs, and scattered gunfire.

In summary, walls can be effective, and they exist where needed along the US-Mexico border. A grand, glorious, wall in the middle of nowhere will not be helpful.

Really interesting read.

Lately I have been researching GIS Data and CRE Data. The military has to have a tool to do this, but what if you could have a live video feed that would watch for muzzle flashes or tracer rounds. When they are spotted you can try to pinpoint the location and add a layer of Building information to track the locations and all the risks associated with going into those areas.

I wonder what researchers are doing for the military and if they are applying graph theory to these types of problems (or other things that I don't know about yet) and what tech they are using to help the people on the ground.

WRT detection triangulation based off sound is both effective and wide spread. Search for “shot spotter” in use in many cities in a civillian context. For military threat modeling you may be interested in the human intelligence exploitation (HET) teams in afghanistan and itaq. Theyre compound teams pulling in disparate specialists (like sociologists) to study, model, and report on an area. And yes, thats aggregated up through battalion intelligence for tactical use.

Oh wow HET is really interesting, I never knew or thought about that type of work, thanks for the information!

Do you know if most jobs in HET/HUMINT are for Military personnel only?

No. They pulled in both other intelligence agency officers and more traditional civilian subject matter experts. Results were mixed with strong opinions on both sides. Check out the Human Terrain projects http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/pub1308.pdf

As late as 2010, when I was involved in the OIF transition to "New Dawn," Sadr City was still basically a no mans land, and was the bulk of where the "bad shit" would happen when it came to IED makers, smugglers, planners and other AQI activity.

Some absolute horrors in what is effectively a tiny square Suburb.

The comments on the NYT article linked in this submission are interesting to say the least.


A lot of this was used in Ramadi the year before.

And the 2nd Battle of Fallujah.

Would be fascinating to have analysis like this of the tactics employed by Russians in Aleppo and rest of Syria.

Sadr City feels like a current, slightly-less-dense version of Kowloon Walled City.

Seems like they reinvented siege warfare. Caesar did something similar in the Battle of Alesia.


That's mentioned in the article along with another historical precedents.

Huh, I missed that when I skimmed over the summary at the end.

War is fascinating.

A great and important essay. A classic.

this website is supposed to benefit American military academics and by extension the interests of the United States. But posting these lessons and insights publicly advances all nations equally, including our enemies. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep all this stuff within the US military?

Some armchair philosophy (I have absolutely no valid credentials to justify the following points, but might be interesting to consider):

Similar could be said about allowing the free press to report on the government's deficiencies (Presidential scandals, bureaucratic mistakes, internal strife, Snowden, etc.)

One of the founding principles of a liberal democracy is that freedom to access information enables far more people to make far more attempts to innovate and invent new strategies/tactics/products that can help defeat the status quo. Even though your enemies may be able to access that information, the information is useless without brilliant minds capable of interpreting it and acting upon it. Hence the important role of public education / immigration within a democracy, ensuring that your citizens are the ones who e.g. come up with nuclear weapons before anyone else does.

The mistake you are making here is the same that North Korea makes when it allocates a majority of its budget to military operations. Sure, you can acquire shitty second hand tanks and submarines and guns, but the real winners - the quick thinkers, commanders, tacticians, improvisionists (all of whom are just as needed on the field as in the war rooms) - can only end up at your service if you build a society that provides prosperous education opportunities and also takes care of all basic needs to enable citizens to focus on their education. It is with this system that you can end up with great soldiers, great generals, and great supplying organizations (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, etc.) all under one flag.

That's been standard policy for some twenty four centuries now, as laid down in Pericles' Funeral Oration by Thucydides:

"Our city is thrown open to the world, though and we never expel a foreigner and prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him."


(It mostly works, especially allowing for some, or a lot of, bending of truth in advertising.)

It might make the armed forces less insular in their thinking and help with recruitment.

Cadr city

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