The Unravelling 5: "Do You Guys Have Run-Flats?"

this is the jocko unraveling podcast episode five with daryl cooper and me jocko willink where’d we leave off daryl you were going home and iraq was just starting to come apart at the seams you and your boys took down sauter’s lieutenant the shia rose up down in the south we had to redirect forces down there to get them under control which was a problem because at the same exact time we had problems with the sunni population in the west out in anbar in fallujah four black water contractors got lynched mutilated tortured and hung up on display by a cheering crowd of of people there a few days after that we sent a guy named mattis and his marines into that city to retaliate and um if you tell the marines that there’s people in that city that killed a bunch of americans and mutilated and tortured them and hung them up on display go do something about it you better provide very specific orders because uh the marines are going to tear somebody up and um and they went in hard and they went in fast and the arab language press just had a field day with that start spreading out all over the middle east all over iraq the americans are killing civilians they’re destroying indiscriminately and this is going on right at the time that the shia uprising is happening in the south and so we are split up all over the country um you seem to focus a lot on the shia uprising on the south which was definitely a a real problem but when if the first thing that pops into my mind when you talk about the shia uprising is baghdad is solder city that’s the first thing i think about maybe that’s because i was in baghdad but but also there was a lot this is what i remember i remember that sadder city like was immediately there was a lot of heavy casualties in sauder city in and around sauder city to the uh troops that were out there like right after we went and got yakubi so i i part of it’s because it was more visible to me part of it’s because this is another big thing that that is always was always evident was things that happened in baghdad got a lot of press because it was baghdad the green zone you know you’d walk around the green zone there was reporters and there was normal you know there was all kinds of press in the green zone and that means they’re they’re 10 yards from from baghdad they’re in baghdad and things that were going on in other parts of the country wouldn’t receive as much press and you know fallujah had less press ramadi had even less press when we when by the time we get to ramadi in 2006 there was very little press out in ramadi almost none i didn’t really start to get an idea of what was going on in ramadi while you were there until maybe 2009 2010 before i started to read like some of the longer pieces that start to come out about what happens yeah and i was following it pretty close you know i knew there was some fighting going on out there the stuff you began the new york times or the you know wall street journal but it took a while for people to really process what had happened out in ambar yeah and that’s so so baghdad was baghdad went south real quick bad dad got bad real quick after you know that april and again that’s about the time we’re going home now you know we did we did some turnover ops with the guys that relieved us and they were all pretty straightforward you know it wasn’t they weren’t looking around going hey everything’s going to change for us the ied threat had escalated but it was still it wasn’t even close to what it turned into you know there is a reason that i i tend to focus on the south a little bit um and you can tell me if i’m a little off base here but this is this was always my perception is right around the time so let’s see uh back in august 2003 just before you first showed up that was when al qaeda and iraq hit the u.n they hit the jordanian embassy all the ngos leave the u.n evacuates the country and they’re really working hard to do two things one not make this a coalition war you know where the u.n is present and overseeing what’s going this is the americans in there against the muslims against the iraqis right and so and they accomplished that in 2003 in a lot of people’s minds and at the same time they start hitting indiscriminately shia holy sites trying to foment a civil war so now the americans are just caught in this maelstrom right so that happens back in the fall before you get there you’re going around hitting targets doing your thing we’re trying to clean this stuff up as it’s starting to escalate but we don’t have a full grasp of what’s going on yet we think that it’s remnants of the regime who are doing this kind of stuff we don’t have the idea yet really that there’s an insurgency forming an organized insurgency we get up to march march 2nd

of 2004 uh maybe march 11th i’m sorry i don’t have it in front of me and uh the spanish train the madrid train bombing happens hundreds of people are killed 2 000 people are killed because al qaeda in spain hits a train this is a couple days three days before the spanish general elections and it went from a candidate who was the front-runner who was supporting america who was on board and it just swung immediately over to the anti-war candidate in spain was the hell out of there right you had had this movement like you said every war every conflict there is going to be a piece of the population that just says no and there’s going to be a piece within that group who doesn’t just say no who says who has the idea that we are the bad guys here right and those those people are pretty tireless and they’re gonna keep working um as the war starts to go on and things start to happen and we start to lose control those people start to make inroads into you know the rest of our own domestic population their side starts to grow in europe it’s already stronger than it is here in america the madrid train bombings happen uh more europeans start to say uh i don’t know if we really want to be a piece of a part of this and when the uh when you guys took down yakubi in najaf at the time i mentioned this in the previous episode uh you know we because it was a little bit more pacified down there with the shia uh we had the bulgarians the poles a bunch of our allies coalition allies down there and they start getting hammered by sauders forces and they’re getting overrun they’re getting pushed back and so that’s more of our european allies we’re like ugh this is getting a little bit uglier than we thought and we’re getting a little more isolated and then we’ve got to redirect forces that maybe properly ought to be out in anbar keeping you know this is a time where al qaeda and iraq is starting to consolidate their control over the rest of the sunni insurgency right but we’ve got to redirect to go support our coalition allies in the south now and it’s funny because you know i just i look at maps of iraq and stuff i didn’t realize that najaf is a five-hour drive down there you know i think it’s maybe 150 200 miles or something but you know we’re not all driving on interstate five yeah and again you’re talking about driving in humvees and they’re they’re slower you know um they you know we’re going usually 55 miles an hour you know that’s like flat out you know maybe we get to 60 but pretty much you’re going 55 60 miles an hour right and also there was uh you know you’d have you’d have to do some checkpoint stuff along the way we’d we’d go and check with the battle space so you know the 200 miles you know what going 50 miles an hour you know that’s a four-hour drive you make a stop for fuel you make a because you know we’re not gonna we’re not gonna drive our vehicles until they’re out of fuel or until we’re low on fuel so we’d stop some at some fob somewhere get a refuel and you know check in with some battle space commander somewhere so that brings it out that stretches it out there next thing you know you’re looking at yeah you’re looking at five hours okay so we get to the point now where we’ve got our already a force that our military brass already thinks is a little bit too low or really a lot too low to keep over to provide overall security in the country now we’re split up over here in anbar down to the south in the shia areas our allies because of madrid because of them getting hammered in the south right now because of the marketing of the anti-war movement in the west are already starting to lose faith in us and then in in april as the country is starting to spiral we know what’s coming there that’s when abu ghraib happens and and that’s kind of the frame that that i put it in is that we’re we’re starting to lose control of the domestic conversation um not only in america but within our european you know with the european allies as well with the rest of the world and to the extent that this becomes an american war you know an american crusade against the muslims and we lose the rest of the coalition um the the the whole complex the whole the whole consolation of the war starts to change and um were you aware of any of that like was was that in your head at all as you were starting to get ready to leave there in april yeah well you know it’s a it’s a good indicator and i mentioned this on the last episode that when there’s the cpa in the joff is getting overrun so so think about what that means the cpa is getting overrun let everybody know exactly what that that means so the the coalition provisional authority it’s the it’s the kind of makeshift government that’s running najaf you know there’s different civilian authorities there iraqi and american and they’re trying to you know trying to rebuild some kind of a government and this gets attacked and is about to

be over on meaning that it’s going to get taken over and the the guys that were there was a lot of actions a lot of contractors that were there um they they were able to defend the situation uh but when that’s happening again and i said this on the last episode they called me and my guys in baghdad so there is a multitude of these foreign you know foreign military el units down there on on that road there’s like a road that goes from baghdad to najaf and along that way you know when i talk about talk stopping at checkpoints you know these were like different nationalities different countries you would have their little base we’d pull in there get fuel whatever and some of those people had armor and instead of sending any of that who are an hour away 40 minutes away two hours away they take a group of guys that are in baghdad with fit with thin skinned humvees to drive five hours to get rid of who had just returned driving five hours down there executing an op turning around getting home and now you’re getting yes and you’re the best option yeah and we’re the best option and you know it’s it’s complementary great thank you you know i appreciate it but from a tactical perspective well well i mean general patton himself says a good plan executed now is better than a great plan executed in a week right well guess what even if i go right now it’s five hours when it when it when a building or a compound is under the threat of being overrun you’re not thinking that they’re going to make it five hours you said yesterday you used the term was this what they told you said we need you to go down there as a qrf like you were the quick reaction absolutely you’re five hours away we’re five hours away so you know that’s an indicator okay well and it was one of those things where you you know look you’re in the you’re in the military right and you you’re thinking yourself what are these what is what is the chain of command thinking they don’t get it they don’t understand what’s happening whatever we’ll do our job maybe we’re not seeing everything that they’re seeing so but yeah as i mentioned on the last episode as i’m standing um in a tower looking out at the highway and i see multiple burning vehicles i i hadn’t we hadn’t seen that we had not seen that type of thing at all you’d see a vehicle somewhere you wouldn’t look out on the horizon and see five burning you know smoking vehicles that had just been hit with ieds or rpgs and are now now under attack so yeah i could tell it was getting bad and and again as i said on the last episode you if you asked me march 1st if i would ever be coming back to iraq as a as a combat leader i would have said probably not this would be mopped up if you ask me april 15th i’d say we might be back here when did you have a sense of um and i would understand if this wasn’t the case did you have a sense of the public mood shifting um especially when abu ghraib happened like did you have a moment when abu ghraib happened where you know were you just so in the military world at that point where you were just like what are these guys doing what are those you know mps thinking or did you have a sense of like oh this is not good yeah i knew it was not good yeah i knew it was not good there had been some things that had taken place where where some things got caught up by the media uh got captured by the media and it was bad um i had a couple incidents that happened where we you know we didn’t look good and absolutely tiny in comparison but enough that i said okay if this if this caused a cause this much backlash then what’s it what just happened albuquerque is not going to be good were you it sounded like when we talked about it yesterday you had some experience like that you must have been in country at the time because you talked about the mood of some of the iraqis like seeming to shift when that happened um was that something you got when you returned in 06 or you’re saying that the the mood had shifted with the uh with some of the iraqis you were interacting with yeah you could you could feel it somewhat it also was very regional dependent right depending on where you were um and it was that was like one of those just creepy things you know you’d go through a certain town certain village and i remember we went we actually were on our way i think we were actually on our way to najaf and we went through a town you got a map there of iraq so i think there’s a town called hala it’s on the way down there and we went through there and yeah yeah so there was halal we started driving through there and there was people there was people as

we started coming into the city where we hear them uh they’re blowing whistles and like you’re just thinking and then they’re giving you the the the look of we we don’t like you and you know we get the traffic try we get caught behind traffic and we’re we’re dismounting this is before we had armored vehicles so when we would stop the vehicles almost every time if the vehicles were held up we’d dismount and get away from the vehicles because the vehicles were kind of bullet magnets and and rpg magnets so you know we would come to a stop and we would patrol with foot patrol along with the vehicle so the drivers would stay in the gunner would stay in everyone else would dismount and we would foot patrol so we could get a little space if we were to get attacked we’d be able to react in a much better way because the vehicles are still are basically stopped you’re in a traffic jam you’re in a traffic jam so i remember and and that is where you would notice different areas you’d get a different vibe from the people and and yes as time went on the vibe shifted earlier it was more positive and as as a as we rolled into april and this is in a shia zone you’re talking about that yeah definitely definitely a shia zone so now when we went down there for qrf it was like yeah we were we were not getting nice looks from people coming from i was in the states at the time i was in the navy but we weren’t engaged right in iraq or anything like that and you we you we’re we’re experiencing something uh we’re experiencing abu ghraib when it hits something like the civilians experienced it right so i can speak from that perspective um there were people who had been starting to starting to come in all along who said this is going to be another vietnam and they didn’t just mean by that that we were going to get bogged down and our mission wasn’t going to be accomplished you know there was a moral kind of uh commentary being made on what we were doing over there and those people who had been making the argument that america is this imperialist aggressor going over there in this unjust pre-emptive war to attack the muslim world out of rage for 911 or whatever it is um the iraq war in march 2003 at a 74 approval rating in a gallup poll um now part of that is people people like to win they expected to win and if we had just cleaned it up it would have stayed even if abu ghraib had happened if we had just cleaned up the war and won it i think you know people like to win it would have stayed that way but as it starts to seem like we’re losing control of the country and in an election year that’s a big part of this as well this is in 2004 it’s you know six five months six months before an election a presidential election those pictures hit the news there were a lot of there are a lot of moderate people not hardcore anti-war people or anything like that who start to ask wait a second like not only are we seeing do we seem to be losing control of the country over there what are we doing like it seems like we’re losing control of of ourselves and when i think it was i was only two weeks after that i believe that yeah it was two weeks after that news hit that zarqawi put out the nick berg tape and all of a sudden the american people this is uh the first um american that was beheaded by al qaeda in iraq over there and all of a sudden americans are they’re thinking of war in very different terms rather than thinking of it as a liberation operation that of course there’s civilian casualties there’s going to be some messy things that happen there’s even going to be some soldiers that do some things that they go out and do now there seems to be this situation where there is some very very dark things going on in this incredibly chaotic place and we are just that we’re starting to get caught up in that and we’re just one element of darkness in this dark place because i think americans they didn’t wanna they didn’t want to think or believe that about themselves and when you see those pictures uh you know they are incredibly shocking for people who are just civilians i mean i think they’re probably shocking for people who have seen violence as well because there’s a certain there’s a certain macabre aspect to a lot of them and the casual nature with which some of those reservists were uh were posing with some of those inmates and i happen to be i don’t know where you fall on this i can like i happen to be uh of the of the mind that i abu ghraib makes me enraged at the the high level uh political people who

set the conditions for that place to happen i don’t i don’t um i don’t give myself the right to draw harsh judgments on the soldiers and the mps who were there the ones who actually got punished i wasn’t there they were i’m not saying it was right or justified or anything like that i’m saying that you had this this group of reservists from west pennsylvania who were put into a situation they’re absolutely not trained for they were trained as combat support mps they were not trained as prison guards and they are put into in an absurd situation under incredible stress in a prison that’s in a combat zone um you know abu ghraib is it’s between fallujah and baghdad right right in there somewhere it’s sort of north of the airport it’s sort of north so so it’s so it’s northwest of baghdad and it was a bad area yes you’re right it was in a combat zone they’re taking fire at the prison um and now maybe as somebody who is over there and had to be responsible for your behavior and for the behavior of your men you can feel more comfortable coming down straight on the directly on the people who are involved i just don’t i don’t like to do that i wasn’t there um i don’t justify it but i don’t know what do you think what do you think i think um i would assume that obviously you talk a lot about leadership and so the people who set the conditions and created those conditions are going to be important but um i would maybe i would just uh assume because i know other people who served in iraq who do hold the people who were directly involved with those things the soldiers there the mps very responsible because yeah i was over there in iraq too there were times that i wanted to beat the hell out of somebody or do this but i didn’t and they did and that’s on them and look what they cost us and i get that and i don’t gain say i don’t contradict them and say well what about these that’s their right to have that view and i don’t give myself that right um but i mean tell me what you think well yeah you you called it when when i see some front line troops doing something that they shouldn’t be doing sure they shouldn’t be doing that whose fault is it that they’re doing that it’s easy to say it’s their fault sure um but as leaders guess what if if you have troops you’re responsible for their actions that’s the way it is that’s the way it is and if you have to understand people well enough that’s why i talk about human nature all the time you’re going to tell me you’re going to take 19 20 21 22 year old kids from western pennsylvania that are reservists that have very limited limited military training and what you’re going to do is you’re going to take them and put them in charge of the detainee the a bunch of detainees that they think are terrorists while they’re being attacked on a daily basis if you don’t think if you if you can’t see what could unfold there you’re you’re not having you you don’t understand human nature very well so what does that mean you as a leader you’re responsible for telling everyone hey this these are the rules this is what’s in place this is why it’s important if al jazeera sees us and i i’ll use al jazeera and i think they’re they’re and you you probably well i know you you probably will understand their arc of of the way al jazeera has what al jazeera has been because al jazeera kind of started as a as a sort of almost like a secular kind of anti-like extremist uh broadcast the way al jazeera english still primarily i’ve got arabic speaking friends who send me over stuff it’s very very different in the arab language version so so the the at the time what al jazeera was to us was they’re going to take whatever we do and they’re going to spin it to anti-american you know in an anti-american way so that was always my kind of like warning to guys look if al jazeera sees you doing something you’re it’s going to be an it’s going to be a massive uh you know strategic hit a little tactical move that you make could be a massive negative strategic hit or negative to to what goes on in the war so when those guys are doing that when those male and female detainee handlers do that yeah sure do they deserve some punishment absolutely could that have been prevented and should it have been prevented it absolutely should have and i had you know we we were running detainee operations as well so my seals would go and capture someone and bring them back and put them in a in a temporary holding facility and we would stand watch on them that’s what would happen

this is also not a smart idea you know you you you i’m gonna go capture you was just shooting you’re trying to kill us now we get a hold of you we bring you back and now now we’re responsible for your safety and comfort this that’s not a good plan this it’s not a good plan there needs to be a level of detachment there so yeah that’s a that’s a leadership issue and you’ve got to understand this goes back to the conversation that we had about you know hey you got a sadist in your platoon and you’ve got to have that consideration you’ve got to you’ve got an asshole in your platoon you know you’ve got an asshole you’re you’re you’ve got 25 people that are that are guards at this prisoner one of them’s going to be an asshole one of them is going to say hey if i get the chance i’m going to slap one of these guys around hey if i get the chance i’m going to abuse these people that’s what i’m going to do you got someone on the other end of that spectrum that they under they’ll they’ll get it and they would put a stop to that and you’ve got everyone else in the middle and so when that guy’s not when the good guy is not on watch this shit happens well yeah there is that but i i i tend to think of abu ghraib as the as the culmination of a lot of the bad decisions we talked about yesterday not being able to provide security in the country not having which leads to not having enough intelligence which leads to general obazide saying i need more intelligence go get me actionable intelligence and so you have all the stuff with you know the fourth id going out there and just doing mass roundups and bringing people in whole villages that they’re bringing in because we gotta we don’t know the difference we don’t have any human intelligence yet they’re all getting sent to abu ghraib because we don’t have anywhere else to keep them abu ghraib is the prison that is like the symbol of saddam’s brutal power right this had execution chambers torsh this is where you got did not want to get sent if you were under saddam’s regime we started sending all of these people there huge number by the by the army’s own estimate 70 80 percent of them ended up free of charges didn’t need to be there um they get in there and a lot of people don’t know the whole story uh of abu ghraib they get stuck on the the grotesque pictures and everything these reservists from western pennsylvania they get sent into this place it is vastly overcrowded and undermanned to to you know in uh i believe in september of 03 they basically got the number of guards that they were going to have until the next spring meanwhile the population of the prison doubles and then it doubles again they don’t have the manpower to do this you’ve got these 18 19 20 year old kids who they walk into this situation and they are people are already being stood on boxes naked by military intelligence they’re already being you know pinned up against walls and trust up like in stressed positions this is already going on when they arrive right and so i’m i try to put myself in this situation where you know yes you’re supposed to disobey an unlawful order right if you see something that’s going on there’s an open door policy and you’re supposed to go on but if i’m a 19 year old or 20 year old i don’t know anything about war i know what i’ve seen on tv right and so i show up the first day and this stuff is already going on they didn’t invent this it wasn’t these little group of guys that you know that went completely off the rails and nobody knew about it it was this dark thing that happened occasionally like at night time you know the famous picture where you have the pile of naked guys that was the screen saver on the computer in the in the military police office everybody knew what was going on there were times when these kids would go to medics go to other people and show them pictures and be like is this authorized can i do this and they’re like well the famous picture of uh lindy england the female who was not supposed to be on the block by the way she was dating one of the guys on the block she’s from a completely different area she’s not cleared to be there gives you an idea how the discipline had broken down right but she’s coming just to hang out with her boyfriend every night and they’re goofing around with the prisoners and there’s the famous one where she’s walking the naked guy on a leash so we would end up uh we we ended up with abu ghraib with a bunch of people who were mentally ill right there wasn’t like a bunch of psychiatric prisoners the prisoners yeah right the prisoners there weren’t a bunch of functional psychiatric mental health facilities all over iraq at the time and so we would be out there and a lot of times these people who were mentally ill would give our soldiers problems and you know uh we would be like okay this guy’s a problem take them in and we would take them in and then they would get into the general population just to even clarify that more when you say give them problems this is just someone that’s not doing what you’re telling them to do because they don’t understand they’re they’re scared and you’re you’re a 22 year old soldier and you look at the guy and go you know i i can’t judge what’s happening but this guy’s not doing what i tell him to do but zip him up and we bring the guy in he’s unmanageable in the general population so we sent him over to the hard site where we actually have individual cells and we put them in there and um they’re trying to get this guy he’s spitting on people this guy in question the one in that picture he’s spitting on people he’s throwing feces at people he takes off his own clothes they didn’t strip him okay um and he goes and gets a tie strap for a from a humvee

and he puts it around his shoulders to like walk this guy over and the guy goes down on his hands and knees and the strap comes up around his neck so it looks like a leash and uh they’re walking him to the place that they’re trying to bring him and he actually the guy uh grainer who’s like kind of he’s supposed to be the real sadist in the group and he has some statistic tendencies there’s no question about that he took that picture and he took it to the medics and he explained the situation of what happened and said is this like this is what happened is this okay and they gave they said well you know under the circumstances you know i mean that seems fine and so you know this this was the environment that these 19 20 21 year old reservists who are not trained to be prison guards are finding themselves in here and i think one of the other things that blows me away um it just blows me away that this is how it is is that you know the military intelligence folks the interrogators they wanted to be able to kind of play some good cop bad cop and you know be the uh kind of uh be able to build a relationship with some of these people they’re trying to interrogate in various ways depending on who they are and it was the military police who were in charge of kind of setting the conditions in the place and making sure that the prisoners were in a sufficient level of discomfort so that when they went in to be interrogated the military police the military intelligence guys the interrogators could kind of play that good cop side and so you have now now that is something you’re supposed to walk this fine line between you know setting conditions to make people properly uncomfortable and abuse like that fine line and that is something that should require extraordinary training and discipline right that is a hard hard thing to do especially when you’re talking about unsophisticated 20 year old reservists who are dealing with jihadis you’re dealing with guys who are you know maybe a he was a colonel in the in saddam’s army and you got to think of like what kind of you know just adaptable savvy cockroach you gotta be to survive that long you know under saddam and make your way through the system and now i am a guy who doesn’t speak arabic and i’ve got to figure out how to make this guy do what i want him to do and i have no ways to control this guy who’s looking at me he’s just not taking me remotely seriously and i can sense that uh i have no way to control this guy other than force in order to make him respect my authority and comply with what i they’re just they were not they were they were absolutely not prepared to be in that situation and i blame the people who put them there and who created the conditions for that to happen i don’t know i don’t know i don’t know what group of 20 year old reservists you could have put into a situation like that that would have handled it well would they have done what they did i’ll tell you what group a group that had a good leader you have a good leader that explains what’s going on these things an american soldier reservist active duty doesn’t matter you you put good leadership over those individuals and they will do what they’re supposed to do that that’s what happens and i’ve seen this over and over and over again in my time in in the us military working with soldiers working with marines meeting 18 year old kids 20 year old kids if if you lead them correctly they will absolutely do what they are supposed to do if you don’t if you don’t well then they’re gonna they’re gonna go where nature takes them and and you know another thing we have to remember is and you know this was my sort of initial reaction was like oh whatever you know uh when i joined the seal teams you know it’s a it was a it’s a very uh very violent culture and a very hard culture to be a part of and you know we got haze we got we got hazed significantly and and that’s just the way it was so every single one of those pictures i was like oh yeah you know we we i’ve been there on the ground you know i’ve been that guy i’ve been beat up i’ve been been taped up i’ve been hung up i’ve been all those things um you know that that’s that’s normal every day and then you take it one step further you look at the whole navy uh oh when i went through the shell back ceremony uh not quite as bad as a seal team hazing but it was a big authorized hazing and then i was like oh what about sears school well what happened to me it’s your school oh guess what they’re doing to you it’s your school they’re slapping you around you know you’re you’re naked you’re you’re being abused that’s the way it is you’re freezing um they’re putting you in stress positions it’s all the same stuff

so from my my you know my my initial reaction was like yeah well whatever these are these are terrorists and by the way you you contrast that against the fact that zarqawi is sawing people’s heads off right and i’m like wait a second the enemy is sawing people’s heads off and i’m supposed to be mad at this reservist because she walked a guy around with a leash look that’s that’s and that and you know what that is actually the reality that that’s the reality that’s the reality of what happened well when you compare what was going on in there to what was going on in there under in that same facility under saddam yeah a year and a half and here’s the deal even though that’s the reality of what happened it didn’t matter it didn’t matter everything i just said had no had no it did nothing to paint to clean up the picture that got put out by the insurgent and the the al jazeera media and really and our own media that posted these pictures over and over again with no explanations and and you know you show that to an iraqi this is what the americans are doing to us this is in abu ghraib this is absolutely what this this added this is why i said on the last episode this is what added so much fuel to the fire that it became yeah this is this is this is uh a turning point and that is why from a leadership perspective everybody on your team has to understand that their tactical decisions can have strategic impacts and that is an example i use all the time at echelon front of a tactical decision that had strategic impact on an entire war that that’s exactly like you know you want to look at bremer and you want to talk about you know disbanning the iraqi police in the iraqi military yeah that’s a strategic blunder and it had strategic implications but this is a tactical blunder committed by frontline troops e3s and e4s that had a massive strategic negative impact on the war there’s a lesson to be learned from that all day long also and i’ll go back and forth with people on this as well you know how could i have been responsible if i was the if i was the if i was the company commander if i was the battalion commander if i was in charge that person how can i be responsible for what those front-line troops do and that right there is just where everything falls apart because the minute you have people saying hey it’s not my responsibility what the frontline troops do that’s the complete wrong answer it’s the complete wrong answer you have to do the proper training you have to give them the proper understanding of what the mission is you have to under give them an understanding of what the impact of their mission is what the parameters are they have to understand you as a leader are absolutely responsible for that and when we fail to lead this is the kind of thing that happens i agree and i and i agree that it was ugly when people started scrambling for cover rather than taking responsibility um after it happened um although there’s evidence that they were getting political pressure put on them to do that remember this is an election year and i mean to me like the idea that nobody in the upper echelon of the defense department resigned their position over abu ghraib just blows me away but the bush administration was in a point where we’re in the middle of a close election this we have to just put this on you know these e2s and e3s and e4s on the ground and like wash our hands of this when there was a lieutenant colonel in the prison who knew what was going on there were jag officers who came through that prison and uh you know there was an incident where grainer that you know the main kind of the main ringleader guy um he had this game where he would have hooded prisoners and he would like to just jokingly kind of walk him around and get him disoriented and then walk him into a wall and one of them got a bloody nose and so you know a medic saw it and cleaned him up and everything and they decided they needed to counsel greaner over give him a counseling chit right and now normally for non-military people out there a counseling shit is like sort of a reprimand right we have this counseling shit it’s been you know it’s been printed in newspapers and stuff it’s not at all it just kind of says like hey you’re doing a great job if you need any kind of clarification on the rules or anything or if you’re under too much stress make sure you talk to us but keep up the great work and you know this was after a guy had just walked the prisoner into a wall and uh made his nose bleed which again like in the context of al qaeda in the context of saddam hussein in the context of being a new guy in a seal platoon right so like if i got away with just a bloody nose and walk into a wall i’d be pretty stoked so the fact that the fact that that was your initial reaction this is interesting um the fact that that was your kind of initial reaction and i think it was a lot of people’s initial reaction it’s like well okay yeah but we’re still not them

it tells me though that at this point in the war uh we still did not realize that we were fighting we were running a counter insurgency i i think you’re you’re right that we didn’t realize and i don’t think we were i think that this is what turned this is what this is what solidified the insurgency okay this this is what turned it from hey some iraqis that you know you take you take 20 iraqis that the month prior still had that american flag in their back pocket for when the when the tide changed all of a sudden they were like oh no and and you know 10 of those 20 threw that american flag away at that point i found it interesting uh somebody i’ve heard somebody say one time i don’t remember if it was in the context of abu ghraib or not they were talking about you know you don’t need uh you don’t need sadist for something like this to happen you have a bunch of inexperienced people under extraordinary stress who are not trained to handle the situation that they’re in and from even from the political level from the administration because it’s in the press people are watching the news that there’s a debate going on should torture be allowed where should should we move the definition of torture over a little bit or not so that’s in the air that there’s some permissiveness going on they walk into a situation where everything that we saw in those pictures was already happening and they’re told this is what military intelligence wants well i’m an e2 i just showed up to the war am i going to be like well i don’t know any better i say okay i know what i’ve seen in movies and on tv but i guess this is real war and this is how real war actually is so i’m not going to say anything um and they they get into that situation um but it’s not it’s you don’t have to have people ordered to do it you don’t have to have um you know all you need is a certain amount of permissiveness and the way the person put it was if you think there was if imagine if there was a bar in san diego or los angeles where it was just you could go in there and there was a person and you could just go punch them and insult them and whatever so you get get done with work and you can just go home and have a beer you and your buddies you had a stressful day and you go in there you can slap this guy around and not everybody would do it but that place wouldn’t be empty it wouldn’t be empty and just just by making it allowed and not having i mean there’s a reason that the army is that the military is an institution of discipline right is you are gearing people up to go face an extraordinarily difficult task which involves killing and being killed 19 year old kids who who were working at a at a mechanics garage four months ago you know and you have to get them in the mindset that they can deal with killing somebody and with people trying to kill them and with their friends being killed and where this is not a distant reality where you know smart bombs are taking out iraqi high-value targets while we’re kind of over here in kuwait abu ghraib is getting hit with mortars all the time and so it’s right there going on and the people that they’re processing into this prison they’re being told these are the people who are firing those at you these are the people who if they overrun this prison or if they get loose and there’s like a prison break or something we’ll chop your head off without a second thought and that was true of some of them right and these 19 year olds have to figure out how to be the authority figure in a situation like that and it is just you know all of the decisions from brum you know this is like the reason i said it uh you know the decision to go in with too few troops against the advice of the military so that we couldn’t control the country and we didn’t have the resource all of those decisions are why those kids ended up in that place under those conditions you know yeah and it’s also um again it’s a lack of understanding of human nature yeah right what’s that what’s the famous experiment at stanford where they you know the prison experiment yeah the stanford prison experiment right does everyone not know that if you put people into a position of authority they’re gonna start to abuse their power and now you set the conditions like you just said these are these are terrorists in my mind you know these are terrorists and i’m a good guy they’re bad guys and i’m being told actually to make sure they’re uncomfortable cool i got this where do you think that’s going to end up where do you think that’s going to end up especially if you’re not trained i mean just think about like if you’re in charge say the stanford prison experiment you don’t need sadism right to explain it like just i’m in an authority position there’s a person over there on the other side who’s telling me to fuck off and now i gotta figure out how to make him compliant now there’s ways to do it but if you got to be pretty sophisticated to do that to do it without resorting to force or coercion you can do it but you got to be pretty sophisticated you know you got to be kind of an alpha personality you have to have ways to do it they were not they were not given any of those tools they were just told be the man control these people these are terrorists and when these people got

non-compliant they don’t have any tools to handle these guys except for force and humiliation and and those are the tools that they have you know and it was just uh it was it was an awful awful situation um when it happened and um and it became pretty clear very shortly after that that we were looking at something like an insurgency as i said very quickly in my estimation that event and the the way that it got portrayed absolutely solidified the insurgency without without a doubt in my mind and if you kind of look at the look there was there was the insurgency was starting to gel a little bit right a little bit you know you had pockets here you had pockets there you know you you were just talking about what was happening in the job what was happening in sadder city what was happening in fallujah like you had stuff going on but there were still iraqis that were like you know i hope the americans can pull this off and when that happened yeah all that all those little p pieces that were floating around all of a sudden started to gel were you you know you had been taking out a lot of criminals gangsters people like that during your first tour um had you seen enough by that point that when the nick berg tape came out in uh may of 2004 that that did not surprise you did you already have an idea of that these are the people we were kind of dealing with i think that the fallujah bridge yeah that was the that that would to me was the first indicator of okay i see where this is going and then nick berg was an excellent exclamation point on that when you uh i mean you were processing back probably by that point to start your tours the admirals aid i mean were you just like screw that send me back like turn me loose on these people yeah i mean it was really hard the it was it was a real it was a when i when i was when i was pleading with my boss to plead with his boss to plead with his boss to let us go to fallujah and and and help in that situation and we got stood down that was a hard pill for me to swallow i was very i was very disappointed about that you know i was very disappointed about that and it kind of left a mark and yeah that was that was a hard that was a hard one you know um and actually those guys okay so one of them scott halveston was it was a seal and those guys had come to my compound we stayed in a compound in in baghdad those contractors yes okay those contractors came to my compound and they had kind of just shown up um at least that’s the impression that i got was that they had just shown up and so we had a conversation with them and i remember like i was like talking with someone remember i said my um my platoon chief was a like an off-road guy and and so he was all dialed on vehicles and and so we’re sitting there talking to him and i remember asking him or either that or but it was probably my chief asked him because he was had the mindset of vehicles and he was like do you guys have run flats because they had these armored these armored um like ford explorers which was kind of what everyone was driving the armored ford explorers were crap um they they didn’t all they did was add armor like the the minimum kind of armor but there was no adjustments to the suspension so they were just kind of crap and i remember my my platoon chief asking i was pretty sure it was him saying do you guys have run flats meaning if you get a flat tire can you keep going and their answer was no and so you know you had you kind of had a bad feeling this is now that when you’re asking me this question which you you seem to want to know if i sense the escalation this is one of the things where as i think back on it the i this is where we knew things were escalating because we were looking at these guys saying hey do you guys have run flats because if you’re going into fallujah we knew were there when where they were going yeah and they got ambushed and they got ambushed and i’ll have to i’ll have to actually go back and ask my platoon chief if it was that crew but i’m almost positive and again uh forgive my memory man this is yeah yeah this is let’s happen between now and then lots happen between between now and then and i’m glad we’re talking about it but there was contractors that were not prepared

and three months prior you could run around in baghdad however you wanted to and you’d be fine two months prior you’d be running around in baghdad you might want to check yourself a little bit you know starting to get into march you’d be like okay we need to think about this now in april we’re looking at these guys going do you have run flats in case you get a flat tire because if you get a flat tire you you lose your mobility you’re gonna lose your survivability so that is what that that is the kind of thing that we were thinking about and then those seeing those guys you know strung up from the bridges from the bridge and then nick berg it was like okay yeah this is this is this is gonna get worse that’s the only uh it’s the only one of those videos i’ve watched i made myself watch the nick berg one when it first came out and i after that i was like i i don’t need to watch another one i’ve seen it um i thought about watching the foley one when it came out but um you know nick berg by all accounts he’s a great kid he’s a little eccentric and um you know who he reminds me of in certain ways if you’ve ever read the book or seen the movie into the wild yeah about chris mccandless he kind of reminds me of that guy where he’s a little bit naive maybe he’s idealistic just like those contractors though who had no idea apparently what country they were in and a lot of people didn’t yet yeah that was another thing like you’d see contractors and at this point look i’m not we were by no means like battle hardened you know guys because our our first deployment we got in a few fire fights um playing the game on god mode yeah we we but we had done a lot of operations yeah and we were good we were good at what we were doing like when you saw our convoy you know when you saw our convoy maneuver through the streets we were really good you know if we had a flat tire we looked like a nascar pit crew you know again my platoon chief you know running guys through drills my my leading petty officer running guys through drills the guys in the platoons just locked on and so we you know we like i said we weren’t battle hardened but we’d done a lot of operations and we’d see it’s like the classic you know what i talked about this with some of the sog guys i’ve had on my podcast or and even just any of the vietnam guys that classic scene that you see in the movies of the new guy getting off the plane in saigon and you know with his brand new clean camis on and you know a fresh haircut and freshly shaven credence playing in the background and credence playing in the background and then you know who does he come across he comes across the long-haired hardened thousand-yard stare gear totally trashed um not even trashed but broken in i remember looking at these contractors and you know they got brand new web gear they got brand you know they got brand new setup you can tell that they haven’t worn it very much you know they might have done some shooting drills or whatever so you’re you’re you’re a little bit nervous when you see guys like that and because this is a different time too as you get into 0.809 a lot of those contracts these are former special ops guys these are a bunch of guys with experience these contractors a lot of these contractors were guys that had been in you know been in the military been in the seal teams been in the you know been to green bay or whatever you know four how much experience could they have had well yeah that’s what i’m saying like they were they were green beret in the 90s they were a seal in you know 1987. um you know i i mean i met i had lunch with guys i remember having lunch with guys you know like teen guys you know and they’re they’re your bros and they’re fired up to be over there because you know as much as i talked about uh wanting to be in combat and had the luck of going getting to be in combat and i talked about guys that have been in for 30 years that never were well those guys got out and all of a sudden opportunity came for them to lock and load their weapons and go do god’s work and they took that opportunity but you know it’s it i met plenty of guys especially because this is the this is the actual time you know this is the time when black water and the rest of the the rest of the contracting gigs you know this is like 1200 1500 bucks a day that’s how what that’s what the demand signal was and the demand signal was we want guys that were special operations you know because they had at least have more training and it was you know you fast forward three four years and it was like hey we’ll take pretty much anybody um especially because pretty much anybody if you were in the military you know you had run convoys and you knew how to handle yourself it feels like with contractors describing it that they it doesn’t sound like they had the same kind of

overarching leadership structure that was like looking after them that they had like a looser leadership structure that i mean the the the idea that they were going into fallujah with you know when they couldn’t run flat and just all that like who’s making that decision to allow them to do something like that yeah it was that experience for me that you know 1500 bucks a day but you couldn’t have given me enough money to take those jobs because i was just looking at them going man like i’m i you know i’m literally standing there looking at a guy that has you know whatever whatever dumb gear setup he had where you’re looking at you know he’s got his he’s gonna get in a vehicle and he’s got his pistol like you know whatever in a position where he’s never gonna be able to get that thing out or whatever dumb thing they had and you’re looking at him thinking like that sucks and then you’re looking at you know over at one one of my guys who has everything completely dialed in can make things happen you know immediately you know i i my assistant platoon commander at the time was just one of those kind of kind of gear gear heads you know and everything he was testing all the time and i’m looking at him going you know this guy you know my guy is so eminently prepared and i’m looking at this contractor going and what kind of comms do you guys have you know there’s a question that i’m gonna ask right that’s you know my my platoon chief is gonna go do you have run flats i’m going to say hey what kind of comms do you have because i was a i was a radio man so you know seal platoons you know that was how i was raised and and i’m the guy that’s asking what kind of comms do you have and they you know you get the response of oh we have inner squad radios for you know the two cars so we can talk to each other oh what are you going to do if you get in trouble well we have what was it the whatever sat phone you know satellite civilian satellite communication thing who are you going to call you see what i’m you see where i’m going with this this is just all bad it’s all bad and that’s why you know when you s when we saw that unfold it was you know it was horrible to see it was it was horrible to see and it caught them off guard because contractors had been running around the country doing all kinds of work good work good work yeah good work providing security you know running convoys for people they were they were doing good work and necessary work and saving you know uh the government money because even though those guys are getting paid 1500 bucks a day at the end of the day that’s way cheaper than hiring or then bringing you know bringing in an enlisted man to go through the training and be on the va for the rest of his life like there’s a there’s a cost benefit to it and there’s a cost benefit to them because they have the opportunity to make money so they were doing good work but when things started to escalate and you’re and you know if you’re blackwater and you’re bringing in contractors you know you’re bringing in contractors in in whatever four or five months earlier hey give them a little training cool go run a convoy they put their military experience with their little training they just got they got a couple guys that have a little experience you’re good to go they make it happen you you fast forward to sending them into fallujah and you see the results yeah people didn’t have they didn’t have an idea of what kind of war we’re in yet and i mean nick berg is a perfect example of that he was a you know if he would have gone to kosovo to do what he did so he was 26 years old um and he had a business he was kind of an adventurous kid he did cross-country bike rides that kind of thing and he had a business um where he would fix high-rise like communications and transmission equipment he would dangle 600 feet up in the air and do repairs electrician repairs and he was good at it he wanted to start his own business he had actually done some work in kenya before where he would go down and he would kind of do humanitarian work and also like pursue some business opportunities in his mid-20s which is kind of a fascinating kit most people aren’t doing that in their mid-20s he would have gone to kosovo and done something like that and you know the bad guys would have come across him there i might have held him for a while they might have uh maybe he might have you know caught a straight bullet or something like that but they weren’t just looking for americans and if they find you they’re going to kill you and publicize it it was just a different kind of it was a different kind of war and a different kind of enemy and i think people didn’t realize that that was the kind of war we were in yet and um there’s no mistaking it after that nick berg tape came out watching zarqawi read that statement and then murder him himself in such a grisly way and it took so long um that especially with it coming right after abu ghraib i think people just started to get a very dark view of the war and things only started to deteriorate

in the country in many ways from then because is this i’m pretty pretty sure that this is around the time when we didn’t really exactly know what we were dealing with we didn’t exactly know who this enemy was or where they were and so we just kind of pulled back it was an election year we didn’t want a lot of casualties and we just started to pull back into our bases and kind of did this you know petraeus called it drive-by counter insurgency where we’re just racing our convoys through an area and going back to our bases and meanwhile wide swaths of the country are just being taken over by al-qaeda and um you know there was a uh well there was a strategic decision that was made arguably for what were a lot of political reasons having to do with domestic politics and also i think because we just didn’t we didn’t expect to be in this war this is not the war that we planned for um we had people right just like this happens in a lot of wars we had people who knew what kind of war this was and they were ready to fight this war you know petraeus had been up by himself in mosul with the 101st all this time most soil for anybody is another map of iraq is way way way up in the north far away so he had some level of autonomy from what was going on in baghdad and everything and this is a guy with a phd who literally wrote the book right on counter insurgency and and he and he’s the man i mean he knows what he’s talking about he studied this stuff and he was handling mosul in a very different way he understood the hearts and minds aspect he understood the fact that we have to win over this population if we’re going to actually you know provide any stability and build something here and you know the particular enemy that we had al qaeda so dark you forget about flying planes into buildings okay i mean that’s a that was an evil act and everything but something like that i can honestly just put it as a you know what this is a terrorist action but they’re attacking a symbol of american power for their sort of broad strategic reasons and and fine the kind of interpersonal savagery that al qaeda and iraq was engaging in to the point where eventually you know osama bin laden said we need to pull back from these guys right um that they gave us this opportunity it was it would have been just on a silver platter to say to the iraqi people look this is your other option we’re the good guys here we’re going to make mistakes some of our soldiers are going to do some bad things but you know saddam was here and now these are your other options we’re the we’re your best option here and you know because of abu ghraib and because we had this lack of understanding and we were trying to make up for those early mistakes for a couple years right um we we just we it took three years until 2006 you know before we really started to real put some people in charge who knew what was going on and were ready to take action and take risks you know and that’s we’re going to get into that in the next episode here but i want to talk about like just what a huge gamble ramadi was and how you know people think the american military is like well it’s really just a matter of focus like as soon as we decide we want to go do something you know we might be have we we might be making bad decisions for political reasons we might have a muddled mission or whatever but if we actually decide to go do something then it’s over and then we’ll just go do it right um at the time it was there were people who thought the ramadi mission was suicidal that there was no way you guys were going to pull that off and there was so much writing on it because if you hadn’t pulled it off and it hadn’t gone the way that it went i mean i the surge wouldn’t have happened no you know i and um as you’re back home and you’re watching the news i mean you must have had and hearing stories from guys who are coming back and guys who are over there you must have had sort of a this this creeping uh understanding coming up that like when you go back to a you’re going back and b when you go back like it’s going to be on let’s talk about that on the next episode because there’s a whole story behind that um well if you’re listening to this podcast on the jaco podcast feed it’s now on its own feed as well and eventually we’ll separate those so if you want to hear these types of stories subscribe to this podcast if you want to listen to it you can also check out our other podcasts i have a podcast called jaco podcast the warrior kid podcast as well and then i have a more lighthearted podcast called grounded and daryl has a not so lighthearted podcast called martyr made and if you want to support any and all of these podcasts you can do so by getting some gear from jocko store or from origin thanks for listening as things unravel this is jocko and daryl out