Happy New Year! I am Colonel (Retired) Peter Mansoor, former executive officer to General David Petraeus during the surge in Iraq and now a professor of military history at the Ohio State University. I arrived at Ohio State in 2008 after a 26 year career in the U.S. Army, which included two tours of duty in the Iraq War. I was graduated from West Point in 1982 and served in a variety of command and staff positions in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East during my career. I was fortunate to be a witness to history when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989 during my tour of duty in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. I also was the founding director of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center and helped to edit Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, which was used to reshape U.S. operations in Iraq during the surge of 2007-2008.

I am the author of three books:

The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945 (University Press of Kansas, 1999)

A memoir of my tour as a brigade commander in Baghdad in 2003-2004, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq (Yale University Press, 2008) - http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300158472

And my most recent work, Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War (Yale University Press, 2013) - http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300172355


This is my first experience with the Reddit community. I’m looking forward to your questions – ask me anything!

Thanks for a great interchange of ideas today - sorry I wasn't able to answer all the questions! Time to go watch the Orange Bowl now. Go Buckeyes!

Comments: 3381 • Responses: 80  • Date: 

grant1023958 karma

What do you believe to be the greatest threat against the US?

ColonelPete2274 karma

Collapse from within - the increasingly polarization of our domestic politics. We need to find common ground and work from the middle outward, not from the extremes inward.

TalkingBackAgain31 karma

Are you in any way related to Michael Mansoor, the Navy SEAL who gave his life by jumping on top of a grenade when it was tossed into the tend he and his team mates were in?

ColonelPete63 karma

No, but I'm proud to be a member of the same military force as him. He is a hero.

Army0fMe808 karma

Good morning, Sir. I was a soldier with the 3d ID during the Iraq invasion. I was attached to TF 4/64 armor for the push to Baghdad under LTC DeCamp.

I've always been curious about the intelligence reports we received just prior to breaching the berm. We were told to expect light resistance, no enemy armor and a metric shit-ton of EPWs.

As we all know, little to none of that panned out. Were we given the wrong intelligence brief or did someone over in MI fuck up?

Also, thanks for serving, sir.

ColonelPete968 karma

Unfortunately, I was not in Iraq during the initial invasion - I arrived in June 2003 after the end of major combat operations. So I don't have the answer to your question.

In general, however, Gen. Franks and his leadership team wargamed a fight against a mirror-imaged enemy. So when the force confronted paramilitary forces such as the Saddam Fedayeen, Lt. Gen. Wallace, commander of V Corps, stated that this was not the type of enemy his corps had wargamed fighting against. It shows how narrow the U.S. Army's vision of operations had become by 2003.

cadenhead625 karma

Your book Surge has harsh words for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, stating that he "rightly" offered his resignation after the Abu Ghraib scandal and President Bush was wrong not to accept it. You write that Rumsfeld "demanded a war plan for Iraq predicated on the best-case scenario ... then refused to admit that his assumptions were wrong," which is a disastrous trait for a wartime leader. What are the biggest lessons future Pentagon leaders should learn to avoid being another Rumsfeld?

ColonelPete1118 karma

Senior leaders must be willing to listen. Rumsfeld thinks he was open to criticism, but he was not. If a leader cannot listen to contrary opinions and make informed decisions based on a full range of views, then he/she courts disaster - as Rumsfeld did in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib was a moral failing of the U.S. military that should have resulted in the resignation of the Secretary of Defense. President Bush was faithful to his subordinates to a fault. He should have let Rumsfeld go in the spring of 2004 and put different leadership in place in the Pentagon.

kegelb555 karma

Do you think that the war in Afghanistan is or was winnable and could you please describe what you would consider a win?

ColonelPete1683 karma

I think the United States had to fight the war in Afghanistan, but we took our eye off the real objective, which was the destruction of Al Qaeda. The mishandling of the fight at Tora Bora in 2001 was incompetence at its finest. The Bush administration then took its eye off the ball again through its ill-considered invasion of Iraq, leaving Afghanistan to fester.

At this point the best the United States can hope for is to support an Afghan government that can keep the country together after 2014 and convince the Taliban that it cannot win the war in any conceivable time frame. In my view, this will require the election of an Afghan president with some real leadership abilities, unlike Hamid Karzai. With good leadership and support from the United States and our NATO allies, anything is possible.

For a view of what winning might look like, look at Colombia. A decade ago the country seemed on the verge of disaster with the FARC on the ascendancy, but now the war there is all but over. Good Colombian presidential leadership and U.S. support were the keys to victory.

Skidzoo539 karma

I understand that this might be a sensitive topic among the military community, but what is your opinion on the treatment of veterans with PTSD? Do you think that enough is being done?

ColonelPete842 karma

Great question. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put a great deal of stress on our volunteer soldiers, who often serve multiple tours in combat zones (I know – I served 28 months in Iraq during two separate tours). Fortunately, DOD has finally realized the scope of the PTSD problem and has committed resources to deal with it. Perhaps the greatest need is to provide a way to help military personnel make sense of what they have gone through and put their experiences into some sort of context that helps them sort out their memories and emotions.

I’m really excited that the Ohio State University offers one such program for veterans, called the Veterans Learning Community. The purpose of this program is to help students connect their experiences in the field with academic approaches to learning and provide them with a platform to communicate their experience and research. Central to this program is a comparative studies course entitled “Experiences of War.” In this course, students are exposed to representations of the experience of war in art, literature, and film from diverse cultures and time periods. The course has been a huge hit, and it has enabled combat veterans to filter their experiences through the lens of others throughout history who have also gone to war and experienced danger at the sharp end of combat. It would be nice if other universities followed suit.

The_White_Django464 karma

Is there anything that you regret doing whilst you served in the military?

ColonelPete1435 karma

I was in command of a convoy that was traversing a difficult area of Baghdad on Christmas Eve in 2003. We were hit by an IED, which killed my Command Sergeant Major, Eric Cooke. Watching him die was exceedingly difficult. If I had to do that night over again, I would make different decisions. But in war, the enemy gets a vote. I was proud of the way the brigade reacted to that tough night - with professionalism and discipline.

J138abstract443 karma

What would you say are the top 3 most important battles in the known history of man?

ColonelPete1198 karma

Tough question, since there are at least a dozen that significantly impacted the course of history. But here are three:

  1. Salamis (480 BC) - The Athenian navy defeats the Persians at sea, turning back the Persian invasion of Western Europe. What would our world look like today without Greek civilization?
  2. Saratoga (1777) - The American victory over the British brought France and Spain into the war against Britain, and globalized what had been a regional conflict. The world today would look a lot different had the British defeated the colonists.
  3. Moscow (1941) - The Red Army turns back Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union and turns WWII into a two front struggle in Europe that Germany had no hope of winning from that point onward. The world today would be a dark place indeed had the Wehrmacht succeeded in defeating the Soviet Union.

Sovereign12375 karma

Hello from facebook, sir!

I served as a CBRN (NBC) weapons defense in the USAF and you're the first servicemember I've interacted with since my discharge. Funny how that happens.

Questions: -Generally, what do you believe the role of special operations will be in the Pivot-To-Asia?

-Do you have any insight as to why France in the past years has become more active militarily, aiding heavily with Libya, advocating hard for war in Syria, intervening in Mali and in CAR?

-Did you ever meet Gen. McCrystal? Or, alternatively, did you ever meet Michael Hastings? If so, what were they like in person?

-If you were made king of the US Army, what one change would you like to make?

ColonelPete645 karma

One of the most important aspects of the pivot to Asia will be the ability of the U.S. military to work with foreign armies. In this regard, special forces play a crucial role in advising and assisting other military forces. A good example of the role of SF in Asia is the great work they have done working with the Filipino military in recent years.

Due to its history in North Africa and the Levant, France believes its national interests are at stake in those regions. Remember that a number of these countries were French colonies. So expect continued French involvement in those areas.

I met Gen. McCrystal once in Balad in 2007. He struck me as an extremely competent leader who had the implicit trust and confidence of his subordinates. He did great work with JSOC in Iraq and the American people should be grateful for leaders like him. I have never met Michael Hastings.

King of the Army - I like the title! I would change the professional military education (PME) system to make it more challenging and rigorous. Allow only the top officers to attend these schools, and then take the top graduates and place them in positions of influence in the Army. PME is the key to producing great officers - and therefore should be of paramount importance to the Army as it enters this next interwar period.

soylentblueissmurfs372 karma

What do you think the next big evolution in warfare will be (apart from drones)?

ColonelPete886 karma

Drones are actually part of an ongoing trend that will impact war dramatically in the future - robotics. We will witness that evolution on the ground as well as in the air. If you look at drones, as advanced as they might seem, we are actually at the point where nascent air forces were in 1916 during WWI. Aircraft were first used for reconnaissance, then someone figured out how to drop bombs from them, then fighter aircraft were developed to attain air superiority, then aircraft were used for transport and strategic bombing. The same evolution will occur with drones, and we are at the leading edge of that evolution.

Robotic ground vehicles will also be developed in the future, as well as exo-skeletal suits that will dramatically improve the capabilities of infantrymen. It sounds like sci-fi, but it will happen.

ColonelPete1464 karma

Perfect. In fact, we should hire Amazon as a private military contractor to replace Blackwater. LOL

Prufrock45190 karma

What's your opinion of allowing drones to make autonomous decisions about killing a human?

ColonelPete378 karma

Really bad idea - there should always be a human in the loop.

slo326 karma


Sir, I do robotics research and one of the major applications for our work is in military drones. While I fully agree and support the idea of using drones in place of human soldiers, I wonder if using them somehow removes some of the horribleness of warfare and could lengthen conflicts.
I look forward to your thoughts and and comments thank you for your service.

ColonelPete58 karma

War is still horrible regardless of how it is fought. I don't think drones will prolong conflicts; rather, the importance of the political goals at stake will continue to drive the amount of blood and treasure leaders are willing to apply to conflict.

randymercury20 karma

In the context of the rapid advancement in drone capabilities that we are seeing do you have any concern that the F35 program could be a modern 'battleship' moment?

ColonelPete38 karma

Air forces will still need manned aircraft for the near future. However, I believe that in the longer term unmanned aircraft - perhaps controlled by a few manned aircraft flying nearby - will be the way air battles are fought.

randomrealitycheck340 karma

Sir, given your history and the fact that you do not shirk from the difficult, I respectfully ask the following.

Would you comment on the near impossible conundrum faced by all military men when they must weigh what they believe is an unlawful order. I say this knowing that the burden that this imposes must make for some excruciating moments in a military person's life.

Let me follow that question up by asking, what do you believe happened at Abu Ghraib? Was there a breakdown in the chain of command or was this something which was tacitly allowed to happen? How could our troops engage in many of these acts without understanding that they had crossed an ethical line?

At the risk of wearing out my welcome, how do you feel about the rise of the mercenary, contract military and do you believe that this might present a threat to our continued freedoms?

Thank you.

ColonelPete649 karma

Military personnel indeed sometimes must make difficult decisions when they receive what they believe to be unlawful orders. But principled disobedience is essential to the healthy functioning of a military force of a democracy - My Lai and Abu Ghraib are both examples of what can go wrong in toxic leadership climates.

I don't have any first-hand information on Abu Ghraib, but reading the investigation and other reports, I believe there was a serious breakdown in the unit leadership climate and the chain of command. I doubt the guards received guidance to engage in the kind of criminal conduct they performed, but the fact is that no one was checking on them. Clearly, the guards had not been trained or educated on the moral standards of an army of democracy, and for this you can blame the commanders higher in the chain.

I do not believe that security functions in a combat zone should be performed by mercenaries - and I have said so publicly. They lack the accountability that comes with wearing the uniform of a nation state. Contract workers are fine for logistics functions, but should be limited to those non-combat roles.

Arsenault185206 karma

Sir, Active SSG here. I feel that I have to call you out on this:

. I doubt the guards received guidance to engage in the kind of criminal conduct they performed....Clearly, the guards had not been trained or educated on the moral standards of an army of democracy, and for this you can blame the commanders higher in the chain.

"Criminal" being the key word here. They knew full well what they were doing, and that it was wrong.

To say, as a leader, that you think they needed more training is ridiculous, and it is this shared (going on a nice sturdy limb here) mindset from Army leadership that "more training" is always needed to prevent this crap from happening. This leads to wastes of time like LOW, CTIP, SHARP, IA, POV risk assessments, ETC.

Hours and hours and hours of wasted soldier time because some dickbag somewhere messed up. And every time this sort of crap happens, what does leadership do? "Oh well, they just need more training. Make it annual, and mandatory for all personnel"

Why is this mindset so prevalent? As adults we know that the shit we are being "taught" (we all just skip right to the end for that certificate, so EVERY last one of these things is a check the box exercise) is wrong no matter who you are. Is there anything that can realistically be done to end the insanity?

It seems to me to be a knee jerk, CYA action and nothing more. No disrespect to you sir, but as you are aware, I don't often get the opportunity to ask these sorts of candid questions.

ColonelPete171 karma

SSG - I hear you, but the difference in the case of Abu Ghraib is guarding prisoners was the duty of the military police unit stationed there, so the standards of conduct in performing that duty is part of their METL. I agree there is a lot of wasted training time in the Army as you indicate, but this is not one of those cases.

uberlad321 karma

What's your very best life advice?

ColonelPete1413 karma

I gave my children four tips for being successful in life, so I'll share them with you:

  1. Get as much education as you can.
  2. Marry well and for life.
  3. Start saving early and make it a habit.
  4. Find something you love, and figure out how to make money doing it.

(Admittedly, #4 is tough for a lot of people, but if you can pull it off you never work a day in your life.)

Oh! And I almost forgot - spend more for good bacon and never drink cheap liquor. :-)

opendium235 karma

In your opinion, what are the 5 most formidable militaries in the world after the US?

ColonelPete503 karma

Not surprisingly, they are all nuclear powers:

  1. Russia
  2. China (will soon jump to the top of this list as its economy continues to grow)
  3. Great Britain
  4. France
  5. North Korea (a powerful but also very brittle force)

But there is a huge gap between the United States and these five.

90DaysOfEggs232 karma

This is an exceptional AMA. The questions and especially responses are thoughtful, productive, and informative. If you for some odd reason see this, I just wanted to say "thanks" for doing this, Colonel Mansoor.

ColonelPete163 karma


southernnorthman219 karma

How do you think the rise of campaigns against non-state actors and the emergence of "4th gen warfare" will effect the manner in which future nation on nation military conflicts are waged?

ColonelPete481 karma

There are several ongoing trends that will impact warfare in this century, among them increased urbanization, the "democratization" of media and information, and the rise of non-state actors who have been empowered by the first two trends. State-on-state warfare will not disappear, but wars in the future will increasingly include a variety of combatants who do not wear the uniform of a nation state. This certainty will require conventional military forces to be more flexible, versatile, and trained in such tasks as information and stability operations.

The U.S. military might wish to refight the Normandy invasion and the drive across France and Germany in 1944 and 1945, but this kind of war is unlikely in the foreseeable future. As much as Americans might not like the type of wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11, they are closer to the future of war than World War II.

Some1Betterer210 karma

What is something you learned about General Petraeus serving under him that you thing the average citizen without military service doesn't grasp about Petraeus as a military mind/General either positively or negatively?

ColonelPete508 karma

I don't think the average person understands just how open Gen. Petraeus was to advice from below. He had an open e-mail channel to anyone in Multi-National Force-Iraq - and often received messages from junior leaders on problems in their areas that they could not get resolved through their chain of command (or problems that the chain of command were creating). I often discussed issues with Gen. Petraeus and found him willing to listen - provided you had something intelligent to say and were ready for the give and take that followed. I think this aspect of his leadership style is one that other leaders can and should follow - but they have to be willing to listen and accept advice and thoughts from below (which means reining in their egos).

ArmondDorleac208 karma

What is the most under-appreciated weapon in our arsenal?

ColonelPete925 karma

The American soldier. We could trade weapons with most nations and still win a war against them.

arkanis50207 karma

What is the greatest lesson the West needs to learn about war?

ColonelPete614 karma

The greatest lesson is not one that needs to be learned, but relearned: War is governed by politics, passion, and chance. When the Iron Dice roll, unexpected things can and will happen. The resort to war, therefore, should be the last choice of policy makers, undertaken only for the most serious of national security reasons, and not entered into lightly.

ST22125 karma

Colonel, you mentioned that the development of PGM has been the biggest development in the last half century. Do you feel that the ...convenience weapons like this can offer will make politicians and generals more likely to go to war?

ColonelPete363 karma

Yes, they already have. Or they have convinced some political leaders that they can fight war on the cheap - just look at the massive use of drone strikes masquerading as a strategy in the current administration.

nate07754 karma

Do you believe that assassination has a place in the future strategies of the United States Armed Forces? I'm asking in the context of drones and the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound as well as past actions like Admiral Yamamoto's death during World War 2.

ColonelPete127 karma

I would differentiate assassination from the deliberate targeting of enemy combatants. The two examples you use both fall into the latter category and are in accordance with the laws of war.

tiger_without_teeth182 karma

Do you ever have any student veterans recognize who you are?

Also, as a guy who was in Al Anbar from 07-08, in my highly anecdotal opinion the surge seemed like a stunning success.

ColonelPete307 karma

Student veterans often come up and talk to me. They appreciate getting life advice from someone who has shared experiences similar to theirs. Ohio State has roughly 1,500 veterans on campus - they are an important and meaningful part of the university community.

Thank you for your service in Al Anbar during the surge - Semper Fi and Army Strong!

Malinois7115 karma

Where were you in Al Anbar? I was at Al Asad. I wonder what that area looks like now, especially Hit.

ColonelPete30 karma

No, never served there except for a brief stint with my brigade outside of Fallujah in Aug-Sep 2003. I was in Baghdad and Karbala.

El-Gindatoro159 karma

I spent the last 6 months writing an undergraduate dissertation on counterinsurgency, and I have to say it is one of the most engaging aspects of military history I have ever studied.

I would love to get an your opinion on the extent Islamism has presented new counterinsurgency challenges, as opposed to resurrecting familiar ones.

ColonelPete316 karma

The impact of religion on military affairs is an age old phenomenon. In this regard, insurgents who claim Islam as their guiding force are guided by similar motivations as many insurgent groups in the past - among them Jewish and Christian forces. For an excellent look at the history of guerrillas and insurgencies, I recommend Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (Liveright, 2013).

ShohamVS152 karma

As a Military Historian, what would you say was the riskiest tactical maneuver that had paid off?

ColonelPete425 karma

There are two gold standards in this regard:

  • Hannibal's maneuver at Cannae in 216 BC that led to the annihilation of 8 Roman legions
  • The German panzer drive through the Ardennes Forest in 1940 that resulted in the fall of France

But I would add that neither of these tactical victories led to enduring strategic results. Thus the lesson: poor tactics and operations can be overcome, but mistakes in strategy live on forever.

ShohamVS29 karma

In regard to the second point you had mentioned, do you think there was anything the French could have done to prevent it?

ColonelPete79 karma

Yes, they needed to better evaluate what actually happened in 1917 and 1918 and create a military doctrine suitable to the kind of war they would soon face. The best source here is Robert Doughty, The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939 (Archon, 1986).

TBB5125 karma

But is the strategic failure Hannibal's or the Carthaginian ruling class that refused to support arguably the greatest general in human history?

ColonelPete65 karma

Hannibal could never bring enough Latin allies over to his side to defeat Rome. Not sure more Carthaginian troops would have helped. What Carthage really needed was to rule the seas, but they lost that ability after the First Punic War.

boj3143152 karma

Hello sir. How do you feel about our role as nation builders? It seems like in WW2 we fought civilized societies with standing armies, beat the hell out of their military and infrastructure, then the fighting basically stopped their after surrender. We helped them rebuild and those countries are doing great today. But ever since then we've fought limited wars that tend to drag on the fighting and suffering for a lot longer, and essentially without success. The Korean peninsula is still bitterly divided, Vietnam didn't turn out so well for us, the first Gulf War didn't really resolve much and lead directly to OIF which left a barely-functioning Iraq in a civil war, and it looks like the same or worse will happen in Afghanistan when we pull out despite over a decade of our work. I think we're making more enemies in the long-run than friends with our actions in the middle east.

I'm active duty Air Force and a fan of history, and I'm trying to think of what future historians will say about our military actions after WW2. We are amazing at getting in there and destroying things, but I can't say that we do a very good job cleaning up once the main battles are done. Thoughts?

ColonelPete320 karma

Your analysis is accurate with one exception - South Korea. Our presence there has helped the Land of the Morning Calm become a vibrant democracy and economic powerhouse. But it did not happen overnight and required a sustained U.S. presence and support for more than half a century.

We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that U.S. military forces can conduct regime change in foreign countries and then rebuild them in our image in a matter of years. When the political conditions are favorable, U.S. support can help other nations to develop. But in the end, it is their country, not ours - and we can only help, not do the job for them.

By the way, President Bush used to say that his vision of Iraq was along the lines of South Korea rather than Vietnam. Regrettably, it does not seem to have turned out that way.

Skidzoo145 karma

Also, in the time since you joined the military, you have seen new technologies be developed and applied to military operations, such as the use of UAVs and ROVs. From your experience, how have new technologies changed the way a war is fought and approached both strategically and logistically?

ColonelPete300 karma

If you look at the evolution of warfare in the last half century, the biggest change has been the creation of precision guided munitions and the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems to target enemy forces. This means that one bomb can now achieve the same effects that required dozens (or hundreds) of bombs in the past. PGMs are more expensive, but a force needs fewer of them to accomplish its tasks - which reduces the logistical tail.

The speed of communications has also increased dramatically, making the world a smaller place strategically.

Having said that, war will always be a human endeavor and, as the Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz noted in his famous book On War, will always be governed by politics, passion, and chance. Technology can help reduce the fog and friction of war, but will never eliminate it. If the Iraq War taught us anything, it reawakened us to these enduring truths.

stefeyboy131 karma

Do you think this technology has given us a certain level of arrogance in how we execute the war, by believing we know more and can affect more than we actually do/can?

ColonelPete307 karma

Absolutely. For an example of that arrogance in action, look at the Iraq War in 2003. After destroying the Iraqi army and Republican Guard, the Bush administration decided the war was all but over and started to stack arms. The resulting insurgency was a dose of reality that didn't sink in until it was in full swing. I discuss this dynamic in Chapter 1 of my new book, Surge.

DFu4ever133 karma

As a military historian and former military officer, what are your thoughts on pursuing the 'War on Terror' with no clear objectives or endgame?

ColonelPete418 karma

I find the conduct of a war against a tactic (terrorism) to be ahistorical. Rather, the Bush administration should have named the enemy: Al Qaeda and like minded terrorist organizations. Military force is only part of the solution to the scourge of global terrorism. Regrettably, by painting the counterterrorist campaign as a "war," the administration overemphasized the use of military forces and downplayed other instruments of national power (diplomatic, economic, informational, etc.). We had the world basically united after 9/11 - the administration should have worked closely with friends and allies to maintain that solidarity.

TheBeardedGM125 karma

What did you like most about attending West Point as a student?

What did you like least?

ColonelPete301 karma

I wrote in my memoir, Baghdad at Sunrise, that I was raised in Sacramento, California, but I grew up at West Point. It's true! And it may out me as a total nerd, but I loved the academics at the Academy. Small class sizes (<20 students per class), faculty who are interested in your education (they are there to teach, not research), and a supportive environment in which to learn and grow.

What did I like least? That's easy. I hated the negative (and juvenile) examples of leadership I endured my first year at the Academy. I don't want to paint the entire Class of 1979 with a bad brush, but there were a few *&%holes among them. Once I got through the first year, life improved dramatically and, with a few exceptions, I loved my time at the Academy from that point onward.

Staff_Guy114 karma

Disclosure: have not read your books.

Question: did you really believe that surging troops would have any significant impact on our efforts in either Iraq or AFG?

If yes, do you still think that surging helped advance US policy and objectives?

ColonelPete322 karma

The surge in Iraq accomplished its goal of enabling the competition for power and resources in Iraq to move back into the realm of politics, at least the kind of politics that doesn’t use bombs and bullets to make its point. In the winter of 2008 the Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a number of laws, such as amnesty legislation, de-Ba’athification reform, and an annual budget, that showed that Iraqi legislators could make deals with one another. After the Charge of the Knights operation in Basra and the clearing of Sadr City in the spring of 2008, all but one of the political parties in Iraq gave a vote of support to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The provincial elections of 2009 brought a large majority of Iraqis of all sects and political persuasions to the polls and brought the Sunnis back into the political process. The wheels started to come off the bus after the presidential election of 2010, when the United States backed Maliki’s candidacy for another term as prime minister instead of supporting the winner of the elections, Ayad Allawi. After that election the Sunnis lost faith in the political process and the jihadists were once again able to make inroads among them. The current violence in Iraq dates to that ill-considered decision, not to the outcome of the surge, which ended in July 2008.

In Afghanistan, the surge of forces has not advanced U.S. objectives. It staved off defeat, but has not resulted in the degree of success that the surge in Iraq enjoyed. There are a number of reasons: a dysfunctional leader (Karzai), guerrilla sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, the unwillingness of the Pashtuns to side with the national government, and the announcement by the president that the surge was not open ended - which had a tremendous psychological impact on all parties. President Bush was "all in" - President Obama was ambivalent at best. This doesn't mean a fully supported surge in Afghanistan would have worked, but does explain why Iraq was so different.

z64dan111 karma

Hi Colonel,

Do you think things should change with how sexual assaults in the military are handled, and if so, how?

Note: This isn't meant as argument bait, just an honest question as I know at least 2 people who've suffered from assaults while in the military.

ColonelPete199 karma

Congress has already changed military regulations in this regard to give more rights to service members who file sexual assault charges. In my experience in the military, however, nothing permanent happens without sustained involvement by commanders. I fear by taking the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of their hands, we might be making the situation worse, not better. But clearly sexual assault is a scourge that the military needs to eliminate from the ranks. Doing so begins with continual and sustained command involvement.

alesman102 karma

Good morning Colonel. For the last few years I've been teaching social science classes at Ohio State as a graduate student. Some of my best students have been veterans (or ROTC cadets).

In my classes, we would touch on issues that I didn't realize some of my students actually had first-hand experience with (e.g. crowdsourcing humanitarian information in Africa, or geopolitics manifested in warfare). The class could really benefit from hearing about their experiences, but the students are often reluctant to talk about them publicly. The reason doesn't seem to be that they aren't proud of their experiences; it seems to come more from humility. I'd like to avoid the feeling of dropping a spotlight on someone and making them uncomfortable.

Do you have any advice for how to engage veterans in class discussions that might involve their experiences in the service?

ColonelPete180 karma

Engage them privately first and ask if they would be willing to share their experiences with the rest of the class. I'm sure many would appreciate this outreach rather than being put on the spot in class.

4gbds101 karma

Who are the most over-rated, and under-rated, military leaders in history, in your opinion?

ColonelPete270 karma

Overrated: General Omar Bradley - failed to listed to advice that would have ensured effective fire support on Omaha Beach (because the Pacific War was "bush league" in his view); failed to close the Falaise Gap, which might have ended the war in 1944; sent U.S. troops into the teeth of a tenacious German defense in the Huertgen Forest; need I go on? And yet he still got five stars. Yeesh.

Underrated: Ulysses S. Grant - masterful campaign to take Vicksburg plus other victories in the West; at least as good at R.E. Lee at maneuver warfare; understood politico-military affairs at the highest levels. Unfair reputation as "Butcher Grant."

CheezeCaek289 karma

If you could go back to the day you signed your name on the piece of paper that gave your life to the Military...

What would you tell yourself?

ColonelPete225 karma

Keep calm and carry on.

totallyforwork66 karma

That and probably to go Infantry.

ColonelPete255 karma

Not with my bad back - armor was the perfect choice! I loved having that 65 ton monster to carry my gear around. And my cooler - couldn't fight without lickies and chewies on hand.

sincewedidthedo89 karma


I served with TF 11 during the initial surge into Iraq, and saw a lot of our Apaches come back from a deep attack riddled with holes and one shot down with the crew captured.

The Apaches were supposed to just go in and fuck shit up, but it seemed the enemy was more prepared than we were. Was that a failure on intel's part, or was the RGT CDR, COL Wolf, too impulsive?

ColonelPete159 karma

The problem was neither, in my view - it was U.S. Army doctrine. The Army had faith in the Apache's ability to conduct deep attacks based on the results of computer wargames (like Janus simulations), ignoring real world experience at the National Training Center that suggested the going would be much tougher against an actual enemy (I was in the OPFOR from 1997-1999 and saw many deep attacks suffer the same type of casualties as the 11th Avn Bde suffered in Iraq in 2003). I'm just thankful the lesson the enemy taught us in 2003 wasn't more severe than it actually was.

The lesson here is the Army needs to conduct realistic training and experimentation in peacetime and pay attention to the results.

how_did_it_get_there86 karma

Was the carte Blanche firing of all Ba'ath Party members largely responsible for the insurgency? Would a policy similar to de nazification after ww2 been a more prudent policy? Why was the occupation of Iraq so different than that of Germany?

ColonelPete186 karma

There were three decisions made in the spring of 2003 that, in my view, created the insurgency in Iraq:

  • Extensive de-Ba'athification that many Iraqis believed amounted to the de-Sunnification of Iraqi society
  • Disbanding the Iraqi Army, the only indigenous forces that could have been revitalized and used to help secure Iraq in the aftermath of major combat operations
  • Empowerment of an Iraqi Governing Council composed of highly sectarian politicians, many of them expatriates who did not understand the Iraqi people's concerns

The occupation of Iraq was significantly different from the occupation of Germany after WWII. Germany was devastated from end to end and its armed forces annihilated. Millions of Germans died in the war and the Germany people were starving. Simply put, the level of distress made the Germans more open to cooperating with the occupying forces.

I discuss these issues in both Baghdad at Sunrise and Surge.

OSUWW2StudyAbroad83 karma

Professor Mansoor! I don't have any real questions, so I just want to tell you that it was a tremendous honor to take your class at Ohio State. I enrolled in the WW2 study abroad (hence the name of my throwaway), but I had to withdraw in order to keep my graduation goals on time. I sincerely wish I had been able to go. In short, you are amazing, and anyone who can take one of your classes should.

Actually, I did just think of a question! What are your thoughts on board games like Axis & Allies and grand strategy games like Hearts of Iron? Do you play any of them, or would you be interested in playing any of them?

ColonelPete139 karma

Appreciate the very kind comment. And yes - I love board games! The old Avalon Hill game, Third Reich, is by far my favorite. But kids today, they can't seem to get off their computers... :-)

AErrorist81 karma

Do you think that the Galatic Empire would have been better served by pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy against the nascent Rebel Alliance after the Battle of Yavin or had the destruction of Alderan largely sealed it's fate?

I'm really not kidding, I wrote my senior capstone paper on how I thought you could apply counter insurgency techniques to crushing the Rebel Alliance. I can message it to you if you'd like.

ColonelPete137 karma

Perhaps, but the Galactic Empire would never have followed a "protect the population" strategy. So destroying Alderan was part of their slash and burn counterinsurgency strategy - much like the Russians in Afghanistan in the '80s. It didn't work there, either.

chatoboi74 karma

Thank you sir, for doing this AMA. I am wondering your opinion on what is happening in Iraq today. There is a lot in the news right now about Al Queda organizations taking over major cities in Iraq again.

Do you think that there was enough done to prepare Iraq for these problems in the long run?

Last question - what's your score prediction for the game tonight? Go Buckeyes!

ColonelPete172 karma

Al Qaeda is on the upsurge in Iraq today due to miscalculations by the Maliki administration and spillover from the civil war in Syria. It didn't have to be this way, but decisions by the Obama administration (and Iraqi intransigence) that led to U.S. forces departing Iraq in 2011 have resulted in the deterioration of the security climate in Iraq. But the biggest problem is Maliki's sectarianism and his unwillingness to share power with other groups in Iraqi society. I think the United States could have moderated his conduct had we been willing to remain engaged, but the Obama administration was more concerned with bringing the troops home. We are now reaping the rewards of that policy.

Bucks 56-49. Not sure we'll see a lot of defense tonight.

thedaught57 karma

Hi dad! I have a question for you. Between me and my brother, who is your favorite kid? Also, how are you going to break the news to him?

Love, daught

P.S. Pet the Nikitalune for me!

P.P.S. Hi mom!

ColonelPete33 karma

The answer is yes. Nikki says Ro-ro-ro!!!

DeSanti55 karma

Good evening,

I'm not sure if you're at liberty or willing to discuss the topic, but do you think the ad run by MoveOn.org about Gen. Petraeus' report to the Congress about the state of Iraq was justified or in any way raised important questions?

Thank you for taking your time to answer here at Reddit.

ColonelPete174 karma

The MoveOn.org ad attacked a principled leader of U.S. military forces and basically accused him of lying. And the article was factually incorrect, to boot. In my new book, Surge, I discuss how the report to Congress was created (I co-wrote a draft with Liz McNally, his speechwriter, and then Gen. Petraeus and his initiatives group polished it) and the fact that the White House, Central Command, and the Joint Chiefs had zero involvement in its writing. So far from being a mouthpiece of the White House, as the ad alleged, the report to Congress was Gen. Petraeus' professional view on the state of the war in Iraq - and no one else's.

Lack_of_Knowledge55 karma

What do you think about your son's chest tattoo?

EDIT: I get reddit gold for this lol

ColonelPete68 karma

Epic... just epic. LOL

wombat_pie55 karma

Hello Colonel,

By bulking up their military and economy, do you think China could one day pose a great threat to the United States?

Also, what do you see in North Korea's future? Will Korea ever become unified again? Will North Korea ever stop being the hole that it is?

Even further, exactly how do we fight our future enemies? That is, enemies who are not known to us? They are no longer nations, but groups and organizations. Gone are the days I believe of powerful nations going to war with each other, especially the US. The US is so militarily dominant, a nation would be foolish to pivot it's armies against her. Guerilla warfare is a great tactic to fight an enemy much more powerful than yourself, as shown throughout history. Basically, how do we fight against non-state actors and terrorists, effectively?

ColonelPete203 karma

Yes, the one great power challenge to the United States in the foreseeable future is a rising China. But war with China is not inevitable, and it should be U.S. policy to help to integrate peacefully a powerful China into the global community. Harder said than done, as history suggests that all rising powers go to war at some point.

North Korea will eventually collapse from within. We just need to ensure the NK leaders don't take out Seoul on their way to hanging from a lamp post. Perhaps we can call in Team America, World Police to help? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esel1TBg_k0

Fighting non-state actors requires good intelligence and allies. The best thing we can do is pay attention to our alliances overseas and help those nations that ask for it with their counterterrorism capabilities. Having said that, state-on-state conflict is still the most dangerous threat to the United States - just not the most likely.

weartheblue47 karma

Sir, what is the best advice you received as a young officer and what is your best advice for a young officer?

Thank you Sir!

ColonelPete104 karma

Listen to your noncommissioned officers and learn as much as you can from them.

Do the best you can at whatever task and job you are given.

Bartelbythescrivener44 karma

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_usage_of_the_United_States_military Thank You, for your time and service. For obvious reasons members of the military should avoid politics , but given the risk to our capabilities brought on by dependence on fossil fuels, do you have an opinion on a why the DoD hasn't come out in support of alternative fuel research. It seems to make sense for purely strategic reasons. How capable will the military be without readily available fuel sources.

ColonelPete125 karma

DOD actually is experimenting widely with fuel cells and alternative fuels. Military leaders understand the shackles the fuel supply chain puts on their forces.

kyoppo41 karma

Hello sir!

I have a question, just glancing at your bio, the bulk of your military experience seems to be with armored regiments, who operated under a Cold War stance/strategy. How was the learning curve and what difficulties did you encounter, if any, in addressing an urban, asymmetrical warfare situation?

Second question, sorry, I'm being greedy. Do you feel that there was a large disconnect between higher ranking officers who conducted much of the war planning, and junior officers, such as the West Point Class of 2001 forward, that resulted in some operation friction? And do you feel that was a major factor in the lower rates of said junior officers not renewing their commissions?

ColonelPete84 karma

I found the most important experience in my career in preparing for the Iraq War was my time studying military history at Ohio State from 1990-1992. The courses I took under Allan Millett, Williamson Murray, and Joe Guilmartin expanded my horizons and were much more professionally relevant to what happened in Iraq than the courses I took at the Command and General Staff College or the Army War College. Being intellectually prepared helps one adapt to new situations, as I discovered in Iraq in 2003-2004.

The junior officers who served in the military since 9/11 learned by doing in the school of hard knocks. They became used to a lot of independence, which COIN requires. Then when they returned to garrison duty in the United States, they couldn't understand why the senior officers and the Army as an institution were so controlling. So a lot of them left, frustrated at the lack of initiative they believed they should have been granted. Not sure if this was the determining factor in junior officer retention in the last decade - the economy is usually a more important factor in this regard.

GudSpellar38 karma

Thank you for your service, sacrifice and leadership, Col. Mansoor.

1.) How do you feel about yesterday's news reports re: the DoD's "Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap"? From a strategic perspective, do you believe it is a positive or negative thing that the military aims to create drones capable of making their own, independent targeting decisions without human verification?

2.) From a moral perspective, do you believe it is a positive or negative thing that the military aims to create drones capable of making their own, independent targeting decisions without human verification?

ColonelPete114 karma

There should always be a human in the loop when life or death decisions are made by robotic vehicles. Do we really want to create Terminators?

darian6633 karma

What is your opinion on European military spending?

ColonelPete63 karma

The good news is Europeans feel so much at peace that they can reduce their military expenditures year after year. The bad news is this has in many cases produced military forces incapable of action outside their borders. In the sense that Europe remains at peace, this is wonderful. But we saw the downsides of this lack of capability in Libya (not a comment on whether the operation was justified or not, just that European forces couldn't pull it off without lots of help from the United States).

Larry-Anderson29 karma

Hello sir, have you ever watched HBO's Generation Kill (or read the book ) and if so, what do you think about its depiction of the invasion of Iraq, and in general, of modern warfare? Thanks ! (sorry for poor english)

ColonelPete68 karma

I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I did read Nate Fick's One Bullet Away. Nate was the platoon leader of the unit depicted in the movie. I highly recommend his book.

andy-r-m27 karma

As a Reddit reader from the United Kingdom, I'm curious as to your perception and experiences of the UK armed forces.

In the UK there can often be negative comparisons drawn between the US and UK armed forces, mostly on the lines of training as it goes without saying the US is better resourced financially. What is your view?

ColonelPete75 karma

I have the utmost respect for the UK armed forces. I served with them in Iraq and they are top notch in every respect. The issues I had with the UK forces (and which I wrote about in my book, Surge) stem from the lack of support at the political-strategic level and not from the conduct of the troops in Iraq, which was exemplary. The special relationship lives.

How could it not? Winston Churchill was half American. :-)

alongdaysjourney19 karma

Going through your answers I noticed that you are critical of both Presidents Obama and Bush. Who is your favorite "wartime" President and/or what major qualities do you think a President should possess in matters of war and defense?

ColonelPete47 karma

Abraham Lincoln - he kept his head when all around him were losing their's. A president needs to be able to think strategically, listen to contrary advice, make decisions, and then supervise those decisions down the chain of command. Few presidents did all of the above successfully - Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are the gold standard.

ilovecreamsoda18 karma

if you could pick one thing you did in the military, and either undo it or change what you did any way you wanted, what would it be, why and how would you change it? how would the outcome of that choice change?

Gkg1417 karma

Do you disagree with Obama's decision to fire Petraeus?

ColonelPete29 karma

Yes, actually I did - and said so publicly at the time. I think the president should have given Petraeus a leave of absence to sort out his personal affairs, and then bring him back to continue his service to the nation. And no, for those of you who might think so, Gen. P did not plant this idea in my mind.

wrestlingfan00714 karma

The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan?

ColonelPete34 karma

Saving Private Ryan.

mcketten11 karma

Sir. I was with the 716th MP Battalion during the invasion. I worked under Lt. Colonel Orlando around the time he was KIA in Karbala.

General Petraeus came down to Karbala after he discovered the MND, who we were tasked under, wasn't helping us with the counter-attack on the mosque there and leaving an MP battalion to remove an entrenched enemy. I remember him pacing around the TOC, with his back hunched, muttering to himself that he wasn't going to just help us, he had friends in the 1st AD and he was going to get some tanks in to scare the shit out of them.

"Nobody gets away with killing a Screaming Eagle."

Two things: one, thank you for the tanks - I don't know if you were directly involved in that or someone else, but they helped. The entire group of Al-Sadr's men surrendered when they saw the Abrams come in. Two, be honest: didn't General Petraeus remind you of Groucho Marx when he got worked up and paced back and forth like that? All he needed was the cigar and a mustache.

ColonelPete11 karma

Great story - I never saw him in a mode quite like that. Those were 2nd Brigade's tanks, I believe - Col. Rob Baker. But you're welcome.

The_Thane_Of_Cawdor10 karma

Colonel: Is AQI seeing a major resurgence in Iraq? Will Iraq remain stable?

Also, I have you ever met author Bing West? I found his book "the strongest tribe" extremely informative and would be interested to know if you find his work accurate and useful to private citizens trying to learn more about the conflict in Iraq.

ColonelPete17 karma

Unfortunately, AQI is blossoming once again in Iraq. There are many reasons for this, among them the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, Maliki's sectarianism which has led to Sunni discontent, and the civil war in Syria, which has created a terrorist safe haven. Given these trends, Iraq is regrettably spiraling downward. Whether the state can hold together remains to be seen.

Yes, I know Bing well and think highly of his work. He takes a "Marine centric" approach to his writing, as he spent a lot of time with Marine units in al Anbar province. You might also find my book Surge of some interest if you are interested in the conflict in Iraq. John Nagl has written that Surge will remain the standard work on the surge for some time to come.

Doucan_Buthelezi9 karma

Did you, like General Petraeus, read The Centurions? If so do you think it still holds valuable lessons for modern armies in the field of counter-insurgency?

ColonelPete14 karma

Yes, I have - in fact, I wrote a review of the book in Military Review 86:6 (Nov-Dec 2006)

Here is an excerpt: "For the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, The Centurions is not just a timeless story, but a timely one as well. In Lartéguy’s novel one can find many of the principles and paradoxes of counterinsurgency warfare. The primacy of politics, the need to secure the population, the criticality of good intelligence (which can only be obtained by engaging the people), the requirement to adapt conventional units to fight in an unconventional manner—all of these lessons and more can be found in Lartéguy’s masterpiece. The novel also explores the dangers of going too far in the quest for victory. The moral dilemmas of the French in Algeria echo only too loudly in Iraq and Afghanistan today. The Centurions is a compelling story and a good read, too, one that I highly recommend be included in an officer’s program of self-study and professional development.

Although the threat of communist revolution has all but ended, the use of insurgent methods is on the rise. Until the West can show itself capable of defeating insurgents, it will continue to be challenged in this manner. Larteguy, in a sense, foretells this when one of Raspéguy’s officers, a French-Algerian taken prisoner at Dien Bien Phu, reflects that he may soon be a rebel himself, but on behalf of Islam, not communism. The reflection is meant to foreshadow the looming conflict in Africa, but it speaks to our own predicament 50 years later, in the Middle East."

Bamont9 karma

How did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan change America's strategic policy toward conflicts, namely in urban centers?

ColonelPete15 karma

I don't think the tactical conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed America's strategic policy. Rather, the results of those wars (messy, long term counterinsurgency campaigns with lots of boots on the ground) have made Americans and their political leaders much less willing to get involved in overseas conflicts. This is, to an extent, a good thing, but also can be taken to an extreme might lead to an isolationist America and a much more chaotic world.

HardwareLust8 karma

Sir, I really enjoyed reading Surge and Baghdad at Sunrise, they were both excellent. Do you have any plans on writing more in the future?

Also, would you have any recommendations for further reading on the Iraq War?

ColonelPete12 karma

Thanks for the note about my books. I would also recommend Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's Endgame. Long, but worth the read if you are interested in the history of the Iraq War.

My next project is a history of the U.S. liberation of the Philippines in WWII. WWII was the subject of my first historical monograph and I've been meaning to get back to it for quite some time. As I tell my wife, it's much less stressful writing about people who are dead and can't complain.

Halo3_hex3Edec62_47 karma

Sir- For the past few years I've been regretting not joining the Armed Forces as a youth, due to strict opposition from my parents, but I continue to feel a calling. Could you provide your thoughts on someone joining that is in their late twenties/early thirties? Thanks

ColonelPete13 karma

There are many reasons to serve, the most important of which is a willingness to, well, serve! I think a tour of service is an excellent decision for any citizen (and some non-citizens, too) who feel they can/want to contribute to the security of their nation. The military is also a good job and provides skills training. Many find life long friends in the military, and remember their military service as among the high points in their life. Don't expect a bed of roses - military life can be very challenging and difficult - but if you are called to serve, then I highly recommend joining up.

IpNyurButt7 karma

What do you like on your pizza?

ColonelPete16 karma

My favorite pizza is the Varsity Club deluxe combination with double anchovies. I think they might eventually name it after me.

Look__a_distraction5 karma

Hey sir!

2LT ALARNG here. Who was your first salute during your commissioning?

ColonelPete10 karma

My tactical officer, Major Fox. I don't remember the first enlisted person I saluted - I didn't personally know him. But he got a dollar!