Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Quartering of Military Forces

Southwest US border, 1916

Quartering of troops is one of three essential elements of military campaigns, the others being operations and logistics. Quartering of troops: with this concept I wish to encompass everything from orders for military deployment to employment, which operations would control but be at the same time supported further by logistics, and quartering itself.

How do we deal with the subject of quartering US troops today in our various campaigns?

Funny that there is hardly any comment among all the various strategic thinkers on this very important aspect, but then in reality, not soooo funny at all.

Still, it has unsurprisingly a long history.

Colmar von der Goltz wrote about it . . .

A question inseparable from the consideration of marches and transport is that of quarters. The soldier who, after a fatiguing march, finds good quarters, rapidly recruits himself, and gains strength for the following day; whilst, if bivouacked in the open field, exposed to wind and weather, he would, perhaps, have become incapable of continuing his march. A prudent regard paid to the quartering of the troops is the best means of counteracting the chance of casualties on the march. We have now arrived at a pitch of civilization which permits us no longer to regard the wood as our night quarters and the moon as our sun.
If the troops, immediately on the outbreak of hostilities, were to be collected in camps, they would soon be decimated without a single battle. Let us only reflect how much our troops suffered during the first rainy days of August, 1870. These experiences have led to the reintroduction of light tents, which afford some shelter against the weather, without encumbering the baggage column.

The Nation in Arms, 1906, pp 147-8

The (re)birth of the shelter half?

But just as with Mitt Romney's father, we have lost what little sense of our own history we ever had: command neither that recent nor deep in the past.

For instance our own Declaration of Independence lists in its 14 6 15th paragraphs of British Crown offenses the following:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.

Pretty heavy. Yet, where is the strategic theory discussion today, especially given that the quartering of troops in Iraq is such a hot, but hidden, political topic . . . ? This only but one of our current military campaigns all of which include this topic. Still Iraq is unique, considering that it is the war that officially we are attempting to leave . . . ?

Need we ask? . . . and by asking we actually define ourselves which is the greater part indeed . . .


  1. Okay, I'm a little baffled here, seydlitz.

    Quartering is really a subfunction of logistics. Getting the troops housed, even if its under a poncho hootch, is not all that much different from feeding and clothing them; it's a question of matching resources with needs.

    Now...when you throw in foreign deployments, and the possibility of quartering the troops on the locals, well...that's a whole 'nother nut roll. But the issue isn't really the quartering itself. I'm sure that the good citizens of Poitiers were more than happy to put up GIs in 1944 whereas they probably accepted their German occupiers grudgingly three years earlier. The issue in Iraq isn't really quartering per se but the legality and desirability of the occupation.

    We've had LOTS of discussions about the Occupation. Quartering? Solve the "issues" surrounding the entire notion of U.S. soldiery in Iraq and you've pretty much solved the quatering problem.


  2. Oh, and the photo is kind of ironic, given that whilst researching the "Battle of Columbus" it became very obvious that the 1910-1917 period was the ultimate heyday of the little Texas-Arizona-New Mexico border towns just because they went from populations of several tens to several thousands because of their military visitors.

    There was one instance of quartering large bodies of armed troops that worked pretty terrifically for the occupied...

  3. FDChief-

    I'm making a distinction between logistics and quartering here for the simple reason that we can have to deal with one while not having to deal with the other. This also reflects our level of commitment/policy goals. For instance Iraq involves the question of quartering in a big way, whereas Libya and Yemen not at all. At the same time all three require operations and logistics. It has to do with the intentions/purpose of the military commitment which is not necessarily a topic of public discussion. How one addresses this question is also important. The "light footprint" favored by Rumsfeld had to do with the desire not to have to quarter large numbers of troops in Iraq. Later, the decision to quarter US troops away from Iraqi population centers on big operating bases affected their ability to maintain order and control. The response, Casey's switch to COIN in 2005, is in many respects as much about quartering as it is about tactics.

    Also, I was not referring to our own little blog, regarding the lack of discussion on this topic, but the Internet in general.

  4. The photo wasn't meant to be ironic, but rather descriptive. To be successful in terms of their mission, quartered troops need to be seen as "protectors" rather than "occupiers". This was the case with US troops in Germany after WWII btw, as our experiences in Berlin and elsewhere indicate.

  5. C& S,
    Chief- you are cutting to the chase- the why is always more important than the how.
    That's the strategic question. Always.

  6. Like Chief, I'm a bit baffled as well. There are, though, some pretty substantial differences between quartering in Iraq vs. Afghanistan simply because the latter is a mainly rural fight.

  7. Chief commented:

    "The issue in Iraq isn't really quartering per se but the legality and desirability of the occupation."

    Let me bring up a point here which I think will better clarify my intention. The US occupation of Iraq officially ended in June 2004, although the term was used widely after that date. Still, legally there was an Iraqi government in control. Also since the end of 2008 there has been a SOFA agreement in effect. In regards to Afghanistan I don't think the term "occupation" has been used at all to describe our presence in that country.

    We started the blog in 2009, so what exactly have we been discussing in regards to "occupation"?

    It's a question of politicized meanings, or lack of meanings of very important concepts/terms. It also helps explain the current confusion in the country in regards to these military campaigns . . .

    That's my first point . . . sorry for the confusion.

  8. Seydlitz,

    I'm not sure what the confusion is. In Iraq we made an arrangement with the government to withdraw from the country. Since then we've been packing up and turning over various outposts, bases and equipment to the Iraqi's. There are restrictions placed on our forces by the Iraqi government and we honor those restrictions. There is a very detailed plan to transition out of the country and to the best of my knowledge based on people I know in Iraq right now, the plan is proceeding on schedule.

  9. And I should add that for the people who weren't all that pleased about Joe and Molly hanging at the Burger King at Balad the "change" from small FOBs inside the cities to big FOBs out in the sticks hasn't brought about a change in their attitude. Now that Iraq is no longer in the news cycle we tend to miss this, but Shia factions ranging from the Sadrists to the usual bazaar hoolies in Basra are getting shot up by the IA/IP protesting rumors that the SOF will get altered and our bases will remain.

    As for A-stan, well...our forces (including our fixed facilities) get shot up on a regular basis. If I were posted at one of them I would consider that a very personal sort of protest.

    I think there's no functional difference between the two. We here tend to make a semantic difference because of the very different and incremental way our guys went into A-stan, and the sense that we're there "helping" the government without any real understanding of the factional politics in A-stan/Pakistan or the way that some of the locals see us as occupiers-occupiers whilst others probably see us as "just-another-lot-of-ferenghi-fuckers-driving-through-my-goddam-opium-fields-that-I-can-hopefully-jack-some-cash-out-of" sorts of occupiers. I get the sense that a similar sort of range of attitudes reigned in Iraq, with a bunch of the locals just pissed off with the general notion of Yanquis on their turf, others seeing us as a nuisance but one they could profit off, still others (and here I'm thinking of the Sunni muj) seeing us as the Great Satan at first but reversing their priorities when they saw that their old buddies the Shia had some electric drills reserved for their kneecaps and suddenly the GIs were the asshole buddies.

    So, yes, if the occupiers are "protectors" they'll get a warmer welcome. The problem in the ME is that in the Big Picture we're seen as the sugar daddy of Israel and the dictators we bankroll to make nice to Israel. It doesn't matter in that picture whether the citizens of Ramadi or Kabul welcome GIs if we're seen regionally as a bullying prick with a penchent for invasion, does it?

    So "Casey's switch to COIN in 2005", then, would seem to have been a "backwards" step re: quartering our people on the local economy. But the idea was that it was a tactical gain that offset the societal loss - that we'd be seen by more Iraqis as more in control, more powerful, and thus more worth sucking up to and as a result would offset the Iraqis pissed off because we were using their house as a squat with automatic weaponry.

  10. Andy-

    I have no doubt that our troops in Iraq are planning on leaving. They would not be privy to any substantial change in policy and for appearances it is important that they continue as they are doing.

    Secretary Gates was in Baghdad less than a month ago to see if in fact the Iraqis had not changed their minds. And of course we will have all those people working for the State Department - approximately 10,000 - including embassy staff and private security guards operating out of "five fortified bases".

    Question of course is whether we actually turn over the big military bases we have there to the Iraqis or put them under the State Department and man them with mercs? Controlling the bases would allow for the potential quartering of large numbers of troops should the need arise.

  11. Seydlitz,

    AFAIK, the SOFA only covers US military forces, DOD civilians and DoD contractors. State Department personnel, contractors, etc. are presumably under some other diplo agreement.

    I do not think it is possible for the US to "loophole" the SOFA by transferring facilities to the State Department. I've put in a link to the SOFA at the bottom of this comment. See article 5 in particular.

    The SOFA is pretty clear that all forces must be out by the end of this year. US forces can stay past that point, but only by mutual agreement. Although you are correct that several senior US officials have indicated a preference to keep some forces in Iraq past that date, to my knowledge the Iraqi's do not agree. Maybe the US will (and is) trying to pressure the Iraqi's, but it seems to me that we don't have a lot of leverage considering the promises the current Iraqi government made regarding withdrawal.

    As a practical matter there is, to my mind, a question of what will happen to the training mission, especially for the Iraqi Air Force, which lags behind the ground forces in capability. Iraq could request that some DoD personnel stay to assist with that, or Iraq could hire its own contractors (who would probably be Americans), which is what most countries in the region do. That remains to be seen.

    So, I don't see much potential for the US to keep control over the larger bases to maintain them for some future purpose, but of course a major crisis or some major event could change things.

    Iraqi-US SOFA:

  12. FDChief-

    "So "Casey's switch to COIN in 2005", then, would seem to have been a "backwards" step re: quartering our people on the local economy."

    Which is my point, confusion. They were all over the place strategically due to the radical nature of their political goals in reaction to their inadequate and misused military means.

    We need a simple conceptual model. But first must think of the elements. "Uncertainty and chance" for sure. "Passion" another, and the third?

    Wiley calls it "control", but I would call it "power" and the only way to truly insure that in a political context is with the "soldier with the gun" on the location in contention. "He" insures control. And to have that you have to quarter them which is not the same as Logistics or operations as our current campaigns indicate. Kinda basic, which makes it obvious, but if we consider them as part of a system . . .

    So it comes down to a strategic theory concept of some limited merit, imo.

  13. Andy-

    What would be interesting for me would be the status of the big US bases in Iraq after January 2012.

    You could always offer someone something with the idea that you would be taking it back again. Once the bases are there, what are the Iraqis to do? Tear them down? How long did the old Imperial British base/quartering infrastructure hold up in Iraq? Have we in fact - to some extent - not built upon it?

  14. Seydlitz,

    There are, of course, no guarantees for the future. Iraq could, indeed, keep bases "ready" for the US to come back in at some future date. Iraq could ask the US to stay. There are any number of potentials. The same is probably true for all the infrastructure we built in Saudi, though I haven't researched that status of those facilities. Unlike Saudi, though, most of the Iraqi housing facilities are temporary structures. Point being, the US has gotten very good over the last ten years at establishing new bases quickly. As long as we have a decent airfield and a transportation link to a port we can build what we need, so the lack of fixed facilities wouldn't be too much hindrance to us going back into Iraq or wherever.

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