Archive for the 'War & Warfare' Category



Lessons Learned In The War with Militant Islam, Part One: Naming the Enemy

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

December in Western Culture is always an appropriate time of year for reflection– remembering that all-important point in history when God invaded our world in human form.   This particular December, however, is especially appropriate for reflection on what has variously been termed “The Long War” or, “World War IV,” or, by this Administration as, “Overseas Contingency Operations” as the President has unilaterally declared that the Iraq War is over and the books are closed.

It is my intention, then, to offer up over the next weeks what I consider to be the lessons we have learned in the 30-plus years since the re-birth and rise of Militant Islam in 1979.   I wish I could preface this series with optimism and confidence of victory.   I wish I could write that the West is winning, however slowly, the great struggle against this latest fascist incarnation, but reality will not permit.

It is time to face this awful situation squarely, not with fatalism or despair but with determination.   It is impossible to ignore the steady drumbeat of politically correct programs that hamstrings our efforts, or another miserable candidate who garners applause with 1920′s style isolationist rhetoric.  American leaders seem all too adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and mistaking our friends and enemies.

Barring the advent of national leadership which is nowhere evident, or a miracle of some kind– of which history is not replete— we must bravely conclude that, for now, the American public at large will not rouse itself to effective action.   We are caught in yet another national whirlpool of apathy, denial, distraction and delusion— just as we were in the 1930′s and the 1990′s– from which the only escape is a national trauma on the scale of a Pearl Harbor or September 11th calamity.  We have pushed our luck far too many times and refuse to get serious about taking the fight to the enemy– indeed, a president is applauded when he promises to “bring the troops home” without regard for consequences.   Ear-pleasing platitudes are what the Public demands, so it is no wonder that the politicians serve it up by the plateful.

If there is any ground for optimism in this Long War, it may be found in the capacity of our enemy to bouts of incredible stupidity.  To be sure, the U.S. is no less prone to such lapses, so in this respect the Long War is like a game of football in which the side committing the fewer mistakes will win.   I take from this a grim hope that the inevitable attack against the U.S. by the Islamists will be limited to a similar scope and scale of the 9-11 attacks.   Is it too ironic to pray that the Islamists be so stupid again?

As terrible as such an attack would be, American history suggests that we are only roused to great and decisive action by such, limited attacks.    If the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor, it is difficult to say when the U.S. would have openly entered World War II against the Nazis.   Without an American entry in December 1941, it is doubtful that Normandy is invaded in 1944.    Without an invasion of Normandy in 1944, it is possible that Hitler’s scientists finish development of an atomic bomb.

To reference more recent history, it is clear that the U.S. would not have invaded Afghanistan nor deposed Saddam Hussein without the September 11 attacks.  It is perhaps a sign of our timidity and half-hearted approach that we have failed to achieve any, definitive victory in the War even 10 years later.   Nonetheless, it is clear that the September 11th attacks stirred America to a unity of action and purpose (albeit squandered and now cooled) that has not been seen since 1945.

To be clear: I do not wish any, such attack against the homeland.   I do believe, however, that such an attack is increasingly inevitable.   It is only right, therefore, that we consider all of the lessons learned in the 10-plus years since September 11, 2001 in the hopes that we not repeat those mistakes.   With the frightening prospect of an attack lingering on the horizon, I offer the first of at least nine lessons from this Long War:

Lesson #1:  Clearly identify those responsible and what they represent.

Regular readers will know that I detest the moniker, “War on Terror.”

As many pundits and writers have pointed out, “terror” is a tactic.   It is not something we can fight and defeat.   And to the extent that we refuse or avoid recognizing the Enemy and calling it by the proper name, we splinter our efforts, lessening the odds of prevailing.   In this season of presidential campaigns, Americans should insist that the Republican candidates at the very least make a clean break from political correctness and honestly name the enemy.   Militant Islam, Radical Islam, Islamofascism.   The point is that all Americans and the world must understand that these attacks originate from an ideology and not simply from a criminal enterprise or a fringe group of shadowy “terrorists.”

The 9-11 attackers were trained and motivated, at the very least, by an interpretation of the Koran and Islam that joyfully and obediently embraces a violent and decisive confrontation with anyone, muslim or not, who does not adhere to their doctrine.  It is a seething belief that the entire world must be conquered and subdued to the will of their god, Allah.  It is not an ideology that can be appeased or reasoned with any more than other, authoritarian doctrines.    The West should have learned from its experiences with the Nazis and Communists that an ideology embraced with religious fanaticism cannot be appeased or mollified but must be defeated and discredited.

Militant Islam may very well prove to be the most virulent of the authoritarian ideologies to manifest itself since the rise of the Ottoman Empire.   We are fighting against a body of believers numbered in the tens of millions, even if they only consist of a minority of muslims.  This is not a fringe group.  Islamists are spread across continents and ethnicities.   Compounding this danger is the apparent surge of power and influence of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East.

Since 9-11, the U.S. has been rightly pursuing the militants, not only in Afghanistan but literally across the globe.   But while the U.S. military has worked wonders in places like Fallujah, Ramadi, Marjah and the Philippines, the larger U.S. government has acted like an adolescent who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.  Too often the focus on military operations has resulted in a complete failure to engage in the larger war of ideas in places that are not hot zones but are no less critical.   Worse still, the U.S. State Department has often worked at cross-purposes with the military.

Consider Lebanon.  The U.S. invasion of Iraq, despite all the hand-wringing and wailing of the Left Wing Media, created a powerful opportunity for the rise of a non-Islamist coalition.  We forget that the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon came on the heels of the capture of Saddam Hussein and even anti-U.S. figures such as Walid Jumblatt were reluctantly praising the elections in Iraq:

The January 2005 vote in Iraq also appeared to play a role since it supported the notion that Arabs craved democracy. (Lebanese Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt gave credence to the importance of these developments when he said, “It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. . . . When I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.”)

But the U.S. simply could not summon the will to support democratic groups in any, meaningful fashion.  The U.S. foreign policy establishment preferred to coddle and reach out to thugs like Bashir Assad in Syria.   And so Lebanon has slipped ever more deeply into the control of Hezbollah, funded and controlled by Iran through Syria.

Recently we have seen Egypt, Tunisia and Libya sliding into the Islamists’ camp.   The U.S. seems not only oblivious to this developing disaster but actively supportive.  Whether this folly is generated by a fear of offending muslim sensibilities or an arrogance that the U.S. can co-opt or mold the Islamists once they are in power, the net result is the same.   Ironically, the Obama Administration does not want to be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of Egypt or Iran, but has no such qualms with interfering with formerly pro-American allies like Honduras and Colombia.

This refusal to acknowledge the enemy will forever cripple our war efforts and will enable the enemy.   A muslim who does not subscribe to the Wahhabist version and rejects militant Islam should be no more offended when we target the Islamists than a 1940′s German would be offended by our targeting of Nazis.   In fact, our refusal to clearly identify the enemy in this case creates a dangerous confusion in the minds of non-muslims and muslims alike.   Muslims need to clearly and unequivocally choose sides in this War.   Are they with us or with the Islamists?

The current taboo allows and encourages a shadowy world where loyalties remain unknown and ambiguous.  It is no interference with freedom of religion to ask whether a mosque is preaching Militant Islam.   No one has ever asserted that freedom of religion includes a right to advocate for the subversion and overthrow of our Constitution and nation.   It is incumbent on members of any congregation, muslim, christian, jewish, or mormon, to report and, if necessary, testify against leadership that advocates violence against others in society.   Personal knowledge of violent plots combined with a refusal to report them constitutes at least passive participation in a criminal conspiracy.    In time of war, however, the failure to expose the efforts of the enemy to recruit for and advance attacks is treasonous.

For some mysterious reason, however, no Administration has ever dared to clearly identify militant Islam as the enemy.  Instead, we have tried to fight Islamists as a criminal enterprise  (Reagan, Bush I and Clinton); as nameless, religionless “terrorists” (Bush II); and now as a “specific network” consisting only of Al-Qaeda (Obama).  We cannot defeat an enemy we dare not name.

Advanced Hypersonic Weapons: Has a New Age of Remote Warfare Arrived?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

News out today that the U.S. Army successfully tested what is being called, “the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon.”   The reports are, at some points, conflicting, but the essence is captured by AFP in this report:

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday held a successful test flight of a flying bomb that travels faster than the speed of sound and will give military planners the ability to strike targets anywhere in the world in less than a hour.

Launched by rocket from Hawaii at 1130 GMT, the “Advanced Hypersonic Weapon,” or AHW, glided through the upper atmosphere over the Pacific “at hypersonic speed” before hitting its target on the Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands, a Pentagon statement said.

Kwajalein is about 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii. The Pentagon did not say what top speeds were reached by the vehicle, which unlike a ballistic missile is maneuverable.

Scientists classify hypersonic speeds as those that exceed Mach 5 — or five times the speed of sound — 3,728 miles (6,000 kilometers) an hour.

The test aimed to gather data on “aerodynamics, navigation, guidance and control, and thermal protection technologies,” said Lieutenant Colonel Melinda Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Wired has additional details:

For a test of a hypersonic weapon flying at eight times the speed of sound and nailing a target thousands of miles away, this was a relatively simple demonstration. But it worked, and now the military is a small step closer to its dream of hitting a target anywhere on Earth in less than an hour.

The last time the Pentagon test-fired a hypersonic missile, back in August, it live-tweeted the event — until the thing crashed into the Pacific Ocean. This time around, it kept the test relatively quiet. The results were much better.

To be fair, this was also an easier test to pass. Darpa’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 — the one that splashed unsuccessfully in the Pacific — was supposed to fly 4,100 miles. The Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon went about 60 percent as far, 2,400 miles from Hawaii to its target by the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific. Darpa’s hypersonic glider had a radical, wedge-like shape: a Mach 20 slice of deep dish pizza, basically. The Army’s vehicle relies on a decades-old, conventionally conical design. It’s designed to fly 6,100 miles per hour, or a mere eight times the speed of sound.

But even though the test might have been relatively easy, the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon effort could wind up playing a key role in the military’s so-called “Prompt Global Strike” effort to almost instantly whack targets half a world away. A glider like it would be strapped to a missile, and sent hurtling at rogue state’s nuclear silo or a terrorist’s biological weapon cache before it’s too late.

At first, the Prompt Global Strike involved retrofitting nuclear missiles with conventional warheads; the problem was, the new weapon could’ve easily been mistaken for a doomsday one. Which meant a Prompt Global Strike could’ve invited a nuclear retaliation. No wonder Congress refused to pay for the project.

So instead, the Pentagon focused on developing superfast weapons that would mostly scream through the air, instead of drop from space like a nuclear warhead. Those hypersonic gliders may cut down on the geopolitical difficulties, but introduced all sorts of technical ones. We don’t know much about the fluid dynamics involved when something shoots through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. And there really aren’t any wind tunnels capable of replicating those often-strange interactions.

And Digital Journal reports this interesting tidbit:

According to AP, Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, Pentagon spokeswoman, said the missile was launched at about 11:30 a.m. from Hawaii. Daily Mail reports the weapon glided westwards through the upper atmosphere over the Pacific and reached Kwajalein Atoll in Marshall Islands, about 2,500 miles away, in less than half an hour. The test follows U.S. Air Force announcement that it has taken delivery of eight 15-ton bombs called Massive Ordnance Penetrator “buster bombs” that can blow 200ft of concrete.

(Emphasis mine).

(What was Digital Journal trying to say here?  That AHW’s could be used in conjunction with MOP’s to take out nuclear silos or, perhaps, Iranian nuclear research facilities?  Hmmmmm.)

This development should stir our thinking in possibly profound ways.

First, there is still quite a bit of mystery surrounding this subject.    It is not entirely clear just what the Army launched.   Was it a missile that boosted some other type of craft into the upper atmosphere?  Is an AHW more of a missile itself or more of drone or craft of some kind that can carry munitions and deliver them to the target at incredible speeds?   There is some confusion about the actual speed of the AHW.    At the very least it can travel more than Mach 5 or 3,728 miles per hour.  According to the article in Wired, the AHW can travel over 8 times the speed of sound or more than 6,000 miles per hour.   And the Air Force’s HVT-2 apparently achieved speeds of an unbelievable 20 times the speed of sound which is roughly equivalent to over 14,000 miles per hour.   It is not clear from the articles what, exactly this particular AHW looks like.   How does it achieve such fantastic speeds.  All questions that the Chinese are no doubt studying (and spying on) very intensely.

Still, it seems to be  a bit of a misnomer to call this a “weapon” or as AFP refers to it as a “flying bomb.”  This is a delivery vehicle.   To call it a “flying bomb” seems almost a deliberate obfuscation designed to disguise its potential effects.  And those effects may very well be game-changing.

The article talks about the aim of the Army’s Global Strike Program as being the delivery of “conventional weapons” to any place on the globe, but presumably there is no technical limitation to conventional weapons.   A nuclear payload could be substituted just as easily.    And there is the rub.  According to the article in Wired, the design of the hypersonic platform had to be altered, for geopolitical reasons, so as not to be mistaken for a nuclear missile.   But this seems to beg the question.  Hypersonic delivery systems tipped with nuclear weapons, regardless of the shape or shell, breed the ultimate insecurity.   They do not travel into space but rather glide along the upper atmosphere, so the ability to intercept in the long, slow, initial boost phase is eliminated.   Does this raise the possibility that a first-strike nuclear attack could be unstoppable and, therefore, successful?

Consider, for example, that an AHW launched from Seoul, South Korea could travel the roughly 121 miles to Pyongyang, North Korea in a mere 108 seconds at Mach 5 and possibly as fast as 54 seconds at Mach 8.  At Mach 20, the strike time is virtually instantaneous.   There is simply no time for any defensive system to shoot down or intercept incoming AHW’s at these speeds.

What does a delivery system with this kind of fantastic speed and range portend?

One item to contemplate is the extent to which such a capability renders other weapon systems or platforms (or even branches) obsolete.  None of the various articles report the cost of a single AHW, but it appears that the platform is an unmanned drone of sorts that can be navigated remotely or pre-programmed to its target.   As such, assuming that the cost of an AHW is less than the various, manned bombers (and we must always include the cost of training, housing and paying the human pilots), is it possible that we are looking at the end (or at least the severe re-definition) of the U.S. Air Force?  Do we need a separate branch to preside over what seems at first blush to be the equivalent of hypersonic artillery?

There is no doubt that modern warfare is moving toward unmanned systems.   With the mass production of AHW’s, it is conceivable, at least, that entire bomber fleets and even missile systems could be discarded.   An AHW that can travel more than five times the speed of sound does not require any, expensive stealth technology.

Clearly one of the critical questions to be answered is whether there is any defense against attack by an AHW.   Are they traveling at such high speeds that there is simply too little time for either human or electronic systems to respond effectively?   If so, the entire concept of a Navy consisting of large ships of any kind becomes suspect.   Once the technology spreads to China, for instance, hypersonic weapons would seem to make an aircraft carrier a proverbial sitting duck.

Could it be that the Army and Navy (and, of course, Marines) simply have their own complement of AHW’s to use in lieu of piloted bombers?   If a Marine Captain in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, for instance, could call in his own, devastating barrage with pinpoint accuracy from the Marine base at Okinawa, Japan (a distance of 3,423 miles) with 10 minute delivery time, the need for expensive bombers with expensive pilots with expensive logistics with limited fuel to stay on station may be nonexistent.

And speaking of bases, does the rise of hypersonic platforms render much of the thinking on military basing obsolete?   With the exception of bases that are designed to put American ground forces in place, much of the strategy for basing rights involves the requirement to have naval and air assets close enough to trouble spots to quickly deliver ships and planes.   With a bristling arsenal of AHW’s, it would seem possible to have overwhelming firepower without risk to a human pilot delivered with pinpoint accuracy to any location on the globe in less than one hour.   And, with the example of North Korea, a devastating barrage could be delivered in seconds.

Perhaps the most troubling question to ponder is whether this new technology renders the U.S. defenseless.   Not in the immediate future, of course, but eventually this technology will spread to other nations.  What possible doctrines could be developed to counter the threat of hypersonic attack by near peers such as China or the Russians?   Even third-rate countries like Iran and North Korea pose substantial risks with single-shot EMP attacks.

Finally, does an AHW system allow the U.S. to construct a more potent military capability on the cheap?  Assuming that AHW’s can be successfully developed and adapted to a variety of tasks, could the U.S. dramatically scale back its spending on expensive naval forces and air forces and re-direct spending to enhancing ground units that carry with them the tremendous punch of AHW’s?  Perhaps we are seeing the sunset of the age of large armies, navies and air forces.   The art of war may be changing yet again and it may be our fiscal salvation to adapt to this new world sooner than later.

Mark Steyn and the Perfect Summary of 21st Century American Frustration

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 10 months ago

For anyone who is not acquainted with the work of Mark Steyn, you have an awful lot of catching up to do on a treasure trove of witty, insightful and provocative reading.

I have been a huge fan of Steyn for years but this piece, originally appearing in National Review, is, perhaps, his best, at least in regards to the current predicament of America in the 21st Century.

What predicament?

For any American who is knowledgeable about the extraordinary capabilities of the U.S. military, it is a constant source of frustration to contemplate the consistently mediocre results we get from employing those forces.   It is a classic case of underpeformance.   It is like, well, the Miami Heat:  stocked with arguably the NBA’s best talent, they cannot manage to roll over the Dallas Mavericks in the recent NBA championship series.    This was the team that was supposed to dominate like the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era.

But, to be fair to the Miami Heat, this is a poor analogy.   A more accurate one would be to imagine the College Football National Champion Auburn Tigers going up against the Rec League, Ellicott City Patriots B-Team.  Comprised of 11-year olds.   That’s how stark the difference is between the U.S. military and the kind of adversaries we have been going up against since the end of World War II.  When the Auburn Tigers can’t seem to put away the Patriots’ B-Team and it is dragging into overtime and a possible tie-game, the Auburn fans are understandably frustrated.

Or as Steyn puts it:

Why can’t America win wars? It’s been two-thirds of a century since we saw (as President Obama vividly put it) “Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur.” And, if that’s not quite how you remember it, forget the formal guest list, forget the long-form surrender certificate, and try to think of “winning” in a more basic sense.

After summarizing Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, he remarks:

According to partisan taste, one can blame the trio of current morasses on Bush or Obama, but in the bigger picture they’re part of a pattern of behavior that predates either man, stretching back through non-victories great and small — Somalia, Gulf War One, Vietnam, Korea. On the more conclusive side of the ledger, we have . . . well, lemme see: Grenada, 1983. And, given that that was a bit of post-colonial housekeeping Britain should have taken care of but declined to, one could argue that even that lone bright spot supports a broader narrative of Western enfeeblement. At any rate, America’s only unambiguous military triumph since 1945 is a small Caribbean island with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. For 43 percent of global military expenditure, that’s not much bang for the buck.

Inconclusive interventionism has consequences. Korea led to Norks with nukes. The downed helicopters in the Iranian desert led to mullahs with nukes. Gulf War One led to Gulf War Two. Somalia led to 9/11. Vietnam led to everything, in the sense that its trauma penetrated so deep into the American psyche that it corroded the ability to think clearly about war as a tool of national purpose.

Steyn exactly identifies the source of the problem.   It is not that our military is incapable of decisive victory, the problem lies with our national leadership.  To return to the sports analogy, it is as if the Auburn coaches decided that it would not look good to grind those 11-year olds into the dirt, so the Tigers go to unbelievable lengths to not win but not lose either. That may be fine when it is simply a game of  football, but when it involves a deadly contest where Americans are being killed or maimed, handicapping yourself in such a way is criminal.   Or as Steyn puts it:

But in the nuclear age, all-out war — war with real nations, with serious militaries — was too terrible to contemplate, so even in proxy squabbles in Third World backwaters the overriding concern was to tamp things down, even at the price of victory. And, by the time the Cold War ended, such thinking had become ingrained. A U.S.–Soviet nuclear standoff of mutual deterrence decayed into a unipolar world of U.S. auto-deterrence. Were it not for the brave passengers of Flight 93 and the vagaries of the Oval Office social calendar, the fourth plane on 9/11 might have succeeded in hitting the White House, decapitating the regime, leaving a smoking ruin in the heart of the capital and delivering the republic unto a Robert C. Byrd administration or some other whimsy of presidential succession. Yet, in allowing his toxic backwater to be used as the launch pad for the deadliest foreign assault on the U.S. mainland in two centuries, Mullah Omar either discounted the possibility of total devastating destruction against his country, or didn’t care.

If it was the former, he was surely right. After the battle of Omdurman, Hilaire Belloc offered a pithy summation of technological advantage:

Whatever happens
We have got
The Maxim gun
And they have not.

But suppose they know you’ll never use the Maxim gun? At a certain level, credible deterrence depends on a credible enemy. The Soviet Union disintegrated, but the surviving superpower’s instinct to de-escalate intensified: In Kirkuk as in Kandahar, every Lilliputian warlord quickly grasped that you could provoke the infidel Gulliver with relative impunity. Mutually Assured Destruction had curdled into Massively Applied Desultoriness.

Here I part company somewhat from my National Review colleagues who are concerned about inevitable cuts to the defense budget. Clearly, if one nation is responsible for near half the world’s military budget, a lot of others aren’t pulling their weight. The Pentagon outspends the Chinese, British, French, Russian, Japanese, German, Saudi, Indian, Italian, South Korean, Brazilian, Canadian, Australian, Spanish, Turkish, and Israeli militaries combined. So why doesn’t it feel like that?

Well, for exactly that reason: If you outspend every serious rival combined, you’re obviously something other than the soldiery of a conventional nation state. But what exactly? In the Nineties, the French liked to complain that “globalization” was a euphemism for “Americanization.” But one can just as easily invert the formulation: “Americanization” is a euphemism for “globalization,” in which the geopolitical sugar daddy is so busy picking up the tab for the global order he loses all sense of national interest. Just as Hollywood now makes films for the world, so the Pentagon now makes war for the world. Readers will be wearily familiar with the tendency of long-established pop-culture icons to go all transnational on us: Only the other week Superman took to the podium of the U.N. to renounce his U.S. citizenship on the grounds that “truth, justice, and the American way” no longer does it for him. My favorite in recent years was the attempted reinvention of good ol’ G.I. Joe as a Brussels-based multilateral acronym — the Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. I believe they’re running the Libyan operation.

This is it precisely.   The U.S. has, for whatever reason, decided that winning is unacceptable.  This is Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign stating that he does not like to use the word victory.   For all practical purposes, the U.S. has unilaterally disarmed.  Sure, we still have all those weapons and sophisticated arsenals of death lying around, and we may parade them about and fly them over the heads of Taliban fighters to try to put a good scare into them, but we have decided that actually using those weapons in the way that they were designed to be used, in the national interest of the U.S., is unacceptable.

Instead, Steyn points out, the U.S. has given in to what he terms, “Transnational do-gooding.”

Transnational do-gooding is political correctness on tour. It takes the relativist assumptions of the multiculti varsity and applies them geopolitically: The white man’s burden meets liberal guilt. No wealthy developed nation should have a national interest, because a national interest is a selfish interest. Afghanistan started out selfishly — a daringly original military campaign, brilliantly executed, to remove your enemies from power and kill as many of the bad guys as possible. Then America sobered up and gradually brought a freakish exception into compliance with the rule. In Libya as in Kosovo, war is legitimate only if you have no conceivable national interest in whatever conflict you’re fighting. The fact that you have no stake in it justifies your getting into it. The principal rationale is that there’s no rationale, and who could object to that? Applied globally, political correctness obliges us to forswear sovereignty. And, once you do that, then, as Country Joe and the Fish famously enquired, it’s one-two-three, what are we fighting for?

When you’re responsible for half the planet’s military spending, and 80 percent of its military R&D, certain things can be said with confidence: No one is going to get into a nuclear war with the United States, or a large-scale tank battle, or even a dogfight. You’re the Microsoft, the Standard Oil of conventional warfare: Were they interested in competing in this field, second-tier military powers would probably have filed an antitrust suit with the Department of Justice by now. When you’re the only guy in town with a tennis racket, don’t be surprised if no one wants to join you on center court — or that provocateurs look for other fields on which to play. In the early stages of this century’s wars, IEDs were detonated by cell phones and even garage-door openers. So the Pentagon jammed them. The enemy downgraded to more primitive detonators: You can’t jam string. Last year, it was reported that the Taliban had developed metal-free IEDs, which made them all but undetectable: Instead of two hacksaw blades and artillery shells, they began using graphite blades and ammonium nitrate. If you’ve got uniformed infantrymen and tanks and battleships and jet fighters, you’re too weak to take on the hyperpower. But, if you’ve got illiterate goatherds with string and hacksaws and fertilizer, you can tie him down for a decade. An IED is an “improvised” explosive device. Can we still improvise? Or does the planet’s most lavishly funded military assume it has the luxury of declining to adapt to the world it’s living in?

In the spring of 2003, on the deserted highway between the Jordanian border and the town of Rutba, I came across my first burnt-out Iraqi tank — a charred wreck shoved over to the shoulder. I parked, walked around it, and pondered the fate of the men inside. It seemed somehow pathetic that, facing invasion by the United States, these Iraqi conscripts had even bothered to climb in and point the thing to wherever they were heading when death rained down from the stars, or Diego Garcia, or Missouri. Yet even then I remembered the words of the great strategist of armored warfare, Basil Liddell Hart: “The destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is but a means — and not necessarily an inevitable or infallible one — to the attainment of the real objective.” The object of war, wrote Liddell Hart, is not to destroy the enemy’s tanks but to destroy his will.

Instead, America has fallen for the Thomas Friedman thesis, promulgated by the New York Times’ great thinker in January 2002: “For all the talk about the vaunted Afghan fighters, this was a war between the Jetsons and the Flintstones — and the Jetsons won and the Flintstones know it.”

But they didn’t. They didn’t know they were beaten. Because they weren’t. Because we hadn’t destroyed their will — as we did to the Germans and Japanese two-thirds of a century ago, and as we surely would not do if we were fighting World War II today. That’s not an argument for nuking or carpet bombing, so much as for cool clear-sightedness. Asked how he would react if the British army invaded Germany, Bismarck said he would dispatch the local police force to arrest them: a clever Teuton sneer at the modest size of Her Britannic Majesty’s forces. But that’s the point: The British accomplished much with little; at the height of empire, an insignificant number of Anglo-Celts controlled the entire Indian subcontinent. A confident culture can dominate far larger numbers of people, as England did for much of modern history. By contrast, in an era of Massively Applied Desultoriness, we spend a fortune going to war with one hand tied behind our back. The Forty-Three Percent Global Operating Industrial Military Complex isn’t too big to fail, but it is perhaps too big to win — as our enemies understand.

So on we stagger, with Cold War institutions, transnational sensibilities, politically correct solicitousness, fraudulent preening pseudo–nation building, expensive gizmos, little will, and no war aims . . . but real American lives. “These Colors Don’t Run,” says the T-shirt. But, bereft of national purpose, they bleed away to a grey blur on a distant horizon. Sixty-six years after V-J Day, the American way of war needs top-to-toe reinvention.

The worst news, however, is that we are such a divided nation in our sense of national purpose that I do not see any way that “the American way of war” will get anything like a “reinvention” as Steyn prescribes.   The American people are living in a fantasy world where we can continue to lavish entitlement spending on ourselves (and heap more on top of that with Obamacare) while contemplating a substantially reduced military, as if evil does not exist and America will never be threatened (and anyone who raises that specter is simply trying to scare the public for the benefit of the military-industrial complex).

But we know how these things end.    The Dot Com Bubble was created by the fantasy that internet companies with no revenues were, nonetheless, worth ridiculous share prices.   That Bubble burst.    The Housing Bubble grew from the fantasy that trillions of dollars could be lent to persons with bad credit and little prospect for repayment.   That Bubble burst.    The current fantasy about the nature of the world and America’s invulnerability will end, too.   And when it does we will finally regain the will to win.   I pray that we will still have the means.

Special Operations Forces Navel Gazing

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

In what might be the clearest tale to date about SOF narcissism over the Afghanistan high value target campaign, we see that the gaming goes nearly to the top in a recent report at the Army Times (hotel tango SWJ Blog).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to deploy three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan by the summer has superseded a contentious debate that pitted the Bush administration’s “war czar” against the special operations hierarchy over a proposed near-term “surge” of spec ops forces to Afghanistan, a Pentagon military official said.

The National Security Council’s surge proposal, which grew out of its Afghan strategy review, recommended an increase of “about another battalion’s worth” of troops to the Combined and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, or CJSOTF-A, said a field-grade Special Forces officer, who added that this would enlarge the task force by about a third.

Several sources said that the “SOF surge” proposal originated with Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the so-called “war czar” whose official title is assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation. The rationale behind deploying more special ops forces to Afghanistan was that any decision to deploy more conventional brigades to Afghanistan would take at least several months to implement, whereas special ops units could be sent much more quickly, the Special Forces officer said.

Not likely.  Afghanistan has been a SOF campaign from the beginning, and the lack of force projection and confused mission have led us to where we are.  It’s hard to believe that the power structure suddenly decided on a SOF surge, since SOF surging is what has been happening for seven years.  Furthermore, there is always CENTCOM ready reserve which is usually comprised of a MEU.  But continuing:

… the proposal sparked a fierce high-level debate, with special operations officers charging that Lute and his colleagues were trying to micromanage the movement of individual Special Forces A-teams from inside the Beltway, and countercharges that Special Forces has strayed from its traditional mission of raising and training indigenous forces and become too focused on direct-action missions to kill or capture enemies.

Most major special operations commands were opposed to the proposal, special operations sources said. The sources identified U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities, headed by Michael Vickers, as all resisting the initiative.

Special operations sources said that those opposing the “SOF surge” were generally against the idea on two grounds: that the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has not requested them, and that the CJSOTF-A does not have enough “enablers” — such as helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets — to support the forces it has in-country now, let alone another battalion’s worth.

Strayed indeed.  Kinetic operations against high value targets – for whatever worth this has been – don’t require SOF.  It might be that there is something deeper here.   Lt. Gen. Lute certainly must know that Afghanistan cannot continue to be a SOF campaign against HVTs, and the SOF command must certainly know that the beast of Operation Enduring Freedom has grown far beyond what they are able to bear.  If it’s a question of who will break first and say these things, then such gamesmanship over serious military operations is loathsome and detestable.  But it gets even better (or worse).

The short supply of helicopters in Afghanistan has been a constant problem for conventional forces and CJSOTF-A, the “white,” or unclassified, task force in-country. Unlike the secretive, “black,” Joint Special Operations Command task force, which is directly supported by elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, “white” Special Forces groups do not have their own dedicated aviation units and have to compete for helicopter support with the rest of the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. CJSOTF-A is commanded by a colonel, whereas the other organizations are all commanded by flag officers.

The Pentagon military official said that the planned deployment of an additional 20,000 conventional U.S. troops, including three brigade combat teams, to Afghanistan would also include a lot of “enablers” that the special operations forces could use.

The Pentagon plan includes more helicopters being sent to Afghanistan, as well as the possibility of a one-star special operations flag officer to command “white” SOF forces in country, which would obviate the need to have “O-6s arm wrestling with O-7s and O-9s,” he said.

More politics, and make sure to take notice of what SOF command sees as the mission for these additional “enablers.”  They would go to SOF (‘a lot of “enablers” that the special operations forces could use’).  Finally:

A field-grade officer in Washington who has been tracking the debate said that the “white” SOF leaders’ argument that their forces need more ISR assets and helicopters is a reflection of how Special Forces has veered from its traditional mission of “foreign internal defense” — training host nation forces to conduct counterinsurgency — in favor of the more glamorous direct-action missions.

The officer said Lute believes that special operations forces, particularly Special Forces, “are the right force” to send to Afghanistan because of their skills at teaching foreign internal defense.

This might explain the special operations hierarchy’s opposition to Lute’s surge proposal, the field grade-officer in Washington said. “This is an implicit criticism of what SOF has done for the last five years,” he said. “They haven’t been training indigenous forces. That may be what SOCOM is objecting to, is it’s implicitly a critique of SOF’s over-fascination with direct action.”

It has come full circle, from Lute’s belief that training some Afghan soldiers can solve the problem – or so says the source – to the potential that this proposition is a critique of the evolved SOF mission and a charade, to the campaign that has grown beyond anything that the SOF can possibly handle alone.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know our position, and we believe that this political maneuvering is disgusting and despicable.  The SOF navel-gazing is embarrassing, and it’s time for both the SOF and the American public to graduate beyond the Rambo understanding of irregular warfare where a SOF operator or two is turned loose in the jungles or deserts and the whole world changes in a day or two because of the thousands of rounds discharged from his weapon.

Really.  This is the stuff of children, adolescents and un-reformable movie-goers.  Can’t we be more serious about our military strategy than this?  Afghanistan will require political and financial investment, force projection (Army and Marines), and – yes – SOF too.  SOF performs an invaluable role in small footprint international force projection, with their special skills in language training and similar “enablers” for their mission.  But the daydream of creating a few extra SOF operators to do the dirty work and returning the Army and Marines stateside is just that.  A daydream.  A small footprint for seven years is why OEF looks the way it does.  We need more serious reflection than that to build the strategies for the future.

Prior:

Concerning Turning Over Afghanistan to Special Operations Forces

60 Minutes and the Special Forces Hunt for Bin Laden

The Cult of Special Forces

Another Disappointing RAND Counterinsurgency Study

Please take time to answer the poll question:

The Effects of the Long War on Military Readiness

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

We have previously argued for properly resourcing the long war.  This argument was primarily based on multiple deployments and the affect that they have on warrior morale.  Said a different way, consider Ernie Pyle.  For a generation that has been raised on video games, World of Warcraft and rap, Ernie Pyle is unknown.  Yet his prose serves as some of the best philosophical analysis of war that has ever been published, and should be required reading in professional military programs.  Pyle had previously described the belief of World War II veterans that the only way home was through Germany.  Winning the war meant going home, and permanently so.  Going home for modern day warriors means being deployed again in a year with all of the stress and strain on troops and their families.

There is currently a debate within professional military circles regarding a somewhat different concern, that being that prosecution of counterinsurgency taking the focus off of more conventional operations, one of which is artillery (h/t Small Wars Journal Blog).  Three active duty Army Colonels weigh in with a white paper entitled The Impending Crisis in Field Artillery’s Ability to Provide Fire Support to Maneuver Commanders.  In it they argue that the practice of field artillery has languished with the exclusive practice of counterinsurgency.

Professor Lt. Col. Gian Gentile argues the same in “Breaking the American Army.”

Six years of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has atrophied the Army’s ability to fight conventional battles like the kind fought in the first Gulf War against Iraq.

Recent analyses of the Israeli army’s performance in southern Lebanon in summer 2006 show that its skill at conventional fighting atrophied because of many years of conducting counterinsurgency operations in the Palestinian territories. In southern Lebanon the Israeli army suffered a significant battlefield defeat at the hands of Hezbollah militants who fought them tenaciously and ferociously using tactics reminiscent of the way the World War II German army fought the Americans in the hedgerows of Normandy in the summer of 1944. When Hezbollah fighters attacked Israeli armored and infantry columns in 2006, the Israeli army had severe difficulties at simple command and control and coordination between tanks and infantry.

The American army is in a similar condition today and the American people and their political leaders should be worried. For example, when combat brigades return from Iraq or Afghanistan and are looking at only a year or so back home before heading back the short amount of training time almost guarantees that the brigades will train almost exclusively on counterinsurgency operations.

Last summer a group of combat soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division wrote critically in a New York Times opinion article about Iraq and the long-term effects that continued American military presence would produce. Although these soldiers were doubtful of American military power solving Iraq’s deep-rooted problems, they acknowledged that as soldiers they would carry on despite their doubts about the mission. They said: “we need not talk of morale, as committed soldiers we will see this mission through.”

Those words by battle-hardened, combat soldiers from the 82nd Airborne reflect the ethic and commitment of the American army to accomplishing the assigned mission, even if it means breaking the Army in the process. Just as our political leaders can employ the American army as they see fit, so, too, can they keep it from breaking.

The Captain’s Journal will not weigh in on a solution to this dilemma.  However, properly resourcing the long war, as we have argued for multiple times (basing this argument on the mental health of our warriors) would go a long way towards solving this problem as well.  Morality must undepin our prosecution of the long war, this morality being applicable to our very own warriors and how we treat them, whether concern for their hearts or concern for their skills.

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

Following closely on the heels of British negotiations with mid-level Taliban, the governorship of Musa Qala has been handed over to a Taliban commander.

A Taliban commander who defected hours before British and Afghan forces retook the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala has been rewarded with the governorship of the town.

Mullah Abdul Salaam switched sides after months of delicate secret negotiations with the Afghan government, as part of a programme of reconciliation backed by British commanders in Helmand.

In a move clearly intended to send a message to other potential Taliban defectors, the Afghan government has announced that he had become the new district governor with the backing of local tribes.

An Afghan government spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said that the move was consistent with the policy of President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“The president has said before that all those former Taliban who come and accept the constitution and who want to participate in the political process through non-violent means … they are welcome.”

He added that Mullah Salaam had provided crucial intelligence to the Afghan government.

Mullah Salaam is a leader of one of the three sub-tribes of the Alizai, the dominant tribal group in Musa Qala.

As The Daily Telegraph reported in November, Mullah Salaam opened channels of communication with the government after a violent rift emerged in the Taliban around Musa Qala, during which he survived an assassination attempt.

Mullah Salaam told The Daily Telegraph: “There are two groups of Taliban fighters in Musa Qala and I have the backing of the major one. The Taliban who are against peace and prosperity in Afghanistan – I will fight them.”

Local people confirmed that he enjoyed the backing of a large swathe of the inhabitants of the town.

The issue of Taliban defections remains a highly sensitive one, following the expulsion of a British and an Irish diplomat from Kabul last month on charges of having “inappropriate contacts” with militants.

Afghan government officials accused the two men of holding meetings with Taliban leaders in Helmand without authorisation.

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has ruled out direct talks with the Taliban leadership, but it is well known in Kabul that both the British and Afghan intelligence agencies are devoting considerable resources to trying to “turn” Taliban-aligned tribal leaders.

As we have discussed before, this is the British version of the Anbar awakening combined with payment for concerned citizens who protect the people and fight al Qaeda.  But the problem with this analogy is that it is no analogy at all.  It has nothing at all in common with a true awakening such as occurred in Anbar.  It is true that the last decade of rule by Saddam saw the birth of a small element of youth who were motivated by religious radicalism.

By the late 1980s it had become clear that secular pan-Arabism fused with socialist ideas was no longer a source of inspiration for some Ba’th Party activists. Many young Sunni Arabs adopted an alternative ideology, namely, fundamentalist Islam based essentially on the thought of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. A minority even moved toward the more extreme Salafi, and even Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam. The regime was reluctant to repress such trends violently, even when it came to Wahhabis, for the simple reason that these Iraqi Wahhabis were anti-Saudi: much like the ultraradical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia, they, too, saw the Saudi regime as deviating from its original Wahhabi convictions by succumbing to Western cultural influences and aligning itself with the Christian imperialist United States. This anti-Saudi trend served the Iraqi regime’s political purposes.

But this proves the bifurcation that was inherent in the Anbaris which led to the awakening.  These radical youth were an insignificant fraction of the population and were not ever fair game in the strategy to win hearts and minds.  They were the enemy, and there was never a time when they weren’t the enemy.  They quickly aligned with al Qaeda, and the less radical citizens were really the ones in play in the overall strategy.  Al Qaeda and those with whom they were aligned have been essentially defeated in Anbar and are losing in Diyala.  Peace was sought with those from the indigenous insurgency who saw themselves as something other than jihadis.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban are by very definition religiously defined.  Even the casual reader might consider Afghanistan seven years ago (Taliban in charge) and compare it to the Afghanistan of today (with the Taliban in charge if the British strategy plays out) and recall that the only real change is that Hamid Karzai is at the helm, a tenuous charge and precarious perch to be sure.

While the MI6 agents who were negotiating with the Taliban have been ejected from the country, the strategy of acquiescence to the Taliban continues to be implemented by British military command.  After their failed military campaign in and pullout from Basra, the British are actively negotiating the turnover of the Afghanistan government to the very enemy defeated upon the initial invasion of Afghanistan in order to end the campaign.  This strategy has at least the tacit approval of Hamid Karzai, as U.S. troop presence and strategy is not sufficient to allow him to object.  U.S. and NATO lack of force projection gives him no other choice.

Prior:

Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

Anthropologists at War

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

In Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them, I addressed in summary fashion the issue of the petition before the AAA (American Anthropological Association) for the association to denounce professional anthropologists who participate in the Human Terrain System (HTS), or at least, denounce the HTS program, with those who participate then being forced to “violate” the standards of their professional organization if they choose to participate.

As it turns out, the AAA has indeed denounced the HTS program initiated by the Department of Defense:  ” … the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association concludes (i) that the HTS program creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and (ii) that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study.   Thus the Executive Board expresses its disapproval of the HTS program.”

Ann Marlowe at Weekly Standard has a article also denouncing the HTS program for reasons that seem scattered and inconsistent, so I won’t address her objections since they make little or no sense to me.  Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal Blog has done a good job of explaining why her objections make no sense and need to be reformulated before a meaningful retort can be crafted.  But I would like to take a different approach to this alleged problem by interacting with friend of The Captain’s Journal, Dr. Marcus B. Griffin who is currently performing anthropological research in Iraq and who blogs at From an Anthropological Perspective.

I have exchanged mail with Dr. Griffin and find him to be a researcher of the highest character who performs research with the highest ethical boundaries.  Concerning the AAA position statement, Dr. Griffin responds concerning ethical concern #2:

Obligations to one’s employer, in this case the US Army, is assumed to conflict with being an advocate of the subject population, or if not being an advocate then at least not harming the people being studied. The root of this concern hinges on the purpose of research conducted. If I am studying reciprocity and the cultural construct of obligation and indebtedness, how might this harm the subject population? Of course, if I was studying the social network of Al Qaeda leaders or Jayish Al Mahdi leaders in order to discern kingpins, there would be an ethical problem. But I’m not studying that or anything like it. What is more, no one is asking me to. This ethical concern grows out of an ignorance of military operations and staff specialization.

While I don’t wish to presume upon Dr. Griffin and question his professional obligations, here I take issue with Dr. Griffin’s response to the AAA because I believe that it fundamentally ignores the unstated presuppositions in the AAA statement.  Let’s say it a different way.  I believe in such a thing as Good Wars (1).  The degree to which Operation Iraqi Freedom comports with the requirements for Dr. Darrell Cole of William and Mary to declare it a “good war” is quite irrelevant to our point.  The AAA objects not only to Dr. Griffin’s participation in OIF, but to any anthropological participation in war: ”… the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.”

And therein lies the crux of the issue.  The nexus of the AAA objection and the constraints they place on their fellows has to do with the conduct of war itself (or counterinsurgency), not how anthropology might be used in said war (or COIN).  In that anthropology pertains to the study of man, his social systems, obligations and expectations, morays, family structures, religious institutions, and public behavior, every man, woman and child engages in the practice of anthropology almost every day.  Professional anthropologists generally do so with more rigor, system, discipline, and research, but they are not the only ones who practice their profession.  Anthropology is like the culinary arts.  Some people grill hot dogs and others grill steak and asparagus and make Bearnaise sauce.  But everyone eats to live (and some live to eat).

From the Lance Corporal to the Lt. Colonel, societal customs and expectations are part of not only the conduct of day to day operations but also the understanding of the enemy and his ways and means.  The debate isn’t really about anthropology and its entry to the battle space.  It’s there anyway, and has been since mankind first engaged in battle.  The AAA presumes to speak for all humankind when they declare anthropology off limits for consideration in the battle space.  Man can no more bifurcate his knowledge of humans and combat tactics and maneuvers when conducting battle than he can his own emotions and feelings.  The AAA has presented an impossible and preposterous obligation to its members and the armed forces (and it is this later implication that they have failed to see).

One example of this stands out to me as one of the most important nuggets of knowledge concerning Arabic armies that I have ever run across.  It was sent to me by an Army Colonel who has befriended me and who is a thinking man of extraordinary proportions (and who will remain unnamed since he is active duty) (2).  It should be studied by every field grade officer in every branch of the armed forces.  De Atkine assesses numerous failures of Arab armies, including the tendency to hoard information, over-centralize control and inhibit and discourage innovation, and then lands on an interesting point that in truth separates the U.S. armed forces from the rest of the world.

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men’s sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military’s effectiveness. With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective.

This observation is entirely an anthropological one, and the prescription for amelioration is the same.  If ever the U.S. hopes to create a viable army in Iraq, it will require an understanding of the society and its people to make a viable NCO corps.  This can no more be removed from the task than can small arms with which to fire rounds at the enemy.

And thus I believe that Dr. Griffin’s objection, while heartfelt and professional, misses the point.  Studying al Qaeda and JAM leaders would be an entirely legitimate use of anthropology.  Lance Corporals and Lt. Colonels do it every day, from questioning the population and ensuring their security to concerning themselves with the support of families by the distribution of payment to concerned citizens and community watch programs (3) so that heads of families can support their children.

The AAA’s real objection is that they don’t want their members to have the latitude to make their own moral judgments concerning the application and use of their work.  Doctors, engineers and nurses make moral decisions every day.  The architect who designed the world trade center, and who later committed suicide, felt the weight of the human condition as much as Dr. Griffin in Iraq.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are concerned with the taking of human life (and the preserving of it) in the superlative degree, but it is an extension of the same concern for the human condition that they will employ throughout the balance of their lives.  There are tens of thousands of anthropologists at war every day.  Anthropology can no more be divorced from war than it can be from life.

1. Good Wars, First Things, Professor Darrell Cole.

2. Why Arabs Lose Wars, Norvell B. De Atkine.

3. Are we Bribing the Sheikhs?, Herschel Smith

British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Attacks perpetrated against the British in and near Basra are way down, as are attacks perpetrated against the Marines in Anbar.  There is currently a debate at the highest levels of military leadership as to why this has occurred and how these seemingly contradictory metrics are related to strategy.  The British have de-escalated, while the U.S. has escalated – or so the problem is posed.  But before we engage this debate, some background information is necessary to set the stage for the discussion as it applies to Afghanistan where the British are struggling.  Far from a merely academic fancy for military strategists and historians, the answers to this dilemma not only develops the narrative for history, but this narrative also trains future military leadership.  The answers also may literally decide whether the campaign in Afghanistan can be successful.

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British narrative of Basra was laced with more than a little bit of denunciation of American tactics, and Basra was hailed as the picture of successful counterinsurgency.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this “soft” approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media — ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms — energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could “take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra.” Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane’s, asserted: “The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the ’softly-softly’ approach.”

The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the “major obstacle” in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.

It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed “armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon — and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature.” Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning — borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance — tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.

As a result of the effusive media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.‿ As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.‿

While the British took to wearing soft covers and working “softly” with the population, the security situation degraded little by little until the British public was eventually stunned by the capture of their soldiers by the Basra police and eventual rescue by military operations, leading to demonstrations, threats, angry denunciations and general ill-will between both the British and population of Basra.

The situation continued to degrade, and what at one time was seemingly a land of paradise had now become forbidding terrain.

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,” he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

This is indicative of many parts of southern Iraq, says Wayne White, a former State department middle east intelligence officer. White says the south is riddled with rival Shiite groups vying for power, and roving criminal gangs because there’s nothing to stop them.

Some of the Basrans believe that the British forces are part of the problem rather than the solution.  “The British are very patient — they didn’t know how to deal with the militias,” said a 50-year-old Assyrian Christian who would identify herself only as Mrs. Mansour. “Some people think it would be better if the Americans came instead of the British. They would be harder on the militias.”  Still another perspective is that the Iraqi security forces cannot effectively work the area.  “Soldiers from Basra can’t fight against militias,” said Capt Ali Modar, of the new 14th Iraqi Division, which has taken over responsibility for security in the city. “It is difficult to overcome them. We need people to come from other parts of Iraq. Soldiers from Basra know that if they arrest anyone they will be killed, or their families will be killed.”

This failure, combined with the tendency to study assessments from a year or two ago that don’t reflect the vastly improved security situation in Iraq (other than Basra), has caused Theo Farrell, Professor in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, simply to stop reading literature about Iraq because it is so depressing.  But Michael Yon has stated that “Basra is not in chaos. In fact, crime and violence are way down and there has not been a British combat death in over a month.”  So why the difference in narratives concerning Southern Iraq?  What causes such disparate views?

Metrics can be used to prove a lot of things, some true, others a mixture of truth and falsehood with stipulations and caveats, and still others plainly false.  The mere absence of attacks on British troops does not mean the same thing as the absence of attacks on Marines in Anbar.  The Marines continue to be all over the Anbar Province, patrolling, embedded with the Iraqi Police in combined combat outposts / Iraqi Police precincts, and on neighborhood diplomacy missions.  But it cannot be forgotten that these civil affairs and neighborhood diplomacy missions cannot exist in a vacuum or without pretext.  They are follow-on activities to kinetic operations to rid the area of insurgents (at least for the most part).

But the British have crafted a different narrative.  It is the British themselves who were causing the violence towards them.

Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said.

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone.

“We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?’” Binns said.

Britain’s 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra’s heart in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city’s edge. Since that pullback, there’s been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks,” Binns said.

“The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets,” he said.

And in this explanation lies the answer to the questions posed above.  If the U.S. “heavy hand” was to blame for the violence, then the security situation would not be as good as it is today in Anbar.  Further, the Anbaris desire for the U.S. to stay long term.  It might be tempting to assign the Anbari desire for a long term relationship with the U.S. versus the Shi’a desire to be rid of the British to the presence of oil in Basra and a war over its wealth.  But this explanation suffers a quick death when it is recalled that significant oil reserves have been found in Anbar (see also IHT).

The explanation for the decrease in violence against the British in Basra is simply that the British are no longer there (while British headlines wax positive about the “Tide turning in Basra”).  They are at the airport waiting to be relieved and “training” with the Iraqi security forces.  Along with the absence of the British, there are other developments in Basra.  The police chief has recently survived his second assassination attempt, and militant Shi’a gangs and other thugs are still active in the city, engaging in kidnapping and dumping of dead bodies in the streets and at the city square.

It is true that part of the U.S. strategy has been payment to concerned citizens, participants in neighborhood watch programs, and even sheikhs.  We have strongly advocated this approach as anthropologically sound and morally upright.   However, there is a huge difference between turning over authority to a functioning, legitimate government and security apparatus, and leaving an area of operations because of the violence being perpetrated against your troops.  In the example of Anbar, U.S. forces want to leave more thoroughly and quickly that the Anbaris want, and in the example of Basra, the city is a no-go zone for British troops and the Iraqi security forces are powerless because of danger to family members.  Anbar is stable, while Basra is under the control of teenage gangs, religious militia (Jaish al Mahdi), and combatants (Quds and Badr) dispatched directly from Iran.

The British must surely regret their hard work to obtain the release of Moqtada al Sadr, who was in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004 and was held for three days before the Marines were ordered to release him (for the role of the British in the release of Sadr, see Charlie Rose interview of John Burns, approximately 17:20 into the interview).  But it seems that some lessons are learned the hard way, or perhaps not at all.

The British are struggling in Afghanistan, and have pulled back from some engagements.  “Over the past two months British soldiers have come under sustained attack defending a remote mud-walled government outpost in the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. Eight have been killed there. It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same.”  But Musa Qala has become a central training ground for terrorists (courtesy of Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media).  But more “negotiations” of the same kind that caused Musa Qala to become a training ground for terrorists might be on the way.

British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means. Following a wide-ranging policy review accompanying Gordon Brown’s arrival in Downing Street, a decision was taken to put a much greater focus on courting “moderate” Taliban leaders as well as “tier two” footsoldiers, who fight more for money and out of a sense of tribal obligation than for the Taliban’s ideology. Such a shift has put Britain and the Karzai government at odds with hawks in Washington, who are wary of Whitehall’s enthusiasm for talks with what they see as a monolithic terrorist group. But a British official said: “Some Americans are coming around to our way of seeing this.”

New atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban should convince the British that their “moderate Taliban” are more than likely phantoms.  Negotiations with the Taliban is fundamentally a bad idea no matter how it is couched (“moderate leaders”).  At The Captain’s Journal, this is why we have recommended that the U.S. Marines be deployed to Afghanistan.  But as for Basra, along with Mrs. Mansour who desires the U.S. tactics in lieu of the British, there are other voices calling for looking beyond the numbers.  We have watched Al-Zaman for a while now, and while decidedly anti-Maliki (and this has not changed), there has been a shift in the tone of the editorials from this important Iraq daily.  Once virulently anti-American, they now seem to see the landscape more deeply and with a larger field of vision.

On November 10, the Iraqi daily Al-Zaman published an article about the meddling of the Iranian regime in Iraqi affairs and wrote: “In the first 3 months of the occupation of Iraq, the Iranian regime dispatched 32,000 of its proxies who were on their payroll into this country. Most of these people hold Ministerial, Parliamentarian and other high position in various Iraqi offices. Of these people 1500 are placed in very sensitive posts and 490 are spread all over Iraq as the representatives of the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Al-Zaman noted the infiltration of the Qods force in the Iraqi government as well as murder and terror of the Iraqi nationalist forces. It continued: “We ask the political groups to demand from the occupying forces to prosecute the members of the IRGC in Iraq to demonstrate their resolve in terrorist designation. They should detain and prosecute these elements according to the laws. Based on international treaties, maintaining security in Iraq is the responsibility of the occupying forces, therefore eradicating Iraq of terrorism, especially the terrorism by the IRGC is their job.

Pro-Iranian Shi’a militia are in control of Basra and much of Southern Iraq.  Metrics can fool anyone and the data behind the metrics must be analyzed to prevent being duped by numbers.  It is about seeing behind the scenes and understanding the local as well as regional terrain.  Powerpoint overheads and viewgraphs that display decreasing violence perpetrated against the British in Basra are correct and totally misleading and irrelevant.  The narrative for Anbar, written in the sweat, tears and blood of United States Marines (along with some Army and National Guard) well before the surge of troops, is cast in history as a counterinsurgency victory.  The U.S. won in Anbar not because of the surge, but because we were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis opted to side with a winner.  It is critical to get the Basra narrative correct, because the regional strategy is at stake, affecting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole region - and our future.

Other resources:

The Problem of Musa Qala: Afghanistan’s Terror University Town, Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media
Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast, TCJ
Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles, TCJ
The Rise of the JAM, TCJ
Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, TCJ
Has the British Strategy in Southern Iraq Failed?, Richard Fernandez, Pajamas Media

The Anbar Narrative and the Future of the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

In Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?, I discussed payments to neighborhood watch police and “concerned citizens” in Anbar and elsewhere to help achieve community security:

First, this approach is effective.  It was used in Fallujah (a variant of it), and use of this strategy has proven to reduce crime, violence, and increase local control over communities.  Its expansion into Baghdad and surrounding areas has reduced the available terrain in which the insurgency can operate.

Second, this approach is anthropologically sound.  A search of scholarly works pointing to the role of head of house as the income-earner and supporter of the family unit yields so many results that it is utterly impossible to digest it all …  Giveaway programs and inability among men to support their families is dishonorable.  More honorable, however, is the earning of income for services rendered.

Third and finally, it is the right thing to do.  Men and women both are searching for a way to support and provide for their families in the wake of collapse of their civilization.

Regarding the first two points, we see the results of the expansion of this program into areas other than Anbar first hand from an officer who was recently deployed Southwest of Baghdad.

Army 1st Lt. Michael Kelvington has seen things change dramatically for the better in the town where he has served in Iraq for more than a year.

The 2001 Springfield High School and 2005 West Point graduate, serves with Company A, 1st Battalion, 501st Airborne, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in Jurf as Sakhr, a town southwest of Baghdad.

Today, Kelvington, 25, who spoke via telephone from Iraq and expects to leave Iraq later this fall, talks about how the town’s people have come to the aid of the Americans and have told al-Qaida warriors to stay away.

Q: What was going on in the town before you got there?

A: To make a long story short, and to sum up the last 12 months of the deployment, we had small-arms fire, mortar attacks, IEDs in the roads. Something happened pretty much every day. Along with us and the Iraqi Army guys, the people in the town were getting tired of it.

We got a new sheik. And basically, he came to us with this idea of civilians from the area manning checkpoints and basically arming themselves against al-Qaida in our area.

One of the big problems in our area is unemployment. Al-Qaida would recruit these guys to do things like place bombs in the roads and try to attack our patrol base and shoot at our towers. A few times we’ve had hand grenades come over the wall where we operate. They would pay them to make those attacks.

Those people had no alternative. It’s a poor agrarian area. They have mouths to feed. A lot of times that is what they would do for money.

Now, with this new program, they are getting paid to protect their own areas and secure their neighborhoods, almost like an armed neighborhood watch program.

Q: Is what’s happening in your town happening elsewhere in Iraq?

A: The idea originally started in Anbar province

As I have stated before, the Anbar narrative is rich and involved counterinsurgency applied in one of the most difficult regions of the world, far more involved and complex than the story about a tribe or two “flipping” to support the U.S.  The Anbar province represents three years of investment by U.S. forces (primarily Marines, but certainly supplemented by Army and National Guard), and its model is proving successful in other parts of Iraq.  So what will happen to the Marines now that Anbar is relatively safe?  We have covered the Commandant’s plans to redeploy Marines to Afghanistan in The Future of the Marines and Marines Take, Army Holds?  The Commandant has taken some flak for his preliminary plans, but recently shot back a retort:

The proposal to remove Marines from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan is neither a power grab nor an attempt to get out of Iraq “while the getting is good,? according to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway.

In a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in the aftermath of the San Diego County fires, Conway pushed back at critics of his plan to let the Army take responsibility for Iraq while the Marines focus on Afghanistan, playing a major role in the NATO mission there.

The proposal was raised in early October during a closed-door session with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders, according to an Oct. 10 New York Times story.

Since that story broke, “it has been suggested in some news articles I’ve read that we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons,? Conway told members of the 5th Marine Regiment on Oct. 26 …

Conway challenged what he said were assertions “that we wanted to somehow capture the four-star billet of the officer who’s in charge of International Security Assistance Forces,? or ISAF, NATO’s mission to Afghanistan.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,? he said.

The Marines have only four, four-star officers at the present time, and only internal billets in which to place them: commandant and assistant commandant positions.

The other job openings are “joint? positions, such as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and controlled by the Secretary of Defense, not the Commandant.

So if the Marines were to snag the ISAF post, “after a year, I wouldn’t have a job for that guy,? Conway said, unless he is named to a joint billet.

“It’s been said that we are looking to get out of the Al Anbar Province while the getting is good,? Conway said.

“That makes absolutely no sense,? he said. “The Al Anbar Province is probably in better shape than any of us thought it would be at this point in time.?

The reason Anbar is in good shape, Conway said, is because for more than three years the Marines “have been in there, doing exactly the same thing, keeping a level of patience, keeping ourselves restrained, even though we lost Marines.?

“It’s not time to do dancing in the end zone,? Conway said. “But there’s a blood feud now between the Sunni sheiks and those al-Qaida, and there’s no way that they’re coming back.?

Redeployment of Marines to Afghanistan in order to capture a billet or two is a preposterous idea, and it is difficult to imagine that anyone would be that petty, especially the Commandant.  More likely, the plan is to integrate the Army into Anbar security along with elements of the Marines, and more than likely, these Marines will be reserve units.  To use active duty infantry Marines to perform daily security operations in Anbar while large scale kinetic operations are ongoing in Afghanistan is not only a misuse of resources by the Pentagon; it would be detrimental to morale and diminutive to the combat readiness of units which serve as the anchor of our national defense.  It is time to apply the Anbar model to Afghanistan, and active duty Marine infantry is just the ticket.

A Call for Global Strategic Thinking

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Having been a strong proponent of the wise and strategic use of air power in small wars, The Captain’s Journal continues to advocate both retooling and rethinking not only the Air Force proper, but air assets in the Navy, Army and Marines.  The order of the day seems to be small wars and counterinsurgency, and any air support of the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are bound to be highly visible.  The Air Force knows this, and the Multinational Force cooperates with the need to publicize the many accomplishments of air power in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  MNF press releases routinely include air power summaries, whether involving precision-guided munitions, A-10 engagements, helicopter gunship engagements, or flyovers to cause a “show of force.”

This advocacy for involvement in small wars on our part can be misconstrued, however, to intend the diminution of the Air Force proper, and some analysts have gone on record advocating not just the diminishing of the Air Force, but the complete reorganization of this branch into the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, in a role subservient to the needs of the specific branch to which the assets have been assigned.  But are these calls for busting up the Air Force really strategic, and if so, how forward reaching is the underlying strategy?

In terms of global strategic thinking, Pentagon senior leadership has bigger problems than what to do with the Air Force.  In a stark admission of what repeated and protracted (15 month) deployments have done to the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen weighed in on his view of the current state of the ground forces: “Are the ground forces broken? Absolutely not,? Mullen told the audience at the Center for a New American Security here. “Are they breakable? They are. And I will do everything I can to prevent them from breaking.?

There are also the materiel problems associated with the heavy duty demanded of it in the two campaigns.  After his most recent visit to Iraq, Victor Davis Hanson observed:

The number of vehicles, arms, bases, and American infrastructure in Iraq is staggering. And the wear and tear on it all is evident everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised that 30% of our equipment is worn out to the degree that it wouldn’t make sense hauling it back, and would be better off left to help transition the Iraqis. Humvees have sprung doors, broken glass, missing pieces, well in addition to the wear from sand and heat. I think the American people should accept that after Iraq we have an enormous tab to pay to reequip the air force, marines, and army. When you ride in a Ch-46 Frog marine helicopter, or a chugging Humvee or see banged up looking semis, you get some idea of the huge refitting job awaiting us after this is over, I’d say $30-40 billion at least.

Yet in light of the hardship to both man and machine caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a tip of the hat to half-century old unrepentant cold war thinking, U.S. NATO Command is arguing for an increased troop presence in Europe.

U.S. military commanders have asked the Pentagon to keep more combat forces stationed in Europe to respond to a rising Russia and other potential threats, according to senior military officials.

Plans to cut the number of soldiers based in Europe will leave commanders with too few troops to protect and train with allies on the continent and to stand ready for deployment to hot spots elsewhere, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gen. David McKiernan, head of Army forces in Europe.

“In this era of persistent conflict, we have some fault lines that are there in the European Command (area of responsibility) that we have to pay attention to,” McKiernan said on Thursday.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of a resurgent Russia,” he said in Washington.

For all of the magnificence of the A-10 – and it is indeed magnificent with its redundant controls, titanium bathtub around the pilot, ability to loiter over the battle space, forward mounted Gatling gun, durability and ability to support counterinsurgency as well as kill tanks – there is a big difference between domination of the local battle space and domination of the regional air space.  The former assists in winning wars, while the later makes the wars possible to begin with.  It is rightly said that the U.S. has enjoyed air superiority for so long that we have forgotten what it is like not to have this superiority on which to rely.

Upon Rumsfeld’s resignation, John Noonan of OpFor had what should go down as the most succinct, deadly accurate assessment of the Rumsfeld era in a large catalog of assessments throughout the military:

To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld’s baby. The Pentagon’s “bridge to the 21st century.? And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

And that’s when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation’s real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvees and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

Rumsfeld made a serious error in creating an armed forces modeled upon the notion that air power, special forces operators and high tech gadgets can win ground campaigns.  But it is a category error equally as serious to assume that Soldiers and Marines can control the sea and air.  The Russians are making no such errors, with plans for advanced submarine technology and plans to design and build a fighter superior to the F-22.  Ironically for U.S. forces in the European theater, we assume that their presence is a deterrent to a “resurgent Russia,” while Russia makes plans to construct more fighter aircraft.

When thinking seriously about the deployment of U.S. forces across the globe, the paradoxes abound.  The U.S. supports tens of thousands of troops to deploy in a region in which there is no war (Europe) and in which the best deterrent would probably be more air power, while Soldiers in Operation Iraqi freedom are in theater for fifteen months at a time.  Similarly, we position U.S. troops in South Korea allowing that country to pursue their  “sunshine diplomacy” with North Korea for half a century at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.  We promise Japan and Taiwan that they are under the umbrella of U.S. protection in order to dissuade them from the development of a nuclear program, while questions arise in the United States concerning the real value of the Air Force and Navy since they are not “contributing” to the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The thinking concerning the future of the Air Force cannot be seen in a vacuum.  It is a part of the larger penchant for empire building within the ranks, and paucity of global strategic thinking at the highest levels of the Pentagon.  It is the same kind of thinking that led to Paul Wolfowitz having the freedom to bully General Eric Shinseki out of his position when he argued for more troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  At its root it is a failure to listen and learn and think in an analytical, questioning and forward looking manner.  This root has omniscience as its arrogant presupposition.

The Armed Forces of the United Stated faces high hurdles and challenges to assure victory in the campaigns currently underway.  The long war is far from concluded, and it is predicted that it will require more than ten years in order for the Afghan forces to be fully capable of national security.  Additionally, these campaigns must be engaged while ameliorating and reversing the effects of aging and wear on existing arms and equipment.

These campaigns are part of more global strategic interests involving the air and sea, as well as expansion of the size of the Army and Marines, all of which requires the application and expenditure of wealth.  Given that it is unlikely that either this or the next Congress will allocate the funds necessary to meet the needs of every perceived armed forces program, moderation and wisdom will become valuable commodities.

Instead of the holy grail of the real-time satellite-connected warrior who knows the locations and engagements of all assets in his battle space, U.S. Joint Forces Command might have to settle for tactical solutions such as innovative adaptations on satellite patrols and better body armor including lighter SAPI plates that have a larger surface area or scalar armor; instead of the number of new destroyers that the Navy would like to have, they might have to settle for the number they need; the Air Force might have to sacrifice a few fighters to refit and refurbish more A-10s to support the current campaigns; the Army might have to realize that their new UAV program will not control the air space for the Persian Gulf; the European command might have to acquiesce to the idea that training with Iraqi troops is better than training with German troops and being deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Qatar (the future home of CENTCOM) is more regionally and globally strategic than being deployed in Germany; and this will all have to be done while advancing weapons systems and programs in order to keep ahead of the various enemies of the state.

Empire building and self-preservation is the enemy of efficiency, and leadership, wisdom and foresight must come first from the highest levels of the Pentagon.  For the first time in history, military blogs are read and digested by professional military, and actually have a role to play concerning open communication over everything from global strategy to unit tactics and equipment.

Globally strategic thinking is required, smartly applied to a collection of complex, symbiotic organizations.  Thus far, the best that this community has been able to come up with is to bust up the Air Force and order them to report to the Army.  We are off to a sorry and pitiful start.

Related Sources:

Body Armor Goes Political, TCJ

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, TCJ

Time Slams the V-22 Osprey, TCJ

V-22 Osprey Deploys, TCJ

Faster Kill Chain, TCJ

A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency, TCJ

Air Power in Small Wars, TCJ

Can the Navy Afford the New Destroyers?, TCJ

Abolish the Air Force, The American Prospect

More on the Relevance of the U.S. Air Force, The Tank

Kill the Air Force, OpFor

Disband the DC Punditocracy, Aviation Week

Abolish the Air Force, Small Wars Council Discussion Thread


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