Friday, February 5, 2010

It's about time

Imagine: holding commanders responsible for their failure to do their jobs! I'm absolutely stunned. We have now (re?)entered a new phase of military officer professionalism.

Now, I've not seen the reports mentioned in the article and I have no idea if the commanders mentioned were or will be punished appropriately. Without reading the reports, I'm not terribly keen on reigniting the many debates surrounding Wanat and Kamdesh. But I think it's about damn time that commanders are held accountable for their actions.

Having had some experiences with incompetent commanders in Iraq, I was always amazed at how hard it was to fire them. Thankfully, when these guys screwed up, the soldiers in my unit were lucky enough to walk away. But there were way too many close calls based on the poor leadership or tactical ignorance of a select few commanders. I hope these investigations and punishments end the command-protecting practices remaining from the old zero-defect officer corps, which protected officers from their mistakes because of the fear it would jeopardize their careers. Of course, it seems that ending those practices should have occurred eight years ago when service-members first started fighting and dying, but I'm content that it's occurring at all. It will be interesting to see what actually happens to these officers (especially when and if the reports become public) and how this new age of accountability progresses.

There is a fine edge to this that higher leadership needs to be cognizant of. Soldiers die in combat no matter how good their commanders are. Some concerns mentioned by anonymous officers in the article need to be heeded: if punishing the commanders of units that have casualties goes too far, it could cause risk-aversion among the force. The one officer who laments the possibility of too many investigations may carrying that a bit far. While I served in a different theater and an increasingly longer time ago, our command always investigated the soldiers' deaths - it was SOP. I would like to believe that all units everywhere do that, if only to inform a lessons learned process. But if command negligence or incompetence is identified in the course of those investigations, then surely those commanders should be held accountable. That seems the only fair recourse, in my mind at least, to ensure our soldiers are being best served by those officers who are entrusted to lead them.


  1. Thanks for the link. It looks like Gen McChrystal is giving us a crash course on Leadership and Organizational Change. He did the same thing with JSOC from 2002-2006. Here's a quick summary off the top of my head of what he's done this year in A'stan.

    1. Honest if not brutal assessments of current situation
    2. Detailed Commander's guidance with restrictive/reflexive ROE
    3. External report on failure of intelligence community to adapt
    4. Sackings and reprimands to hold commanders accountable.

    I may disagree with some of the details, but it is good to see adaptive and charismatic leadership.

  2. Exactly, MikeF. If we're being honest with ourselves, we know that the soldiers at Wanat had several chances to engage MAMs they had been told were moving toward them to possibly ambush the VPB.

    But the cookie cutter ROE/EOF would not grant them permission to shred the obvious enemies. Until they retrieved their secreted weapons next to the defensive positions, the insurgents knew that they were safe and that we had handcuffed ourselves with the ROE.

    Why can't those who forced the hamhanded ROE on longtime vets of Afghan combat be made to pay for their incompetence in this?

    McChrystal's cookie cutter approach is even more restrictive now. Can we hold him personally responsible for the dead piling up?

    I suspect that it won't happen.


  3. "Here's a quick summary off the top of my head of what he's done this year in A'stan."

    Here's a quick summary of what he's really done:

    1. Poison civil military relations by drumming up his own oplan over the views of his elected and appointed leaders.

    2. Fail to achieve even local successes with his much ballyhooed tactics-in-lieu-of-strategy.

    3. Make an echo chamber out of the think tanks in DC, dragooning them and the beltway bandits to sell a war he doesn't seem capable of winning.

    4. Obfuscate his own past failures in Iraq and Afghanistan by rebranding himself as a born again COIN guru.

    5. Increase the use of reprimands of subordinates to shift blame from his own paucity of competence and creativity, not to mention a mission based on the same from Afghans no one trusts.

    As his "successes" have mounted, so has the penetration of Taliban shadow government. McChrystal is to warmaking "success" what venereal disease is to lovemaking.

    Other than that, he's been magnificent!


  4. The article suggests that ADM Mullen and GEN Petraeus may have been involved in pursuing the investigations into poor leadership as well. I have no idea what the impetus was: cover their own actions, appease the families of the casualties, or actually improve officer accountability. To me, it doesn't really much matter - it's a start in the right direction.

    Maybe someday this newfound accountability will rise to the point of holding high-ranking (read general/flag) officers responsible for their decisions, but it will be up even higher-ranking civilians and/or Congress to do that. Given the military's political clout these days (due to the trust given them by the American public over elected politicians), it won't like happen soon.

  5. SNLII I have to disagree with your assessment of Wanat. The battle of Wanat occurred for many reasons and Wanat was not one of them. First, it was in an extremely bad position. Second, it was not resourced. Third, the command did not adequately take into account the morale of the men putting in the COP. Fourth, the response of CAS and CCA was slow. Fifth, again the operation was not resourced with enough men, engineer assets, sandbags and other supplies.

    The ROCK followed the ROE at the time very well, and it was not that restrictive. The supposed sighting of AAF were a far cry from any sort of positive identification, short of them being people. People moving at night is not PID, especially when Afghans tend to move at night because it is too hot to do so in the day.

    I have my own specific thoughts about who should be held to task for Wanat but I don't want to publish them because I know many of the people involved. I do know, though, that ROE was not to blame.

  6. SNLII - Not to pile on, but how exactly did Gen McChrystal "make" an echo chamber out of the think tanks in DC? Your comment sounds so conspiratorial (an entertaining read, but "make" and "civilian-military crisis"? I didn't buy those arguments before - during the whole Afghanistan strategy blogospheric spasm - and I don't buy it now.)

  7. At least as early as 2005, in Iraq, and as late as 2008, it was SOP for every unit that I am aware of to do a 15-6 investigation whenever a Soldier was killed or seriously wounded (meaning amputation or sent home) or if there was a friendly fire incident resulting in casualties. I know of 3 Company Commanders who were relieved in Iraq, two as a result of such 15-6 investigations, as well as two PSGs. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that 2 out of the 3 CO's deserved to be relieved and 1 of the 2 PSGs deserved to be relieved. The other CO - I can't say because I don't know enough of the facts. The other PSG - I can absolutely say that his relief was BS, almost entirely political and driven by our BDE Commander who (now I can say it, since I've ETS'd) was a first-rate jackass. I was the XO of the company when he was killed and acting CO when the investigation proceeded. I made as big a stink about it as an acting CO can make with my BN XO, who was conducting the 15-6.

    That PSG was one of the best that I'd ever worked with and he was a scapegoat for a BDE CO who issued more orders dealing with uniforms and force protection than with mission accomplishment. I filled out sworn statements in conjunction with the investigation in which I explicitly stated that the investigation was "bullshit." My BN XO advised me to "not to fall on my sword over this" to which I perhaps a tad unprofessionally responded, "fuck you, sir." That I got away with that spoke volumes about the legitimacy of the investigation, imo. The only reason I didn't make a bigger stink was because we managed to get the PSG a change of rater NCOER and move him into another E-7 slot without any adverse career impact. His entire platoon likewise knew it was BS and it didn't do much good for the morale of that platoon to see their PSG relieved in that manner.

    Accountability is nice, but this article, in my opinion, doesn't shed any light on whether any of the reliefs are justified, nor do they shed any light on the actual impact of the reliefs. I'm not suggesting that they aren't justified or are not positive, but merely highlighting that we lack a lot of information to even judge whether this a step in the right direction, let alone whether it is good or bad.