Friday, April 30, 2010
Yes, this is how us think tank slackers waste away Fridays.
Now some wag might say that the last sentence probably applies to the entirety of Afghanistan, but that's not me. I'm more inclined to a different sort of observation, like isn't it surreal to imagine that we can protect people in American skyscrapers from being killed by planes or underpants bombs through the prosecution of a counter-guerilla campaign amongst a tiny population of lumber traders who speak an obscure language in an isolated valley on the opposite side of the planet?, but I suppose I digress.
I was a member of the first U.S. patrol to enter the Korengal Valley in 2002, so I read Bing West's explanation for our retreat from there with some interest ("The Meaning of the Korengal Retreat," op-ed, April 23). Mr. West concludes that our efforts were thwarted by "Islamic extremism and tribal xenophobia."
The Korengalis I knew were not predisposed to join an extremist fight against Western outsiders. Nor were they naturally inclined to be our friends. Our aggressive tactics, focused exclusively on rooting out Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, drove them into the enemy's camp. A patient approach of relationship-building, relatively minor infrastructure improvements and a firm commitment not to interfere with the wood trade on which the Korengalis rely for their livelihood might have won a steadfast ally. In the long run, the Taliban and al Qaeda, outsiders themselves, have nothing to offer Korengalis but extremism and xenophobia. Perhaps after ending our permanent presence there, we will be better positioned to win that argument.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
You’d think all the criticism from left-wing websites like the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Salon would royally piss off the Army. But at least one Army report finds the sites’ posts to be consistently “balanced.”Every week, the defense contractor MPRI prepares for the brass a “Blogosphere and Social Media Report,” rounding up sites’ posts on military matters. It’s meant to be a single source for top officers to catch up on what’s being said online and in leading social media outlets. Items from about two dozen national security and political blogs are excerpted, and classified as “balanced,” “critical,” or “supportive.” The vast majority of the posts are considered “balanced” — even when they rip the Army a new one.
Gallup found that "Congolese surveyed late last year were optimistic about the future of the region; a majority (63%) agree there can be peace in eastern Congo within the next 12 months."
But before you get your hopes up, Gallup owns up to a major problem with data collection:
While Gallup could not interview people in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) because of security constraints, media reports document concern among people in the region about what will happen once U.N. peacekeepers leave as DRC President Joseph Kabila has requested. U.N. peacekeepers arrived in DRC in 1999 to help protect civilians and disarm and demobilize combatants, but the vast territory and lack of resources have hindered their role.
Congolese surveyed believe there can be an internal solution to the problems in eastern Congo, with residents most likely to spontaneously mention the government (51%) and the president (33%) when asked to name the party responsible for bringing peace. Despite its presence in the region for more than 10 years, relatively few Congolese view the United Nations as responsible for peace.
Gallup also asked about the role of Rwanda's role in bringing peace. A large majority of those interviewed (84%) said they did NOT think Rwanda was playing a positive role in bringing peace to the east.
My larger question is: why bother spending what I can only imagine is a lot of money polling if you don't even interview those most affected by the conflict? How exactly is this poll of any use?
Monday, April 26, 2010
- Governments ignore the insurgency until it develops into a credible threat.
- Governments fail to address root causes.
- Governments address root causes half-heartedly or too late, stoking discontent.
- Governments fail to identify major shifts in strategic momentum.
- Governments fail to extend credible control into rural areas.
- Governments become dependent on a fickle sponsor.
The kind of grassroots support necessary to build and sustain an insurgency is fed on social, economic and political discontent. If a government successfully addresses root causes, it is possible to defeat an insurgency without defeating the insurgents themselves.
Friday, April 23, 2010
- Carafano craps on conference concept
- Vlahos* acts like a total nut
- Standard Hammes (which is always worth your time)
- Nathan Freier, who I thought gave pretty much the best presentation of the conference
There's a lot of good stuff there, so take a look. I'm hoping to delve back into a few of these subjects in greater depth now that I've got this resource.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The reason I ask is that Secretary Gates, following up on a directive by President Obama last August to undertake a thorough review of the USG's export-control regime, today made a major speech to a meeting of the Business Executives for National Security outlining exactly why the old system isn't working and how he envisions the reform process going.
This is sort of a big deal, I guess, especially when considered in concert with the SECDEF's article in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs advocating for security assistance reform (about which more later). Export-control reform can be seen as a significant part of streamlining the security assistance process, making it more flexible, agile, and responsive -- something that everybody wants.
The fact is . . . America’s decades-old, bureaucratically labyrinthine system does not serve our 21st-century security needs or our economic interests. It is clear our current limitations in this area undermine our ability to work with and through partners to confront shared threats and challenges – from terrorism to rogue states to rising powers. Our security interests would be far better served by a more agile, transparent, predictable, and efficient regime. Tinkering around the edges of our current system will not do.
For these reasons and more, in August of last year, the president directed a broad-based review of the U.S. export-control regime. He has called for reforms that focus controls on key technologies and items that pose the greatest national-security threat. These include items and technologies related to global terrorism, the proliferation and delivery systems of weapons of mass destruction, and advanced conventional weapons. In short, a system where higher walls are placed around fewer, more critical items.
Following this directive, and informed by a recent National Intelligence Council assessment of the key national-security considerations, I have worked closely with my counterparts at the departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security, as well as with the director of national intelligence and the national security advisor to develop a blueprint for such a system. Our plan relies on four key reforms: a single export-control list, a single licensing agency, a single enforcement-coordination agency, and a single information-technology system.
So if you care about this, tell me. Or if you have questions, ask them. We can go into this deeper, and I can provide you with a whole lot of context and explain why this is important to national security, or how the old system works, or why the new system will or won't be better, or whatever, or we can all be happy to say "export-control regime(s) being reformed and streamlined, check, duly noted, carry on smartly," etc. It's up to y'all.
(Note that this reader discretion does not extend to security assistance reform, which I am going to beat you over the head with whether you like it or not. But again, more on that later.)
UPDATE: I initially forgot to include the link to this transcript of a "senior defense officials" press briefing on export-control reform from Monday (prior to the SECDEF's speech).
While we're at it, here's some other coverage, too: Post / Spencer / Hill / Reuters
And Bernard Finel pops in to usefully link us to Evelyn Farkas' report on the subject for the American Security Project, which strikes me as thorough and well-done (if perhaps a touch OBE as a result of these most recent announcements).
Friday, April 16, 2010
Take a look and let me know what you think.
The Pir Mohammed School was built by Canadians in 2005, in Senjaray, a town just outside the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It is said that 3,000 students attended, including some girls — although that seems a bit of a stretch, given the size and rudimentary nature of the campus. There are two buildings, a row and a horseshoe of classrooms, separated by a playground in a walled compound. No doubt, the exaggerations about the school's size reflect a deeper truth: most everyone in Senjaray loved the idea that their children were learning to read and write — except the local Taliban. They closed the school in 2007, breaking all the windows and furniture, booby-trapping the place, lacing the surrounding area with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), daring the Canadians to reopen it. But the Canadians were overmatched, and it wasn't until December of 2009, when the Americans came to Senjaray, that people began to talk about reopening the school.
It was, in fact, a no-brainer, a perfect metaphor. The Taliban closed schools; the Americans opened them. That this particular school was located deep in the enemy heartland, in a district — Zhari — that was 80% controlled by the Taliban, an area the Russians called the Heart of Darkness and eventually refused to travel through, in a town that will be strategically crucial when the most important battle of the war in Afghanistan — the battle for Kandahar — is contested this summer, made it all the more perfect.
"From the start, the people here said they wanted better security and the school," said Captain Jeremiah Ellis, the commander of Dog Company of the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, the 120 soldiers who represented the American presence in Senjaray. "We are required to ask certain questions on patrol: What are your problems here? What do you need? It's called a TCAF interview, for some reason." Ellis, a young man well acquainted with the uses of, and need for, irony when dealing with the command structure, raised an eyebrow and smiled. Later, I looked it up. A TCAF is a Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework — in English, an interview script. "Anyway, we've been asking the TCAF questions for months now. People look at us and think, 'Why do you keep asking the same questions and not doing anything? You must be one stupid bunch of Caucasians,' " Ellis continued, replaying the dialogue. "It's totally insulting: 'What do you need here?' 'Open the frigging school, just like last week.' "
No one — no one — wanted to reopen the Pir Mohammed School more than Jeremiah Ellis. He had worked on it for months; he figured it would be Dog Company's legacy in Senjaray. It fit perfectly into the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine: protect the people, provide them with security and government services, and they will turn away from the insurgency. Unlike many of his fellow officers in Zhari district, and many of the troops under his command, Ellis really believed in counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I've got no problem at all with thoughtful study, and tactics and methods of operation should absolutely be adapted to local circumstances. But I fear that LTC Malevich's post is suggestive of a sort of misconceptualization of the mission, and of a confusion of means and ends. To wit:
In our construct, we are used to and take for granted a system of government that is “of the people, for the people, by the people.” We assume that everywhere we go we are dealing with the same construct. We also assume that all leadership that we deal with has its community’s best interest at heart.
In Afghanistan, in our efforts to reach out to the people, we are dealing with “village elders.” We assume that these older, white bearded men speak for their community’s and share our goal of a greater Afghanistan with freedom and liberty for all. Have we asked ourselves if this is true or have we just assumed that by some sort of custom or tradition we are dealing with some sort of representational government? I would question not our motives but our approach. I think we need to take some time to examine the “Elders” and determine whether they represent “population-centric” COIN or if they stand in the way of it.
By ensuring that all government affairs pass through them; the Elders can skim commission money for themselves, decide who will and who will not pay taxes and decide who works and who does not. In earlier eras, they decided who was drafted and who was not. This seems like an awful lot of power that is given to an unelected body. If I was going to compare it to our society I was say we are empowering rural elites, local power brokers and land owners. Where is the population-centric COIN we are supposed to be conducting? [emphasis mine]To be frank, though hopefully not glib: who cares?
Population protection is a means to gain intelligence, isolate the insurgent, and make conditions inhospitable to his comfort and success. While building a claim to legitimacy is important for long-term governance, the counterinsurgent's primary goal is population control, not popular support.
And so if our methods appeal to what we may believe are "illegitimate" intermediaries but those folks are able to deliver the goods, to mobilize their "constituents" in the service of coalition objectives, then what difference does it make whether they're popularly elected or rule by force? Whether they're wildly popular or popularly resented? I would've thought one of the lasting lessons of the Sahwa in Iraq is that "the people are the prize" is more sententious wordsmithing than operational guidance; the real prize is the man or men who can deliver the people.
The rejoinder, of course, would be that this approach lacks long-term legitimacy and thus is bound to fail. But considering our timelines and objectives, isn't it more realistic to approach the problem this way than to imagine that we can remake Afghan social structure in a more "just" fashion over the next 18 months, even if we accept that our conception of justice is even meaningful here?
Greg Jaffe has more details on the move, including a lot of quotes from the young captain who last led U.S. troops in the valley (from which unit we're inexplicably not told, though I'm sure Tintin is all over this).
U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan's perilous Korengal Valley as part of a new focus on protecting population centers, NATO said Wednesday.
The isolated mountainous region of caves and canyons on the eastern border with Pakistan has seen fierce fighting between NATO and Taliban insurgents, who use it as a route for infiltrating weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.
The repositioning reflects the new thinking among commanders that forces are best used to protect the civilian population rather than placed in scattered outposts that are highly exposed to militant activity and difficult to resupply and reinforce.
"This repositioning, in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, responds to the requirements of the new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy," Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, joint commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement e-mailed to media. "The move does not prevent forces from rapidly responding, as necessary, to crises there in Korengal and in other parts of the region, as well."
We had a question in the comments back in December from a Steve S., who was interested in re-enlisting for what seemed like the express purpose of going to the Korengal. So, Steve: sorry to disappoint, but you missed your window.
It was as if the five years of almost ceaseless firefights and ambushes had been a misunderstanding -- a tragic, bloody misunderstanding.
More than 40 U.S. soldiers have been killed, and scores more wounded, in helicopter crashes, machine-gun attacks and grenade blasts in the Korengal Valley, a jagged sliver just six miles deep and a half-mile wide. The Afghan death toll has been far higher, making the Korengal some of the bloodiest ground in all of Afghanistan, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, the American presence here came to an abrupt end. Capt. Mark Moretti, the 28-year-old commander of U.S. forces in the valley, walked two dozen Korengali elders around his base and told them that the United States was withdrawing. He showed the elders the battle-scarred American barracks; a bullet-ridden crane; wheezing generators and a rubber bladder brimming with 6,000 gallons of fuel.
Moretti, the son of a West Point physics professor, and Shamshir Khan, a valley elder whose son had been jailed for killing two U.S. soldiers, sat together on a small wall near the base's helicopter pad. In keeping with local custom among friends, they held hands.
Moretti gently reminded Khan of the deal they had reached a few days earlier: if U.S. troops were allowed to leave peacefully, the Americans wouldn't destroy the base, the crane and the fuel.
Khan assured him that the valley's fighters would honor the deal.
"I hope that when I am gone you will do what is best for your valley and the villagers," an almost wistful Moretti said.
"I want you to travel safely to your home, to your family," the 86-year-old elder replied. He gazed at the American officer through thick glasses that magnified rheumy, brown eyes, and beamed.
Over the previous week, hundreds of U.S. Army Rangers and Afghan commandos had pushed into the valley to control the high ground the enemy would need for a big attack on departing troops. Dozens of cargo helicopters hauled off equipment. By
Wednesday morning, the last Americans were gone.
For more background on the Korengal, check this out.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Katyn became a painful wound in Polish history, and has for many decades poisoned the relations between Poles and Russians. May this wound fully and finally heal. We are already on this path. We Poles acknowledge and value the actions of Russians of recent years. This path, which is bringing our nations together, we should continue to travel, not halting on the way or retreating back.
I found the first question was phrased in a particularly inane fashion:
U.S. and NATO military commanders in Afghanistan are not being coy about their planned Kandahar offensive scheduled for June. You have a unique perspective on the situation in southern Afghanistan and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan. What's your crystal ball telling you about the pending offensive?What do you think of the rest?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I'll take a page from Texas in Africa and Derek Catsam--whose comprehensive criticism you should read--and paste the first two paragraphs to give you a preview.
There is a very simple reason why some of Africa's bloodiest, most brutal wars never seem to end: They are not really wars. Not in the traditional sense, at least. The combatants don't have much of an ideology; they don't have clear goals. They couldn't care less about taking over capitals or major cities -- in fact, they prefer the deep bush, where it is far easier to commit crimes. Today's rebels seem especially uninterested in winning converts, content instead to steal other people's children, stick Kalashnikovs or axes in their hands, and make them do the killing. Look closely at some of the continent's most intractable conflicts, from the rebel-laden creeks of the Niger Delta to the inferno in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this is what you will find.
What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else -- something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you'd like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times' East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars.
They don't have ideologies? They don't have political grievances or clear goals? There are no political dimensions to these conflicts? They're un-wars because the rebels don't want to take the capital? What planet does he live on? This kind of nonsense drives me up the wall. I'll spare you the rest of my rant.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The DC conference circuit can get a bit stale, if not on account of the speakers then simply for the repetitiveness of the subjects. (As much as I enjoyed hearing him speak, I saw Dave Barno three times in two weeks last month. What's more, on two of those panels he was joined by some of the same folks.) I've never heard van Creveld speak, so I'm particularly looking forward to that part. And an old undergrad history professor of mine who has since hit the mainstream big-time is also speaking, so that should be a trip.
The broad subjects being covered this week -- "The Meaning of War"; "The Historical Context"; "How Do We Know When We're at War?"; "How Do We Know When a War is Over?"; "Who Participates in War?"; "What Rules Govern War?"; and "Why Does it [War, presumably, and the answers to these questions] Matter?" -- could each support entire blogs, so I'd imagine I'll have plenty to write about.
Anybody else going to this? Anybody else have suggestions about which is the most awesome Arby's in Carlisle/Harrisburg, or the optimal driving route from downtown DC?
Monday, April 5, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
The spokesman's explanation makes little sense when you consider that Johnson led into the whole tip over and capsize thing by trying to pin down the island's precise dimensions. Apparently he thought Guam was just a rather large raft.
Addressing Adm. Robert Willard, who commands the Navy's Pacific Fleet [sic -- Willard was formerly at PacFleet, but now commands PACOM], Johnson made a tippy motion with his hands and said sternly, "My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize."
Willard paused and said: "We don't anticipate that."
Like other islands, Guam is attached to the sea floor, which makes it extremely unlikely that it will tip over, even if there are lots and lots of people on it. Guam is 30 miles long and up to 9 miles wide in certain spots, with a population of 175,000 civilians. The military is proposing the addition of 8,000 U.S. servicemembers and their families.
Reached for comment, a spokesman for Johnson said the lawmaker had visited Guam, and his concern was that the influx of military personnel would overwhelm the island's infrastructure and ecosystem.
So, uh, yeah... we don't anticipate that.
Check out the video yourself. It boggles the mind. I honestly would have thought this was some sort of April Fools' thing if I hadn't seen it for myself.
Petraeus has kept a low profile since taking over at CentCom, one of the U.S. military’s six combatant regional commands, and by far the most active of them. Its responsibilities include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, and its domain stretches from Sudan east to Pakistan, and from Kazakhstan south to Kenya.This strikes me as a really unusual way to describe the CENTCOM AOR, which does not include either Sudan or Kenya... or Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, or Somalia, the countries in between Kenya and Sudan, all of which (along with those latter two) are in AFRICOM's AOR.
The only explanation that I can imagine is that Bowden actually wrote this piece in 2008, pre-AFRICOM. Oh, no, wait, there's another alternative: sloppy research, an old copy of the Unified Command Plan, and a lack of fact-checkers.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
The Department of Defense will host a display of a Gunslinger Package for Advanced Convoy Security (GunPACS) outfitted vehicle on April 1. The GunPACS display will be held in the North Parking area of the Pentagon Reservation, adjacent to the Pentagon Conference Center, at 11:30 a.m. EDT.So, uh, check it out, if that's what you're into.
GunPACS is an integrated package of hardware and software which, when installed on a vehicle, provides enhanced situational awareness, immediate threat detection, and cooperative engagement capabilities for group and combat logistics elements. Utilizing networked data fusion, such cooperative engagement enables more accurate and effective fire to protect convoy elements. This security package highlights the department’s capacity to rapidly develop, demonstrate, and deliver capabilities to the warfighter for the current fight.
GunPACS capabilities will be on display and available for photographs. Subject matter experts from the program office and its partners will be available to take queries.
(OK, so it's not exactly April Fool's, but it's this Gunslinger, not that Gunslinger.)