Monday, August 31, 2009

The Inevitable Balkanization of the Already-Balkanized Balkans (Updated)

The current issue of Foreign Affairs sports a real gem of analysis buried amid all of the articles on economics and discussions of the resilience of Cold War institutions. Patrice McMahon and Jon Western discuss Bosnia 14 years after the signing of the Dayton accord. Having spent last week in the Balkans, I would have to say the issues they raise are poignant and present serious security risks to Europe.

To say that I'm not an expert on the Balkans would be a gross understatement, especially given how many true experts there are. Other than the occasional article in the newspaper, my previous exposure was predominately during my cadet days when I thought my career would culminate as a platoon leader somewhere in the region. Of course, Iraq and the Middle East myopia it induced in the U.S. military relegated the region to the purview of the National Guard as a mission all but complete.

But it is no where near complete. While the signing of the Dayton accord and the initiation of the Kosovo Air Campaign will remain relevant historical events in the Balkans, they were the beginning, not the end of any Euro-American efforts there. These two events separated the combatants, but time has not tempered ethnic tensions because the politics have not yet been solved. Especially as the politics were devised by the West to separate the ethnic groups in the hope that time would temper their relations. Talk about hopeful.

Bosnia is on the brink of collapse as Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Muslims try to outmaneuver each other for political advantage. In Kosovo, the region of Mitrovica is rife with ethnic tensions as the Serb majority defy Albanian attempts at pulling the area under the control of Prishtina. Of course with the assistance of Serbia itself, still upset at Western vilification of their nation. While Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro seem to be doing fairly well (with EU ascendancy quite possible in some cases), history has shown that conflict in the Balkans knows no borders just as ethnic ties do not.

The current political situation has been compounded by a number of factors in addition to the ethno-political divisions cited above (some listed in the article, some of my own conjecture). First is the cacophony of aid to the region in the mid to late 1990s. Everyone wanted to help with donor assistance or military aid. But the aid surpassed the local capacity to handle it. Second is that this cacophony of aid was on occasion disguised for instituting donor influence to gain strategic advantage. Third is Russia's patronage of Serbia. With Russia's energy influence on Europe and the NATO/Russia tensions over both Georgia and the Ukraine, no one wants to incite global conflict over the Balkans. Again. Fourth, and possible most important, is the aforementioned myopia on the "War on Terror" or whatever we're calling it today.

The reality is that without true Western leadership, as called for in the article, the region could continue to fragment and fall into conflict again. It is not a problem that can be ignored any longer, nor be labeled as a success or mission complete. As true in any post-conflict environment, especially those past the attention of the intervening nations' public, McMahon and Western put it best: "It is impossible to create a functional state that can be sustained and governed by local actors merely by throwing money and resources at the problem. As the experience in Bosnia has proved, state building is not a problem to be solved but a process to be managed."

Update: Positroll makes note in the comments that Slovenia has been a member of the EU since 2004 and Croatia has been a candidate since 2004 and received NATO membership in 2009. Thanks for the correction and I'll spend a little more time on Wiki in the future.

"Whoever said this is a f****** pogue"

What exactly the "this" is isn't clear, but that's apparently what Herschel Smith and his "authority" (his son) want you to know about me.

Look, let's get some things straight: being a Marine is hard. Being an infantryman is even harder. Like really, really damned hard. Too hard for most dudes, and considering the physical challenges, especially for women.

Ok, so are we straight on that? Honestly, I'm not trying to be facetious or sarcastic or glib or smarmy. Doing anything with a whole bunch of weight on your back is extremely difficult. Add in threat to life and limb and I would expect that it gets damned near impossible.

Important fact number two: yes, I am a pogue. I sit at a desk. My operating environment is not a difficult one. The most challenging thing I'll face today is a bout of drowsiness that results from eating too much kung pao chicken. I have never humped a full combat load in a war zone or anywhere else. I have never "strap[ped] 120 pounds on [my] body and play[ed] men's football for a season," not to mention "do[ing] it while being sleep deprived and with guys dropping around [me] from heat stroke." I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who have done and do these things in service to our nation.

None of which really has anything at all to do with the subject of this little back-and-forth, which is Herschel Smith's contention that the inclusion of women in Red Army combat units was an important contributing factor to the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

It's not about whether or not women are as strong as men, or whether I have a Combat Action Ribbon, or whether Democrats want to integrate the Special Operations Forces, or even whether or not I think women should be able to join U.S. Army and Marine infantry units. If you've paid attention, you'll notice that I never even offered an opinion on that subject.

There's a conversation to be had about the suitability of women for combat. There's even a separate conversation to be had about their suitability for infantry units. (As Herschel and his son have pointed out, there are complications beyond simple upper-body strength, like the range of personal hygiene- and health-related challenges posed to corpsmen and medics serving with infantry units. And they didn't even mention it, but I hear cooties can be a bitch, too.) The point is that while we could invest a lot of time and energy going back and forth about all of that stuff, that isn't what my original post was about, and that's not the subject on which I was challenging Herschel. He made a simple claim -- that women's participation in infantry combat helped the Soviets lose to the mujahideen -- and I mocked him for it. Instead of explaining how or why his claim was legitimate, he went after the women-in-the-infantry straw man.

And now, he says, the case is closed. The authority has spoken. Only he's an authority on what it's like to be an infantry Marine, not on the combat-effectiveness of integrated Soviet line units in the Afghan war.

But beyond that, "authority" doesn't really matter in this conversation, does it? When women are allowed to enlist with any MOS, and when Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other impediments to the full and open service of homosexuals are repealed or removed -- and let's be clear: these are whens, not ifs -- the decision is going to be made by our political leaders, not by experts in infantry combat, not by me, not by Herschel Smith or his son, and not by Elaine Donnelly. So let's just dispense with the notion that "expertise" matters here, shall we?

So we could have all those other conversations that I mentioned before, but what's the point? We've come full circle: it's all back to politics and preconceptions. It's not Herschel's fault, really, that he lets his politics and his worldview inform his thinking on this issue: it is, after all, something that will be decided by the political process. The problem (well, for him, anyway) is that time and demographics are not on his side. And so his arguments (weak though they may be) and his appeals to authority aren't really worth the time, are they?

As if on cue...

...Dave Kilcullen gave a talk in Australia today and repeated the same talking points that he gave at USIP last month, and to which I referred in this morning's metrics post.

Kilcullen said hard fighting in Afghanistan would likely last another two years, after which insurgents would hopefully believe it was better to negotiate than continue combat with international and government forces.

That would be followed by a three-year transition to effective Afghan government and five-year overwatch period involving international forces as back-up, he said.

Tony Cordesman also has an op-ed in the Post today, entitled "How To Lose in Afghanistan."

McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams -- with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each -- although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to "hold" and keep the Afghan population secure, and "build" enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

I guess fact-checkers are too expensive these days

The New York Times has made pretty elementary mistakes on consecutive days in stories related to weapons sales. First, in yesterday's article about accusations of Pakistan illegally modifying American-supplied Harpoon missiles:

American military and intelligence officials say they suspect that Pakistan has modified the Harpoon antiship missiles that the United States sold the country in the 1980s, a move that would be a violation of the Arms Control Export Act. [emphasis mine]
Except that the Arms Control Export Act doesn't exist -- it's the Arms Export Control Act. I noticed this yesterday in the hard copy, and as of this morning they still haven't corrected the electronic version. Yes, this is a simple, stupid mistake, consisting only of the transposition of two words. But their version doesn't even make sense!

So like I said, I noticed that one yesterday and didn't think much of it, assuming that they'd probably fixed it online. And then this morning I see this article, about the Iraqis "finding" a bunch of their old helos in Serbia. What's wrong with this one, you ask?

Lt. Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the Multi-National Transition and Security Command-Iraq, or M.N.T. S.C.-I., the American military’s training wing, said the discovery of the Iraqi-owned MIGs would not alter any American plans, at least not immediately. “It’s going to take a while to see what impact it has,” he said. [emphasis mine]
Wait, what's that? Mint-ski? I've never heard of that. Oh, you mean the organization colloquially referred to as Min-sticky? Which would only be said that way if, you know, the "S" were in front of the "T"? Oh, yeah, that's because it is. They're actually talking about the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, the organization through which coalition equipment and training is provided to Iraqi security forces. What's most bewildering about this one is that they actually spell out the name of the organization and the acronym, and they get both wrong! And then they repeat the mistake in a quote!
“It’s more than just getting aircraft; there’s maintenance and support structures, training. It’s not going to change what M.N.T.S.C. -I. does,” Colonel Kolb said.
How far the newspaper business has fallen! SNLII, rescue us!

More on McChrystal's Metrics

The Washington Post yesterday reported some vague details of the metrics to be included in GEN McChrystal's Afghanistan assessment, which should hit the White House some time in the very near future. Here's Karen DeYoung:

The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.

Administration officials are conducting what one called a "test run" of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories -- including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources -- with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to Congress by Sept. 24.

Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of "clear benchmarks" and no "blank check."

As anyone who's been paying attention will know by now, the military is big on "metrics." I've yet to see a really detailed explanation of the way this works inside DoD, though, probably because it would be too boring. But here's a quick primer.

When doing an assessment of any activity, the military looks at two things: Measures of Performance (MOPs) and Measures of Effectiveness (MOEs). The former category usually gives you raw numbers: how many personnel trained, how many pieces of gear supplied, how many patrols run, how many enemy KIA. If you think about it, the term is pretty self-explanatory: you're measuring performance in whatever activity you're engaged in, but measuring that performance in a quanititative way. MOEs are concerned with how much the thing you're doing has helped to accomplish your objectives. In the case of Afghanistan, that would be something like whether or not the ANA units you've trained meet a certain capability level, or whether the small arms you've supplied have increased marksmanship scores, or whether the increased ANP presence in a certain village has positively impacted voter turnout.

Military and development aid to Pakistan provides perhaps an even simpler way to demonstrate the distinction: a MOP would be "military grant aid provided via Foreign Military Finance, Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Funds, Coalition Support Funds, etc., in dollars," and the associated MOE would be something along the lines of "Pakistani counterinsurgency missions conducted in the NWFP."

The whole concept is sort of confusing, because the distinction between a MOP and a MOE is only meaningful if we understand what it is we're trying to do. Just tallying up numbers, obviously, is meaningless. So if the mission is "kill the enemy," and we want to understand the utility of firing weapons at the enemy to accomplish this mission, then we can use rounds fired by coalition forces as an MOP, and number of enemy dead as an MOE. But if we're looking at the bigger picture (and generally, that's what we want to do), then something like a body count is always going to be a MOP. The MOE, then, would be related to a next-order effect, like "number of districts in which coalition forces can operate without taking fire or being engaged by IEDs."

All of which is to say that without understanding the context -- what the mission is, and which "metrics" are MOPs versus MOEs -- a list of a whole bunch of things like this is kind of meaningless. I don't suppose I should say "meaningless," because it does illustrate areas of focus and emphasis to some extent. The three examples listed in the linked article -- "newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources" -- shows a focus on building partner capacity, on training and equipping our allies and the host nation government, rather than on U.S. combat operations.

Understanding HN capabilities is a good thing, as is a focus on improving them. I'm going to express the same reservation here that I have in the past, though: without a sufficient level of security and governmental reform, efforts to empower the Afghan National Security Forces look more than a little Sisyphian. And there's precedent: in the pre-Surge days in Iraq, the days of the Together Forward operations, everything coming out of MNF-I and CENTCOM indicated a focus on training up the Iraqis so we could get out. The war was hugely unpopular, and as the saying went about Iraqi security forces, "these guys are our exit strategy." The Surge was not just about a troop increase or a change in tactical and operational approach to emphasize counterinsurgency, but the institutional realization that trying to get the Iraqis ready to do the job themselves, at that point in the war, was a near-complete waste of time and effort. So the options were to accept massive risk of an unacceptable reverse once U.S. forces departed, or commit materially to trying to change those circumstances. There's a reason Ricks' book was called "The Gamble": in early 2007, the idea of throwing more U.S. troops into the fight seemed like a Hail Mary, and perhaps it only could've been considered by a President who was so wildly unpopular.

And so it's starting to look like we're in a similar spot in Afghanistan, that 2010 there may look a lot like 2007 in Iraq: everyone seems to understand by now that we're going to need more U.S. troops in country before the security situation approaches anything near acceptability, never mind an environment where shifting the burden to Afghan forces is a plausibly achievable "exit strategy." So now we're back to the politics. Recent polls show that somewhere on the order of 50 percent of Americans now oppose the war. Casualties have gone up this year, and no one wants to see that trend line continue in the direction it's going. The President has an ambitious domestic agenda, and spending a ton of money in South Asia isn't going to help with that.

So what's the answer? Well, Kilcullen was probably right: "We'll fight for two years and then a successful transition, or we'll fight for two years and we'll lose and go home." Notable for its absence is any mention of "winning."

Does a "successful transition" look possible in the next two years? I'm not optimistic. But if we look at the metrics that GEN McChrystal's team has identified, then it certainly seems like "transition" has become the priority. And while that's probably best for America, I'm not sure it bodes well for Afghanistan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What we're reading #3

We haven't done one of these in a while, so I figure an update is in order.


This should be a big reading weekend for me: the gf leaves for an overseas trip at 0500 tomorrow, so I have the run of the house (and the most unfortunate distraction: my new-ish flat screen) for a week. When I'm not reading (which is to say, tomorrow), I'll be watching Premiership soccer and the Springboks-Wallabies Tri-Nations tilt (ugh, 5pm on tape delay) at Fado.

When I am reading, this is what it's gonna be...

Finishing up Stathis Kalyvas' The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Here's what I wrote about this book on Bernard Finel's blog, to give you some idea of how it's going:
This is going to sound a little over-the-top, and I know I’m probably parroting the “dominant narrative of the COIN crowd” (to paraphrase COL Gentile), but I think it’s the most important book I’ve read on the subject of what animates insurgencies. (In light of our recent exchange about conceptual grouping and abstraction, I’ll caveat that with ‘…to the degree that we can generalize about “insurgency”‘).
I've got a little bit of that left, and then it's on to Brooks and Wohlforth's World Out of Balance: International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy (about which I know next to nothing) or Avoiding Trivia: The Role of Strategic Planning in American Foreign Policy, edited by Daniel Drezner. Lemme know what you think if you've read either of these -- they're sitting at the top of the "to read" pile.

I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight something I've just read: a paper called "Establishing Legitimacy in Afghanistan" by Thomas J. Barfield (old bio, I think), former President of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies at Boston U. It's in the June 2004 edition of Iranian Studies, and I only have a pdf file, so no link. It's very good, and you should read it if you can find it. (Or, to use Christian Bleuer's approach, email me if you need it for collaborative research efforts.)

UPDATE: I'm also reminded in the comments that I'm reading a good friend's yet-to-be-submitted Master's thesis, entitled "To Kill or Not To Kill: The Global Jihadist Movement and the Doctrine of Takfir." It's good work, especially considering that I haven't read a whole lot of stuff (and this may be related to my limited language skills) that examines al-Qaeda's grand strategy, so to speak, or the linkage between professed ideology and operations.


As you can probably tell by the dearth of my posting, I haven't been around much the past couple of weeks. I spent a week on a much-needed vacation and then business took me overseas. So the preponderance of my reading is catching up on all the blogs and articles I've missed. But in the spirit of coming off of vacation and before the real world hits again tomorrow, I'll be finishing up a biography on Dmitry Schostokovich before returning to my usual programming.

I've also been offline for a couple days so like Gunslinger, I'm catching up. Still, next stop, King Leopold's Ghost and I've also been wanting to get my hands on Kalyvas' book. Any other suggestions?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This just in: (UPDATED)

People will use just about anything as evidence for things they already believe.

Case in point: Herschel Smith thinks that the presence of women in Soviet combat formations is one of the top five most important reasons for their failure in Afghanistan.
I think that other things were essential to the loss, including [a] focus on the cities v. the countryside, [b] complete breakdown of the lines of logistics due to [a] above, [c] heavy losses because of Taliban control over the roads due to [a] above, [d] focus on mounted combat and mounted patrols as opposed to dismounted operations, [e] women in combat billets which led to a high number of lower extremity injuries and a high number of combat ineffective units, and a whole host of other things. [emphasis mine]
This comes in the SWJ comment thread about an article on "Sri Lanka's disconcerting COIN strategy," as part of a post in which Smith dismisses Soviet "ruthlessness" as one of the primary reasons for defeat in the Afghan war.

So in short, girls in the infantry were more damaging to the Russian war effort than bad counterinsurgency tactics. "There is the thing of testosterone, and it's different because God made it that way." Ok? Ok. Glad we cleared that one up.

UPDATE: Herschel uses eight words to every one of mine in a response to this 200-word post. Maybe I'll put together a more in-depth response a little later, but right now I just wanted to direct you over to his site for a chuckle. I expect it will be one-way traffic, seeing as he's copied this entire post in whole, rather than excerpting it. So along with the link, here's a lesson in blogging etiquette for The Captain: when you want to highlight something that another person has written, excerpt! Like this:
If I ever give you worthless tripe like you read at Ink Spots, you should savage me in the comments.
(But only if you have a Wordpress account, because the comments aren't open. So alternatively, savage him in our comments.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So how did the French hostage escape?

You may recall that over a month ago, two French DGSE agents, while on official mission to train forces from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government were abducted by Somali insurgents. But that's the easy (and rather straightforward part of the story), the rest of it, as we say in French, is rocambolesque--that's means fantastic/incredible but that doesn't really do the word justice because rocambolesque involves some degree of unpredictability, slapstick theater and tragicomedy.

Anyway, according to press reports, the kidnapping didn't go very well. First off, the vehicle the two officers were packed into broke down literally minutes later. So other groups that were nearby basically stole the hostages from the initial kidnappers. Then those people got into a fight and split them up...

In any case, news today emerged that one of the hostages had escaped. The first thing out this morning was that the agent had killed three of his captors and escaped. Now, if that had been true, it would have been bad ass...Then there were other stories that he'd "escaped" after a ransom had been paid (something the French deny).

That didn't happen though (I suppose unfortunately if you're on the lookout for these types of stories). What did happen, according to an interview that the agent gave to Radio France Internationale was that (my quick and easy translation):
Tuesday night, close to midnight, I took advantage of my captors sleeping. They were tired because of Ramadan. Because my cell was badly closed, I took off, without using violence. In any case, if I had fired shots, I would have been killed. Then I walked almost five hours through the night, using the stars to guide me to the area I hoped to reach. Someone tried to shoot me but I ran, hid and they missed me.
He safely made it to an AMISOM base in Mogadishu and then was shipped off to Nairobi. I guess it's good to know celestial navigation but the story is still rather rocambolesque don't you think? Now we wait to see what happens to/with his colleague.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Surprise Change in Leadership for UN-AU Darfur Force

There's more news from the UN today,this time from Darfur where, as you know, the UN and AU are struggling to fully deploy UNAMID.

While the replacement of the UNAMID force commander, Nigerian General Martin Agwai (for whom a farewell ceremony was held today in El Fasher) was expected, as was his replacement with a Rwandan General, another change was not.

Indeed, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, former Congolese Foreign Minister Rodolphe Adada resigned today, effective August 31st.

This is not to say the change is not welcome because it is. As the article says,

Western diplomats said Adada's job was a difficult one, since Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an indicted war crimes suspect over Darfur, created bureaucratic obstacles that have slowed UNAMID's deployment.

The diplomats said there was a broad consensus that Adada did not try hard enough to speed up UNAMID deployment. The U.N. secretariat, they said, was also dissatisfied with his performance, but since the appointment was made jointly by both the U.N. and the AU it was not possible to get rid of him.

"He hasn't been the most effective head of a mission," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "We were unhappy with him for a long time but the AU protected him."

And you'll note that while the Secretary-General's statement on the matter couldn't have been different, as MK pointed out to me earlier today, it fits with the beefs listed in the Norwegian memo.

But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Adada.

In his reply to Adada's letter of resignation, quoted in the online version of Sudan Tribune newspaper, Ban said he "led UNAMID with distinction during its most challenging initial deployment phase and in an environment of unprecedented difficulty."

So, another thing to keep an eye on: is the UN going to start firing field leaders who perform badly or even not well enough? What constitutes good leadership in these types of missions and who should measure that performance? At what point should say, the Security Council, the Secretary-General or a combination of others be able to fire mission leaders?

Memo from Norway: The UN Secretary-General is "spineless" and "passive"

There's a big to-do in New York: a memo from the Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN, meant for consumption by the Ministry in Oslo, has leaked. And to say the least, it casts the UN Secretary-General in an entirely unflattering light. Foreign Policy has the memo posted.

Some highlights:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's fruitless visit to Burma in the beginning of July is indicative of a Secretary-General and an organization who are struggling to show leadership...In the many political/security-related crises around the world the Secretary-General's leadership and ability to deliver on behalf of the international organization are also found wanting.
Then the good Ambassador goes on to list shortcomings on Burma, Sri Lanka, Congo, disarmament and non-proliferation. But the icing (I did not mean that as the worst pun on the face of the planet) really is here:
What all these examples have in common is that a spineless and charmless Secretary-General, has not compensated this by appointing high profile and visible coworkers.
The FT has this tidbit:
The Norwegian foreign ministry declined to comment on the letter when it first emerged yesterday but quoted Jonas Gahr Stoere, foreign minister, as having described Mr Ban as "hardworking" and "attentive".
Umm--isn't that what people also say about employees they've fired when asked to provide a reference? Anyway, this is bound to start discussion over what makes a good UN Secretary-General. This matters because in places like Congo, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti, Timor-Leste and many others, the UN is the go-to please try and fix this problem organization. It has its faults and its challenges but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have good leadership.

Friday, August 21, 2009

AABs, SFA, and 4/82

As you’ve no doubt heard from a great many people by now, trained and self-sufficient Afghan National Security Forces are our way out of Afghanistan. (You heard the same thing pre-Surge – in the days of the multiple Together Forward operations – in Iraq, and then everyone realized that it’s impossible to create trained and self-sufficient security forces when they’re rife with sectarian division, corruption, disloyalty, and insurgent infiltration, and that you need to do something about the security situation before you can fix all of that. Then after the Surge you started hearing the same message again. But I digress.) I’ve wanted for quite some time to write something about the way that U.S. forces are organizing for and executing the training mission, but it seems like nearly everything I’m exposed to reveals something else that I was either ignorant of or confused about.

In spite of that, I decided to get something down and then seek the input of someone that I consider to be subject-matter-aware, if not a subject matter expert. Tintin is a college student who embeds occasionally with U.S. infantry, cavalry, special operations, and advisory units in Iraq and Afghanistan (and a frequent commenter here). He was in Afghanistan earlier this summer, and was able to shed some light on the specifics of 4/82’s organization and mission. His comments are italicized and bolded.

As I’ve noted in my concluding remarks, there are a lot of people out there who know much more about this than I do, so I encourage them to chime in.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported on the deployment of the Fourth Brigade of the 82nd Airborne to Afghanistan.
The North Carolina-based paratroopers were set to deploy Tuesday, part of a 60,000-troop U.S. surge. They're also part of the first Army unit to go with a mission solely focused on training the troubled country's police. Their combat skills will be secondary to their ability to build rapport with Afghans and teach their students to patrol and gather intelligence.
As I understand it, 4/82 is the first brigade to be deployed as what’s being called a Modular Brigade Augmented for Security Force Assistance. [It's actually not the first. 4/1 AD, which deployed to Maysan and Dhi Qar in Iraq in May, is the official "proof of concept" AAB. See the brigade's PAO blog here. (Gulliver re-comment: as I understand it, 4/82 IS the first “modular brigade augmented for SFA,” which is sort of a confusing and silly distinction, as you’ll see further down, but there ARE differences.)] This is the Army’s new model for the SFA mission, which is pretty much what it sounds like: providing assistance to partner security forces, which usually comes down to training. (“SFA” writ large, as a governmental assistance process, also involves the provision of equipment, security sector reform and other good-governance mentoring, and so on, but the Army restricts its definition to missions where green-suiters – active duty personnel – engage in training of foreign partner units.)

The old model used what were called “Advise and Assist Brigades,” or AABs. This terminology is being replaced with the modular brigade augmented for SFA label, and as I understand it the mission is going to change slightly, as well. I’m not an expert on how the AABs organized or operated, so I’m going to defer to Tintin on this. [Tintin thinks that these are slightly different missions. On the one hand, 4/82 is going to do advising work within the AOs of several standard BCTs and NATO brigades that are engaged in major combat operations; 4/82 will not own its own ground or launch its own major combat operations. The AABs, on the other hand, are intended to replace standard BCTs and own their own brigade AOs -- the idea is just that within those AOs, they will have a much greater SFA capability than standard BCTs. This may be just a difference between the basic situations of Iraq and Afghanistan: 4/82 is deploying into an area where brigades are in the middle of the fight, whereas the AABs going to Iraq are deploying into areas where there will be no standard BCTs and the Iraqis are in the lead.] But my perception has always been that while AABs were in fact training-focused, they also continued to operate in such a way as to be involved in major combat operations and COIN. It may be the case that the sub-units of the AABs remained intact and operated in partnership with their ISF counterpart units, but I’m not sure.

The terminological shift (away from Brigade Combat Teams or “combat brigades” to AABs or “advisory brigades”) struck me as something of a political expediency, intended to emphasize the shift away from combat operations and toward the advisory mission, and further on towards withdrawal. So now we have brigades augmented for SFA. What does that mean? Well, we’re still talking about a normal BCT to start with, so that means 3k-5k bodies. Those guys go through their normal train-up cycle for a deployment, and then a few months before they deploy, you slap on an extra 24-48 majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. That’s the augmentation part. Depending on the AO and the mission, you might also augment the brigade with some other support elements like engineers, civil affairs, and so on.

Those additional field-grades will then be used to lead training teams, which will be tailored for specific missions and sent out throughout the AOR. These could be as small as team- or squad-sized, or as large as a company, depending on the size of the host nation unit that they’re paired up with. The standard model is for a squad to advise a platoon, a platoon to advise a company, and so on, as I understand it. This is a lot different than the MTT/OMLT model, where you could have a 12-man team advising an entire battalion.

The entire brigade will go through a rotation at Ft. Riley before the deployment to train for the advisory mission; there’s a unit stationed there whose entire job is to train trainers. (Until recently – or perhaps until sometime in the very near future; not sure if the turnover has happened yet – this was the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.) And if I remember correctly, everybody over E-6 will get some sort of specific individual advisor training, while the rest of the guys are just going to be working with their standard maneuver training. So you might get a squad sent out with an O-5, an E-7, and a bunch of Specialists without any dedicated individual training on how to work with HN SF.

Now here’s an interesting thing about this model: it’s intended for use beyond the near- to medium-term, and beyond the current conflicts. [This sure IS interesting, and I don't know anything about it.] That means that in 15 years when the U.S. troop commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn down, we’re talking about every Combatant Command having one brigade assigned to it that’s specifically designated as an SFA unit. This means that training teams will be sliced out of the parent unit and sent out across the AOR, so you could have six guys in Ethiopia, a platoon in Kenya, and a company in Nigeria participating in an exercise.

Current policy for training teams in non-operational theaters mandates the use of contract personnel because of strain on the operating force. Having a bunch of Xe or MPRI dudes training the Paraguayan army on infantry squad tactics is fine and all, but you lose out on a lot of the benefits of the military-to-military relationship, the mentoring and example that uniformed guys can provide, and so on. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of places in the world where people think you’re not taking them seriously if you send non-uniformed trainers.

Anyway, back to 4/82. As I said, they’re headed for Afghanistan. Back in March, when the additional troops were announced, here’s what the Washington Post (and John Nagl) had to say about what they’d be doing:

The extra 4,000 U.S. troops, expected to deploy in early fall, are to fill that gap. In a sign of the new importance the administration is placing on the mission, a brigade of the Army's vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is being broken up into 10-to-14-member advisory teams, a Pentagon official said. Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams.

"The change couldn't be more dramatic," said retired Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense think tank. "The 82nd Airborne Division is the nation's shock force."

Now the Post tells us they’re going to be training and mentoring police, but my understanding is that this isn’t correct (or rather, that it’s not complete – the ANSF being trained won’t just be police). Hopefully Tintin can clear up some misconceptions here. [Tintin says: According to the (unclassified) information I got at CSTC-A earlier this summer, 4/82 will be taking over both police and ANA advising from a departing Illinois National Guard BCT in southern and western Afghanistan, while a Georgia National Guard BCT takes on the east and north.

If the Illinois BCT's mission is any guide -- and I think it is, although 4/82 will be executing the mission in a different way -- then 4/82 will be providing both police mentor teams (PMTs) and ANA embedded training teams (ETTs) in some areas, and just ETTs in other areas. It depends on the level of ISAF involvement in ANSF advising in a given area -- in some places the U.S. can just do the police mission, and let ISAF do the ANA mission, while in other areas the U.S. has to do both. In some places, ISAF is providing very few ANA advisor teams (their OMLTs) at all, and 4/82, like the Illinois brigade, will have to step up across the board -- in Zabul and Uruzgan, for instance, the Romanian, Dutch, and Australian contingents just don't have the numbers to provide OMLTs to whole ANA brigades, so 4/82 will have to provide both ETTs and PMTs there. In Helmand, on the other hand, the British brigade has devoted a whole battalion to the OMLT mission, and even has provided a few police advisor teams (POMLTs). So in Helmand, 4/82 will provide only or mostly PMTs. Kandahar is probably halfway between these two cases, and it's anybody's guess what 4/82's level of involvement will be in Herat and Farah.]

I was also told (by people in the Army’s SFA proponent’s office) that the brigade would “maintain its capability for full-spectrum operations,” which is to say that it’s meant to be able to cohere back into a standard BCT and engage in the high-intensity fight if necessary. [That is interesting, and differs from what I had heard in Kabul and Kandahar about how 4/82 would be employed. But they didn't seem too sure themselves. Mostly, the National Guard soldiers at CJTF Phoenix were a little skeptical of 4/82, and were worried that it would come in and throw away the lessons that CJTF Phoenix has learned over the years out of 82nd gung-ho-ness.] It’s difficult to see how this differs from the AAB concept.

Really, what I think is going on with 4/82 is that they’re using a sort of hybrid, transitional model, moving the Army away from COIN-and-training brigades (AABs, or even standard pre-AAB BCTs that were partnered with ISF units) and toward training-only brigades, but caught somewhere in between because they’re operating in a theater where U.S. forces are currently engaged. [Sounds exactly right. The intensity of the fighting in Afghanistan means that 4/82 has to operate in a different way, and it's tricky to say whether it or the seven Iraq AABs are more like what we'll see in the long-view future.] Obviously this isn’t going to be the case in the future with brigades augmented for SFA, which are NOT intended to be “combat advisors” but rather Phase 0 trainers. The Army is clear on this, and the SFA proponent is sort of operating on two different timelines: what do we need SFA-wise in the close fight versus how we’ll organize, train, equip, educate, and so on in the post-2015ish window.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on the way the Army intends to build partner capacity and capabilities into the future (though I fear I’ve just rambled!). Huge thanks to Tintin for his input.

There are a bunch of guys over on SWJ/SWC who work on this stuff in their day jobs, and who are much more qualified to speak on the subject than I am, so maybe they’ll stumble over this way and help us out in the comments.

SFA = (COIN + SFA) ??

Since Abu Muqawama's software seems to hate my comments these days, I'm just going to post a response over here.

Exum has a brief post this morning about Richard Haass' op-ed today on U.S. options in Afghanistan. Here's his comment about one of Haass' proposed courses of action:

[Haass:] "One would reduce our troops’ ground-combat operations and emphasize drone attacks on terrorists, the training of Afghan police officers and soldiers, development aid and diplomacy to fracture the Taliban."

[Exum:] I don't know how much Haass knows about training security forces, but his first "alternative" would require an investment in Afghanistan as massive as the one we're already making. So I think it's more an operational alternative than a strategic one.

I guess I know a fair bit about training security forces, at least from a policy perspective if not a practical one. But more importantly, I know a fair bit about math. So I guess what I don't understand here is how a security force assistance/foreign internal defense mission (in which a complement of U.S. forces would focus on training ANSF, without engaging in combat operations except as an embedded component of the units they're training and advising) plus development assistance could possibly cost as much as SFA/FID plus development assistance plus a counterinsurgency campaign.

$A + $B = $A ???

We're already training ANSF and waging a COIN campaign (including combat operations, obviously). Exum doesn't think that halting the COIN campaign would save money? The only way the math works on this is if you believe that we're not really doing that much training right now, or devoting that many resources to the mission.

4/82 might disagree. (More on this later.)

More violence in the North Caucasus

Today it's Chechnya. From the New York Times:

GROZNY, Russia (AP) -- Suicide bombers on bicycles detonated explosives in Chechnya on Friday, killing at least four police officers and a civilian in coordinated attacks in the capital, officials said.

The suicide bombers approached police officers in two central locations in Grozny and blew themselves up, killing two officers in each attack, said Chechnya's Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov in televised remarks.

Russian emergency services spokesman Alexei Zemskov said three other people were wounded. An Associated Press reporter saw body parts scattered at the sites of both attacks, which come at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

This just a day after President Medvedev spoke about the deteriorating security situation in the Russian Caucasus and outlined a program to address it.

President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia must pursue “real, not cosmetic” stability in the North Caucasus, an indication of just how much the security situation has deteriorated and how disappointed the Kremlin now is in the claims by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that the situation there has been improving. But Medvedev’s five-point program, which he presented to the leaders of Russia’s security services
Wednesday, does not appear to promise any greater success, let alone justify his Putinesque statement that “one must not stand on ceremony with the terrorists. They must be liquidated without hesitation.”

What Medvedev’s proposals do appear to presage, however, is a further expansion of Russian military actions there, a greater willingness to dismiss local officials possibly with the installation of ethnic Russians in their place and as a result, at least in the short- and medium term, an increase in the already high level of violence in the North Caucasus.

Medvedev’s program includes: a call for better interagency coordination among the siloviki; a “radical reconstruction of work with cadres;” better protection for law enforcement personnel; changes in the law to ensure that terrorists are punished; and a meeting on the North Caucasus about how to improve economic conditions there.

All of which kind of makes me wonder what the hell Russia even wants with Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and so on. I mean, I guess it gives them contiguous territory for the annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, or something.

So who's ready to book tickets for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi?

No troop recommendation in the assessment, I've told you a thousand times!

(But there will be one a few months later.)

From Mike Allen's Playbook at Politico:
SCOOP -- CBS’s Kimberly Dozier, who has top-shelf war sources: “CBS News has learned that while [Afghanistan commander Gen. Stan] McChrystal's official assessment [due at the Pentagon in a few weeks] will not include troops, … he is … leaning toward a range to recommend to the Pentagon and the White House in mid-to-late fall. The general is leaning toward three major options -- the ‘high risk strategy’ is to add only 15,000 troops to the 68,000 that will be on the ground by the end of this year -- as in, the highest risk of failure. The ‘medium risk strategy’ is to add 25,000 troops, and the ‘low risk strategy’ is 45,000, according to a senior defense adviser helping craft the plan.”
So there's that.

My question: even if we add 45K, can we ever suggest that there's a "low risk of failure" in Afghanistan? This seems to reveal a way of thinking about conflict in which our actions are the only ones that matter. Certain COIN types have been accused of that in the past, so I hope the rhetoric isn't reflective of how GEN McChrystal and his team are really thinking about this.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whoopsie! (Or, EFV in peril!)

Colin Clark, who writes for the usually very good DoD Buzz, had this to say yesterday about the QDR's impact on the future of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle:
That amphibious study, which could lead to the Marines seeing their central mission stripped away, appears highly unlikely to go anywhere. Is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, himself a Marine, likely to countenance such a move? Not likely. Is the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, likely to approve such a move when the Marines are so closely intertwined with the Navy? Well, no. If Gates didn’t kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle on April 6 — and it certainly would seem to have met many of the same criteria for termination as did programs such as FCS — why would he take such a drastic action now?
The piece was linked on the Early Bird, the DoD's daily news aggregator. I think this is a first for DoD Buzz, but I could be wrong; if it is, then it might've come at a bad time. To wit: today's Early Bird links another article on the same subject, "Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Sinks EFV Hopes," from Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The prognosis for the U.S. Marine Corps' troubled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) is not good, according to Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After his presentation to the Space and Missile Defense Conference here Aug. 19, Cartwright said the close-to-finished Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is looking at EFV in the context of "amphibious writ large," and the high-speed combat vehicle "will have a significant challenge moving forward."

Cartwright went on to brand the EFV with the scarlet "E" for "exquisite" -- a pejorative term coined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to refer to programs aimed at producing be-all, end-all systems.

"As we look at anti-access threats, is the exquisite nature of the vehicle appropriate? It's going to have a hard time," Cartwright said.

"Now I can't be a Marine anymore," he added.

According to other sources, the QDR may downplay the Marines' role as a forced-entry assault force versus security assistance and the Corps' currently dominant role on the ground.


The EFV's problems have been discussed extensively in the past, particularly the flat-bottomed hull and its susceptibility to IED attacks. It's interesting to see the Gen. Cartwright cite anti-access threats, too; Krepinevich talked about this extensively in his recent Foreign Affairs piece, making specific reference to the EFV's unsuitability for the likely future threat environment. Maybe the Pentagon really is listening!

Like I said before, I think that Clark and DoD Buzz generally do a great job. This just goes to show you how easy it is to look silly when doing personality-based analysis and speculating about things like procurement and budgeting decisions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Public view of the war in Afghanistan: France vs. USA (updated)

Over at Secret Defense, Jean-Dominique Merchet points out the results of this new poll. It basically shows that 36% of the French and 57% percent of the American people interviewed favor the military intervention in Afghanistan.

Just to give some trends on French public opinion, a nice table (p.6) reminds us that 58% of French people favored intervention in Kosovo in 1999, 55% favored intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, 19% in Iraq in 2003, 55% in Darfur in 2007, and 45% in Afghanistan in July 2008.

The rest of the poll then provides data by political party, age, gender and profession (PS is Parti Socialiste, Modem is Bayrou's center right party and UMP is Sarkozy's party--one thing to remember on the French political spectrum, I view it as generally shifted left from the US spectrum so if you look at political platforms, the UMP and Modem would basically be the different factions within the Democratic Party here). It then does the same for US responders.

It's interesting and it shows clearly that the French public is increasingly oppposed to military intervention in Afghanistan.

So go take a look--I think even if your French is limited you should be able to get the gist of it.

Update: As John Henninger points out in the comments (I didn't get a chance to put it up last night so thanks for the reminder), the ABC/Washington Post issued this new poll yesterday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Liberia: security sector reform and the international drug trade

Today's Liberia post started when Gulliver emailed me about this: "The National Guard will add Liberia to its State Partnership Program this year (2009), bringing the number of African nations taking part in the program to eight."

What's so interesting about this you ask? Well, first of all the US funded the recruiting, training, and vetting of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The UN Secretary General, in his report dated 10 August 2009, provides the following update on how that's going:
Development of the new 2,000-strong Armed Forces of Liberia continued to make progress. The first battalion started the United States Army Training and Evaluation Programme, which it will complete in September, while the second battalion will complete the programme in December. At that time, the United States contractors currently training and equipping the force will hand over to the Ministry of Defence, which will assume responsibility for training and standing up the new army. The United States has indicated that it plans to assign as many as 60 United States serving military personnel to continue mentoring the Armed Forces of Liberia, beginning in January 2010.

So it looks like we'll continue to work with the AFL as it builds capacity, an officer corps, etc. To get back to the role of of National Guard units, the article (from the snazzy AFRICOM website) explains:
Dankyan [the Liberia Desk Officer at AFRICOM] evaluated their military exercises to ensure a standard level of proficiency. After finding them ready, he started the process of matching them with a state that meets their needs.

These needs can be very specific. Some countries are recovering from war and request states with high engineering quotients to help rebuild essential structures. Some need help in planning for natural and manmade disasters, and still others want experience in farming...

For Liberia, a coastal state, the ideal partner would have expertise in ports and agriculture, he said. Dankyan said he has yet to choose a state partner because so many have volunteered to work with Liberia.
Let's hope that happens because as far as I know, we haven't done much to build Liberia's capacity to manage its borders. In particular, I don't think we've provided much support to build Liberia's Coast Guard (we're talking four 32 ft and four 28 ft crafts and 350 personnel). This is important because, as the BBC reports, Liberia (or rather the region as a whole) has become a trading platform for drugs moving from South America to western Europe. It's also important because the Liberian conflict was largely funded by trading diamonds, timber, rubber...and other commodities. Finally, it's important because beyond deterring and reducing illegal activity, effective border and customs management serves as the basis for reliable government revenue.

A wider question though: in countries like Liberia, with porous borders, resources, and limited capacity to manage borders, how do you fix that problem over the long run?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Suicide truck bomb in Ingushetia kills 20

Today in the Russian region of Ingushetia -- contiguous to Chechnya and proximate to other troubled north Caucasian territories -- a truck bomb exploded outside a police station, killing 20 people.

Russia’s interior ministry said the truck, driven by a suicide bomber, smashed into the gate of the police station in Nazran, the Ingush capital, before exploding as officers assembled for morning parade.

The blast, which injured 118 – including women and children – led to Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, sacking the Ingush minister of the interior, saying the atrocity could have been prevented.

“I suggest [the attack] was not just the result of problems connected with terrorist activity, but also the result of the unsatisfactory character of law enforcers’ work in the republic,” he said.

It was the deadliest in a string of recent high-profile attacks that are destabilising the mainly Muslim regions on Russia’s southern flank.

In June, the interior minister in Dagestan was gunned down in a Mafia-style killing at a wedding and weeks later there was an assassination attempt on Yunus-bek Yevkurov, the president of Ingushetia.

The Kremlin has blamed the escalating violence on Islamist extremists.

Not Yevkurov, though, who made noises about Western involvement, suggesting that Russia's purported return to great power status might be too much for the rest of us to handle.

“I have stressed this [before] and am saying again now: the west will strive not to allow Russia to revive its former Soviet might,” he told Russian radio.

Mr Yevkurov, a former paratrooper, was appointed by the Kremlin last October to bring order to Ingushetia, an impoverished region bordering Chechnya.

Of course, everyone's favorite insurgent/terrorist-turned-brutal-sub-governor-turned-patriotic-defender-of-Russian-security, Ramzan Kadyrov, isn't really worried about who did it. He just knows he's going to F that guy up bad when he finds him.

Just hours after the attack on Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Kadyrov told Reuters he had been ordered by the Kremlin to fight insurgents in Ingushetia. His comments provoked speculation that Kadyrov was seeking to widen his clout over neighbouring regions in the North Caucasus. Ingush politicians warned such a move could tip the region further into chaos.

"We will conduct our investigation in line with the law of the mountains and our revenge for Yunus-Bek Yevkurov will be ruthless," Kadyrov was quoted as saying in the local capital, Magas, where he met acting Ingush president Rashid Gaisanov.

The statement indicated Kadyrov was referring to the region's ancient tradition of
blood feuds. Ingush officials said Kadyrov's visit had been a surprise.

Kadyrov, of course, has been implicated in just about every sort of brutality you can imagine in the North Caucasus. Just yesterday, the L.A. Times ran a feature piece on Kadyrov's involvement in the campaign of terror sweeping across Ingushetia -- and this was before the bombing.

Day after day, insurgents attack police and government officials with ambushes and bombings. And day after day, security forces unleash what human rights activists describe as a campaign of killings, abductions and torture in their efforts to force calm upon the land.

Now Ingushetia is struggling under the weight of a new terror, one that seeps over the mountains from Chechnya, a neighboring mostly Muslim Russian republic.

Having brutally squashed dissent in his own restive republic, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a young Kremlin-backed former rebel known for his ruthless style of rule, is sending his notorious squads of fighters to hunt down rebels in Ingushetia.

With Kadyrov's authority creeping over the boundary, Ingushetia has become a land without accountability. Killings may be attributed to the Russian government, local authorities, separatist rebels or Chechens. Lives disappear in the tangle of overlain bureaucracy and shrugged shoulders.

This article does a pretty good job of giving Kadyrov's backstory if you're unfamiliar with it.

Interestingly, the Chechens seem to have become the Kremlin's sort of shock troops in recent years (since Kadyrov's turning). Pictures emerged last year, in the early days of the Georgian war, showing BMPs in the Russian invasion force with "Yamadayevtsi" graffiti, manned by irregulars. Here's some analysis from that time:

a number of the Russian tanks and armored vehicles have “Chechnya Vostok" and “Yamadayevtsi” painted on the hulls.

The Eastern Battalion (Chechnya) is composed of loyalist (pro-Moscow) Chechens; they are led by a man named Sulim Yamadayev, who is — along with Ramzan Kadyrov, a name you might know — among the most influential loyalist Chechen warlords. He fought against the Russians in the first Chechen War (pre-1996), and eventually turned with Kadyrov. If you listen to him, it’s because he opposed the Islamic extremists who gained control of the Chechen separatist movement. Others say Putin bought him off.

In any event, what this means is that the Russians have committed battle-hardened veterans to Georgia, not their poorly-paid, poorly-trained, and poorly-equipped regulars. Also interesting to see this war against a Caucasian people being prosecuted by other Caucasians who have felt the brunt of Russian oppression.

Also of note: the British media has reported that the Yamadayevtsi (what those of the Eastern Battalion call themselves) routinely sexually abuse and torture captured civilians to death, also often severing the heads of enemy dead.

(Ralph Peters later did a story on this same subject. Of course, he used it as evidence that we should be going to war with those dirty, inscrutable Russkies. Or something.)

In any event, I guess I don't have much of a point with all these peripherals except to say that considering Russia's history with quelling Islamist, ethnic, and separatist insurgency, and Kadyrov's history of involvement in this sort of dirty business, I wouldn't rule anything out at this stage. If we later find that Kadyrov's people are responsible for the "insurgent" violence, giving the government an opportunity and rationale for cracking down, I won't be the least bit surprised. Nor would I be if he was acting without Moscow's approval.

Worth keeping an eye on it.

Army end-strength increase really IS happening

Despite what SNLII tried to tell you before, the announced 22,000-troop increase in Army end-strength really is happening.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he plans to increase Army end strength from its current 547,400 to 562,400 in 2010 and to a peak of 569,000. He has said that he will work with the White House Office of Management and Budget and Congress to fund the buildup in the succeeding two years.

For the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the administration wants to reprogram just over $1 billion from its current request to cover the cost of recruiting and training an additional 15,000 soldiers, according to a letter from OMB Director Peter Orszag that Obama attached to his letter to Pelosi.

Orszag made his recommendations with input from each of the services and with Gates’ blessing, according to the letter.

The Army would cough up most of the funding, a total of $700.6 million that was targeted for its initial request for Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) trucks and other vehicles.

As expected, the planned increase will be budgeted over the next two years by diversion from funds initially intended for weapon systems dedicated to the ongoing Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is basically the sneaky way that the Department has found to budget through emergency supplementals without having emergency supplementals. (The money that was previously being requested as a supplemental is now requested under a special OCO account within the base budget, so the topline number stays the same, it just doesn't come in two parts anymore.)

Loren Thompson to the rescue again!

We can always count on him for a great partisan-right or pro-industry quote, whatever the subject! This time he makes an appearance in an important article in Defense News about the Obama administration's failure to fill a number of senior positions in the acquisition apparatus at both the departmental and service levels.
"The hidden message in the Pentagon personnel data is that this White House really doesn't care much about defense," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "The picture I get from all this is that President Obama's main security goal is just to keep defense off the front page. As long as the Pentagon doesn't present him with any political problems, he's content to focus on his domestic agenda and let military matters drift."

Honestly, what a freakin' joker. You really think that's the hidden message, huh? To "keep defense off the front page"? I mean, they must be doing a hell of a job, because as far as I can tell, defense never ends up on the front page these days.

Oh, wait, that's actually completely backwards: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are prominently featured in the news; everyone's talking about the appointment of GEN McChrystal and the associated proliferation of strategic assessments and reviews; the rise to prominence of counterinsurgency doctrine gets a lot of ink; more people know what the QDR is than ever before; and Secretary Gates has been fighting a highly-publicized campaign against established defense industry and Congressional interests to reshape the structure of our force and its strategic direction.

But otherwise, it's pretty much all been about welfare and bailouts and other commie stuff.

Good thing Dr. Thompson's got a new blog, where you'll no doubt find more incisive political analysis like this.

And how many troops is it going to take to change that?

The close of Dexter Filkins' article today about Taliban intimidation and the upcoming election pretty much nails the crux of this whole counterinsurgency campaign:

In their six weeks here [in Helmand province], the Marines have succeeded in chasing many Taliban fighters from the area. But the Taliban, and the fears of them, linger.

One farmer said the Taliban regularly imposed a tax on the crops in the area.

Another, an elderly man with a long white beard, said the Taliban fighters were sure to deal harshly with people who talked to the Americans.

“We’re afraid you’re going to leave this place after a few months,” he told First Lt. Patrick Nevins, an officer from Chapel Hill, N.C., who led the Marine unit into Tarakai.

“I promise you,” Lieutenant Nevins said, “we will be here when the weather gets cold, and when it gets hot again.”

The Marines walked back to their base, and the Afghans back into their homes.

Will they still be there, in the villages, in hot and cold, day and night? How can we possibly provide enough troops to maintain constant presence in such an austere, disconnected environment? This would seem to call for an ink blot approach as a simple function of resource scarcity, but isn't the Helmand operation sort of taking us in the opposite direction, by clearing an area that we can't possibly hold?

The inside story of McKiernan's removal

From Rajiv Chandrasekaran, on the front page of today's Washington Post.

In mid-March, as a White House assessment of the war in Afghanistan was nearing completion, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met in a secure Pentagon room for their fortnightly video conference with Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Kabul.

There was no formal agenda. McKiernan, a silver-haired former armor officer, began with a brief battlefield update. Then Gates and Mullen began asking about reconstruction and counternarcotics operations. To Mullen, they were straightforward, relevant queries, but he thought McKiernan fumbled them.

Gates and Mullen had been having doubts about McKiernan since the beginning of the year. They regarded him as too languid, too old-school and too removed from Washington. He lacked the charisma and political savvy that Gen. David H. Petraeus brought to the Iraq war.

McKiernan's answers that day were the tipping point for Mullen. Soon after, he discussed the matter with Gates, who had come to the same conclusion.

Mullen traveled to Kabul in April to confront McKiernan. The chairman hoped the commander would opt to save face and retire, but he refused. Not only had he not disobeyed orders, he believed he was doing what Gates and Mullen wanted.

You're going to have to fire me, he told Mullen.

Two weeks later, Gates did. It was the first sacking of a wartime theater commander since President Harry S. Truman dismissed Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951 for opposing his Korean War policy.

I don't feel like I have enough information to judge whether GEN McKiernan's firing was handled poorly or well, whether he needed replacement or not. A lot of people have jumped to his defense, but in the sort of backhanded way of suggesting that it was probably time for him to go but things should've been dealt with in a different fashion, causing a 37-year veteran less embarrassment, etc etc. It's hard to see how offering him the chance to resign doesn't qualify as softening the blow, but what do I know? When it comes down to it, I'll say what I've said all along: the President and the Secretary of Defense should have the guy they want in place to run the war effort, and I don't have a lot of heartburn about how they choose to get there.

Some uncharitable things have been said about McKiernan "not getting it," while GEN McChrystal does; some associated hagiography; and a whole lot of personalizing of the war that I don't think is particularly productive. This falls in line with the narrative that's emerged from Iraq, where GEN Petraeus is seen as having saved the war through his inspired leadership (though of course with the assistance of the Surge brigades and so on).

I guess at the end of the day I think all of this gets-it/doesn't-get-it talk is indicative of a certain soft-headedness and mushy thinking about war, a romanticizing of Hollywood heroes riding to the rescue on a white horse. War is a complicated business (or so I've heard), and "getting it" damned sure doesn't guarantee success. We should keep that in mind if we're looking back in two decades trying to figure out how a badass like "the Pope" could possibly have failed in Afghanistan. McKiernan, as you might expect, gets this:
The war in Afghanistan, he said, "will not be decided by any one leader -- military or civilian -- from any one nation."
In any event, there's some new stuff in the Post article, so have a look.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Flashback to 2008: some perspective on the pace of our strategic realignment

Things have been sort of slow around here lately. August in DC is pretty awful, if you ask me: the weather is usually the worst of the year, the streets are clogged up with tourists, and nobody can get any work done because everybody goes on vacation. (This is especially true if you work with or around Europeans!) And so the torpid pace seems to have impacted us around here, or at least me.

None of this is really a problem for the Gentle Reader, I'm sure, seeing as you've likely been busying yourselves with Loren Thompson's new blog. Well, actually, it's the Lexington Institute's blog, not Thompson's personal blog. And he assures us (via Small Wars Journal) that "it isn't awful." Heh. So good luck with all that. I'm gonna stick to my "ill-mannered rants masquerading as analysis," personally.

So as I may have mentioned, I've been meaning for a while to jump into the Afghanistan strategy debate -- despite Dave Dillege's consternation, everyone else is. And maybe I'll get to that this weekend, but for right now I just want to take a look back to last November at some of Dave Kilcullen's thoughts.

At the time of this email interview, optimism about the new Obama administration's increased focus on Afghanistan was tempered by what seemed like a negative turn in the coalition's furtunes. Nine months later, we can comfortably say that this was more than a temporary blip. The U.S./ISAF mission seems almost certain to meet with some far less expansive definition of success, if not with outright failure. It was interesting to read back yesterday and see what priorities Kilcullen identified for the newly-elected president.

The email exchange starts with George Packer asking "so how bad is it [in Afghanistan]?" DK responds:

It’s bad: violence is way up, Taliban influence has spread at the local level, and popular confidence in the government and the international community is waning fast. It’s still winnable, but only just, and to turn this thing around will take an extremely major effort starting with local-level governance, political strategy, giving the Afghan people a well-founded feeling of security, and dealing with the active sanctuary in Pakistan.

Sounds about like today, right? Seriously, if you read those words in this morning's paper, wouldn't they seem consistent with what most of what we're hearing in the lead-up to the Afghan presidential election next week? But I digress. Kilcullen goes on:
A normal U.S.government transition takes six to nine months, by the time new political appointees are confirmed, briefed, and in position. But nine months out from now will be the height of the Afghan fighting season, and less than a month out from critical Presidential elections in Afghanistan. If we do this the “normal” way, it will be too late for the Obama Administration to grip it up. I think this is shaping up to be one of the smoothest transitions on record, with the current Administration going out of its way to assist and facilitate. That said, the incoming Administration has a steep learning curve, and has inherited a dire situation—so whatever we do, it’s not going to be easy. [emphasis mine]
Which is exactly where we are today: nine months out, and right at the height of Afghanistan's fighting season. And how about that progress? Well, the administration moved to appoint key personnel, along with engaging in an "AfPak" strategic review. That got us a bland restatement of the counter-terror, counter-sanctuary mission, along with some pretty vague platitudes about building Pakistani counterinsurgency capabilities and so on. Now we seem to be approaching the close of yet another "strategic assessment/review," this one conducted by GEN McChrystal's staff and a crew of subject-matter experts. But what's that going to tell us, really? Probably what we already know: that there has been little to no progress over the last nine months on the focus areas of the "extremely major effort" that Kilcullen identifies: "local-level governance, political strategy, giving the Afghan people a well-founded feeling of security, and dealing with the active sanctuary in Pakistan."

"[W]e are being both out-fought and out-governed for four basic reasons," he continued.

(1) We have failed to secure the Afghan people. That is, we have failed to deliver them a well-founded feeling of security. Our failing lies as much in providing human security—economic and social wellbeing, law and order, trust in institutions and hope for the future—as in protection from the Taliban, narco-traffickers, and terrorists. In particular, we have spent too much effort chasing and attacking an elusive enemy who has nothing he needs to defend—and so can always run away to fight another day—and too little effort in securing the people where they sleep. (And doing this would not take nearly as many extra troops as some people think, but rather a different focus of operations).

(2) We have failed to deal with the Pakistani sanctuary that forms the political base and operational support system for the Taliban, and which creates a protective cocoon (abetted by the fecklessness or complicity of some elements in Pakistan) around senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

(3) The Afghan government has not delivered legitimate, good governance to Afghans at the local level—with the emphasis on good governance. In some areas, we have left a vacuum that the Taliban has filled, in other areas some of the Afghan government’s own representatives have been seen as inefficient, corrupt, or exploitative.

(4) Neither we nor the Afghans are organized, staffed, or resourced to do these three things (secure the people, deal with the safe haven, and govern legitimately and well at the local level)—partly because of poor coalition management, partly because of the strategic distraction and resource scarcity caused by Iraq, and partly because, to date, we have given only episodic attention to the war.


An in-depth examination of these points is probably going to have to wait for another time (and probably ought to be performed by someone with more granular knowledge of the situation than me, like maybe Andrew Exum, who was on the assessment team). But I think it's fair to look back and consider how, despite all the sound and fury, the last nine months haven't gotten us much closer to a time where this thing looks do-able. I'd contend that this has as much to do with structural, situational factors as much as it does misguided coalition efforts or resource constraints, though it's certainly encouraging to see our strategy, TTPs, and resource availability being reconsidered.

"The war in Afghanistan will be won or lost in the next fighting season, i.e. by the time of the September [sic] elections." That's what Kilcullen told George Packer last November. Well, the presidential election takes place in six days. And in a counterinsurgency, if you're not winning, you're losing.

I don't think we're winning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Victor Bout Won't Be Extradited

There are several reports out about how suspected Russian arms dealer Victor Bout won his case in Thai court against extradition to the US. Even the Washington Post has an editorial about it. You'll recall that Bout was arrested last year on charges he worked to supply Colombian rebels with weapons. The DEA apparently posed as FARC officials trying to buy all sorts of goodies and then arrested him.

Now, Bout's role in ferrying weapons to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Congo, Afghanistan, and other places is well known. He's long had a fleet of airplanes and for a price, he's delivered said weapons everywhere anyone can think of. Reporters Doug Farah and Stephen Braun wrote a book about him. Nicolas Cage's character in Lord of War is supposedly based on him. If the book isn't enough (it's really an easy read, almost like a beach novel). The book even has a nice section on how the US hired Bout's company to help ferry supplies to Iraq during the initial phase of the war. If you want to read more about him, I'd also suggest reports of the UN Panels of Experts on Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and DRC--yes they're drier and you'll have to dig a bit more for the "fun" Victor Bout parts but the stories are well worth it.

Bout is also on the Liberia sanctions travel ban and assets freeze list, the list the Security Council maintains for people it views as having contributed to war in Liberia. Still, he continues to deny being an arms dealer and he's now won a motion to not be extradited to the US to be tried here.

Now I don't know if he's going to be tried in Thailand or not. The Russian authorities have expressed their pleasure at the Thai court's decision (of course the US has done the opposite). I also think that we need to focus on more than just one link in the illicit arms trade but let's hope this guy doesn't get off on just a technicality (namely that the US charges don't apply under Thai law) because that would set a really bad precedent. So I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens on appeal. Either that, or we'll have to make sure not to trick bad guys like this in Thailand anymore...that and we'll need to support judicial reform there too.