Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Hope everyone has a great holiday, and that you're not reading blogs today! I'm off to the airport for try number two at getting out of this joint. On the bright side, when I finally do get where I'm going, there'll be a big, fat turkey waiting for me. (To eat, obviously.)

Spare a thought today for those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and other individuals spread to hell and gone, separated from their families, doing their duty. It's not just the grunts in Helmand and Baghdad, but the submariners at sea, the guy in blue sitting at a terminal under the mountains somewhere looking after a missile silo, and the folks manning a PRT in Zabul province. I've got my fingers crossed for a safe Christmas for everyone, but more than anything I feel gratitude to those folks for leaving their families to do important work.

Happy holidays, whatever you're celebrating. See you in the new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

UN Security Council Imposes Sanctions on Eritrea

The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea today by a vote of 13 to 2 (with Libya voting against and China abstaining). The sanctions (you can read the resolution here) include a travel ban and assets freeze on Eritrean officials and, of course, an arms embargo on Eritrea.

Now this has been under discussion for a while because of Eritrea's long-standing role in supporting armed groups in Somalia, in particular Al-Shabab (if you want to read about that, check out the reports of the Security Council's Monitoring Group on Somalia, here). The other main justification for sanctions is Eritrea's refusal to withdraw from territory it took from Djibouti earlier this year in a border dispute.

A couple points of interest: as far as I know, this is the first time that the Security Council has imposed secondary sanctions on a country that's been accused of violating sanctions against a first country. In other words, these sanctions were imposed because Eritrea violated sanctions on Somalia.

Second, when the Security Council imposes sanctions it normally creates a sanctions committee. Well, instead of doing that, the Council has asked the Committee on Somalia to monitor the implementation of the Eritrea sanctions. In addition, the Council has now asked the Monitoring Group on Somalia to also track sanctions on Eritrea. All of this makes sense but, like I said, as far as I know, it's the first time it has happened.

Finally, for just a bit more context, you might want to read this Reuters story with excerpts from the interview the President, a former Marxist guerilla who led his country to independence from Ethiopia back in 1993, gave to the news service back in October.

Where were the North Korean weapons headed?

You'll remember that Thai authorities seized a plane and its cargo on December 12. The reason: its cargo, 35 tons of weapons, came from North Korea, which is under an arms embargo. The flight manifest had all sorts of documents that said the cargo was oil-drilling equipment. The plane, an IL-76, was registered in Georgia and its crew was from Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Since then, there have been a lot of questions: Where was the plane headed? Did Victor Bout have anything to do with it (the crew has been jailed in the same prison as Bout who was convicted in a Thai court a few months ago and is fighting extradition to the US)? How does this type of trafficking actually work? What made the Thai authorities decide to search that plane (rather than others)?

Well, yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the weapons were destined for Iran. Today, the Washington Post reported that Thai officials had denied that report and instead announced the plane was headed for Sri Lanka.

As the Post reports:
But according to a flight plan seen by arms trafficking researchers, the aircraft was chartered by Hong Kong-based Union Top Management Ltd. to fly oil industry spare parts from Pyongyang to Tehran, Iran, with several other stops, including Bangkok, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
Why does this matter? Because while we know a lot about weapons trafficking, we still need to learn more about how countries like North Korea and Iran trade weapons, the routes they use, the companies that agree to help (and for how much), and which other commodities are involved in the trade. Another thing that matters: this shows that sanctions can, in fact, work. So that's something we need to learn from as well: what made the Thai authorities suspicious, how did they deal with it, how is their legal system dealing with this issue, what are possible challenges to prosecution, should we be going after flight crews or the people who commission them?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2/101 set for Afghanistan next summer

As Tintin noted in comments a couple of weeks ago, 2nd BCT of the 101st Airborne Division is headed to Afghanistan next summer, along with 2,400 additional support troops. The DoD just made the announcement today. This brings us to (I think) 22,000 personnel identified out of the additional 30,000 the president announced on December 1st.

This guy seems like he'd be really cool to hang out with

The Associated Press ran a piece over the weekend highlighting a LTC Thomas Gukeisen, commander of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, which is one of the battalions of the 3rd BCT of the 10th Mountain Division. It bugs me when people bin the officer corps into two categories -- "Gets It"/"Doesn't Get It" -- so let me just say this: Gukeisen seems like he's the sort of dude I'd want to work for.

"As I grew up I realized the military does not operate in a singular world so I started reading outside that world," he says.

His personal list of "Most Influential COIN Items" includes a collection of Afghan poetry, a study of chaos theory, and Hollywood films such as "Red Dawn," a fantasy about American guerrillas fighting a Soviet invasion of the U.S. From John Maynard Keynes, the visionary British economist, he drew the idea that by "jump-starting the economy via an initial stimulus you create a cascade."

His approach to pacifying the Logar districts, Gukeisen said, was also influenced by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of "Leviathan," who explored man's fear of death and his quest for security in a violent world.

"You take the theory of COIN, you take history, understand the people, make a philosophic inquiry and then you act," he says. "But you still have to be rooted in the fundamentals of military operations."

Gukeisen says U.S. Army doctrine provides only "a guide for commanders, a basis to begin, to provoke thought." He says "Clear, Hold, Build" needs to be nuanced, and he doesn't know whether it can be a model for the rest of Afghanistan. "Each area of Afghanistan is different," he cautions.

And here we come back to a point that Schmedlap's been making lately (I think), and that a lot of us have been trying to articulate for a while without a whole lot of success: good officership (and good soldiering, really) in modern war isn't about memorizing a list of COIN precepts, but rather having the suppleness of mind to understand (to use a Tom Barnettism slightly out of context) "war in the context of everything else." It's about seeing the big picture, and understanding how your actions play a part in that.

Gukeisen does drop an unfortunate reference to COIN as "graduate-level warfare" -- oh, how I wish we could banish that turn of phrase from our language, if only to put a stop to the bleating of those who consistently argue that tank battles in the Fulda Gap are just as complicated as building competent host-nation security forces from scratch! -- but I'm enthusiastic about the way he finishes his thought: "You need those collegiate thinkers. I think the Army is coming back to the soldier as scholar and statesman." We've seen the rise of several prominent "scholar-warriors" over the last few years, the Petraeuses and McMasters and MacFarlands and Mattises and so on, but it's heartening to know that this trend may be starting to take hold through the officer corps rather than just amidst it.

One other interesting note from this piece: Gukeisen makes a point of the fact that he's not executing "textbook COIN" as it's typically understood in his AOR, a 1,000-square-km patch of Logar province:

Rather than rigidly applying the current mantra — Clear, Hold, Build — he has held back from trying to clear large, Taliban-influenced swaths of territory, focusing instead on areas he believes are ripe for change, and then injecting aid where it counts most. Combat, he says, is driven by reliable intelligence and limited to eradicating Taliban fighters.

The goal was to create "security bubbles" where life could improve, so that "the rest of the districts would want to join the club," Gukeisen said in an interview at his headquarters in the village of Altimur.

Six months later, he says, nearly half the 400,000 people of Baraki-Barak, Charkh and Kherwar districts, along with half of Puli-a-Alam, are within the bubble. He says roadside bombs, attacks and other violent incidents have dropped by 60 percent while intelligence from locals about the insurgents has soared by 80 percent.

"Security bubbles" sound a bit like "ink blots," eh? Yet another example of troops on the ground having success with an approach that is diametrically opposed to what the president and GEN McChrystal have proposed for the entire country, i.e. contesting the most violent areas first. Maybe Dorronsoro is on to something.

Al-Anbar Awakening: [Much Needed] Iraqi Perspectives

We've heard a lot of perfectly legitimate crabbing over the last year or so that the so-called "dominant narrative" of the Surge has been based on an American-centric understanding of history, that there wasn't enough consideration given to the thinking and motivations of those who turned in the sahwa, or to Iraqi civilians, or to the Jaish al-Mahdi stand-down. By and large, I agree with this. The actions of Americans have probably been overstated in the (American) story of Iraq's (relative) stabilization.

That's this new report is so welcome: Al-Anbar Awakening, Volume II: Iraqi Perspectives; From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq 2004-2009, a publication of Marine Corps University Press. The companion document is Volume I: American Perspectives. (h/t SWJ)

I haven't read it yet, so don't hold me responsible for the content. Three hundred and forty pages should help get me through my Christmas Eve flight (and if you add in the other volume, it's nearly 700)!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ethiopian Troops Back in Somalia

Regional media are reporting that "hundreds" of Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia.

Heavily armed Ethiopian troops with several army trucks have reportedly crossed the border into central Somali regions of Hiran and Galgadud, residents and reports said.

Residents of Balanbale town in central Galgadud region said they have seen Ethiopian military forces backed by army vehicles in the outskirts of the town.

One resident said the troops have dug trenches in positions without prior notice of the elders.

Ethiopian troops have also crossed the border and reached Kalabeyr town in Hiran region, about 22km (14 miles) from the Somali-Ethiopian border, according to locals.

A resident told Garowe Online "a lot of troops arrived in the area on early Saturday and have started making military manoeuvring."

This helpful BBC timeline reminds us that back in late December 2006, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia and remained until the beginning of 2009. The African Union has a small mission deployed to Mogadishu (AMISOM) and many governments, including the US, play an important part in backing the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the development of its security forces.

So, how long will the troops stay this time? How far into the country will they go and what impact will their presence have?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The death of an Ayatollah

Grand Ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri - one of the most credible and eloquent critics of Iran's regime over the last 2 decades - has died. Others who know Iranian politics and society better than I will hopefully provide analysis in the coming days, but as mourners gather in Tehran and riot police stream into Qom, let's hope that the sad loss of a dedicated reformer is a rallying point for the opposition.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dirty French!

To balance out some of the francophilia often found around here, I direct your attention to this:

France will be without Julien Dupuy for the Six Nations after the Stade Francais scrum-half was hammered with a 24-week ban for gouging Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris.

After considering the evidence, independent judicial officer Judge Jeff Blackett (England) found that the incident was at the top end in the level of seriousness for an offence of this type and imposed the six-month ban following a lengthy hearing in Dublin.

You know what's a bad idea? Sticking your fingers in some dude's eyes in a game that is televised. Bad idea.

I'm not sure which is my favorite part of this story: Ferris' reaction after the game (in which he said that if he'd been punched he'd just sort of accept it as part of the game, man up, and move on, but gouging was different), or Stade's insistence that a photograph capturing the image of Dupuy's teammate David Attoub also gouging Ferris had been doctored. Awesome!

So my Friday open question for everyone: why are the French such cheaters? (Ok, I'm mostly joking about this, but it's telling that the scourge of eye-gouging has mostly been eliminated from the game in Britain, while it continues to happen in France.)

And no, again, this doesn't have anything to do with war.

UPDATE on the Eritrean soccer team

I know you're all waiting with bated breath to find out what happened to the Red Sea Boys, right? Well, it turns out they're in Kenya. And they ain't comin' back.

Eritrea's entire national soccer team is seeking asylum in Kenya, joining tens of thousands of compatriots who have fled one of Africa's most repressive governments.

The team absconded after traveling to Nairobi for a regional tournament. Eritrea, with only about 4 million people, was the second-biggest source of asylum seekers in the world last year, and the missing players are probably the highest-profile defectors since the country won independence in 1993.

The 11 players and one substitute were reported missing over the weekend when the team plane returned to Eritrea without them after a match against Tanzania. After going into hiding, the players contacted the U.N. refugee agency in Nairobi, which directed them to file asylum applications at Kenya's Immigration Ministry.

So there's that cleared up.

This is really uncool

Somebody stole the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from Auschwitz museum on the site of the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland last night.

The 5-meter-long (16-foot-long), 40-kilogram (90-pound) iron sign at the Holocaust memorial site in southern Poland was unscrewed on one side and torn off on the other, police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said.

The theft from the entrance to the camp — where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II — brought immediate condemnation worldwide.

"The theft of such a symbolic object is an attack on the memory of the Holocaust, and an escalation from those elements that would like to return us to darker days," Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement from Jerusalem.

"I call on all enlightened forces in the world who fight against anti-Semitism, racism,
xenophobia and the hatred of the other, to join together to combat these trends."

The sign disappeared from the Auschwitz memorial between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., Padlo said.

Police deployed 50 investigators and a search dog to the Auschwitz grounds, where barracks, watchtowers and ruins of gas chambers still stand as testament to the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany.

Makes you wonder what anybody's gonna do with that thing, but I guess that's not the point.

There's nothing new or original to say about the Holocaust, so I'm not going to try. But I've been to Oswiecim and walked under that sign -- "work makes you free" displayed prominently at the entrance to a concentration came where exactly nothing makes you free is perhaps history's sickest joke -- and it's a pretty horrifying thing to imagine. (Others, I'm sure, have experienced similar sensations in Rwanda and Congo and elsewhere.)

Not much to do with COIN or security or anything else, sorry.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Part of being a thoughtful commentator is knowing who to listen to

Tom Ricks seems to think it gives him credibility to post basically everything he gets from a .mil email account. Today he features commentary on "the stoopiding of the Army" from a "reserve captain at the Pentagon," whose 1,000-or-so word diatribe is posted essentially without comment. My favorite part is the closing, where he thanks our intrepid correspondent for "bring[ing] these issues to life," but there's really a lot more to talk about than just that.

First off, I'm a little bit stunned that this dude seems to think he's just stumbled across the key questions facing Army training, education, and personnel management. People have been talking about this extensively and intensively in various fora for the last eight years, for sure, and perhaps in slightly more circumscribed circles for a lot longer than that.

Schmedlap hits on some of the key criticisms in his comment at Ricks' blog, but I wanted to elaborate on a few more. So let's start at the start:

If the National Security Strategy outlined the need to win 2 conventional wars and stabilize 2 failed states, we could organize appropriately. We could identify our two nearest competitors for conventional conflict, China and Russia, and organize our conventional forces to deal with them and then we could identify the two closest potential failed states, Pakistan and Somalia, for example, and organize our unconventional, i.e. USSOCOM, properly in order to deal with those simultaneous Stability Operations. However, there needs to be a clear capability addressed for our future. What exactly does our country expect us to do in the future based on the major threats? It is time to recognize that our military is also needed for Stability Operations because failed states have been the major threat since World War II. It doesn't have to be conventional vs. unconventional/irregular. It can be both.

Personally, I believe that we need two separate organizations (conventional and unconventional) to deal with INTERstate wars and INTRAstate wars. Our mission has never included the need to resolve INTRAstate wars, i.e. failed states w/insurgencies. If that was the case and we were using the time-testing formula for peacekeepers /counterinsurgents per capita (50:1), we would need 180K troops to occupy and stabilize Somalia and around 3.6 million troops to occupy and stabilize Pakistan, for example. That would increase our military 10-fold (given the amount of troops we would need to conduct two conventional wars simultaneously and occupy those two countries as well), but would adequately reflect what the country wanted us to do.

See, that is the problem. If the military had the 560,000 SOF troops it would need to occupy Afghanistan (based on 28million pop.) and the 620,000 SOF troops needed to
occupy Iraq (based on 31million pop.), we wouldn't be in the predicament we are in today in either of those countries. An insurgency would never have been able to build, foreign direct investment could have come sooner, and international support would have been flowing into both of these countries.

If the NSS required all that, then the NSS would be a cripplingly, uselessly ambitious document. I sympathize with what this guy is saying, but this ain't the right approach.

To assert that the GPF will be responsible for MCO contingencies and USSOCOM for stability operations is to demonstrate ignorance of pretty much every doctrinal development associated with SO over the last decade. Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission, according to DOD Instruction 3000.05. They are also hugely manpower-intensive. Why in the world would we imagine that the best way to cover these mission areas was with SEALs, Rangers, Special Forces, and so on... when we have a hell of a lot less of them than line infantry, or MPs, or tankers, or artillerymen, or whatever else?

So we're going to split our force into two forces: GPF for MCO, and SOF for SO. But the SO component has to be a lot larger, because we're going to apply a nebulous 1:50 counterinsurgent to civilian ratio. So now we're in the ridiculous position of advocating for about five times as many "special" troops as conventional ones. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

And we'd need to increase the size of the military "tenfold," he tells us; shouldn't that call into question the advisability of the mission set we're settling on, seeing as that kind of expansion is COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE?
Unfortunately for the Army, the 2nd camp holds the senior positions of power within TRADOC, FORSCOM and the ARSTAF. Hence, we have seen 0 Counter IED initiatives transferred from the OCO to the Base Budget and our HumanTerrain Teams, PRTs and Advise and Assist Brigades are all ad hoc. We have no new Officer Branches of Service. Where are the MOS and Branches that cover COIN, SFA, Stability Operations, C-IED, etc.? They are all being pulled from traditional Branches like Civil Affairs, Infantry and MP and taught these additional skills in 3-hour blocs of instruction, but as a SECONDARY skill set, not a PRIMARY skill set, while their primary skills sets (IN, MP) depreciate.
Now he's really going off the rails. We need new branches for Stability Operations? Why don't we then have separate branches for offensive and defensive operations? Why don't we have MOSes for pistol shooting and rifle shooting, or for foxhole-digging (shamelessly stolen from Schmedlap)?

AABs (more accurately, modular brigades augmented for security force assistance) are not "ad hoc"; they're not completely purpose-built, either, but they are trained and augmented specifically to perform a specific mission set. Despite whatever whinging I've done in the past about this, the Army has actually made a ton of progress on this front.

This is really reflective of a much bigger debate, the one the Schmedlap has been covering pretty extensively (and Madhu has been referring to extensively!) on his own blog: whether we ought to be building a force specifically to do certain things, or whether the focus should be on making sure they know how to do things. There's obviously always going to be a blend here, but purpose-building and task-orienting every individual and unit in the force is a really quick and easy way to guarantee a whole lot of inefficiency, waste, and unpreparedness.
1) What is our mission? Is it to fight two fronts with two nation-states and occupy/stabilize one/two failed states? Is it to win on two fronts and hold on a third. Just what is it that our country wants us to do. What our mission is will drastically change our organization.
Easy: to fight and win our nation's wars. The harder part is figuring out exactly how to train, equip, man, spend, orient, and so on to accomplish that mission. No one is gonna spoon-feed this to us. Imagine the entire range of possible missions, assign probabilities and risk to each of them, apply the available resources and figure out how to get it done. This is why we have planners (ahem).
2) Is our current structure with the Combatant Commands having no control over the training of the force coming to fight their fight correct? Should each Combatant Commander be tasked with training his/her own force to address the problem areas in their AORs?
Yes, it is, and no, they shouldn't. There may be plenty wrong with Goldwater-Nichols, and we might need to rework our national security structures in certain ways to be better prepared for future conflict. Scrapping the COCOMs and establishing what would amount to autonomous regional armies is not one of the things that ought to be on the list.

You want to come up with a way to make sure that we lose a war in South America, in the apparently unlikely circumstance that we should have to fight one? Let SOUTHCOM train its own dedicated units, and make sure there's no overlap with the dudes over in CENTCOM who have actually fought in wars. Decentralize your training and doctrine to ensure that there's no consistency at all in the Army. Break the ARFORGEN construct and make sure you enlist dudes for ten-year contracts, all to be spent OCONUS.

ARFORGEN is a good concept. The services are responsible for providing trained and ready forces to the Combatant Commanders, who are then responsible for effectively employing those forces in operations. What's wrong with this system, I wonder? Did we have trouble in Iraq because the 10th Mountain didn't spend all its time running around in the desert at NTC? I don't think so. Scrapping this construct and making the COCOMs responsible for force provision as well as force employment is a really, really terrible idea.
1) Why are officers not promoted the instant they receive a higher degree of civilian education? Why are they only promoted based on time-in-grade? During the Civil War, many Generals were in their 20s and 30s. Why is an officer not promoted based on merit, knowledge and intelligence?
Because degrees don't mean dick. It's really weird to say "you ought to get promoted as soon as you get an advanced degree!" and then in the same paragraph, contend that promotions should be merit-based. Credentials do not equal merit! How about making promotions performance-based? But then we'd have to come up with an objective and comprehensive means to effectively evaluate performance, and we're not doing so well at that one, either.

But in reality, promotion to O-4 and upwards is merit and performance based (if imperfect). We don't have a whole lot of freedom to screw around with automatic promotion to O-3, either. If you think the Army has captain- and major-retention problems now, start telling people that if they suck at their job they might be stuck as lieutenants for a decade!
2) Why are officers not required to have a specific degree as it pertains to their branch? My friend in the Infantry had a Chemistry degree. Go figure. Wouldn't an International Relations degree be better suited?
Probably because THIS DOESN'T MATTER AT ALL. I wonder if this dude's friend is a bad infantry officer because of his chemistry degree. WTF is reading Thucidydes going to teach a 21-year old infantry lieutenant about fire and movement, which is really what he needs to master to do his job well? It's almost difficult for me to believe that this guy is a serving officer when he writes stuff like this.
3) Why don't officers have continuous distance learning requirements so by the time they reach O-6 they have earned a PhD in something relevant? And the enlisted could have a Master's Degree by the time they are a SGM?
Meh. Do we really need a whole bunch of Dr. Colonels? As Gunslinger likes to say about his old brigade commander (who just made BG not that long ago), he's the man you want to kill people and break things. You want to run that guy out of the service because he didn't write a dissertation?

(I do want to pause for a second here to say that Ricks' comment on this point -- "Frankly, I think the last thing we need is sergeants major with master's degrees... That's officer stuff..." -- is, put simply, idiotic. But you didn't need me to tell you that, did you?)
4) Why are they not increasing the pay to attract the best and the brightest into the military officer and enlisted ranks? If you offered 150K right out of college and 40K enlisted, you would get the best and the brightest, yet we spend ridiculous amounts of money on contractors and technology and new weaponry. The bottom line is that we live or die based on the quality and quantity of our people. Period.
This is gonna go great with our five-million man Army and 3 trillion dollar defense budget!

Ricks says "I think this officer speaks much wisdom, but I do have quibbles with his specifics." Well I have quibbles with anyone who finds a whole lot of wisdom in that email. This is not serious stuff. Institutional reform, like strategy, is about matching objectives with resources. That means priorities, not a fire-hose approach to "what's wrong with the military." Then again, considering how far off most of these suggestions are, and how misguided the underlying analysis, I'm not sure even prioritization would help.

But dudes, listen, sometimes there are real emergencies. No, like REAL ones, not the ones the Republicans call "emergencies"!

President Obama told everybody back in February that the Pentagon was done with "budgetary sleight-of-hand." No more "emergency supplementals"! The regular ol' budget is going to include "the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan"! After all, we've been fighting for almost eight years, so we ought to know what it costs by now... right?

Let's ask Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell:

Q Geoff, correct me if I'm wrong here, but when President Obama took office in January, wasn't one of his stated goals -- a promise, if you will -- to not have any more war supplemental funding from the Pentagon? Was it a mistake to make that kind of a promise when he hasn't even gotten through a year without doing that?

MR. MORRELL: I seem to recall the statements to that effect. I mean, I think it's -- and that's perfectly reasonable. This administration has made a commitment I've seen it -- and I think you've seen it -- follow through on, which is that they wanted to fund the wars, you know, through a budget process that -- through the same budget process that we looked at for the base budget. So while it wasn't technically part of the base budget, both those numbers were sent to the Hill simultaneously, and the overseas contingency operations fund and the base budget were scrutinized in the same way, by the same committees, on the same timetable. And that remains the case to this day.

Now, obviously there have been developments that have taken place. There's been
a decision -- an extraordinary decision to surge additional forces in. That is the -- that would require emergency funding. And I think the administration, the White House, OMB, this department, are in the process of trying to determine how best -- how best to fund those operations. I don't know that a decision has been made as to whether it will require an additional supplemental, whether there will be an -- you know, whether you will amend something that, you know -- any of the budget bills that are currently up on the Hill. I don't know. They're the best people to address that to.

But I think the president's commitment to having the Congress be able to scrutinize the Defense budget, the war budgets in a very deliberate way remains strong to this day. And -- but I think -- I don't think the commander in chief has ever taken an option that he has off the table.

I don't think there was ever a promise, a determination that you would never perhaps fund things through emergency funding. Things happen that sometimes require that you fund them in extraordinary ways. But let's see what they ultimately determine as to the way ahead.

"Look, obviously there have been developments that have taken place. We could never have accounted for that! I mean, aren't emergencies like this the reason we fund the wars through emergency supplementals?"

[Psst! Hey Geoff! Can I have a word?]

"Oh, wait. I've just been told we're not in the business of doing emergency supplementals anymore. So let me get back to you on the yet-to-be-determined 'extraordinary ways' that might be required to fund this genuine emergency."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"To say 'warfare is changing' is banal, obvious, and thus irrelevant."

So says William F. Owen in his most recent jeremiad against the muddle-headedness of people who are stupider than him. (Or, you know, anyone who tries to come up with anything new.) This one's in the latest Armed Forces Journal -- where the motto ought to be "STILTED PROSE GUARANTEED!" -- and decries the new vocabulary of hybrid, asymmetric, and complex war.

War isn’t just transforming — it’s ushering in a whole new language to describe conflict, and this language is used in a way that pays little attention to logic or military history. Thus the forces we used to call guerrillas are now “hybrid threats.” Insurgencies are now “complex” and require “complex and adaptive” solutions. Jungles and cities are now “complex terrain.” Put simply, the discussion about future conflict is being conducted using buzzwords and bumper stickers.

The evidence that the threats of the 21st century are going to be that much different from the threats of the 20th is lacking. Likewise, there is no evidence that a “new way of war” is evolving or that we somehow had a previously flawed understanding. In fact, the use of the new words strongly indicates that those using them do not wish to be encumbered by a generally useful and coherent set of terms that military history had previously used. As war and warfare are not changing in ways that demand new words, it is odd that people keep inventing them.

Odd indeed. One would have to believe that people are just coming up with stuff to make themselves look good, eh? Oh, wait -- this seems to be precisely what Owen believes.
The only thing that can obscure that obvious truth [that there is nothing new under the sun, that every lesson that must be learned by man has been learned before by someone who precedes you, and that instead of all this original thinking nonsense we should just take a closer look at history -ed.] is the application of new words and altered meanings to bend the problem to fit the writer’s purpose — or to pretend that military history is less useful than the insights of those incapable of expressing themselves in plain English.
While we're on the subject of "plain English," let's talk about the sentence I quoted in the title. It's banal and obvious to say "Antartica is cold," but it's hardly irrelevant to someone writing a book report or going to live there. Irrelevance does not follow from obviousness, dude.

Anyway, the Frank Hoffmans of the world can defend themselves far better than I can, so I won't bother with that here. I just wanted to draw your attention to this piece, if only to underline something that I'm reminded of every time I crack the spine of our military journals: conservatism, in the very most literal sense of the term, hasn't died. Now, as ever, it manifests itself as some old guy saying "these Young Turks with their new ideas haven't actually said anything new at all!"

A question for those who think the Afghan war is essential to maintaining stability in Pakistan

The argument about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons tends to be nested into a multi-pronged rationale for why escalation in Afghanistan is necessary -- very few people will say "the one and only reason we need to be in Afghanistan is to keep Pakistani nukes out of al-Qaeda's hands." But a lot of people (including John Nagl and Dave Kilcullen, unfortunately) will tack this on to whatever other justifications they've got, toss this one in there ominously. And why not? They probably think that even the slightest risk of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists is just about the most terrifying thing most Americans can imagine, and they're probably right.

I guess I should also make it clear that I agree about Pakistani stability being important. In fact, I think it's probably the most important feature of the entire war, and I have no qualms saying that regional stability in south Asia ought to be a bigger priority for America than the utter annihilation of al-Qaeda (which, like Rid, I think is probably impossible and possibly unnecessary) or the vaunted denial of the much-talked-about terrorist safe haven.

But lemme come to the point already: if you think that keeping Pakistani nuclear weapons safe is an important reason for us to stay in Afghanistan in significant numbers, then I want you to answer a question. Ready?

Why do we imagine that a third-party counterinsurgency campaign in the country without the nuclear weapons will be more effective in guaranteeing their security than small-footprint, foreign internal defense (FID)-oriented backing for the government that actually possesses WMD?

Can't we do more to prevent weapons from getting to AQ by engaging with the Pakistani government and military than by running around Helmand shooting at opium smugglers?

Airpower in Afghanistan

Wired has this post summarizing thoughts from USAF Col. Gary Crowder about how we don't make the best use of air assets and air power in Afghanistan. He begins by discussing his views on this, explaining that we have failed to deploy the right things, do not do a good job using what we do deploy and have bad rules for how to use such assets. He also argues that we've failed to develop the Afghan Air Corps quickly enough and that doing so would have legitimized our use of air power.

On the Afghan Air Corps development my first reaction was to question the necessity of making that a priority, particularly given how difficult it is to recruit, train, and field the ANA. On the rest, I wanted to ask what all of you thought since I'm not sure that developing an Afghan Air Corps would have the kind of legitimizing effect he argues it will.

The post concludes with:

Finally, it is my fervent belief that we simply have a flawed model of counterinsurgency. This should not be seen as a critique of operations in Afghanistan or in Iraq, but of our current national approach to the counterinsurgency problem. Our counterinsurgency strategies focus far too much on U.S. forces doing the fighting. This is a lose-lose proposition. We may be able to gut through the current fights — an increasingly likely proposition with the quality of leadership now in place. But, at present, we are in the worst of all possible situations (just as we were in Iraq in 2006 and Vietnam in 1965): we ousted the government; failed in the occupation to impose capacity and sufficient power and authority in local government; and allowed an insurgency to develop.

We now are in a position where the large-scale introduction of conventional forces is essential to stabilize the situation. Yet the mere presences of those forces simultaneously undermines the credibility of Afghanistan’s indigenous forces and government. Again, this is not to discount the success of the surge in Iraq or what I see as the likely success of the surge in Afghanistan. The Army and Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency field manual was specifically written to deal with this kind of fight. However, as Ralph Peters has stated clearly, our failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan was directly attributable to a lack of “occupation” doctrine, not a lack of counterinsurgency doctrine. The broader question we seem to have never asked is: Why is it that we are fighting counterinsurgency (”COIN”) this way and if we must support another nation facing an insurgency in the future, is this the way to do it? A far more appropriate and likely more effective model for the U.S. in counterinsurgency operations is Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Lansdale and the Huk rebellion in the Philippines (1946-1952), compared to the current COIN hero, French Army Lt. Col. David Galula in Algeria (1954-1962).

So what do you all think?

Congress is awesome

The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act passed the House yesterday 412-12. (Here's another article with some good info on this.) Two bastions of sanity on this day (and this is the only time you'll ever hear me say this) were Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, a leading critic of the bill, said it would antagonize the many Iranian people who oppose the Tehran government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "We're telling the Iranian people, 'we have feelings of friendship for you. we like you so much, but we're going to cut off your home heating oil.'"

"This will unify the Iranian people against us," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

The Senate ain't getting to it until next year, so this is pretty pointless for the time being except to jab a sharp stick in the eye of a regime that we're trying to compel to behave a certain way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I wonder if Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand will follow in what we might call a domino effect

Secretary Gates hosted an honor cordon to welcome Vietnam's Minister of National Defense General Phung Quang Thanh to the Pentagon yesterday at lunchtime.

What are the chances this is happening with Abdul Rahim Wardak's successor in 2050? (Prediction: low.)

If you're actually interested in the subject of U.S.-Vietnam defense relations instead of me scoring cheap rhetorical points about Afghanistan, check out this Q&A from CSIS. I'm not, really, but still found it to be genuinely informative and useful. (See, I can say good things about think tank products!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

The limits of cooperation

Apparently we've found them. Or at least, found them more explicitly than before. Not-so-suprisingly, the Pakistanis have come out and said what we all knew they were thinking: that they're hedging for the day the West pulls out of Afghanistan, and want to preserve their 'strategic assets,' namely those militant groups based in Pakistan that aren't allies of the TTP.

So, no, Mr. Obama, we won't be going after the Haqqani network, or other elements of the Quetta Shura that don't seek our overthrow. Because in our grand delusions, we still believe that we can control and direct the chaos on the other side of the border to our own advantage. And dammit, we will have 'strategic depth'!

Apparently this is "part of a mounting grievance in Pakistan that the alliance with the United States is too costly to bear." Umm, and what do you think the costs of abandoning that alliance will be?

Seriously, if Pakistan is concerned that it will be surrounded by Indians (or pro-Indian regimes) on all sides, why can't they see that the surest way to make that happen is to become the West's opponent? If it becomes an explicit proxy war between Pakistani and US-backed groups, why wouldn't the West align more closely with India?

Granted China may align with Pakistan against India again if the surge fails and there's a scramble in Central Asia, but isn't it just as likely to have second thoughts rooted in concerns about militants in Xianjang? Moreover, the Pakistani military still seem to think they can manage and control their militant clients. That strikes me as a deeply dangerous game to play between nuclear powers that seem at times to be itching to step into the street and settle 60 year old scores.

Perhaps more to the point, this brings into pretty sharp focus the unanswered questions about our Pakistan strategy. Even if the NYT story reflects attitudes in the military rather than civilian leadership, how do we simultaneously strengthen the civilian government's grip on its military (while not appearing to do so and thereby delegitimizing it (further) amongst the Pakistani electorate) while at the same time putting Hellfires into Waziri hillsides...or maybe the suburbs of Quetta?

Here's a question for all the Pakistan experts out there: in the eyes of the Pakistani military, what is the relative value of US military aid compared to taking out Haqqani? Would the threat of cutting off the former change the calculus, or simply reinforce the paranoia?

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wants to "hit Iran where it hurts"

In an op-ed for today's Los Angeles Times, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee proposes a multi-pronged approach for compelling the Iranian regime to give up the pursuit of nuclear technology.

The regime in Tehran knows only hardball, and nothing less than overwhelming and crippling sanctions could produce a reversal of its threatening programs and policies.

That is why the United States must be prepared to act alone, if necessary, and with every weapon in its political and economic arsenal. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act is one such tool. This legislation, which I coauthored, has the support of more than 300 members of the House, and it is urgent that this bill reaches the president's desk before the end of the year. It targets one of Iran's major weaknesses -- namely, its dependency on foreign gasoline and other refined petroleum products. By placing financial sanctions on U.S. and foreign companies providing these crucial resources, Iran's economic lifeline would be severed and its already weak economy would crumble.

But these sanctions must be coupled with action on all fronts. The U.S. must also specifically reject Iran's claim to an inalienable right to produce nuclear fuel.

So let's sum that up for clarity:
  1. Block Iran from importing refined petroleum.
  2. Inform Iran that it has no right to produce nuclear energy.

Iran can't refine its own oil, and needs to import gasoline from other countries. (As a result, the government must provide massive, nearly-bankrupting gasoline subsidies to offset the outrageously high natural price and stave off domestic discontent.) This is a massive vulnerability for Iran; if circumstances were similar in America, we would consider this a threat to our national security.

So I've got an awesome idea for bending Iran to our will: do everything possible to exploit its fears of isolation and vulnerability. Don't just prevent them from taking advantage of a plentiful resource to secure their energy requirements, but make sure they know you'll never allow them to find alternative solutions! In fact, make sure you tell them that if they try to develop the infrastructure to refine more of their own oil, you'll bomb the hell out of that, too!

This is certain to calm everyone down and reduce tensions in the region. Certain!

How defense contractors are like the contractor that remodeled your kitchen

Anyone who has ever done even moderately complicated home improvements has likely suffered the indignity of getting a lowball bid from their contractor, only to find at the end of the process that "I didn't know it would be so complicated! This is going to cost 150% of what I quoted you." Well, you're not alone: that happens to the Defense Department, too.

When seven countries from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ordered the four-engine A400M from Airbus in 2003, its parent company, European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., agreed to build 180 of them for €20 billion ($29 billion). EADS promised to swallow any cost overruns.

The project has since blown its budget by several billion euros and EADS wants the seven governments to share the burden that it had promised to shoulder. EADS officials say that would be fair because the extra expense comes partly from changes in contract terms and designs forced on it by the governments. The governments, whose individual positions vary, say they want to reach an agreement with EADS. The two sides are locked in heated negotiations and hope to strike a deal before year-end that keeps the project alive.

"The aircraft is much more complex and expensive than expected," said Domingo Urena-Raso, Chief Executive of Airbus' military division, in a recent interview. "Industry cannot bear the full burden of the project alone."


A former Airbus board member is quoted later in the article, saying "we would have preferred it was not a fixed-price contract. But then we thought about how government business enables us to make spectacular fortunes at the expense of the taxpayer and without the threat of open-market competition because of the over-consolidation of the defense industry, so we thought we'd better play by the government's rules. After all, if we lost the contract, we could always protest!"

Ok, he didn't actually say all that -- just the first sentence. But how can you come along years later and say "whoops, our math was bad!" and expect recompense?! The gall of these people is just awe-inspiring.

In a sort of related story, 25 members of the Texas congressional delegation have signed on to a letter from Republican Michael McCaul to Secretary Gates protesting yet another contract award. McCaul represents Sealy, Texas, host to a BAE plant that used to build the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles until losing the contract to Oshkosh Corporation earlier this year. One major point of contention is the fact that Oshkosh underbid all other competitors by 10% for the fixed-price contract; the losers argue that Oshkosh won't be able to produce at the price they bid. (BAE lost despite dropping their bid 20% from the existing deal.)

My favorite part of this episode? Congressman Ralph Hall, paragon of virtue and exemplar of inspired leadership in a representative republic, signed on to the letter and gave a quote to the Washington Times after his in-depth examination of the technical, financial, and operational aspects of the deal led him to reject the Department's contract award.
Mr. Hall said he signs just about any letter presented at the delegation meetings. "If it is a pro-Texas letter, I sign it," he said.
Oh. Well, that's cool too.

Where did the Eritrean soccer team go?

According to the BBC, the Eritrean soccer team did not return from playing a tournament in Kenya.

The Eritreans were knocked out of the Cecafa competition for East and Central African nations last week.

But when the team plane landed back home, it was reportedly only carrying the coach and an official.

The government, which is frequently accused of repression, denies any players are missing.

But the country's football federation confirmed to Cecafa head Nicholas Musonye that the players had not returned.

Mr Musonye told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme it was the third time the Eritrean team had failed to return home after a tournament.

Wait a second, the third time? How did they end up back at home the other two times? Or do they keep having to find new players?

Me fail English? That's unpossible!

There's something seriously ironic about misspelling the names of prominent highly-educated members of other services in a published article advocating for more educational opportunities for senior Marine officers.
Military professionals pursuing advanced education at the doctoral level is not something that only exists outside of the United States. Indeed, all three of our sister Services have formal doctoral education programs, the results of which are inarguably successful. The United States Army has developed many of its own homegrown counterinsurgency experts with names like Patraeus (doctorate in international affairs from Princeton), McMasters (doctorate in American history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and Mansoor (doctorate in military history from Ohio State University). These are officers who have obtained doctorates while in uniform and yet remained operationally relevant, serving in combat as commanders at the brigade, division, and corps levels.
I wonder if Patraeus and McMasters ever crossed paths with GEN Petraeus and BG McMaster...? (Sic. Emphasis above is mine.)

Seriously, the article is fine and makes a good argument, but I laughed out loud when I saw that. I'm really not making fun of Marines here. (Ok, only a little bit.)

UPDATE: If if makes you feel better, Devil Dogs, I misspelled "misspell" on first publication. (But it was a typo.)

Stupid question, unbelievable answer

Have you ever heard of a media interview with a public official being embargoed until after the announcement of some major policy decision? Me neither, but that's apparently what happened after Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin spent two hours with GEN McChrystal last month.
Our interview was off the record, because President Obama hadn't yet laid out his Afghan strategy.

But now that the strategy is unveiled, and McChrystal has testified before Congress, I'm free to use some of the conversation.

Uh, ok. Anyway, the part that's interesting is what COMISAF actually said:

What will happen if we don't try to stabilize Afghanistan, I ask? His sober answer: "Civil war that kills . . . one million? No side can win. Al-Qaeda will come back. If Afghanistan implodes, I'm not sure Pakistan would survive."

Why in the hell would you ask what will happen "if we don't try"? Who gives a damn about trying?? Have you considered the possibility that we may try and still fail, and that precisely the same conditions will obtain afterwards, only we'll have wasted $100 billion and 1,000 or so American lives? Is trying going to prevent civil war, or the return of al-Qaeda, or the much-feared collapse of Pakistan?

The phrasing of the question is telling, really -- it's revelatory of the way that we tend to think about asymmetric wars, about conflicts with seemingly disorganized armed bands in what we like to think of as backwater countries: we couldn't possibly lose if we're just trying hard enough.

Maybe I'm making too much out of this. And I haven't even really addressed GEN McChrystal's scaremongering. (Why would al-Qaeda return when the absolute best-case scenario they could hope for in Afghanistan is to replicate the conditions that presently exist in Pakistan?) But really, shouldn't we be asking the question "what is going to happen if we can't achieve our objectives?", rather than "what happens if we don't try?" And then, better yet: how much can we hope to accomplish even if we are trying?

Friday, December 11, 2009

What we're reading #5

Almost two months since we've done one of these! So here's a rundown on a few things we've read recently, are currently reading, or that are in the stack for the weekend.


I'm in the middle of a very dry, very academic paper in the journal Iranian Studies called "Informal (In)security in Urban Afghanistan", by Stefan Schutte, but I'm really giving serious thought to quitting halfway. I never quit reading things in the middle. Draw your own conclusions.

I've also just begun David Ucko's The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars, which was a birthday gift from my very gracious co-bloggers. I know books like this make SNLII and Gentile crazy; more of The Dominant Narrative!

The most recent issue of Parameters has been going back and forth to work with me for the last two weeks; I'm about to start on "Insurgent Mistakes: Playing for the breaks," by Lincoln B. Krause. Also see that issue for the 50th recitation of Gian Gentile's ideas about the pernicious influence of the COINdinistas. (Or don't. I promise you've already read that article.)

Something I recently read that's getting a lot of play among people who are interested in the training/advising/mentoring angle in Afghanistan: "Getting the most out of the ANA, so we can do less." It was written by Jeff Haynes, a retired Marine colonel and former commander of Regional Corps Advisory Command-Central, and has some interesting and controversial ideas about how to improve training for the ANSF.

And one more from the FPRI crowd: "What Afghans Want," by Andrew Garfield. I recently read an op-ed that was based on this longer piece, so I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, just so you guys know I read about other stuff, too (a good friend of mine recently chuckled that he thought his interests "are a little broader than [mine]" when defending his interest in Harry Potter and Twilight; while I disagree with his specific choices, I winced at the underlying suggestion that I'm not interested in anything but war!): last week I finished Malcolm Gladwell's newest, What the Dog Saw. If you think the book sucks, or if you think Gladwell sucks, or if you think pop science/economics/behavioral psychology sucks, that's fine -- just don't quote bleedin' Steven Pinker at me.

Ok, that's enough for now. Compadres?


I'm working on a few papers right now, so re-reading Paul Brass's Theft of an Idol: Text and Context in the Representation of Collective Violence - one of the touchstones of the study of social violence and political identity.

Likewise, going back over Kalyvas' The Logic of Violence in Civil War with a fine-toothed comb, picking out where I think more work needs to be done.

Aside from a slew of Kalyvas' papers ( 'Ethnic Defection in Civil War,' 'Bosnia's Civil War: Origins and Violence Dynamics,' 'How "Free" is Free Riding in Civil Wars?', 'Ethnic Cleavages and Irregular War: Iraq and Vietnam'), I'm looking forward to tackling Alex Alderson's 'Comprehensive Approach: Theories, strategies, plans and practice' in NDC Forum Paper #9.

At the top of my pile after all that are Decoding the New Taliban edited by Giustozzi (who, by the way, has yet another new book out - could someone tell the man to stop writing so the rest of us can catch up!?), Ahmed Hashim's Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, and Kimberly Kagan's The Surge: A Military History.

But no 'The Real Housewives of Orange County' for me - clearly that's Gulliver's niche.

Background for me lately has been a lot of Mingus, and a great Congolese rock/soul artist named So Kalmery.


Well, I raided the library at Gulliver's when we were there for dinner so here's what I'll be reading:

La Guerre Probable, by Vincent Desportes and

Writing to Change the World, by Mary Pipher (because Reviving Ophelia was so amazing, if you're still wondering what those teenage years were all about, it really does help).

If the Kalyvas actually came in the mail today then I'll be reading that too.

Plus, I need to read all sorts of boring documents but I won't bore you with the details.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why I don't work for a think tank

There are a lot of reasons, really. (One is that none of them wanted to hire me.) But this CNAS report, authored by Ethan Kapstein, reminds me of the most significant: think-tanks come up with ridiculous, impossible, never-to-be-implemented ideas all the time.

Now I understand the utility of dialogue, and that some ideas that seem ridiculous at the time eventually become mainstream. What are we to make, though, of a policy brief on defense acquisition reform when the suggestions in it basically amount to:

1. Find a way to make super-smart people work for the government instead of industry
2. Convince Congress to limit itself to an up-or-down vote on the entire defense procurement budget, thus denying itself one of the most effective vehicles for advancing profitable pork and ensuring re-election
3. Profit!

Oh yeah, and "the media, think tanks, and the administration should object strenuously when Congress channels unnecessary funds to procurement that should be going directly to our 'boots on the ground' instead." Uh, right. Problem is we've all got a different definition of "unnecessary," don't we?

I recognize that there's something to be gained from examining the lessons of other systems, and from imagining what benefit we might derive from dramatic change. But shouldn't we also consider just exactly how sodding unlikely these "reforms" are to to be implemented?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Afghanistan deployment details (UPDATED)

As an update to this post, here are some more details on upcoming Afghan deployments straight from DoD:

The Department of Defense today announced the deployment of approximately 16,000 additional forces to Afghanistan, the initial elements of the 30,000 troops authorized by President Obama on Nov. 30. An infantry battalion task force, with approximately 1,500 Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will deploy later this month. Regimental Combat Team-2, headquartered at Camp Lejuene, N.C., will deploy approximately 6,200 Marines in early spring 2010. A Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) headquarters from I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif., will deploy approximately 800 Marines in spring 2010.

A Brigade Combat Team (BCT), with approximately 3,400 soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y. will deploy in early spring 2010 to conduct a training mission.

Secretary Gates also approved the deployment of approximately 4,100 support forces, which will deploy at various times into spring 2010.

So that's 1/10 Mtn as an SFA brigade, I guess, and RCT-2 to Helmand for the fight in Marjah. That gets us about halfway there, as far as I can tell.

Interesting to see that the two IBCTs, one of which will be headed to RC-East and one to RC-South -- that is, basically the bulk of the additional combat power in this "surge" -- are going to constitute the latter half of the escalation. Marines and trainers headed over first. Curious to see how they're going to ramp up 1/10 Mtn for the SFA mission at pretty much the exact same time they're getting 1/4 ID ready. (And who's replacing 48th BCT, doing SFA in the east? 1/10 Mtn is supposed to be an additional training brigade.)

UPDATE: You'll remember that 1/10 Mtn was "off-ramped" from a planned Iraq deployment just a couple of months ago. Here's what I had to say about it in October:
The First Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division has been "off-ramped" from its previously-scheduled deployment to Iraq, expected to take place in January of next year. They've yet to receive a new mission tasking, but this announcement is fueling speculation that the brigade is being made available for a potential escalation in Afghanistan.
This means the brigade is just finishing up its "Train/Ready" phase and is just about ready to go. So slap on a few weeks of advisor training down at Ft. Polk, switch out those Arabic phrasebooks for Pashto and Dari, and you're headed to Afghanistan!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What exactly is going on in Guinea (updated again)??

On Thursday, the BBC and Le Monde reported that Captain Dadis Camara, the president of Guinea (Conakry) was shot and wounded by his aide de camp, lieutenant Diakité.

The BBC story said Camara was not severely wounded and was safely at the palace. The Le Monde article, fortunately,was a bit more detailed. Apparently, earlier in the day, "heavily armed soldiers forcibly freed a military prisoner from a prison in Conakry. One policeman said the prisoner and the men who freed him were loyal to lieutenant Diakité." The article added that no one knows what happened to the lieutenant and his supporters.

Initial reports on Thursday and Friday said Diakite had been arrested. Today, however, Jeune Afrique reports that the government issued a statement announcing a reward for anyone who can help find him. Finding him can't be that complicated--and he has a cell phone, just like everyone else--because he told Agence France Presse that he was in hiding in Guinea and he was just waiting to see how things shake out.

Meanwhile, President Camara was flown to Morroco yesterday for medical treatment. The President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Campaore, told the media that Camara "was in a difficult but not desperate situation." Meanwhile, Camara's spokesman keeps saying he's fine, was not badly hurt and only required minor medical treatmen and that in fact, the Minister of Defense has flown back to Conakry to ensure continuity in government until the President returns. There's an interesting tidbit in there too about how the VP was on a business trip in Lebanon (note that he wasn't on official business, he was on a business trip...).

Anyway, this whole thing gets more complicated and confusing. According to Human Rights Watch, witnesses say it was Lieutenant Diakité who ordered forces to fire on the crowd at the stadium on September 28 (you'll remember that over 150 people were killed at an opposition rally that day). Apparently, the Minister of Defense has long been trying to convince the president that the lieutenant, Diatike, should be arrested (or at the very least removed) for his role in the 28 September massacre but Camara refused.

So why do you care ? Well, first you should be worried about Guineans. Jeune Afrique reports that since the 28 September massacre, the price of rice has gone up 25%, sugar 40% and cooking oil 15%. Of course, the Guinean currency has plummeted 25 % against the euro during that time as well.

Second, apart from the fact that Guinea has 25% of the world's bauxite, plus the usual West African gold, diamonds, and iron ore, it's not exactly in the best of neighborhoods. As I've mentioned before, crisis in Guinea, and especially a serious refugee crisis could seriously affect stability in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Guinea Bissau.

I don't know exactly where that leaves us but it's pretty obvious that the Guinean junta is fractured, unpredictable, and that the situation in Guinea is extremely fluid.

Update: This article says that Camara isn't coming home this week because he can't speak (a bullet grazed his head and/or neck and sent shards of skull into his brain and that's what they were operating).

Update 2: So while things were calm for a couple days, Camara's Red Berets are now on a rampage, trying to find the lieutenant and of course going after anyone who they think is suspicious (sorry only in French, if someone finds it in English and I'll post it).

Friday, December 4, 2009

Seriously, Karl Rove?

I was certain we were past this:
President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night deserves to be cheered. Over the objections of his vice president and despite opposition from his political base, the president is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists.
Really? Fighting terrorists? That's what they're doing?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two BCTs, some Marines, and an SFA brigade?

Today's NYT tells us, as expected, that the bulk of the new troops headed for Afghanistan will end up in the south.

An American military official said Wednesday that the bulk of new combat forces approved by President Obama would be sent to southern Afghanistan, an area including Helmand and Kandahar Provinces that is the financial and spiritual base of the Taliban as well as the deadliest part of the country for American troops.

Two combat brigades, one from the Marines and one from the Army, will go to the south, while another Army brigade will be sent to eastern Afghanistan, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Army combat brigades usually comprise about 5,000 soldiers.

The flow of forces will begin “in earnest” next month, the official said, and a majority of troops will be deployed by next summer.

In Helmand, the new Marine brigade will nearly double the Marines’ 10,000-strong force. When these troops are combined with British forces, Helmand may end up with well over 20,000 troops, as many as were typically deployed in Baghdad. Helmand covers a far larger territory than Baghdad but has about one-fourth of the population.

I'm really confused about what the hell we're talking about here, to be honest with you. First of all, Army combat brigades don't "usually comprise about 5,000 soldiers." They're usually about 70-80% of that size -- around 3,500. And what are we talking about when we say a "Marine combat brigade"? It's certainly not a Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which is a task-built, combined arms force built around a reinforced infantry regiment. I've seen reference elsewhere to a Regimental Combat Team from Camp Lejeune heading over, but I'm not sure about this. The Marines confuse everything by tailor-making every deploying force, so there's no stock size for an RCT. What I can tell you, though, is that an RCT is not going to come close to "double[ing] the Marines' 10,000-strong force."

It seems to me that we're talking about four total "brigades": one Marine Regimental Combat Team, two BCTs, and one (Army) SFA brigade. But then, yet more confusion:

Speaking to reporters at his headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday, the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, said the new American deployment, along with expected NATO reinforcements, was “sufficient.”

“I think that we’re going to have exactly what we need to move forward,” said the general, who had earlier sought a fourth brigade.

Excluding support units, about one-quarter of the new forces will serve as trainers for Afghan forces. The rest will be traditional combat units teamed with Afghan security forces.

Wait, what? McChrystal's wanted "a fourth brigade," but he's getting only... four brigades? Did he want four Army brigades plus the Marines, and now he's only getting the three (two BCTs and the SFA bde)? I guess that's it, and they're talking about a fourth maneuver brigade.

It's also misleading to say that "about one-quarter of the new forces" will go to the training mission; by my math you have ~5-8K Marines and ~7-8K soldiers in the additional maneuver units, and then about 3-3.5K soldiers in the SFA brigade, plus whatever Division staff and support elements go, which means that trainers make up something more like 10-12% of the total numbers. I guess this math could be screwed up if you're chopping some of those Marines off into ETTs, but I don't know anything about how that works. And finally:
The three new brigades will join the equivalent of what are now roughly five United States combat maneuver brigades and two training brigades, and bring the total number of American troops in Afghanistan to almost 100,000.
So that's (1) 4/82 and (2) the 48th BCT (Georgia ARNG) as the two brigades doing the advisor/training mission, to be joined by one additional SFA brigade. And the three new maneuver elements will join (1) 4/4 Infantry; (2) 3/10 Mountain; (3) 4/25 Infantry; (4) 5/2 Infantry (Stryker) plus 1-12 Infantry (and international elements) in TF Kandahar; and (5) RCT 7 as the five combat maneuver brigades the article references. (I'm sure Tintin will correct me if I'm wrong here. After all, I am ripping off his Afghanistan Order of Battle!)

The Army is gonna start notifying brigades next week, apparently, so things should get a bit clearer then.

UPDATE: Changed the title, as I'd confused even my damn self.

Pure gold from Schmedlap

I'm happy to see that Schmedlap's posting frequency has increased lately, and today he treats us to an awesome rant about ill-informed criticisms of the new strategy and/or aspects of the U.S. approach in Afghanistan. (I like to think that my criticisms are well-informed, but maybe he'd disagree.) This is my favorite part, easily:
If a guerrilla force fires at you from a distance, and you return fire and begin to maneuver upon him, and then he retreats into a populated area, then your work may be done. Some gripe that they are not allowed to fire artillery, call in an Air-Weapons Team (helicopter gunships), or bring some other indiscriminate, highly destructive type of ordnance to bear upon the area where the gunmen seek refuge. Stupid. When you bombard a populated area, you kill civilians. That is counterproductive. Your commander is right to deny you this fire support. In fact, after he denies it to you, he should probably slap you because you are clueless.
Prepare for Herschel Smith to tell Schmedlap how stupid/naive he is in 3... 2... 1...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Anybody hear the details last night?

So we're getting 30K more troops, awesome. And I suppose the specifics of all that are being elaborated this week in Congressional tesimony from Secretaries Gates and Clinton and Generals Petraeus and McChrystal. (As noted in the Politico link earlier today, even COMISAF isn't yet sure exactly what the composition of those additional forces will be. I don't think I'm alone in wondering how many of the additional brigades will be augmented for security force assistance versus operating as brigade combat teams.) But somewhere along the line, people got the idea that last night we might hear something about an actual strategy.

When President Obama outlines his new strategy for Afghanistan tonight, a pivotal element will focus on the country's south, where an influx of troops will try to secure the Taliban's spiritual center and seize a major center for bomb-making and drug-trafficking.

New forces will be concentrated most heavily in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, said officials familiar with the planning. Those provinces are part of Afghanistan's Pashtun heartland, where the roots of the Taliban movement are deepest.

O RLY? Must've missed that.

But elsewhere in the news, if not in the president's speech, there are signs of exactly that. Not 24 hours have passed since the escalation announcement, and we're already seeing hints that somebody understands that the "break the Taliban's momentum" part is more important and maybe even doable -- at least in the here and now, in the next 18 months -- than the "increase Afghanistan's capacity" bit.

A crack U.S. unit from the 82nd Airborne Division was placed under Canadian command at midnight Tuesday night in order to "create a ring of stability" around Kandahar City before "the fighting season" kicks off again next May.

The 2nd battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division is to be deployed in the Taliban-infested district of Arghandab by Christmas, Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard confirmed Wednesday.

(Huge hat tip to Tintin for this link.)

Ok, big deal, right? Well, dig a little deeper and it is a pretty big deal: 2-508 is a component part of the 4th BCT, 82d Airborne Division, which -- as you already know -- has been in Afghanistan since earlier this month serving as a "modular brigade augmented for security force assistance;" that is, as an advisory brigade.
The Americans, known as the Red Devils, headed to Arghandab are already on their second tour in Afghanistan, arriving three months ago from Fort Bragg, N.C. Before getting their new battle orders, they had been scattered across Afghanistan training police.
As I said before, I've been told that SFA brigades would retain the capability to perform full-spectrum operations. I guess we're about to find out whether Gian Gentile's claims are true or not -- whether purpose-trained, COIN (/advisory)-oriented infantrymen will forget how to fight.
This is interesting largely because it turns the theme of last night's speech -- that the next 18 months will be about helping the Afghans to stand up, so that we can stand down (Obama h/t George Bush) -- entirely on its head. Here's a concrete example of a purpose-trained advisory unit, a brigade that's designed to be chopped up into advisory teams, reconstituting itself as an infantry battalion to engage in offensive combat operations in an insurgent-controlled area. (And under Canadian OPCON, at that!) Here's Tintin's commentary on that (posted from email with his permission):
It makes sense why they need to do this, in the short term: Arghandab is out of control. Before August, small Canadian elements ventured in there once in a while. In mid-August, a U.S. Stryker battalion, 1-17 Infantry, took charge, and since then it has taken insanely high casualties to IEDs (like, as bad as the worst-hit battalions in Iraq 06-07) -- 21 KIA so far, including a company commander. (The rest of the brigade has lost 6 KIA). It has some people wondering whether Strykers or their tactics are appropriate for the area, although there's not even close to enough information out there to speculate about that, and it makes it obvious that Arghandab is too lightly held.
This is decidedly not about helping to train Afghans better and faster. So again, it's going to be interesting to see which additional units end up in Afghanistan in 2010 and how many of them end up tapped for the SFA mission. As far as I can tell, the Army is only equipped to prep one brigade at a time for SFA functions down at Ft. Polk, though I could be wrong about this, so that means at best we're talking about getting maybe three brigades -- 10K or so -- into the advisory role by the end of 2010 (including 1/4 ID, which takes over for 4/82 some time around next summer). Of course, plans could change, training could be sped up, and the entire SFA brigade concept could be abandoned, I suppose, if it doesn't jibe with operational requirements. I suppose we'll wait and see.

Whatever ends up happening down the line, this is a really interesting development in the here and now. I haven't even touched the other interesting revelation (or so it seems) that springs from this bit of news and which the story cited at the beginning of this post speculates about: that new forces and operations will be concentrated in insurgent-controlled areas in the South, rather than being used to consolidate ISAF and government control in so-called "light green" areas. There's enough there for a whole series of posts...

30K a testament to Gates' influence

According to Mike Allen's Playbook, which today has great coverage of the response to last night's speech, is generally awesome, and should be read by anyone who has even the vaguest interest in politics (and no, I'm not just saying this because he wished me a happy birthday in print once):
EXCLUSIVE -- WEST WING MINDMELD: It didn’t leak, but 30,000 was the final number that Secretary Gates took to President Obama, in mid-October -- a reminder that the Pentagon chief is the most influential member of the Cabinet, bar none. His argument with the president in this regard was dispositive. This gives POTUS an airtight alibi against claims that 30,000 is a triangulated, political number, not based on any specific brigade configuration. (Gen. McChrystal is still figuring out the mix and match of forces that will add up to his authorized 30,000.)
I find it nearly unbelievable that this didn't leak over the course of the last six weeks, especially having watched the press badger Geoff Morrell about how the recommendation process went. (Maybe this explains why he was acting so dang shifty.) Just the same, it's really interesting to see 1) just how influential Secretary Gates ended up being in this thing, and 2) exactly how much his views evolved from this time last year, when we were hearing things from him that were roughly akin to John Abizaid's "antibody" rationale for drawdown.

"Find and annihilate!"

As you may have heard, a Russian luxury train traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg was bombed and derailed last week, killing more than two dozen people. Turns out Islamist separatists from the Caucasus are saying they did it:

Chechen rebels claimed responsibility Wednesday for last week's Russian train bombing, which killed at least 26 people and injured scores of others, a Web site sympathetic to the militants said.

The claim, posted on the site, could buttress the suspicions of officials who are tracing the attack to Islamist separatists in Russia's North Caucasus region. It also raises fears of a fresh wave of attacks outside the region after a five-year break - a renewal of violence that would mirror the growing unrest inside the region.

The separatist statement, issued on behalf of Chechen separatist leader Doku Umarov, claimed Friday's bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train was carried out on his orders.

"We declare that this operation was prepared and carried out ... pursuant to the order of the Emir of Caucasus Emirate," or Umarov, the statement said.

As you might expect, Russians are pissed.

The attack has struck a nerve in Russian society. About 1,500 people gathered for a state-sanctioned anti-terrorism rally in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Participants in the protest, organized by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party United Russia, held banners, with slogans including "Terrorists are not People and "Find and Annihilate."

Of course, the cops were walking around on the day of the bombing asking local residents if they'd seen anyone that looked Chechen, so I'm not sure it made much difference who claimed responsibility.

Meanwhile, the Russia's most prominent spiritual leader is telling Christians to steel themselves for a long struggle:

The powerful head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, issued a statement Sunday warning that Friday’s train attack could trigger increased tensions between Russia’s majority Christian and large Muslim communities. And in a politically inspirational vein, which has so far been absent from the comments of Kremlin leaders about the tragedy, Kirill urged Russians to dig in for a long war against terrorism.

“This is a grave challenge for our people,” he said. “A crime, in which any one of us could be the victim, has been committed for effect. Everyone living in Russia is being intimidated.”

There's been plenty of recent local violence, which isn't much of a surprise to anyone anymore, but now Russian security types are speculating that the Chechen cause has gone out of area again. You're also likely to see a lot of speculation about smaller attacks, "leaderless jihad," and the same sort of discussions that are coming out of the Fort Hood shootings, all leading to the conclusion that the Russians are really bad at internal policing (sort of ironic, ain't it?). Case in point:

Andrei Soldatov, editor of, an Internet journal that reports on security issues (an English-language version is here) says that Russia’s security forces, at great cost, did manage to crush the large-scale terrorist operations mounted by Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, such as the 2002 siege of a Moscow theater, and the 2004 Beslan school assault, in which scores of terrorist commandos sometimes moved hundreds of miles to hit their targets.

But, he says, like generals preparing for the last war, Russian security services remain fixated on preventing big, spectacular attacks like those of the recent past, instead of preparing for smaller-scale strikes at targets of opportunity, such as the bombings of the Nevsky Express.

“We see new modus operandi taking shape, in which tiny cells of terrorists of 3 to 5 people plan and execute acts of sabotage,” he says. “But our security forces have militarized this problem, and are not set up to deal with small threats like that. The main agency dealing with anti-terrorism is the Interior Ministry, which basically operates an internal army. They are in no way ready for what may be coming,” he says.

Won't be the last of this, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Speech's Aftermath

The next 24 hours (and more) will certainly be a busy time for the blogosphere and punditry in general. And rightfully so given the President's speech tonight - there is a lot to be talked about, questioned, and figured out as the Afghanistan surge becomes a reality.

All of this hullabaloo reminds a lot of January 10, 2007. I was a captain in the Army back then and looking forward to getting out in a few months. That day was a day off for me, but around 10am my boss called and told me to get into the office as fast as possible - don't even worry about putting on a uniform. When I got there, I was told that the President was going to make a prime time speech that night and declare a five brigade surge to Iraq. My brigade was number five. Oh, and I was going to be stop lossed and go with the brigade. It was a painful day for me and most of the rest of Fort Stewart. And other units, installations, individuals, and families. It is a day that changed my life significantly - in both good and bad ways.

So while a lot of folks will be hashing out a lot of opinions and ideas, some who will try and prove how right they were, let's not forgot that 30,000 service members and their families just had their lives significantly changed tonight - for better and worse. They're not victims, to be sure, but this will affect them - and the Afghan population - in very personal ways. So, just keep that in mind during the course of this week and the coming months.