Friday, January 29, 2010

U.S. cavalry squadron to reinforce Canadian-led TF Kandahar

According to the Calgary Herald, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, 10th Mtn will be assigned to Task Force Kandahar in RC-South when 1/10 arrives in country in March.

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai extended an olive branch to Taliban fighters and warlords to lay down their arms in return for money at an international conference in London, another U.S. army unit has received orders to join the war as part of the Canada-led "super brigade" in Kandahar.

The 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division is to be placed under Canadian command in March when it arrives from Fort Drum in upstate New York.

"Their arrival is key for us because they will help us to finalize the ring of stability around Kandahar City," Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard said in an interview. "2010 is the year that we have to make it happen. The only way to do that is to stop talking and to go out and protect the population so they have an alternative to the insurgency."

The incoming unit — between 400 and 500 troops — is to be one of the first U.S. army formations to deploy from the U.S. as part of a surge of 30,000 additional forces that President Barack Obama announced late in 2009.

The Valcartier, Que.-based commander of Task Force Kandahar declined to say exactly where the new U.S. troops would be deployed within his battle space, which includes the provincial capital and three heavily populated adjacent districts.

Three other U.S. battalions (a squadron is the cav equivalent of a battalion, for those who may not be aware) are already serving under Menard's command: 1-12 Infantry (3/4 ID), the 97th Military Police Battalion, and 2-508 PIR (4/82 Abn) [the article mistakenly identifies the battalion as 1-502 PIR, which is actually part of the 101st Abn; if you've been reading here, you know it's actually Frank Jenio's old outfit in the 82d].

h/t to The Torch for this one.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Brookings report on Afghanistan

Brookings has a new report out (h/t to CFR's must read): Afghanistan Index Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan by Ian S. Livingston, Heather L. Messera, and Michael O’Hanlon.

Haven't had time to read it carefully yet but it looks like a collection of pretty charts grouped into the following categories: "security indicators," "governance and rule of law indicators," "economic and quality of life indicators," and "polling and public opinion."

Not good

The Post reported this morning that ISAF soldiers in a convoy shot and killed an imam in Kabul today. While the nationality of the soldiers was not mentioned, the locals said they were Americans. The car was apparently shot eight times at least and the convoy continued on its mission without stopping. ISAF spokesmen gave the normal "we regret the loss of life" statements - a statement that will likely stand until an investigation is complete.

This is terrible for a number of reasons, and I'll skip the discussion on the obvious (how shooting imams really pisses off the locals). After all of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, I do not understand how convoys still end up shooting people around them and just keep moving. That is so 2004. I'm not questioning the decision to fire on the imam's vehicle as I was not on the ground and have no idea what prompted it. Convoys have a tendency to be extremely paranoid of car bombs (rightfully so) and have escalation of force procedures to protect themselves from that threat. While that paranoia can lead to completely unnecessary civilian deaths, they are generally useful and understood by the populace. It seems that this may have been unnecessarily heavy-handed, but again, I wasn't there so I don't know. The automatic investigation into this event will determine that. What bugs me is that they did not stop. Drive-by's should be a thing of the distant past - the convoy had an obligation to stop and cordon off the area to assess the threat, treat any casualties, and interact with witnesses to explain what the hell happened. Otherwise, the conspiracy-minded folk in the area will just go ahead and assume it was an assassination. The other result of this is that any "thorough investigation" won't have local witnesses and will be made entirely of statements of the members of the convoy. I'm going to assume it will be a lot of "I felt an imminent threat so I opened fire" kind of statements - because that's what usually happens (I may be proven wrong here, but I've never seen anything to the contrary) and is actually quite less than thorough.

The second problem I see here is the ISAF statement. Well no kidding this is tragic and everyone regrets it. ISAF should have publicly taken that convoy to task (they didn't have to identify them at this point) for not stopping and doing those three things listed above. We were told to expect more candor from ISAF when drone strikes kill civilians, I guess I expected that to include when convoys do stupid things, too. How silly of me. I understand mea culpas don't always make things right, but the bland statement that was made borders on obfuscation of the facts.

With the command's insistence on protecting civilians as its highest priority, both the actions of the patrol and the comments from ISAF violate the Chairman's "say-do" gap, in my opinion at least. It seems ISAF still has a long way to go in understanding the lessons learned in the past eight years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

General Desportes' La Guerre Probable

Over the holidays, I finished reading General Desportes' La Guerre Probable (which I'd borrowed from Gulliver). I've had this post in draft for a while but just haven't had a minute to finish it until now.

Anyway, it was an interesting read, largely anchored in Rupert Smith's The Utility of Force. If you don't read French, Brookings has apparently published an English Translation, Tomorrow's War. Desportes currently commands the Joint War College in Paris. He also served as France's military attache at the Embassy here in Washington and graduated from the US Army War College.

His main point is that tomorrow's war entails convincing people and thus thinking differently. We should prepare the war we will prosecute,rather than the one we would prefer because we know how to make it. In his view, this means we need to profoundly alter our way of thinking. He argues that today, "prosecuting war is first managing perceptions, those of all actors, close and far, direct and indirect." It is therefore necessary to define the message we want to transmit and conceive the actions which will allow it to be transmitted from Kandahar to Paris.

He adds that this means that "war, far from being prosecuted for itself, must be considered as just another means of communications among many other vectors." More "violence may be necessary to impose strategic silence so that the other vectors can be heard." Plus, "it's locally, at the low levels, using the method of the "tache d'huile," (yes he actually says tache d'huile) that you create global effects."

He also spend a lot of time warning against thinking of the enemy in any of the following ways: as an inferior that doesn't warrant careful analysis, as another "us" who reasons in the same way that we do and makes similar decisions, or as one you should disdain because he lacks our power (particularly military power). Finally, he cautions against thinking you'll be operating in an environment dictated by globalisation and digital computer models (this last part I think was a clear dig at the last French Defense White Paper which had an entire chapter on boosting French technology for war).

Overall, I thought that it was obvious he had been influenced by his time here in Washington. I think he made some points that went beyond Smith and in that way it's a useful book. I think this is particularly true for professionals who don't read English and are interested in more current military thinking on how war is different. More, given the dearth of literature in French on these topics and the challenges that forces face in the field, I think his book is a useful contribution.

What the hell is going on in the Arghandab River Valley?

One week ago yesterday, on 19 January, CPT Paul Pena died of wounds suffered when his foot patrol through the Arghandab district of Kandahar province was attacked by an IED. Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett, 29, an Air Force explosive ordnance disposal specialist and veteran of five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was also killed. Pena, 27, was the commander of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne.

The commander of 2-508, LTC Frank Jenio, had been relieved of duty on 13 January. (According to Army Times, there are 961 battalion-level commands in the Army; a service spokesman estimated that around five per year are relieved.) LTC Clarence Counts, a spokesman for the 82d Airborne Division's commanding general, said that Jenio and his senior non-commisioned officer, CSM Herbert Puckett, has been relieved "after a 15-6 investigation was conducted and found that the team's actions were of poor judgment which fostered a command climate that was not consistent with our Army Values." Counts did not elaborate on what those actions were.

The Army Values are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

As noted above, 2-508 is one of the battalions that makes up the 4th BCT of the 82d Airborne. (Readers of the blog might recognize this unit as the modular brigade augmented for security force assistance that was sent to Afghanistan last fall to train and advise ANSF.) In December of last year, 2-508 was pulled off the SFA mission and re-assigned to the Arghandab as a maneuver battalion under the tactical control of Task Force Kandahar, commanded by Canadian BG Daniel Menard.

Prior to 2-508's arrival, the Arghandab mission had been assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. The battalion had sustained extremely heavy casualties, by the standards of this war, since it arrived in country in the summer. Indeed, by mid-December, only five months into a year-long deployment, 1-17 had taken 21 KIA -- more than any battalion in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 period.

Just before Christmas, the Army Times ran a story by Sean Naylor highlighting the complaints of junior leaders and soldiers throughout 1-17 about how the battalion and brigade leadership had chosen to operate. COL Harry Tunnell, commander of 5/2 ID SBCT, had incensed many in 1-17 by firing a popular company commander, CPT Jason Kassulke. Described by his soldiers as "the backbone" and "the glue" of the company, Kassulke had openly disagreed with Tunnell's emphasis on brigade-sized sweeps and other heavily kinetic operations. Many speculated that Kassulke was the scapegoat for 1-17's heavy losses; a dozen of the dead had served in his Charlie Company.

What I've written up to this point is fact. The only concrete, certain correlation between the facts above is a relationship to the same battlespace: the Arghandab River Valley. The Naylor piece in December resulted in a lot of commentary (and even a "rebuttal" on SWJ from one of Tunnell's staff officers), and Jenio's firing (also reported by Naylor in yesterday's Army Times, but only in paper/subscription form) has been more grist for the speculation mill. What follows here will be in that vein. I have no special insights, no access, no combat experience, and no personal knowledge of any of the men involved. My analysis is based only on what's available in the public domain -- on public statements and published writings -- and not on any unique understanding of anyone's individual character. There's a lot here to digest, so this is going to be long and rather detailed; prepare yourself. And so with that disclaimer...

Let's first examine the plight of 1-17. The unit's leadership spent Reset and most of the Train/Ready period preparing for deployment to Iraq, only learning in February 2009 that 5 BCT and its Strykers would head to Afghanistan instead. Here's Naylor:

However, 1-17 soldiers said their training, which had been focused on highly “kinetic” urban warfare drills such as room clearing, did not change much to accommodate the change in mission. “The COIN-intensive fight here … isn’t so much what we trained on,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Turnblom, Charlie Company’s fire support officer.

“We trained [in] urban fighting in Iraq and then they give us Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Hughes, Weapons Squad leader in 1st Platoon, Charlie Company. “The principles are the same but the details are day-and-night different, and we’ve learned that the hard way over the last almost five months.”

In response to e-mailed questions from Army Times to Tunnell, Maj. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for Regional Command-South, said the Stryker brigade “showed a great understanding of what it would take to operate in a COIN environment by the training they conducted before arrival in Afghanistan.”

Kassulke also defended the pre-deployment training in e-mailed answers to Army Times’ questions, saying it was “as realistic” as could be achieved. “[I]t is hard to say that the training didn’t prepare us,” he said. “We have done a lot of kinetic, enemy-focused missions and the soldiers were definitely trained to do that."

Kassulke's reply is telling, and is representative of the careful, politic tone of most of his responses: the brigade trained on kinetic, enemy-focused missions, and that's what they ended up doing.

There are a couple of different possible complaints about preparation, really, and you see hints of both of them above. The first is that the brigade trained for one mission set and ended up doing another that they weren't prepared for. This could be the legitimate grievance of men who feel poorly led, perhaps even betrayed by their command. But to be under-prepared (or mis-prepared) for Afghanistan as a result of a training focus on a different AO is an understandable consequence of having a stressed, stretched force. That ought not be a gripe about brigade, but about the realities of the modern Army (and FORSCOM). There's some contradictory information here, too: some say that the problem was that the unit trained for urban warfare and ended up operating in different terrain, while others (notably battalion commander LTC Jonathan Neumann) suggest the opposite:

“What we didn’t understand is really where the enemy was making his push against Kandahar city,” [Neumann] said. “We did expect more of an open desert fight.”

The second possible complaint is that the brigade trained for one mission set and ended up doing exactly that, in spite of the fact that many soldiers and junior leaders feel the situation called for a different mission and mode of operation. This one, to be blunt, is really sort of above an O-3's pay grade. According to Naylor's article, battalion and brigade senior leadership paid lip service to the COIN mission, but still focused on offensive, kinetic, "enemy-centric" operations.

But lower down the rank structure, 1-17 soldiers said that a major factor behind the battalion’s difficulties in the Arghandab was the failure of their battalion and brigade commanders to adhere to McChrystal’s published counterinsurgency guidance, which states up front: “Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will not be won by destroying the enemy.”

Soldiers in 1-17 say that while the battalion’s junior leaders have embraced these principles, Neumann and Tunnell — whose brigade’s motto is “Strike — Destroy” — have not. “There’s definitely a disconnect between the platoon and company level and the battalion and brigade level,” said a Charlie Company soldier in a leadership position, who requested he remain anonymous.

“McChrystal’s guidance is very clear on its population focus,” said another junior leader.

But 1-17 soldiers thought that focus was missing from their operations. “When we first started operations, we were told we were going to stay enemy-focused,” said Capt. Jon Burton, an assistant fire support officer who is also 1-17’s civil-military and information operations officer co-located with Charlie Company. “That came from brigade.”

“That has absolutely been the message that’s been delivered from higher,” agreed Turnblom, the Charlie Company fire support officer.

Kassulke made no bones about the fact that he understood his priorities in a similar fashion, and Charlie Company built counterinsurgency missions around and within the offensive operations directed by brigade and battalion. The climate in his company as described by Naylor was one of nearly open dissent (if not defiance) against the directives of Neumann and Tunnell. In one noteworthy example, Kassulke responded to frequent brigade clearing operations by posting an excerpt from COMISAF's Counterinsurgency Guidance on the wall of his command post:

Sporadically moving into an area for a few hours or even a few days solely to search for the enemy and then leave does little good, and may do much harm. The local insurgents hide in plain sight and the people remain ambivalent. Once we depart, the militants re-emerge and life under insurgent control resumes.

(Neumann directed him to take it down.) Another posted sign, attributed to Kassulke's first sergeant: "Apparently COIN stands for 'Clearing Operations in November.'"

Kassulke's superiors, for their part, insist that these sorts of disagreements and petty dissent had nothing to do with the company commander's early relief. They intimated that the men of Charlie Company may have lost confidence in their commander, or that Kassulke was suffering unduly from the stress of combat. His men, for their part, vehemently disagreed.

Neumann said if it had been up to him, he would not have replaced Kassulke, but the decision was Tunnell’s. “His main point to me was [that he was] worried both about the company and about the man,” Neumann said. “Either one can hit a breaking point.”

But Kassulke’s troops didn’t see any strain affecting him. “I saw him every day,” said Staff Sgt. David Myers, also of 4th Platoon’s second squad. “He never once lost focus. He was on top of his game.”

Tunnell said that the casualties suffered by Charlie Company influenced his decision to replace Kassulke “a month or two” earlier than planned. “It was going to happen in the December/January time frame anyway,” he said.

Can we really believe that Kassulke's dissent played no part? I can't. Even his supporters recognized the risks involved: "It was probably bad juju for an O-3 to tell an O-6, 'hey, you're not doing what the four-star wants you to do,'" said one soldier. Probably. (And that's completely leaving aside the question of whether or not Kassulke was right.) This, for me, is one of the pernicious effects of the full-bore strategic communications/IO campaign that GEN McChrystal and his supporters have engaged in since last summer, to include his Afghanistan assessment (leaked helpfully to the press) and the aforementioned Counterinsurgency Guidance: a failure to effectively disambiguate what is essentially a political argument -- the pro-COIN, population-protection, progressive rationale for escalation and increased troop levels -- from the tactical and operational directives essential to letting subordinate commanders understand their job and how it ought to be done. Everyone has spent so much time talking about the tactics of counterinsurgency, the platoon- and company-level, on-the-ground prescriptions, that alternative methods are viewed as inadvisable, impermissible, or even impossible. And I really don't think a four-star intended to tell every company commander in Afghanistan how to do his job, or how his brigade commander ought to be doing his job.

But what of this particular O-6? COL Harry Tunnell, on the evidence of what little I've read of him, is perhaps perfectly suited to play Darth Vader to the COINdinistas. More from Naylor:

When the brigade deployed to Afghanistan, Tunnell announced his intention to pursue a “counter-guerrilla” campaign. Most observers perceived a conflict between Tunnell’s approach and McChrystal’s population-centric counterinsurgency campaign.

But Tunnell said that his approach was drawn straight from Army Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Operations (last updated in 1986), and that it was complementary to, not competitive with counterinsurgency. However, he added, the “counter-guerrilla” concept “is misunderstood. ... That’s why we don’t use the term anymore.”

Brenda Donnell, spokeswoman for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., said FM 90-8 had been superseded by FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. “It’s not supposed to be used anymore,” she said of the counter-guerrilla manual.

Ms. Donnell's comment, of course, is correct: the introduction to FM 3-24.2, published in April of 2009, expressly states that it is the successor manual to FM 90-8 (which itself succeeded FMs 31-20 Operations Against Guerrilla Forces, 31-15 Operations Against Irregular Forces, and 31-16 Counterguerrilla Operations). But the quoted sentiments are entirely consistent with Tunnell's conclusions in a Combat Studies Institute Press study focused on his command of the 1st Battalion of the 508th PIR in Iraq in 2003, "Red Devils: Tactical Perspectives from Iraq." In Appendix A, "Some Final Impressions From Iraq," then-LTC Tunnell advocated for doctrinal terminology more clearly derived from combat operations than that commonly used to describe COIN and stability operations, using FM 90-8 as a reference.

While on this subject, an interesting digression: COL Tunnell has a Master's Degree in professional communication studies from Purdue University and spent time assigned to the National Defense University's Center for Strategic Communications while recovering from his wounds. During his time at NDU, Tunnell co-authored a paper called "Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism." (This was actually my first acquaintance with the man, as I read the paper -- which I thought was excellent -- when it came out in the summer of 2006. It never occurred to me that I'd later be analyzing the author's operational decisions amidst accusations that he "doesn't get COIN.") This is clearly an individual who understands the power of language. That's why this observation from the CSI study is worth examining:

Kinetic and non-kinetic are terms without any military meaning, usefulness, or purpose. Army units conduct some form of maneuver, they attack or they defend. If a leader wants to restrict his unit’s authority to attack an objective with fires then the leader should describe what he expects. Lethal or non-lethal fires, maneuver, assault, etc. are terms that we routinely use and are in doctrine. “Kinetic” sounds sophisticated but means absolutely nothing to a sergeant, lieutenant, or lieutenant colonel for that matter. Do not tell a subordinate to “go kinetic” or “don’t go kinetic,” tell them to conduct some type of maneuver. Be understandable and straightforward—if you expect your unit to make direct-fire contact with an enemy force then say so; if you do not want them to engage an enemy for a particular reason then simply tell them not to shoot and why.

Even more noteworthy is a passage that follows shortly thereafter:

In Iraq, many operational level leaders, and this includes those who are traditionally tactical leaders but circumstances require that they frequently operate at the operational level, tended to employ a “social scientist” approach to fighting an insurgency. They concentrated on the development of infrastructure, political systems, etc., which quickly consumed all of their attention and the bulk of their resources. IPB and combat operations, consequently, could quickly become unsynchronized throughout a large area, or an economy of force effort. While in tactical operations, the enemy “still gets a vote” and tactical leaders therefore should continue to focus a large part of their efforts on destroying the enemy, or denying him resources.

And then:

Military leaders must stay focused on the destruction of the enemy. It is virtually impossible to convince any committed terrorist who hates America to change his or her point of view—they simply must be attacked relentlessly. CMO and stabilization operations are important; commanders should use these activities to help define the operating environment, and gain knowledge about an adversary. It is appropriate for military units to develop goals that include appreciating local culture, improving quality of life for the populace, and promoting good governance whenever these concepts improve access to the enemy. However, if the pursuit of them does not advance one’s knowledge of threats and a unit’s capability to maintain the offensive, then they are of little practical value as tactical or operational objectives. Destruction of the enemy force must remain the most important step to defeating terrorists and insurgents—everything else supports this goal but is not a substitute for it.

Here we've come to the real crux of the issue, haven't we? Tunnell simply rejects the construct in which an insurgency can be defeated through control of the population, insisting instead that the only way to do COIN is through destruction of the enemy's force. Once more, back to Naylor:

Tunnell, who was badly wounded as a battalion commander in Iraq in 2003, was adamant that the situation in the Arghandab lent itself to the counter-guerrilla approach.

“Here in the green zone ... they’re hard-core guerrillas,” Tunnell said. “They form and they operate in teams and squads, and they mass into platoons very quickly. So I think you can’t ignore that. We haven’t seen any $10-a-day Taliban here.”

He outlined how he intended his approach to work. “[W]hen it comes to the enemy, you have leadership, supply chains and formations. And you’ve really got to tackle all three of those,” Tunnell said. “I was wounded as a battalion commander and they had a perfectly capable battalion commander in to replace me very quickly; our supply lines were interdicted with ambushes and they never stopped us from getting any resources, but when you degrade a formation substantially, that will stop operations. And then if you degrade formations, supply chains and leadership near simultaneously, you’ll cause the enemy in the area to collapse, and that is what we’re trying to do here.”

Asked if this was an enemy-centric approach, Tunnell replied: “The enemy informs how you gain access to the population. You cannot ignore it. We were taking horrible casualties trying to gain access to the population, and we knew that we needed to get to the population, and so if we didn’t conduct the types of operations that we’re conducting throughout the brigade’s area ... we wouldn’t be able to get to the population. So you can’t separate the two.”

Surprisingly, considering his work at NDU (this makes it surprising to me, anyway), COL Tunnell seems to believe that the vast majority of insurgents are in fact hardened Islamist "terrorists" who will only quit fighting with victory or death. This makes it easy to understand Tunnell's contention that there are no "$10-a-day Taliban" in his AOR, though one suspects that this conclusion may be based more on ideology than intelligence analysis.

But even if you do accept Tunnell's philosophical predisposition, I think he makes a dramatic mistake in equating the insurgency's structure and resiliency to that of the U.S. Army. American forces can replace commanders and keep formations supplied because we have a "deep bench" of talented, well-trained personnel; a flexible, modular, plug-and-play organizational structure; and consistent, standardized training. All of these factors mean that attacks on key leaders or sustainment structures are less likely to destroy a U.S. unit's ability to continue the fight than simple degradation of the formation, but this same equation doesn't apply to insurgent forces. (A counterargument related to "safe havens" and sanctuary can be made here, but this is already going to be long enough.)

In short, Tunnell believes he can kill enough of the enemy to make him quit, or render him incapable of continuing the fight -- in Tunnell's own words, his operations were intended "to dislocate the enemy so they don't want to continue operations." And isn't this the great divide in the great COIN debate: between those who think you can make the bad guys quit by hurting him badly enough, eroding his will to continue, and those who don't buy it?

All of this means that we ought not be particularly shocked when we learn of Tunnell's significant philosophical disagreements with CPT Kassulke (and GEN McChrystal, for that matter): COMISAF is one of the "doesn't buy it" types. But the brigade commander insists that this isn't why Kassulke was relieved, and Kassulke is diplomatic and considered in his own statements on the subject. And then the brigade, in some sense, would be relieved itself: replaced in Arghandab by the battalion from 4/82 at the decision of British MG Nick Carter, the commanding general of RC-South. His explanation for the switch is eminently sensible, as 1-17's Strykers made them uniquely suited for a road-security mission: "in terms of an organization that can bring freedom of movement as an effect to me, there is no better capability than the Stryker brigade." Fair enough. What about their replacement?

2-508, like the other battalions in 4/82, spent its time in the States preparing for the SFA mission in Afghanistan, training up on advisor skills and integrating an augmentee package of additional field-grade officers designed to facilitate splitting the brigade into many small training teams for deployment across both RC-South and RC-West. After spending a couple of months in country performing that mission, the battalion was directed to re-form as a maneuver formation and head for the Arghandab River Valley. This challenge would test the Army's contention that SFA brigades would maintain the capability for full-spectrum operations; though the vast majority of training time was still spent on kinetic, maneuver tasks, the fact remains that the brigade was mentally and philosophically prepared for advising and mentoring.

There's little reason to believe that LTC Frank Jenio was anything but an enthusiastic proponent of this mission, though he obviously retained an offensive mindset: a message the battalion commander posted on a Facebook page for 2-508 families after the unit's arrival in country in September indicated enthusiasm at the opportunity to get into the fight and an assurance that the enemy "are quickly learning that there's a new unit in town... and they are a hellova lot more aggressive than the previous one."

Jenio, according to the accounts I've seen (and to Naylor's most recent article), is generally considered to be a "rock star" in the Army. He's an alternate on this year's Senior Service College list (meaning he was a candidate to attend the Army War College, headed for O-6 and perhaps beyond), and is known to be friendly with GEN McChrystal from his time as the general's executive officer at the Joint Special Operations Command. Jenio also served in the 75th Ranger Regiment -- another commonality with McChrystal -- commanding Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion.

And then all of a sudden, just a month after his battalion takes over for 1-17 in TF Kandahar, just days after briefing GEN McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry, and a Congressional delegation, LTC Jenio is relieved along with his CSM. Why? Like I said, I don't have any inside information. I've seen speculation about inappropriate slides, which would seem to fit with the bit about inconsistency with Army Values and fostering an inappropriate command climate, but aside from the apparent sensibility of it I've got nothing to commend that explanation. It strikes me as irresponsible to cast aspersions and try to guess what may have prompted the dismissal when we're not even really sure who pulled the trigger on this disciplinary action: 2-508 is under OPCON to BG Menard at TF Kandahar, but LTC Jenio's administrative chain of command runs through COL Brian Drinkwine (commander of 4/82) up to MG Mike Scaparotti, CG of Task Force 82, the 82d Abn Div, and RC-East. I don't know what kind of weight it takes to fire a battalion commander in a combat zone, particularly one seen as a rising star, but it strikes me that it would probably have to originate beyond COL Drinkwine.

As Bruce has already noted on flit, the nature of the explanation (however limited) given by Scaparotti's spokesman indicates that this decision is not related to operations. The fact that both the battalion commander and command sergeant major were dismissed suggests that this was indeed a matter of "command climate," as both men could be considered responsible for the environment fostered in the unit. On the subject of operational approach, though, it's worth noting that LTC Jenio served as COL Mike Steele's operations officer in 3/101 in Iraq. Steele, as you may know, has expressed many of the same sentiments as those detailed above from COL Tunnell about the utility of COIN doctrine and the necessity of crushing the enemy's will through the application of offensive firepower. (He also, quite incidentally, was a company commander in the Ranger Regiment during the Battle of Mogadishu, an experience that no doubt helped to shape his feelings about force protection and the ascendancy of violence in irregular conflict.)

All of which is a long way of saying that I still have precisely zero idea of how the leadership styles of the various officers I've discussed have impacted the level of violence and/or success of counterinsurgency operations in the Arghandab, but hopefully this helps to illustrate how the "gets it"/"doesn't get it" dichotomy breaks down at the tactical and operational levels. If it's as simple as some guys "getting COIN" and other guys not getting it, then how is it that we've seen successive commanders at the battalion and/or brigade levels with aggressive, offensive, kinetic outlooks assigned to operate in one of the most vital AOs in the country? TF Kandahar, RC-South, and others in the senior leadership of the coalition have made encouraging noises about building on progress in the region and so on, but this is pretty much what they always say. So here's the question: are we any better off in Arghandab, or in Kandahar, or in RC-South, than we were six months ago? Is the escalation and much-talked-about strategic re-orientation toward the "Pashtun heartland" of the south going to be executed by aggressive maneuver commanders in apparent contradiction of GEN McChrystal's softly, softly approach? Is "pop-centric COIN" a PR campaign designed for public and congressional consumption, to be abandoned on the ground for tactical exigencies?

Paul Pena was killed eight days ago. LTC Guy Jones, formerly the operations officer for 4/82, now the new commander of 2-508, lost one of his company commanders less than a week after taking over the battalion. I don't know where he stands on counterinsurgency doctrine, but American paratroopers continue to fight in Kandahar province.

CPT Pena was a friend of one of my very close friends, a fellow graduate with him of little bitty San Marcos Baptist Academy in central Texas (and also a West Pointer, just like Jenio, Drinkwine, Tunnell, Scaparotti, and McChrystal). I don't include him in this post to place blame for his death on his superiors, present or former, or to imagine that his fate would have been any different in a different place on the map or in a different brigade. But reading the details of his biography in the casualty report that came over email from DoD last week, thinking "hey, San Marcos, I wonder if R knows him?", hearing the details of the single mother and loving friends he left behind... it all helped to remind me that this isn't a soap opera. It's not about personalities. It's not Monday Night Football. Our commentary should mean something, should advance our understanding of the conflict or improve the quality of the dialogue about how and why we fight.

I hope -- if you've made it this far -- that you'll help me do that. Apologies for the encyclopedic word count of this post.

UPDATE: I was remiss in not originally thanking Tintin for his contributions to this post, both by pointing me to a lot of the relevant source material -- all the way back to the original Army Times article about a month ago -- and in discussing a lot of the content over email.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The FT goes into detail with McChrystal

The Financial Times has published a long interview with GEN McChrystal, which seems to be accessible without registration if you click through from Google News.

One of a number of interesting Q&A:

FT: When you say we’ll see demonstrable progress, what can we expect to see that will show that your strategy is actually yielding results?

Gen McChrystal: It’s not as important what you and I see as it is what a farmer [sees]. Let’s pick a farmer in Garmsir, in central Helmand River Valley, which has been under Taliban control for several years. Right now we’ve established security, but it is in limited areas – it is pockets of security, and we’re going to expand those pockets. Right now that farmer can farm inside that security zone; he does business in the bazaar that was almost closed eight months ago. Now he can do business there, and he can live his life in there. He will see – when we hit the day, and it won’t be too long in the future – when he can get in a vehicle and move products from Garmsir up to Lashkar Gar, and maybe over to Kandahar and maybe all the way up the ring road to Kabul, without being endangered by Taliban IEDs, without being taxed by malign actors, warlords or something like that. That’s when he sees the absolute effect of what we’re doing, and so at that point the government has a tremendous opportunity to convince that farmer how much better life can and will be.

H/T to Barnett Rubin's invaluable listserv.

The Eikenberry cables

Apparently an unnamed official has decided that Ambassador "Eikenberry's detailed assessments be made public, given that they were among the most important documents produced during the debate that led to the troop buildup." Given that the debate within the administration is over for the time being, the President has decided on a policy, and the policy is being implemented - oh, and that the cables are, ya know, classified - this strikes me as a really bad idea at this juncture.

Really, other than undermining any residual trust among senior officials (especially between civilians and military) and pissing off the Commander in Chief, what exactly is this going to accomplish?

Given the, ahem, vigor of his disagreement with McChystal last November, I was dubious that Eikenberry was a real contender for the soon-to-be-created top NATO civilian in Afghanistan. This would seem to make it all the more unlikely, and maybe that was the real point of the leak.

I've yet to read the cables themselves carefully, but the NYT's summary of the arguments makes them sound pretty weak: dangers of Afghan over-dependency (reminiscent of Iraq under Casey, and someone forgot to tell the Brits in SL); and I believe Lil could write a short dissertation in response to Eikenberry's concerns about the ANSF on why the conventional wisdom about attrition rates in ANA don't capture the whole story...that said I'm going to reserve judgment until I've read the originals in full.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"If that IED had worked like it was supposed to? Bye-bye, sweetheart."

If you haven't read this story from the front page of yesterday's New York Times, do it now. It combines two awesome things: C.J. Chivers and Marines escaping death.

If luck is the battlefield’s final arbiter — the wild card that can trump fitness, training, teamwork, equipment, character and skill — then Lance Cpl. Ryan T. Mathison experienced its purest and most welcome form.

On a Marine foot patrol here through the predawn chill of Friday morning, he stepped on a pressure-plate rigged to roughly 25 pounds of explosives. The device, enough to destroy a pickup truck or tear apart several men, was buried beneath him in the dusty soil.

It did not explode.

Lance Corporal Mathison’s weight triggered the detonation of one of the booby trap’s two blasting caps. But upon giving an audible pop and tossing small stones into the air, the device failed to ignite its fuller charge — a powerful mix of Eastern Bloc mortar rounds and homemade explosives spiked with motorcycle parts, rusty spark plugs and jagged chunks of steel.

Lance Corporal Mathison and several Marines near him were spared. So began a brief journey through the Taliban’s shifting tactics and the vagaries of war, where an experience at the edge of death became instead an affirmation of friendship, and in which a veteran Marine reluctantly assumed for a morning one of the infantry’s most coveted roles: that of the charmed man.

Great stuff.

Remember the general and his "explosives divining rod"? (UPDATED)

You know, this guy? Some lady from BBC NewsNight went to the manufacturer's English country home and knocked on his door to call him out for selling pseudoscientific lucky charms to the Iraqis, but he didn't answer (shocker). Oh yeah, and she went to the Cambridge Computer Laboratory to find out what a third-grader could have told her: that a SIM card can't detect explosives.

Check out the video here.

h/t Faceless Bureaucrat at KOW.

UPDATE: the New York Times is reporting that the very same dude who got door-knocked has been arrested for fraud. (Maybe that's why he didn't answer.) The story has a lot more detail about the financial arrangement between the manufacturer and the Iraqi government, lending credence to my initial speculation that there's some sort of corruption involved.

“Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE 651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection,” the [British Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills] said. “We acted urgently to put in place export restrictions which will come into force next week.” The statement said the department could ban export to those countries because British troops there could be put at risk by the device’s use. ATSC claims to have sold the device to 20 countries, all in the developing world.

The Supreme Board of Audit in Iraq announced it would investigate the procurement of the ADE 651, according to the board’s leader, Abdul Basit Turki. The investigation will focus on officials who previously assured auditors the device was technically sound, he said.

Maj. Gen. Jihad al-Jabiri, who is in charge of procuring the devices for the Ministry
of Interior, could not be reached for comment.

In Baghdad on Saturday, the devices were still very much in use. “I didn’t believe in this device in the first place,” said a police officer at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “I was forced to use it by my superiors and I am still forced to do so.”

Another checkpoint officer said he blamed corrupt officials for bringing the ADE 651 in. “Our government is to be blamed for all the thousands of innocent spirits who were lost since these devices have been used in Iraq,” he said.

An associate of ATSC, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the devices were manufactured at a cost of $250 each by suppliers in Britain and Romania. “Everyone at ATSC knew there was nothing inside the ADE 651,” he said.

The Iraqi government, according to its auditors, paid $40,000 to $60,000 for each device, although it determined that ATSC was marketing the device for $16,000. The additional money was said to have been for training, spare parts and commissions.

News from the Mano River Union

I wanted to flag some interesting stories from Guinea, Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire (which along with Sierra Leone, form the Mano River Union).

First, things in Guinea seem to be settling down with the appointment of an opposition Prime Minister and President Camara's agreement to voluntary exile in Burkina Faso. It seems the acting President of Guinea, General Konate successfully worked with Blaise Campaore (the regional mediator) and other regional leaders to convince the wounded Camara to step down. This is a relief for many in the region given fears that Camara's return would spark civil war in Guinea and of course threaten stability in the neighboring countries. The new Prime Minister, Jean-Marie Dore, is an old hand in Guinean politics. This is interesting analysis from BBC on the events unfolding in Guinea.

This brings me my next story. Charles Taylor, after months of providing testimony in his own defense, is undergoing cross examination at his trial in The Hague. The crazy "I'm innocent" stories keep coming but this one was, shall we say, entertaining. Taylor claims he had no part in sending Liberian fighters to Cote d'Ivoire in 2003. I think I need to start reading about the trial more often again because it's a good refresher in Mano River Union history.

This brings me to my final story, this time from Cote d'Ivoire, the last country to join the Union. Most people of course are worried about the elections though I think many forgot about that while they watched the quarter finals of the Africa Cup of Nations yesterday (Algeria beat Cote d'Ivoire). Anyway, back in 2006, the multinational oil company Trafigura brought 500 tons of chemical waste to Abidjan "processing" and disposal. I'm sure you've read about other places where governments and corporations are "working" with developing country governments to "process" and "store" dangerous waste. Anyway, the waste wasn't properly handled at all. In fact, it was simply dumped in the laguna in Abidjan (there are some nice photos here). As you might expect, many people got sick, some died. A lawsuit was filed and damages were awarded. On Friday, an Ivoirian court decided that a local activist, Claude Gohourou, should distribute the 45 $million to the 30,000 victims. Now no one is sure that the people who suffered from the dumping of this stuff will see a payment.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

UNAMA Still Needs a New SRSG (updated)

You'll remember that last week, Swedish diplomat Staffan di Misturahad been offered Kai Eide's job as Special Representative of the Secretary General for UNAMA. On his new blog, Turtle Bay, Colum Lynch reports that the diplomat has declined, citing personal reason.

Lynch adds:
U.N. diplomats said that the U.N. has reopened its consideration of a short list of potential candidates, including Jean-Marie Guehénno, the former U.N. peacekeeping chief, Knut Vollebaek, Norway's foreign minister, and Atonio Gutteres of Portugal, the head of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Jan Koubis, the director of the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, is also under consideration.
Now Guehénno, rumors say, is also being considered as a possible replacement for Alan Doss who the same rumors say will be resigning from his post as SRSG for the UN in DRC in March. I have to say, I'm not sure where I would rather have the former peacekeeping chief serve, it's a tough call.

Getting back to Eide however, obviously, not having a replacement before the January 28 London Conference is not going to make things easier. Despite endorsing the decision, UNAMA also needs some leadership if it's going to support the 4 month delayed parliamentary elections. A question, with Eide resigning and UNAMA slated to play "an enhanced coordination role," who do you think would be a good pick for the job?

And one more thing, given NATO's decision to appoint a new "top civilian" to lead the enhanced civilian efforts there, who are good candidates for that position (beyond the UK Ambassador to Afghanistan who is mentioned at the top of the story) and what should cooperation/coordination mechanisms with the UN look like?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bob Gates or Bill Gertz -- who seems more sane?

Bill Gertz wrote a piece in today's Washington Times bleating about an essentially meaningless downgrade in China's intelligence collection priority, a move that's intended to ease tensions with Beijing.

The White House National Security Council recently directed U.S. spy agencies to lower the priority placed on intelligence collection for China, amid opposition to the policy change from senior intelligence leaders who feared it would hamper efforts to obtain secrets about Beijing's military and its cyber-attacks.

The downgrading of intelligence gathering on China was challenged by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta after it was first proposed in interagency memorandums in October, current and former intelligence officials said.

The decision downgrades China from "Priority 1" status, alongside Iran and North Korea, to "Priority 2," which covers specific events such as the humanitarian crisis after the Haitian earthquake or tensions between India and Pakistan.

The National Security Council staff, in response, pressed ahead with the change and sought to assure Mr. Blair and other intelligence chiefs that the change would not affect the allocation of resources for spying on China or the urgency of focusing on Chinese spying targets, the officials told The Washington Times.

White House National Security Council officials declined to comment on the intelligence issue. Mike Birmingham, a spokesman for Mr. Blair, declined to comment. A CIA spokesman also declined to comment.

But administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the new policy is part of the Obama administration's larger effort to develop a more cooperative relationship with Beijing.

I'm gonna be honest: I have no idea what it means to move a state from Pri 1 to Pri 2. Gertz says that there's no movement of assets or shift in resources, but I have to wonder what the hell this rating even means if there's no money or people associated with the ranking. That aside, what's really telling is the last paragraph in the section I've quoted above: Gertz expects his audience to feel outrage at the suggestion that we'd want to have a "more cooperative relationship with Beijing." (Also, dude, why do you need three sentences to say "the NSC, DNI, and CIA all had no comment"?!)

Contrast this with the eminently sane Bob Gates, responding to a question in India today about whether he and his Indian counterparts had discussed cooperative responses to Chinese cyber threats:
We didn’t talk about China at length. We did talk in more generic terms about a common interest in security of the Indian Ocean and security of the global commons, and the global commons meaning the air, sea, space, and if you’re talking about the internet, the ether, I suppose.

There was a discussion about China’s military modernization program and what it meant and what the intentions of that military buildup were. And a desire, I won’t speak for the Indian side, but certainly a desire on our part to engage China in a more routine, in-depth dialogue about our strategic intentions and plans so as to avoid any miscalculations or misunderstandings down the road. As I’ve long said, I was involved with the strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union for many many years. I’m not sure those talks ever actually reduced any arms, but the dialogue over a long period of time with great candor about nuclear capabilities, thinking about nuclear options, thinking about how each side looked at nuclear weapons and at their military modernizations, I think played a significant role over time in preventing miscalculations and mistakes in the relationship between these two super powers during the Cold War. I think that kind of a dialogue with China would be most productive and frankly in the best interests of global stability.
Sounds about right to me. And what about you: are you a Gatesian or a Gertzian on China? (I'm not going to pretend like I have a charitable neutrality on this. If you think Bill Gertz is smarter on long-term strategy towards China than Bob Gates, then... Well hell, I don't know, vote Republican I guess. Mabe Pete Hoekstra will run for president!)

It ain't exactly Operation Market Garden

If you were wondering why the brigade from the 82d Airborne that's doing HA/DR in Haiti didn't arrive by parachute, anonymous "senior military officials" addressed that question during a background briefing with the press this morning.

Q The -- early on, was there ever any -- and you may have just answered this -- any consideration to jumping the 82nd itself in; they then set up -- you know, you're clear, you got a landing zone, and then vehicles and supplies come in?

SR. MILITARY OFFICIAL 1: I would have to, you know, defer to the commander on the ground out there. I don't think at this -- from my point of view right here, I don't believe there was a conscious decision to do that, because we didn't think that was a -- the prudent thing to do. It was a --

Q It wasn't really considered?

SR. MILITARY OFFICIAL 1: No. And it's -- and there's also an issue of optics here, because we are there to assist and enable. This is not a jump into a combat zone; this is not a jump.

So we're there to assist and enable. It's a peaceful nation. It's a very dramatic and, as General Keen said, epic proportions, the disaster there. And we're there to get there quickly and to help. And to parachute in or to drop in, it was not required and would have probably sent the wrong message.

Uh, yeah. Probably.

Don't hate the player, hate the game

If you're worried about the military spending money on beer and snacks for members of Congress on overseas trips, then don't just push for members to disclose expenditures of their uniformed escorts -- put an end to Congressional boondoggles altogether (or stop using senior servicemembers to book travel and do other logistics work for you)!

Military officials bought thousands of dollars worth of alcohol, food and other amenities for the U.S. lawmakers they accompanied on trips overseas, travel records viewed by The Wall Street Journal show.

The documents don't show these outlays have secured any favors or favoritism from lawmakers. And the funds spent by military personnel—which ran about $4,300 per trip for the 43 trips examined by the Journal—usually account for only a small portion of the total lawmakers spend on overseas travel.

Instead, the records shed light for the first time on how the military exploits its official escort role on these trips to foster relationships with lawmakers who approve departmental budgets and top appointments. The disclosures also underscore the military's pervasive pursuit of congressional access.

Indeed, the military aides who accompany lawmakers overseas are usually the same people who lobby Congress at home; their offices are in buildings shared with lawmakers.

If you think that O-6s go to Wal-Mart to buy Oreos for Chris Dodd so that FCS will get funded, as part of a "pervasive pursuit of congressional access," you're out of your damn mind. Military liaisons to Congress are professionals doing a job they've been told to do; you'd see the exact same behavior if they were escorting general officers instead of members of Congress. (Hell, you'd see the same behavior if they were escorting American mayors who had nothing to offer them!) Here's the opinion of someone close to me who has been on Congressional travel:
The escorts see Member travel as an opportunity to demonstrate excellence, and in so doing build confidence and rapport. Admittedly, in the wacky world of Congress, confidence and rapport can lead to funding, but can you begrudge the military for wanting to demonstrate core capabilities to decision makers? I particularly hate the use of the word “exploits” in the original quote; any number of synonyms would completely change the tone.
Well, can you? How about let's worry about the bigger problem: members of Congress running around on "fact-finding trips" all over the world on the taxpayer dime with only the thinnest of legislative justifications?

Dirty French, pt 2: an update!

Remember that dirty Frenchman who gouged another dude's eyes during a rugby match and got suspended for 24 weeks? (You should! I wrote about it here.) Well, his little buddy has finally been sentenced for GOUGING THE EYES OF THE EXACT SAME DUDE DURING THE SAME GAME. The verdict? Fat Frenchman Timothy Attoub was slapped with a 70 week ban! Take a suck of that, cheating French!

The best part of the story by far is the reaction of Max Guazzini, the president of Attoub's club Stade Francais. The club first tried the "you've got us all wrong!" defense, insisting that that photographs of Attoub's fingers jammed into Stephen Ferris' eyes had been doctored. When that nonsense was dismissed, Guazzini told the press that the sentence was "excessive, very political, and anti-French." That may or may not be true of this judgment, but it's certainly true of my posting!

Hey France: stop cheating!

P.S. Again, nothing to do with war, but I thought this was an essential update to the original story. I promise to limit myself to like a dozen France-cheats-at-everything posts per year.

Let there be light, so that I can kill you with it

Tonight's big story is that Trijicon, a U.S. defense contractor, has been stamping letter and number sequences that refer to Bible verses on the ACOG sights they've been supplying to the U.S. military for years.
The inscriptions are subtle and appear in raised lettering at the end of the stock number. Trijicon's rifle sights use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters hit what they're aiming for.

Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which is standard issue to U.S. special operations forces, include "JN8:12," a reference to John 8:12: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,'" according to the King James version of the Bible.

The Trijicon Reflex sight is stamped with 2COR4:6, a reference to part of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," the King James version reads.

Photos posted on a Defense Department Web site show Iraqi forces training with rifles equipped with the inscribed sights.

The Defense Department is a major customer of Trijicon's. In 2009 alone, the Marine Corps signed deals worth $66 million for the company's products. Trijicon's scopes and optical devices for guns range in cost from a few hundred dollars to $13,000, according to the company's Web site.
Look, I understand the concern here: we don't want it to look like there's any kind of crusading Christian message associated with our operations in Muslim lands. I absolutely agree with that. But seriously, is this something that's worth getting all that worked up about? I'm no Jesus jammer -- hell, I'm precisely the opposite! -- but I just can't spend a whole lot of energy worrying about this. Is an Arabic or Pashto speaker going to worry that "JN8:12" means that the dirty infidel is coming to conquer his lands and convert his people? (If he's been watching Ann Coulter, he's already worried.)

And here's the thing that no one seems to be mentioning: the two inscriptions that are mentioned in the Post article refer to verses dealing with illumination, which is what a tritium night sight is meant to provide! Maybe I'm a little too unserious, but these verses almost strike me as a bit of a joke: may God and this piece of highly sophisticated machinery shine the light on my enemy so that I may smite him!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shouldn't getting caught cheating in an election disqualify you from the next one?

Not in Ukraine! Victor Yanukovych took a plurality of votes in Sunday's presidential election after trying unsuccessfully (so close!) to steal the 2004 vote.
Two of the chief combatants in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought to power a pro-Western government that has left the public increasingly disillusioned, battled in a presidential election on Sunday, but because neither received enough votes to win outright, they will face each other in a runoff.

That runoff, scheduled for Feb. 7, is seen as a referendum on the Orange Revolution, which has mired Ukraine in political and economic upheaval for much of the past five years.

The results of the voting on Sunday reflected the revived fortunes of the opposition leader, Viktor F. Yanukovich, who was the loser in the Orange Revolution but who has taken advantage of the public’s soured mood and the bickering among Orange officials.

Once criticized as a tool of Moscow, Mr. Yanukovich has retained an America political consultant and softened his image. He is to face Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, one of the Orange heroes, in the runoff.

The first official returns reported late Sunday, with a fraction of votes counted, showed Mr. Yanukovich with about 38 percent and Ms. Tymoshenko with about 25 percent. The other candidates were far behind.

On Sunday night, both Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko reached out to losing candidates for endorsements. A looming question is whether those more ideologically aligned with Ms. Tymoshenko will support her.
It's interesting to see the varied response across the media: the Guardian tells us that Yanukovych is "poised to take Ukraine presidency" while the Atlantic Council headlines that pro-West candidate Tymoschenko "has momentum."

(Let me go ahead and get this out of the way, since I know someone's going to bring it up in the comments: Yulia Tymoshenko used to be hot. Like, really hot -- at least for a head of government. Her looks have suffered a rather precipitous decline, much like those of her partner in the Orange Revolution Victor Yushchenko. He was poisoned, though, so he has an excuse.)

Ok, back to the serious stuff. I am not a Ukraine expert, and I don't want to suggest that I know a whole lot more about this than anyone else. I suppose I do qualify as the blog's resident eastern Europe guy, though, and I bore personal witness to a couple of elections in former communist countries. So let me just say that I think the Guardian's suggestion that this election belongs to Yanukovych is just damn stupid. Tymoshenko has made a lot of enemies in the five years since the Orange Revolution, and she's fallen out with the current president (who registered just over one out of every 20 votes this time around). Neither candidate makes a secret of the fact that they'll seek closer relations with Russia, something that seems almost unavoidable after several years of tense disagreements between Moscow and Kiev over energy prices. But Yanukovych seems certain to seek a strategic re-orientation towards the East, whatever noises he's making now about pursuing an independent course for his country. Tymoshenko claims that "to vote for Yanukovych is to go back to the Stone Age," and it's hard not to agree with her.

Part of the reason I'm reluctant to speculate on how this is going to shake out is that the political landscape in Ukraine has changed so much over the last five years. The 2004 election was much simpler: it was about West versus East, the European Union versus Russia, modernity versus a retrograde return to the too-tight embrace of the near neighbor. Yanukovych was all about the latter course, and Yushchenko represented a break from all that: a turn towards the light. That's why it was so easy for to unite pro-democracy, anti-government liberals behind a coalition of reform candidates.

But beyond strategic alignment, there was a huge ethno-linguistic element to that election: Yanukovych was wildly popular in the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine, while Yushchenko's support came from the Ukrainian-speaking, more independent western and central parts of the country. (I could bore you with a whole lot of history here, tell you about the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Polish history of Lviv/Lwow and Union of Brest and the the distinction between the Eastern Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic factions in the country, but I'll spare you. Instead I'll just remind you of Samuel Huntington's 1998 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order -- the cover of new paperback editions shows the Stars and Stripes alongside Islam's crescent and star, in case you're dense -- and the prediction contained therein, that Ukraine's place astride the fault line between Occident and Orient would result in the eventual partition of that country.) Those demographic realities still obtain, but it's not clear that they're still dispositive.

All of which is a long and boring way of saying that I don't know what the hell is going to happen. Maybe this is my American optimism, but I'd expect the majority of the losing candidates to throw their support behind Tymoshenko and give the Orange Revolution one more chance.

Gates: Please stop wearing your camo pajamas to work, k txs.

In a move that I roundly applaud, Secretary Gates has apparently told his military staff to stop wearing cammies/ACUs/utilities/battle dress/whatever else you want to call it to the office.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has told his military aides not to wear combat fatigues to work at the Pentagon anymore, reversing a symbolic change of protocol ordered in the harrowing days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

There was no formal announcement about Mr. Gates directing his military staff to shed their fatigues in favor of business uniforms — the smartly pressed ones bedecked with combat medals and service ribbons that are the military equivalent of a civilian coat and tie, worn with dress shoes and not combat boots.

But throughout the Defense Department, where every action by the civilian boss is parsed by officers with a care akin to old-school Kremlinology, Mr. Gates’s decision is likely to prompt deliberations across the armed services on whether to have personnel working in the Pentagon follow his example.

The defense secretary’s instructions took effect with the start of the new year and were directed at only some of the 23,000 employees at the Pentagon. Even so, the change has been noticed by recent visitors to Mr. Gates’s third-floor suite of offices and has become a topic of conversation along the Pentagon’s 17.5 miles of corridors.

I've bitched about ACUs before (a lot). I was looking for evidence of it on the blog but I guess I've mostly just subjected my girlfriend and coworkers to my tirades. (Note to self: get life.) Seriously though, are we just now reaching the conclusion that it's effing stupid to wear a combat uniform to a meeting with foreign dignitaries? Or even just around a conference table where you're joined by a bunch of DoD civilians and contractors in suits and ties? Like that revelation just came as a bolt from the blue??

Anyway, I haven't personally noticed a trickle-down effect just yet -- the halls are still filled with ACU-clad field-grades and Air Force dudes in their six or seven different "combat uniforms" -- but I have all my appendages crossed that everyone else will get the message. As for now, this bodes well, as it does every time the Department takes a step away from stupid.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chad-Sudan Border Force

Le Monde reported last week that Chad and Sudan have agreed to create a joint border force which will deploy along the two countries' borders by February 20th.

Apparently the two countries have agreed to staff border posts and secure their borders. The initial deployment, scheduled for February 15-20, will coincide with a meeting of the "mixed security and military commission."

The article adds that observation posts will be created in Abeche on the Chadian side and in El-Geneina in Darfur. The two countries have reportedly also agreed to take steps to cease presence in each other's territory and to stop supporting armed groups in these border regions.

This in interesting because it amounts to a public recognition, by both countries, that they've been supporting rebel groups in the other country. On the other hand, it also strikes me as mostly symbolic. After all, how much is one "joint" border post really going to help unless of course these armed groups suddenly decide that they want to use "official" border crossings?

The Politics of Horse Betting

With all the hullabaloo about tribes these days (mainly with regard to our not likely being able to leverage them as much as we’d like) and the rampant corruption and subsequent illegitimacy of the Afghan government, it begs the question of how does ISAF build stability in the country if there doesn’t seem to be any sort of mechanism to adequately govern the people?

Here is another way to pose this conundrum: The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan cannot provide governance to its people in almost any area: security, health, education, courts. The reasons for this are many and well known to our readers here. And the root causes for their inability to govern seem unlikely to change anytime soon. On the other side of the equation, there has been quite a bit of discussion on using local governance systems to achieve the same results because local leaders would be more receptive their constituency’s issues and would decrease corruption because these leaders wouldn’t screw their own people. It sure makes a lot of sense at face value, which is why MAJ Gant’s paper made a lot of sense to him and apparently a whole lot of other people.

There is, of course, a “but” at the end of that last sentence. The U.S. Government could not possibly support such an idea without significant systematic changes to the way we understand governance. Here is the ISAF mission statement:

ISAF, in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, conducts operations in Afghanistan to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population.

We’ll come back to this in a second, but just keep it in mind. Let’s take the hypothetical that we’ll start to support the tribal structure, whatever that means. If, and that’s a big if, we manage to actually figure out how social structures actually work, then we begin arming, fighting with, and just generally supporting “tribes” all over Afghanistan. Local political powers would be given huge increases in their clout (to say nothing of the fact that many would have their clout taken away) at the whim after serious consideration by U.S. analysts commanders. In theory, this should all go as swimmingly as the Sons of Iraq program did, but with more non-security power given to local leaders.

I’m not going to belabor the many secondary, tertiary, and so on effects of this. Let’s look back at that ISAF mission statement. [I]n support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Well, shucks, that’s going to be hard to do if we tell that Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that they can’t find their fourth point of contact from their elbow so we’re going to empower all these other people. Promoting the power of local leaders would certainly decrease the power of the central government and vice versa (while I believe this to be fairly common sense, I’m sure that the Sons of Iraq program certainly supports this conjecture). By supporting local leaders in the ways that MAJ Gant suggests we would be undermining the mission of ISAF. Seems sort of silly to do that.

And don’t go expecting ISAF to change its mission any time soon. State-building is what the U.S. does and it’s just that. Building states. States that look like Western states from a governance perspective. Areas that are governed by local leaders are generally considered “ungoverned spaces” because of the lack of a Western-style governance structure. The government of the United States would never permit one of its military organizations to subvert that policy. So it seems pretty obvious to me which horse we'll really back and why. Even if we back the other for the short term, they better know that they're going to get screwed in the end if their interests collide with the national government's. If you do want to bet on this, the Trifecta is a sure thing: a bundle on GoIRA, Local Leaders, and ISAF in that order (ISAF comes in third because they can't help but shoot themselves in the foot).

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a political scientist and that these are rough ideas at the present. Hopefully (operative word) I’ll be able to draw them out in future posts, but I can’t make any promises. As always, I’d love input from the vast grey matter possessed by our readers.

Christian Is All Over This

Go read this post on MAJ Jim Gant's paper on tribal engagement, which I'm sure you're all familiar with. It is lengthy but well worth the read.

I'll just make one comment on this that Christian hits on and that certainly struck me when I read this paper shortly after it came out. The program this officer suggests means taking sides in local conflicts that have nothing to do with our own interests in the region, which would likely mire us further in Afghanistan. That is not to say that we shouldn't "engage" the "tribes" in other ways, but giving them each (or at least the ones we choose) their own personal special forces team is probably not the answer. FID was not designed to solve land disputes (unless we were training democracy-loving people screwed out of land by dirty communists of course).

Also check out Security Crank and Michael Cohen.

Longer-term engagement in Haiti: Beware the Insta-Pundits

Revealing just how much our foreign policy discourse has changed over the last decade, the discussion of humanitarian relief for Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake has quickly turned to considering what if any form longer-term US engagement should take. This is a good thing, but a serious danger lurks as the denizens of security think tanks and policy shops try to quickly develop some expertise on a situation they have, for the most part, ignored. Although there are a handful of Haiti-hands scattered through-out the administration and the foreign-policy firmament, I worry that too many will succumb to the urge to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with what passes for 'received wisdom.'

What do I mean? Check out this briefing from the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Not my favorite institution at the best of times, but to get this much wrong in only two and half pages is, well, remarkable. Aristide was removed in 2004, not 2006. Comparing Haiti today to Somalia in 1993 is absurd - I don't think I even have to explain why. And in claiming that the UN peacekeeping mission (aka MINUSTAH) has "been struggling to counter the activities of gangs and other armed groups—the primary power‐brokers in the embattled nation," AEI manages to simultaneously be several years out of date on the security situation, and unfairly dismissive of the UN's successes. I'm picking on AEI because Small Wars Journal linked to the article, but I suspect there are other examples out there.

Between 2005 and 2007, MINUSTAH broke the back of the gangs through intelligence-led joint military-police operations. Following a 'clear-hold-build' pattern, they expanded security bubbles into previously gang-controlled neighborhoods by targeting gang leaders for arrest, stepping up patrols, establishing new police stations and checkpoints, and introducing employment and essential services projects on the heels of security operations. While progress has been slow, the mission has also made important headway on reforming the Haitian National Police. This is not to gloss over the serious problems that persist (and there are plenty), but Haiti in 2010 is not Haiti in 2004, or 1994 for that matter.

Point is, if we want to help prevent Haiti from backsliding, we have to recognize what has changed over the last 6 years. MINUSTAH has had a hard time responding to the earthquake because it has effectively been decapitated by the collapse of its HQ and the death of a significant chunk of its senior staff. It's apparently hamstrung response is not reflective of its role over the last few years, or its potential going forward. Likewise, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Canada and CARICOM have all been seriously engaged in Haiti, and should be viewed as partners for the development of a regional strategy. While greater US engagement could be critical for re-energizing international efforts, in most cases it would be counter-productive to shoulder them aside.

Bottom line: beware the proliferation of insta-pundits peddling stale-dated information, anecdotes rather than careful assessments, and received wisdom that sounds a little too familiar. We get more than enough of all that on Afghanistan.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Two quick things on Afghanistan

Two quick things to report on Afghanistan. First, over at the Cable, Josh Rogin is reporting that Swedish diplomat Staffan di Mistura has been offered the post of Special Representative of the Secretary General for UNAMA.

Richard Holbrooke was interviewed by the Cable and said he had discussed the assignment with the Ambassador. The article adds the following:
From 2007 to 2009, di Mistura was the U.N.'s special representative in Iraq. He left Iraq last July to become deputy executive director of the World Food Programme.

Holbrooke said that during his time in Iraq, di Mistura earned the respect of leading U.S. national security officials including National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus. Di Mistura also has experience working with Karl Eikenberry, the current U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Holbrooke remembered.

Di Mistura has served in Afghanistan before, as the director of fundraising and external relations for the U.N.'s office in Afghanistan from 1988 to 1991. He has also worked for the organization in Sudan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Sarajevo, and several other places, in addition to Iraq.
Next, Anthony Cordesman has a new report out: The Afghan War at the End of 2009. I haven't read it yet but this is what the website explains: "The report focuses only on the fighting, and not on the full range of issues that must be addressed to win the war." It discusses six additional areas that are essential for success including ISAF's structure, the structure of the international aid effort, effectively integrating civil and military efforts, building civilian Afghan capacity to govern (rule of law, essential services etc), building an effective ANSF, and linking all these efforts to work in Pakistan.

Isn't this the point where a black hole swallows us all up?

Worlds collide: I am going to a meeting at the Pentagon this afternoon. The written product being briefed during this meeting was largely developed by another contributor to the blog. Another participant in the meeting is a frequent and prominent poster on SWJ. Yet another participant knows one more of our contributors through work that they've done together on a stability operations study.

Small world.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A couple more things on al-Qaeda

I wanted to highlight two more recent publications related to the theme I discussed in yesterday's post; really they're suited to go in that one -- I can't believe I didn't think to include them -- but I figured no one would notice if I just updated.

First is Steve Coll's brief Talk of the Town piece for last week's New Yorker, "Threats":

The attempted Christmas attack also put Al Qaeda’s resourcefulness on full display. In its third decade, under severe pressure, it has evolved into a jihadi version of an Internet-enabled direct-marketing corporation structured like Mary Kay, but with martyrdom in place of pink Cadillacs. Al Qaeda shifts shapes and seizes opportunities, characteristics that argue for its longevity. It will be able to wreak havoc periodically for as long as it can recruit suicide bombers and well-educated talent, as it has done consistently.

Yet Al Qaeda is also weakening. Osama bin Laden sought to lead the vanguard of a spreading revolution. Instead, he and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are hunkered down, presumably along the Afghan-Pakistani border, surrounded by only about two hundred hard-core followers. Their adherents in Yemen and Africa number no more than a few thousand. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a tiny fragment of its former self. Bin Laden’s relations with the Taliban seem brittle. Unlike Hezbollah, Al Qaeda provides no social services and thus has built no political movement. Unlike Hamas, its bloody nihilism has attracted no states that are willing to defend its legitimacy. In a world of at least one and a half billion Muslims, this does not a revolution, or even a vanguard, make.

Next is Thomas Rid's most recent article for The Wilson Quarterly, "Cracks in the Jihad." This is a much more well-developed essay than Coll's, as you might imagine from the different format, and it expands on the same themes referenced in the passage I've cited above. Here's a highlight:

In the years since late 2001, when U.S. and coalition forces toppled the Taliban regime and all but destroyed Al Qaeda’s core organization in Afghan­istan, the bin Laden brand has been bleeding popularity across the Muslim world. The global jihad, as a result, has been torn by mounting internal tensions. Today, the holy war is set to slip into three distinct ideological and organizational niches. The U.S. surge in Afghanistan, whether successful or not, is likely to affect this development only marginally.

The first niche is occupied by local Islamist insurgencies, fueled by grievances against “apostate” regimes that are authoritarian, corrupt, or backed by “infidel” outside powers (or any combination of the three). Filling the second niche is terrorism-cum–organized crime, most visible in Afghanistan and Indonesia but also seen in Europe, fueled by narcotics, extortion, and other ordinary illicit activities. In the final niche are people who barely qualify as a group: young second- and third-generation Muslims in the diaspora who are engaged in a more amateurish but persistent holy war, fueled by their own complex personal discontents. Al Qaeda’s challenge is to encompass the jihadis who drift to the criminal and eccentric fringe while keeping alive its appeal to the Muslim mainstream and a rhetoric of high aspiration and promise.

The most visible divide separates the local and global jihadis. Historically, Islamist groups tended to bud locally, and assumed a global outlook only later, if they did so at all. All the groups that have been affiliated with Al Qaeda either predate the birth of the global jihad in the early 1990s or grew later out of local causes and concerns, only subsequently attaching the bin Laden logo. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, for example, started out in 1998 as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an offshoot of another militant group that had roots in Algeria’s vicious civil war during the early 1990s. Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, the force allegedly behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed more than 170 people, was formed in the 1990s to fight for a united Kashmir under Pakistani rule. In Somalia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries, the Al Qaeda brand has been attractive to groups born out of local concerns.

By joining Al Qaeda and stepping up violence, local insurgents have long risked placing themselves on the target lists of governments and law enforcement organizations. More recently, however, they have run what may be an even more consequential risk, that of removing themselves from the social mainstream and losing popular support...

Rid explores the local/global split and briefly touches on takfir (there's really a LOT in common with Bobby's thesis that I mentioned yesterday); this obviously overlaps significantly with the ideas I sort of inelegantly explored in the post about Yemen, too.

So in short, go read!