Friday, October 29, 2010

Boycott Lifted - an olive branch to Tom Ricks

Maybe because I'm feeling magnanimous this week or maybe it's because of yesterday's serious drama, but I'm officially lifting my boycott of Tom Ricks at The Best Defense. My opinion of Tom has ebbed and waned over the years, starting with very high esteem after I read Fiasco while in Iraq during the Surge. That book was one of the biggest reasons I'm in the business I'm in now - it had a huge influence on my professional life. But I slowly became disappointed with his writing and what I perceived as a lack of analysis in his new role as a blogger (and fellow at CNAS). This is only because I expected so much more from him after Fiasco and my expectations were not met.

However, those were my expectations - not any promises Tom made to me (after all I've only met him once or twice in person and very briefly at CNAS events) or any of his other readers. After consideration, it's not fair to him for me to project my own expectations on his work. He also runs a blog all on his own and posts multiple times a day (granted with many, many guest posts) and if I did that I would post plenty of things most of you would disagree with as well. This does not mean that I agree with everything he writes (or posts from guest bloggers), but the man still drives a lot of the conversation on defense issues in this town and around the interwebs because of his vast experience in the field when he covered it for a number of news outlets. When I look at what gets posted on the internet as a whole, Tom's blog is definitely towards the top of sane and reasonable. Even if I disagree with a lot of his content.

So Tom - your blog is back in my reader and my boycott is lifted. I do apologize for the snarky (and probably rude) things that I've said on this blog. I stand by the critiques of your work that I've written, but not the tone of some of them. And I'll probably continue to critique your work I disagree with in the future as well as point out when I agree and I think it's particularly good.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

US Intervention in Central Africa: Getting past the strawman arguments

Uh-oh - I think Ex is pissed I'm holding him to the same standard he (rightfully) applied to the Afghanistan Study Group. And I seem to have drawn out the reflex 'who gives a sh**? It's Africa!' argument from many other quarters.

I admit, I may have been a bit harsh on Ex, but I stand by my central argument. I respect him a great deal - hell, this blog began as a collaboration of people who read and commented on AM - which is why I hold him to high standards. And contra Ex's assumption, I didn't call him out as some sort of 'I know Africa better than you.' I criticized his post for exactly the reasons I outlined: it constituted a glib and scornful dismissal of an idea without any basis in knowledge of the situation, instead drawing a monumentally inaccurate historical analogy that is typical of too many discussions of African security issues. If I was too harsh, it was because Ex's post seemed like a way of shutting down serious debate, rather than encouraging it.

However, Ex is absolutely right to use Kilcullen's four questions as a starting point:

There are four questions we should ask when considering whether or not the United States should engage in an international intervention:

1. Will an intervention make the situation better, or worse?

2. If better, should the U.S. government participate in this intervention?

3. If yes, should the U.S. government lead this intervention?

4. If yes, what should the U.S. government do?

But both Ex and those who've rallied around him have continued to use strawmen arguments and inaccurate assertions to avoid actually addressing these questions.

So let's clear a few things up:

1. Roth didn't propose a strategy. He argued that the US should be willing to use militaryforce to apprehend Kony. He didn't suggest the role that US forces should play, andcertainly did not propose a major deployment. Other advocates, like Resolve Uganda (who have conducted extensive research on the ground), are circumspect about whether US forces should be deployed, or simply provide support for African forces. And this is one scenario where drone strikes might well be a good option, as discussed in this exchange between Benjamin Wittes and Tom Malinowski (also from HRW) (hat tip to Carl for pointing it out). As with all proposals for military action, there are a lot questions to be answered before one can come up with a well-founded approach.

2. This situation bears no resemblance to Mogadishu in 1993. Describing Aideed as the head of a criminal syndicate as Gulliver does is wildly inaccurate. Autocratic though he may have been, he was a leader of the Habr Gidr clan, and firmly embedded in that social network. Opposition to the UN and US forces wasn't a spontaneous reaction to their presence. What turned Aideed and SNA against the UN and US QRF was the decision to selectively disarm his militia among the many in Mogadishu, and to shut down his radio station while leaving that of his rival Ali Mahdi untouched.

Task Force Ranger solidified Habr Gidr clan support for Aideed in July 1993 by killing clan elders while they were meeting his 'defense minister'. The elders had been opposed to Aideed's confrontational stance with the international forces, and had gone to try to reign him in. Following the raid, the clan rallied solidly behind Aideed.

Moreover, Aideed didn't rely primarily on coercion for recruitment, and in the Battle of Mogadishu, many of the civilians who turned combatants did so in response to a call for clan solidarity from Aideed's men at the beginning of the battle.

By contrast, the LRA has no social ties to (and certainly no legitimacy in) the communities it is now victimizing. It relies on forced recruitment of children. During raids, children are kidnapped and then subjected to intensely traumatic initiation, often by forcing them to murder one of their fellow kidnap victims with sticks, stones, or their bare hands. The point is to break down their psyches and social ties so they're susceptible to indoctrination, and feel they can't return to their former communities even if they escape.

The LRA also doesn't use the civilian population of an urban environment as cover for its movements and operations. It preys on them, and occasionally sends unarmed members into villages and towns, but it isn't operating in the midst of a densely populated city. It's a rural guerrilla group, not an urban insurgency.

It also isn't as heavily armed or numerous as Aideed's forces. Given that we're talking about groups of 20-50 generally poorly equipped rebels lacking technicals and heavy weapons, the firepower they can bring to bear in any given engagement is orders of magnitude smaller than the Somali National Alliance in 1993. The biggest challenge isn't defeating the rebels: it's finding them, and keeping them from attacking civilians while you're hunting them down.

In short, the social and political contexts, the dynamics with the civilian population, the nature of the enemy, the and the terrain are all completely different. Other than both being on African continent, and both potentially involving special operations forces, there's not much to this analogy.

I'll also just note that to really understand why things went so badly in Mogadishu, you've got to look far beyond Operation Gothic Serpent to UNITAF's decision to punt the job of disarming militias to the much weaker UNOSOM II, Boutros-Ghali's biases from his previous role as Egyptian FM (also an issue with the UN response to the Rwanda genocide), strategic incoherence in the US and UN approach, and poor coordination between the US QRF and the UN forces, among other things.

3. Contra conventional wisdom, limited Western interventions in Africa for humanitarian/conflict-prevention/nation-building purposes has worked in the recent past. Rather than draw a false analogy with Somalia, why not draw the much stronger analogy to UK operations in Sierra Leone in 2000/2001 that defeated the RUF and stabilized that country? Or French operations in Ituri (DR Congo) in 2003? Or (with a lesser degree of similarity) French operations in Cote d'Ivoire beginning in 2004 and winding down now? In each case, Western forces intervened with relatively few forces and met their limited goals, with hugely beneficial consequences for the areas in question, and very low numbers of Western casualties.

UK operations in Sierra Leone are particularly instructive given that things did go wrong - badly wrong - when the UK misjudged the operational environment and British personnel were taken hostage by a rebel faction. Those personnel were freed in a rescue mission executed by UK special forces (1st Para, SAS and SBS). The British adjusted their approach, ramped back up to ~1,000 personnel who provided training, equipment and advice at the strategic, operational and (to a limited degree) tactical levels to the Sierra Leonean forces, and defeated the RUF in about 9 months.

The point is not to gloss over the challenges that were involved in these operations, or would be in going after the LRA, but to counter the gross generalizations and broad-brush declarations that too often characterize this debate. Like Ex's casual references to the debate about intervention in Rwanda in 1994 - Ex, go read Scott Feil's article on the subject, and then we can go talk about APODs in the area over Scotch.

4. Possible second- and third-order effects cut both ways in this situation. On the positive side, action to end the LRA threat would also a) help stabilize three fragile states, and create opportunities to for the US to help address other destabilizing issues (through existing train and equip missions, advice on security sector reform in Western Equatoria as S/CRC deploys personnel to South Sudan ahead of the Jan 2011 referendum, etc.) b) help free up additional Ugandan troops for the AMISOM mission in Somalia, and c) enhance AFRICOM's relationships and reputation in ways that will help the US find partners to address its own security issues in Africa.

On the negative side, US involvement in hunting down the LRA could induce Khartoum to begin aiding them again (although I think that's pretty remote, given that Khartoum already has a lot on its plate, and can't really afford to alienate any more of its neighbors).

The LRA will inevitably attempt to retaliate against civilians for intensifying attacks against it, but they attack civilians in any case, and any strategy needs to include plans to mitigate that threat (using local military or self-defence forces). Such plans also need to take into account the danger of simply spreading the misery by driving the LRA into new areas, rather than finding, fixing and destroying them in place.

Finally, US assistance to the ethnic Dinka-dominated SPLA forces in Western Equatoria State could be misused, given existing tensions with the Zande communities in the area that are being attacked by the LRA. This is an issue for US assistance to the Government of South Sudan in general, though, which will continue with or without US involvement in operations against the LRA.

5. The risks of this kind of operation don't exceed (and are probably lower) than those US SOF are already undertaking. US SOF are currently involved in operations to hunt down the leaders of radical Islamist militant groups, including in Somalia. At least one press report suggests that they've expanded as of this year. In most cases, these operations are taking place in completely non-permissive environments with few if any supporting troops on the ground, against considerably more capable adversaries than the LRA. In the case of the proposed operations in central Africa, US personnel would be operating with the permission of the countries in question, and with friendly forces on the ground.

On the issue of child soldiers - a reasonable question, but given that other Western forces have had to deal with them and not sparked controversy, and that the US has been confronted with child soldiers in Afghanistan (and prosecuted one at Guantanamo), I am skeptical that this would become an issue in operations against the LRA.

6. Is it in US interests? There's a strong case that US participation in operations against the LRA (in some capacity, not necessarily in the lead, or even as trigger pullers) could radically improve the situation, has manageable risks, and good prospects for success. That leaves the question of whether it is in the US interests, and depends how you define them. I can't point to a specific chain of causation leading from LRA attacks to a threat against the US. But then, the chain of causation linking the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the growing threat from Al-Shabaab wasn't clear until after Jendayi Frazer decided to undercut the peace deal between the two countries by overturning the Boundary Commission's findings (see here for an overview of Eritrean support for Al-Shabaab). Or, for that matter, the consequences of the decisions to allow the ISI to decide which Afghan mujahideen groups received Western money in '80s, or to disengage after the Soviets withdrew. By the time the causal links are clear, the risks and resources involved in addressing threats has generally grown along with the threat itself.

My point is this: the US does have interests in Africa, at the very minimum in helping build stable, reasonably legitimate and human-rights respecting states with the capacity to control their own territory. Want to prevent Hezbollah, the Taliban, or Mexican cartels from making money from the drug trade in West Africa? Or Al-Shabaab spreading its influence and reach to Europe and the US via Kenya? Or Boko Haram further polarizing Nigeria (and potentially the region) along religious lines? Then the US needs capable partners. Hence AFRICOM, and CJTF-HOA, and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. And US SOCAFRICA running training programs for Congolese troops.

Helping to defeat the LRA is not without risk, but both the risks and the resources required are moderate. Tintin makes an excellent point that the US has its hands full in Afghanistan, but US interests extend beyond Central Asia, and AFRICOM may well be able to marshall the modest resources required from among the SOF capacity to which it already has access. As always, its a matter of balancing priorities, risks and payoffs. But it deserves serious discussion, not glib dismissal on basis of tired stereotypes or inaccurate information. I appreciate Ex taking up the challenge, and hope his next post on this or related subjects will be more than 300 words.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ignorance about Africa Part I: When smart people say stupid things

Those of us who work on security issues in Africa find the endemic ignorance about the continent (that's right - continent, not country) in US military and policy circles frustrating. And when that ignorance gives rise to poorly informed commentary on African security issues, or US strategic interests in Africa, we find it as exasperating as Central Asia experts do with regard to Afghanistan (see here, here, and especially here.) That goes for both advocates and opponents of greater US engagement in Africa - both sides are guilty of catering to existing stereotypes rather than working to inform their audiences.

Case in point: a couple weeks back, Andrew Exum took extreme issue with Kenneth Roth's support for heightened US involvement in the ongoing effort to put an end to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Ex goes so far as to draw a comparison with the hunt for bin Laden in Tora Bora in 2001, and Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu in 1994.

Ex is a smart guy, but this was a stupid post. The LRA are most definitely not the Taliban or AQ in skills or armament, nor have they been viewed as strategic asset by any of the countries in the region since the 1990s. In terms that would have done Henry Morton Stanley proud, Ex cautions about launching operations in 'the dense jungles of central Africa'. Too bad he didn't check a map. As this one shows, LRA attacks over the last 2 years have rarely if ever taken place in heavily forested areas. We're talking wooded savannah at most; geographically challenging certainly, but not the equivalent of central DRC.

Drawing the parallel to Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia is perhaps the silliest of all his errors. The LRA has no popular support in any of the countries it's operating in. It relies on children captured during its raids on villages to replenish its ranks. It has no political agenda other than survival. Civilians in affected areas are begging for more international engagement, and are ready to welcome anybody who will protect them (as evident in the reported response of civilians to the UPDF in north eastern DRC - see pp. 6-7) And the governments of Uganda, DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan recently agreed to form a joint military force to pursue the LRA, while asking the African Union to declare it a terrorist group. Now, as Ledio Cakaj points out,
Given the state of the regional armies involved in the fight against the LRA, it is hard to imagine that the military options proposed in the AU meeting, involving these same armies, can actually succeed.
But that's the argument for increased US support. AFRICOM is already providing limited intelligence. logistics and planning support to the Ugandan forces pursuing the LRA across the tri-border region, and PAE is providing logistical support through Nzara, South Sudan under a Dept. of State contract.

Moreover, there's considerable support within the USG for doing more. The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act received unanimous support in Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on 24 May 2010, requiring the USG to, among other things, develop a regional strategy including military options to 'eliminate the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army.' The deadline for that strategy is the last week of November, 2010 and DOD is in the thick of developing options for military support.

Needless to say, the US won't be invading Central Africa any time soon. No one in their right mind (or who isn't creating straw men to glibly denounce) is suggesting large numbers of the US troops on the ground. But US forces have been deployed to the region - SOF have periodically deployed to Darfur in very small numbers, and if you don't think the US has a quiet presence in South Sudan ahead of the January 2011 referendum, I have a bridge to sell you.

Embedding US Special Forces with Ugandan units on the ground to provide tactical advice and a point of contact for enhanced intelligence support might be one element of a larger plan. It's not beyond current US capabilities to train, equip and provide logistical support for units from regional militaries to go after the LRA and/or prevent reprisals against the civilian population.* Hell, US Special Forces are already training Congolese forces as part of broader US engagement.

None of this is to suggest for a moment that defeating the LRA would be easy or simple, regardless of the forces are involved. There are regional issues, capacity issues, and geopolitics all at play. Not to mention a couple of other priorities for US forces. But when 'experts' claim it's just too hard, there is a useful comparison to make with the RUF in Sierra Leone. Lt. Gen. Riley (UK) has noted that greed and terror are poor motivation to hold an insurgent movement together, and that discussing a bunch of thugs as if they're the Waffen SS is disingenuous. Leveraging a small British force package, in 2001 Riley led a counter-insurgency campaign using primarily Sierra Leonean troops and irregulars to defeat a group just as bat-shit crazy**as the LRA that was considerably larger than Kony's band of psychotic leaders and brainwashed child soldiers (4,000 for the RUF then; about 400 for the LRA now, though it fluctuates with raids and losses).

So by all means, let's have the argument for and against US involvement in hunting down the LRA that acknowledges all the complexities - there are plenty of points on both sides. But let's not reject the idea on the basis of pure ignorance and false historical analogy. We can leave that to Afghanistan Study Group, can't we Ex?

* Which has the dual purpose of preventing atrocities and cutting the LRA off from their source of materiel and recruits.

**Hat-tip to SNLII for that description.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Iraq vet's thoughts on the Wikileaks Iraq reports

Since Friday's release, I had been thinking about writing about the Wikileaks' Iraq documents, but thought it might be a conflict of interest. Obviously, I'm writing about it now so I'll just put some caveats up front.
  1. I served in Iraq as an Army officer in 2003, 2005, and 2007-2008. That probably causes some bias.
  2. On top of serving there, I've written and/or initiated a number of the released reports because of some of the positions I held.
  3. I am not linking to any of the reports, but only because I don't want any cleared persons or persons who work for organizations that take that seriously to get in trouble with their security folks.
  4. I will have to make some vague references to some things because they are still classified. Sorry.
  5. In the interest of brevity, when I say "Soldiers" I mean all service members. When I say "U.S.", that should generally include our coalition partners.
All that being said, it should come as no surprise that I'm not keen on the release of these documents. Here are the reasons.

1. All the reports aren't there. This was also brought to light from Adam Weinstein over at Mother Jones (via Twitter). There are a couple of significant events from my time there that there are no reports for. Unfortunately, this is one of those "classified" moments, but I remember the dates specifically and did searches around them and they just weren't there. It begs the questions of: how many aren't there? Why not those? It seems that whoever provided Wikileaks with the documents just took them from the reporting systems in Iraq, so I find it odd that some were left out. Of course it's possible that they published what they were provided, but we just don't know. Given their inclination towards secrecy, I highly doubt Wikileaks will provide us an answer on that.

2. Situation and spot reports aren't the full picture. Wikileaks claims the leak reveals the truth about the Iraq war. It doesn't. It reveals part of the truth, not the whole. Spot reports can provide a flip book of static pictures, that together provide part of the narrative of the war. But it leaves some serious gaps. Not released were the innumerable operational orders (not including Burger King ordering instructions) and storyboards. Storyboards are slide presentations that take the initial reports and drill down into significant detail, often with maps and pictures, that elaborate on the incidents in question. They provide much more context not given in the initial reports. Leaving out the orders also removes the impetus and intent for the operations reported in the leaked documents - which in my mind is very important. (I will note that the now infamous FRAGO 242 is highly troubling to say the least.) I'm glad they didn't get their hands on these additional materials, but saying that the "truth" has been revealed is incorrect. One last point here is that for a good part of the war, good things weren't reported - just bad incidents. Also, if nothing happened on a patrol, nothing was reported. This ignores the fact that every day Soldiers and Marines were doing great things for the Iraqi people that just weren't being reported. (Please note that in the later years of the reports, some of the "good news" incidents were reported - but that was after a policy change and still does not reflect all of the good things the U.S. did). That also brings questions how much these documents paint the whole picture.

3. The documents condemn the actions of Soldiers when in reality it was the policy that was bad. Assange recently stated that the documents show that the war was "a bloodbath on every corner." Of course. It was (and still is) a war - which have a tendency to be particularly violent. Is that the fault of the Soldiers on the ground? Sometimes yes, but for the most part it's the nature of conflict. The problem with the Iraq war was that it wasn't just in the first place to substantiate the violence that ensued. But, except for the actions of very few service members, Soldiers and Marines were doing what they are supposed to do: execute the nation's wars. I feel these leaks put undo onus on the people on the ground for bad policy decisions. And those people on the ground are put in some pretty lousy situations and do their best. That does not make them criminals, even if they screw up. Crimes still require intent last I checked.

4. Wikileaks asks people to break the law and put themselves at risk to promote Wikileaks' interests, while Wikileaks enjoys relative impunity. Assange goes to such great lengths to protect himself and his organization from legal action, but asks his sources to eschew such safeguards for their own wellbeing. I think it takes a lot of gall to demand Bradley Manning's release when they are the people who put him in that position. That is appalling.

5. Focusing on U.S. actions ignores the other actors involved and what they did to propagate the war. Obviously only one side was keeping fairly good records, but the truth also involves al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iraqi Government, the Iranian Government, Sunni insurgent groups, Shia insurgent groups, and political and religious actors who spurred their followers on to violence. Sure, the U.S. started the war (and as I said, unjustly). But the U.S. wasn't the only side using violence to meet their strategic objectives. There are no records to publish from the other actors and that's the nature of modern conflict. However, Wikileaks is not being forthcoming on this topic when they say they have provided the true nature of the war.

That last sentence is probably my biggest problem with Wikileaks. They see themselves as the final defenders of the truth. But they are as biased as any other organization and that makes them hypocrites. They have a particular anti-U.S. bias and have no interest in telling more than one side of the story because it won't support their predetermined conclusions. That bias is their right and I won't begrudge them that. But they should acknowledge it. By not acknowledging their bias and misrepresenting these documents as the true story of the Iraq war, they lose a lot of credibility in my mind.

The Wikileaks Iraq files provide snapshots into the U.S.'s perspective the war. But they don't even come close to portraying the whole story and you shouldn't believe Wikileaks when they claim that the reports do. Understand Wikileaks for what they are, not what they say they are. Since the reports are out, they should be used as information to build part of the Iraq story, but they are just that: part of the story.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Recommended reading on strategy and an administrative note

In case you've missed these (and I nearly did), I wanted to recommend a couple of pretty good papers on strategy development. The first, from Small Wars Journal, is titled Looking for the Hedgehog Idea and was written by Justin Kelly and Mike Brennan for the Australian Army Journal. Very interesting read. The second is a UK Parliament committee document titled Who does UK National Strategy? It's a good question. It's still a good question if you substitute "US" for "UK" (thanks to Aaron Ellis for sending me the link). I'm not sure much of it is applicable to a US audience, but it gets at some of the root causes for why the UK isn't very good at developing grand strategy. I'm sure a lot of those causes are similar on this side of the pond.

Now for the administrative note. As you can see, I've dropped the Gunslinger handle. It served me well for a year now, but I think it's causing more confusion than it's helping. First, on the rare occasions that other blogs cite my posts, it is sometimes with my name and sometimes with Gunslinger. Second, with so many similar letters and the nature of auto-complete, Gunslinger and Gulliver have been mixed up a few times. I'm not trying to distance myself from Gulliver's writing or any such thing, but I think this will help everyone get the right one of us. Lord knows, he probably wants to distance himself from my writing! For a totally lazy reason, I don't like handling two gmail accounts - especially one so little used as my Gunslinger account. You can reach my regular email at the "email us" link on the right of the page. And finally, I think putting my name on these posts will help keep me honest on what I write and avoid any personal attacks on other people.

As I bid farewell to this nom de plume, I'll let you all in on why I chose it. My first platoon - 4th Platoon, A Troop, 3d Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry - was a tank platoon known as the Gunslingers. Since this was the platoon I led through the invasion of Iraq, using Gunslinger was my homage to them. But enough about me - go read those two papers!

UPDATE: Based on some comments I've received via email, please don't take my comments as a condemnation on anonymous blogging - especially my comment on honesty. I fully support anonymous blogging - without it we would lose the great thoughts of many smart people who aren't able to write under their own names for very valid reasons. Such as the rest of the Ink Spots team and many of our readers who comment and have their own blogs. Using a pseudonym doesn't decrease their honesty at all and in many cases allows them to be more honest than they would be otherwise. I just think it will help me to not be partially anonymous anymore to keep my blogging at a tone and level that I want my blogging to be. That is all I meant by that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From the Special Relationship to a Dependency Relationship

For those who haven't noticed, the United Kingdom this week has released a National Security Strategy and the follow-on Strategic Defence and Security Review. First, the good news: cuts are not as drastic as had been reported in UK papers the past few weeks. I guess the government was leaking a Doomsday scenario, because the final decision on defence cuts aren't nearly as bad as were leaked.

Other good news is that the UK intends to keep carrier-based aircraft (going through with the purchase of a carrier model Joint Strike Fighter), although after the Harriers are cut there will be a period when the UK will not have a carrier capability until 2020 when the HMS Prince of Wales is completed. But it's good news for the long-term interests of the UK (in my mind at least). Also, the UK will maintain defence spending around 2% of GDP, per NATO requirements (even if this requirement is rarely met by member nations).

Now for the bad news. There are probably quite a few people who think that these documents are full of bad news, but I'm going to focus on one aspect that I'm probably most qualified to speak to: ground forces. The cuts are atrocious. The SDSR sizes ground forces to the ability to conduct:
  • one brigade-level operation with maritime and air support for a long period of time, while also conducting:
  • one non-enduring "complex" intervention with up to 2,000 personnel, and
  • one non-enduring simple intervention of up to 1,000 personnel.
  • three non-enduring operations (presumptively with a brigade and a half?)
  • a limited-duration, one-off operation with 30,000 troops (according to the paper, 2/3 of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003).
A brigade is all they'll be able to field for any long-term operation, which then prohibits their ability to deploy a whole division in an emergency. A brigade. The government takes pride that the UK is one of only a few countries in the world able to do so. I'm sorry, but I'm not impressed. Granted, it's easy to sit here in the United States, a veteran of my country's forces and say who cares about your brigade. But who cares? A brigade is a very powerful organization, but if you keep in mind that it took no less than six brigade combat teams to surround and secure Baghdad during the Surge (or two very large divisions) - and that many of those brigades would likely be called a division (-) in most militaries around the world given their extra battalions. What does the UK expect they would be able to do with a brigade? Or a division. Short of a nuclear deterrent, the UK is positioning themselves to be virtually unable to project ground forces to meet their own strategic needs without significant support from coalition partners. By that, I mean the United States.

This is a tough pill to swallow given the very close US-UK relationship. With the UK so limited in their ability to use flexible force around the globe, they will undoubtedly require US assistance if their strategic needs obscure the "or"s on the lists above and "and"s become realities. To say nothing of the UK's obligations to NATO and EU operations. Secretaries Clinton and Gates have already stressed that cuts such as these decrease the alliance's capabilities and that other countries will expect the US to fill their own gaps. If you read the UK NSS, that is obviously their expectation.

But this will become untenable for the US. Every country is feeling a tightening belt and the US will be no exception once our current conflicts wind down. Who is to say the US will be able to fill this very large gap in Western capabilities? We don't know that the US will be able to in 10 years after we gouge our own defense budget. And that ignores our will to do so to come to the UK's aid when and where they may need us to. Yes, the UK needs to align their defense spending with their treasury means. But those means don't align with their security strategy. Which weakens the UK's security. And since they're going to depend so much upon the US, it is possible that these cuts could weaken the US's security as well. I said it a couple weeks ago and I'll say it again: the US needs to develop special military relationships outside of Europe because the utility and efficacy of NATO is decreasing - creating more risk for the United States and decreasing benefits to the US.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quote of the day, Bernard Fall couldn't possibly have been talking about Afghanistan because he's been dead for four decades edition

From The Political Context Behind Successful Revolutionary Movements, Three Case Studies: Vietnam (1955-1963), Algeria (1945-1962), and Nicaragua (1967-1979), by LTC Raymond Millen:
Once a revolutionary insurgency reaches a tipping point, as Bernard Fall noted, "it is difficult to suppress with the help of military specialists alone - particularly foreign specialists."
Good thing we have so many civilian political specialists!

P.S. I know I suck at blogging. I'll make up a bunch of excuses later.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Putting some perspective on the effects of Tunnell's worldview of COIN

Colonel Harry D. Tunnell, IV, did not and does not believe in the efficacy of population-centric counterinsurgency, reports the Washington Post. Whether intentional or not, this article suggests that it's possible that Tunnell's views on how to wage the war in Afghanistan led to the actions of the now-infamous "kill team." Bullocks. Spencer addressed this "looming question" this morning over at Danger Room. Ackerman states, "If the "Kill Team" is found guilty, it'll likely spark a painful debate within the Army about the relationship between his anti-counterinsurgency approach and some of his men's crimes." I surely hope such a debate isn't sparked because it is not a real debate and shouldn't be had. There are lots of commanders who despise pop-COIN that didn't have murderers in their units. And there is a huge difference between wanting to kill Taliban by the truck load and killing civilians for fun. Huge difference. Tunnell seems like an old school commander in many ways who would never condone such activities in his unit. I have no idea what lead to the activities of the "Kill Team", but it seems to me to be the ring leader and poor leadership at the platoon and company. But I don't know. I think Whitlock's suggestions that because Tunnell didn't believe in COIN, his soldiers then went out to kill civilians is irresponsible. There is no merit to this argument - especially given that Gibbs apparently did similar things in Iraq when he didn't work for Tunnell.

There's also another aspect to this story outside of the murders - Tunnell's non-adherence to the COIN strategy of the time. At Commentary, Max Boot says that the Army "clearly has to do a better job of making sure that all those in such important combat commands have a better understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine." I take issue with this as well; that's not what the Army needs to do at all. What the Army needs to do is fire commanders who don't adhere to their commander's guidance. This isn't about COIN (like Whitlock and Boot suggest) - this is about unity of effort and unity of command. From the perspective of ISAF, who cares what Tunnell thinks about COIN? If he's ordered to do it he has to do it. His not executing COIN, per his orders, is a failure of ISAF and RC-South commands in not controlling their subordinate units. I find this appalling. Just as I would if ISAF ordered him to do enemy-centric operations and Tunnell decided he was going to do pop-COIN. Tunnell's failure to adhere to his superiors' guidance is an abrogation of his duties as a commander.

Whitlock's article is interesting. But let's all put this story in perspective - a failure to do COIN doesn't create murderers and ISAF doesn't have the cojones to enforce it's own policies. Those are the take-aways.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Britannia Rules the Waves No More

Everyone has suspected that the UK was going to make drastic cuts to its military under this new government. When Liam Fox says "draconian" he isn't kidding. Per a couple of UK papers, the cuts are likely to include:

Now, this could be posturing before real cuts are made which will make the real cuts look better in comparison. Between this and the very real possibility of a UK-France partnership on nuclear weapons controls, storage, and employment, the notion that the UK is a near-peer partner is becoming a delusion. No wonder the U.S. has been increasingly leaning on Australia as its closest partner, whose RAN is about to surpass the RN as the fourth largest fleet in the world. This is beginning to make ADM Mullen's 1000-ship navy to secure the commons look like a pipe dream. The power of European nations is becoming suspect at best - which doesn't do the U.S. a whole lot of good since we've thrown our lot in with them for the most part. Maybe NATO is becoming irrelevant if the member states can't project their power. Maybe the U.S. should begin realigning itself with other parts of the globe.

H/T to Nimble Books via twitter for drawing my attention to the 25-ship navy link.

Morality and Dissent: Redux

LtCol Milburn sure has caused quite a stir with that article of his. The latest commentary is from Bernard Finel who believes that I (and Dr. Kohn) use the "Nuremberg Defense" by ignoring peremptory norms, the "I just followed my orders" defense. I don't think that was the argument I made.

I'll draw Bernard's attention to the final paragraph of my post where I write that "once legal orders are issued a professional military officer has the obligation to execute those orders regardless of his or her personal moral views." I'll highlight the term "legal orders" - which in present day (or at least late 1990s, early 2000s) military officer education includes peremptory norms as a basis for legal orders. So, no, I don't see that I'm using the Nuremberg Defense that allows military officials to say they were just following orders.

As for the examples he uses from the Milburn article, I think Bernard is correct. The military should have questioned the disbanding of the Iraqi security apparatus in 2003, but the order given was quite legal, if ill-advised. They had an obligation to enforce it - something Milburn seems to disagree with. The military likewise should have dissented from upholding many of the detainee policies under the Bush Administration as they were quite illegal. General Hayden's defense (trusting the legal interpretation of the Administration) was unfounded and there should have been legal repercussions to him and other uniformed personnel who broke the law.

Essentially, I agree with Bernard and I don't think my previous post was argued as portrayed. I didn't mention peremptory norms specifically because my education placed it under the penumbra of legal basis for orders. We both agree that Milburn's "negative consequences" test would create a new CMR norm that would give the U.S. military unprecedented, and unhealthy to say the least, power to buck the civilian leadership in its own interests. Where Bernard and I still might diverge, as far as I can tell from his post, is the role morality plays as a basis for officer dissent as I can't tell if he thinks that morality does have a role beyond non-statutory, peremptory norms. I still firmly believe that dissent can only be based on the legality of the order. Granted, there is always some interpretation of legality and organizations are prone to expand their legal maneuver-space, but the United States has plenty of precedence from which to draw upon to help adjudicate such matters. The controversial orders given in the wake of 9-11 seem, for the most part, to fall neatly into categories of legal and illegal. Too bad those who executed those illegal orders didn't dissent at the time, as was their obligation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

France, the Burka Ban, and the Alleged "Roma File"

First the "Burka Ban"
Readers will recall previous discussions about French efforts to ban the public wearing of face-covering Islamic veils. You'll remember that the French National Assembly and the Senate passed a law to that effect earlier this year. The law wasn't applied because the Constitutional Court needed to determine whether it was constitutional.

Well, the Court handed down its decision today and it decided that the law is constitutional. The only caveat it stated was that it may not be legal to prevent such face covering veils within mosques (even if the mosques are open to the public). The penalty for breaking the law is a $200 fine for wearing one and a $42,000 fine for forcing someone to wear one.

The next step is to challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights. The law is apparently very careful not to use any gender or specific references.

And Second, the "Roma File"
Le Monde's reported today that the Gendarmerie has been keeping a secret file, called MENS (Minorites Ethniques Non Sedentarisee or Non Sendentary Ethnic Minorities). The Guardian has a corresponding story on this. The file may be aptly named. It's unclear how recently it has been used (the article says that the Ministry of the Interior was "not aware" of a file of that name post the 1990s) but certainly, with France's recent expulsion of Roma, the discovery of such a file is extremely alarming. Roma advocates have filed a suit because such files are illegal in France (for rather obvious reasons). As the article points out, "this is not 1940."

It's clear that French policy in this area is more than problematic. It will be worth watching what happens, whether this file really does exist, what the domestic and international reaction is, and of course how this will affect President Sarkozy. His approval ratings are plummeting.

Friday, October 1, 2010

ISAF's fingers are crossed. That should do the trick.

Michael Cohen highlights today an interview Kimberly Dozier did with General Petraeus and as Michael says, it is incredibly eye-opening. There are a couple of points that I think warrant some further inspection.

First is the excerpt about Petraeus' staff being "hunkered down" in "fingers-crossed" mode. While this was used to specifically describe the U.S.'s plan for decreasing corruption in Afghanistan, I would suggest that seems to be the overall strategy in Afghanistan. Much like the surge plan for Iraq (which we'll get to in a bit), we seem to be using what I've referred to previously as planning on the enemy's Least Dangerous Course of Action, or LDCOA. (Enemy representing here any challenge to mission success.) When we find ourselves in these "hard but not hopeless" situations, we seem to use hope as a major line of operation. I don't think I need to expound upon the serious issues with doing that. We need to either figure some way of effectively addressing the big issues in Afghanistan or if we can't figure it out and it actually is too hard, then we need to start heading for the door. Hope is not strategy.

The second topic is the Petraeus' reference to Iraq. COMISAF is way too experienced and smart to make such an absurd correlation between Iraq and Afghanistan. Having been part of the Iraq surge, I still firmly believe that those plans were based on the LDCOA. But we were lucky - things ended up even rosier than our unencumbered hope had anticipated. While the increased troop presence was an integral part of the surge's successes, it was by no means the most important. Think The Awakening, Sadrist stand-down, and internal changes to the Government of Iraq. The surge helped support those things, but it wasn't the deciding factor. And Petraeus should know that and also know that because of that fact, saying that COIN worked in Iraq and therefore will work in Afghanistan is just plain wrong thinking.

It's also lazy thinking. Iraq, while similar to Afghanistan in some ways, is and was a very unique situation in the history of U.S. interventions. Just like the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan is unique. Inflating the similarities shows torpid analysis - Petraeus should be talking about how the two conflicts are different and why we're doing things differently in Afghanistan because of those differences. Cut and paste does not work at the strategic level. I'm sure I've mentioned this book before, but I suggest Neustadt and May's Thinking in Time to anyone who tries to use historical reference to suggest current policy. If Petraeus' staff hasn't pored through this work yet, I'm willing to buy it and send it to them. Then maybe we won't have this terribly lazy thinking and maybe stop using hope as a plan. We were lucky that Iraq was somewhat successful in spite of the fact that we did, but it doesn't seem that Afghanistan will work out the same way.