Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Defeating Communist Insurgency: the Lesson of Malaya and Vietnam"

"It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down. The government must not allow itself to be diverted either by countermeasures on the part of the insurgent or by the critics on its own side who will be seeking a simpler and quicker solution. There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks." -Sir Robert Thompson, 1966

Friday, June 25, 2010

Win Their Hearts and Minds...By Winning

 There seems to be a theory making the rounds in Washington that some how counterinsurgency wars like the one we are fighting in Afghanistan do not require military victory - and in fact military victory as traditionally defined is not possible.  At best this notion is a straw man constructed to give cover to government leaders unwilling to do what is necessary to win an ugly, brutal war they say is necessary.

The U.S. Army's experience in the Philippines at the beginning of the 20th century is instructive. After fits and starts the Army adapted to the guerilla's tactics and beat them. It was a brutal, bloody campaign, but the leaders never lost sight of the reality that for a political solution to work the guerillas had to first be defeated.  Similarly, the recent military victory of the Sri Lankan government over the Tamil Tigers should be studied very closely by the U.S. More broadly, the British Empire f the 18th, 19th and 20th century was often effective at using soldier-diplomats to impose military solutions that led to political stability.

Recent news reports suggest a deep divide between military and diplomatic leaders concerning Afghanistan that will not help a military or political victory. The Obama administration seems to be calculating it must do enough not to lose and not allow the military to suffer too may casualties before they are eventually pulled out and some sort of "victory" is declared. While everyone agrees there will be no formal signing of a peace treaty with al-Qaeda or the Taliban that does not mean military victory cannot be achieved on the battlefield and should be pursued with all means necessary.

The Afghan people in the cities and in the remote villages in the mountains are doing their own calculus and are trying to decide if it makes more sense to help the Americans who have promised to begin pulling out in a year or side with the Taliban who have vowed to fight until they drive the Americans out of the country. A timeline is no way to win the confidence, trust and active support of the villagers.

An aggressive, sustained offensive with sensible rules of engagement can push the relatively poorly equipped, trained and led enemy to exhaustion. This would be greatly aided if Pakistan will do its part, but if not President Obama may have to convince Pakistan it has no choice, but to let the U.S. military do what must be done regardless of how politically unpopular it would be.  With concrete victories on the ground the Afghan hearts and minds will follow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hey Buddy Can You Spare a COIN? Misunderstanding Afghanistan

Even before the General McChrystal flap regarding the Rolling Stone magazine article some had the sense that the war in Afghanistan is not going particularly well.

The more serious issue is the COIN strategy currently being implemented in Afghanistan. It is essentially the same as the plan used in Iraq: clear, hold and build.  It worked in Iraq for three reasons: first, U.S. troops renewed the offensive in earnest, second, Iraqi forces became a partner and force multiplier and third Iraqi society's relative sophistication made the strategy more workable.

Unfortunately Afghanistan doesn't benefit from the second and third conditions and is not likely to in the near future. Much more so than Iraq Afghanistan is primitive tribal culture that views the indigenous government in Kabul as almost foreign and the coalition forces as alien. Nation-building in terms of road, well and school construction and improved medical care has helped since these programs began under the Bush administration. However, this notion that Kabul, or the U.N. can construct some sort of trickle down civil administration with "government in a box" initiatives.

Afghanistan needs a true, stripped down COIN strategy that finally makes use of Army's counterinsurgency experts-the Special Forces. Instead of being treated as a necessary side show SF should be given the opportunity to take more of a leadership role in the grand strategy for Afghanistan. SF Major Jim Gant wrote a paper called "One Tribe at a Time" that outlined a process by which SF teams would work directly with Afghan villages for periods of time to train the men to fight effectively to protect their village as well as engage in nation-building civic action programs.

Perhaps most importantly, the SF teams would gain the trust of the villagers and provide the kind of intelligence the U.S. needs to help role up the insurgency.  According to the Pentagon's counterinsurgency manual, "Effective, accurate and timely intelligence is essential to the conduct of any form of warfare. This maxim applies especially to counterinsurgency operations; the ultimate success or failure of the mission depends on the effectiveness of the intelligence effort."

Maybe General McChrystal's firing can shake up the status quo and provide an opportunity for a course change before its too late.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

WANTED: Warrior Spirt - some training required, Book Review of "In Search of the Warrior Spirit" by Richard Heckler

Mr. Heckler's book, published in 1990 came out at just the wrong time in history. What incentive did the U.S. Army have as the Cold War melted away, to think seriously about counterinsurgency in general and its Special Forces in particular? From reading the book apparently little indeed.

"In Search of the Warrior Spirit" traces the several months Mr. Heckler and other specialists spent with two Army Special Forces Teams at a post in Massachusetts as part of an experimental program called The Trojan Warrior Project. Heckler, an aikido and meditation expert had mixed feelings about the opportunity from the beginning and his discussions about his reactions to the soldiers and the program are the are intriguing. One of his main issues is the warrior versus killer dichotomy that he finds himself arguing about with his liberal Northern California friends, alternating between complaining about and defending the soldiers.

The project itself, a combination of physical, psychological and spiritual training seems to be a big success based on the data the team has gathered.  The Special Forces commanders are pleased and authorize a continuation of the program.  Disappointingly, but not unexpectedly, the new commander defunds the program because he thinks its a waste of time. The holistic, big picture approach was too much for many soldiers to get, unfortunately even some in the Special Forces.

More than ever the Army and the Special Forces in particular could benefit from a renewed focus on the warrior spirit.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You're in the Army Now

For the Marines and Marine enthusiasts who were unhappy with my plan for shrinking the Corps and transferring it to the Army, I am targeting the Air Force this time. The Army Air Corps was broken off from the Army in 1947 as part of the Defense Reorganization Act.  The rationale at the time was that strategic bomber forces were too big and important for the air forces to be part of the ground forces.

Perhaps in 1947 the strategic forces argument made sense as nuclear bombs delivered by large bombers was considered the wave of the future after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seemed that the most optimistic dreams of the air power advocates had come to pass in the rubble of Japanese cities.

Fast forward sixty years and the United States finds itself embroiled in land wars of an irregular or asymmetric character. Air power does play a pivotal role - ask any Army or Marine grunt.  However, the air power is nothing like what the air power advocates envisioned. Two things have intervened: technology and the enemy. Advances in munitions, targeting, air planes, missiles, stealth technology and UAVs have transformed strategic air power from a cloud of heavy bombers to a handful of B-2s and cruise missiles.

Strategic air power has been eclipsed by the GWOT because al-Qaeda, the Taliban etc. have few targets to strike and no air force to defend themselves with. Tactical air power as implemented by attack helicopters, A-10s, and Predator UAVs has been a boon for ground forces, devastating for the enemy and problematic for the Air Force. Just as the Navy would rather have air craft carriers and destroyers instead of littoral combat ships, the air force would rather have B-2s and F-22s. The most effective single air plane of the GWOT has probably been the A-10, which the Air Force has been trying to retire.

An Army Air Corps would be streamlined and more efficient, but more important it would be able to more effectively concentrate on the ground support, logistics and reconnaissance missions. Perhaps the blow could be softened by maintaing the Space Command as a separate Pentagon office that could concentrate on missiles, satellites and cyber war.  In any event, the military and the nation would be better served by a more integrated and combined services - the Army and the Navy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Put FBI Back in the Crime Fighting Business

International terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Hezbollah are not simply criminals, they are not the mafia with exotic names.  Treating them as criminals to be investigated, arrested, questioned, tried and sentenced is a problematic proposition at best. The recent arrest of two men who were preparing to fly to Somalia to attend a Jihad training camp is a case in point. These two men had been under surveillance since 2006 and were arrested apparently only when they were about to leave the country. Imagine the resources in time, money and manpower used so far.  They still have to be held, tried and incarcerated.

Apparently President Obama and  AG Holder believe the the overseas contingency operation can be "won" by arresting the low-level terrorists two at a time and assassinating the leadership one at a time with Predator strikes. This is not a strategy as much as it is a holding pattern until most of the combat troops can be evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan so - the FBI can take over the fight?

The FBI is good law enforcement organization that has had success against various white collar criminals, spies, militia groups and the mafia. These fall into the traditional law enforcement arena and have little or no international entanglements or impediments to a successful conviction.  The international character of the militant Islamist groups makes the law enforcement model inadequate. The FBI is and should be focused on investigations that lead to arrests and prosecutions. Our government should not be concerned with arresting or prosecuting terrorists. The intelligence agencies and military should be concerned with killing them.

Let the FBI go back to what it was designed to do and give the Department of Homeland Security the responsibility of domestic intelligence and counter-terrorism.  Perhaps the DHS could have allowed the two Jihadi wannabes to go to the camp in Somalia and then hand it over to the military for a Predator strike.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ground Truth

We are repeatedly told that the Pentagon knows that the Global War on Terror will be fought and won by gathering, analyzing and using intelligence effectively. Predator drone strikes aside, it seems that institutional, the military rejects the intrinsic value of honest, detailed intelligence regarding the nature of the enemy.  Having lived through the Cold War in the 1970's and 1980's, I do not recall our government or our military being similarly obtuse about the Communists in the Kremlin.

Attorney General Holder's refusal to answer a question about the motives of the would be Times Square bomber was disheartening as it is symptomatic of either willful ignorance or gross incompetence. Perhaps one can forgive the posturing of an appointed official, but there is not excuse for our professional military sticking their heads in the sand. Four years ago Paul Sperry said, "U.S. intelligence officials tell me there are no baseline studies of the Muslim prophet Muhammad or his ideological or military doctrine found at either the CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency or even the war colleges."

We are given lip service about intelligence work, but there was no evidence of a comprehensive study of Jihad or militant Islamism in the military's new COIN manual. Language matters and truth matters.  Who are our soldiers fighting and being killed by in Afghanistan and Iraq? Are we to believe that the ideology and motives of the enemy do not come up in our discussions with Muslim allies?  I believe they could provide our intelligence services with a bit of ground truth about our common enemy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The War We Have, Not the War We Want

In national security circles it is no secret that the military is not happy about having to fight the Global War on Terror.  I am not referring to the grunts and junior officers but the top brass and civilian policy makers who pine for either the starkly drawn lines of the Cold War with the Soviet Union or even the muddled "end of history" in the 1990's.

Counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, guerrilla, asymmetric or low intensity warfare are all labels for dirty, bloody, war . The irony is that these are nothing new, but are in fact war in its distilled or even natural form. Politicians, generals and military strategists since ancient times have downplayed it and tried to cordon if off away from their neat formations of shiny troops.

Alas, the world is messy, is almost defined by chaos so military minds have always known on some level they could not keep the barbarians outside the gates forever.  The 9/11 was a reminder of the chaos model, that entropy reigns, not order, but the message was somehow not received by the Pentagon.  Internal reports and arguments reveal almost a foot dragging mentality.  Secretary of Defense Gates publicly called out the Air Force for withholding UAVs from Central Command forces because they were being held in reserve for other contingencies.

Other contingencies is another way of saying they hope or assume a big conventional war will break out and overshadow this messy little business. It is this kind of thinking supports my argument that that the Air Force should be folded back into the Army. (for those who thought I was just picking on the Marines, I will cover the Air Force in a future post.)

There are other potential threats on the horizon, including China and Russia, but the temptation to look past the GWOT must be resisted if we are to win it as quickly and with as little loss of American lives as possible.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Marine Corps in the 25th Century

Military historians and buffs alike are aware of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal's dramatic statement that "...the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years." As most Americans do I admire and respect the United States Marine Corps. However, sixty-five years later the 21st century has over taken the Corps and it is time to admit a major overhaul is in order.

The first reality that must be confronted is the Marines are caught between no longer having a true amphibious assault mission and the dilemma of staying relevant in land locked waste lands like Afghanistan. Further, the Marines have helped make my argument by complaining that they have been misused in the Global War on Terror as Army infantry units. Army infantry units is what the military needs in this war; highly trained and effective infantry units. The Marines fit the bill.

The trouble has always been its hybrid nature: not quite heavy units capable of sustained operation, but not easy to deploy light infantry either. Of course the capability to deploy in amphibious operations in coordination with the Navy is almost unique. The U.S. Army carried out the largest amphibious landing in history when it invaded Normandy France in 1944.

I am not calling for an end to the Marine Corps but a reorganization that would detach it from the Navy and attach it to the Army. Currently the Corps is about 178,000 strong with a fairly small percentage serving in infantry units. My proposal calls for transforming the corps into an even leaner fighting force along the lines of the 82nd Airborne and 101st Air Assault Divisions.

There would be less pressure to misuse and over use this small, highly effective force that could refocus it resources away from conventional amphibious operations to airborne and air assault. This change would free up billions of dollars currently being spent on hover craft, amphibious assault ships and amphibious personnel carriers. This transformation would not kill the Corps but make it relevant - perhaps even into the 25th century.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Other Gulf War Syndrome

The 1990-1991 campaign known as the Gulf War ousted Saddam's forces from Kuwait after about one hundred hours of ground combat. The swift armor attack had been preceded by 5 weeks of sustained air strikes against air defenses, air fields, command and control centers and concentrations of troops and tanks. Histories of the conflict unfolds almost like a classroom exercise on U.S. AirLand Battle Doctrine - and this is the problem. Desert Storm was an exception that proved the rule. This little war was perceived as neat and clean and the minimal casualties as a triumph of technology and training over the fog of war. This "success syndrome" would soon haunt the pentagon as messy reality soon intruded.

Although the pentagon chose to congratulate itself on a job well done and bask in the afterglow of seeing  a generation of training, procurement and doctrine come to fruition as if on cue, storm clouds were already gathering to rain on the military's parade. Before President H.W. Bush left office you sent troops to Somalia as part of a U.N. humanitarian mission to help get food to starving Somalis who were being terrorized by Islamic militants with loose ties to a little known organization called al-Qaeda.

The little mission in Somalia became big news when the Clinton administration decided to send Task Force Ranger in pursuit of some of the militant leadership. The ensuing television images of burning helicopters and American soldiers being dragged through a dusty street shocked the public leading to the firing of the Secretary of Defense and a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. This was war: ugly, bloody and brutal. We had learned a valuable lesson; or had we?

At just the time when the Pentagon should have been reevaluating its doctrine, weapons and training priorities the victory in the Gulf solidified the conventional war way of doing business.  To add insult to injury this was also shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union so politicians were scrambling to transfer suddenly unnecessary military spending on pet projects.  The 1990s was the Pentagon's lost decade in which soldiers and weapons were cut by a third and a general feeling of security set in as people tallied up the "peace dividend."

Many in the military are aware of the "moon landing syndrome." This is reaction U.S. personnel encounter from friendly foreign forces when things do not go as scripted.  The WWII generation did not experience this, but after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969 expectations changed. "You landed people on the moon, but you can't...?

I had trouble with the fact that when U.S. forces went into Afghanistan in 2001 the Army did not have enough heavy helicopters that could fly at Hindu Kush altitudes, that Army and Navy personnel had trouble talking to one anther because their radio systems were not the same and that retired CIA officers were brought out of retirement because there were not enough Dari and Pashto speakers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Book Review: The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, 2007

The U.S. military’s Counterinsurgency manual had not been rewritten since 1986 when General Petraeus spearheaded a rewrite published in 2007. This came just as the troop surge and new counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq was about to be implemented. Field Manual FM 3-24 is a rewrite of FM 90-8 which was written in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Communist Soviet Union. FM 90-8 assumed counterinsurgency similar to what it had seen in Vietnam and Latin America.

            Both manuals refer to Insurgency Doctrine as espoused by Chinese Communist Revolutionary Mao Zedong. It is curious and disappointing that FM 3-24, written in the midst of the Global War on Terror only mentions al-Qaeda and the Taliban in passing, but not as part of a global militant Islamist movement bent on conquering the Muslim World and destroying the West.

             Both manuals profess the importance of intelligence gathering and analysis, but FM 3-24 fails to connect the dots about who the enemy really is. What little explanation is given tends to fall back on the tired platitudes regarding economic deprivation without mentioning sharia law, burqas, honor killings beheadings etc. Vietnemese villagers did not acquiesce to the Viet Cong because they were poor, but because they were terrorized. The same is true of Afghan villagers and Iraqi merchants.

            While the new manual is impressive as a work of military theory, it might prove less effective as a practical field manual for commanders on the ground. Section titles like “Determine Threat Courses of Action” and “The Nature of Design” would have been more appropriate for an academic treatise. FM 90-8 tended to stick more to the basics such as “Attack Fundamentals” and “Point Ambush Formations.” The graphics and charts are an unhelpful addition to the manual that infuses common sense topics with an air of intellectualism unnecessary for a practical document.

            My general criticism of the manual is that it was a once in a generation opportunity to provide the military with a straightforward, effective and easy to use guide. It is packed with a lot of information, but I am not convinced it is the best thing for the troops.  FM 90-8 was a sturdy and informative work that could have benefited from an update instead of being superseded.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a mild critic of the choice of General Petraeus to head the rewrite because he never served in Special Forces units which are the military’s counterinsurgency experts.)