Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review: "The Savage Wars of Peace" by Max Boot

The history of war is often thought of as a collection of the biggest battles and the most colorful characters, but Max Boot reminds us that you are more likely to find dirty little fire fights fought by quiet professionals.  Mr. Boot's chapter on the Filipino Insurrection that broke out in the wake of the Spanish American War when a American naval squadron captured Manila Bay from Spanish forces.

Modern ground warfare is increasingly marked by small, violent engagements and this has been particularly true of the Global War on Terror.  Small, violent engagements describes the jungle warfare American forces faced in the Philippines in the years 1899-1902.  The Army prevailed in this bloody conflict due to their training, toughness and some daring exploits that would likely be overruled today by the Pentagon.

"The Savage Wars of Peace" is a valuable on its own terms, but will be particularly helpful for those who are trying to gain some perspective on the ongoing war against militant Islamism.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Better Late Than Never?

After years of delays and technical problems the Army is finally beginning to deploy a new weapon to Afghanistan. A battalion of the famed 101st Airborne (Air Assault) is to receive the first shipment. Unfortunately this is not the long hoped for replacement of the M-16 and M-4 known as the Objective Individual Combat Weapon. This was to be a combination of a conventional rifle that would fire the standard 5.56 mm round as well as a new air burst 25 mm round and be issued to all infantrymen. Technological and financial concerns killed the ambitious project, but it has been partly resurrected as the Counter Defilade Target Engagement System or the XM-25. This weapon only fires the air burst 25 mm round and a squad will probably get only one.

This is being touted as good news for the troops and it is as much as any effective weapon in the hands of our troops is a good thing, but is this the best we could do?  The Pentagon is drawing up plans for all kinds of futuristic weapons and IT technology but a all knew rifle for all of our grunts is just a bridge too far?  I cannot help but wonder if the military has put too much emphasis on standoff weapons like UAVs and big ticket items like amphibious assault ships and left those at the tip of the spear with less than they could have otherwise had?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What Time is it in Afghanistan? Part III

The latest battle for Kandahar, the birth place of the Taliban is unfolding as Operation "Dragon Strike" hits its stride.  But after months of shaping the battlefield and allowing the enemy to either flee or dig in the outcome seems destined to be mixed. Marjah was and now Kandahar is the center of the war effort, but how much of this is just whacking at moles when the enemy can slip in and out of neighboring Pakistan?

As politically uncomfortable as it may be for the Obama administration, the enemy's center of gravity is north west Pakistan or Waziristan. While the Obama administration has greatly stepped up drone attacks at a certain point this underscores the lack of a real operation into the Taliban and al-Qaeda strong hold.  A coordinated multi-brigade operation into the badlands of pakistan would take advantage of U.S. strengths: tactical surprise, air power and air assault capabilities and overwhelming fire power. By comparison the drone strikes seem like a delaying tactic until President Obama begins to pull the troops out in the summer of 2011.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: War, by Sebastian Junger

If you are looking for one of those sober policy analysis books that considers the situation in Afghanistan from 30,000 feet you will be disappointed by Mr. Junger's new book "War." His book is the dirty and dangerous ant's view of Operation Enduring Freedom. He made 5 trips to the Korengal Valley region of Eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border.  He spent many long days and nights living with an Army platoon at their lonely outpost.

The monkeys chatter at them from the wire, the Taliban take pot shots at them from the surrounding mountain tops and everyone counts the days until they can rotate out of the valley. This is the day to day reality of the war on terror: dusty out posts, dangerous patrols and sharp and deadly fire fights. Junger does not intrude on this reality with commentary on grand strategy and the young soldiers he talks to seem united in their indifference to international politics. To paraphrase President Obama - it's above their pay grade.

many will appreciate the details provided about weapons, equipment and living conditions, but this can get a little repetitive and there is little about combat tactics and procedures to help fill out the narrative. Overall, however, Junger tells an effective story most Americans have heard little about and shows that today's soldiers seem like the same soldiers we have read about in accounts from World War Two and Vietnam and there is something reassuring about that.