Monday, September 9, 2013

A Short History of the Long War: Volume II

I am suspending work on Warrior-Centric because I have begun work on another blog at . The new blog will serve as a note pad for preliminary research and writing for the second installment of A Short History of the Long War.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review of Mark Bowden's "The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden"

Mr. Bowden has enjoyed a fine reputation in literary circles for his previous books, "Blackhawk Down" and "Guests of the Ayatollah."  This is why I was unprepared to be disappointed by his latest book about the killing of Bin Laden.  He remains a gripping writer who sprinkles important details through his narrative, but he seems to have seized upon the Obama administration's version of events.  Most importantly he tries to make the case that not only had the trail gone cold, but the trail had been abandoned by a Bush administration that was preoccupied with other things.

On the one hand Mr. Bowden mentions that a 2007 raid (likely the Army's Delta Force) in Western Iraq near the Syrian border found information that would prove to be a turning point in the hunt for Bin Laden.  On the other hand however, he pushes the chain of events ahead five years to the eve of the SEAL Team Six raid into Pakistan without giving fair treatment to the ongoing efforts of military and intelligence professionals over a decade and across the Bush and Obama administrations.

 Essentially Mr. Bowden repeats the Obama administration's line that it was largely the president's personal prodding and pestering of the CIA and SOC that directly led to finally getting the most wanted man in history.  It makes for a compelling story, but I recommend you skip this book and rent "Zero Dark-Thirty."  Not a perfect film, but as I wrote on this site, it gives a fairly comprehensive and balanced picture of the complex series of events that culminated in Bin Laden's death.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pivoting to the Pacific: Part I

For more than a decade United States has been preoccupied with fighting al-Qaeda and the rest of the global Jihadist movement I refer to as militant Islamism.  But as we have been reminded recently with the Snowden Affair, the U.S. government wields vast resources and has been dealing with many national security issues all along.  One of these issues is: how precisely should the U.S. relationship with China be evaluated?  As President Bush put it more than ten years ago, China is a "strategic competitor."  This was a good formulation because although it acknowledges that the U.S. and China have many divergent interests, it leaves room for the important trade relationship the two countries enjoy.  So the U.S. and China are not enemies even though there is a lot of spying going on and increasingly, a ratcheting up of cyber attacks.  Much of the Chinese hacking is the industrial and military espionage, but the Pentagon is concerned that the motives could turn more sinister in the future.  For example, an attack on the Pacific Fleet or a move against Taiwan would likely start with a coordinated cyber attack before the first missile is fired.  A nexus of economic and national security interests ensures that China will figure more and more prominently in the Pentagon's strategy in the coming decades. This shift of focus and resources has begun and will be addressed in part II.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Five years into the bloody war in Iraq the Bush administration launched its belated, but crucial troop surge and counterinsurgency campaign in 2007.  Led by General Petraeus, this plan, rather than concealing a precipitous withdrawal from the country, finally subdued Iraq's enemies, foreign and domestic.  For the next couple of years Iraq was relatively quiet as the Obama administration ramped up efforts in Afghanistan.

The first real indication, for those who hoped or feared President Obama's foreign policy would be like a Bush third term, was his simultaneous announcement of a troop surge and a withdrawal plan. Unlike Bush with Iraq, Obama refused to commit himself to pursuing victory in Afghanistan. His surge was a delaying tactic in comparison, a way to extricate his administration from the responsibility for the war while trying to avoid blame for the eventual defeat.

However, President Obama's Afghanistan policy looks positively Churchillian when compared to the complete and utter debacle he has made of Iraq.  More than 4,000 Americans and many more Iraqis were killed toppling Hussein's regime and battling the ferocious assortment of former regime elements, al-Qaeda cells, Sadarist militias and other Iranian backed militants.  It is fair to say that America, as the President likes to say, had some skin in the game.

With a semblance of stability finally to show for all the blood and treasure liberals so loudly denounced, what does President Obama do?  He commits the most terrible U.S. foreign policy blunder of the last hundred years.  The administration apparently viewed it merely as a political hot potato it wanted to rid itself of, a vestige of the Bush administration. However, history did not begin in January, 2009 and it will surely not end in January, 2016.  Iraq is a fragile and weak ally at best, but a problematic ally in that particular spot is infinitely better than a failing state falling into the orbit of one of our most dangerous enemies - Iran.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Amazon is a River in South America

The Obama administration recently ordered the Pentagon to change its rules regarding women in direct combat roles such as infantry and armor.  This unprecedented change will supposedly open special operations units to women as well.  I know the president and his civilian "experts" did not bother to ask themselves common sense questions like, "will this make the military more or less effective?" and "How will testing standards and more importantly operational practices need to be changed to accommodate women?"  I know they did not bother because I know their motivation was not to improve combat effectiveness, but to improve the chances of more women being promoted.

The military has this quaint notion that combat troops should often be promoted over support troops who have no direct combat experience. Alas, this diminished the chances for many women to be promoted as far or as fast as many men.  The solution is obvious: ignore the truth that the average woman is far less physically capable than the average man to perform strenuous activities.  The president and his ilk prefer to deny this truth and they must force the Pentagon to participate in the denial by arbitrarily reconstructing the physical ability tests. that men have These tests are tough for physically capable men to pass so they will have to be altered significantly so some women can pass them. or perhaps they can forget the whole thing and drop the tests as a requirement for combat jobs.  Does this sound like this administration has the best interests of the military or America's national security as priorities?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Death From Above

Years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has shown how destructive Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) can be as a large percentage of U.S. casualties have been the result of these roadside bombs.  The pentagon has worked hard to defeat them, but they are inexpensive and effective so they will likely be a staple of future conflicts.  One way to avoid roadside bombs is to stay off the roads as much as possible.  Long convoys of trucks, tanks, artillery and support vehicles make easy targets so by shifting more resources from the ground to the air, combat units can avoid some of the roadside and become an even more lethal fighting machine.  Flying has its own risks of course, but shooting down an Apache or an Osprey with an RPG is much harder than blowing up a HMMV in the street.

The model for this lighter, faster and deadlier Army would be the venerable 101st Airborne (Air Assault) and the Rangers.  Both units were formed, trained and equipped around the idea that speed, surprise and aggressiveness could help make up for their lack of heavy weapons like tanks and heavy artillery.  Airborne and air assault operations are considerably more expensive than more conventional ground-based operations.  The cost and the institutional memory of the difficulties of the airborne drops over Normandy in 1944 have contributed to limited use of these operations.  However, with technological advancements in aircraft, weapons and communications it is time to exploit the force multiplying effect of airborne/air assault.

(In a future post I will discuss issues such as cost, weapons and equipment and organizational changes that need to be addressed for the shift to an airborne/air assault based Army and Marine Corps.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blowing up the Alphabet

One of the realizations to come out of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack is that more than ten years after 9/11 the multitude of federal agencies still do not always communicate effectively with one another.  In this case it contributed to four deaths and hundreds of grievous injuries. "Stove piping" was a big issue after 9/11 and the alphabet of agencies pledged to play nice and share their information more readily.  While this improved, it will never be good enough simply because their are too many letters.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), although widely derided, was at least a first step toward consolidating the alphabet soup.  In 2002 numerous existing agencies were folded into this new entity including the, TSA, ATF, Immigration and Customs, Border Patrol, DEA, Coast Guard and Secret Service.  Unfortunately the FBI was allowed to remain part of the Justice (DoJ) Department and the Central Intelligence Agency was allowed to remain in existence.  The Department of Defense (DoD) has a number of agencies for gathering intelligence including the National Security Agency, (NSA) Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the intelligence branches of the services.

The CIA has always been filled with patriotic and hard working people doing their best, but it has also always been too much of a political animal entrenched in the Washington bureaucracy.  Why should a civilian agency provide intelligence to the military?  It added a layer of bureaucracy that did not exist prior to the 1947 act that created the agency.  Instead of disbanding it however, a new layer was created in 2007 with a position called the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which theoretically supercedes the Director of the CIA.  If there is no CIA director then you certainly do not need a DNI who supercedes him.  When will government officials learn that added layers of bureaucracy and overlapping agencies do not enhance efficiency and effectiveness?  Why is more government the answer to lackluster government performance?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Zero Dark Thirty, "One of the Disappeared Ones"

I and many other people were a little surprised when the news broke on a Sunday evening in May 2011 that al-qaeda founder and terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces.  Ten years had passed between the 9/11 attacks and his reckoning, but Kathryn Bigelow's film "Zero Dark Thirty" helps explain the delay.  The first two hours of the film is much more intelligence procedural than thriller and the methodical pacing may turn off less interested viewers.  But just when you have had enough of angry looks and internal CIA politics the viewer is rewarded with the payoff.

After more than seven years of tracking down one dead end after another a relentless CIA analyst is finally able to put the pieces together.  She is 95-100% sure her prey is living in a nondescript, but fortified house in a quiet Pakistani town.  After months of handwringing the Obama administration orders a raid on the compound and as the cliche goes - the rest is history.  Zero Dark Thirty is too long and deliberate to work as a thriller, but it does provide useful insights into controversial CIA tactics like enhanced interrogation techniques.  I came away with a renewed appreciation of the anonymous intelligence and military personnel who have and continue to work so hard to keep the rest of us safe.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Long Live the Revolution

There seems to be a cadre of national security and military affairs analysts who believe the movement started in the 1990's known as the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is dead and good riddance.  This incorrect notion is at partially fueled, I suspect by their disdain for Secretary Rumsfeld, perhaps its most high profile proponent.  Anyone who has been paying attention for the last ten years should know that even if the label RMA has fallen out of favor, the tenets of the philosophy continue to be implemented including increased reliance on air power, smart munitions, networked command and control capabilities and smaller, lighter ground forces.

Its true that Secretary Rumsfeld made a lot of enemies at the Pentagon, but many of them parted ways with him years before 9/11 or OIF.  For example, there were a number of high-ranking officers in the Army who pushed very hard for the canceled self-propelled cannon known as the Crusader.  Soldiers understandably want heavy fire power to support their operations, but the secretary and other argued that big, heavy cannons were becoming less necessary in light of the advances in attack helicopters, attack planes and smart munitions.

If the detractors lost faith in RMA because it did not turn out to be a sliver bullet or a panacea then shame on them for not having more realistic expectations.  There is no magic, just hard decisions and hard work that will hopefully result in the most effective military possible.

Friday, April 12, 2013

U.S. Army: 2043

What will the U.S. Army be like in the year 2043?  It might seem like a long way off to some, but Pentagon planners are hard at work figuring out what shape its ground forces need to take to stay preeminent in the coming decades.  There are two main challenges that have to be addressed: the first is the pressure of shrinking budgets for the foreseeable future and the second is China's increasing defense expenditures to create a military capable of projecting power into the South China Sea.

Asking the Army to do less with more is a bit cliched, but it is unfortunately true.  It appears that one of the ways the Pentagon will deal with this is to shrink the forces while moving ahead with replacing and updating equipment and systems.  This can work up to the point where the Army finds itself without enough infantry and armor brigades to carry out relatively large-scale and sustained operations against for example, Iran and terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa.  No one really knows what the exact numbers are, but recent experience with OEF and OIF suggest the point has already been reached.

The Pentagon will have to come to terms with the economics of men versus machines - how many combat brigades it can trade for new helicopters and tanks.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Mission Accomplished

This week marked the ten year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.  Gideon Rose wrote an article for Foreign Affairs arguing that OIF is, "..the most egregious American foreign policy failure since Vietnam."  People opposed to the invasion invoked Vietnam even before the first coalition troops crossed into Iraq, and the WMD were not found. The comparisons became almost a cliche as the days of the invasion gave way to the years of reconstruction, IED attacks and street fighting.

Mr. Rose could not be more wrong about Iraq because even though it was frustrating, brutal and expensive in both treasure and precious blood it succeeded in wrecking Saddam's regime and in helping an elected, sovereign government be born. Mr. Gideon should review his history if he believes this shares any similarities with the decision to leave South Vietnam to be conquered by the Communist North.

In 2007 President Bush ignore the cries to pullout of Iraq as we did in Vietnam and instead ordered the surge of forces and counter insurgency strategy led by General Petraeus.  This final push, along with the improving Iraqi forces and the Sunni Awakening were enough to break al-Qaeda and the other enemy forces.  Ironically, Mr. Rose would have had his Vietnam in Iraq if President Bush had listened to the experts who counseled precipitous withdrawal and defeat. It is time the naysayers accepted yes for an answer: yes, mission accomplished. The Obama administration and future administrations have the responsibility to see that it stays that way.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Benghazi: Shame on the President

It has been more than six months since the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, but it seems there are still as many questions as answers.  The reason for this is that President Obama has successfully deflected questions and convinced many reporters in the months before the 2012 Presidential election that there was no there - there.  However, at least 2 questions remain: Why did the White House immediately blame the attack on protests that escalated into an attack. Also, why did the White House send U.N. Ambassador Rice on numerous Sunday talk shows to repeat the claim even after intelligence officials had told the White House information pointed to a coordinated terrorist attack?

The latest revelation is that as many as 33 survivors of the attack that killed the ambassador and 3 others are being pressured not to talk to Congress and the media.  Republican senator Lindsey Graham has stated he managed to speak to several survivors and that they wanted to talk, but were seeking assurances they would be protected from repercussions.  The House of Representatives should immediately call for public hearings and a renewed investigation along the lines of the work that was done that produced the 9/11 Commission Report. Shame on the President for dishonoring the dead and the survivors by trying to let the issue die away without his administration taking responsibility.