By LTC Kevin D. Stringer, Ph.D., USAR
Best Defense guest book reviewer
Robert Cassidy's War, Will and Warlords, (PDF will soon be made available for free), a study of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a must read for all scholars, policymakers, diplomats, and military practitioners seeking to understand the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus. Cassidy provides a number of salient points concerning uneven U.S. involvement in the region, the contradictions of Pakistan, and the counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches implemented on both sides of the porous region between the two states.
For the United States, Cassidy offers insights into how short-term and ill-advised American policies -- the support of the mujahedeen and Pakistani President Zia to name just two -- created the conditions that spawned Al-Qaeda and provided the Taliban on both sides of the Pashtun frontier a popular support base. Cassidy further demonstrates how U.S. financial aid underwrites Pakistan's military expenditures against India, which destabilizes the entire region.
Concerning Pakistan, the author explores its security policies, and how they contradict American strategy. Pakistan is Janus -- one "face" grudgingly supporting the United States with the Pakistani Army conducting operations against the Taliban on its side of the border, while the Pakistani intelligence service "face" promotes and supports the Afghan Taliban as a proxy against the Karzai government and India on the other side.
In his discussion of counterinsurgency, Cassidy illustrates that both the American and Pakistani militaries struggle in these operations because of embedded institutional and structural propensities for conventional war. For legitimacy, the insurgents challenge the Afghan and Pakistani administrations in the outlying tribal regions given low governmental presence and high levels of endemic corruption. For this theme, I would have liked to see the author engage in a more detailed critique of the quality of Afghan forces being trained by the United States for pacification efforts -- are they "shake and bake" or competent troops? Similarly, Cassidy's sober assessment of the capacity building projects executed to date would have added greater insight to campaign progress. These omissions left me with an uneasy feeling that Coalition and Afghan government efforts may not be as positive as described in the text.
The book is well-researched, and the author's soldier-scholar credentials are impeccable. Colonel Cassidy is a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College with both scholarship and experience in irregular warfare and stability operations. With a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, he has served as a special assistant to two general officers, a special operations strategist, and published two previous books, one on peacekeeping and the other on counterinsurgency.
My one major concern with the book is the chosen publisher, the Marine Corps University Press, whose marketing capacities may limit its wider dissemination. This book definitely deserves a broad readership given its relevance to U.S. policy-making in the region and future military campaigns.
Kevin D. Stringer, PhD, is an associate professor at Webster University, Geneva campus, and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Brett McGurk, who I ran into in the Green Zone when he was negotiating the SOFA with the government of Iraq, has been named U.S. ambassador to Iraq. This is good because he knows all the promises Maliki has made over the years, not just to the U.S. but to Kurds and others, and so might be able to better forestall the prime minister's various attempts to re-negotiate all his deals.
No word on whether he had to take an oath renouncing all support for the Bush administration.
I caught up with retired Gen. Richard Cody on Monday morning and asked him if Douglas Feith or another Rumsfeld follower had pressured the Army to retire Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba after Taguba filed his report on abuses and torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Absolutely not, Cody said. "The reason Tony didn't go any farther, and retired as a two-star general, was that it was his time," he said. Despite Taguba's suspicions, there was no pressure from the Rumsfeld crowd, he added. (This rings true to me -- I once attended a lecture for new Army generals that informed them that all their careers would end with a phone call telling them it was their time to retire.)
As for the Taguba report itself, Cody added, "Tony did a pretty damn good job, I thought. I was proud of him. . . He spoke truth to power."
STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images
So I ran into a friend who knows a lot about U.S. policy and Iran. We sat down on a park bench and this is what he told me:
The worst possible thing to do is go to war with Iran. The key is the people -- and they are sick of the mullahs. Right now the pressure is working to separate the people from the regime. A limited strike would undercut all that.
Also, any attack would cause us to maintain a heightened, more expensive defense posture, and give them moral standing to retaliate.
So an attack is counter to all our long-term objectives. We are having more effect right now through economic pressure than ever before.
There is no doubt [that there is a huge divergence between U.S. interests and those of Israel]. We want to stop Israel from attacking so the issue is how to persuade Israel that we are serious about stopping Iran from having a weapon -- like a congressional finding that we will take all steps necessary to stop Iran. It means we will define red lines that can't be crossed.
But the bottom line is, I don't know a single person in government, civilian or in uniform, who thinks it is in our national interest to go to war with Iran now.
If we do go to war, it will not be small. Iran could reconstitute its nuclear program in maybe five years, but if we go after its abilities to project military power, we'd open a 15-year window."
JOHANNA GERON/AFP/Getty Images
Every night as we prepped for mobilization and deployment I read from Night Draws Near to my CO CDRs, 1SGs, and Staff. I have the dog-eared copy in my lap as I type right now.
His moving account was in no small part responsible for making it clear to my soldiers that the Iraqis are people too, just like you and I. Caught in the middle of something they really wanted no part of.
Nearly three million truck miles in Iraq over nine months with only 9 rounds fired in 5 escalation of force incidents ... but no one was ever hurt, coalition or Iraqi. 60 IEDs for our predecessors became 2 IEDs for us. No one was hurt on our watch....thanks in part to Anthony. RIP."
Hunter also gets off a good line in the discussion of Lt. Col. Danny Davis: "If you are going to bring the pain, you best have your ducks in a row."
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
But don't be counting your chickens quite yet. John McCreary writes in NightWatch that, "Expect more Iranian support for Damascus and more Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Corps personnel to show up in Syria and in southern Lebanon. The Iranians do not appear ready to abandon Syria yet."
Meanwhile, Egypt looks like it might be moving into Phase II of its revolution.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
On January 12, a bronze plaque was unveiled in front of the kennels at Fort Belvoir bearing the facility's new name: "Sgt. Zainah "Caye" Creamer Military Working Dog Kennels." It was a year ago to the day that Sgt. Creamer succumbed to wounds she sustained in Afghanistan after her unit was attacked by an insurgent's IED. She was the first "female working dog handler to be killed in action during the Iraq or Afghanistan wars."
Sgt. Creamer and her detection dog Jofa had deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010. Their job was to search for weapons, working ahead of their unit to sweep for explosives. Jofa, who was across the road from his handler when the explosion occurred and survived the attack unscathed.
The Belvoir Eagle covered the memorial service held in at Fort Belvoir in Virginia and reports that during the ceremony her fellow handlers remembered Sgt. Creamer with fondness and respect as a "leader" who had the "ability to light up a room no matter what the situation."
It was a spirited disposition that, at 28 years of age, she seems to have maintained with ease. Her headquarters battalion commander, Lt. Col. Dwayne Bowyer, remembers that Sgt. Creamer was:
...Determined, focused and happy the day she departed with her unit. ‘Silently, we all knew that we were sending them into harm's way but we never imagined that Sgt. Creamer would make the ultimate sacrifice doing what she loved.'"
Reportedly after Sgt. Creamer's death, Jofa's loss was visible. But, a year later he is still working and, according to Lt. Col. Bowyer, the dog is doing "great" with his new handler.
In other war-dog news: The United States Postal Service has finally issued a set of working-dog stamps. Among the four canines featured are a guide dog, a therapy dog, and a search and rescue dog, and what reports are calling a "tracker dog." The yellow lab featured on the bottom left of the four-square sheet is clearly a MWD. I would hazard a guess and say a bomb detection dog, made obvious by the fatigue-clad handler's leg visible against the desert-y background. I'll save the nitpicking and compliment the original paintings, which are the work of John M. Thomas and they're lovely. It's enough to make you want to put pen to paper for some good old-fashioned letter writing.
That’s an offhand comment by Simon Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography, which I found at Costco (my favorite store -- if they don’t have it, you don’t need it!) and have been reading and enjoying lately. “America was itself a mission disguised as a nation,” he writes. I suspect he may be right, and think that one reason we constantly re-define the nation is that our sense of the mission changes. Our politics to a surprising extent are an argument to define the mission.
As for Jerusalem, the subject of his book, I came away from the book thinking that it is the city of God only when Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Jews can mix there freely. As Montefiore puts it, “Here, more than anywhere else on earth, we crave, we hope and we search for any drop of the elixir of tolerance, sharing and generosity.” But most of the time, I fear, the real Jerusalem is the one he describes as a mix of “prejudice, exclusivity and possessiveness.”
I was struck by Gen. Martin Dempsey's observation of what prevails in policy and planning discussions: "when I go into a meeting to discuss policy, discuss strategy, discuss operations, plans, whatever it happens to be, he who has the best context generally prevails in the argument, not necessarily who's got the best facts. There's a difference. It's who has the best context in which those facts exist."
I think Dempsey is right, and the implication is that the way to successfully develop policy is to develop a framework or even a narrative. In other words, you say, "you all know about X, Y and Z. Here is what I think those facts mean, how they are connected."
In the same speech, delivered recently at Duke University, he also made a comment on the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats that actually is related: "he was probably one of those poets unique in that he changed; he allowed himself to change and to reflect about that change as he moved through his life. Now, he did some really bizarre stuff at the end of his life but, that said, he was always a man who could understand his time and himself, and he understood in that regard the context in which he was living." Dempsey didn't offer an example of Yeats understanding his time, but for starters, I'd recommend "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death," one of my favorite poems ever, and one of the first I ever memorized. Next, read "Easter 1916."
Yeats also wrote these lines that I kept thinking of back in 2003, as the Iraq war began:
Things fall apart; the
centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The last two lines kept ringing in my head as I watched pundits on TV back then.
When the Israeli ambassador visited the U.S. Naval Academy last week, students were instructed not to bring up the USS Liberty incident, reports one midshipmen.
That may sound like simple courtesy -- except that the diplomat's subject apparently was the history of friendship between the American naval service and his country. "His speech was primarily aimed at convincing a group of young midshipmen that Israel was their eternal and greatest ally," the midshipmen says. "Drawing on historical anecdotes, he was able to create a sense of kinship between not just America and Israel, but the U.S. Navy and Israel."
The midshipmen says the pre-visit instructions were along the lines of, "It is not appropriate, in a setting like this, to bring up any major points of contention during conversation, current or historical. It is okay to talk about issues like Iran or the two state solution, where our nations have a largely common view. But it's not okay to bring up grievances like the USS Liberty, if you are familiar with that incident."
"As the author scans these responses, he's struck by how truly their tones of anger, frustration, and, especially, disgust echo the same tones of anger, frustration, and disgust he heard so often and so eloquently expressed by his students at FOB Fenty. Outrage and just plain-old RAGE toward Afghans, toward the war in Afghanistan, and toward those running the war in Afghanistan often erupted into our classroom discussions. (Most of the time, however, we laughed our relatively clean butts off. The gift of laughter is something that those students at Fenty gave in abundance to each other and to the classroom. Laughter, it often seemed to me, was the only possible human response to what the students described of war's innumerable inhuman absurdities.) As one responder notes, such discussions were nothing but "navel-staring." Where else does one begin a discussion about the treatment of shit, if not by re-examining the essential nature of one's own core values? Navel staring and even sphincter sniffing-indeed!
"Cleanliness," as another responder rightly notes, is a core military value. And shit really is the great leveller. It demands self examination. But after all, our own shit smells like roses, doesn't it? Or, as one student put it, "this type of war is anything but clean."
Behind my student's outrage was his legitimate perception of an injustice. He smelled a turd in the milk. And it was my duty as a professor to encourage him roll up his sleeves and fish around for that turd. As many responders have noted here, there IS something fundamentally unjust about U.S. soldiers being forced to use toilettes made filthy and unsanitary by their ANA counterparts and vice versa. Like many responders here, some of my students suggested that that student's outraged sense of justice points to and emerges from the underlying injustice of the war in Afghanistan. (Or, as they put it, "What the hell are we really doing here?") Others suggested, like a few responders here, that that injustice stemmed from unintelligent, lazy, or incompetent military leadership. ("Give the ANA separate latrines," as one responder put it. Separate but equal?) Still others suggested that that injustice is rooted in the purportedly barbaric cultural habits of Afghans.
(To the responder who distrusts historical canine analogies, the Alexander "meme" was brought forward spontaneously in response to the student's outrage, as what we might call a "teaching moment," because that class happened to be Greek mythology, and I happened to have prepared a lecture on the history of Alexander's invasion of Bactra. You make an excellent point, though, and it would make more sense, especially right now, to give a detailed lecture about the final days of Mohammed Najib's rule, such as Peter Tomsen performs in The Wars in Afghanistan.)
That the situation U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan face right now is fundamentally unjust cannot be denied. As recent events in Afghanistan demonstrate, U.S. soldiers are increasingly likely to be shot by ANA even within the supposed safety of the FOB. Fobbits must watch their backs in Afghanistan today.
All of my students were suffering in one way or another from multiple-deployment fatigue. And all expressed (or vented) serious doubts about the value of our mission in Afghanistan. Morale there, as compared to that of AFRICOM where my students held their head very high, is low.
My intention in posting the essay was to draw attention from an increasingly indifferent civilian U.S. population to the tragic predicament in which our servicemen and women find themselves in the war in Afghanistan.
The trickiness of their predicament was mirrored by what I was also hearing from my Afghan tent mates at Fenty, which were exactly the same tones of anger, frustration, and disgust-only, they aimed their outrage and RAGE at U.S. soldiers. Quartered in a "transient" tent that was supposed to be exclusively designated for local-national Afghan interpreters, Pashtun, Nuristanis, and Pashais, I was the only non-Afghan living in this tent. And I admit that I was not especially comfortable in that tent, chiefly because a few of them told me they didn't want me there. They didn't want any of us there, as one fellow put it. So, I asked him what would happen to Afghanistan if we were to go home immediately, as he claimed he wanted. What about Pakistan? What about the Taliban? What about the Uzbeks? And Tajiks? He responded by saying, "Afghans are not afraid to die." When I heard that, I didn't know whether to shit or go blind.
One responder rightly notes that to get compliance at the macro-level you need to gain it at the micro-level, first. I can only wonder how you gain compliance at any level from a people who are not afraid to die?
And if compliance be impossible in Afghanistan, then I very well may have been sent, as another responder put it, on a "fool's errand." I most certainly did feel like a fool much of my time in Afghanistan, but not when I was in the presence of those students. Despite the impossibility of the many tricky situations they confront daily on behalf of a nation that has largely forgotten this war; despite the frustration, the disgust, the outrage and the rage, despite shit in their showers and in their sinks, despite their deployment fatigue, they demonstrated daily the mental resiliency that General Petraeus believes is essential to becoming a competent war fighter. "We cannot," Petraeus argues, "be competent warfighters unless we are as intelligent and mentally tough as we are aggressive and physically rugged." Fool's errand or not, my students did, on the whole, demonstrate that their core values are strong and resilient enough to "take their shit."
But perhaps the really difficult part for many of my students will be leaving the shit of Afghanistan behind when the time comes to make the long odyssey back home to a nation of civilians who largely do not understand the nearly imponderable nature of the task our servicemen and women were asked to perform in Afghanistan."
That was the question a friend posed the other day. Here, slightly edited for clarity and further reflection, is what I wrote back to him:
My impression is that the Army is kind of all over the place these days. It reminds me a bit of the years in the mid-1950s before the Pentomic Army.
The looming budget cuts are the biggest thing shaping today's force. The Army may be going into what Eliot Cohen once called "the Uptonian hunker," waiting for the budget cuts to hit.
The second biggest thing is the dog that isn't barking. As far as I can see, there is very little interest in turning over the rock to figure out what the Army has learned in the last 10 years, how it has changed, what it has done well, what it hasn't. More than a Harry Summers, where is the intellectual equivalent of a self-evaluation such as the 1970 study on Army professionalism? Shouldn't the Army be asking itself how it has changed, and looking at the state of its officer corps? We have seen some terrible leadership but very little official inclination to examine its causes. A couple of years ago, I noticed in reviewing my notes for my book Fiasco that, to an extent I hadn't noticed while writing it, it was the battalion commanders' critique of their generals.
We have seen had huge changes in the way the Army fights. It isn't just the flirtation with conventional troops doing COIN. ( U.S. troop-intensive COIN has indeed gone out of intellectual fashion, but not I think a more FID-ish COIN.) It also is:
What are your thoughts, grasshoppers? What am I missing?
By Doyle Quiggle
Best Defense department of classical studies
A few minutes before the beginning of a Greek mythology class at FOB Fenty, Jalalabad, for which I'd prepared to lecture on Alexander the Great's swift invasion but treacherous occupation of Afghanistan, my best student stomped into the classroom, slammed his M4 down on the table, and announced, "I can't take their shit anymore!"
After his classmates and I had calmed him down, he explained that the walls, stall door, and floor of the toilet he'd just used were smeared with feces. They were always smeared with feces, he complained. He was furious about being forced daily to use facilities that were, as he put it, "Inhumanely, barbarically unhygienic and filthy." He and his unit shared their toilet with the ANA, as they had been ordered to do by their commanding officers-"hearts and minds." And it was the custom of the ANA to wipe themselves with their hands, smear their excrement on the walls of the toilette, and rinse their hands in the sink, which left the sinks reeking, a reek made especially acrid and pungent by the Afghans' high intake of goat meat and goat milk. While brushing his teeth, my student often had to struggle to keep down his gorge.
The outraged student, who, despite TSIRT, knew dangerously little about the cultural habits of any of the many Afghan tribes, had begun to take the ANA's toilette habits personally. I wanted to get my student to explore the source of his outrage. But I did not want to relativize or dismiss his outrage because I have learned that outrage always points toward a perception of injustice. It, therefore, also implies a healthy and intact sense of justice, which is something I encourage in students. So, I suggested to him that he was being faced (in the toilet customs of the ANA) with what Alexander's Macedonian Greeks would have called "borborygmus," a word that Plato and Aristophanes and Homer used to describe the filthy, excremental sewage of the underworld of Hades. For was he not in a kind of underworld (Hades or hell) on deployment in an Afghanistan he barely understood? Borborygmus not only means "shit." It also connotes "shit fearing." Borborophoba was known as the Goddess of the realm of death. She had the power to keep shit from flowing, but she also possessed the power to make it flow in the face of mortal fear and threat of death. Every combat soldier has been struck by her bowel- and bladder-releasing powers at least once in his life.
We then recalled what we'd read of David Grossman in On Killing, "the physiology of the fight: the body's role in combat and the skill to kill," where he explains in the modern language of physiology what the Greeks described in the metaphorical language of myth:
"Homeostasis is the balance struck between SNS and PNS during normal routine behavior, and can be thrown completely out of synchronicity when confrontation occurs, with PNS systems largely shutting down. One result of this can be the body ‘blowing the ballast', that is the dumping of unnecessary bodily substances which are of no benefit in combat - urine and feces, a rather unseemly but wholly natural bodily response to confrontation. This loosening of muscles which would be potentially drawing energy without contributing to the immediate task of survival is associated with the recession of PNS systems as the SNS is in the ascendancy."
Now, the smeared feces that my student had been dealing with daily in his ANA-USA shared toilet was not the result of a loss of homeostasis due to threat, but it did point to the realm of Borborophoba, and it pointed most directly to the underlying cultural void between soldiers like my student and the Afghan Army. As every anthropologist or mythographer knows, shit is the great leveler. It marks a psychic and cultural border. How a culture treats excrement, waste (all of that which it discards) speaks volumes about that culture. And when we are confronted with another culture's treatment of excrement, we are often pushed to the threshold and outer border of our own most deeply held, highly cherished values.
On the day of my student's enraged expression of borborophoba, I asked him and his classmates to link his I-can't-take-their-shit-anymore outrage to that of Alexander and his men when they arrived in Bactra where they discovered dogs roaming the otherwise highly civilized city, dogs feeding upon human bodies. According to the religious practices of the Bactrians, they threw not only their dead to the dogs but also their sick, lame, and invalid elderly-anyone considered social excrement or waste. Alexander and his men observed that the normal, healthy citizens of Bactria went about their daily business even as dogs devoured human bodies in the streets. An upstanding Bactrian merchant might walk past a pack of dogs feasting on a corpse as nonchalantly as a Greek merchant would walk past a fish stand.
Although Alexander and his men had been exceptionally tolerant of the strange cultural and religious practices of the many tribes they'd conquered since defeating Darius at the Battle of Granicus, the use of devouring dogs was one cultural bridge too far for the Macedonian Greeks. They simply could not imagine disposing of the dead in any form other than a tomb or a funeral pyre. Their invention of a Goddess like Borborophoba itself speaks to how ornately and vividly they'd imagined the world after life. Alexander and his men could not imagine anything more barbaric than encouraging dogs to devour the dead. Contrariwise, the Bactrians could not imagine anyone being barbaric enough not to do so with their dead.
The devouring dogs brought Alexander to a classic cultural impasse. And here Alexander drew a strict line. He would no longer tolerate what he viewed as a barbaric practice. He'd arrived at an I-can't-take-their-shit-anymore point of outrage, and he banned the use of devouring dogs from Bactria. At this historic moment, Alexander's real epic struggle began, the struggle to civilize Afghanistan. And by civilize we mean simply that he enacted policies that sought to force Afghanistan's tribes out of the bronze age and into the iron age.
We spent the rest of the class drawing analogies from Alexander's occupation of Bactra to the current ISAF mission in Afghanistan. That discussion involved our detailing as many incompatible differences between the primary cultural habits of US soldiers and those of the ANA, as well as the cultural habits of Afghans that US soldiers had observed on off-base patrols. We discussed everything from the treatment of excrement to the treatment of women. Many of my female soldier-students could not see any difference between the two as far as Afghan men were concerned. In order for our anthropological discussion to make any difference whatsoever to my students, we had to "keep it real," as they would say. To bite into the marrow, our discussion had to begin with harsh differences, like the handling of shit in latrines, that had evoked an acute emotional response from the soldiers. Only thereafter could we move on to the academic observations made of Afghanis by such notable authors as Thomas Barfield or Maratine van Bijlert or Antonio Giustozzi.
In other words, the professor treated his own students as if they were an alien culture, working from within their value system and emotional matrix, oscillating between their perceptions of an alien culture (Afghans) and that culture's perceptions of them. I'd assiduously gathered the latter perceptions from many chai-tea conservations with my tent mates, who were Afghan interpreters, Pashtun, Nuristanis, and Pashais.
My pedagogical aim for my students was to encourage cultural intelligence toward Afghans without encouraging any kind of soft-minded, limp-wristed relativism of values (cultural relativity) in which their own commitment to classical military core values such as loyalty, courage, selfless service, integrity, moderation, and justice might be diluted or weakened. On the contrary, my goal was to help them strengthen their commitment to those core values by showing them that they can withstand the outside challenge of culture to which they are wholly alien; they can, so to speak, "take their shit."
Doyle Quiggle taught oratory, rhetoric, and the classics to U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in two different war zones, at Camp Lemonnier (Djibouti, Africa) and at Forward Operating Base Fenty (Jalalabad, Afghanistan). The honor of contributing to the education of war fighters on the battlefield was granted to Quiggle by the U.S. Army through a contract with the University of Maryland, University College. Quiggle received his PhD from Washington University.
You've got to be pretty wonky to look forward to an evening of reading a history of U.S. Army doctrine, so I am coming out with my hands up to confess: When my copy of Walter Kretchik's book arrived in the mail, I couldn't wait to dig in. (For those scratching their heads, my pocket definition of military doctrine is: How a military thinks about what it does.)
When I put it down, I was not so happy. Kretchik's argument is that "the American Army has been far more adaptive and innovative than scholars have acknowledged." I wasn't persuaded.
This book is not a narrative history of how each version of the manual came to be. It doesn't explore the clashes over doctrine, nor even much the personalities involved. I found it more a once-over-lightly trot through what the changes to each edition of 100-5, as the Army's capstone manual was known for years. I think I learned more from Robert Doughty's history of the evolution of Army tactical doctrine from the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War.
Even so, the book is useful as an overview for people trying to track how Army doctrine has changed over the centuries, and especially since the Vietnam War. It usefully summarizes the contents of each edition of the Army's operations manual, highlighting differences and changes.
Bottom line: This one is only for the hard-core fan of American ground forces doctrine. The rest of youse who are only occasional doctrinal dippers would be better off sticking to the selected papers of General DePuy.
By Col. Robert Killebrew, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense department of doctrinal affairs
counterinsurgency dead? As U.S. combat forces have withdrawn from
Iraq and are scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014 -- just twenty-four months
from now -- various defense thinkers and publications have declared the U.S.
involvement in counterinsurgency (COIN) over. Actually, nothing could be
further from reality. The real story is that COIN is still very much
alive, in Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia and a dozen other places where the
U.S. still has interests and that, in Afghanistan at particular, the United
States is moving, finally, into true counterinsurgency.
Over the past nine years Americans, and particularly the American government, have gotten a picture of a sort of COIN-influenced military operation conflated with pictures of U.S. troops spilling out of armored vehicles or patrolling, grim-faced, through insurgent areas. But in fact, the "geometry" of real "counterinsurgency" is between an indigenous government and locals trying to overthrow or weaken it. When outside troops enter the fight, as we have done successfully in many more theaters than just Iraq and Afghanistan, they risk becoming the third party in what is essentially a family feud. Practical COIN, as practiced by the United States, is to support the local combat forces, not to carry the fight ourselves. The employment of American combat power, which is generally overwhelming, risks "stealing the oxygen" from the essential relationship between a local government and the insurgents who are fighting it. It may be necessary for one of our troops to shoot an insurgent from the next village, but killing somebody's cousin isn't going to make either us or the local government loved. If there ever was a doubt, look at the celebrations breaking out in Iraq with our departure.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the destruction of both governments made it necessary for us to take on major combat roles while we rebuilt the security forces. While the performance of our troops was superb, our initial effort to re-form both the Iraqi and Afghan armies was grudging, too limited and far too slow. In our we'll-do-it culture, we forgot that so long as U.S. forces are carrying the bulk of the fighting in somebody else's insurgency, we are delaying the time when the host government starts fighting the "real" COIN campaign and we provide assistance and support, which is the Americans' real role in COIN.
Iraq is over (or paused) for us, and the Iraqi government will now fight its own insurgents unaided. In Afghanistan, by 2014 we will shift from the current U.S. (or NATO) troop-centered conflict to a true COIN campaign of assistance to Afghan forces. What this means is that Afghan forces do the fighting, helped by small American advisory teams embedded in Afghan units, living and fighting alongside Afghan troops, and backed up by U.S. airpower and logistics. This is not new to us - -we know how to do COIN. U.S. advisors have worked alongside and supported local troops for decades, starting as far back in our frontier days and lately in Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia, the Philippines and elsewhere. In Colombia, a success story, a Colombian general complimented the U.S. for getting it right and "letting us fight our own war." In Afghanistan, U.S. Special Forces troops have been living with the Afghan army in Afghan uniforms, previewing what we must be doing by 2014.
Whether the Administration, the Defense Department and the services have the stomach for such a shift to the actual prosecution of a COIN effort is an open question. Our commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is calling for a shift to an advisor-focused effort by 2014, which means many more combat-experienced NCOs, captains and majors for duties in Afghanistan instead of in battalions and brigades back in the U.S., which will delay "reset" by the Army and Marines. But if our Afghan allies are to prevail in their war and preserve their country, that's what it's going to take. We are reaching the end of our domination of the war in Afghanistan; the real COIN campaign is about to begin.
What those urinating Marines did was wrong, but hardly shocking in the context of what goes on in war -- especially in Afghanistan. I remember reading in a history of fighting in Waziristan that British officers were warned that if they were captured, Pushtun fighters likely would jam a sprig of camelthorn up the captive's penis and then tie him naked and spreadeagled over and anthill and leave him there to roast in the sun until he died. Given the historical memory of Afghans, I would expect that knowledge of those practices is widespread.
More next week on this issue.
I felt like Rodney King as I was reading Michael Desch and Peter Feaver slug it out in the pages of International Security about the surge. I like both guys, even though they are political scientists, that most oxymoronic of academic specialties. Maybe one day they can become historians -- which is what both seem to be trying to be here. (I also aspire to be one some day.)
My take: Feaver is too Washington-centric in his views. President Bush's decision to fire General Casey and go with Petraeus and a changed approach was key, but after that, what happened in Iraq was more important than anything that happened in Washington. It was necessary (and difficult) to understand what was going on in both capitals, but more important to know what was going on in Baghdad, especially because Washington's consensus generally seemed to lag reality by about six months.
Fyi, this poll says Iraqis don't seem all that impressed with the surge.
The only thing I would add is that the older I get, the less I think that Samuel Huntington's Soldier and the State is an accurate portrayal of the way American civil-military relations work, or even should work. I recently read a good essay by Richard Kohn about the flaws of Huntington's book, carried in a volume titled American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era, edited by Suzanne Nielsen and Don Snider. To complete the circle, I met the former in Baghdad during the Surge in question.
By Jeff Williams
Best Defense bureau of general officer behaviors
Sometime in the last year in either Haaretz or the Jerusalem Post -- I forget which -- I found an article about Gen. Benny Gantz the current Chief of Staff of the IDF. Apparently, it is Gantz's custom to take a few days and join a section of the 35th Bgd. (Para's) and do tactical field exercises with them as a common soldier. This to me is a very impressive act on his part. Gantz, going back to his roots and observing what is happening with troop training, weapons and equipment is much better that a staff report on the same subject. Troops also get the feeling that he is in touch with them.
Actually, I can't imagine an American General officer of the Army or even the more hands-on Marines doing the same thing. The only comparison I have to Gantz's proclivity to see for himself is Adm. Olsen, who retired last year as Commander of USSOCOM, a very gritty SEAL to be sure. While unlike Gantz he did not join a SEAL platoon doing exercises on San Clemente Island, he did frequently showed up at Coronado to join in doing free weights, long distance runs, and more gruelingly, swim out to the Point Loma buoy and back with the teams. Even at age 59 it was hard to beat him in the water.
I don't know if Gantz is representative of Israeli brass (some of them seem to have a pretty developed paunch) but it should be standard procedure for the IDF and every first rate fighting force. MG Julian Thompson, who commanded 3rd Commando Bgd. in the Falklands, was well known for putting on a ruck and grabbing a rifle and joining his Marines for a speed march over Woodbury Common, not in command but as one of the men.And that's my thought for the day.
Here's another take on the reflective belts controversy, which says we should focus less on the belts and more on the number of billets for general officers.
"When you can't accomplish the important, the petty becomes important.
I was in South-Central Iraq in 2008, on a multinational FOB which had been getting rocketed fairly regularly. A conventional brigade showed up; they were living in tents due to lack of CHU space, and highly vulnerable to IDF. They did not go out on a single raid that I know of to get the guys who were lighting the FOB up (fortunately, others did.) The only times those guys went outside the wire, it was to ferry their senior leadership across the province for unproductive key leader engagements (they killed an Iraqi police guy with an MRAP while going through a checkpoint on one of those field trips.) You know what their senior leadership's priorities were? Doing away with takeout trays at the DFAC (since, according to the brigade's CSM, the local nationals working on base were sneaking food out to feed to the insurgents) and enforcing ludicrous uniform standards (all brigade personnel had to wear gloves outside-in August-to avoid sunburning their hands, and noncompliance meant an Article 15.) I had to pry their CSM off one of my junior guys at breakfast one morning-we'd just come back in the wire after being out all night, and he didn't like my dude's uniform.
The main issue is this--a LOT of the senior leadership is lost in the sauce, has no idea what's going on or how to accomplish anything concrete. So, they attempt to make themselves feel like they're in control of the situation via a) imposing ludicrous chickenshit on those below them, and b) spending most of their time liaising with other senior Americans, doing coordination meetings, briefings, etc., etc., etc. That way, they feel like they are in control of their environment, and never have to encounter anything which would suggest differently. All this is done at the expense of their subordinates and of the war in general, but that's ok."
(HT to "Soldier's Diary")
David Davies / Flickr
The New York Times came across some Haditha documents dumped in Iraq. I read the article but I didn't see anything new. My Washington Post colleague Josh White covered all that stuff pretty thoroughly several years ago.
More thoughtful are the comments below from Col. Teddy Spain. I knew him back in Baghdad in 2003, when he commanded the MPs in the capital, and I wrote about his experience in my book Fiasco. He's a good soul. Recently he and I have been talking about the end of the war in Iraq. Here are his thoughts these days.
By Col. Teddy Spain, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
Americans will be debating for many years to come the wisdom of the political decision that took us to war with Iraq in March, 2003. I served as the Commander of the U. S. Army's 18th Military Police Brigade during the ground war and first year of the occupation of Iraq. I am deeply concerned about what happens after America departs. I don't think we have achieved what we set out to achieve. I'm concerned Iraq cannot secure itself and we will see an increase in Iranian influence. The soldiers of my brigade understood the importance of a credible Iraqi police force and worked heroically to stand up a functioning Iraqi policing system. Not enough emphasis was placed on the development of the Iraqi police and rule of law during the first year of the war. From my past experiences, I don't feel the Iraqi police will be ready by the end of this month to assume the burden of protecting Iraqis from the variety of influences who will be trying to undermine Iraq's recovery and pursuit of democracy. The Iraqi police will be the target of their wrath in an effort to send a clear message to frightened Iraqis that even the police cannot protect them. I find it hard to believe we will not have to return at some point in the future, and perhaps lose even more soldiers, than if we were to keep a larger presence there now.
Being a commander in combat is a heavy burden. Parents, brothers, sisters, and countless others entrust you with the care of their loved one. As a commander you constantly balance mission accomplishment, with the welfare of your soldiers. You understand soldiers will die, and you do everything in your power to ensure it makes a difference when they do. When we pull out of Iraq in a couple of weeks, will that undermine everything my soldiers fought and died for? Not to mention the ones sitting at home without all of their arms and legs? I've been asked many times since I've retired what my biggest concern about Iraq is. I always answer without hesitation that I'm concerned that my 13 soldiers died in vain. That concern will grow at the end of this month. Many politicians talk about the cost of war in dollars. I had millions of dollars worth of equipment destroyed in Iraq and never lost one minute of sleep over it. However, every day of my life I think of those 13 soldiers and ask myself if there is anything I could have done differently to have brought them back home alive. I come up empty for an answer every day. If I ever conclude they died in vain, I hope it's not because yet another politician pulled us out of Iraq before we finished the job we were sent there to do.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
Tom Ricks: This
is a terrific book. Was it difficult to report and write? I would imagine so.
Did it invade your dreams? How did you, and those close to you, get through it?
Jim Frederick: … The book was difficult to write, but not quite in the way you suggest. The subject matter was dark, brutally so. But every time I started feeling oppressed or beaten down by it, I just reflected on the soldiers I was interviewing and remembered: They had to live it, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on telling their story. So it wasn't actually hard in that way. I tried to be compassionate without letting the subject matter invade my personal life or, as you say, my dreams.
Now, that being said, the book was extraordinarily difficult because while I have been a journalist my entire adult life, I had never felt such pressure to Get The Story Right. The soldiers I spoke to (and it was well over 120 of them, over several years, and I interviewed a core of about 20 or 30 main players over and over again over that period) trusted me to a degree I have never really been able to fathom. A lot of them claimed to hate the mainstream media, yet they trusted me far beyond the degree I would ever trust a journalist. And from their trust I felt just a massive, massive burden: that if I don't get this right, it will not only be a professional and personal embarrassment, but I will have let them down and confirmed all of their worst assumptions about journalists and modern journalism. Not that I wrote the book to please them, of course. I often told them that I had a professional obligation not to care whether they "liked" the book or not when it was finished, but it was a primary goal of mine to ensure those who were there thought it was accurate and fair-minded and captured the spirit of the deployment. Thankfully, I have heard from scores of the men in the book, and they have told me exactly that: that they might not have liked everything they read, but they thought that it was fair and accurate.
TR: I was down at "The Swamp," an outpost near the power plant just west of your guys' AO, in February 2006, and saw some of the unhappiest American soldiers I'd ever seen. I know that the Triangle of Death was tough, but so were a lot of other places, like Sadr City and Ramadi. Why do you think the 101st guys were so demoralized?
JF: I was not with, nor did I interview, the men of the 2-502nd who were in that AO around the Swamp, so I can't really speak to their particular situation. But if I can extrapolate from what I know about 1-502nd across all of the 101st Airborne during that time, I would say a lot of it had to do with them falling into a very muddled period of extreme strategic breakdown. They were at the tail end of the seek and destroy era of terrorist hunting, and it was not going well. This was the absolute darkest era of the war, when the men knew in their hearts that what they were being asked to do was not working, but there were no better alternatives at the time. This was a full year before COIN really got going so I think those days you got a lot of the hopelessness from the men on the ground who knew the current strategy was doomed a year before the White House or the Pentagon were willing to admit it.
TR: You do a great job of showing why the chain of command is in many ways to blame for the crimes that occurred. But as portrayed, the chain kind of fades out above brigade. It would seem to me that your argument is that the division commander, Generals Casey and Chiarelli, and Secretary Rumsfeld above them, are also to blame for what happened. Is that correct? Did you ever get a chance to interview them for this book?
I would like to add some other jackassery I saw while I was there. While at the DFAC, I saw a group of Army Rangers in PT gear walk in with their M9 pistols with inserted magazines in hand. They did not have holsters. They proceeded to flag each other and everyone else while they got ketchup and drinks. One of them placed the pistol between his legs while he opened the cooler.
I spoke to them (where I discovered they were Rangers) and asked why they didn't have holsters. They had their hands full eating and the pistols were on the table pointing at each other. An Afghan DFAC employee was standing just behind one of the soldiers.
I was told that they were rotating through Bagram and their individual weapons had already been turned in. They were given pistols so they could comply with the order of always being armed. I mentioned how unsafe their weapons handling was and was told not to worry since they weren't given any ammunition."
Check out I love Bagram for a responsible opposing viewpoint: "2569. When the 11Bravo's come to BAF and they bitch at us or call us pogs. And ask how do we live with ourselfs. I reply 1 hot shower a day."
Another episode in the department of "shit you can't make up," from a guy I know:
"I had a company commander (Spring '09) who was in the remotest part of our province and had been medevaced after getting blown up and knocked unconscious. They sent him up when the medevac came for a more seriously wounded soldier. While he was on Bagram, he was feeling better and they let him go walk the main to go to a DFAC for dinner. He was in the only uniform he had, complete with burn marks.
He was stopped by MPs who were posted and writing tickets to soldiers who were not wearing a reflective belt. When that story got around, we were wondering what world he had just come from because it wasn't the same as the units who were fighting the war.
I think you understand how crazy it seemed to us (the line guys) that someone (definitely a CSM!) posted MPs for the specific purpose of writing tickets to soldiers not following the asinine policies that had no basis/grounding for the war we were/are fighting. Think about the implications of that on US manpower --how much the nation invested in getting those soldiers trained to deploy to combat, what it takes to sustain those soldiers over the course of the deployment ... and this is what we are going to use them for? It struck me as a terrible waste and I remember talking about it with the company commander. We both commented on how we had requested MPs to help mentor ANP but we couldn't actually get any real MPs to do that mission."
By David Palkki
Best Defense department of dictatorial archives
I'm grateful to Tom for inviting me to present a few highlights from The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant's Regime, 1978-2001, which Cambridge University Press just published. I had the good fortune to co-edit this study, with Kevin Woods and Mark Stout, at the Institute for Defense Analyses for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy). Our book is based on a review of several thousand audio files (and a smaller number of video files) that U.S.-led forces captured from Saddam Hussein's regime. The recordings cover several decades' worth of Saddam's meetings with his cabinet, Revolutionary Command Council, generals, tribal sheikhs, visiting dignitaries and others.
The book is intended more as an invitation to scholars to conduct research using digital copies of the original records (and translations) at the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) than as an effort to compile definitive conclusions or policy recommendations, yet certain patterns and insights have surfaced as a result of our efforts. In this blog I'll touch on three.
--First, Saddam was not in America's hip pocket during the 1980s. In fact, he was far more antagonistic toward and skeptical of the United States, even at the height of U.S. support for Iraq during the 1980s, than scholars have acknowledged. The United States was behind the Iranian Revolution, Saddam privately asserted, "to scare the Gulf people so they can have a [military] presence and arrange the situation in the region." After Iran-Contra revelations made clear that the United States had clandestinely armed Iran and provided it with military intelligence on Iraq, Saddam complained to his inner circle that the Americans were still "conspiring bastards." From Saddam's perspective, the entire episode was intended to harm Iraq (not to help the Contras or free U.S. hostages). He referred to the incident as "Irangate," held at least seven meetings to analyze the significance of the revelations, and described U.S. behavior as a "stab in the back." In May 1988, Saddam instructed his advisors, "We have to be aware of America more than the Iranians" because "they are now the police for Iran, they will turn anything they find over to Iran." In September 1988, just after the war had ended, Saddam expressed conviction to his advisers that the United States was behind a recent attempt on his life.
The U.S. Embassy just tightened restrictions on movements of American personnel inside the Green Zone.
Meanwhile, when someone is right, I listen. Adam Silverman called Iraq right this year. Here are his thoughts now.
By Adam L. Silverman, PhD
Best Defense guest columnist
A little over a month ago Tom wrote a column dealing with the US's rapidly approaching deadline to leave Iraq. At the time I sent him some remarks, which he asked me to pull together for a guest column. I agreed on the condition that I would have the time to tone down the tenor, if not the content, as this topic hits close to home for me - as I'm sure it does for many Best Defense readers, as well as many other Americans (and our coalition partners as well).
As we are within final month in Iraq, we are once again beginning to see reports of new violence. As I have written here at Best Defense, as well as other sites, I think this is likely to become the Iraqi reality once we draw down to just the military personnel assigned to the Embassy. Part of the reason for my take is that the Iraqis have been communicating to us - in words and in deeds -- for several years that this is what is going to happen. Even as the Sawha/Awakenings was first gathering press, it was clear in what little reporting there originally was on the movement, its leaders, and its goals that their long term intention was to strike at the Shi'a, specifically the exile Shi'a that we had empowered, once they were able to do so (as in once we were gone). I interviewed dozens of tribal and religious leaders, (local) elites, notables, non-elites, and internally displaced Iraqis. The vast majority of them, both Sunni and Shi'a, had grave concerns over the government we helped to empower, as well as the members of that government and their ties to Iran and how this all related to the average Iraqi.
The Shi'a exile dominated government of Iraq, especially Prime Minister Maliki, has made no pretense of indicating it wanted to roll up the Awakenings' members. From a very heavy handed Sons of Iraq (SOI) transition that failed to foster and promote societal reconciliation and civil society reformation to cracking down on both the Awakenings and the SOI, Maliki has demonstrated that his goal is consolidation of power. One of the three Iraqis elected to parliament on the Iraqiyya list earlier in the year, then suddenly faced with an arrest warrant by Maliki's government in order to change the electoral outcome was an Awakenings and SOI leader (full disclosure -- he was also the subject of one of my social history/tribal study interviews, which you can read at the link). Add to this the fact that the Kurds still have plans of their own for Kirkuk, let alone an independent Kurdistan, and post U.S. presence Iraq looks to be unsettled and unpleasant for a long time to come.
When it comes down to it, and what I think has so many so upset, anxious, and out of sorts regarding the looming US departure from Iraq, is that it did not necessarily have to be this way. To paraphrase the Best Defense reader and commenter who asked about accountability in regards to Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- at what point do journalists, let alone the American people, hold those who made wildly inaccurate assessments, predictions, estimations, and gave absolutely horrid, hugely uninformed, gigantically incorrect policy advice responsible for the strategic failure that is Iraq?
How big a concern is Israel's growing insecurity? Will it lead it to go to war? The U.S. government is turning some screws on Iran, and Israel continues to fret in public. I've heard talk of an attack coming but I don't understand what Israel might gain from doing so, especially because it isn't clear that air strikes could really take apart much of the Iranian nuclear program, or even do as much damage as Stuxnet did. On the other hand, with Egypt, Libya and Syria in turmoil and Iraq about to be stripped of any air defense capability...
Meanwhile, in Iran, satellite imagery shows stepped-up activity at an alleged nuke site. And Ahmadinejad's press guy was arrested. I wonder if that is the Middle Eastern political equivalent of fish and birds sensing an imminent earthquake.
Israel Defense Forces/Flickr
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense directorate of Delta force activities
After a decade of counterterrorism, the United States still doesn't quite seem to have the right formula. As we look back on a decade of lessons learned, it is useful to also study what our allies and partners have been up to in their own fights with terrorism.
Daniel Byman's new book, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, tells the story of Israel's seven decades of counterterrorism. Byman overcomes the potential minefield subject of Israel/Palestine by tracing the arc of contemporary Israeli policies and challenges to their historical roots, often dating back to the British Mandate period and the 1967 war.
What struck me when reading Byman's book?
The Israeli military and politics are truly familial. Many of Israel's political and security officials today have worked together for decades, starting as soldiers in the IDF. Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak served on the same commando team that freed a hijacked El Al plane in 1972. Somberly, Bibi's brother Yonatan Netanyahu was killed in the famous Entebbe raid in 1976. These intimate relationships and the country's close ties to its military forces make the use of force, especially commandos, a very personal affair for those in power.
The long learning curve of countering terrorism. Israeli intelligence was forced to adapt as Black September emerged in the 1970s, as the PLO built a mini-state in Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority took power after Oslo and amidst the Second Intifada and the rise of Hamas. These required a relatively small cadre of counterterror specialists to constantly look for new openings in collection, new avenues of disruption and better ways to harden defenses. Israel still hasn't perfected its methods to say the least but has established an impressive record to versatility in a persistent irregular conflict. The United States should take note as we enter a second decade of war: retaining top level talent and constantly learning is key to long-term success.
The dangers of sanctuary. According to Byman, "Israel's history shows that no factor is more important to the success of a terrorist group than sanctuary." This argument is supported by studies of insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. Israel has focused much of its historical efforts on eliminating these sanctuaries both within and outside its borders. However it is important to note that as one safe haven closed, inevitably another appeared, whether in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria or Gaza.
Oxford University Press
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.