Best Defense: Do you think Pakistan turned against the United States in Afghanistan in 2005? What makes you think that?
Richard Armitage: "When I was deputy secretary [of state], from 2001 to February 2005, I looked constantly for information that the Pakistanis were aiding the Taliban.... I did see liaison, but I could not find" strong evidence of more.
"2005, if you look at casualties [in the Afghan war]. There was the beginning of a sharp rise. I believe two things happened. The Talibs started digging up their weapons and the Pakistanis thought, Maybe the Americans will prove short of breath, and so maybe we should keep our hand in.
"There was a background to this. From our point of view, it was black and white. From a Pakistani point of view, it wasn't. In their view, we are a very unfaithful partner, with four or five divorces since 1947. So in the back of their minds is always, When are they going to cut and run?"
BD: How does that inform your view of the current situation?
Armitage: "My present view of the situation is that the Pakistan government is persuaded of the ultimate ability of the Taliban to form a deal with the Afghan government, with a rough return to corners -- the Tajik in the north, Pashtun in the south and east, the Hazaras in the middle getting kicked by everybody, and so on.
"I think in addition, Pakistan dramatically increased its nuclear arsenal after 2008-2009. They fear that we will swoop in and take them.
"With India, they now are looking at tactical nuclear weapons." [Their fear, Armitage said, is that if there is another Mumbai-like attack, India will respond with a corps-sized attack on Pakistan.] "Tactical nukes is what you'd use against a corps." [This might provoke India to escalate further.] "But Pakistan would say that its tactical nukes would deter that."
BD: I saw today (Monday) that 3 SAMs were reported intercepted near the Pakistani border. What do you make of that?
Armitage: If it were true, "That would be seen as a very unfriendly act," one directed not against Afghan forces but against our airpower. "I'd be skeptical of that" report -- it more likely is MANPADs than larger SAMs.
BD: As the United States tries to draw down its presence in Afghanistan and turn over security to Afghan forces, what do you expect Pakistan to try to do?
Armitage: "I think they will remain on the trajectory they are on" -- that is, supporting Talibs in the south and east, and keeping an eye on Indian (and possibly Russian) dealing with the Tajiks.
If internal unrest grows in Pakistan, "they may have to spend a little more time at home," but still will likely remain on the same trajectory in Afghanistan.
BD: If you had lunch with President Obama today, what would you tell him about the Afghan war and about Pakistan?
Armitage: "Twenty-five years from now, Mr. President, I can assure you there will be a nation called Afghanistan, with much the same borders and the same rough demographic makeup. I probably couldn't say that about Pakistan."
On the Afghan war, "I would say, Mr. President, it is not worth one more limb." Perhaps just leave enough for counterterror missions and maybe some trainers.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
If surface-to-air missiles are being intercepted near the Pakistani border, where are they coming from?
By April Labaro
Best Defense bureau of Afghan political affairs
What exactly is Afghanistan transitioning to in 2014? This question is central in the ongoing (and going) debate about "Afghanistan 2014," which has given everyone involved a case of "'transition fatigue," according to Professor Ali J. Jalali.
Jalali, a former interior minister of Afghanistan, gave a lecture recently at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies about his personal assessment of the upcoming transition in Afghanistan. When it comes down to it, he believes that the best that anyone can hope for is the survival of the regime.
To ensure that outcome, Jalali outlined three key areas that should be addressed during the transition:
Jalali summed up his points by concluding that "the snapshots are bad, but the video is different." In other words, this transition through 2014 and beyond is fragile and riddled with serious doubt and potential breaking points. But with a strong national agenda and the regime's publicly confirmed political will, it is possible for Afghanistan to hold a free and fair election and transition to a stable and secure state. Time seems to be on the side of the government for now, but we can't afford to forget that, as Jalali put it, if the Afghan people don't win, everyone will lose.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
By "A Guy in Afghanistan"
Best Defense guest columnist
The United States has invested a great deal of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Thus far, senior leadership (both civilian and military) would have us believe that we are receiving a valuable return on our investment, in the form of a stable and democratic government. Some exaggeration of the positive aspects is to be expected, of course, but when the ground truth blatantly belies the narrative, shouldn't we start questioning it?
The story of Helmand is a microcosm of America's Afghan counterinsurgency experience. Massive expenditures have piled up, as well as many lives lost. Supposedly, security and democracy have now taken root in the former Taliban heartland. However, from my time there last year, that's not what I saw. I saw large swaths of Taliban-controlled areas where ISAF and ANSF forces simply did not go. It wasn't for any lack of strategic importance; it was because ANSF had tried to secure these areas and failed.
The documentary This is What Winning Looks Like shows what most coalition forces in Helmand, and Afghanistan more broadly, experience:
These problems aren't going to be resolved by the end of 2014, or 2017, or whatever deadline we place upon them. Afghans recognize this; a common saying is "you have the watches, but we have the time." Why are we throwing good money and lives after bad when there is no foreseeable way to salvage any positive return on our investment?
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
By Gian Gentile
Best Defense guest respondent
A few comments in response to A.A. Cohen's summary and evaluation of the debate between John Nagl and I at Grinnell College in April. First, I appreciate Cohen taking the time to publish his comments, even though I disagree with much of what he says.
Cohen, in his summary of the debate, assumes -- wrongly, as my forthcoming book (Wrong Turn: America's Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency, July 2013) will argue based on primary evidence -- that there was a significant operational shift between the surge and what came before, and more importantly, that there were significant differences in the generalship of Casey and Petraeus. Cohen offers up the stock critique of Casey that suggests Casey was drawing down and heading for the door in Iraq by the end of 2006. Not true, and the primary evidence -- for example, documents of strategic planning and guidance by Casey -- shows that he was asking for additional brigades and that he saw a significant American presence in Iraq well through 2008 and beyond. Casey fully realized in early 2007 that before transition could resume, the Iraqi people needed to be "protected" and the violence produced by the sectarian civil war had to be checked. And for Casey, U.S. forces would continue to play a key role in checking the violence and in "protecting" the Iraqi people. Before Cohen rushes to judgment on this matter I would ask of him that he at least has a look at my book when it comes out in July, and then base his assessment on the argument that I make in it and the evidence that I marshal to support it. Unfortunately, the stock critique of Casey ultimately rests on faulty assumptions.
Cohen seems to suggest in his summary of the debate that I argued against maintaining the "capability" to do counterinsurgency operations in the future. I have never said or suggested that the U.S. Army should not have the "capability" to do counterinsurgency operations. What I have argued is that the most important capability the U.S. Army needs is to do combined, all-arms operations within a joint force, and this should be its priority. If the U.S. Army can perform the essential function of all-arms fighting, then it can easily shift in the direction to do counterinsurgency. But by building an army in the opposite way and having one that is optimized for COIN, then shifting to high end operations becomes much more difficult and costly in blood and treasure. Remember what Matthew Ridgway said after the Korean War: "the primary purpose of an army [is] to be ready to fight effectively at all times..."
In the concluding paragraph of Cohen's piece, he posits this about my arguments and the future of counterinsurgency:
...history indicates that engaging in counterinsurgency warfare is seldom a predetermined choice.
Oh no, good strategy is buried in the ground and dead with this kind of straight-jacketed thinking. Cohen dooms us to fight counterinsurgency wars in the future simply because they have been fought in the past, and even if good strategy says it makes no sense to fight them. Nagl, in the debate and in other published pieces, likes to proffer the term "unsatisfying wars" to describe counterinsurgency warfare. But I ask, if Augustine was right that the object of war is to produce a "glorious peace," and if a "satisfying" war does that (e.g., the United States in World War II or the American Civil War), then why would a state fight a war in the first place if it is "unsatisfying"? Isn't starting an "unsatisfying war" or continuing one with huge amounts of blood and treasure strategic incompetence of the first order?
The thinking of John Nagl and A.A. Cohen is reflective of military institutions that fight wars and become so enamored with operational frameworks that they cannot see their way to a higher position of strategy, and then objectively critique whether or not the type of operations employed by strategy are worth the investment spent to achieve policy aims. Instead, the best logic that Nagl and Cohen can offer is that these wars are "unsatisfying" and therefore we are forced to walk this "predetermined" path to fight them. So the tutoring that a "naysayer" like me receives is to get over it and accept the notion that the strategic "choice" has already been made.
As the last 11 years of American war in Afghanistan make clear, the United States has failed utterly at strategy since from the very start the core policy aim (as affirmed over and over again by U.S. presidents, cabinet members, and senior military officers) has been the destruction of al Qaeda. In order to achieve this very limited core policy aim, U.S. strategy has sought to employ a maximalist operational method of armed nation building, or in other words, counterinsurgency. The costs have been enormous for both the United States and Afghanistan, and the results are dubious at best. Has Afghanistan been an "unsatisfying" war for the United States? You bet, but I will be darned if I accept John Nagl's and A.A Cohen's premise that we are "predetermined" to fight more of them in the future simply because we have done so in the past.
Maybe we should when vital American interests dictate, but operational choice based on vital American interests and not predetermined operational action should be the hallmark of future American strategy. If we don't come off of this predetermined path as paved with signposts by Nagl and Cohen, Damascus is the next stop for American arms.
The author is a serving U.S. Army colonel. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
By A. A. Cohen
Best Defense intellectual pugilistics correspondent
Warrior-profs Gian Gentile and John Nagl, the two best-known heavyweight contenders in the national security debate surrounding irregular warfare, squared off a few weeks ago at Grinnell College in the wilds of Iowa on the merits of counterinsurgency and the future of Afghanistan.
The moderated 60-minute debate was kicked off with a three-word question: "Is COIN dead?"
In this corner, Gentile, who has for years passionately opposed the very notion that counterinsurgency worked in Iraq (the "Surge," along with Petraeusism, seem to be his two pet peeves), let alone in Afghanistan, fired at his rival from the position: "The idea that nation-building can be achieved at a reasonable cost of blood and treasure is dead." Translation: COIN is not feasible for America -- ergo, COIN is dead.
Gentile propped up his argument by attacking what he describes as the "COIN narrative" of the past decade, about which many "gripping tales" have been written, but without any of these amounting to true, objective, "good history." Gentile charged that there was no significant change in generalship or strategy between George Casey and David Petraeus in Iraq, and that the level of violence there was bound to drop when it did, regardless of the change of command and of the deployment of some 30,000 additional troops. Nagl parried by citing RAND and other research that concludes the contrary. Recall as well that General Casey was intent on drawing down U.S. forces, not surging them as Petraeus sought to do in order to establish a semblance of order and security prior to withdrawing from Iraq.
Nagl's first response to the moderator's question was an expected zinger: Counter-insurgency cannot be dead for as long as insurgency is alive and well. Obvious perhaps, but this full-body slam was a good reminder that shedding the capability would not make future needs for it disappear. Alas, what I wish he had mentioned, too, was that in this debate again, military doctrine was being deliberately confounded with matters of foreign policy. The United States has not conducted a nuclear (atomic) strike since Nagasaki, and the intention to strike again in such a fashion is absent, but the United States continues to maintain a nuclear capability and doctrine.
Gentile scored his few real points, I believe, on the issue that counterinsurgency operations on their own do not yield lasting strategic results. True, but those operations constitute an important piece of the puzzle. It is the role of statecraft to bring about stabilizing watersheds. And what Gentile may wish to acknowledge is that counterinsurgency operations, costly as they may be, will often be required to afford the time, the space, and the conditions that are needed to enable statecraft to run its course.
While Gentile and Nagl disagreed on many points of evidence, ultimately, their conclusions did not appear to be altogether different. Both contenders agreed that the invasion of Iraq was a strategic error, and that the price of a fully resourced counterinsurgency campaign will rarely (Gentile: will never) justify the unsatisfying prize. Nagl takes the match on style and substance... and of course, because he cited Galula.
Gentile's obsession with naysaying is certainly understandable; we can all relate to his fear that should the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq go down in history as a victory, it will be tempting for our elected leaders and their advisors to wish to repeat similar adventures again. But the point is moot; history indicates that engaging in counterinsurgency warfare is seldom a predetermined choice.
(Watch the debate.)
A.A. Cohen served in Afghanistan. He is a senior infantry officer in the Canadian Army and the author of Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of Counterinsurgency.
By Wes Morgan
Best Defense guest respondent
I think you're incorrect in taking the conclusion away from Fivecoat's article that the Army isn't promoting commanders with combat experience, or surge-era officers with combat experience. What the Army isn't doing is promoting division commanders, specifically, with those experiences (and to me it seems like it has shown a bias in recent years toward promoting Afghanistan division commanders over Iraq division commanders). It is promoting lots of officers who commanded brigades and battalions under those very division commanders. Just look at the Army's colonel and brigadier general promotion lists over the past couple of years -- the amount of downrange experience in them is huge.
So a good question to ask would be: Why are those tactical-level commanders being promoted and the operational-level commanders not? I don't know, but here are a couple ideas.
One, the optimistic idea from an institutional standpoint, is that those division commanders in the ‘06-‘08 surge period did not perform as well as their subordinates, and as a result the Army has not rewarded them because it recognizes that it should promote those who have done well in these wars, not just those who have been there.
Why might division commanders have done less well? Maybe because their subordinates had already accumulated a bunch of Iraq and Afghanistan experience in lower-level units, while they were already brigadier generals or post-command colonels by the time they started going to war and never "got" the war in the way that guys who commanded battalions downrange did.
Or maybe the nature of the Iraq campaign in the surge period (as opposed to the early years in Iraq when a lot of division commanders were promoted, like Petraeus, Odierno, Dempsey, and Chiarelli) lent itself more to battalion and brigade commanders standing out and proving their abilities because it was a devolved, lower-level fight and brigades were much more empowered than in ‘03-‘05, and division commanders didn't have as important of a role to play anymore or couldn't figure out their role. While working on Michael Gordon and Mick Trainor's history of the Iraq War, The Endgame, one thing I learned is that some of the division commanders in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 were much slower to embrace key developments like the Sunni Awakening movement than either their subordinate deputy commanders and brigade commanders or their superiors. It would be smart of the Army not to promote guys like that.
A second, a more pessimistic idea: Maybe the Army is promoting officers who were really good battalion and brigade commanders, and then some of the same officers are not turning out to be good division commanders. Maybe these wars have churned out a lot of really great tacticians but have not been preparing commanders well for operational-level command in wars where the operational level is complex, hard to define, and perhaps even absent, so when these guys hit two-star, they don't shine like they did at battalion and brigade.
Third: Maybe the two-stars with combat experience who are being promoted are ones who served in other jobs besides division command. Just look at the many one-stars and two-stars who served in SOF and advisor roles downrange who have continued to be promoted. That's an article in itself: the spread of SOF commanders with lots of experience downrange into various key non-SOF jobs in the Army, like deputy commanders of regular Army divisions, and also the spread of senior infantry officers into key slots in the SOF world via the Ranger Regiment and its hugely expanded role in the most secret SOF task forces in these wars.
It's also worth pointing out that a higher proportion of officers who commanded divisions in the Afghan war have continued to rise than Iraq division commanders. All three corps-level commanders in Afghanistan commanded divisions there -- Rodriguez, Terry, and Milley -- and the Army's new vice chief, Campbell, was a division commander there.
What does that mean? Have better division commanders been sent to Afghanistan? Does Afghanistan lend itself better to the division role because of the bigger distances and greater air and other support resources required by tactical-level units in the fight? Or is that, compared to the division commanders in the ‘07-‘08 Iraq surge period, those in the 2009-‘11 Afghanistan surge period had more on-the-ground experience as brigade commanders and division deputy commanders and therefore did better jobs?
An important takeaway from all this, I think, is that while it's important to promote commanders with combat experience, it's a bad idea to promote them just because they have combat experience -- it is successful experience, not just experience, that you want to reward. If the Army just promoted every division commander who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, that would be disturbing, because as you may have noticed, a lot of things have not gone right on some of those commanders' watches.
Wesley Morgan helped Michael R. Gordon and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Bernard E. Trainor write The Endgame, and is now writing a book for Random House on the American military experience in Afghanistan's Pech valley. Since 2007 he has embedded with twenty U.S., British, and Afghan combat battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Todd Greentree, who served as director of the RC-South initiatives group in Kandahar during 2010-2011, offers these recommendations in an article in the Journal of Strategic Studies:
(1) Prepare above all to assist a government through political action and economic development while helping it protect its population from security threats, without taking the job over.
(2) Commit early and decisively, but for the long-term, with clear political and military aims; trying to combat an industrial strength insurgency is much harder, takes longer, and is likely to be unsustainable.
(3) Create organizational arrangements tailored to the specific situation and scale of threat, and are capable of adapting rapidly.
(4) Establish clear lines of authority sufficient to achieve unity of effort, while maximizing unity of command the closer the situation is to war.
(5) Integrate civilian and military efforts at all levels.
(6) In pursuing campaign plans and programs maintain focus on political purpose.
(7) Educate a cadre of civilian and military officials from multiple organizations and elaborate a shared civil-military doctrine.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dayton Mitchell/Released
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Handler Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cooper of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Group takes a break with his dog dog, Astra, after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) patrol at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on April 29, 2013. Over the past four months, the MWD team has swept more than 15,000 vehicles, mitigating all VBIED threats to the installation.
In other news, props to Handler Sgt. Phillip Mendoza and MWD Benga for taking first place in 2013 USAF Academy Iron Dog Competition in Colorado Springs last week.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis
By Nick Francona
Best Defense guest columnist
After reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's article about the Sept 14, 2012, attack on Camp Bastion/Leatherneck, I wanted to respond to comments made by Maj. Gen. Gurganus.
There is an apparent attitude that this attack occurred because of a failure of British and Tongan troops to secure their side of the perimeter near the Bastion airfield. It may well be true that Tongan troops would sleep on post, however, this does not excuse Marine commanders from inspecting and enforcing rigid standards. Force protection is the responsibility of the commander and because Maj. Gen. Gurganus had hundreds of troops stationed on the Bastion side of the base, he is responsible for overseeing a solid plan to protect his Marines and his aircraft. It is unacceptable and beneath a Marine general to chalk this up to a Tongan failure.
I have spent time at Leatherneck and Bastion as a transient, on the way in and out of parts of rural Helmand. It was obvious to even a casual observer that many of the posts were unmanned and were comically left with a "green Ivan" silhouette target as a half-hearted attempt at deterrence. The fact that there was dead-space around the largest U.S. military installation in the province is a fundamental failure and simply unacceptable. Additionally, it was widely known that there were issues with undocumented TCNs (third-country nationals) on the base that represented a major counterintelligence challenge. It was naive to think that the enemy would be unaware of the existence of unmanned towers.
From the article:
"You can't defend everywhere every day," Gurganus said in response to a question about the attack. "You base your security on the threat you've got." He said the Taliban caught "a lucky break."
"When you're fighting a war, the enemy gets a vote," he said.
While it is indeed impossible to mitigate all risks, even on large bases, I vehemently disagree with Maj. Gen. Gurganus' assertion that you can't defend everywhere every day in this context. It is indeed understandable to have VBIED and suicide bomber incidents at entry control points (ECPs) of bases, but it is another story entirely to have a dismounted assault penetrate your perimeter and stroll onto your airfield. His claim that you base your security on the threat you've got is the root cause for the environment of complacency that enabled this tragic event to occur. His statement about the enemy getting a vote is absurd in this context. Indeed the enemy does get a vote, but so do you, especially when it comes to defending nearly all Marine aviation assets in the region and a large concentration of personnel. Precisely because the enemy gets a vote, he has an obligation to anticipate and counter the enemy, and act like it is a war zone and actively defend his men and assets. The enemy's "vote" is not akin to a hall pass to stroll onto the base.
The most offensive of his statements is coining the attack a lucky break. The attack only occurred because of an egregious failure in basic infantry practices. The enemy may have been lucky to exploit these failures, but neglect was the precondition that set the stages for this attack. Intelligence analysts should not have to issue a warning of an impending frontal assault on a major military base for the base to be prepared.
There is an appalling lack of accountability and introspection that is evident in Maj. Gen. Gurganus' comments about this incident. It is painfully obvious that this attack would not have been successful, or likely even attempted, if not for multiple security failures at Leatherneck/Bastion. This single episode highlights a much larger problem of accountability in the Marine Corps. It is nearly impossible to get fired for incompetence.
We need to stop treating the Marine Corps like a teachers union and demand excellence and accountability from our officer corps.
When Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster offers a criticism of the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine, you know he's not just riding intellectual fashion. This is a guy who has done well both in conventional warfare (see 73 Easting) and counterinsurgency (see Tell Afar).
We have the counterinsurgency manual, the stability operations manual, and the security-force assistance manual, but I don't think we have put the politics at the center of those manuals. So, for example, we assume in our doctrine that the challenges associated with developing indigenous security forces are mainly about building capacity, when, in fact, they're about trying to develop institutions that can survive and that will operate in a way that is at least congruent with our interests.
McMaster also says that, "We need leaders who have physical and moral courage on the battlefield, of course, but also the courage to speak their minds and offer respectful and candid feedback to their superiors. Our leaders can't feel compelled to tell their bosses what they want to hear."
Richard Haass is a pretty smart guy, but he let someone talk him into this headline: ‘The Irony of American Strategy.'
Like, gag me with a spoon. Cute? Maybe. But I think that headline could only be written by someone who had not lost someone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12 years.
Actually the article isn't bad, although it leans heavily on the weak thought that 10 years ago the United States got deeply involved in the Middle East when it didn't need to, but now when it wants to get out, it can't. That strikes me more as an op-ed (or blog post) than a full-blown Foreign Affairs thumbsucker.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
I came across a series of photos of Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Special Operations dog, taken over the last few weeks in Afghanistan by Marine Corps photographer Sgt. Pete Thibodeau. The collection of images follows Wilbur through Helmand Province -- working security, encountering livestock, playing fetch in front of an idle Humvee, and watching a group of children, his ears pricked in earnest attention.
Today's post title (and the use of the word "adventures") isn't intended to be flippant -- Wilbur is a Special Ops dog, which means his job is especially taxing and dangerous. But Thibodeau's photos show the non-violent side of combat-zone living from Wilbur's point of view with its own kind of wonder and whimsy -- a view worth seeing.
More photos of Wilbur are after the fold but first a couple of War-Dog Announcements:
60 Minutes will be airing a segment on MWDs this Sunday, April 21, called "Sniffing Out Bombs." The show sent a correspondent out to Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, home to the nation's premier pre-deployment course run by the USMC and Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Reed Knight and his crew of experienced handlers. (I spent two weeks there last year.) Longtime readers of this column are likely to see the faces of those written about here on the CBS news show this week.
For DC locals (and supporters near and far): The Third Annual Annapolis 5K Run & Dog Walk is raising funds for America's VetDogs -- an organization that "provides service and assistance dogs, free of charge, to disabled veterans." The run will kick off at 9 am this Sunday at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Maryland. Looks like early registration has closed but walk-ups are welcome, as are dogs -- leashed, of course.
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
Maj. Charles Wagenblast, a military intelligence reservist, brought home this story from Afghanistan about an Afghan colonel:
One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it's not some perverted thing, it's just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it's chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he's there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It's religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there's the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defense was, "Honestly, who hasn't raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha." And the judge goes, "You're right. Case dismissed."
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released/DVIDS
The estimable Micah Zenko wants a "first draft" of "the Third War." Actually it has been written, and is being published this week. It is The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti. It has all sorts of interesting details, like that the United States has the ability to remotely turn on a cell phone in Pakistan and then collect the precise coordinates of whoever is carrying it.
Here is an interview I did with the author by e-mail:
Tom Ricks: What are we going to learn from your book that we haven't gotten from others, like those by Peter Bergen?
Mark Mazzetti: Peter's books are absolutely terrific, and a hard act to follow! And, there have certainly been a number of terrific books covering the war on terror. What I've tried to do in my book is tell a story of a secret war, and how that war has changed places like the CIA and parts of the Pentagon. The CIA is now at the center of waging covert wars in places like Pakistan and Yemen. The agency certainly has had a history of far flung military adventures, but then it tried to get out of the killing business -- only to come back at it in a big way since the September 11 attacks. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has become more like the military, sending soldiers into the dark corners of the world on spying missions. There's been a real blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies.
With the "big wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan either over or winding down, I think that these secret wars have become the default way of doing business. And, only now is the pressure growing for the White House to bring greater transparency to the shadow wars.
TR: What was the biggest surprise to you in reporting and writing the book?
MM: I think that the biggest surprise was how much this type of warfare brings various colorful characters to the forefront. When the United States determined it couldn't send the 101st Airborne into a country, it began to rely on private contractors and other types of individuals to do things like gather intelligence on the ground. I spent a chapter on the private spying network run by Duane Clarridge, a former CIA officer and one of the figures in the Iran-Contra scandal. A Pentagon official hired Clarridge's team to gather intelligence in Pakistan because there was a belief that the CIA wasn't up to the task, but the entire operation ended up in recriminations and a Pentagon investigation. It's stories like this that I really tried to highlight in the book.
TR: Why do you think drones have become so controversial only recently in the United States?
MM: That's a good question. I think that up until recently, at least in Washington, you had both Republicans and Democrats uniformly supporting targeted killings and there was no constituency calling for greater transparency and accountability for these kinds of operations. Since the November election, you have seen Democrats become more vocal in challenging the Obama administration on the use of targeted killings. And, of course, there is Rand Paul's now-famous filibuster that captured concerns among Libertarians about secret government operations.
TR: Which of our three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and "knife") do you think historians ultimately will find the most significant?
MM: This might sound like I'm avoiding giving a direct answer, but all three wars have impacted each other, and so in some ways I think that some historians will look at this entire post-9/11 period as one that fundamentally changed both U.S. foreign policy and how the United States conducts war. Certainly, the Obama administration has relied on these shadow wars because it considers them cheaper, lower risk, and more effective than the big messy wars of occupation like Iraq and Afghanistan. But, so much of the way that an organization like the Joint Special Operations Command does business is a direct result of its work in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They took parts of what they were doing in those countries and brought outside of the "hot" battlefields.
TR: What do you think are the lessons of this third war?
MM: There's no question that the United States has become dramatically better at manhunting than it was on September 11, 2001. There is better fusion of intelligence, and the Pentagon, CIA, and other intelligence agencies are working more closely together. I think, though, that one of the lessons is that secrecy can be very seductive and that it might be too easy for our government to carry out secret warfare without the normal checks and balances required for going to war. As you well know, as much as the Pentagon can be a lumbering bureaucracy, there is a certain benefit of having a good many layers that operations must pass through in order to get approved. When decisions about life and death are made among a small group of people, and in secret, there are inherent risks.
By Kyle Teamey
Best Defense department of COIN rehabilitation
1. Regime change IS nation building.
Whether the intention is to stop ethnic cleansing or to affect a change in policy by a rogue nation-state, the result of regime change is the same -- a long period of rebuilding. In a multi-ethnic state with no history of democracy, a period of violent turmoil should be expected after a regime is toppled. It must either be managed directly by the United States (Iraq and Afghanistan) or groups supported by the United States and allies (Libya).
2. A minimal U.S. footprint is the preferred way to do COIN...when feasible.
An overlooked writer on the subject of counterinsurgency (COIN) is Thomas Mockaitis. He took some very good lessons from the United Kingdom's 20th century experiences in COIN and summed them to three best practices that marked successful campaigns: minimal force, civil-military cooperation, and tactical flexibility. The minimal force part of that equation is critical. It often means minimizing the use of third party forces because of the high probability that the third party adds to the conflict simply by being present. An additional benefit of minimal use of force is minimizing the costs to the United States in blood and treasure for a given conflict. Recent efforts in Colombia, Yemen, Somalia, El Salvador, and the Philippines where the U.S. supported COIN and counterterror efforts with few or no U.S. troops are instructive. Minimal use of U.S. forces has been relatively successful and low cost. That said, we really did not give ourselves an option for a small footprint approach in Iraq. There was no other organization to step into the post-Saddam power vacuum and leaving a total disaster in a strategically important part of the world was not an option. See #1 above.
3. Small U.S. footprint or large, the principles of COIN are the same.
Regardless of who is doing the COIN campaign or how the United States is supporting the campaign -- foreign aid, foreign internal defense, advisors, boots on the ground, etc -- the rules are the same. Best practices are best practices no matter who utilizes them. We are constrained by law and social norms to something that looks like population-centric COIN whether we do it ourselves or support a third party. The government has to be legitimate, the people have to be protected, there must be unity of effort amongst the counterinsurgents, intelligence must drive operations, there must be unity of effort amongst civil and military authorities, and the insurgents must be exposed to security forces. The argument that we should "just kill all the insurgents" is noise. Due to aforementioned law and social norms, killing bad guys requires separating them from the populace, which doesn't happen if the government is not legitimate, the people are not protected, etc. It should also be noted that killing bad guys is one of the most important parts of population-centric COIN. The argument that population-centric COIN only means "hearts and minds" where everyone sits around drinking tea and singing together is a strawman. Depending on conditions on the ground commanders may weight their efforts more towards the use of force or more towards stability operations, but there will always be an element of violence, or the threat of violence, in population-centric COIN.
4. War hasn't changed: Good tactics don't matter if you are operationally or strategically inept.
We proved this in spades in Iraq, where some units did things well, others poorly, and there was initially no over-arching planning or coordination for the post-regime era. We did pretty much everything wrong from 2003 to 2007 and got lucky it didn't go worse than it did. Get good generals who know what they are doing. Fire those who don't. Sounds simple but it ain't.
5. If you want to defeat an insurgency, don't let the insurgents have a safe haven.
Pakistani tribal areas, Fallujah in 2004, other "no go" areas in Iraq in 2004-6, the FARC zone in Colombia, FARC camps in Ecuador and Venezuela, etc. Nothing good comes of allowing a safe haven for insurgents. Ever. If we are serious about defeating an insurgency, we should never allow any safe havens. If national goals are limited to keeping the insurgency down to a dull roar or killing some terrorists, then a safe haven may be tolerable.
6. Rotate troops effectively or it will be a "Groundhog Day" war.
U.S. troops fighting overseas need time to rest, relax, and be with their loved ones. In short, they need to regularly rotate out of theater. Unfortunately, this creates a major dilemma when using U.S. troops to conduct long-term COIN operations. As in the movie "Groundhog Day," every rotation can effectively create a new beginning to the same war. New relationships must be (re)forged between the host nation and the incoming U.S. personnel for operations to be effective. The identity and modus operandi of insurgent groups and leaders must be (re)learned. The learning curve is very steep, and by the time the troops know their "neighborhood" it is time to go home -- Groundhog Day all over again. There are ways to mitigate the deleterious effects of troop rotations, for instance, through the use of information technology or by rotating units to the same locations in theater, but they cannot be avoided altogether.
7. COIN lessons from Iraq have been misapplied in Afghanistan.
The tactics borrowed from Iraq for use in Afghanistan have generally been effective. Applying a lot of flexibility to account for the vast differences between the theaters, many of the tactics seem to work pretty well at the brigade and below. Unfortunately, the operational and strategic lessons from Iraq and prior conflicts have not been as well applied. In the absence of a legitimate government, population-centric COIN does not work. If insurgents have a large sanctuary where they can rest and refit, COIN has a high probability of failing. If there is not unity of effort amongst civil and military authorities, COIN has a high probability of failing. All of these are problems in the Afghan theater. The government is, at best, tolerated. Pakistan provides a massive refuge with endless border crossings. The leadership of Afghanistan has an often rocky relationship with that of the United States and attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan troops are commonplace. Under these conditions, the best tactics cannot succeed in defeating the insurgency. Add to these factors an inordinately large number of theater commanders over the course of the campaign -- five in just the last five years -- and it is clear the U.S. goal of defeating the Taliban did not align with practical realities. See #3, 4, 5, and 6 above. It seems we ignored first principles in Afghanistan and just hoped good tactics would win the day. Not a good approach. It is understandable strategic leaders might judge it is too costly to do population-centric COIN in the Af/Pak region "correctly," and that dealing with the Pakistani tribal areas directly is infeasible. Under such circumstances, we should be honest with ourselves that we cannot defeat the insurgency outright, align goals with what is possible, and field a force that makes sense for the more limited goals.
8. Detainee operations are much too important to be left to amateurs.
We have completely messed this up since 9/11. Our tactics in dealing with detainees have had such undesired effects as alienating allies, angering large portions of the U.S. electorate, alienating portions of the local population in countries where we operate, and reinvigorating Iraq's insurgency with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. We also conducted detainee operations poorly for long periods of time. Initially large numbers of people in Iraq were rounded up and sent to detention facilities for no good reason. Later in the conflict we released a very large percentage of insurgents within 6-18 months of capture...often because the capturing unit had rotated back to their home station. See #6 above. Insurgents came back from prison better connected and with greater street cred. It was like a nightmarish National Training Center rotation where the bad guys get a re-key and our troops get shot or blown up by now better-trained insurgents. I thought Catch-22 was funny until living it! Our poor detainee tactics in the time after 9/11 had very negative operational and strategic impacts. If we ever do COIN again using U.S. forces, it is imperative we get this right. To borrow from David Galula, "Under the best circumstances, the police action cannot fail to have negative aspects for both the population and the counterinsurgent living with it...these reasons demand the operation be conducted by professionals..." -David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.
9. Democracy and governance start from the bottom.
In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority made a huge mistake by disallowing local and regional elections until there was a national constitution in place. We created a power vacuum that could only be filled by traditional leaders (sheikhs and imams), insurgents, and coalition forces. During the years it took to get a national government in place, we should have been encouraging local elections to build experience with democracy, form political parties, and create locally legitimate governance. Rule by the people has to be built from the bottom up. The U.S. experience is instructive. The presence of functioning state and local government allowed national leaders the time to hash out a constitution. It took our founders about 12 years to get a constitution written and approved... and that was with two tries because the first attempt failed. We expected the Iraqis and Afghans to get it done in a year or two and create an effective system of governance though they have no experience in democracy, no political parties, traditional leaders or U.S. troops trying to fill the role of local government, and a raging insurgency that leaves a large portion of their population disenfranchised? That's nuts!
10. Maintain training and doctrine related to COIN.
We will do it again. We always say we won't and we always do. It's too costly in lives and dollars to not keep this in the doctrine. Don't make another generation get maimed unnecessarily.
Kyle Teamey is a major in the U.S. Army Reserves. He served on active duty with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and 1st Infantry Division from 1998 to 2004. After leaving active duty, he served as a civilian counterinsurgency analyst from 2005-2006, co-authored the 2006 edition of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, and assisted DARPA in the development and fielding of the Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) from 2005 to 2009. He is currently the chief executive officer of a chemical technology company.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Earlier this week, ISAF Deputy Chief Lt. Gen. Nick Carter warned against a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying:
It would be unforgivable if we allowed the gains of the last three years to be lost because we were not able to provide the Afghans with the support to take this through into 2014."
In the wake of Carter's comments the news that British Forces are not pulling back their canine forces but fortifying them is of particular interest. As part of the overall NATO drawdown, British troops are set to pull back nearly half their forces by the end of 2013. But last month, the remaining combat-ready dog teams of the 104 Military Working Dog Unit deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick, bringing their number to 90 teams in all. Perhaps more noteworthy still is that this number is relatively higher than that of dogs on the ground two years ago, when British Forces had approximately 70 dog teams in Afghanistan in 2011.
The newest British dog teams in Afghanistan will be part of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Task Force, which pulls its canine teams from a total of "15 units from all three services." The job of these dogs is really no more special or any different than it's been throughout the war -- they will be "patrolling the bases where fellow British soldiers are based, searching vehicles at checkpoints and going out on patrols on the front line." But now that NATO forces are preparing to disengage, these dog teams will also play a role in "mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces" and helping to facilitate the coming transition.
Many of these British handlers who deployed in March are going into combat with their dogs for the first time. They've had one full year of training and their commander Major Ian Razzell has full confidence in their abilities as well as their certain success. "I am proud of every single soldier," he said. "They will do a good job, there is no doubt about it, they are first rate professional soldiers as well as dedicated handlers.
Bonus Note: The 1st Military Dog Regiment's motto is Vires in Varietate: Strength in Diversity.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
John Moore/Getty Images
A woman who had too much to drink fell asleep on a train. Mark Scully, an official in the British Ministry of Defence, pretended to help her to a taxi but instead dragged her into some woods and assaulted her. He worked on reconstruction issues in southern Afghanistan in 2009-10, the Daily Mail reports.
Fastabend : I want to challenge us at the table. I want to give an example of some of the things we lapse into. Half of us have said that the problem of the past decade has been counterinsurgency and that we've done it and now we are all wrapped up about whether we are going to do it again or not. I'm not sure we've done it.
You could equally assert that what we have done is brokered two civil wars. And what's really striking to me about the difference between the two experiences of the last decade and El Salvador: In El Salvador, there wasn't that -- there were many moments that I had in many nights in Iraq wondering about, "I wonder if we are fighting for the right guys here." I think in retrospect we were brokering a civil war, and that's how we calmed it down, by giving the Sunnis a chance to get it to a stalemate.
I think that civil war is still ongoing. I don't think Iraq was a success unless we have an incredibly low standard for success. I can't believe after over 6,000 dead and over 50,000 wounded -- not counting what's happened to the Iraqis -- we leave behind a government that can't stop overflights of arms to Syria from Iran. That counts for success? Really?
Alford: Would it be better to still have Saddam there?
Fastabend: That's a ridiculous statement, if you don't mind me saying. Of course not. It would be better to have enough presence and influence in that area to have justified that sacrifice having made it. Or having had a better decision process about whether we are going to make that sacrifice or not. We'd be a lot better off in the coming months in our face-off with Iran if we had two, three brigades around the five strategic air bases in Iraq. It would definitely influence their decision-making.
Alford: So that should influence our decision in two years in Afghanistan.
Fastabend: Yeah, it should.
Ricks: So you think the way that the Obama administration resolved Iraq has fundamentally weakened our position vis-à-vis Iran?
Fastabend: [Response off the record.]
Flournoy: Can I just say for the record, a little bit of a point of fact. I think there was serious discussion of a willingness of having a residual force. What changed the whole dynamic was when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki made the judgment that he could not bring the guarantee of immunity for U.S. forces through the COR [Council of Representatives] without risking a confidence vote on his government, and therefore he wasn't willing to do that. Then you're left with do you leave forces there with no immunities? That was a nonstarter. That's what ultimately drove us to zero. It wasn't necessarily a preferred option for the reasons you are describing.
Glasser: So thinking about this in the context of Afghanistan and the decisions that are yet to come, I have questions.
One, has anything changed that has made us take a more strategic approach or to ask the right questions now after so long of somehow not getting to the right set of questions over the next two years? Because that certainly -- this is a very reasoned discussion, but I think pulling back you get a sense that there's just a rush to the exits and that that's what we are doing. In part because the politics and the public opinion in the U.S. have already gotten us out the door, does that have an increased risk from a military point of view?
Second one: This issue that Shawn raised of what is our post-Vietnam legacy? What is the version of that for post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan legacy? There were obviously crucial decisions that were made in the 1970s after Vietnam about what the U.S. military force was going to be, how it was going to be reorganized. Have we learned the lessons from that? We know we are going into a period of transition. Are the right things happening? Are the right preparations happening? Is there a process to understand what this moment of transition can mean over the long term?
Chandrasekaran: Can I tack another question onto that? Which is, what do we see as an acceptable end state in Afghanistan given the parameters that are on the table?
Fastabend: I like Tom's light footprint, having a few bases there from which you go out and hunt every night.
Mudd: Just the ability to eliminate the target we went into. [CROSS TALK, INAUDIBLE.] The only way Kabul makes a difference is it affects our capability to protect ourselves. That's it.
Ricks: David Kilcullen, who couldn't be here today, maintained you can't do that because you need the larger presence to acquire the intelligence that gives you the targets.
Mudd: I don't think that's true . . .
Dubik: Well, you need the intelligence; whether it needs the larger U.S. presence to get that intelligence is a separate issue. You can get the intelligence from Afghans...
Mudd: We can get it in Pakistan.
Dubik: If the relationship is correct and there is enough stability and trust that the Afghans will give it to you. So I think that there's, for me anyway, a very difficult set of questions to ask yourself.
First, what's necessary to protect our interests? Apropos of why we went in there to begin with.
Second, what do I have to do in the country to be in the position to make attacking al Qaeda a real capability? For me anyway, when I ask myself that question, that gets to some degree of stability in the country, some degree of relationship with the military and the population, and some propping up of the military in terms of enablers to allow them to do what they can do and, I think, want to do.
Crist: To me a larger issue of defining success in Afghanistan is something that doesn't destabilize Pakistan. I'm far more worried about the impact of a drawdown from Afghanistan is going to have on Pakistan than I am . . . [inaudible].
Flournoy: I wanted to respond to, "Is this all just a rush to the exits?" I think you'd see a very different set of decisions if it were just a rush to the exits. I think Dale actually described it well when he said that we are at a critical juncture in the whole campaign, which is when you really do put the Afghan forces you've built -- helped to build -- in front. And you still have a hand on the back seat, but you want to do that before you draw down substantially. You want to put them up front while you are there to be able to help and advise and adjust. It's that milestone that's being -- the judgment is that they are ready for the most part.
Let's have a year, year-plus, to make sure that this is going to work and make adjustments as necessary and then get to the much more circumscribed mission, which is about securing our counterterrorism objectives long term vis-à-vis al Qaeda in the region and making sure that the Afghan forces can at minimum prevent the overthrow of the central government and a return to some kind of safe-haven situation. That's the critical thing -- that does not take a huge long-term U.S. force. It requires some, and I would agree with your point on at least in the near time some of those neighbors ought to be pretty [INAUDIBLE OVER COUGHING]. So it can't just be advisors. If it were really like wanting to wash our hands of this, you would see a very different profile than what just came out of the White House and the meeting with Karzai.
Chandrasekaran: It's hard to reconcile the kind of wash-your-hands view with what has been telegraphed -- you know, deputy national security advisor talking about a potential zero option even though that was likely just a negotiating tactic -- the very real possibility that it could be a presence anywhere between 2,500 and maybe 6,000. That's certainly sufficient to continue the necessary CT [counterterrorism] missions.
But we've built an army there that is going to require an enormous follow-on assistance presence as well as financial support, a part of this that really hasn't gotten, I think, nearly enough attention. If the bill for the sustainment of the Afghan security forces is somewhere around $4 billion in 2015 and if we only have 3,000 forces there, we can say all we want to about trying to diverge the troop footprint from the congressional appropriation, but our history shows us that those two things are inextricably linked and that the fewer troops you have there the less chances you have of getting the necessary money to support them. And we all know why the communist-backed regime fell was when Moscow stopped funding Kabul. And so I think we are not paying nearly enough attention to the money question.
But we still, I think, are not asking ourselves -- our government is not asking -- whether this grand plan of building such a large ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] with such complex logistical requirements, with such complex need for enablers, which will likely have to be internationally provided for some years, is at all feasible there, and in the time remaining between now and the end of 2014 should the security force assistance mission be more than just pushing the Afghans into the lead but also one last-ditch attempt to triage this to get to a smaller, more manageable force that has a better chance of holding its own.
Ricks: This actually goes back to the whole issue of, "OK, it might have been a better original decision to go with local forces. Then, what sort of local forces?" I actually think in Vietnam our fundamental error was in '62, '63 not emphasizing local forces and keeping our eye on that ball and just "no, we are not putting our national forces in." It might not even need to look like your forces. It might be better to have an indigenous force that looks like an indigenous force. But Jim Dubik is an expert on this having done this. Jim?
Dubik: I think there's still some learning to be done on both our part and the Afghan part on exactly what the ANA [Afghan National Army] is. And I'll just focus on ANA and not the greater. We certainly, I think anyway, made exactly the right decision in 2009 to expand the Afghan army and at the same time to disintegrate the development effort, to take the combat forces and to accelerate them as fast as we could and to allow the enablers to grow at what is going to be a really slow pace. I think that was the right decision, and I think it got us to a better point than we are now. The enablers, though for me, is really going to be a very -- it's not a settled question, let's put it that way. For me, anyway, in the near term, the set of enablers they need are pretty well known and have to be externally provided.
But we've never really asked the Afghans in a way that is meaningful. To say, "OK, how do you really want your army to be organized?" We have asked them, so I don't mean to say we haven't. But we've asked them in our presence, and that's like asking your younger brother, "You want to go to a movie with me?" or "Oh, yeah, I'm going with you." When you're not there, the answers might be different. The set of enablers that we assume now -- and I've written about them and drank some of that Kool-Aid myself -- but the enablers that we ask now may not be, after the question is settled in, say, 2015, which I think is probably the right time frame, the enablers that they really need or want. And the current organization of regional commands probably will stay, but in our absence the arrangement and relationship of those regional forces and how they're -- that I still think there's some learning to occur in 2013 and 2014 when our presence is diminishing and their sovereignty and judgment increases.
We saw a good bit of that in Iraq in 2009, '10, '11 when they started making more independent decisions about their own force. Now I know the two cases are significantly different, but there are certain commonalities.
Chandrasekaran: On paper what was done starting in 2009, I think, made sense. There was a lot to be said for it. But it just didn't fundamentally take into account the political realities that we face here. It made assumptions about the willingness of the U.S. government to continue sustainment, and it assumed that there would be a robust U.S. security force mission. I don't think 2014 was on the table in '09, but it made assumptions about robust U.S. support -- physical support -- for many years.
Dubik: No argument. But those assumptions, as questionable as those were, were better than the assumptions of 2001 through '9, when we were going to grow the army at such a slow rate that we would be there for 150 years before we were done with it. Because we were growing it at the rate of its slowest -- we integrated the force, so we weren't going to put a force out until all elements were ready.
Ricks: I remember reading somewhere that we couldn't start training the Afghan soldiers until they were literate. 99 percent of soldiers in world history have been illiterate. Why can't we have a few illiterate soldiers here?
Blake Hounshell: Are the Taliban literate?
Alford: Don't you think they'll evolve back after we leave in '14? There'll be an evolution back to their history and natural tendency?
Dubik: There'll be a shift. I don't know if it's evolution back or forward. And that's what I mean by learning. We are going to learn what actually works and what's actually sustainable.
Glasser: I'm raising that point actually only to get us to this question of clearly there is a broad consensus around this table that the civilian-military dysfunction was a key part of what got us to where we are. All I was trying to do was to suggest how can we isolate what are sets of decisions or strategic choices that do fall more on the military side of the ledger.
For example, Shawn started us off with his question about rotation. Why wasn't there ever a decision? I don't know and I may be wrong with this, but my guess is that is not so much coming from the civilian leadership as this is how our Army works, this is how our system works. So, yeah, we have to have a new commander in Afghanistan every year.
Dubik: I have a different opinion. It certainly is a major component of the military decision. But if you make the assumption that the war is going to last X amount of time and [so] you don't need to grow the size of the ground forces, then you're kind of left with a de facto rotation decision. Or you're not going to allow policy-wise to go there and stay because that's not an acceptable policy.
The nexus of those kinds of decisions is by its nature civil-military. And in fact in my other comment about autonomy, that's why we have the wrong model. These are shared decisions, and they have to be shared decisions. The commitment of resources in a military campaign is not merely a military decision. This is, and necessarily will be, an important civilian component of the decision. The rotation stuff -- in Iraq for example -- if we are going to leave by 2004, then you don't have to grow the size of the army, and, well, we're not really 2004. Maybe it'll be 2006: "OK, we'll just rotate our way through this."
(One last installment to come, about Iran, of course.)
USACE Photo by Matthew Rowe
Crist: One of the things as a federal employee who works on current Middle East issues, and having studied pretty extensively for a project on the Joint Staff the lead-up to decisions on Iraq, the thing that has struck me is that the lessons learned among policymakers from Iraq is there was a lot of thought given -- which was not the case in 2002 and 2003 -- given to second- and third- order effects of American action and what are the ramifications for this that we don't anticipate. Whether that can be sustained over the next generation or just each generation learns its lesson, institutionalizes it and [inaudible].
Dubik: The lesson-learned process and what people learn from our 10-year experience is important. There is a reasoned way to think through using force, there is a useful process in increasing the probability that you'll get it more right than wrong -- not that you'll ever get it absolutely right.
I fear that we are throwing out counterinsurgency because we are never doing that again. But we already did that once: It was post-Vietnam. Counterinsurgency is not a strategy; it's a way to deal with an insurgency, and if you face it again, it gives you a relatively decent structure to think through these things. It certainly shouldn't be a national strategy. It was never designed to do that.
Ricks: Another person who could not attend today, Kyle Teamey, who some of you may know, a terrifically smart young man, sent in this question: "Is there anyone at this table who thinks we will not do counterinsurgency again?"
For the record, I want to note that everybody agrees we will do counterinsurgency again.
Mudd: But we went in to do counterterrorism, and now all we talk about is counterinsurgency. So success on Sept. 12 would have been, "Is there going to be an attack against the United States?" and by 2003 that answer was no. And now we say success is: Should we have a third election? And my view would be, if the Taliban wins, I don't care as long as we have a residual capability to eliminate the target we went in to get.
I hate counterinsurgency, because it wasn't our threat. Just a quick asterisk: In parallel with these major wars we had intervention in places like Somalia and Yemen. There's been no tactical conversation here, and I think appropriately -- but especially with the new tactical capability-- we've been able to say, "Man, we are giving the president in some cases better options, but in some cases much tougher?" You want to go into Mali? You want to go against Boko Haram? I want to know why we are not talking about armed drones against cartels, which were a much bigger threat to this country than terrorism ever was or ever will be. But it is interesting that parallel subwars or campaigns is part of this war and what they mean about American intervention in the future that leads not only to things like increasing the capacity of the partner but also unilateral use of force against a target without ever having to put a boot on the ground fast.
Ricks: What do they tell you?
Mudd: That tells me that we are going to be into it because we are going to say there's a way to get out of this without putting big green on the ground.
Flournoy: I think that there probably will be some point in the future where we decide to help a government deal with its problem of insurgency, and that's the thing: It's not our insurgency. The question is: Can we come to some consensus on what's the right model? Is there a single right model for that, or is it really entirely case by case? To me, after the experience of the last decade or more, the El Salvador model looks a lot more attractive than the conventional occupation model of Iraq and Afghanistan, but is that just being falsely wedded to something? Can we generalize from these different experiences to say there is one approach that either is generally more effective or, from our own political culture, generally more acceptable and sustainable to the American people?
Ricks: I'm going to try and answer your question. I would say, yes, clearly: Light footprint, minimal American boots on the ground, leading from behind, helping host nation abilities, or even helping third parties like we've been helping the Colombians help the Mexicans on the drug war. These are the things that work; these are the things also that go to the issue of sustainability. I once was talking to Elliott Abrams, and I said I thought secretly more Americans had been killed in El Salvador than were killed in the 1991 Gulf War. He said, "Yeah, but I won my war."
Alford: You also have to design the force to support your strategy. You got to start thinking about the force.
Ricks: We have a force that's tactically magnificent, but is it relevant, Colonel Alford?
Alford: No, I don't think we are organized the way we should be right now for the future.
Ricks: How should we be better organized?
Alford: Well, I mean all the things you just talked about were what the U.S. Marines do from amphibious ships. We are balanced, we are flexible, we are adaptable, and we are forward deployed. We can go in and be out and not have to put a footprint on the ground for any significant period of time. And that's what we want.
I mean, I love the U.S. Army -- we have the best U.S. Army in the world, but in Kosovo when you take in 24 helicopters and it takes 6,000 troops to support those 24 helicopters, that's not the future.
Ricks: I need to go now to the Army generals who have been shaking their heads.
Dubik: We have a great Marine Corps for a reason, and I'm glad we have it. But we have a great Air Force, and Navy, and Army for a reason that we need also.
But I play golf with 13 clubs. And I like to solve problems with more than one conceptual framework. So I'm not at all satisfied with a conclusion of our last 10 years of war that "quote, unquote" this approach works. I think that that would be a dangerous way to come out of this war. For me, the lesson learned is come to a war with more than one conceptual framework. Because every war, while it may have some common elements, every war, as Clausewitz says, is a chameleon, admits to its own solution, and you have to think through that solution. So the light-footprint approach that you talked about works in many, many circumstances, but there are an equal number that it won't.
Ricks: So be adaptive is what you're saying?
Dubik: Intellectually adaptive.
Ricks: I've been reading another history of World War II recently which Churchill keeps on saying in ‘39, ‘40, ‘41 that this will not be a force-on-force war.
Dubik: [Laughs.] Yeah, well it ended up being that way.
And that gets to my comment about adaptability. It's not just intellectual adaptability but force adaptability. If you predict one future and you optimize your force for that future, you're either a hero or a goat. You're a hero if the future unfolds as you predict. You're a goat because you've got the country's reputation on something that now is not relevant. So in our force-structure decisions coming up necessarily as a result of the position we are in strategically and fiscally, maintaining as many options as we possibly can is an important way forward in an uncertain environment. It's organizationally important to have alternatives.
Ricks: Is it possible to maintain options in an era when I'm guessing defense budgets are going to go down 30 percent in the next few years?
Dubik: My own answer is yes. The number of options may be reduced, but you can still retain a good number of options if you are willing to break some rice bowls in terms of current organizational structures, active, guard, reserve in each of the components.
Mudd: A sand wedge is what you're saying.
Dubik: Yeah, I use a sand wedge.
Alford: One of the four words I used there was adaptable. You've got to have a number of tools in the box to cross the threat that we are going to face, which I believe is going to be a more hybrid, irregular, not a toe-to-toe threat. That's going to be the most prevalent, I believe.
Ricks: And the other head-shaking general?
Fastabend: I'd like to make two comments. Jim [Dubik] talked adequately about the need to have 13 clubs in the bag. I can't restrain myself from saying this now that I'm retired: You can't help but love the Marine Corps. They are simultaneously one of the greatest and most insecure institutions that I've ever encountered in my life.
(More to come, as the Army-Marine smackdown continues)
Ricks: Michèle, you looked like you were about to say something.
Flournoy: I think that this discussion is about the alignment of objectives. Are they consistently aligned with our interests? And is the level of cost bearable and appropriate, given the nature of our interests?
I saw that sort of insight applied to subsequent cases. I think the experience of Iraq -- the inherited operations of both Iraq and Afghanistan -- caused us to have a very fundamental strategic discussion about Libya, for example, and why we weren't going to put boots on the ground, invade the country, own it, et cetera. People have said, you know-- it's the caricature of leading from behind, and that this is some terrible mistake for the U.S.
What it was, was really circumscribing our involvement to match what were very limited interests, to say we are going to play a leadership role that enables others who have more vital interests to come in and be effective. But we are not going to be out in front; we are not going to own this problem; we are not going to rebuild Libya.
I think that the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan -- working through how do you get operations back onto a track where your interests and your actions are aligned -- also informed things like Libya, like Syria, and so forth. You can argue whether or not that we made the calculation right, whether we got it right or not. But I'm just saying that the conversation -- the fundamentals conversation -- did happen in subsequent cases because of, I think, the experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ricks: Would you say that President Obama -- to put you on spot -- is good at having that sort of conversation?
Flournoy: In my experience he is. If the staff doesn't -- if the process doesn't serve it up to him -- he's usually pretty good at saying you're not asking the right question, the right question is "x."
Brimley: I mean just as a two-finger on that. That was my first month at the White House when that happened. And it was an amazing process to watch almost from start to finish as a case study in how a president considers the use of force.
Ricks: You're talking about Libya?
Brimley: Yes. When you read the history it seemed to me that with the decision to invade Iraq, there might not have been a formal National Security Council meeting where the benefits were voiced in open session in a proper process. But [on Libya] the president held at least three or four full National Security Council meetings and dozens of deputies and principals meetings to weigh that issue.
Ricks: And was the question why front and center?
Brimley: Yes, very much so.
Point No. 2: When you look at the mechanics of what we did in Libya, we provided a set of capabilities that were unique. We had unique comparative advantage: air- to-air refueling, ISR architecture, command-and-control architecture.
Alford: Geography mattered on that too.
Brimley: Geography, yes absolutely. The fact that we had a presence in the Mediterranean already was very helpful.
Alford: And you have an ocean.
Brimley: Right. We provided this set of unique capabilities that were enabling for other partners, to include partners from the Gulf to act in ways that they hadn't before. Every situation is different.
But I think that process, at least for someone like me relatively young, as a case study in how we think about how we think about use-of-force decision-making and the way we provide unique capabilities in the future is hugely informative.
The second thing I'd say on Libyais that as a young person, my limited experience dealing with these issues has been informed almost entirely by Iraq and Afghanistan. So when we were debating Libya, people in my generation were very sort of hesitant to really almost do anything. Almost a hard-core realist approach of "it's not really core to our national interests; we shouldn't get involved." But the people, I think, who had came of age in the Clinton administration who dealt with limited uses of force -- no-fly zones -- were much more willing to entertain creative solutions. So people in my generation, I think, going forward will tend to be an all-in or all-out.
Ricks: There's an article to be done there on the generational qualities in foreign policymakers.
Brimley: I think the people within the Clinton administration having dealt with a couple of these use-of-force decisions in the ‘90s were much more creative in how they thought about ways in which we could use force but not go all in.
Alford: A great example, real quick. I was a second lieutenant in Panama when we took out Noriega. And by December 26th the Panamanian people were on our side, but that could have easily been a counterinsurgency fight, but the Panamanian people were very Americanized. We invaded that country, took out its leader, and rebuilt it. And it happened like that because the Panamanian people said yes. By February I was home, drinking beer.
(More to come about, especially about the relationship between golf and force structure)
Glasser: Afghanistan is a very interesting question. Aside from the very early days of pushing the Taliban out, which obviously was a military operation, or the battle of Tora Bora or Shah-i-Kot, since then there have been military operations certainly, but how would we characterize in terms of as a war and then also what do we think of how the U.S. military presence there will be remembered as? Is it going be "we lost this war," or is it that it was a violent political conflict that lasted for more than a decade and was unresolved?
Ricks: I'd like to start by asking the historian and the Marine.
Crist: I agree with General Dubik. We backed into this. That is the fundamental problem, is the long-term strategy for a host of different reasons. I think we'll be remembered as in some cases of duplicating a lot of the problems we've made in our earlier wars, and then when we were faced with a crisis our natural inclination, particularly in the U.S. military, is to fall back on doctrine. We have a counterinsurgency doctrine -- if it worked in Iraq then it's going to work in Afghanistan. And so you just sort of take that and transplant it as if it's sort of a manual on how you're going to do that. And the problem with all these wars is that they are all dependent on the dynamics, and they're completely different. And so our response is a huge surge. Maybe it was the right or wrong answer. I tend to think that it really ultimately didn't solve much in Afghanistan, nothing like it did in Iraq, because the conditions were different.
Alford: First off, I think that we can look back in the future and say we succeeded. Not win but. . . . . Because I do believe that we've spent enough time there, and the transition we are getting ready to make is viable, I believe, from a partnered operational design to an advisory piece and really get out of the way and let them do it. I believe that their army -- in particular their army -- will be able to keep it stable enough for this new government to muddle its way through over the next few years. I think this third election -- a lot of people say the second election in a new democracy is the most important -- it's the third election here. And if it goes and people look at it as somewhat legitimate, then they have a real chance, because the Taliban are not going to come together as an army and take Kabul.
Chandrasekaran: I think this in my view is going to likely wind up as some form of barely satisfactory arrangement of sort of mildly unsatisfactory stalemate that will not be seen as having been anywhere near worth the cost in dollars, and in lives, and in limbs.
Look, I spent a lot of time in places where we surged troops over the last several years. There is discrete impact. I've seen districts where security has improved. It's incontrovertible. When you send in additional numbers of U.S. troops, good things generally follow -- but for a discrete period of time. We didn't achieve the sort of aggregate impact that we saw in Iraq. And we all know the reasons why. Ultimately, I step back and say it was not a wise expenditure of resources.
Stepping back even further, we fundamentally failed to grasp the politics of that country [Afghanistan]. Our solutions were simply not tailored to the environment. And ultimately I think in many parts of the country -- it's already happening -- things will essentially revert back to their natural order. And a natural order that may well in many parts of the country be simply good enough for us. But could we have gotten to that natural order without having spent as many hundreds of billions of dollars and as many years as it has taken us to get there?
Alford: If we had had the courage to make the shift four or five years ago? Absolutely. We took some of the most decentralized people in the entire world and imposed one of the most centralized constitutions on them. It's ludicrous that President Karzai appoints a district governor and a district police chief. I'm telling you, the people where I come from -- Rome, Georgia -- would rise up if the president appointed the county commissioner. It's crazy.
Chandrasekaran: Look, look, people criticize the United States for going around the world and imposing democracy, and I think to myself, well only if we shared with people the sort of democracy that made our country great. The Afghan Constitution on paper centralizes power like no other state -- I suppose like North Korea. I mean, it's crazy.
(More to come-first, about Syria and Libya)
Ricks: Rajiv, you have been unnaturally patient. [Gestures dramatically with open right hand] This is a man who, in Baghdad, was famous for shouting at people, "Right now, right now, right now!" He was a great bureau chief.
Chandrasekaran: I'm just taking all this in. It's fascinating. I find myself agreeing with an awful lot of what's being said around the table.
Just sort of building on a lot of this, I feel like the military does a great job of looking at troop-to-task calculations. We don't we do that on the diplomatic side of things? There was this assumption building on, all right, September 12: Was the Taliban really our enemy? We then -- fast-forward a couple months -- think that we can have a reasonably strong central government, civilian government, in a country with zero institutions, with no human capacity. There just, from the very beginning, weren't the necessary questions asked about what this would take, not from a military point of view, but from a whole-of-government point of view.
All these assumptions get baked in that wind up being completely contradictory and counterproductive to any efforts to build a stable government, and at no point do we step up and say, "Wait. This doesn't make sense." Part of it's a bandwidth issue. Part of it is, I think, civilian sides of our government aren't doing the necessary sorts of calculations about: Is this in our best interests? Is this doable? What would it take to do it? And then, even further, getting right back to the beginning, the question of space; one associated issue with this -- and I don't mean to blame the victim here -- we don't do a good enough job of saying no to the partners we're trying to help. Not just internationally, but the Afghans themselves. You know, when the Afghans say, "We want to centralize power in Kabul because, you know, Ashraf Ghani says it's going to help fight corruption," we don't push back meaningfully and say, "Yes, but it's completely unrealistic given the capacity of your government." When [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says, "We want you ISAF forces to go push into these districts because we've got bad guys there," we don't do a good enough job of saying, "Wait a second; it doesn't make sense to do that."
Ricks: General Jabouri, listening to this, as someone who has dealt with the Americans, what do you think of Rajiv's analysis? Are the Americans able to say no? Do they make intelligent decisions, from your perspective as an Iraqi general and a mayor of a city?
Jabouri: I think the Americans, in the beginning, always take the ally from who said, "OK, do everything they want." And they're strong. Like Chalabi, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, someone, they always say to them, "OK, I'm from this hand to this hand [extends hands, palms up]." But after that discover they chose the wrong man. The ally is not the man who says it is always OK to do things.
Ricks: So again, a lack of sufficient thought, of understanding, going into the situation.
Jabouri: I think also they depended totally on the people outside Iraq, not from inside Iraq. The do not make a balance between that, but now we see the result in Iraq, with what happened.
Ricks: Ms. Flournoy?
Flournoy: I think this point about really being thoughtful about your political objectives and what's the goals and the strategy to achieve them and not being all things to all people is really important. And I think it is something that we really struggle with. When you ask why, I do think it does also speak to the imbalance in our own investment as a government. I mean, we have this tremendously -- well, at least historically -- well-resourced military, well trained, well cultivated. Obviously when you put thousands of Americans in harm's way, a lot of attention is going to rightfully be focused in that direction to make sure we know what we're doing and are managing that well.
But again, if you think what drives the success or failure of these operations, it is your political objectives and your political strategy and how well you frame those question. I would argue we don't grow on the civilian side grand strategists, we don't grow political strategists. You occasionally find them, and I can list a few I admire and respect. But I remember one of the most difficult moments of the Iraqi government formation, sitting in the embassy in Baghdad saying, "Well, what're we going to do? What's our strategy to help them cohere?" Not that the U.S. was going to dictate the outcome, but how are we going to help get over this hump and move forward? Having the senior political officer at the time tell me, "Well, that's not my job. My job, as the political officer, is to observe and report." And I said, "I'm sorry. We invaded a country. We are occupying this country. Your job is thinking about the political strategy that's going to help put it back together again on sustainable terms." But that's not what we train people to do; it's not what we resource them to do. And I do think it's connected to this fundamental imbalance of resources and that we didn't put enough time, attention, thought, focus, resources into the whole civilian side of what we were doing.
Dubik: In conflicts that are essentially not winnable, militarily. The military operations are necessary, but they're not sufficient. They're not even decisive.
Ricks: Emile Simpson makes this very good point in his new book, War From the Ground Up, as a young British officer who fought in Afghanistan that you've got to turn Clausewitz on his head and look as this as violent politics, not as warfare that leads to a political outcome. A lot of it is political operations coming out of the barrel of a gun.
By "An SF Vet"
Best Defense guest contributor
When SF moved there they fell in on a ton of unvetted ALP that the regular Army had "trained." Why was the regular Army standing up ALP, when they have no real understanding about how to properly vet and conduct unconventional warfare? Great question. Probably because a sorry officer made the poor decision to allow this to happen.
So the ODA fell in on hundreds of these poorly-trained, unvetted Afghans. So, they did what they were told, set up a base out there, and began vetting these guys with the last month they had in country. Fast forward to another sorry officer that told the team to "Hurry up and vet these guys" so he could tell higher how great of a job they were doing. When they said they had only vetted, like, 40 percent, they were told that wasn't good enough, and the officer then padded the stats because in his exact words, "I can't tell a general we only vetted 40 percent."
I can't speak to everything that happened this past year, but this is the sort of thing that causes green on blue. The conventional Army has no business setting up ALP, but since that is the hot ticket these days, people only want to mass-produce them. The current team on the ground has done a lot of good things there, but it is hard (and dangerous) when you have leaders that allow this to happen.
Morals of the story:
1) Start giving higher the real story (I am talking to you, shitty, self-serving, careerist field grades).
2) The war isn't over yet for the guys on the ground, so support them and give them what they require to be successful.
3) Stop allowing conventional Army to do unconventional tasks.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In this photo a flight medic with C Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, is being lifted into a MEDEVAC helicopter with Luca, a military working dog with the 4th Stryker Brigade during training at FOB Spin Boldak in Afghanistan. The medics participating in this February exercise were not military veterinarians or vet techs, but were learning how to evacuate a MWD in the event that a handler was injured or otherwise unable to care for the dog himself. In combat theater a dog is treated as a full-fledged member of a unit and, if he were injured, would receive the same kind of emergency life-saving care and attention as any other solider, including the attention of a medic.
Still, treating an injured canine in the heat of battle poses a unique set of challenges, especially if the dog is particularly protective of its handler or is known to bite (note the muzzle in this photo). When a dog team is out on a mission, the handler cannot be the only person in the unit who knows what kind of medical attention his dog will need or how it should be administered. All handlers are trained on how to treat their dogs, whether for dehydration, broken limbs, or blood loss. But when working outside the wire, many will carry cards detailing a kind of abbreviated "in case of emergency" instructions so someone else (hopefully a medic) will know how to treat their dogs if they are also wounded during missions.
As one Army handler (who I interviewed for the War Dogs book) told me last year, the first person a savvy handler will get to know when assigned to a new unit is the medic. "Whatever you can do to help the medics out in your AO as a handler, that's what you do. You introduce your dog to them. You let them play, you know, get friendly with them." This handler wanted the medic, as well as the rest of his team, to know his dog and to care about his well being because they could be the ones in a position to save the dog's life.
RIP MWD Bak: This is a photo of Bak, a dog who was killed in action on March 11 in Afghanistan. Few details about the circumstances of how Bak was killed have been made public, but a memorial page is active on Facebook, including an extensive photo gallery. His handler, Sgt. Molina, is reportedly fine and, as of Wednesday, was awaiting transfer back to the States.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Sgt. Michael Needham U.S. Army/Bak Facebook
Flournoy: Two things, and especially because I think in Iraq, because the fundamental premise for the war was shown to be false, that should have triggered exactly the kind of discussion that: "Uh-oh, here we are. We've discovered there are no WMD, so what are we trying to do here, and what is our strategy and what are the risks and what are the tradeoffs and how much in resources are we willing to put in?" And then, the perverse effect is that it also affected Afghanistan because once the focus was on Iraq, Afghanistan really did become an economy-of-force effort for the first many years, which also takes the oxygen out of the fundamental strategic discussion.
Fastabend: I discovered this dilemma in Iraq. I wasn't in charge of strategy; I was in charge of operations. From the strategy guys, I would get the strategic conditions I was supposed to achieve: "Secure the borders of Iraq; end the violence. Our job is done. Make it happen." And no choices had been made, no options, nothing really was useful with respect to strategy.
Ricks: Shawn and Michèle, you both effectively held strategic positions. In fact, Shawn had the title, director of strategy for the American Empire.
Glasser: That's a capital "E"?
Ricks: Again and again we're coming back to original sin, fruit of the poisoned tree, and strategic confusion at the outset, where the system did not work, where the differences were not examined, and where assumptions were not examined either.
Brimley: Right, so I think we have a profound inability to make hard, clear strategic choices, but then I think that forces us to react, right? It forces us into a reactive posture. And for years I've heard the phrase, "Oh, Shawn, you know the enemy has a vote. The enemy has a vote." But we have a veto, right? And as we think about the years ahead, as we think about a constrained fiscal environment, we're going to have to make hard choices. And the enemy is going to try to lure us to do things that are not in our comparative advantage, so we're going to have to face up to the notion that we can veto that. We have a choice, and that's in how we prosecute these things. Those choices carry inherent levels of risk, but we should embrace that, not run from it.
Ricks: Michèle, why doesn't the system make hard choices?
Flournoy: Well, I can speak to what I experienced in the Obama administration. A lot of what we're talking about here happened in a much earlier period. I'm just guessing, I'm speculating, that part of why this initial fundamental strategic rethink didn't happen in Iraq is that, in the middle of [the war], you've gone in and you've broken the china, and now you have to say, "Whoops. The fundamental premise was wrong. Now what are we going to do?"
That's a very politically fraught thing for an administration to do when it's got tens of thousands of Americans in harm's way on the ground for a mission that was very controversial from the beginning. I think it would have been an extraordinary act of leadership for, whether it was the president or the national security advisor, you know, the team, to sort of say, "Hey, wait a minute. This is not what we thought it was. What are our interests? How do we clearly define a new set of objectives and make some choices about how we're going to prosecute this?"
Ricks: That explains Iraq, but does it explain Afghanistan?
Flournoy: In Afghanistan -- again, I wasn't there in the early days-- I think that we were very good at getting in, very poor at seeing the way out. And I think part of the reason why we migrated from the focus on al Qaeda to "What are we going to do about Afghanistan writ large?" is getting caught in the sense of: What is a sustainable outcome? If you take too narrow an approach, it's like taking your hand out of the water. Once you leave, you're right back in the exact same situation where you have a government that's providing safe haven and you're facing a threat again. And yet we never really resourced, fully resourced, a counterinsurgency strategy until very late in the game when Obama did the review. But that was like coming in the middle -- the symphony had been playing for a number of years. You're inheriting something and now trying to say, "Well, now, given the interests at stake, clearly define who is the enemy, who is not. What's the limited outcome we're going to try to achieve, and how do we go after that?" But it's a lot harder to do coming into the middle of an operation with a lot of history than it is to do it right from the beginning. And I think that we probably would have defined it differently had we had that opportunity to shape it from the beginning, but given where we were and what we inherited, I think, you know, we did the best we could.
Ricks: Jim, it seems to me that what this conversation is saying is that there's something profoundly wrong at the civil-military interface, and your initial question speaks to this.
Dubik: The sense that I'm getting is we spend too much time worried about control and autonomy and less time talking about shared responsibility in strategic and operational decisions. The civil-military discourse is defined by civilian control of the military -- absolutely essential to it -- but all relationships are more complex than one formula can ever describe. So, while control and autonomy are part of the relationship, the shared responsibility is a huge part that doesn't seem to get as much play in the professional military education or in the development processes that are used for producing civilian strategists and leaders.
Ricks: This is an unfair question, but let me ask it anyway. If you could rewind us to Sept. 11, 2001, how should civil-military discourse have been conducted at that point?
Dubik: Well it certainly should have been centered around the fundamental questions, not of how, but of why and what.
But I'd like to kind of challenge the discussion a little bit, in the sense that we didn't have these analyses. When I went back and reviewed your books [gestures at Ricks], Woodward's books, Michael Gordon's book, your book [gestures at Chandrasekaran], I see a very similar pattern with respect to Iraq for sure. There are at least eight or nine major strategic reviews that clearly identified that what we were doing was not working. Yet we didn't make really a big shift until 2007. My bet is you could go through and find papers about Afghanistan that say the same thing, that until you [gestures to Flournoy] did the review in 2009, that there were plenty of evidence that what we were doing wasn't working, but we had no shift. Back to your original question. The first question was more about how and not enough about why and what, and then we couldn't adapt. It wasn't just in Afghanistan that we were treating it as an economy of force -- we were -- but it was an economy of thought. There wasn't the attention.
Flournoy: Because there's no bandwidth.
Brimley: There's only so much bandwidth for policymakers, and what you see early in Afghanistan is all the planning power on the military and civilian side gets sucked into the Iraq problem. And it is sort of on autopilot: Things are going well; there's not a lot of thought that needs to be given to it.
Ricks: Bandwidth? When I go back and read the papers of George Marshall and other senior leaders in 1939, 1940, '41, they're dealing with much bigger problems, global issues, and they are making really hard choices, such as: Let the Philippines go, keep the sea lines of communication open to Australia--but win in Europe first. These are basic, fundamental things.
So I would argue with the bandwidth thing. What's clogging them up nowadays?
Crist: The initial question I raised was: Do commanders have to think? And I think it gets to what General Dubik said about getting focused on shooting the close-in target.
We don't think about the long-term ramifications of the actions and the strategy. In my view, the great failing of Tommy Franks, he never asked about that the assumptions were coming down about what this campaign would look like -- assumptions being facts in the campaign design. Those assumptions were never challenged. In many ways, as I describe in my book, there was no red team to look at, "OK, how is this going to impact Iran? Does it open opportunities for them, or does it have a deterrent effect?" And so I think that, having sat down with a number of top commanders and staff, that piece of it isn't done. It's almost discouraged because "that's the policymakers' realm, it's not ours."
Dubik: Well that's the civil-military issue. It's control and autonomy. So, at least on the military side, the bulk of the training is deductive training. You are given a mission, you are given an end state, you are tossed over the transom the strategy, and just. . . .
Ricks: When you're talking about shared responsibilities, it seems to me you're talking about trust. Trust is the essence of that shared responsibility -- the sense of a common future, that we trust each other, we'll be working on this. It seems to me you're saying there's a fundamental lack of trust in our civil-military system.
Mudd: Hold on. One interjection that relates to bandwidth is the difference between choices and questions. I think [back in 2001] we blew over the questions. You said it's not "how," which is what we did on Sept. 12; it's why and what. On Sept. 12, 2001, can you imagine asking the question: Is the Taliban really a threat? Today, 12 years later, I'd say, "Well clearly it's not a threat! In fact, they're going to be in the government!" But we blew through the question, which led to space, because you have to have space because the Taliban's a problem -- in retrospect, they weren't. So we made a choice, but we didn't know we had a choice.
I'll close by saying there's a bandwidth issue; part of this is the speed of decision-making in Washington. Can you imagine at the Washington Post, sitting back on Sept. 12 and saying, "Wait a minute; you sure the Taliban's a threat?" You would have been crushed. That, clearly, would have been a good question.
Ricks: I want to go to two things here. Dave Fastabend, you talk about the inability to make hard choices. How do we get the system to surface and make hard choices?
Fastabend: I think we need to relook at what we teach about strategy and train people about how these decisions are made. I think we should teach strategy much like the Harvard Business School teaches strategic decision-making in business, on a case-study basis. There's lots of good history out there where they could teach people what were, in essence, the choices people had in various situations. You [Ricks] very articulately described the ones Marshall had. Talk about what the options were, how they made the trades and came to it. But don't take people through these ridiculous exercises about define the ends you want and go see if someone can make a path to it.
(and more yet to come)
Crist: I agree on the notion of the tendency of the U.S. military. In Vietnam, they used to call it the "Little Brown Man Syndrome," which is: The Americans come in and show you how to really fight your war. But I think with Afghanistan the fundamental problem is a lack of a long-term strategy. What do we want Afghanistan to do? And I see we sort of evolved into it without a lot of thinking.
The initial force went in; we got enamored with the idea of SOF [special operations forces], light footprint, using the Northern Alliance -- in fact we probably should have had more conventional forces. We missed a lot of opportunities as these guys skirted across Pakistan, and we, frankly, allowed them to do it because the Afghans wouldn't go after them. If they wanted to sit up in the hills, the Northern Alliance was more than happy to let them sit in the mountains, and we didn't have that capability.
Then the problem is, as we slowly evolve with, frankly, not a lot of thought -- if you look at the force incrementally increasing, it's not a well-articulated strategy. Then it comes to the point where, well, we have the force, we need to start doing this ourselves, and we sort of fall back on our natural patterns and tendencies and things that are comfortable with an effective military that likes to solve problems. So I lay it on the long-term strategy that went in in 2001.
Jabouri: Let me say something from my experience: I think American forces focus just on the enemy, on al Qaeda, and they forget about the people.
I think if you want to win the war against al Qaeda, you should protect the people first. The American forces always, in the beginning, in Iraq, they put their eyes on al Qaeda, and they don't care about the people. I think the security forces can't create the security without the long-term forces. If you now go to Kurdistan in Iraq, if you see the images, Kurdistan has very good security, but they do not have many checkpoints or forces. The people have, and the government has the security forces to keep the security. They are the people in other parts of Iraq, the people not interested in the security forces of Iraq because they do not have to create the security.
Ricks: This seems to go to Phil Mudd's question of space versus targeting, but it seems to me also to Colonel Alford's comments because one of the answers to reconciling space and targeting is to have local forces occupy the space, not American forces that alienate locals.
Dubik: But a strategy, correctly or not, a strategy that emphasizes local forces, building local conditions, is de facto a long-term strategy. It gets right back to the question of -- we backed into both these wars.
Ricks: Not unlike in Vietnam, where we put in ground troops originally to protect the air bases.
Dubik: And it sucked us in. We just backed ourselves into the problem we faced, and had we thought that the solution was going to be a 10- or 15-year solution, we certainly would not have committed. We would have changed many of the decisions that we made, but we didn't adopt the indigenous force because we thought we could solve it and leave.
Fastabend: I think the reason we do that consistently is, as I hinted at in my question (I really liked your question; I'll explain to you why), is because we think strategy and we keep strategy, and our theory of strategy is the linkage of ends, ways, and means, which is how I got here, which is how I'll do my job tomorrow.
It is pablum; it is a way to avoid making a real choice, so no one in or out of the government ever said to themselves, "Let's decide what we're going to do. Are we going to target individuals regardless of space, or are we going to go in there and have space?" No, what we said is, "We need a stable government in Iraq, so therefore, you need a stable government in Iraq." Deductive logic tells you that you need to control everywhere in Iraq. And then you have to worry about the security forces; you've got to make sure they've got border patrols. And we never went back to the fundamental choice about what do we really need to do. We hide choices. We never talk about choices because choices are hard and choices mean making a decision. Choices mean taking responsibility for who makes the choice and which choice they take -- and that, in my view, is the biggest flaw we have institutionally in this country, is we've got very shallow theory and doctrine about what strategy really is.
Ricks: This is a great comment.
(Much more to come)
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.