While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on October 1, 2010.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
The suave looking war dog in this photo is wearing doggles -- not goggles, doggles -- and yes, these are real. Military dogs wear doggles specifically designed to protect the eyes of working dogs from dust and debris. Soldiers rely on the heightened senses of these dogs which far surpass those of a human, and so the dogs' handlers take the precautionary measures necessary to protect them, keeping a careful watch on their vitals and the care they receive in the field.
This German Shepherd is wearing his doggles while Chinook helicopters take off during an air assault operation by U.S. soldiers in Parwan province, Afghanistan on May 11.
U.S. Army/Sgt. Jason Brace/flickr
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on September 17, 2010.
Oh man. Take a minute to read this widow's account of watching her Marine sergeant husband fall apart after he came home from Afghanistan. Two quotations that really struck me:
"I knew that we had run out of time."
And, as he contemplated suicide:
"There is no way I can stop you from doing this, is there?" she said she asked her husband.
If you know someone who seems suicidal, here is a phone number:
(HT to BD)
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on July 13, 2010.
These people are serious. They are feeling let down by the army. Here is a note from another bereaved parent:
I'm the Father of Pruitt Rainey. I gave my testimony and my son's last e-mails to me to Gen Natonski in Norfolk VA at the Naval base. They tell it all. What was going on and what was predicted at Wanat. I sat at Ft McPherson and listened and recorded what both generals had to say. General Campbell and the DOD and especially Gen. Petraeus really let my son down. The briefing was supposed to hopefully bring us some closure. It was supposed to be about integrity. It was supposed to be about the honor of our sons. It was supposed to be about the last respects we all pay to the ultimate sacrifice our sons gave to our country.
It turned out to be a complete whitewash and a smokescreen for the army. I am ashamed my son was even in the army. I feel so disrespected.
I watched General Campbell smile and even laugh during his briefing especially when we were asking him questions. One question I asked him was, did he speak with any other person or soldier that was at Wanat? He answered, "I read some of their statements." I asked him a second time: Did you speak with any of the other 48 witnesses that were at Wanat? He again smirked and said, "I read some of their statements."
I came out of my chair and lost it. I held up a picture, 8x10. I demanded he look at my son's picture and tell him you made the correct decision today. He walked up to me, looked, smirked, not one word, and walked away smiling again. What else can I say...
Secretary Gates and our president need to step up and do the right thing. Honor our sons, Honor all the sacrifices these soldiers gave to the freedom we have."
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
During a night mission this past Wednesday, Marine Cpl. Joshua R. Ashley was KIA by an IED blast while on patrol in Helmand Province. Ashley's father, John, told local reporters last night that Ashley's dog, Sirius, who was with him that night, survived.
There will be many reasons why Ashley's death is going to be an especially harsh blow to the MWD community. The first is that this fresh loss comes, once again, too close on the heels of the deaths of MA2 Sean Brazas and Cpl. Keaton Coffey. The second is that, unlike the Brazas and Coffey (who were killed "during combat operations"), Ashley was killed by an IED, the very thing he and Sirius were trained to detect. And the last reason -- or at least the last one I will list here -- is that it's hard to imagine that someone like Ashley could be killed by anything. A formidable presence by any measure, he stood well above six feet tall and was an avid weightlifter; he was, in a word, enormous. And from a distance, Ashley appeared indestructible.
The above photo of Ashley and Sirius is one I took in March. I spent two weeks with them and the other 16 dog teams who trained at the Inter-Service Advance Skills K9 Course at Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. I won't say that I knew him well, I didn't. But I spent hours watching this pair work, and it was Ashley and Sirius I trailed a short distance behind while they went through a "night mission" during the course's final exams. I chose to follow them because I knew they were a standout team. I chose to follow them because they were fun, lively, and exciting to watch.
Charismatic and a born leader, Ashley originally of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, was admired by many. "He didn't have to try," says Tech Sergeant Justin Kitts who was an instructor from the Air Force when Ashley and Sirius came through YPG. Ashley, who he remembers as "funny and who take care of the other guys," was one of his favorite students and his death has Kitts "shook up." And "after six months of classes coming through," he told me yesterday, "that means something."
In the emotion of this week, in the emotion of writing this post even, it is hard not to stray into sentiment, into too quickly memorializing this young Marine. To be honest, I remember thinking Ashley was pretty damn cocky -- a characteristic most handlers will tell you is a pre-requisite for the job. I also initially thought him aloof and nonchalant which is why I was surprised when, out of the blue, he volunteered to set up this Sirius-drives-the-gator photo shoot for me. As he positioned the four-year-old Shepherd's paws on the steering wheel he did it with a patience and gentleness I didn't expect.
In addition to all the tactical training they teach out at YPG, the instructors there also work hard to impart the kind of lessons you can't train for, to instill upon their young servicemen and women the state of mind necessary to do the job of clearing roads for bombs. I heard it repeated over and over whenever a handler would get tripped up and when nerves and frustration would well up, taking over. "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go," they would reason, saying, "Relax. Just trust your dog." The sad truth is that it doesn't matter how good the handler or how spot-on the dog, there simply is no foolproof way to get past every IED.
The instructors who trained Ashley and Sirius during the IASK course are taking this loss hard-they're sad, pissed off. But those still working at YPG are out in the hot sun as I write this, training up another class of handlers. One such instructor, Sgt. Charlie Hardesty, marveled that a big man like Ashley could be so humble and that his fellow Marines followed him without hesitation.
And then, "I wish this war was over."
Ashley's family is planning a memorial service for Monday. He is survived by his parents and two brothers.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 16, 2010.
I am not advocating that we adopt an imperial stance, or even that everything the British did was right or even moral. But I do think we can learn from them, which is why I am dwelling this week on Roe's fine book on the British experience in Waziristan.
For example, in 1947, the new Pakistani government invited the former British governor of the North-West Frontier, Sir George Cunningham, to come out of retirement and administer the province, because he was seen as an honest broker. That might be the end-game we should aim for in Iraq, where the American officials eventually subordinate themselves to the Baghdad government and even are seconded to work for it.
That's my lesson, not Roe's. Here are some of his. You'll find more on almost every page:
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 10, 2010
At the center of British operations in Waziristan was not the military commander but the political officer, writes Andrew Roe in his useful study Waging War in Waziristan. As best as I can make out, we really don't have a parallel position -- the "political advisors" that senior generals have in the Army are nothing like it.
The British political officer frequently was someone of military background, holding a rank, but not in the military chain of command, and with his own small forces to use on a daily basis. When things fell apart, he would call in the army, and the military commander would take over. But most of the time, says Roe, he was "the central player around whom the entire local administration revolved."
One agent, Capt. Jack "Lotus" Lewis, was not only fluent in Pushtu, he was fluent in its local tribal dialects, Mahsud and Wazir. This appears to have been more the rule than the exception. The Indian Political Service was a popular destination for young Britons seeking excitement, and it could pick and choose from applicants. Those going to the frontier had to pass the Higher Standard Pushtu examination, and "mastery of tribal dialects was a matter of pride." Military commanders came and went, but the political officers stayed for several years -- and the tribes gave them their allegiance as individuals, Roe says.
Describing one successful political officer, Roe writes that he employed
steady and unfaltering conciliation, combined with personal interaction. It was reinforced with a range of tribal subsidies for undertaking militia duty.
There always was friction between political officers and military commanders, Roe notes, especially because the politicals would put limits on operations, or order them to stop altogether. Also, the better a political was at his job, the less he tended to be noticed. "[S]uccessful tribal management could consign the officer concerned to political oblivion," Roe notes. By contrast, combat operations led to medals and recognition.
His account of their role makes me wonder if we need to put political officers on multi-year tours in Afghanistan. I bet Capt. Matt Pottinger would volunteer.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on February 12, 2010
We bring Kilcullenpalooza to an end with his observations on a few ways of judging the performance of your local Taliban unit. Significantly, only near the end of the essay does he focus on the enemy. You listening, S-2s of the world?
So here are some ways to know your enemy:
That's it. Again, I think this is a terrific paper, one of the most insightful things I've read lately, and one of Kilcullen's best essays. I think it is most significant for the order of its recommendations. It tells you what not to track, and then emphasizes measuring the people, the government, the security forces -- and, lastly, the enemy. It is signed, "David Kilcullen/ Kabul, December 2009."
QAZI RAUF/AFP/Getty Images
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on December 28, 2009.
Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine analyzes different forms of incoming fire, and what to do about them:
Recognize small arms fire for what it is in accordance with the enemy's local TTPs. If it is just a few pop shots, more than likely the enemy is attempting to get a reaction from you and see what you do. They will shoot a couple shots at you, while using observers. You set up a base of fire and conduct an action left, then two days from now, they will conduct an identical SAF attack. If you go left this time, you will quickly locate an IED the wrong way. On the other hand, if the bad guys start shooting at you like they mean it, they are there to fight. You have to be immediate in your drill if you want to fix them and kill them. I hear all the time, how the bad guys get away. Well, don't fuck'n wait ten minutes for mortars or air. You kill enemy squads and fire teams with Marine infantry squads. Fucking assault them and utilize your weapon systems organic to the squad and superior marksmanship.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on December 24, 2009.
Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine gives a memorable lecture on patrolling, and nearly runs out of letters in making his points. Read it now and believe it later:
We have to get back our patrolling capabilities. Ninety percent of everything we do is patrolling but we aren't good at it. The Iraq experience has done some good things for our Corps but it has diminished our patrolling capabilities. Our NCOs' experience in Iraq has fostered a sure knowledge that the double column is the preferred formation and moving along roads is acceptable, which are exactly the wrong things to do. Right now we operate at an acceptable level but with some focused training we can limit our casualties, while killing more of the enemy. Everyone can spout 5-3-5 rules but few know what it is and even fewer practice it.
A) Each patrol needs a viable mission that accomplishes a needed task. Going here because we went over there yesterday is beyond stupid and you are failing as a leader with that reasoning.
B) Go through the orders process in its entirety when able. At a minimum do route planning and brief an order covering Situation (past 24 or 48 hours and other patrols) Mission (what, where and purpose), Execution (intent, where you expect to make contact or find IEDs and actions when that happens, IA drills for contact, IED strike, Medevac, and cover formation types - where you will satellite/guardian angel, wedge echelon etc).
C) Do a confirmation brief with the platoon commander.
D) Conduct Initial and Final Inspections.
E) Use an Initial Rally Point inside the wire to conduct your final inspection, do last minute rehearsals or rehearsal of concept drills, final com checks, get in your initial combat formation and be counted out of the wire by the APL -- use your APL, most of the Marines now days don't even know what that is.
F) Point men need to be trained along with flanks. Use a dual point system -- one guy looking close for IED threat and one far scanning tree lines. Walk at a pace that facilitates your mission, not which gets you back to the patrol base quicker.
G) Take security halts and observe your surroundings frequently. Have one of your patrol elements set up in observation covertly while the other element moves into the village. Watch the actions the locals do. Want atmospherics, see if there are runners or people move towards the patrol to greet them. If something happens, this observation team is already set as a base of fire.
H) Investigate what is happening. Marines often see locals doing routine tasks, like pumping water or kids playing, when if they investigated vice just continuing to patrol on by, they would see the hole perfectly shaped for an IED amongst the playing children dug by the guy with a pick axe being shielded by the pretty kids playing in the road. The Taliban are masters at using the obvious to deploy IEDs right under your nose.
I) Use deception. Send out two patrols at a time in different directions, and then have one circle back. All too often we rotate patrols in and out. The Taliban quickly figure out that if the patrol just went west, he has complete freedom of movement to the East.
J) Use Satellites, traveling and bounding over watch and a variety of formations to match the threat.
K) Do not set patterns.
L) Stay the fuck off of roads and trails. I believe that every casualty our battalion has taken from IEDs, with the exception of two incidents, has been on a road or trail and it has been at times when the Marines were not required to be on the road or trail as part of a sweep/clearance mission.
M) Use rally points.
N) Use the appropriate formation to be in the most advantageous position to immediately gain the initiative and kill the enemy. We are very lacking in this area and a lot of our squad leaders just don't get it. Use TDGs and a variety of training scenarios to get them up to speed and understand a variety of terrain and tactical based scenarios.
O) Crossing Linear Danger areas is a lost art, especially when a patrol will walk three hundred meters along a canal to find a foot bridge to cross it - -terrible at setting patterns, just walk through the water but set up near and far side security first and use a variety of techniques so you don't set patterns.
P) Communication Procedures need work. Rehearse them and have competent Marines on the radio.
Q) Proper dispersion. Make sure it's enough to mitigate the IED threat but not too much where you are not in a position to get combat power where it needs to be. If you have to do ten "I'm up they see me, I'm downs" prior to getting your weapon into action, your spent before you go into the assault. It's all fun and games when someone is shooting at you via pop shots at 300 meters, a completely different story when you have a few machine guns hammering down on you from less than 100 meters.
R) Individual movement and actions such as using available cover and making eye contact with the guy behind you every ten steps or so.
S) Stay in zone a while. We have become too bogged down with timelines. More often than not, the Iraq standard of four hour patrols is the constant. One platoon commander had his guys doing 12 hour patrols. Initially, when I heard about it, I thought it was stupid. After visiting the patrol base and going on some of his patrols, I realized he was a genius. He solved several problems at once. His Marines automatically set up to observe areas because they had to in order to rest. They spent a good deal of time speaking with locals, because it's another way to rest. They moved slowly and deliberately, because the Marines realized iPod time doesn't come until that 12 hours is up. They covered their entire AO almost daily and 24 hours a day. Marines had enough time to focus on patrol prep. There is a lot of ways to accomplish your mission and you have to try a variety. Change things up and never count anything out.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on October 20, 2009.
For a long time I've thought that the key to economic reconstruction in Afghanistan would be restoring its traditional role of carrying goods from South Asia (full of nice cheap consumer goods) to Central Asia (now featuring oil and gas revenues). To do this, the "ring road" that connects the country's major cities and the spur roads to the borders need to be made relatively safe from bandits, Talibani, and thieving officials. But every time I've raised this, I've been greeted with eye-rolling and such.
So I was pleased to see a genuine Central Asian expert, S. Frederick Starr of Johns Hopkins, make a similar, more considered proposal:
Both General Mc Chrystal and President Obama have affirmed the need for "economic" and "governance" measures in Afghanistan. They're right, of course. Without them the U.S.'s stated goals -- to destroy Al Queda and cripple the Taliban-remain purely negative and not compelling to most Afghans, to the countries neighboring Afghanistan, and even to our own NATO allies. But what are these "economic" and "governance" measures? Neither Mc Chrystal nor Obama has spelled these out. It's time to do so.
To succeed, any such measures must meet four criteria. First, they must directly and positively affect the lives of Afghans, Pakistanis, and people in those Central Asian states that have become key to this region-wide project. If ordinary people across the region are convinced that they will benefit from America's effort they will support it. If not, they will stand aside. Second, the economic measures must leave the Afghan government with an income stream. Today the U.S. is paying the salaries of all Afghan soldiers and civil servants. This can't go on forever. Third, it must be possible to pursue the economic measures simultaneously with the military effort, and in a way that enhances the military campaign. And, fourth, these initiatives must work fast, and begin to show results within the next 18-24 months.
Since 2001 the U.S. and other countries have done much good in Afghanistan, far more than is generally known. Progress in major health indicators and education are only part of an impressive record. But late in 2009 these do not suffice. To meet our four criteria a more powerful engine is needed.
Fortunately, such a force exists. The U.S. should immediately focus its energies on opening continental transport and trade across Afghanistan and the region. This will immediately open large markets to Afghan and Pakistani producers in scores of legal areas. Ordinary Afghans will be able to get their goods to markets now closed to them. The yield on truck tariffs will provide a steady income for the government in Kabul. Such trade can start immediately, for it involves removing bureaucratic impediments at borders, not vast infrastructure projects.
Some argue that this cannot happen until the stability situation improves. They may be confusing cause and effect. If only a few trucks traverse a road it is easy for bandits to interdict them. If hundreds of trucks do so, some may still be hit. But most will bore their way through. Soon locals will be providing the truckers with food, gas, storage, and repair services, as well as good for shipment. As this happens, the local population gains an interest in keeping the road open.
But can this really happen quickly? The Asian Development Bank has shown convincingly that the goods and truckers are there, waiting for a green flag. These are not just local haulers but transcontinental shippers running from Hamburg to Hanoi, Damascus to Delhi, the Urals to Hydarabad. Surveys show that the truckers themselves see the main impediments not as bad roads or the absence of physical security. These are tough guys, used to getting through under the worst conditions. But they are stopped dead by corrupt and inefficient practices at borders, especially in Afghanistan. Remove these and the dam will break, releasing a vast force of trade that existed across Eurasia for 2,500 years but which has been blocked in recent centuries. The International Union of Roads and Transport in Geneva reports that large numbers of its members are poised to move, once the impediments are removed. And since the key to removing these impediments at borders is to improve governance and remove corruption at these points, the project provides a perfect laboratory for improving governance elsewhere in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army's network for delivering supplies to our forces in Afghanistan provides a skeleton for the emerging network of routes crossing Afghanistan. The U.S. needs only to open the same routes to civilian traffic to get the ball rolling. Soon truckers will want to cross Pakistan as well, passing on into India and beyond. Is this a fantasy?
In spite of the Pakistan-India conflict over Kashmir, some $3 billion of goods cross the India-Pakistan land border each year legally, and another $15 billion illegally. Both are products like refrigerators and stoves, not narcotics. Given this enormous economic pressure, it is quite conceivable that Indians and Pakistani could choose to open selective routes, even as they continue to spar over Kashmir.
The biggest surge in Afghanistan will fail if it is not intimately linked with an economic program, and one that pushes Kabul to improve governance. By releasing the engine of continental trade, the U.S. can achieve this. Such a project is not against anyone, and will enable the U.S. to engage constructively with every power in Eurasia, including China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Europe, the Middle East and even Iran, for which participation in such trade could be an important carrot.
However, Washington has yet to embrace this as a top strategic priority, let alone to organize its mission in Afghanistan and the region in such a way as to achieve it. This last is particularly important, for it requires a degree of civil-military coordination that has not existed in the U.S.'s Afghan effort since 2005. The good news is that it is not yet too late to do this. Once such a strategy and tactics are in place, the U.S. will have unleashed a force that generated wealth across Eurasia, and especially in Afghanistan and its neighbors, over several millennia. It's time to act.
To this, I would add that a little help from the U.S. military could go a long way here. Initially, at least, I would have Afghan forces organize large convoys of perhaps 200 to 300 trucks. Also, remove most of the checkpoints and have American troops over-watching those that remains. Meanwhile, other American forces could do some route clearing. Then assign a few Strykers to every convoy and have Apaches on tap in case there is trouble. Finally, perhaps organize caravanserais every 40 miles or for overnight stays, meals, and maintenance, and also to drop off broken-down trucks. (And hire locals to work at those places, giving them a huge incentive to cooperate against local Talibani.)
Bonus fact: I just learned also that Professor Starr is a world-class jazz clarinetist.
ASGHAR ACHAKZAI/AFP/Getty Images
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on May 21, 2009.
Longtime readers may recall my quoting the blog of Dena Yllescas several months ago. Her husband, Capt. Rob Yllescas, was killed late last year in Afghanistan. I happened to check back on her blog yesterday. She had been visiting her husband's grave:
As I was sitting there next to him, I couldn't help but think: 'This is so messed up that I'm visiting my husband in a cemetery.'"
If I could I would make everyone in Washington read her blog.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on February 2, 2009.
A friend who has read this series on the small but deadly battle at Wanat last summer suggested that we should consider one more issue -- that is, what this incident might tell us about the war in Afghanistan.
I think the insights of this infantry veteran, who must remain anonymous because of his position, are important. Let him explain:
We are so very exposed in this land-locked country, with no infrastructure, not nearly enough enablers, not enough transport... it's frightening, really.
. . . [R]emind folks that this is an enemy that may in fact look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon 2006 than al Qaeda in Iraq. This is an enemy that apparently has no problem massing force in space and time, and is tactically proficient at understanding our weaknesses. My own view is that we have to employ a properly resourced COIN mission . . . while simultaneously ensuring that those folks out in the hinterland have all the enablers they need. A tough problem.
Not only are his points important but they get at a key problem that the battle of Wanat highlighted: the ongoing, long-running confusion between a counterterrorism mission and a counterinsurgency one. How do the two fit together? The U.S. military, embroiled in two such wars now simultaneously, in Iraq and Afghanistan, would do well to spend more time on that question.
That's all I have. I am sure there are more lessons here. What else should we understand about Wanat?
U.S. Department of Defense.
By Lt. Lucas Enloe
Best Defense guest columnist
I can definitely understand Mr. Woods' perspective, from a number of levels. Having carried rucks weighing upwards of 60 pounds up mountains, I can certainly say that it sucks. I'll admit that I haven't done any rucking in Afghanistan yet, where it would only suck even more. That said, Mr. Woods' argument that applying the philosophy of extreme alpinism would significantly reduce soldier loads is wrong. As an avid alpine mountaineer myself, I can safely say that even the extremest of alpiners would still be forced to carry heavy packs on extended trips. Take, for example, an 8-day trip up and around Mt. Rainier. Even when climbing with some incredibly talented and experienced mountaineers, the average pack weight was about 65 pounds. Food weighs a lot. And that was operating under the convenience of being able to melt snow to get fresh water. Soldiers in Afghanistan don't have that luxury.
Imagine all the food, water, and gear a hiker would need for even a short three-day hike. Now add a weapon, your basic combat load of ammo, radios, and a week's worth of batteries. And contrary to Mr. Woods' point, even if I was carrying no extra weight, I'd still need a significant amount of water, you know, because I'm doing combat patrols at 7,000 feet in 95 degree weather. The problem isn't that soldiers and NCOs are taking more than they need, the problem is that what they need is pretty heavy. As much as I would like to say "Yeah, let's make our weapons and ammo and armor and water lighter!" I know the ridiculous amount of time and money it would take to do that.
Mr. Woods then argues that somehow the 60 pound ruck is a major cause of difficulties in counterinsurgency operations, and then implies (I think) that we should do without body armor or helmets. I don't think I need to go into more detail other than to say that I strongly disagree. Unfortunately Mr. Woods' lack of military experience is the primary reason for a large part of his argument being infeasible.
That's not to say that all of Mr. Woods' points are wrong. The Army has, to an extent, recognized the need for lighter gear in Afghanistan (see the introduction of plate carriers, M240Ls, etc...), but I think it can do better. By studying the design of similar gear in the civilian sector, I think we can make the load easier on our soldiers. Take, for example, the shape and design of our rucks. If you compare your standard issue ruck with some large-capacity expedition packs made by companies like Gregory or Arcteryx (or Mystery Ranch, whose packs I've seen running around in Afghanistan), and you'll notice that the Army's ruck is much rounder, whereas the packs are narrower, but taller. Having carried both I can say with absolute certainty that my civilian pack is far superior to my issued ruck. I think that by studying the design philosophy of civilian mountaineering equipment the Army can continue to improve our gear.
Again, though, any major changes in gear take time and money. Until then, we'll have to continue to rely on the NCO corps to train our Soldiers, both physically and mentally, to deal with the burden they'll bear in combat. I definitely welcome any disagreements or other perspectives on this issue.
Lucas Enloe is an Army 1LT currently in Afghanistan. He has years of experience in walking uphill.
Capt. Charles Eadie, a previously enlisted soldier who graduated near the top of his West Point class in 2007, and then went to the London School of Economics, was busted and charged with selling anabolic steroids to an undercover police officer in Columbus, Georgia. He has pleaded not guilty.
Here is an interview he did about his career when he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. In it, he mentions that he had a "troubled past" and actually was on probation when he first tried to enlist. "There is definitely a darker path that I could have taken in life," he says, somewhat ominously.
You BD hardasses probably all want to throw the book at him. Maybe I am just a softie but I wonder if he was trying to feel the thrill of living close to the edge, a bit of the adrenaline of combat.
I didn't know it was possible, but Col. Wayne Steele has served in the Marine Corps for 41 years. Now 61 years old, he is deployed to Afghanistan. He's been a gunnery sergeant and a CWO5 and, for the last 30 years, an officer. One of his sons will retire from the Army before he retires from the Marines.
It reminds me of the time I saw an old soldier wearing an Americal combat patch in Baghdad. But he had broken time.
Is anybody else bothered that the U.S. Senate is going through Brett McGurk's old e-mails to his lover, whom he married? What business is it of the U.S. Senate? I mean, it isn't like the guy is going on a soft ride to Paris. He is up to be the ambassador to Baghdad. They should be thanking him for being willing to go to live in one of the world's worst climates, where violence is still rampant, and where the Iranians will make his professional life not so much fun.
Where is our sense of decency? I think the Senate owes this man an apology -- an apology, sir.
By Ryan Woods
Best Defense department of the soldiers' load
Just a quick hit on the picture on your Afghanistan piece today that I've just been thinking about lately. Seriously, the combat loads that the U.S. military saddles people with are just crazy pants. 60 lbs just to walk around? INSANE. Batshit crazy. Foolish. Dangerous. Stupid.
Even the military's own reduction goals per that report are in no way adequate. They need to be shooting for a weight reduction along the lines of 80-90 percent (at least). In other words a total re-imagining of what it is our troops NEED to be lugging around, the design/materials/build of every last piece of equipment and probably for good measure, a reassessment of how each piece of stuff promotes an actual part of whatever given mission...all the way up to how each piece of stuff supports our overarching strategy in a theater.
Probably the best place to model this on would be to take a page from (unfortunately named) "extreme alpinism." EA is as much a philosophy as a segment of the sport, positing (basically) that every gram you carry does nothing but slow you down and expose you to more danger on your climb and so you should only bring the absolute brutal minimum. Weight = time = danger. It sounds insane but in the last 20 years or so it has been the philosophy behind some pretty amazing feats, ones that are simply impossible using a convention load. Ultralight backpacking is of a piece if not quite as...er...extreme. (See here also.)
This approach leads to a virtuous circle: lighter, more selective equipment leads to being able to use lighter, more selective equipment and the ability to move faster...necessitating less equipment...whereas the current paradigm forces heavier and heavier loads as a way to "manage" the heavier and heavier loads. The perfect example of this is the water loads, WTF! Duh, if a guy has to wear 60 lbs of crap to walk around in the summer, he is going to sweat balls and need to drink like a fool, which means he has to carry more water, which means he has to drink more water just to carry all his water. Bangs head. Or...why does a guy need big huge boots? To keep from turning an ankle trying to run under fire whilst carrying 100 lbs of crap he's never going to use. Of course!
And I'm sorry, but if you were an Afghan villager, and one of these sweating alien-looking a-holes in moon-boots plopped down in your village, would you be helpful or just derisive? Yeah, me too.
I imagine that the single thing most corrosive here is the body armor/helmets. And believe me, I totally get why someone would want to wear it. But it is just like a medieval knight...too bogged down, sweaty, and hot with the weight to be effective. Weight = time = danger. And I am sure that the armor, just like a knight's armor, physically removes people from interacting.
Side benefit: Even if they get the full load down to 20 lbs (an amazing, if not really radical, reduction in crap), you are looking at female soldiers being comparably much more effective.
I am not now nor have I ever been in the military. I am however a lifelong serious outdoors junkie and know a thing or two about being outside and figured I'd toss out a totally different paradigm.
Ryan Woods is a lifelong backcountry skier, hunter, outdoorsy gear obsessive who has been known to overpack but recognizes the value of light packing.
Maj. Fernando Lujan gave a fast-paced, lively talk on the future of the American mission in Afghanistan.
His interlocutor, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, kicked off this part of the CNAS conference with a provocative question: Aren't most Afghan soldiers lazy, corrupt guys just waiting to shoot an American soldier in the back?
Lujan tackled that one quickly. Yes, he said, there are some terrible and corrupt senior leaders in the ranks. But for every one of them, he said, there are several good aggressive junior leaders. As for shooting Americans, he said, some of those incidents come from the Taliban, but others are the result of the "well of resentment" that builds up when Afghan soldiers see the contrast between how they live on a base and how Americans have air conditioning, the internet and other "luxuries." Afghan soldiers are also treated insensitively, and spoken to as if they were recruits being corrected by a drill instructor.
Furthermore, he said, the Afghan perspective tends to be different -- our people are on a one-year sprint, and want to see results, while many Afghans have been in the fight a long time.
The Afghan war is about to get very interesting, Lujan said. "The really hard part begins right now." With the number of American troops declining, he explained, American advisors increasingly will be forced to let the Afghans lead the way, and do it their way.
One place to watch, he said, is Zabul Province, just north of Kandahar, where the Taliban is very active and where two Afghan battalions are operating "without coalition assistance." The problems the Afghans encounter are not lack of infantry training or ardor, but lack of medics, mechanics, and logistical support.
Lujan heads back to Afghanistan in a couple of months for another tour of advisory duty, Chandrasekaran said.
If you are a glutton for Afghan stuff, here is another discussion, from the American Security Project.
I just finished reading Robert Graves' autobiography of World War I service for the fourth time. I read it first as a teenager in Kabul in 1970. (I have no idea how I happened to come across it there in Afghanistan, or why picked it up.) I think it was the first book of military history that ever really grabbed me, for which I remain grateful. I can't think of any other book that I have read four times, except perhaps for some of Shakespeare's tragedies.
I read Graves' memoir again in my 20s, at Yale, and then in my 30s, in Washington, D.C.. It was different book each time for me. I realized recently I hadn't looked at it in about 20 years, so picked it up to see how it felt now. I also wanted to see what had captured me so much in the previous readings.
I have to say I was less impressed this time. The first and second times I read it, it seemed kind of shocking. This time it felt a bit tame. That might be because I have read so many other memoirs, some stronger, and also seen some war myself in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and, Afghanistan.
Some passages that struck me this time:
--On how to pick platoon leaders: "Our final selection was made by watching the candidates play games, principally Rugger and soccer. Those who played rough but not dirty, and had quick reactions, were the sort needed."
--At the front, "I kept myself awake and alive by drinking about a bottle of whiskey a day. I had never drunk it before, and have seldom drunk it since."
--His friend Siegfried Sassoon on leave in London: "very ill, he wrote that often when he went for a walk he saw corpses lying about on the pavements."
--After the war, "It has taken some ten years for my blood to recover." Also, "strangers in daytime would assume the faces of friends who had been killed."
It made me wonder the extent to which for Europe, World War I, with its industrialization of killing, was the event that set the tone for the entire 20th century. I think that maybe for the U.S., World War II was more significant, but maybe not for Europe, and especially for the British.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, the 82nd Airborne's deputy commanding general for support, has been sent home from Afghanistan under a cloud. "This is a criminal investigation," a military spokesman ominously told the Fayetteville Observer.
What up with that?
It reminds me of a story a historian of the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth once told me. Eisenhower was busting a major general who had gotten drunk and talked about top secret stuff in a hotel bar in London. "Don't send me to Leavenworth, Ike," the major general supposedly said. "No general has ever done time at Leavenworth."
"No, they haven't -- colonel," responded Ike.
(This may be one of those tales too good to check out. I read tons of WWII history over the last three years, including lots of Ike's papers, and I never saw this exchange recounted. But it does resemble the story of Maj. Gen. Henry Jervis Friese Miller, a senior Air Force supply officer, who got drunk at a party at Claridge's hotel in London and announced that the D Day invasion of France would take place by mid-June. (See "Army and Navy: Silence is Golden," Time Magazine, June 191944.) After his indiscretion was reported, he wrote to Eisenhower, a West Point classmate of his, recognizing that he would be relieved, but asking that he be allowed to keep his rank. Eisenhower denied the request and reduced him to his permanent rank of colonel. Miller went home and left the army a few months later.)
Or, if they do, have only vague memories, and at the time certainly didn't understand what had happened. So reports Michael M. Phillips in a depressing article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. Read it even though the owner has been found unfit for decent company. (But hey -- this is the United States! When was that ever a bar to owning a newspaper? Or working for one? Newspapers are full of misfits, which often becomes evident only when they are promoted to management jobs. In its glory days the Washington Post specialized in aggressive narcissists of all stripes, while the Wall Street Journal's sweet spot was passive-aggressive middle-aged white males.)
The other day while riding on the Washington, D.C., Metro I jotted down this summary of a typical American commander's mode of dealing with his Iraqi or Afghan counterparts in local security forces:
1. Upon arrival: "Ok, Ahmed, Mohammed, whatever you name is, there's a new sheriff in town -- and you're looking at him."
2. Weeks later: "Colonel Localguy, Major Otherguy, please sit down. Here is a Powerpoint briefing on what you're gonna do."
3. Weeks more later: "Ok, I got it. I can be sensitive! So, colonel, this is what we are gonna do."
4. Many weeks more: "Now that I am beginning to understand this place, this is what I think we should do."
5. Months into the tour: "I'm at my wits' end. What do you think we should do?"
6. Near end of tour: "Before we leave, is there anything I can do to help you achieve your goals?"
Repeat with each rotation until the American people tire of the war.
Or, as Maj. Norman Stephenson put it in a recent Leavenworth interview, "The biggest lesson that our military needs to take away from this experience was that until we were ready to trust, train, and recognize the Iraqi military and police force for what they were, we didn't help the country. Upon that, we recognized what the people needed was an Iraqi Army, an Iraqi government, and an Iraqi police force to protect and work for them, not an American Army to protect them and work for them."
I read my list of six stages to a colonel I know who commanded a battalion in Afghanistan. "Yep," he nodded. "Why can't we start with number 6?" Rotation of commanders, he noted, is no way to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. More about that in my book later this year.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Last week, France lost one of the fiercest among their canine fighting force, the 132e Bataillon Cynophile de L'Armee de Terre. On April 17 Fitas, an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois, succumbed to injuries he sustained while serving in Afghanistan.
According to the Armée de Terre's Facebook page in April of last year, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Fitas uncovered an ambush awaiting French troops. Apparently, the dog not only alerted to the danger, but was key in warding off the insurgents during the attack that followed. Unfortunately, during the upheaval, Fitas was captured and held captive for months.
My French is a little rusty but from what I could tell, there are at least two accounts of what happened after that fateful night. As one story goes, Fitas was found (some versions say rescued) by the Afghan National Army and returned to his unit stationed at Camp Warehouse near Kabul. According to Facebook, the brave dog escaped on his own mettle though it doesn't detail how he made his way back to his fellow troops last August.
Sadly, what finally took down this warrior dog was an injury he suffered either during the initial attack or while poorly treated during his captivity. Reports say Fitas contracted some kind of disease or infection from the wound, something that was apparently too pernicious or too far advanced to treat.
For his bravery, Fitas received commendation from General Ract Madoux, who awarded the dog with the Gold Medal of National Defense with the Silver Star.
In the above photo, Fitas poses with a French soldier in Kabul on Sept. 10, 2011. Note his front-left paw, the site of his injury, easily distinguished by the reddish coloring.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
By Gary Anderson
Best Defense chief buzkashi correspondent
Before we have an argument over who lost Afghanistan, we should make sure it is really lost. I'm sitting in Afghanistan as I write, and I can say that it hasn't gone anywhere. A score of pundits, many of whom have never been here, have written the place off.
At some point, we need to ask ourselves what we really expected from Afghanistan. As I remember it, we went in to rid the country of al Qaeda and associated foreign fighters. In 2001, the country was ruled by the Taliban, and they were giving sanctuary to Bin Laden and his minions; so we toppled their government, and put one in that would not tolerate al Qaeda. In the process, we decimated the terrorists' haven there. That is pretty much where we are today. So what is lost?
Somewhere along the line, we got into mission creep. Instead of being satisfied with a relatively stable but likely decentralized state, we encouraged our local allies to build a strong, centralized democracy on European lines in a country that lacks the infrastructure and traditions to have anything of the sort. That vision may simply have been a bridge too far. In its most peaceful periods, the entity that we call Afghanistan was more a region of communities that a nation-state. Those rare periods when it came under strong central rule were often the result of an exceptionally energetic and militarily capable leader, and central governance rarely survived that individual's passing. Afghanistan differs from Iraq in that respect. With its relatively flat terrain and fairly sophisticated road system, Iraq has always had a strong tradition of centralized rule.
Just because Afghanistan is not becoming France or Germany overnight, we should not infer that it is incapable of keeping foreign fighters out of the areas that its security forces control. Many provinces and districts are remarkably well ruled at the local level, even when the government in Kabul fails to give them the type of support that they desire or believe they deserve. Most of these places fall within the security bubble provided by the Afghan National Army (ANA). Although imperfect and immature, the ANA has become the most respected Afghan governmental institution, and many of its commanders show an ability to work with local governments and non-governmental organizations that exceeds the standards of Central Asia and the Middle East. That may be as good as it gets in the near term.
As to the places that the Afghan surge never reached, we may need to rely on other means than conventional governance to keep al Qaeda and its surrogates out. That may come in the form of an agreement with the Taliban in areas that they still control to exclude al Qaeda and other foreign jihadists. We might also employ some combination of paying local militias to hunt the foreigners down and counter-terror operations by special operations forces.
While less than optimum, Afghanistan today presents much less of a haven for international terrorism than its neighbor Pakistan. Contrast Afghanistan with Somalia, a country we decided to abandon to its own fate in 1993 when we decided that it was not a threat to United States national security. Today, we see an active network of al Qaeda affiliates operating openly. Lacking even the semblance of a national government to work with or bases with which to launch counter-terror strikes, we are forced to tinker at the margins of a growing base for international terrorism. There are countries on the verge of becoming like Somalia, but that are not as bad off as Somalia is, or Afghanistan was, when we first arrived.
The real benefit of the lessons we have learned in Afghanistan through the expenditure of much blood and treasure may be in keeping places from Yemen and Mali from getting to the point where Afghanistan was in 2001. If, by using a relatively small cadre of Special Forces trainers and civilian advisors, we can stabilize troubled states before they fail or fall to radical Muslim insurgents, we should do so. In that regard, our experience in El Salvador in the eighties and early nineties of the last century may be more instructive than Iraq in the counter-terror operations of the future. However, we have learned much from both Iraq and Afghanistan. We largely know what works and what doesn't. The only tragedy of Afghanistan would be to forget what we have learned as we seemed to after Vietnam.
We haven't lost Afghanistan, it was never ours to lose, but we have given them a chance to decide what they are going to be. That's likely to be as good as it gets.
Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps Colonel, is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University's Elliott School. He has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a counterinsurgency and governance advisor for the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
It is striking to me how little President Obama says about the war in Afghanistan.
The situation reminds me a bit of Iraq late in President Bush's term. Bush had no credibility on the issue, so had to rely on General Petraeus to become the face and voice of the war. It wasn't fair to Petraeus, maybe, but someone had to do it, and Petraeus did, most notably in the September 2007 Senate hearings that effectively quashed congressional sentiment for a quick withdrawal.
But that isn't the problem now. I think Obama has a good deal of credibility on foreign policy and national security issues, perhaps more than any Democratic president since FDR (although the extraordinary narrowness of the backgrounds of Obama's White House national security team continues to worry me -- basically they are Hill rats and political hacks). Maybe there just isn't that much to say about the war. But I think there is.
If the Petraeus parallel held, either General Mattis (the Centcom commander) or General Allen (the commander in Afghanistan) would step in. But Mattis apparently has been muzzled by President Obama, and Allen still seems to be getting accustomed to the white-hot glare of global publicity. I actually think the gag on Mattis is a mistake -- the American people like straight talk, even if it doesn't play well in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
I read most of Alex Berenson's 'The Shadow Patrol' on a flight from Philadelphia to Manchester, England, across the Atlantic Sea.
It's the first "post-Osama" novel I've read, which gave it an extra fillip. He occasionally gets military stuff slightly wrong, which was a slight distraction.
Here are some of the lines I liked:
--"Terror and boredom, the twin poles of infantry duty." Yes, a familiar thought, but expressed quite succinctly here.
--The CIA view of the world. "We killed Osama. And no civilian casualties in the op. Not one. Ten years since 9/11 and no real attacks on American soil. Not even jerks with AKs lighting up a mall. We've kept our people safe."
--Pakistani duplicity. "Truths might be told in Quetta, but never on purpose."
--On the American public's lack of interest in our wars. "You go to a bar, guys buy you a round, ask about what you're doing. But if you tell them, their eyes glaze over. It's too far away, confusing. Plus they're ashamed about it because they're getting drunk in college, mommy and daddy paying the bills, and you're putting your butts on the line for them every day. They don't want to think about it."
--On today's American generals: "No one ever got stars on his collar by taking chances."
I'd also be interested in knowing if Joby Warrick thinks of the book. I will ask him.
I think I've mentioned that I can't find a good operational history of the Afghan war so far that covers it from 2001 to the present. (I actually recently sat on the floor of a military library and basically went through everything in its stacks about Afghanistan that I hadn't yet read.)
Here are some of the questions I would like to see answered:
--What was American force posture each year of the war? How and why did it change?
--Likewise, how did strategy change? What was the goal after al Qaeda was more or less pushed in Pakistan in 2001-02?
--Were some of the top American commanders more effective than others? Why?
--We did we have 10 of those top commanders in 10 years? That doesn't make sense to me.
--What was the effect of the war in Iraq on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan?
--What was the significance of the Pech Valley battles? Were they key or just an interesting sidelight?
--More broadly, what is the history of the fight in the east? How has it gone? What the most significant points in the campaign there?
--Likewise, why did we focus on the Helmand Valley so much? Wouldn't it have been better to focus on Kandahar and then cutting off and isolating Oruzgan and troublesome parts of the Helmand area?
--When did we stop having troops on the ground in Pakistan? (I know we had them back in late 2001.) Speaking of that, why didn't we use them as a blocking force when hundreds of al Qaeda fighters, including Osama bin Laden, were escaping into Pakistan in December 2001?
--Speaking of Pakistan, did it really turn against the American presence in Afghanistan in 2005? Why then? Did its rulers conclude that we were fatally distracted by Iraq, or was it some other reason? How did the Pakistani switch affect the war? Violence began to spike in late 2005, if I recall correctly -- how direct was the connection?
--How does the war in the north fit into this?
--Why has Herat, the biggest city in the west, been so quiet? I am surprised because one would think that tensions between the U.S. and Iran would be reflected at least somewhat in the state of security in western Afghanistan? Is it not because Ismail Khan is such a stud, and has managed to maintain good relations with both the Revolutionary Guard and the CIA? That's quite a feat.
Anybody got a recommendation on what to read that covers all this? Maybe articles that explain some of it?
Maj. Robert Stanton discusses learning how to do counterinsurgency in eastern Afghanistan in 2006-07:
If you have the intellectual humility to realize that you don't have all the answers, and you are willing to underwrite enough risk to let your junior leaders and soldiers do what needs to be done. You can take a group of American soldiers, give them a vague mission, and as long as you resource them, they're going to do things you never could have imagined them being able to do. They're going to solve your problems for you, half the time when you don't even know you have a problem. For me, the biggest lesson that I think I learned -- and I learned a lot of lessons from that deployment -- was that. As I continue in the military and as I see other leaders, you've got to have that intellectual humility, because you don't have all the answers, and you don't need to have them all. You've got some brilliant 21-year-old kid who loves what he's doing and is going to solve your problems for you if you just give him the freedom to do it, and you resource him enough to do it. You make him feel empowered to do it. If you can do that, then the things we can do as an Army are unbelievable. That's what I would say.
By LTC Kevin D. Stringer, Ph.D., USAR
Best Defense guest book reviewer
Robert Cassidy's War, Will and Warlords, (PDF will soon be made available for free), a study of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a must read for all scholars, policymakers, diplomats, and military practitioners seeking to understand the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus. Cassidy provides a number of salient points concerning uneven U.S. involvement in the region, the contradictions of Pakistan, and the counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches implemented on both sides of the porous region between the two states.
For the United States, Cassidy offers insights into how short-term and ill-advised American policies -- the support of the mujahedeen and Pakistani President Zia to name just two -- created the conditions that spawned Al-Qaeda and provided the Taliban on both sides of the Pashtun frontier a popular support base. Cassidy further demonstrates how U.S. financial aid underwrites Pakistan's military expenditures against India, which destabilizes the entire region.
Concerning Pakistan, the author explores its security policies, and how they contradict American strategy. Pakistan is Janus -- one "face" grudgingly supporting the United States with the Pakistani Army conducting operations against the Taliban on its side of the border, while the Pakistani intelligence service "face" promotes and supports the Afghan Taliban as a proxy against the Karzai government and India on the other side.
In his discussion of counterinsurgency, Cassidy illustrates that both the American and Pakistani militaries struggle in these operations because of embedded institutional and structural propensities for conventional war. For legitimacy, the insurgents challenge the Afghan and Pakistani administrations in the outlying tribal regions given low governmental presence and high levels of endemic corruption. For this theme, I would have liked to see the author engage in a more detailed critique of the quality of Afghan forces being trained by the United States for pacification efforts -- are they "shake and bake" or competent troops? Similarly, Cassidy's sober assessment of the capacity building projects executed to date would have added greater insight to campaign progress. These omissions left me with an uneasy feeling that Coalition and Afghan government efforts may not be as positive as described in the text.
The book is well-researched, and the author's soldier-scholar credentials are impeccable. Colonel Cassidy is a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College with both scholarship and experience in irregular warfare and stability operations. With a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, he has served as a special assistant to two general officers, a special operations strategist, and published two previous books, one on peacekeeping and the other on counterinsurgency.
My one major concern with the book is the chosen publisher, the Marine Corps University Press, whose marketing capacities may limit its wider dissemination. This book definitely deserves a broad readership given its relevance to U.S. policy-making in the region and future military campaigns.
Kevin D. Stringer, PhD, is an associate professor at Webster University, Geneva campus, and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Retired Army Col. Elspeth Ritchie has a good overview of Army suicides in Cerebrum, an online neuroscience magazine.
Among the things I didn't know:
--Researchers tend to believe that suicides are under-reported in the Army Reserve. (Is life always worse in the Reserves?)
--It isn't the soldiers with major injuries who kill themselves. "Perhaps counterintuitively, suicides among those who have major injuries are rare; more often a minor injury or backache contributes to depressive symptoms, a belief that one cannot 'be the soldier I used to be,' and irritability."
--The decision to commit suicide may be more a matter of what a unit has been doing than what an individual soldier has experienced. "Drawing my conclusions from ASER data and many other sources, I will argue that it is the unit's deployment history, rather than the individual's deployment history, that contributes the most to suicide risk."
--Access to weapons is a problem -- but the Army doesn't like to talk about that. "After reviewing hundreds of suicide cases, I am convinced that the easy availability of weapons is a major part of the problem. According to the Army's database, about 70 percent of Army suicides are committed with a firearm. In the theater of war, guns are normally the government-issued weapon. Stateside, a gun is usually the privately owned weapon. The gun in the nightstand is too easy to pull out and use when a person is angry or humiliated or fighting with a spouse. Yet discussion of access to weapons is the third rail in the military -- it is not often brought up in formal mitigation strategies. The Army Task Force did not address access to weapons at all. The DoD Task Force does mention means restriction. "
--As readers of this blog know, dogs help. "Wounded soldiers find that the presence of their service animal decreases their PTSD symptoms and their feelings of anger and fear. Veterans who would not leave the house will bond with their dogs, walk them, and regain structure in their lives."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.