By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
Before he went to war, Sgt. James Ide told his wife, Mandy, how he wanted the news of his death delivered to friends and family in the event that he was killed while on tour in Afghanistan. And on Aug. 29 she posted the following note on her facebook page:
I do not know what to say, but this is the way Jimmy asked me to tell his friends. Jimmy passed away this morning. He died in combat in [Afghanistan]. Jimmy loved his job and if he could choose a way to go this would be it."
Sgt. Ide's unit had been
"attacked with small arms fire near Hyderabad, Helmand Province, Afghanistan,"
and he succumbed to the wounds he received during the onslaught. Ide, who had
also served a tour in Korea and two others in Iraq, is described by
family and friends a lover of animals who "enjoyed writing poetry and riding
motorcycles and was endlessly curious about the world." The 32-year-old handler
is survived by
his wife, their two small children, and Ddaphne the bomb-sniffing dog who was
on patrol with him the day he died.
Ddaphne, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois who loves to fetch, was with Ide for four years and was "always at his side." Though the dog made it through the late August attack that killed her trainer, but she suffered severe PTSD as a result of the ordeal and the military decided she had to retire from service.
That's the question an Army officer asked me recently about the program, which was started in the fall of 2009 to try to develop a cadre of specialists who would bring a long-term commitment to operating in Afghanistan and so bring more coherence to the effort.
So I began poking around and the answer appears to be: It has had some growing pains, and the jury is still out, but it sure is taking time to get right, which is surprising, given the priority attached to it.
Most striking was an internal survey of members done last August and September. Of the 127 then in Afghanistan, 99 responded. An overwhelming majority of respondents, a total of 80, gave the program a grade of 65 percent or less, which the survey states was the benchmark set for "program success."
The survey also included some revealing comments from participants:
--"I cannot leave the FOB PERIOD."
--"Based on how the program has dramatically strayed away from that original intent, I think the program is headed away from success."
--"Scrap it entirely and start over with a clean piece of paper."
--"I would say AFPAK hands has failed...The real tragedy is that this AFPAK HANDS failure is self-inflicted."
--"From my perspective, given the stance of ISAF leadership the AFPAK HANDS program should be promptly terminated."
This is kind of stunning, given that Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, had designated the AfPak Hands program his no. 1 personnel priority. It made me wonder how hard it must be to start a new personnel program that doesn't enjoy the personal backing of the nation's top military officer.
I asked Navy Capt. James Muir, director of the in-country office that manages the AfPak Hands program, about the survey results. "The program has had its problems, and will have problems," he responded. "But it is improving daily, and more importantly, it is having significant impact on the ground. The program is succeeding, only time will tell if it is a success." That's not whistling past the graveyard, but it sounds a little like humming.
Capt. Muir made several points that he thought might put the survey in context. First, he said, when it was conducted, the program was new, and most of the respondents had only been in Afghanistan for a few months. At that time, "none of the Hands had enough experience or strategic insight to determine if the program would or would not work. The most they could say is that their individual assignment didn't align with the program's intent."
Also, he said, those AfPak hands who wanted to pull the plug on the program lacked the visibility to get an overall understanding of how it is doing. Also, he said, the program has been altered in response to complaints like those above: "significant changes were made in assignments, direction provided to commanders, training, and other aspects of the program." Every day, he said, he gets several e-mails from people in theater who want to join the program. Also, he said, of the 50 AfPakkers scheduled to go home in the next few months, about 15 have asked to extend their tours.
Muir didn't mention it, but in response to the September survey, Gen. Petraeus issued a corrective memo last October to make sure that the AfPak Hands were used in ways "consistent with the spirit and intent" of the program, and not just to fill staff vacancies. He also stated explicitly that the program manager had "complete authority to move Afghan Hands out of positions that are not congruent with the program's intent." And he gave permission for them to follow different security standards (such as living off military bases) and to wear local clothing.
Yet a few months after that memo was issued, one member of the program, Maj. Jeremy Kotkin, an Army strategist, ran a piece in Small Wars Journal that said commanders in Kabul were preventing the Hands from operating as intended: "The current command environment forces Afghan Hands to drink coffee at Green Beans with other Americans rather than chai with Afghan coworkers in a downtown restaurant." It would appear that subordinate commanders aren't down with Dave on taking more risks. I mean, what's the incentive? Col. Jess Playitsafe isn't going to win the war by letting some of his people mix with the population, but he might hurt his career if one of them is killed or, even worse, kidnapped.
Another survey of the Hands was conducted in January. I haven't seen it but I am told that it was more positive, yet still reported major issues with the chain of command getting with the vibe of the program. It appears that some serious head-banging needs to be done by Petraeus or a deputy. It is funny how the military need to make everyone follow exactly the same regulation trumps a direct order from Petraeus to treat this handful of people differently.
I pinged some of the 225 AfPak Hands now in Afghanistan (out of a total of about 700 in the program) and they agreed with Muir that the program has improved. "The program has come a long way since I entered it back in Nov 2009," wrote Air Force Lt. Col. Cheryl Garner, whom you may remember from a previous appearance in this blog. "I've almost finished up my year-long tour here in Afghanistan and from speaking with new arrivals, it sounds like many of the recommendations made by my class for improving training were implemented."
Air Force Lt. Col. Tina Barber-Matthew said she believes that "the concept behind the program is spot-on. I can't begin to tell you how many doors open to me with my limited Pashto and limited access to the population."
Too bad the biggest impediment appears not to be the Taliban but our own chain of command. Reminds me of the problems the Marine Female Engagement Teams ran into.
By J. Dana Stuster
Best Defense jack of all trades
Analysts of the war in Afghanistan are sharply divided between cautious optimism and growing concern. The two panelists at the March 9 event held by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies on "U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Way Forward" were Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal and Gilles Dorronsoro, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and they both fall into the latter camp. The resumption of the fighting season will determine which of these perspectives is more correct, but until then, here are four broad points where the two sides meet.
Sustainability is the key -- So can the much-touted gains in Helmand and Kandahar be sustained? Dorronsoro doesn't think so. He believes it was a mistake for the surge to emphasize the south while the Taliban's leadership is based elsewhere. "The moment Obama sent 40,000 troops to Kandahar, the surge was a defeat," he said, explaining that the Taliban is gaining in the northeast. He used his own metric of success: "can I take a taxi there?" According to Dorronsoro, that level of security is a long way off still, in both the south and the northeast. Roggio expressed his doubts in more measured terms, explaining, "The Taliban is patient," and despite efforts to cut off their financing, they can afford to wait because "the money always comes back." "And it's all about the money," Dorronsoro added, "The Taliban never have a problem finding men."
Deadlines are dangerous -- The current strategy has the goal of passing security responsibilities to the Afghan security forces in 2014, but stipulates that this will depend on conditions on the ground. Roggio said that the United States should plan on a longer commitment, maybe a decade. He was careful not to speculate on the means, "but we need to tell Afghanistan and Pakistan that we're not leaving," he said.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
There's a new program in the works to
get U.S. military dogs combat-ready -- by giving them an old school work out. A
small group of canines (and their handlers) are hitting the track and the
treadmill in an attempt to see if dogs that are more
physically fit are more successful in the battle field.
The conditioning that these dogs are undergoing is part of a test physical training program that originated at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and so far only a handful of bases are participating. The program centers around of two basic components, the foundation of any exercise regime -- strength and endurance. The strength conditioning consists of: "power fetch, obstacle work, pulls, center line drills, [and] weight pulls," while the endurance component is broken down into "brisk walks, runs, walk, [and] then a jog." As the dog improves the workouts increase in length and difficulty.
Pier, the Yellow Lab on the treadmill, is with the 460th Security Forces squadron at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, and one of the participating in the trial who certainly appears to not only be benefiting from the new routine, but thoroughly enjoying it. And Pier's handler, Sergeant Duritsky, is already seeing the upsides to having his canine partner join him for an invigorating workout.
I love the fact that I am able to PT with our K-9's. When we are down and do not feel like running they are always up for it. Like today when we were running, [Pier] started pulling me like 'hey, dad come on lets go.'"
In other, more somber, war-dog news, Theo and his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, who died in Afghanistan last week, were returned home to Britain yesterday together. Hundreds of people -- including dog handlers and their dogs -- gathered along the streets of the small town of Wooten Basset, to pay their respects.
Reports of the scene were heartrending:
As has become tradition, local people and Royal British Legion members joined [Tasker's] family and friends in tribute. A dozen dogs also joined the mourners, sitting respectfully with their masters as the hearse went by. Movingly, as a single bell tolled to mark the arrival of the cortege into the Wiltshire town, several dogs could be heard barking."
The Telegraph hosts a video of the pair while they were in Afghanistan here.
There's an interesting article on Taliban chants in the new issue of Small Wars and Insurgencies by Thomas Johnson and Ahmed Waheed of the Naval Postgraduate School. It's kind of Pashtun rap. Some have even been posted on the YouTube, they say.
One, which reminds me of Peter Tosh's old Downpressor, kicks off this way:
Oh Western dragon! Where will you go when we shut all the ways?
Oh Western dragon! Where will you go when we shut all the ways?
Oh Western dragon! You have an opportunity to run away now.
Hurry and get out of Kabul so that you don't regret when you are captured.
There's also some surprising content: In this one, which I take as a response to American counterinsurgency efforts, the Taliban also take on fire worshippers.
The enemies have come in the shape of friends. They look like human beings but they are wild animals. The act of disuniting people stays in their blood and their messages are look like flowers but they are full of poison. They have come under the banner of the friends but they are murderers.
The enemies have come in the shape of friends. They look like human beings
but they are wild animals. I have always made the destiny of this country. I
have brought happiness and beauty to my country. They have come under the
name of sympathy but they are muggers. They have come under the name of
sympathy but they are muggers.
The enemies have come in a shape of friends. They look like human beings but
they are wild animals. They are Jewish but half of them are idolaters. They are
fire worshippers who came from East and West.
When we have intelligence officers who routinely listen to this sort of thing, we will actually be able to operate in Afghanistan with effectiveness.
MOHAMMAD BASHIR/AFP/Getty Images
By Lt. Col. Cheryl Garner, USAF
Best Defense guest columnist
It was with tooth-grinding frustration that I read retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally's 18 February column in the Washington Post. In my opinion, she's done a disservice to women like me, currently serving in Afghanistan. Even more troublesome are the outright inaccuracies in her editorial, inaccuracies I feel compelled to dispel.
First, to the best of my knowledge, no commanders in Afghanistan are insisting that women who serve here have to wear a headscarf, or chador, as it is called locally. I bring this up because the very title of Col. McSally's article, "Why American troops in Afghanistan shouldn't have to wear headscarves," implies that this is happening. Actually, I have yet to see this. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Women service members whose duties call for them to interact with Afghans daily are frequently forbidden by commanders from wearing chador, even if they want to.
Second, McSally portrays the chador as a religious item. That statement is highly debatable. There are in fact non-Muslims in Afghanistan who wear chador because it is considered culturally appropriate, a fact that is seemingly lost on McSally, who apparently fails to grasp the wide cultural variance within the Islamic world, as evidenced by her "apples to oranges" comparison of wearing the abaya in Saudi Arabia to wearing the chador in Afghanistan.
McSally would also have readers believe two more inaccuracies -- that Female Engagement Teams (FET) comprise the majority of military women wearing headscarves in Afghanistan and that most local women in Afghanistan wear the burqa, the full-bodied cover, also known as chadoree in Dari. While FETs are indeed at the forefront of the headscarf debate, there are also women serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, on Human Terrain Teams, as Mentors to Afghan Counterparts, in Ministries and as Afghan Hands, like myself. Likewise, while you will find that many Afghan women in Pashtun areas of the country wear the burqa, the wearing of it is hardly uniform across the country. You will often find a mixture of traditional Afghan dress and conservative western clothing. In truth, how a female service member dresses when interacting with her Afghan counterparts should be dependent upon the situation, her environment and her judgment, not on McSally's ill informed opinions that she would see legislated by Congress.
A thoughtful BD reader asks what the fallout from political upheaval of the Middle East will be for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He suspects that there will be less Arab money flowing to the Taliban, and so an opportunity for the U.S. to finish its work and leave. I don't know about that, but I think it is a good overall question. It will have some impact in Iraq, I think -- and already has had a bit. Afghanistan is more distant from the events, and doesn't think of itself as Arab. But if the unrest starts accelerating change in Iran, then that will certainly affect neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had an upbeat take at the Pentagon yesterday (Tues.) on the situation with Iran: "Iran is the real loser here, whether they want to admit it or not. And they've had no hand in the change sweeping the region, except they one they have used to slap back their own people."
A friend said to me recently that the time to worry about Iran getting frisky in Iraq is at the end of this year, when the Status of Forces Agreement expires, and U.S. forces all have to leave. There inevitably will be a dragged-out round of negotiations about the post-2011 American presence, he said, and during that Iran likely will enjoy free rein in Iraq. Unless they are too busy at home ...
The next few months, however, will see the Brotherhood pushed out of its comfort zone and forced to play a more explicit political role. Given the presence of ideological trends inside the group hesitant to take on this role, it is likely that the requirements of an increased political profile will exacerbate internal divisions. To be sure, the group has, in recent years, developed internal consultative mechanisms that increase its ability to resolve debates while maintaining organizational cohesion. Yet with the advent of Egyptian democracy, this may not be enough. Repression, for all the problems it caused the Brotherhood, served to unify its ranks. When survival is at stake, a group can postpone answering difficult questions. Now, for the first time in decades, the Brotherhood will have little choice but to face them.
As for Libya, old Juan Cole estimates that Qaddafi has lost 90 percent of the country.
Few people know the ins and outs of the Bush Administration as well as the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, who is flat-out disgusted with the evasions and elisions in Donald Rumsfeld's new book. Here he explains why:
By Bob Woodward
Best Defense guest columnist
On page 527 of his memoir Known and Unknown, Donald Rumsfeld recounts what he says was an exchange on Oct. 14, 2003 with Condoleezza Rice who was then Bush's national security adviser. She apologized for a flap over Iraq policy at the time.
You're failing," Rumsfeld said.
"Don, you've made mistakes in your long career," she replied.
"Yes, but I've tried to clean them up," he said.
Rumsfeld's memoir is one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others -- including President Bush -- distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away. It is a travesty, and I think the rewrite job won't wash.
The Iraq War is essential to the understanding of the Bush presidency and the Rumsfeld era at the Pentagon. In the book, Rumsfeld tries to push so much off on Bush. That is fair because Bush made the ultimate decisions. But the record shows that it was Rumsfeld stoking the Iraq fires -- facts he has completely left out of his memoir.
For example, I reported in my 2004 book, Plan of Attack (p. 25), that at 2:40 p.m. on 9/11, with the smoke and dust still filling the Pentagon, according to the notes of two of Rumsfeld's top aides, Rumsfeld mused about whether to hit "S.H. @ same time," not only bin Laden. One note taker reaffirmed this in an interview with the 9/11 Commission, and said that "S.H." referred to Saddam Hussein. (p. 335 of Commission report, and p. 559 footnote 63). None of this is in Rumsfeld's book. But he does cite the aides' handwritten notes for other quotations he uses in his book to recount that day. (p. 343 of his book, and p. 759 notes 30, 31 and 32. The notes are of senior Rumsfeld aides Victoria Clarke and Stephen A. Cambone.)
On January 9, 2002, four months after 9/11, Dan Balz of The Washington Post and I interviewed Rumsfeld for a newspaper series on the Bush administration's response to 9/11. According to notes of the NSC, on September 12, the day after 9/11, Rumsfeld again raised Iraq saying, is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?
When Balz read this to Rumsfeld, he blew up. "I didn't say that," he said, maintaining that it was his aide Larry DiRita talking over his shoulder. His reaction was comic and we agreed to treat it as off the record. But Balz persisted and asked Rumsfeld what he was thinking.
"Yeah," Rumsfeld finally told us. "I wanted to make sure that -- I always ask myself, what's missing. It's easy for people to edit and make something slightly better. But the question is, what haven't we asked ourselves? So I do it all the time. I do it here, I do it in cabinet meetings or NSC meetings. It was a fair question."
"I don't have notes," Rumsfeld insisted. "I don't have any notes." His memoir cites his personal handwritten notes dozens of time.
One of the important questions about the Iraq War has always been about when and who started the Iraq clock after 9/11. On page 425, Rumsfeld alleges that Bush on Sept 26, 2001 -- just 15 days after 9/11 -- called him to the Oval Office. "He asked that I take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq..." Rumsfeld provides no footnote for this scene.
When I interviewed Rumsfeld at his Pentagon office on Oct. 23, 2003, Rumsfeld had a different story. "I do not remember much about Iraq being discussed at all with the president or me or the NSC prior to when the president asked me to -- asked me what I thought of the Iraq contingency plan -- that I believe was November 21st of '01." He was confident of the date because six days later he went to talk with the combatant commander for the region, Gen. Tommy Franks. "And I would not have waited long from the president asking me."
White House records and President Bush's recent memoir, Decision Points, support the Nov. 21 date. "Two months after 9/11 I asked Don Rumsfeld to review the existing battle plans for Iraq," Bush wrote, placing the request in November 2001 (p. 234)
The question of the date is not just a matter of whether something occurred on a Monday or a Thursday. On Sept. 26, 2001, the Bush administration was focused on Afghanistan. The first CIA team had just entered and the bombing had not yet begun. By his own account Rumsfeld was intensely trying to figure out how to begin the military aspect of Afghanistan War with bombing and inserting Special Operations teams.
At a Camp David meeting on Sept. 15 -- eleven days before Rumsfeld says Bush made his first Iraq war plan inquiry -- Bush rejected going after Iraq. In fact, Rumsfeld himself writes, that "at the September 15 NSC meeting at Camp David days earlier when Iraq had been raised he [Bush] had specifically kept the focus on Afghanistan." (p. 425)
According to Rumsfeld, on Sept. 21, he and General Franks "drove over to the White House to present his initial operational concept" for Afghanistan (p. 370) and a more detailed approach was given to Bush on Sept. 30 (p. 373). It is inconsistent with everything known that in the middle of all that planning and anguish over Afghanistan, Bush would raise Iraq on Sept. 26.
However, by Nov. 21, the United States had had unexpected success in Afghanistan and controlled half the territory. Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters had fled the capital Kabul into Pakistan. If Bush were looking for another target -- and he clearly was -- that would be the time, not on Sept. 26.
Another key question: When did Bush finally decide to commit the United States to war? Rumsfeld writes, "Up until the very minute the president authorized the first strike [March 19, 2003] there was no moment when I felt with razor-sharp certainty that Bush had fully decided." He does describe a meeting Jan. 11, two months earlier, when he met at the White House with Cheney, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, and Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Rumsfeld quotes Cheney telling Bandar, "The president has made the decision to go after Saddam Hussein." In his book Rumsfeld adds, "Of course, Bush would not irrevocably decide on war until he signed the execute order." (p. 450)
Over the weekend the estimable Rajiv Chandrasekaran had a good rebuttal piece about the Caldwell info ops situation. Says the complaining lieutenant colonel was a Texas National Guard guy who wasn't used for psyops anyways.
Here's a view from the staff trenches written by a guy who went through his own 15 minutes of fame as an unhappy camper in the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. He sees this basically as an instance of office politics in wartime:
By Lawrence Sellin
Best Defense guest columnist
It might be even sillier than you imagined.
Rolling Stone 's Feb. 23 article, "Another runaway general: Army deploys psy-ops on U.S. senators," by Michael Hastings, claims that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTM-A) illegally employed psychological operations to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war. According to the article, a military cell devoted to what is known as information operations (IO) was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation. Ultimately, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, received a potentially career-ending General Officer reprimand.
Here is how it likely happened.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
At 56 lbs, Edy, a three-year-old Sable Shepherd, is small for his breed. He's also the survivor of recent surgery to remove a cyst from one of his hind legs, but according to his handler Staff Sgt. Pascual Gutierrez Jr., you'd never know it. A relentless worker with boundless energy, the "pint-sized" Edy is tough and was quick to get back to work -- which is why Gutierrez likens his partner to Rudy.:
He has a big heart and never gives in or gives up. He's very driven and it more than makes up for his size. He's a pure threat now but if he had a little more weight on his side, he'd be a powerhouse."
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
When soldiers deploy what happens to their dogs? And their cats and horses and the many other beloved animals they call pets? Some are fortunate enough to have spouses, friends, or other family members who are willing to play temporary guardians, but others don't have the option to leave their pet in a familiar home.
Such, reports the The Las Vegas Review Journal, was the case with Brian and Kristle Adelman, a couple who was set to deploy to Afghanistan together, but with nowhere to leave their two dogs -- Pepper and Rambo. But just as the last, most-dreaded option loomed -- an animal shelter -- another one presented: Guardian Angels.
These angels took the form of not one, but two families, each taking one of the Aleman's dogs. But officially, this is the work of Guardian Angels of Soldiers Pets -- a non-profit, volunteer-run foster care program established in 2005 with the sole purpose of placing soldiers' pets in temporary homes for the duration of their deployment.
The Guardian Angels website has a great collection of dogs and cats that have been successfully placed in foster care and everything you want to know about finding temporary shelter for your pet, becoming a foster parent, how to help the program stay afloat. The site also hosts a blog "Tails from the Front Line" with some great testimonials.
The Conklins, the couple who took in Pepper, the Aleman's Black Lab, just consider fostering a soldier's pet while he or she is deployed all part of their civic duty and are treating Pepper like one of their already large canine family. "They're like our fur children."
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
Out of my tattered Lands End attaché bag this week came Hew Strachan's article titled "Strategy or Alibi? Obama, McChrystal and the Operational Level of War," which appeared last September in Survival. Yes, I have been carrying it around for months, but only got to it now because, after focusing on My Lai for the last two weeks, I needed a break from the Vietnam War. It was either that or a shower or walk around the block every 15 minutes. I think most people have no idea how bad My Lai was.
But I digress. The Strachan article is definitely worth your time. I'll read anything the guy writes. Even when I disagree with some of his answers, as I did with this article, I find he always asks good questions, which is by far the more important and harder thing to do. (Because why? Because if you figure out the right question, eventually you may find the right answer. But if you can't ask good questions, you'll just waste everyone's time and energy.)
Strachan argues that the operational level of war became important as the U.S. Army sought in the 1980s to regain its self respect. It did this first by elevating doctrine and making it the province of the uniformed military, and so reclaiming that area of thinking from the civilians who had captured that flag in the 1950s and early 1960s when questions of nuclear warfare predominated. Secondly, he says, by talking about the operational level between tactics and strategy, the U.S. Army created an area that was "a policy-free zone, in which military expertise was unfettered and where armies reasserted their authority over war's conduct." (160)
And so, in 2003, he notes, Tommy Franks instructed Paul Wolfowitz to "keep Washington focused on policy and strategy. Leave me the hell alone to run the war." In other words, says Strachan, "Franks was stressing his desire to focus on the operational level of the war, his professional comfort zone; he did not want to be concerned with strategy, precisely because it lay at the civil-military interface." (165-166)
So far, so good. But then I think Strachan goes off the tracks a bit. Like a doctor whose diagnosis is spot on but who errs in prescribing the remedy, he argues that this sort of operational approach became problematic because it assumed the existence of strategy. But what, he says, if "strategy has been absent throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan"? (166)
I actually think that may have been true in Iraq until late 2006 or early 2007, because until then, American generals tended to offer up aspirations rather than strategy. But I do think we had a strategy under the Petraeus/Odierno/Crocker team. What may have thrown Professor Strachan off the scent is that the strategy couldn't be stated explicitly. I don't think I really understood this clearly when I was writing The Gamble, and Strachan's paper helped me think it through.
Looking back now, I would say that the Petraeus/Odierno/Crocker plan was to extricate the United States from Iraq. In order to do this, they needed to intensify fighting for several months, put the insurgents on the payroll, and keep the American public more or less supportive, or at least not demanding an immediate withdrawal.
Strachan writes, "Crudely put, Field Manual 3-24 took the place of a coalition strategy for Iraq in 2007." Rather, I would say, it was the only part of the strategy whose face could be shown publicly. It was the part of the strategy that was going to help keep the American public (and American officials) engaged. It was a way of saying, Yeah, the U.S. military screwed this up, but we can do better, so give us one last chance.
I also think Strachan underestimates COIN. Yes, it is partly tactical, but done effectively it is has to be more. First, done right, corporals don't need to understand chapter and verse of strategy, but they can act in ways that support the strategic goal. (I remember Col. H.R. McMaster instructing his 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment troopers that, "Every time you dis an Iraqi, you're working for the enemy.") Second, done right, it brings non-military factors into the equation. Finally, it must always be judged in political terms, and so inevitably connects the tactical to the strategic.
Bottom line: Talking about the "operational" level just confuses things, I think.
Mackubin Owens's new book, US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11, landed in my mailbox recently. I haven't had a chance to read it yet because I am deep into Vietnam War research and have about another 30 books to go before disappearing into the archives again later this month. But the Owens volume looks terrific. (Mac, by the way, is a Silver Star recipient who led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam and now leads classes at the Naval War College.) Anyone interested in this subject is going to have to get a copy.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images.
Sometimes it takes me awhile to catch up on the news. Yesterday I finally read an article from the September 2010 issue of Service Contractor magazine that I'd been carrying for awhile in my Land's End canvas attaché bag.
The news: It concludes that more than 2,000 contractors have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Contractor deaths now represent over 25 percent of all U.S. fatalities" in those conflicts, write Steven Schooner and Collin Swan of the George Washington University Law School. (I would bet that contractor KIAs are far higher, since there is no indication that non-U.S. deaths have been tracked with any fidelity.)
In Iraq in both 2009 and 2010, and in Afghanistan in 2010, contractors were running ahead of the U.S. military in losses, the article indicates.
Speaking of Iraq: Can you imagine the family conversations amongst Iraqis fleeing homeward from Cairo? "Let's go to Beirut, you said, it's nice. And then it wasn't so we moved to Egypt -- you said, it's stable, the same old guy has been in charge for 30 years. Where next, Mr. Smart Guy, Libya?!"
And speaking even more of Iraq, here, courtesy of Joel Wing and Best Defense commenter Stephen Donnelly, is everything you ever wanted to know about the map of Iraq, and more. The thing to remember is that, contrary to widespread belief, Iraq is not an invented country:
This myth, with accompanying imagery of British adviser Gertrude Bell and Winston Churchill dividing up the Middle East during an English Garden party (before jumping down Alice's rabbit hole for further entertainment), is incorrect and misleading.
The general political and administrative boundaries of modern Iraq conform with well-understood historical and physical boundaries with three exceptions: Kuwait, the waterways south of Basra, and the undefined desert regions: Kuwait, once part of the Ottoman Basra province, emerged as a separate "nation" under British tutelage; the desert boundaries, with few permanent inhabitants, remains a somewhat ill-defined place (despite paper demarcations); and, the waterways were further defined by much later treaties between adjacent Iran, but the "Thalweg," the center line of the waterways, continues to naturally shift against Iraq's interests.
With few exceptions (Kuwait and minor Iraq/Iran border areas), the settled Iraqi population has known where Iraq was, including Kurds (who were very aware of which part was Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Kurdistan), on a generational basis, and those boundaries remain unchanged.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
By Paula Broadwell
Best Defense wandering reporter
Two years ago, a small team of female Marines -- drivers, engineers, cooks and other specialists -- began conducting "female engagement" initiatives with women in southern Afghanistan. If winning the hearts and minds of the local population was the goal, they thought it behooved them to amicably engage 50 percent of the population, women to whom American soldiers had virtually no access because of cultural and religious boundaries in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Since then, the Marines expanded the program and formalized their training linguistic, cultural, and tactical training in advance so they weren't left learning on the job ad hoc, sometimes painfully and with the begrudging support of a commander. Their rapport-building efforts, which included medical outreach and the establishment of micro-finance projects to help women generate income, were soon recognized by Gens. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, both of whom pushed for the Army to officially adopt the Female Engagement Team (FET) program over the past year.
Engagement with Afghan women over the past nine years has not been non-existent. Initiatives include outreach through existing organizations, such as Agri-business Development Teams, Human Terrain Teams, Civil Affairs Teams, and Female Treatment Teams. In addition to these engagement platforms, FETs are another enabler within the toolbox. One representative in a Special Operations Unit here says they should not be viewed as an independent capability, but rather a complement to other enablers.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
Excited chatter on the Ferrero Rocher circuit in Kabul includes a new possible name for the post of U.S. ambassador -- one Richard Armitage. No wonder they're in a tizz -- the 65-year-old 'Nam veteran was the muscular number two at the state department during 9/11. He was said to have leaked the name of Valerie Plame in the Nigergate affair, and warned Pakistan that the US would bomb the country "back to the Stone Age" if it continued to back the Taliban. Our man in Kabul, Sir William Patey, has already proved a big hit; together, they could make quite a double act.
This actually makes sense if you think that the U.S. needs to deal pretty quickly and decisively with its two great problems in the region -- destructive Afghan governance by the Afghans and Pakistani complicity in Afghanistan's agony. I do.
But I'd be surprised because the Plame stuff could make the confirmation hearings difficult. If he is confirmed, when Petraeus challenges him to a run, as is his wont, the weight-lifting Armitage can offer to bench-press Petraeus a few hundred times.
(HT to TD)
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
Plastered across the top of Pfc. Colton Rusk's Facebook page are photographs of a black Labrador Retriever, named Eli, who always looks like he's smiling. Rusk was a dog handler who had enlisted in the Marines right out of high school and Eli, the four-year-old bomb-sniffing dog, was his partner.
The pair was serving in Afghanistan when Rusk was hit by Taliban sniper fire on Dec. 6, 2010. Eli was the first to reach him where Rusk fell. The dog crawled on top of Rusk's body, ferociously protecting his handler "[snapping at the] other Marines who rushed to [Rusk's aide]. 'Eli bit one of them,' said Rusk's father Darrell, recalling the story told to him by other Marines."
Colton Rusk did not survive the attack. He was 20 years old when he died.
What a great bunch of comments you all posted yesterday. That's not just me flattering you -- Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq actually wrote an item about you all. Here's a comment from "IRR Soldier," posted in yesterday's discussion of PTSD issues, that puts the argument about the all-volunteer force (AVF) in a way I hadn't see before.
The issue is that the current AVF must maximize the deployment days from a minimum number of people. This puts the unit's numbers ahead of what is good for the soldier, the unit and the Army. We have deployed thousands who first line leaders knew should never have been deployed (see: front page of today's WaPo for the latest installment). We have deployed soldiers in the throes of medical, emotional and family crises.
The AVF and the 4 year enlistment and 8 year MSO it necessitated, ensures that first term enlistees will see repeated combat deployments before they have a chance to bow out and go home with honor.
As stated above, in many CMFs and units, a 4 year hitch = 2 combat deployments on active duty and likely a 3rd in the IRR. With the USMC 7 month deployments, this adds up to even more. Is this asking too much and is it immoral? My answer is yes on both counts - especially since we've known since 1943 that >180 days in combat really messes with your head!
A draftee/volunteer hybrid force would mitigate the toll of repeated and prolonged deployments. The 2 year term for draftees and 3 year term for volunteers along with Army policy ensured that soldiers would not be sent back unless they affirmatively volunteered to reup, extend or go back.
40 years later we are handcuffed by the AVF and condemning first term soldiers to possibly 3 deployments in their 8 year MSO. This is a hell of a lot of sacrifice for so few. The moral policy is to allow our young soldiers to serve a tour and then decide whether its time to go home with honor or stay in the Army. Instead, there is no light and the end of the tunnel and we do everything legally and pharmacologically we can to get them back in combat as soon as we can.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
Here is a sensible response to the item I had earlier this week about whether sometimes aiming for literacy in recruiting local security forces means sacrificing other skills, such as knowledge of rural ways or ability to operate at night.
By Adam L. Silverman, Ph.D.
Best Defense guest columnist
In regard to training Afghan security forces, whether police or military, I don't think there is a need to trade off. Rather we need to adjust our understanding of where the populations (because in each area of Afghanistan the population is going to be different) are at in terms of education and literacy and development and then appropriately adjust our training expectations, goals, and regimens.
A lot of what we are dealing with, especially out in the rural, more rural, and really rural areas, are individuals that are used to other forms of learning. For instance, memorization of the Quran/auditory repetition rote memorization and experiential/observational learning through watching others do some task. So to train up the potential recruits, many of whom are certainly not well educated (by our standards) and many may be functionally illiterate, using training and education methods that we would use for recruits in the United States or in Europe, means we are going to fail. The training should instead focus on finding the hafezes (those who have memorized the Qurans) or other notables or elites in the training cohort, building them up as an exemplar to be followed (to start with ask them to recite from the Quran, placing the request within the framework of "would you honor us by sharing this with your fellow students and us?") emulated, and imitated, and then reinforce through repetition of the task. This mirrors the social learning environment of how people learn from groups; specifically the imitation and reinforcement. Once we get them cracking away at being good police or soldiers in terms of tasks that don't require high degrees of literacy, then we can begin the hard and lengthy remedial literacy training. At the same time we tackle the literacy issue as an educational development operation by working a large scale literacy project among young Afghans, which is the demographic that will take to this type of education the easiest. They can then be mobilized to help their elders and create a reinforcing cycle.
Adam L. Silverman is the culture and foreign language advisor at the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College or the U.S. Army.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone reporter who took out Gen. McChrystal, returns with a profile of Gen. Petraeus. As best as I can tell, Hastings has nothing new to say.
Cliches such as "King David" abound in the article, but the low point is this hackneyed quote:
"Karzai is crazy -- or crazy like a fox," says Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the leading opposition figure. "He's too skillful at playing games and too retarded when it comes to the rationale. He can't play the role the people of Afghanistan and the international community expect him to play. He will get deeper and deeper into this problem and drag us down as well."
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
The 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines has suffered a casualty rate in Afghanistan so far of more than 17 percent, according to this interesting article by Mark Walker of the North County Times.
Another Pendleton Marine, Cpl. Chad Wade, was with the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marines. Katie Wade married him on September 18, 2009, and was widowed 14 months later on December 1, 2010. I find her blog almost too painful to read, like when she says her cheeks ache from holding back tears. "I wonder why I have to hurt this much?" she wonders. "Why am I 20 years old and widowed?"
But read on I do. "Is this real?" she asks. "I swear sometimes I sit back and just can not believe this is happening. It's like a slap in the face that my life isn't just a movie...this is what I have been handed and I have to deal with it. I'm not living someone else's life until he gets home."
Her request to the world is worth keeping in mind:
"I'm not looking for people to tell me stuff to try and make me feel better if it doesn't make them comfortable... Just talk to me. Talk to me like you would any other day. If I wanted talk about the situation with you I would. So to the people who are walking on eggshells with me and not quite sure what to say...just talk to me as a friend."
(HTs to Dan H and David W)
By Deborah A. Bradbard, Ph.D.
Best Defense clinical psychology department
U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords' extraordinary progress has captivated the nation, and the exemplary medical care she has received this far leaves hope that she will recover from her injuries. Reportedly, she already has begun initial rehabilitation.
Descriptions suggest her care will include what is widely considered the gold standard in rehabilitation, Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy (CRT), which is considered the treatment of choice for traumatic brain injuries because it is comprehensive, individualized, multidisciplinary, and coordinated. The goals of CRT are to restore cognitive function to the extent possible, maximize functional adaptation to the injuries sustained, and to encourage compliance to recommended treatments. A large body of respectable scientific evidence exists to support CRT's effectiveness.
Here's the bad news: Thousands of military veterans who have sustained life altering traumatic brain injuries similar to Giffords' do not receive this coordinated, holistic, and individualized rehabilitative care because the military's insurance provider, Tricare, does not cover CRT for its beneficiaries (military personnel, veterans, and their families).
Best Defense gender relations correspondent.
On Jan. 10, the Veteran Administration released a report on veteran mental health that concluded that that women were more likely to have their PTSD claims denied than their male counterparts.
This was a landmark day for veterans groups. American Women Veterans and other organizations had been asking for this kind of study for years. VA officials initially put too much emphasis on combat awards, for which many women are ineligible. As Senator Mark Warner, who asked for the VA study, said in a letter to General Shinseki, "The difficulty with these guidelines is that the standards for these decorations vary from service to service and in some cases, unit to unit."
Thankfully, the VA has changed the policy. Now the presumption is that a female interpreter who is attached to a combat unit is exposed to the same hazards and trauma as her male counterparts. Women who had their PTSD claims denied under the old policy will now be able to reapply for benefits. Thousands of women who were initially denied PTSD treatment could now be eligible for VA care.
This announcement came in the same week that a study released by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended dropping the ban on women serving in combat units, sparking of a renewed debate about women in combat. AWV founder Genevieve Chase has called the existing ban largely a matter of semantics. "Commanders have gotten around the policy for years by 'attaching' women to units they cannot be directly assigned to." On Jan. 12, Sgt Zainah Creamer, a female dog handler working with the 502nd Infantry Brigade, was killed in Afghanistan.
Reasonable people may disagree about what roles women should fill in the military. American Women Veterans would like to see the existing policy rewritten to more accurately reflect what women are now doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. A rewritten policy might prevent problems like the VA's old PTSD guidelines. General Casey, Army Chief of Staff, has been hinting about a revision to the existing policy for months.
Whatever comes of the debate, one thing is certain. The enemy will get the final vote.
Matthew Collins is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and spent ten years as a Marine officer. He is a veteran advocate with American Women Veterans.
By Lt. Col. David Flynn, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Thanks, Tom, for allowing me to contribute. For those who think I don't have the time nor should I be involved in the business of blogging, I feel privileged to exercise my First Amendment rights in the name of the Constitution I have sworn to support and defend.
I'm glad that Mr. Foust has gained a certain degree of civility in the debate, and I respect his positions. Before I dive into the Tarok Kalache discussion I want to reiterate a couple points made in my initial post that apparently were not clear. No weapons have been issued to the Charqolba ALP, and the vetting process, not yet complete, IS thru the MOI and other government officials.
We're not arming "militias," and we monitor the program in concert with the local police by living in the village with the prospective members. We all recognize the risks moving forward, but have entered this venture wholly with the Afghan government and citizenry at their request in our district. To fully describe the ALP program would require more space than this blog can hold, so allow me now to step into the eye of the hurricane in this Taliban sanctuary elimination discussion.
We arrived in June of 2010, fully vested in the population-centric COIN principles promulgated by the former COMISAF, Gen. McChrystal, FM 3-24, and nearly a year's worth of preparation to fight in Afghanistan. We didn't walk into our initial fight and seek air support at the first sound of gunfire because we were very much in tune with the potential adverse effects on the population we are trying to separate from the insurgent.
Our intelligence suggested the enemy was meeting the surge in Arghandab with hundreds of IEDs and mines, turning a relatively small area into a veritable minefield. During the relief in place as explained by some other readers we saw firsthand the density of mines and IEDs laced throughout the battlefield. In the first one hundred days of fighting we saw more than 200 IEDs in a 2 by 6 kilometer area roughly equivalent to an IED exposure every 60 meters patrolled on foot by our soldiers. The enemy had the advantage of knowing the terrain, excellent cover and concealment to conduct their attacks, and knowledge of where the IEDs had been inserted.
As we made our plan to clear the villages of the district we made an assumption that the villages were inhabited. We discovered soon after the initial raids that many of the villages were occupied by the Taliban, defended heavily with IEDs, and devoid of any civilian presence. We asked for and received all the enablers required to fight in a minefield. We fought for nearly 100 days prior to the assault on the Taliban sanctuary of Tarok Kalache. During those 100 days we endured multiple killed and wounded in action mostly from the IEDs/mines dotting the landscape. Never did these devices deter our soldiers from continuing forward and pushing the fight to the enemy.
During those 100 days, I became friends with the malik of Tarok Kalache. He explained to me on more than one occasion that there were no civilians living in his former village. They had all sought refuge in homes throughout the province, and all that remained in the village were Taliban fighters. We fought this enemy, 600 meters to the south of COP STOUT that we seized on July 30th. To those who think it's easy to simply move 600 meters through a densely vegetated minefield under fire, I will tell you I had other objectives to accomplish and devised a plan to take the village later in the fighting season as we did. It was part of the plan.
By Lt. Gen. David Barno (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense bureau chief, Army issues
Marty Dempsey's nomination as the next Army Chief of Staff means one thing: The U.S. Army has just won the big Powerball jackpot. For a service struggling with the grim realities of ten years of war, and facing an uncertain future of inevitable defense cuts, this wily cavalryman is exactly the right medicine to revitalize the force.
Dempsey leads the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), an organization once described as "the architect of the future Army." He's been acting commander of U.S. Central Command and served twice in Iraq. He's a scholar with a degree in English who taught at West Point. He listens and thinks. With coming budget belt-tightening, two wars winding down and a shrinking Army end strength, Dempsey is the pivot man holding a historic opportunity to re-shape the Army Next.
So -- what are the "gotta do" items in the next Chief's overflowing inbox? My top 10:
1) Finish the Fight. Both Afghanistan and Iraq will likely wind down on Dempsey's watch. Armies exist to fight and win wars -- and the U.S pays huge costs in peacetime so the Army can deliver the goods when the fire alarm rings. And this Army has delivered in spades, after some rocky starts. Now as these wars unwind, the U.S. Army must spare no energy in seeing that its remaining deployed forces, particularly in a major fight for Afghanistan, get everything the service can institutionally provide. Soldiers and their leaders have given their all for ten years, winning one war and beginning to turn the tide in another. But the bureaucratic Army track record here has been decidedly mixed (see: Rodriguez IJC HQ standup). Pull out the institutional stops.
2) Generation Keep. The officer and NCO leaders of this force rival the Greatest Generation of WWII fame. But in an Army soon to be largely back in the motor pools and on rifle ranges, these "war babies" could leave the Army in droves rather than stay in a stifling over-centralized, power-point-centric Army. The training-focused Army of the 80s and 90s so prized by today's general officer leadership is foreign to them, and returning to that auld sang lyne model may not scratch their itch. The next peacetime Army - - not the CPTs and MAJs, SSGs, and SFCs -- must change. A return to a bureaucratic garrison mindset is already becoming the natural line of drift. Micromanagement, hours of power point Quarterly Training briefs, and the occasional Combat Training Center rotation slapped atop of a newly resource-austere force could drive out many of these best and most experienced officers and NCOs in the Army's history -- people that the Army vitally needs for its next incarnation. The quality of who stays matters -- not just the raw numbers of butts in seats.
United States Library of Congress
Tom: In all the commentary I've seen on this continuing exchange, the one that most struck me was, What would you do if you were Lt. Col. Flynn and knew there were bombs built into the mud walls of the village -- that is, how many soldiers are you willing to lose if you don't knock down the walls?
Here is Josh's response to the colonel.
By Joshua Foust
Best Defense guest columnist
Many thanks to Tom for agreeing to host this discussion about tactics in Afghanistan. I, too, am impressed to see how quickly LTC Flynn responded to my admittedly heated criticisms of what happened in Tarok Kolache this past winter. However, there are some points I feel I should clear up:
To clarify: I am not an orator. I am a fellow at the American Security Project and a columnist for PBS, and before that I spent many years working on and in Afghanistan for the Intelligence Community. It is misguided to deride my expertise or experience in trying to evaluate what happened. Similarly, as the commander responsible for some of the decisions we're discussing, we would all have to agree that he can not be objective.
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
We're hearing more and more about soldiers who are taking multiple
tours to Iraq or Afghanistan, some heading back for a
seventh time. Our military canines' careers may be
short by comparison, but they're certainly not slacking on taking their fair
share of deployments. Take Lucky, a ten-year-old Belgian
Malinois with a
"graying muzzle," who just started his 4th tour of duty this week.
Lucky is now in Kyrgyzstan where his new handler, Staff Sgt. Chris Fall, served two previous tours. The pair (pictured above) is tasked with the "relatively safe" job of patrolling the grounds at Manas Transit Center. While serving in Iraq and Afghanistan Lucky was a patrol explosive detector dog on the prowl for "IEDs and weapons caches."
Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review
Ms. Broadwell corresponds, "I thought I'd ask LTC David Flynn, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th in Kandahar Provence, Afghanistan to clarify the Afghan Local Police initiative skepticism and punditry on one blogger's mind. Here's what Flynn had to say in response to Joshua Foust's blog.":
Tom comment: No matter where you come down on this, I am impressed to see Lt. Col. Flynn respond in real time -- very unusual for an Army that still likes to move 2.5 MPH in media engagements.
So, duck and cover, and here goes:
Flynn: It has been with great pleasure that I've had the opportunity to read the orator Joshua Faust report from his desk in the U.S. via Registan.net. It seems, unfortunately, Mr. Faust lacks the context to editorialize in a way that enables his readers to ascertain an objective view. My name is LTC David Flynn and have been operating in the Arghandab District since June 2010. This is my second deployment to Kandahar and have over 20 months of experience in the Arghandab. Allow me to explain the nascent ALP in one of 4 villages that we have stood up in my Area of Operations in response to Foust's punditry.
Foust: LTC Flynn decided to give one elder in a district the power to build his own militia, which that elder liked. The men he chose for that militia could not be vetted by the Ministry of the Interior quickly enough, so the LTC decided to abandon General Petraeus' orders and the legal restrictions on arming militias and give them weapons and training anyway. LTC Flynn's trainers are having a hard time convincing these men not to beat people in the street, but are hopeful they can be "smarter than the TB."
Flynn: The men chosen for this particular ALP were vetted by senior Afghan Police Officials, who are subordinate to the MOI, and vectored my way to begin a training process that is led by some of my finest infantry NCOs and mentored by an ODA Team operating in my AO. The ALP members have been approved also by the village Shura and are led to training by their Malik. We will issue them weapons to operate on their own after they have completed background checks, biometric screening, medical checks, District Chief of Police and District Governor vetting and final approval by the MOI. I expect this process to take a few more weeks before we are ready to issue weapons. The weapons are issued by MOI officials and at that time the District government will issue identification cards with the serial numbers matching the weapon issued.
Tom's bottom line: "one of the most important accounts on the subject to appear in years." By now you can guess that I liked it.
Politics and Prose
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.