By Christopher Swift
Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs
I've done fieldwork on the insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan and have studied the war there for nearly 15 years. I've also interviewed several very prominent rebels.
This would mark the first time Chechens have attacked any sort of U.S. target. Up until now their focus has been on Russia. This is a big deal. And it shows how the conflict in the Caucasus has metastasized into a kind of globalized jihadist theatre, at least in the minds of the young people fighting there.
These guys likely had no connection to the Caucasus Emirate in person; connection would likely have been online. This looks more and more like "resonant effects," rather than something planned and executed by a cadre-level organization.
Chechens I know are completely crushed. Let's hope the FBI gets to the remaining suspect before the Chechen refugee community in Boston does. Boston welcomed and protected Chechen asylum seekers like no other city. Those people will tear these kids to pieces for the harm they've done.
A midday update:
As I'm learning more and more, it looks like most of these "connections" would have been online rather than through working with a terrorist syndicate out in the field. These kids have been out of Russia for more than a decade. And it looks like they've been living highly compartmentalized lives as well.
Based on these facts, I doubt we have a Faisal Shahzad-style situation. The Caucasus Emirate is about two companies in size. Most of these guys are living in tents in the mountains and constantly moving between safe houses. Their reach outside the region is very limited. Even the Kavkaz website is run outside the region.
I've been in that terrain. It's very difficult physicial and sociological ground to traverse, even for a local. So I'd be shocked to see that they were connected directly to the group.
It looks like the bomber was in Russia just last year. If this is true, then we may in fact have a Shahzad-type event on our hands. It's still too soon to know whether this is international or a lone-wolf event based on these new facts.
Christopher Swift is an adjunct professor of national security studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a fellow at the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law.
Editor's Note: The headline on this post has been changed.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
I came across a series of photos of Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Special Operations dog, taken over the last few weeks in Afghanistan by Marine Corps photographer Sgt. Pete Thibodeau. The collection of images follows Wilbur through Helmand Province -- working security, encountering livestock, playing fetch in front of an idle Humvee, and watching a group of children, his ears pricked in earnest attention.
Today's post title (and the use of the word "adventures") isn't intended to be flippant -- Wilbur is a Special Ops dog, which means his job is especially taxing and dangerous. But Thibodeau's photos show the non-violent side of combat-zone living from Wilbur's point of view with its own kind of wonder and whimsy -- a view worth seeing.
More photos of Wilbur are after the fold but first a couple of War-Dog Announcements:
60 Minutes will be airing a segment on MWDs this Sunday, April 21, called "Sniffing Out Bombs." The show sent a correspondent out to Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, home to the nation's premier pre-deployment course run by the USMC and Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Reed Knight and his crew of experienced handlers. (I spent two weeks there last year.) Longtime readers of this column are likely to see the faces of those written about here on the CBS news show this week.
For DC locals (and supporters near and far): The Third Annual Annapolis 5K Run & Dog Walk is raising funds for America's VetDogs -- an organization that "provides service and assistance dogs, free of charge, to disabled veterans." The run will kick off at 9 am this Sunday at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Maryland. Looks like early registration has closed but walk-ups are welcome, as are dogs -- leashed, of course.
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
By Richard Coffman
Best Defense bureau of Vietnamese War affairs
Hanoi's War is an important book drawing on secret Vietnamese Communist Party and government archives and chronicling how Hanoi planned and waged war in Vietnam following the defeat of the French in 1954.
More than that, the book surfaces serious dissension at the highest levels in Hanoi over priorities, strategies, and resources undermining, among other things, preparation for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and leading to arrests and purges. Had Washington and Saigon had a clearer picture of this, the war certainly would have been fought differently, and the outcome might well have been more favorable. It's probably fair to say that we knew as much about Hanoi's leadership then as we do the North Korean leadership today.
As it was, this book describes how badly U.S. bombing in the North and significant ground incursions into communist base areas in Cambodia and Lao hurt Hanoi's war effort. It further shows the utter failure and enormous cost of Hanoi's major offensives in 1968, 1969, and 1972, which forced the North into greater dependence on the Soviets and Chinese and ultimately to engage in negotiations to force U.S. withdrawal.
The author, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, a native-born Vietnamese, naturalized U.S. citizen, and professor at the University of Kentucky, had access to a wealth of official Vietnamese language archives, personalities, and unpublished manuscripts. Among others, she interviewed Hoag Minh Chinh, once North Vietnam's leading communist theoretician and a purged dissident. She had access to the unpublished memoirs of the first of communist party First Secretary Le Duan's wives, who served in the Mekong Delta for years
Lieng-Hang not only plows much new ground, but does so in a well-organized, lucidly argued, and well-written chronological treatment of the Vietnam War and Hanoi's direction of it. Readers will be grateful for her facility in writing and organizing this substantively dense material, and that she makes clear that the archives she reviewed were sanitized and by no means complete.
To students of communist ideology and tactics, Hanoi's War neatly describes the rise to the pinnacle of power of communist party leader Le Duan and his close associate Le Duc Tho, and the marginalization of Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap. Indeed, these latter two internationally acclaimed heroes of the Vietnamese communist revolution, widely thought to wield unchecked power in Hanoi, sat out the Tet Offensive, Giap pouting in Hungary and Ho taking the waters in Beijing.
We further learn that despite Le Duan's repeated failures of strategies and tactics in the war in the South and immense personnel losses and the virtual destruction of the northern economy, he held on to power by virtue of brutal and non-stop repression. Even before the infamous Hanoi Hilton imprisoned U.S. airmen, it held scores of Le Duan's political opponents and dissidents, both real and imagined. His purges even claimed senior military officers close to Giap and some who helped plan the Tet Offensive.
In these and scores of less consequential matters, this book should humble Western intelligence and diplomatic observers, journalists, historians, academics, and the international left who got so much of North Vietnam wrong then and whose mistaken interpretations and judgments persist to this day.
Make no mistake, this is not revisionist history. The book's subtitle gives us a clue to her leanings: "An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam."
The author persists in describing the Vietnam War as "unwinnable" for the United States, which certainly must come as news to such eminent contemporary historians as Lewis Sorley and Mark Moyar, whose recent works, even without primary sources on Hanoi's troubles, make clear that the outcome in Vietnam was far from inevitable. Moreover, she has a palpable antipathy for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger even while brilliantly and in great detail describing how they simultaneously leveraged both Moscow and Beijing to squeeze Hanoi -- and against his deep instincts, Le Duan -- to get the best possible negotiated deal extricating the United States from Vietnam.
Indeed, Le Duan so preferred massive offensives designed to trigger popular uprisings in the South that he sent his right-hand man, Le Duc Tho, to Paris to keep the lid on the negotiations. This follows Le Duan's pattern in dispatching trusted generals to command the headstrong southern communists who believed their revolution was betrayed by the 1954 Geneva Accords. How ironic -- or perverse -- that Le Duc Tho won a Nobel Peace Prize for his service in Paris.
Finally, she attributes Hanoi's victory not to its persistence and tenacity, not to winning hearts and minds in the South, not to the enormous sacrifices of North Vietnam's armies and people, nor to U.S. politics which hamstrung and undermined the U.S. effort, particularly under Richard Nixon, but to the unwavering and irresistible pressure of post-colonial, third-world, anti-war nations fed by Hanoi's clever propaganda and diplomacy and eager to teach the United States a lesson. This, she avers, is perhaps the greatest legacy of Hanoi's war and serves as a model to those planning future revolutionary campaigns against Western powers.
This flight of fancy only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a major and unique contribution to our understanding of what we faced in Vietnam. Students of military history, the Vietnam War, and revolutionary communism have much to look forward to as these archives are more fully mined in the years ahead.
Richard Coffman served as a Marine Corps officer in Chu Lai and Danang, RVN in 1965-1966. He then served in the CIA for 31 years, analyzing the North Vietnamese leadership there from 1967 through 1972.
By Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
I recently had the opportunity to speak to approximately 1,400 majors attending the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. Army majors at CGSC are combat veterans. Over 80 percent have more than one combat deployment, and nearly 40 percent have deployed three or more times.
But for all the hardships they've endured over the past decade, the next few years will be still be challenging, but in a different way. Our active-duty Army will trim nearly 70,000 soldiers from its ranks, with over 24,000 being involuntarily separated. Those who make up our formations may become frustrated as training resources dwindle, and as soldiers spend more time at stateside bases performing duties that just a few years ago none of them would have even had time to do, like picking up trash and mowing the grass.
However, this cycle is nothing new. I first experienced it 37 years ago, as a second lieutenant fresh from West Point. In 1976, I joined an Army which had just emerged from a painful war in Vietnam, and was beginning to transform from a large conscript force of nearly 1.5 million soldiers to a smaller, volunteer Army roughly half that size. Many predicted that the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) would be an absolute failure; yet, by the time I was a major, our volunteer Army had won one of the most overwhelming victories in military history.
What made the difference? We did have great weapons, but our ultimate success was the result of the quality of our men and women in uniform. After Vietnam, we made leader development our top priority, investing in our people, and in their education and training.
In 1974 only 61 percent of recruits had a high school diploma. During the latter years of the draft -- as well as the early years of the AVF -- crime, drug use, and racial tensions ran high. To fix the force, we had to concentrate on recruiting and retaining quality people. We instituted a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs, eliminating nearly a division's worth of soldiers for substance abuse in the early 1980s. Instead of relying on draftees -- committed only to a few years of service -- we developed a skilled, professional Army. To grow such a force, we had to invest in programs which helped keep soldiers in uniform for a lifetime, such as increasing pay and offering re-enlistment bonuses. We also began to institute family support programs and child care services, making the Army a family-friendly institution. Today, 60 percent of the active-duty force is married.
The new Army required recruits with the education, intelligence, and motivation to operate its new high-tech equipment. We also discovered that the best predictor of successful adjustment to Army life was a high school diploma. Today, over 99 percent of our active-duty Army has a high school diploma or its equivalent, and recruiters are excluded from signing up those who score within the bottom tier of their mental aptitude tests.
Finally, the Army underwent a revolution in training, establishing its Combat Training Centers, starting with the National Training Center in the California desert in 1980. There, entire brigades could participate in large-scale mock battles with a fully-equipped Soviet-style opposing force. The training was so rigorous that many felt that a rotation through NTC was actually harder than the Gulf War.
Having spoken to the most battle-tested group of officers our Army has ever produced in my career, it's clear that we must retain the last decade's worth of talent and experience, all while cultivating the Army's future leadership.
Leader development begins with a focus on making leader training our number one priority. However, during peacetime, professional development is especially difficult. Units may be manned at less than optimal levels, and commanders may be tempted to "hang on" to a stellar performer, instead of allowing them to attend the developmental opportunities they deserve. It will be easy for many to justify short-term success for their organization at the expense of the long-term health of our Army. Our future leaders must be able to think strategically, understanding how their actions affect the Army at large.
They'll have to reflect upon, and write about, the lessons learned from the last decade of war, and they'll have to apply those lessons or principles to future conflicts. At the same time, they'll need to realize that future conflicts rarely resemble the last one. Our adversaries have noticed how reliant we are on digital communications -- and are trying to hack our computers, jam our signals, and neutralize our satellites. When these systems fail, we'll truly appreciate the value of leader development. Mission command can only succeed if the next generation of leaders is trained to think strategically -- "two levels up," as we say. We need leaders who can fight and win with minimal guidance. To do that, we must afford them the opportunities to learn and grow, and to capitalize on their unique experiences and knowledge.
LTG William B. Caldwell is currently the commander of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He will retire in July, after 37 years of active service, to serve as the president of Georgia Military College.
By Noel Koch
Best Defense guest columnist
In the run-up to President Obama's trip to the Middle East, apologists for Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy civilian convicted of spying for Israel, urged Pollard's release. This has become a recurring event led, strikingly, by Israeli leaders.
Here are two reasons why it is absurd to consider ever releasing Jonathan Pollard:
First, the Israelis have never told us who his co-conspirators were.
Second, the Israelis have never told us how much of the information they obtained was traded to nations hostile to the United States.
Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 while trying to escape into the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In March 1987 he was convicted in a plea bargain that permitted him to avoid a public trial, as a result of which there would be no public record and thus no public awareness of the full extent of his crimes or why he committed them.
The narrative aggressively promoted by his supporters in Israel and the United States paints Pollard as a committed Zionist prompted by his love for Israel and concern for its security. It ignores other facts, e.g. before he began spying for Israel, he had already reached out to other foreign intelligence organizations, one of which actually was an enemy of Israel, in an effort to capitalize on his position as an analyst with access to classified U.S. information. The plea agreement also helped obscure the fact that Pollard was bought and paid for by the Israelis; his motive was money, not warm feelings for the Jewish state.
Israel's damage control efforts included the contention that the Pollard escapade was a rogue operation not carried out through the nation's normal espionage channels. This much would prove to be true. Pollard was not being run by Mossad. As is often the case with missteps between states, this one was rooted in personal animus. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger's reluctance to put the lives of American military personnel at the disposal of Israel's interests promptly produced the usual result: a smear campaign in which Weinberger was implied to harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Especially ill-disposed to Weinberger was his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. Among other things, Sharon was convinced Weinberger was refusing to share intelligence of interest to Israel. Accordingly, Sharon set about to get the alleged intelligence on his own.
Sharon's agent in this endeavor was legendary Israeli intelligence operative Rafi Eitan. Rafi found his dupe in the buyable Jonathan Pollard. Here begins an aspect of the matter hidden from public view by the manner in which Pollard was prosecuted. It has served the Israeli narrative for Pollard to be seen as some sort of super spy. He was nothing of the sort. He simply exploited his trusted access to Navy computers to withdraw information his handlers instructed him to get. At least some of the documents were secured behind alpha-numeric designators. Pollard had no idea what these designators represented. He was simply told to extract the associated documents.
Thereupon rests one reason Israel has from the outset been anxious to retrieve Pollard, and one of several very good reasons Pollard should remain in prison to the end of his life sentence. U.S. intelligence personnel have long known that Pollard didn't act alone and that there were other, still unidentified (or at least unprosecuted), traitors to America involved in this undertaking. Who identified for Pollard the specific documents he was to pull out of the computers? Israel hasn't told us.
In the netherworld of espionage, competent national agencies trade information. It is known that the information Israel bought from Pollard was exchanged with other national agencies to the detriment of U.S. interests. Some of the damage to the United States is known. Some may not be. In any case, Israel has never given the United States a complete accounting of what was stolen (to be sure, Pollard himself doesn't know) and what was passed to enemies of the United States.
Jonathan Pollard got what he wanted: money, jewelry, and paid trips in exchange for his treachery; he got what he deserved: life in prison. Unlike Judas, who had the grace to hang himself in shame, he lives in the hope that his purchasers will spring him so he can enjoy the apartment set aside for him, the money they have been banking for him, and the hero's welcome they have promised him for betraying the United States.
Noel Koch served in the U.S. Department of Defense from 1981 to 1986. During this time he worked with Rafi Eitan, advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on terrorism, and later with Amiram Nir, who held the same position with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
The more I read, the more I am persuaded that getting the leaders of the U.S. military to recognize that marriages are different now is of utmost importance. Here is one:
As a military spouse and struggling professional, I've found that maintaining my career has taken Herculean efforts on my part. My spouse is still a CGO and I eventually had to resort to more creative measures to keep my career aspirations afloat. I truly believe there is a giant culture shift afoot in the military community and it isn't just Junior Officers...it's across the board. All military spouses, regardless of their servicemembers' grade are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to a shred of their professional identity...and many of us just give up. Unfortunately the price of giving up is astronomical and when these military spouses try to reenter the workforce 10, 15, or 20 years later, it's demoralizing and a slap in the face. Thank you for writing this piece. I am dying to hear more.
And here is another:
I am the wife of a JO currently stationed at Camp Lejeune. I am also an attorney. I have finally found work in the booming metropolis that is Jacksonville, N.C., with the caveat that I was offered only part-time work with no expectation of partnership (as everyone knows we will pcs in a couple of years). Further, I make 1/5th the salary that I made when we were married 5 years ago (my pre-Marine Corps life), and, to put that in perspective, my former law school and law firm peers are currently law partners making 3-4 times what I was making 5 years ago. Put simply, the lost income is staggering. Only I am responsible for my choices in life, and I certainly don't regret mine, as I love my husband and the Marine Corps very much. But I never imagined it would be so difficult to find work. I have applied for countless gov't positions -- anything to get my proverbial foot in the door, mostly contract procurement jobs for which a college degree is not required -- and have never gotten so much as an interview. Thank you again for posting on this topic. It is a frustrating life, for sure.
And from a thoughtful male, after reading some of the comments from men:
I think some of the critics on this thread are hammering on the wrong nail. They think they are hearing serving officers say, "I wish I was posted in or near a big city." What they are actually hearing serving officers say is, "I married an educated woman with some gumption. There's not a lot for her to do with her education and gumption in F-ville. If the Army doesn't think more about this, then I have two choices: (1) lose the career or (2) lose my spouse." I don't think this is whining. I don't think this is a case of guys saying I'm a wimp and can't make it in Fort Hole in the Woods. This is the voice of reason looking for some reasonable answers.
By Roxanne Bras
Best Defense department of innovation
If you're in the military and have a good idea, do you know where to go? As recent debates erupted over whether the military encourages innovation and retains talent, I asked friends this question. Many had vague notions about programs at Leavenworth/IDEA Program/Quantico, but not a single person said he had confidence in this process. Now the plural of ‘anecdote' is not ‘data,' but in the absence of a survey about junior leaders' confidence in senior echelon responsiveness, I'm going to venture a guess that the low confidence exhibited by my peers is not spurious.
But we've debated this before, practically every month. Compare all the junior officer blog posts saying that good officers are frustrated with a geriatric bureaucracy to all the senior leaders' assurances that everything is fine. What do you get? I don't know, because these discussions quickly become personal, distracted by red herrings, and unsupported by data.
So is the military encouraging innovation? We can write about it, or we can test it by reaching out to emerging leaders and listening to their ideas. A group of junior officers has come together to try and do just that. We're organizing the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF), a three-day conference at the University of Chicago, because we believe that our peers have great ideas, strategies, and inventions that can make our military better. And we hope that senior leaders will work with us in this process; this conference is developed in a spirit of duty to our military and its continued improvement, not disloyalty or arrogance.
(Un)fortunately, this conference couldn't be better timed: The military's run out of money. Now it must really think. DEF hopes to provide a place where junior leaders can come together to propose new ideas, network with people from different services and ranks, and learn how to translate ideas into action. General officers and civilian entrepreneurs are also attending, keeping us from just preaching to the choir.
And so you don't think we fully drank the Kool-Aid, we'll admit it: Slogans and buzzwords about innovation and change can sound starry-eyed. But the process of moving from brainstorming to actionable innovations is messy and hard to capture in a bumper sticker. That's why we want to move this conversation to a physical space where we can get together, discuss ideas, and help create road-maps for implementation.
Please take few minutes and check out www.def2013.com, then register and come to the conference! If you have an idea, no matter how random, technical, or high-level, submit it to our Ideas Competition. We'll be picking the best innovations, and the winners will be able to share their ideas at the conference. We've also arranged for an excellent series of speakers, and lots of time for small groups and informal discussions. Sign up for more information, tell us what you think on our Facebook page, get involved, and we'll see you in Chicago.
Roxanne Bras is a captain in the U.S. Army, and a member of the DEF board. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
By Jesse Sloman
Best Defense office of Junior Officer Issues
Millions of electrons have been spilled in the last few months on the subject of junior officer retention. As a company grade officer in the Marine Corps, I've been following the widening debate with great interest. Although assertions of a crisis in the JO community have yet to be proven empirically, the volume of interest this topic has generated speaks to its importance as a national security issue. It's also clear that questions about retention resonate among my generation of officers, many of whom are currently mulling their own decisions about whether to remain on active duty.
Despite this outpouring, one critical factor in manpower retention has remained unexplored: quality of life for spouses, over 90 percent of whom are women. Relationship status and spousal satisfaction are crucial influences on a servicemember's decision to stay or leave the armed forces, yet these issues have so far been largely overlooked. As women take on ever greater roles in American professional life -- they now make up a larger share of the national work force than men -- their attitudes and expectations will be increasingly at odds with the traditional role of the military spouse. This is especially true for the spouses of junior officers, most of whom possess bachelor's degrees, strong employment prospects, and belong to a generation of women who have been raised with the assumption that they have as much right to long and fulfilling careers as their husbands. I have seen this dynamic firsthand among my peers. Two of the most promising lieutenants I know, including one who graduated at the top of his TBS class, are planning to curtail their military careers primarily out of consideration for their wives.
Consider the difficulties a young educated woman faces when her husband commissions into the armed forces. As she watches her friends enter the workforce and embark on their new careers, she will almost certainly be forced to move to an entirely new community with little in the way of local employment options. If she is lucky enough to find a good job, her excitement will undoubtedly be tempered by the knowledge that within a year or two she'll be forced to move and start over. Every time she begins a new job search she'll be competing against not just all the other recently arrived spouses, but also against non-military locals who employers know will not be leaving in the near future.
The numbers attest to the difficulties spouses face in finding employment. A 2004 Rand Corporation study found that military spouses are less likely to be employed than their civilian peers and earn less money when they are employed. This holds true even when they are compared against civilian spouses with similar employability characteristics. Given these obstacles, it's little wonder that 85 percent of military spouses say they either want or need work. Of those who are employed, it's not uncommon to find spouses working in positions for which they are manifestly overqualified. I know a former government lawyer currently employed at a nearby unit as a Family Readiness Officer, a job that does not even require a bachelor's degree.
None of these issues is new for military spouses, but it is surely not lost on them that today they are being largely excluded from one of the most important demographic shifts in American history. As Hanna Rosin, journalist and author of The End of Men, explains: "For the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce [has] tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation's jobs.... Women dominate today's colleges and professional schools -- for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women."
To its credit, the Department of Defense has taken recent action to try and improve spousal employment with the creation of the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) initiative in 2009. SECO is made up of three programs: the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) tuition assistance program, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), and the Military Spouse Career Center. Unfortunately, a 2012 Government Accountability Office report noted that, "DOD is not yet able to measure the overall effectiveness of its spouse employment programs," so it is impossible to know if they are proving beneficial.
I suspect that, given the obstacles arrayed against it, SECO will prove inadequate to the task of providing JO wives with fulfilling long-term employment. Instead, the military may need to come up with more radical measures, such as reinstituting homesteading and increasing the number of unaccompanied tours to locations suffering from limited employment opportunities. Another option is to ensure that spouses' careers are given weight when assigning servicemembers to new duty stations. There are significant practical obstacles to both of these ideas, but over time they may grow to be considered preferable to the problems brought on by spousal discontent.
Ultimately, effective solutions will only be possible when there is widespread recognition that the military's current social model is a legacy of a different time. Today's young women will be increasingly unwilling to sacrifice their professional ambitions for their husband's military career. The choice for young officers will become stark: Stay in the military and make their wives unhappy, or get out and give them a chance to pursue their dreams as well. Unless positive measures are taken to increase spousal satisfaction, I fear more and more JOs will choose the latter.
Jesse Sloman is a lieutenant in the Marine Corps currently based in Okinawa, Japan.
In our cynical age it is easy to forget that sometimes the newspapers get it right. I was struck while reading George Orwell's diaries by the reports he cites in August 1939, just weeks before World War II began in Europe.
The Manchester Guardian comes off particularly well. It reports that month that "German mobilization will be at full strength halfway through August & that some attempt to terrorise Poland will be made."
A few days later, Orwell notes, the same paper's diplomatic correspondent predicted that "Spain will almost certainly remain neutral in case of war."
He may be retiring, but he remains quotable: "It's not an easy course. It's not designed to be. We're not here to get you in touch with your inner child."
Sgt. Maria Asenbrener/DVIDS
For the genre of "hard-won but sometimes humorous military wisdom," "Charlie Sherpa" mentioned these in a comment on the lessons of helicopter pilots, but they are too good not to run as a separate post.
1. Continually ask: "Who else needs to know what I know?"
2. Continually ask: "Who else knows what I need to know?"
3. Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires.
4. Never pull rank over a radio net.
5. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to learn.
6. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to communicate.
7. "I am responsible for everything my commander's organization knows and fails to know, learns and fails to learn."
8. Know when to wake up the Old Man. Also, know how to wake him up without getting punched, shot, or fired.
9. The three most important things in the TOC are: Track the battle. Track the battle. Track the battle.
10. Digital trumps analog, until you run out of batteries.
11. Always have ready at least two methods of communication to any point or person on the map.
12. Rank has its privileges. It also has its limitations.
13. Let Joe surprise you.
14. Don't let Joe surprise you.
15. The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't.
16. The problem is always at the distant end. Except when it isn't.
17. Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not.
19. The warfighter is your customer, and the customer is always right.
20. Bullets don't kill people. Logistics kills people.
21. Knowing how it works is more powerful than knowing how it's supposed to work.
22. Cite sources on demand. State opinions when asked.
23. Work by, with, and through others. It's all about empowerment.
24. Do not seek the spotlight, Ranger. Let the spotlight find you. Then, make sure to share it with others.
26. Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't.
By Lt. Col. Robert "Butch" Bracknell, USMC
Best Defense department of personnel reform
The Department of Defense needs to advocate for and implement certain reforms to ensure the Department is getting maximum return on manpower investments. Most notably, the 20-year retirement permits officers, including senior noncommissioned officers, to request placement on the retired list in the prime of their careers, denying the Department of Defense an opportunity to reap the benefits of 20 years of development and experience.
Smarter manpower management would find a way to extract additional value from a retirement-eligible servicemember by incentivizing his retention, perhaps in a reserve status, until service limitations.
In 2010, the Defense Business Board issued its report "Modernizing the Military Retirement System," recommending comprehensive restructuring of the military retirement system. The report concluded that comprehensive reform is warranted, and that a new retirement system based on an annual contribution model like the Thrift Savings Plan could contribute to military retirement sustainability. Citing unsustainable rises in costs, fairness to servicemembers who separate prior to retirement vesting, and the relative generosity of the military retirement system compared to civilian retirement systems, the board's Task Group that executed the study recognized that the "binary nature" of the system "creates a strong incentive for personnel to leave shortly after 20 years." The authors observed "in some areas of specialization, military servicemembers are only then reaching their peak performance."
After their initial service obligation, typically four to five years, and occasionally up to 10-12 years or more, active duty members take one of three options: (1) they remain on active duty, (2) they move to the reserve component of their service, or (3) they resign or allow their enlistment contracts to expire and separate from the armed services permanently. Active servicemembers can retire from active service after 20 years, which entitles them to 50 percent of their base pay as pension, where "base pay" varies in terms of calculation depending on the statutory retirement calculation system that applies to a servicemember's pay entry base date ("Final Pay", "High 3", "Redux", etc.). Each year served above 20 years raises the pension by 2.5 percent. Thirty years is the normal maximum career limitation, entitling the servicemember to 75 percent of his base pay in retirement (at 30 years, the usual "service limitation"). In unusual circumstances, certain colonels (with specific and unique qualifications) and general officers can continue to accrue 2.5 percent "bumps" in retirement pay up to a 100 percent base pay retirement benefit.
Reserve servicemembers who elect to continue participating until they have satisfied reserve retirement eligibility criteria obtain the same retirement benefit based on years of accrued service, participation "points," mobilization time, etc., but the benefit generally is deferred until the retired servicemember reaches age 60. A typical career path for one of these servicemembers is to serve four to eight years on active duty, then move over to the reserves to complete a reserve military career while pursuing a "primary" civilian career.
As I contemplated my own retirement from active duty at year 21, I realized I could be ready for new professional challenges. Simultaneously, I realized not only that I had not completely whetted my appetite for military service, but also that I had developed expertise and skills that could still benefit my nation in uniform. I explored my options; my manpower managers informed me that I could move to the reserves, just as if I had only completed four, six, or eight years of military service (an initial service obligation, or an initial obligation plus one or two assignments thereafter). The problem with this plan is that I would be sacrificing completely a $45,972 pension (based on 2013 retirement at O-5 with 21 years) for the privilege of continuing to serve. I love service as much as any Marine who ever wore the uniform, but my family cannot afford to forfeit a vested $46,000 annuity so that I can continue to serve as a reserve Marine.
The stark choice between an active duty career beyond 20 years and a reserve career that only makes financial sense if the servicemember moves to the reserve component earlier in his career, rather than later, counsels that there ought to be an accommodation for servicemembers caught in the middle. A the retirement-eligible officer with specialized skill, experience, and training, who is willing to continue serving as a reserve officer should be permitted to do so, without incurring a substantial financial penalty for the privilege.
Assuming my post-military career prospects are such that I am not going to remain on active duty to year 28 or 30, if I retire and walk away, taking my O-5/21 year/52.5 percent benefit with me, I am also depriving the Marine Corps of 21 years of accrued active duty expertise, nearly four years of cumulative post-9/11 overseas and deployed experience, and a substantial investment in my graduate education and fellowships. If I move to the reserve component, I forfeit a vested $46,000 pension. No rational economic actor would take this deal. As a result, if I retire this year, some other agency or company will reap the benefit of the Marine Corps's investment in developing me as a senior leader and technical expert for the past 21 years. There is no middle ground that would allow the military to reap that benefit, instead of some third party entity.
Moreover, the current system encourages the services to fill their reserve ranks with relatively inexperienced personnel -- an average officer who serves as an active infantryman for four years and as a reserve officer for 12 years is almost always less experienced and less competent at his military trade than an average officer (with similar intellect, talent, etc.) who spends all 16 of those years on active duty. Similarly, the officer who spends 25 years on active duty is deprived of the rich experience of life in the private sector or in another government agency. The absence of post-military experience may yield a less mature business sense for finance, logistics, and process management when compared to a reserve component peer officer who spends four years on active duty and 21 years as a chief financial officer or production manager at General Motors or Boeing. These two communities might be bridged by allowing career active officers to retire and continue service in the reserve component, as a career active duty/career reserve "hybrid." Such officers might represent the best of both worlds: abundant active duty experience, augmented by post-retirement private or other government sector experience that would benefit the third "tier" (the last 10 years) of the officer's combined active and reserve military career. Perhaps there ought to be a third "hybrid" personnel category that allows this to happen.
When an officer vests at 20 years and becomes retirement eligible under this notional system, he might have 3 options, instead of only 2 (stay on active duty or walk away). Those three options would be (1) stay on active duty, (2) walk away, (3) a hybrid option in which the board-selected officer could continue post-retirement as a reserve component servicemember while being paid the active duty pension already earned. In a case like mine, for example, once selected by a combined, proportional board of active and reserve officers, the officer would retire at year 20 and begin immediately to collect his "normal" (50 percent) pension. He would continue to serve for another 10 years as a reserve component officer while starting his second, post-active duty career. At the end of that 10 year reserve portion of his career, the retirement benefit would be adjusted incrementally and proportionately to account for the additional service beyond the 20 year mark. In fairness to those who stay on active duty, any increase to the hybrid officer's ultimate retirement pension would be fractionally adjusted; a smaller accrued benefit would vest in comparison to the hybrid's active duty counterpart who stays on active duty until year 30. At year 30, he would be eligible to collect 75 percent of his base pay, and the hybrid who retired from active duty at year 20 might collect some smaller amount -- perhaps only 57.5-60 percent at year 30 (0.75-1 percent premium per year served, rather than 2.5 percent per year). This would account for the 50 percent the hybrid would have already earned, plus some marginal additional compensation for the willingness to commit another 10 years in the reserve component. The formula might be adjusted to compensate for periods of mobilization; for example, if within that 10 year period of reserve service, an officer is mobilized for a major theater conflict for 2 years, then his active retirement would plus up to 55 percent, and the other 8 years of his reserve career might be compensated in retirement at the "normal" 0.75-1 percent rate. This notional officer eventually would retire with 22 years of active service (55 percent) of base pay, and his benefit would increase at age 60 to account for the other 8 years of reserve service (0.75-1 percent over eight years, for a 6-8 percent plus-up -- equaling 61-63 percent of base pay retirement annuity).
Purists may intone: "Bah, humbug. Pick one or the other. This is waffling. This is indecisive. This isn't the way we do things." Duly noted. But if the goal is to maximize return on investment, and to extract more value and service out of high-value, well-trained experts -- COIN experts, counterterrorism practitioners, logisticians, engineers, foreign area officers and regional experts, resource managers, aviators, strategists, cyberwarriors, physicians, etc. -- who have earned the right to walk away through 20 years of service, then we need a new paradigm for doing so. Modifying force management statutes and regulations to permit a new category of "hybrid" officer would improve the experience quantum in the most senior reserve ranks and would temper the loss of institutional knowledge and expertise when exceptional officers retire at year 20. There likely are multiple ways to realize additional return on our institutional manpower investment that fit each service's unique needs for manpower capabilities. This is but one of them.
Providing a third "hybrid" option in the future that makes financial sense to the servicemember while retaining talent for the total force is a win-win proposition. As we look forward to figuring out how to lean out the services and get the most return on our defense investment, it is clear the Department of Defense wastes an inordinate amount of human capital by allowing it to walk out the door at year 20 without providing any option for continued return on that 20-year investment. Proposing authority to Congress to modify the military retirement scheme to allow a 20-year retirement plus reserve continuation permits the Department to honor the "20 year deal" while extracting additional service value out of officers during the last third of an officer's potential 30-year career.
This option is far superior to letting talented, capable officers simply walk away at the 20-year mark with an annuity and a gold watch, taking 100 percent of their abilities and experience with them to a new employer.
"Butch" Bracknell is a Marine lieutenant colonel on active duty, but perhaps not much longer.
In a footnote in the Orwell diaries, I learned that more British civilians were killed by enemy action during World War II than were members of the Royal Navy (60,595 vs. 50,758).
Meanwhile, in other news related to World War II, for the first time in nearly 70 years, there is not a single American tank on German soil.
I like this list below. First, it is a good summary of the wisdom and humor in one military field.
Second, it is typical of a military genre -- the grim but humorous compilation of hard-won knowledge. I've seen multiple copies of a similar one on infantry ("Friendly fire, isn't"), but would like to see other examples you might have.
EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW IN LIFE I LEARNED AS A HELICOPTER PILOT IN VIETNAM.
1. Once you are in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.
2. It is a fact that helicopter tail rotors are instinctively drawn toward trees, stumps, rocks, etc. While it may be possible to ward off this natural event some of the time, it cannot, despite the best efforts of the crew, always be prevented. It's just what they do.
3. NEVER get into a fight without more ammunition than the other guy.
4. The engine RPM and the rotor RPM must BOTH be kept in the GREEN. Failure to heed this commandment can affect the morale of the crew.
5. Cover your Buddy, so he can be around to cover for you.
6. Decisions made by someone above you in the chain-of-command will seldom be in your best interest.
7. The terms Protective Armor and Helicopter are mutually exclusive.
9. "Chicken Plates" are not something you order in a restaurant
10. If everything is as clear as a bell, and everything is going exactly as planned, you're about to be surprised.
11. Loud, sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.
12. The BSR (Bang Stare Red) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. The longer you stare at the gauges the less time it takes them to move from green to red.
13. No matter what you do, the bullet with your name on it will get you. So, too, can the ones addressed "To Whom It May Concern."
14. If the rear echelon troops are really happy, the front line troops probably do not have what they need.
15. If you are wearing body armor, they will probably miss that part of you.
17. Having all your body parts intact and functioning at the end of the day beats the alternative.
18. If you are allergic to lead, it is best to avoid a war zone.
19. It is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas all at the same time.
20. Hot garrison chow is better than hot C-rations which, in turn, is better than cold C-rations which, in turn, is better than no food at all. All of these, however, are preferable to cold rice balls, even if they do have the little pieces of fish in them.
21. Everybody's a hero...On the ground...In the club...After the fourth drink.
22. A free fire zone has nothing to do with economics.
23. The further you fly into the mountains, the louder those strange engine noises become.
24. Medals are OK, but having your body and all your friends in one piece at the end of the day is better.
25. Being shot hurts and it can ruin your whole day.
26. "Pucker Factor" is the formal name of the equation that states the more hairy the situation is, the more of the seat cushion will be sucked up your ass. It can be expressed in its mathematical formula of S (suction) + H (height above ground ) + I (interest in staying alive) + T ( # of tracers coming your way)
27.The term 'SHIT!' can also be used to denote a situation where high Pucker Factor is being encountered.
28. Thousands of Vietnam Veterans earned medals for bravery every day. A few were even awarded.
29. Running out of pedal, fore or aft cyclic, or collective are all bad ideas. Any combination of these can be deadly.
30. There is only one rule in war: When you win, you get to make up the rules.
31. C-4 can make a dull day fun.
32. There is no such thing as a fair fight -- only ones where you win or lose.
33. If you win the battle you are entitled to the spoils. If you lose, you don't care.
34. Nobody cares what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow. What is important is what you are doing -- NOW -- to solve our problem.
35. Always make sure someone has a P-38. Uh, that's a can opener for those of you who aren't military.
37. Flying is better than walking. Walking is better than running. Running is better than crawling. All of these, however, are better than extraction by Medevac, even if it is technically, a form of flying.
38. If everyone does not come home, none of the rest of us can ever fully come home either.
39. Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR.
40. A grunt is the true reason for the existence of the helicopter. Every helicopter flying in Vietnam had one real purpose: To help the grunt. It is unfortunate that many helicopters never had the opportunity to fulfill their one true mission in life, simply because someone forgot this fact.
If you have not been there and done that you probably will not understand most of these.
I am told this about the misconducted West Point superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon. Apparently there was an investigation of his relationship with a woman he brought in as director of strategic communications, whose influence was resented by some faculty members. But the Army keeps on stonewalling and saying only that he was cleared on that -- but won't drop the other shoe and provide information on the misconduct charge that the DOD IG did substantiate.
So what was he nailed on? I asked someone in the know. He told me this:
In the end, all they got him for was, he offered to take care of her cats....[But] the chief of staff wound up doing it. He had to buy cat food. So, after all the investigating, all they got him on was coercing a subordinate to do personal favors.... It's ironic because Huntoon has been all about the ‘image' of West Point.
Tom again: A bigger concern to me -- and to some civilians at West Point -- is the effect that the image campaign has had on the academic freedom of faculty members. I asked about that, and the person I was talking to said, "I think it's fair to say, there is concern that we cannot speak freely. We get messages all the time: ‘Don't talk about this.' There's a lot of concern about image."
A little transparency here would go a long way. But apparently the Army cares more about the feelings of its generals than about informing the people who pay its bills.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Unless these dogs are high on methamphetamines, the footage has clearly been manipulated, sped up as they launch over walls and through half-lit rings of fire moving at herculean speeds. As the handlers shout and make angry gestures, the dogs pounce on paper likenesses of South Korea's defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin (NoKo's "Enemy No. 1"). Tactically speaking, these dogs -- of which there appear to be only five or six -- have all the precision and training of a rabid mob. I suppose that might be frightening in its own right, but it would be a mistake to assume a military dog is a super threat just because he/she is savage. The really "dangerous" dogs are the ones who are impeccably controlled by their handlers.
So, who should be afraid of North Korea's war dogs? Probably no one.
I sent the clip over to a career dog handler over at the USAF Academy, Kennel Master Chris Jakubin, who after viewing the footage of NoKo's dogs attacking stuffed mannequins said it had the intimidating power of a Benny Hill skit. All it needs, he said, is the music.
I always read the Pentagon casualty notices and MIA notices. This one jumped out at me yesterday, as it would to anyone familiar with the history of the Chosin Reservoir campaign.
Lt. Col. Don Faith, Jr. was the unfortunate leader of one of the biggest disasters in American military history, taking over command of the Army regiment on the east side of Chosin after the commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment was killed and the other two battalion commanders were badly wounded. The regiment, badly outnumbered and hampered by inept general officers, suffered a 90 percent casualty rate. Its colors now are displayed in Beijing, I am told.
However, the sacrifice of the Army regiment bought much-needed time for the Marine division consolidating on the west side of the reservoir.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that a serviceman, who was unaccounted-for from the Korean War, has been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr. of Washington, Ind., will be buried April 17, in Arlington National Cemetery. Faith was a veteran of World War II and went on to serve in the Korean War. In late 1950, Faith's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), was advancing along the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, in North Korea. From Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 1950, the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces (CPVF) encircled and attempted to overrun the U.S. position. During this series of attacks, Faith's commander went missing, and Faith assumed command of the 31st RCT. As the battle continued, the 31st RCT, which came to be known as "Task Force Faith," was forced to withdraw south along Route 5 to a more defensible position. During the withdrawal, Faith continuously rallied his troops, and personally led an assault on a CPVF position.
Records compiled after the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, to include eyewitness reports from survivors of the battle, indicated that Faith was seriously injured by shrapnel on Dec. 1, 1950, and subsequently died from those injuries on Dec. 2, 1950. His body was not recovered by U.S. forces at that time. Faith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor -- the United States' highest military honor -- for personal acts of exceptional valor during the battle.
In 2004, a joint U.S. and Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (D.P.R.K) team surveyed the area where Faith was last seen. His remains were located and returned to the U.S. for identification.
To identify Faith's remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence, compiled by DPMO and JPAC researchers, and forensic identification tools, such as dental comparison. They also used mitochondrial DNA -- which matched Faith's brother.
By "Misha N. Komand"
Best Defense guest correspondent
How can we really enjoy the benefits of mission command without the inputs? You don't just 'do' mission command (just as you don't just 'do' Army design methodology). The Germans didn't just 'do' Auftragstaktik.
No, it was built on a culture that held junior officers on up to rigorous accounting of academic and military ability. The Army thinks it can incorporate the benefits of an idea by simply incorporating (or poaching) the good terms or ideas of others, and not have to pay the price in selecting and educating the right officers. There will be no true mission command without a cultural change starting with accountability in education (centering on military history) and better selection and shaping of the officer corps.
"Misha N. Komand" is an active duty Army officer serving on the periphery of the American dream.
Maj. Charles Wagenblast, a military intelligence reservist, brought home this story from Afghanistan about an Afghan colonel:
One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it's not some perverted thing, it's just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it's chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he's there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It's religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there's the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defense was, "Honestly, who hasn't raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha." And the judge goes, "You're right. Case dismissed."
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released/DVIDS
The estimable Micah Zenko wants a "first draft" of "the Third War." Actually it has been written, and is being published this week. It is The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti. It has all sorts of interesting details, like that the United States has the ability to remotely turn on a cell phone in Pakistan and then collect the precise coordinates of whoever is carrying it.
Here is an interview I did with the author by e-mail:
Tom Ricks: What are we going to learn from your book that we haven't gotten from others, like those by Peter Bergen?
Mark Mazzetti: Peter's books are absolutely terrific, and a hard act to follow! And, there have certainly been a number of terrific books covering the war on terror. What I've tried to do in my book is tell a story of a secret war, and how that war has changed places like the CIA and parts of the Pentagon. The CIA is now at the center of waging covert wars in places like Pakistan and Yemen. The agency certainly has had a history of far flung military adventures, but then it tried to get out of the killing business -- only to come back at it in a big way since the September 11 attacks. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has become more like the military, sending soldiers into the dark corners of the world on spying missions. There's been a real blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies.
With the "big wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan either over or winding down, I think that these secret wars have become the default way of doing business. And, only now is the pressure growing for the White House to bring greater transparency to the shadow wars.
TR: What was the biggest surprise to you in reporting and writing the book?
MM: I think that the biggest surprise was how much this type of warfare brings various colorful characters to the forefront. When the United States determined it couldn't send the 101st Airborne into a country, it began to rely on private contractors and other types of individuals to do things like gather intelligence on the ground. I spent a chapter on the private spying network run by Duane Clarridge, a former CIA officer and one of the figures in the Iran-Contra scandal. A Pentagon official hired Clarridge's team to gather intelligence in Pakistan because there was a belief that the CIA wasn't up to the task, but the entire operation ended up in recriminations and a Pentagon investigation. It's stories like this that I really tried to highlight in the book.
TR: Why do you think drones have become so controversial only recently in the United States?
MM: That's a good question. I think that up until recently, at least in Washington, you had both Republicans and Democrats uniformly supporting targeted killings and there was no constituency calling for greater transparency and accountability for these kinds of operations. Since the November election, you have seen Democrats become more vocal in challenging the Obama administration on the use of targeted killings. And, of course, there is Rand Paul's now-famous filibuster that captured concerns among Libertarians about secret government operations.
TR: Which of our three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and "knife") do you think historians ultimately will find the most significant?
MM: This might sound like I'm avoiding giving a direct answer, but all three wars have impacted each other, and so in some ways I think that some historians will look at this entire post-9/11 period as one that fundamentally changed both U.S. foreign policy and how the United States conducts war. Certainly, the Obama administration has relied on these shadow wars because it considers them cheaper, lower risk, and more effective than the big messy wars of occupation like Iraq and Afghanistan. But, so much of the way that an organization like the Joint Special Operations Command does business is a direct result of its work in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They took parts of what they were doing in those countries and brought outside of the "hot" battlefields.
TR: What do you think are the lessons of this third war?
MM: There's no question that the United States has become dramatically better at manhunting than it was on September 11, 2001. There is better fusion of intelligence, and the Pentagon, CIA, and other intelligence agencies are working more closely together. I think, though, that one of the lessons is that secrecy can be very seductive and that it might be too easy for our government to carry out secret warfare without the normal checks and balances required for going to war. As you well know, as much as the Pentagon can be a lumbering bureaucracy, there is a certain benefit of having a good many layers that operations must pass through in order to get approved. When decisions about life and death are made among a small group of people, and in secret, there are inherent risks.
It looks like that may be the case. But we don't know because he and the Army are stonewalling. They're hiding behind a statement that an allegation of an improper relationship was investigated and was unsubstantiated, and that he is retiring as planned.
But they aren't saying what was substantiated. The Washington Post found out through a FOIA request that the Defense Department inspector general did find some wrongdoing. So it appears to me that General Huntoon misled me when he told me in January that "there's no investigation here." Which leads to the question: Are cadets held to a higher standard of conduct than superintendents?
As of 10 am today, General Huntoon hasn't responded to the question I sent him last weekend asking him what is going on.
Does anyone know of any official Army publication that critiques and compares the performance of Army generals in Iraq? I can't remember any, but 10 years is a long time and there is a chance I have forgotten something.
I don't mean individual articles in Military Review or papers written at the Command and General Staff College. I've read (and quoted) those in my last three books. What I mean is official publications like On Point (which was good) and On Point II (which wasn't). That is, the studies that carry the imprint of a preface by a sponsoring three-star or four-star officer.
If not, why not? Is the Army really going to take the Lake Woebegone line that all its generals were above average? Or is just going to fold its arms and believe that such criticism is too rude for public discourse?
Speaking of generals, I still haven't heard back from Lt. Gen. Huntoon about the nature of the misconduct the IG found him to have committed.
By Kyle Teamey
Best Defense department of COIN rehabilitation
1. Regime change IS nation building.
Whether the intention is to stop ethnic cleansing or to affect a change in policy by a rogue nation-state, the result of regime change is the same -- a long period of rebuilding. In a multi-ethnic state with no history of democracy, a period of violent turmoil should be expected after a regime is toppled. It must either be managed directly by the United States (Iraq and Afghanistan) or groups supported by the United States and allies (Libya).
2. A minimal U.S. footprint is the preferred way to do COIN...when feasible.
An overlooked writer on the subject of counterinsurgency (COIN) is Thomas Mockaitis. He took some very good lessons from the United Kingdom's 20th century experiences in COIN and summed them to three best practices that marked successful campaigns: minimal force, civil-military cooperation, and tactical flexibility. The minimal force part of that equation is critical. It often means minimizing the use of third party forces because of the high probability that the third party adds to the conflict simply by being present. An additional benefit of minimal use of force is minimizing the costs to the United States in blood and treasure for a given conflict. Recent efforts in Colombia, Yemen, Somalia, El Salvador, and the Philippines where the U.S. supported COIN and counterterror efforts with few or no U.S. troops are instructive. Minimal use of U.S. forces has been relatively successful and low cost. That said, we really did not give ourselves an option for a small footprint approach in Iraq. There was no other organization to step into the post-Saddam power vacuum and leaving a total disaster in a strategically important part of the world was not an option. See #1 above.
3. Small U.S. footprint or large, the principles of COIN are the same.
Regardless of who is doing the COIN campaign or how the United States is supporting the campaign -- foreign aid, foreign internal defense, advisors, boots on the ground, etc -- the rules are the same. Best practices are best practices no matter who utilizes them. We are constrained by law and social norms to something that looks like population-centric COIN whether we do it ourselves or support a third party. The government has to be legitimate, the people have to be protected, there must be unity of effort amongst the counterinsurgents, intelligence must drive operations, there must be unity of effort amongst civil and military authorities, and the insurgents must be exposed to security forces. The argument that we should "just kill all the insurgents" is noise. Due to aforementioned law and social norms, killing bad guys requires separating them from the populace, which doesn't happen if the government is not legitimate, the people are not protected, etc. It should also be noted that killing bad guys is one of the most important parts of population-centric COIN. The argument that population-centric COIN only means "hearts and minds" where everyone sits around drinking tea and singing together is a strawman. Depending on conditions on the ground commanders may weight their efforts more towards the use of force or more towards stability operations, but there will always be an element of violence, or the threat of violence, in population-centric COIN.
4. War hasn't changed: Good tactics don't matter if you are operationally or strategically inept.
We proved this in spades in Iraq, where some units did things well, others poorly, and there was initially no over-arching planning or coordination for the post-regime era. We did pretty much everything wrong from 2003 to 2007 and got lucky it didn't go worse than it did. Get good generals who know what they are doing. Fire those who don't. Sounds simple but it ain't.
5. If you want to defeat an insurgency, don't let the insurgents have a safe haven.
Pakistani tribal areas, Fallujah in 2004, other "no go" areas in Iraq in 2004-6, the FARC zone in Colombia, FARC camps in Ecuador and Venezuela, etc. Nothing good comes of allowing a safe haven for insurgents. Ever. If we are serious about defeating an insurgency, we should never allow any safe havens. If national goals are limited to keeping the insurgency down to a dull roar or killing some terrorists, then a safe haven may be tolerable.
6. Rotate troops effectively or it will be a "Groundhog Day" war.
U.S. troops fighting overseas need time to rest, relax, and be with their loved ones. In short, they need to regularly rotate out of theater. Unfortunately, this creates a major dilemma when using U.S. troops to conduct long-term COIN operations. As in the movie "Groundhog Day," every rotation can effectively create a new beginning to the same war. New relationships must be (re)forged between the host nation and the incoming U.S. personnel for operations to be effective. The identity and modus operandi of insurgent groups and leaders must be (re)learned. The learning curve is very steep, and by the time the troops know their "neighborhood" it is time to go home -- Groundhog Day all over again. There are ways to mitigate the deleterious effects of troop rotations, for instance, through the use of information technology or by rotating units to the same locations in theater, but they cannot be avoided altogether.
7. COIN lessons from Iraq have been misapplied in Afghanistan.
The tactics borrowed from Iraq for use in Afghanistan have generally been effective. Applying a lot of flexibility to account for the vast differences between the theaters, many of the tactics seem to work pretty well at the brigade and below. Unfortunately, the operational and strategic lessons from Iraq and prior conflicts have not been as well applied. In the absence of a legitimate government, population-centric COIN does not work. If insurgents have a large sanctuary where they can rest and refit, COIN has a high probability of failing. If there is not unity of effort amongst civil and military authorities, COIN has a high probability of failing. All of these are problems in the Afghan theater. The government is, at best, tolerated. Pakistan provides a massive refuge with endless border crossings. The leadership of Afghanistan has an often rocky relationship with that of the United States and attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan troops are commonplace. Under these conditions, the best tactics cannot succeed in defeating the insurgency. Add to these factors an inordinately large number of theater commanders over the course of the campaign -- five in just the last five years -- and it is clear the U.S. goal of defeating the Taliban did not align with practical realities. See #3, 4, 5, and 6 above. It seems we ignored first principles in Afghanistan and just hoped good tactics would win the day. Not a good approach. It is understandable strategic leaders might judge it is too costly to do population-centric COIN in the Af/Pak region "correctly," and that dealing with the Pakistani tribal areas directly is infeasible. Under such circumstances, we should be honest with ourselves that we cannot defeat the insurgency outright, align goals with what is possible, and field a force that makes sense for the more limited goals.
8. Detainee operations are much too important to be left to amateurs.
We have completely messed this up since 9/11. Our tactics in dealing with detainees have had such undesired effects as alienating allies, angering large portions of the U.S. electorate, alienating portions of the local population in countries where we operate, and reinvigorating Iraq's insurgency with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. We also conducted detainee operations poorly for long periods of time. Initially large numbers of people in Iraq were rounded up and sent to detention facilities for no good reason. Later in the conflict we released a very large percentage of insurgents within 6-18 months of capture...often because the capturing unit had rotated back to their home station. See #6 above. Insurgents came back from prison better connected and with greater street cred. It was like a nightmarish National Training Center rotation where the bad guys get a re-key and our troops get shot or blown up by now better-trained insurgents. I thought Catch-22 was funny until living it! Our poor detainee tactics in the time after 9/11 had very negative operational and strategic impacts. If we ever do COIN again using U.S. forces, it is imperative we get this right. To borrow from David Galula, "Under the best circumstances, the police action cannot fail to have negative aspects for both the population and the counterinsurgent living with it...these reasons demand the operation be conducted by professionals..." -David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.
9. Democracy and governance start from the bottom.
In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority made a huge mistake by disallowing local and regional elections until there was a national constitution in place. We created a power vacuum that could only be filled by traditional leaders (sheikhs and imams), insurgents, and coalition forces. During the years it took to get a national government in place, we should have been encouraging local elections to build experience with democracy, form political parties, and create locally legitimate governance. Rule by the people has to be built from the bottom up. The U.S. experience is instructive. The presence of functioning state and local government allowed national leaders the time to hash out a constitution. It took our founders about 12 years to get a constitution written and approved... and that was with two tries because the first attempt failed. We expected the Iraqis and Afghans to get it done in a year or two and create an effective system of governance though they have no experience in democracy, no political parties, traditional leaders or U.S. troops trying to fill the role of local government, and a raging insurgency that leaves a large portion of their population disenfranchised? That's nuts!
10. Maintain training and doctrine related to COIN.
We will do it again. We always say we won't and we always do. It's too costly in lives and dollars to not keep this in the doctrine. Don't make another generation get maimed unnecessarily.
Kyle Teamey is a major in the U.S. Army Reserves. He served on active duty with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and 1st Infantry Division from 1998 to 2004. After leaving active duty, he served as a civilian counterinsurgency analyst from 2005-2006, co-authored the 2006 edition of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, and assisted DARPA in the development and fielding of the Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) from 2005 to 2009. He is currently the chief executive officer of a chemical technology company.
There. Got it off my chest. Just had to say it. Slow to load, balky to use.
And my blood pressure spikes every time I read that cheerful, dumb introduction, "Welcome to Foreign Policy's new commenting system! The good news is that it's now easier than ever to comment and share your insights with friends."
Like I say, the bad news is the new commenting sucks! That's the insight I wish to share.
Maj. Gen. Ralph Baker, commander of CJTF-Horn of Africa, got the big boot for personal misconduct related to sex and alcohol, the ham and eggs of flag officer troubles.
The Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reported over the weekend that the Pentagon's inspector general upheld charges of misconduct by two three-star Army generals, Joseph Fil and David Huntoon. "Records obtained by The Post," he wrote, "show that the Pentagon's inspector general also substantiated misconduct charges last year against Huntoon, the West Point superintendent." This surprised me because when I heard in late January about Huntoon being investigated, I asked him about it, and he basically flatly denied there was anything to what I had heard. "There is no investigation here," he said. So this past Saturday morning I sent him a note asking why he said that. As of 10 am this (Monday) morning, I haven't heard back from him. The Post didn't have specifics on what the misconduct in question was. For all I know, it could have been aggravated jaywalking. If so, I wish General Huntoon had said that at the time.
Finally, Col. Robert Rice, who works in war-gaming at the Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership and Development, was suspended after being charged on a bunch of counts of having child porn on his personal laptop.
Michael Howard, one of the great military historians, gives Emile Simpson's War From the Ground Up about 10 thumbs up in a new review, calling it "a work of such importance that it should be compulsory reading at every level in the military; from the most recently enlisted cadet to the Chief of the Defence Staff and, even more important, the members of the National Security Council who guide him."
The National Defense University and Fort McNair last week dedicated Grant Hall, which contains a re-creation of the 1865 court room where the Lincoln conspirators were tried. Below are comments made at the dedication by Hans Binnendijk, former vice president of NDU, who led the team that remodeled Grant Hall and recreated the trial scene:
This evening we are gathered to dedicate Grant Hall and to witness the recreation of the 1865 court room where justice was dispensed to those conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln and to decapitate the United States government. It is here that the last chapter of our calamitous Civil War ended.
It is fitting that this historic building be named in honor of Ulysses S. Grant, the General-in-Chief of the Union Army during our Civil War and subsequently our 18th President. He was in command while the trial of the Lincoln conspirators took place and this part of the original penitentiary was preserved during his presidential administration. Grant Hall's proximity to Lincoln Hall reminds us of the friendship and trust these two men shared.
The trial began on May 9, 1865, less than a month after Lincoln's assassination. A laundry room above the Deputy Warden's quarters was converted to a court room. That court room now looks much as it did in 1865. The eight defendants were held in the cells isolated, handcuffed and chained. The men were forced to wear cloth hoods over their heads. The nine person jury or commission was made up predominantly of Army officers. The use of a military court to try civilians was controversial at that time, as it is now. A simple majority was needed to find guilt and a 2/3rds majority was required for the death penalty. Defense attorneys were given very little time to prepare. There was no appeal except to President Andrew Johnson. And he was in no mood to grant appeals.
The trial lasted longer than Secretary of War Edwin Stanton would have liked. He wanted a very speedy trial to avoid any chance of rekindling the Confederacy. A total of 351 witnesses were called. On July 5 the commission sent its verdict to President Johnson who concurred with all of their findings except for clemency for Mary Surratt.
On July 6 the defendants were told about their fate and on July 7, 1865, four were hanged. Alexander Gardner captured their execution in a series of photos that set a new standard at the time for photojournalism. The other four defendants were sent to prison in the Dry Tortugas - three returned alive. Three of the four who were hanged (Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold) were in my view clearly guilty of a capital offense. Powell assailed and nearly killed Secretary of State Seward. Atzerodt got drunk and decided not to assassinate Andrew Johnson, but he had advance knowledge of the plot. Herold joined Booth in his escape.
The fate of Mary Surratt has led to continued controversy. Many books and now the movie The Conspirator argue her case. She was certainly a Confederate sympathizer and her son John Surratt was among the earliest of Booth's conspirators. Her boarding house on H Street was considered to be "the nest in which the plot was hatched." She visited her home in what is now Clinton, Maryland, on the day of the assassination to deliver a package for John Wilkes Booth; that was Booth's first stop after assassinating Lincoln. The issue became "what did she know and when did she know it." There was clearly some witness-tampering and she was convicted based on circumstantial evidence.
With this ceremony, Grant Hall joins several other buildings that played a crucial role in the events surrounding Lincoln's assassination and that have been renovated. There is Ford's Theater with its wonderful museum in the basement, the Peterson House where Lincoln died; the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland; and now Grant Hall. Mary Surratt's boarding house on H Street has a historic plaque on it but remains a Chinese restaurant. That should be the renovators' next target.
National Defense University
It was put together by "A Smart Army Major" who clearly is enjoying the sequester.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.