30 Apr 2009 @ 10:45 AM 

Recently I got an email from a fellow milblogger who experienced a change of mission from Iraq to Afghanistan. Iraq didn’t bother him… he’s been there before… but he doesn’t know anything about Afghanistan. I thought about it and realized that what I was missing when I went into country was significant. Our young friend asked for a post on what he needed to know, but I realized that the knowledge that needed to be transferred could not be dealt with in one post. I also realized that there were others who had knowledge that needed to be provided. From this point, Bouhammer tells it better than I do, so I’m copying his post on it.

It started as a lengthy phone call between Old Blue and myself. Thanks to a private online chat group that a whole bunch of us milbloggers talk on, it grew to include Vampire 6 and WOTN. Four veterans of Afghanistan, Four milbloggers, Four guys who care about passing on the Afghanistan Lessons Learned (A.L.L.) to others that are deploying. 2009 is going to be challenging enough for this country in regards to Afghanistan and even more challenging for those that are heading over to risk their lives and spend a year away from home.

The last thing they need to do is worry about a lengthy ramp-up period to learn the unique challenges that the war in Afghanistan has to offer. They need to hit the ground running, which means having all the lessons learned already in their head.

This is where we come in. We call it A.L.L. and it is for all going to Afghanistan. We foresee this blog becoming the one-stop shop of knowledge needed in order to step into the country knowing all there is to know without having physically been there.

You can find it at http://afghanlessons.blogspot.com/

Go there to check it out, and if you know anyone heading to the “Popular, Forgotten War” tell them to check it out too.

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Categories: A.L.L., Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 04 04 AM

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The irrepressible Christian Bleuer of Ghosts of Alexander has found the document on the web. This document was posted on the Army’s BCKS (Battle Command Knowledge System,) an internal password-protected forum that includes many lines of discussion, one of which (thank God,) is COIN. I don’t drag documents off of the more secure side into the public, but now that the cat’s out of the bag, let’s go.

The document, “Winning in Afghanistan” was written by CPT Carl Thompson, a Maryland Army National Guard officer who is embarking on his fourth tour in the War on Terror Overseas Contingency Operation. It is an amazing document. I have linked to Bleuer’s PDF file, as it is the most accessible and readable.

I spoke with CPT Thompson by phone this morning, catching him in the field at Camp Shelby, MS, where he is training for his second deployment as an ETT. It turns out that he’s been getting lots of calls from Soldiers who have discovered that 2009 will be their year to experience The Lumpy Suck for the first time, and they are looking for G-2 (intelligence, the straight scoop, the skinny, poop, the word, no BS info) on how to prepare for it. I gave him a quick brief on A.L.L. (Afghan Lessons Learned; the collaborative project recently launched by Bouhammer, WOTN, and Vampire 6 to put non-classified info and advice about Afghanistan out on a single site for the benefit of those headed to Afghanistan for the first time) and he thought it was a great idea. He’s suffering through another “Afghan-specific” train-up that lacks real-time, real-world applicability in Afghanistan. We agreed that the Army is just too slow and, for lack of a better word, politically-correct with its training. Some of it is totally irrelevant. It’s something that you have to suffer through to earn the right to go downrange so you can forget it and do your real job.

Which is sad, to say the least. I was raised in an Army where, “Train the way you fight, fight the way you train!” was the mantra. Now it’s more like, “They taught you WHAT??? Forget everything they taught you. Do this.”

This varies from place to place, but we’ve utterly failed at implementing lessons learned. So, the new repository of scoop will try to balance that, sharing lessons learned on the ground for the benefit of those headed downrange to A’stan in 2009. CPT Thompson has agreed to make a contribution with his excellent piece.

If you Google the phrase, “Winning in Afghanistan,” you will find many documents that have it as their title or as part of the title. Thompson’s “Winning in Afghanistan” is light years from any of those documents. This document takes COIN from the lofty world of saying COIN to this is how you do COIN in an Afghan village. It gives real-world, gritty, no-shit advice on what you will find when dealing with Afghans, and my head started nodding immediately as I read it the first time.

It is an absolutely fantastic document and should be required reading for all Soldiers going into Afghanistan. There should be a test on it for leaders, and leaders who fail that test should be sent back for remedial training. It should be published on that paper that your credit cards come in… the stuff that won’t tear or turn to pulp when it’s wet… and issued to each and every Soldier and Marine headed to Afghanistan. This, ladies and gentlemen is the freaking Handbook for COIN Application in Afghanistan. Deploying troops should be required to read Galula’s Counterinsurgency: Theory and Practice first, followed immediately by this, given guided discussion time and then tested.

This is a war, and it’s time to get serious about winning this war on its own terms. If Soldiers and leaders follow the guidelines in this book, we will win. If they don’t, well, you’ve seen what happens.

It’s the best thing since sliced bread.

The document is too big for me to digest its wonders in one posting, but with the permission of the author I will link to it. Bleuer’s take on it is good, and from the academic point of view, take a gander at what he has to say about it. He quotes areas that I won’t go into in this post. Here is, for me, a significant piece of this that I think says so much; and it’s true.

The US military has become more attached to procedures than it is to outcomes. This mindset has the effect of causing us to lose a war and no one cares as long as we are following the procedures. The first step to winning is to stop losing habits. We continue to “check the blocks”, so we must be successful because that is how we have now defined success. Success is a completed process, not an outcome to the military. The rotations come and go through Afghanistan, people collect a good OER and an award, but we continue to lose. However, no one is ever held accountable for the failures and everyone just continues to cycle through and get a “go” for their career. Consider a few issues:

- We have well educated officers leading capable soldiers. Our enemy is generally led by illiterate or partially literate commanders with part-time minimally trained soldiers — yet the enemy is winning
- We bring billions of dollars into a country to try and win a war. Our enemy doesn’t spend 1/1000th of the money we do, but they are holding their own — and winning
- The strategy for many is not to win or defeat the enemy. It is to rotate through and go home with a good award and OER or NCOER
- We cannot get scopes for weapons in-country, but we had so much new office furniture and flat-screen television sets on the FOBs people were throwing away things that still worked

How can we possibly be losing in a war we should be easily winning? Because we are tied to a myriad of multiple processes that are not outcome based. Additionally, these processes are completely uncoordinated. For the military, the process is definitely more important than the results. The processes must be followed even if they result in the unnecessary loss of life, equipment or even a war. This mentality must change drastically for us to achieve victory.

What the leadership, across the board from lieutenant to general, needs to realize for us to win is that everything needs to be oriented toward what works on the ground. Every person at every level is putting in place a policy. There are policies for going to sick call, leaving the wire, taking prisoners, writing memos, reporting to higher, etc. Most of these policies were put into place in order to make it easier for someone in a bureaucracy to do their job. This does not make it easier for the person on the ground to do their job or to win the war. It makes it harder. Every policy or rule throughout the military is one of two things: an enabler or distracter. There is nothing else. What happens is a soldier is required to take an action or not allowed to take an action according to a policy. That policy either helps him accomplish his mission and win the war or it distracts him from his mission and makes it tougher to win.

There are multiple policies in place that prevent us from winning and there are more being added every day. We were doing better in 2002-2005 when soldiers were unobtrusively running around Afghanistan in ordinary pickup trucks and no body armor. Now we have large HMMVs that limit us to certain roads and are required to wear large amounts of body armor which prevent us from moving. We have lost our flexibility, maneuverability and versatility because someone who is not even fighting (and probably never has) wrote a policy about what the soldier needs to do n the ground at all times
These policies put into place and stacked on top of each other, have eroded our combat effectiveness. In some areas it has made our soldiers useless and combat ineffective. From stateside training to operations in theatre, there are multiple policies put in place that PREVENT us from winning. The argument can easily be made that we are a tougher obstacle than the enemy. Policies are usually put in place based on the assumption that if the last guy did X, then the next guy needs to do X + Y. The problem is that X was good enough and should have been left alone. The addition of Y canceled any value X originally had.

There is one key element to remember in all of this — there is a limited amount of time and effort for anything. If we need to win, we need to be flexible enough to do what it takes to achieve victory and not let people who are completely enamored with policies and procedures get in the way. They look at victory as a nice, clean bureaucratic system. Victory should be seen as dead enemy, reliable governance and a peaceful place for people to live.

CPT Thompson has put this all together with a direct clarity that is truly impressive. There is no getting lost in the weeds. I, and others, have said much of this, but this document brings it all together so nicely. This needs the widest possible dissemination, and to be published as a handbook in its own right.

In short, I really like it. I look forward to meeting CPT Thompson some day.

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Categories: COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 04 03 AM

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This post is in response to a direct request from SGT Danger, who has experienced a change of mission.

First, read some basic history on Afghanistan. You don’t need to know a ton, but being familiar with the history there is a good idea, and Afghans are very impressed with someone who has taken the time, and had the respect, to learn about their history. Afghanistan has a long history and is a witness to many empires, most of which have run over Afghanistan like steamrollers. Afghanistan has been like the cartoon character who is run over by a car, struggles to his feet and has scarcely dusted himself off when he is run over again. And again. And again, ad nauseum. Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns, have been called xenophobic, and while they have some xenophobic tendencies, it is this role as the speed bump of history that has ingrained this.

In your research you will find that the Persians, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, and more recently the British Empire and the Russians have all swept through Afghanistan. For some, this paints a picture of the indomitable Afghan. I tend to disagree, as the Afghans have indeed been conquered on numerous occasions. However, Afghanistan has never been the prize, more like a necessary bridge from where the conqueror was to where he wished to be. What the Afghans are, however, is survivors. The ominous name “graveyard of empires” is a misnomer. None of the great ancient empires were undone in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan was instead a way to measure the waxing and waning of these empires. They all swept through on their way to expansion, and then had to retract through Afghanistan again on their way back whence they came, leaving their genetic mark on the land. The Afghans, however, have survived. Afghans are not indomitable; they are consummate survivors, amazing in their flexibility and often playing foreigners off of each other and their domestic competitors.

More recently, the British and Russians have found great difficulty in Afghanistan, mostly through their own idiotic mistakes. These experiences in particular are held up as some sort of omen as to the fortunes of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. I caution you not to give much credence to such examples, for there are significant differences. No one through history has gone to Afghanistan for the sake of Afghanistan. What we are doing in Afghanistan is for their sake, but do not become confused; it is not because we are so selfless. It is because by doing the right thing in Afghanistan, we make ourselves safer. Do not buy in to any thoughts of whether or not they deserve our assistance. The question is in itself diversionary. We chose this mission eight years ago because it is our best interests. The Afghans need a lot of help. Theirs is a society that has been developmentally disabled by thirty years of warfare. They have forgotten how to govern even as well as they were ever governed. Forty years ago, Afghanistan was on its way towards modernization. Events since the deposition of the king in 1973 (the king died in August, 2007) have taken Afghanistan back until they are now ten minutes out of the stone age.

If you think of Afghanistan as an individual, this would be a person who has suffered repeated blows to the head and suffers from TBI and PTSD.

A basic understanding of this will assist you in your observations of Afghan behavior. Observations of behavior are critical; your best way to prepare for danger is to be able to recognize what normal looks like. It is only through learning what normal looks like that you will have any hope of recognizing what abnormal looks like. Being able to recognize abnormal behavior or circumstances will help you to stay alive and keep your Soldiers safe. At first, when you arrive, your “Spidey sense” will be alerting you constantly, overloading your mind and your emotions. Relax. Learn. In a short time (2-3 weeks) you will have seen much of Afghan behavior enough to know (mostly) what normal looks like.

Expect to see crushing poverty. Expect to see children who appear to be about four years old herding goats or sheep off by themselves in the middle of the day. Expect to see more Toyota Corollas than you ever thought were built. The general feeling has often been described as Biblical times blended with the Wild West with a touch of Mad Max.

Do not confuse illiteracy with stupidity. Afghans very often learn quickly by observation. They have a strong tradition of oral history. Be aware of why they are consummate fence-sitters, the ferocity of their lack of commitment born of a strong survival instinct. Understand that, often, what we see as corruption they see as the price of doing business.

Be slow to judge them by American standards. While the easy answer, it will only breed discontent in your own soul. There are many Afghans who are very glad that you are there. If you have close contact with them, you will quite likely be thanked by some for being there. There will be more on culture in further chapters.

The link to the history of Afghanistan above is to Wikipedia’s good synopsis of Afghan history. It’s not terribly long, and it provides links to any particular area you’d care to explore.

An excellent introduction to the modern history of Afghanistan and the development of the Taliban is National Geographic’s “Inside the Taliban.” This can be found in ten parts here (follow stu106 thread of ten parts on YouTube.) It can also be downloaded in full here.

There are other websites with more anthropological examinations of Afghanistan, like Registan and Ghosts of Alexander. Both are written by academics and offer insight that can be helpful. Joshua Foust, author of Registan, recently returned from Afghanistan.

Finally, if you get a chance to catch a screening of “At War,” a documentary film by independent journalist Scott Kesterson, miss an entire night’s sleep to do so if necessary. This film will give you a sense of what it’s like on the ground. It has been known to make veterans of Afghanistan experience the same rush of combat they felt in country. It’s that good.

Once you have completed the above (“At War” film optional based on availability,) you will have a passing knowledge of the land for which you are bound.

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Categories: Uncategorized
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 04 04 AM

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In partnership with Bouhammer, we are starting a new series of posts designed to help inform the thousands of troops headed to Afghanistan in 2009, some of whom expected to deploy to Iraq. Those who thought they were headed to Iraq now find themselves behind the power curve in coming up to speed on the peculiarities of Afghanistan. By request from SGT Danger, here is the first chapter in our attempt to help them to be more successful in A’stan.

List of Gear for Afghanistan-Updated

Posted By Bouhammer on April 27, 2009

Old Blue and I are combining our knowledge and experience to jointly publish blog posts under a shared Category called A.L.L.

A.L.L. stands for Afghanistan Lessons Learned, and is intended to document our knowledge and experience in a fresh perspective for any and all service-members who may be part of the upcoming surge into Afghanistan this year. He and I and maybe others (who could one day also join this endeavor in the future) have walked the walk and walked the ground. We have learned the lessons the hard way, so there is no reason for others do to do the same. The wheel has been invented and there is no patent on it.

This is the first “chapter” in this new joint blogging adventure. This list was originally published on this blog back on Jan. 26th, 2007. This is a list of good equipment to have.

The following list is from my experiences and from friends in Iraq that pertain to here Afghanistan also. Some of these won’t be needed until you get in country, so you may want to set them off to side for mama to pack up for you and send to you once you get settled. This listing has been the single most popular blog posting ever, here on Bouhammer’s Blog.

1. Any extra ClassVIII you can bring with you is good to have.
2. Wolfhook single point slings
3. Desert Tan Spray paint
4. Space blanket(s)
5. 100 mph tape, 550 cord, TP, other expendables you think would come in handy
6. Drop Leg Holster (blackhawk or SERPA) and Uncle Mike’s Paddle-Holster for wearing around every day (drop leg will wear a hole in ACUs over time). I also have one for my IBA so I can have my 9mm handy when in the gun hatch going through towns.
7. Weapons lube that DOESN’T ATTRACT SAND. (MILTECH or Remington Dry Lube only)
8. Two copies of addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, etc.
9. 2 pairs of GOOD boot insoles
10. A Good Tactical Flashlight (SureFire, even though you will get issued one with M4)
11. Red/White light L.E.D. headlamp
12. Spare pair of running shoes
13. MP3 PLAYER W/ x-tra pair of spare headphones
14. Enough batteries to last you 30 days
15. Chapstick
16. Lotion
17. 30 SPF or higher Sunblock
18. Bar soap- for some reason its in short supply….almost always
19. Small compact rolls of TP. A lot of places make travel size, half the time you get to a port-a-potty the jackA$s before you ganked the TP
20. Baby wipes- 30 days worth. Expect that the power and water will either go out, or the water will be contaminated at least once a month.
21. Gold Bond Foot and Body Powder
22. Small clip on LED light-clip it to your IBA….it will come in handy….quite often.
23. Drink mix for 16/20 oz bottles of water
24. Weightlifting supplies
25. Small photo album with pics from home.
26. Hand sanitizer (small bottles to put in ankle pockets)
27. More books/magazines than you think you will need.
28. DVDs, for you and to loan out for swapping purposes
29. Tactical gloves- military gloves are sort of clumsy ( I love the $9.95 whitewater brand gloves from the clothing sales). Also standard flight nomex are good.
30. Lens anti fog agent. Shaving cream works in a pinch, but you have to apply it every other day or so.
31. Good pair of shower shoes/sandals. I recommend the black adidas….lasted me all year.
32. Small pillow (air inflatable)
33. Cheap digital camera (at least 2.1 mp)
34. Boot knife
35. Gerber multi tool
36. Fabreeze-sometimes the laundry is few and far between.
37. Armor Fresh
38. Extra boot laces
39. Stainless steel coffee cup with screw on lid.
40. Soccer shorts/normal t shirt to sleep in, hang out in your room in
41. Sweatshirts for winter times hanging around
42. A couple of poncho liners for privacy, nasty mattress cover, etc.
43. A set of twin sheets with pillow case
44. Good regular-size pillow
45. One or two good civilian bath towels
46. Buy a good set (>$200) of winter desert boots. All they will give you is a regular summer set and a set of goretex lined for waterproof needs. Desert is a cold place at these altitudes in the winter time.
47. Bring a laptop!!! Also may want a PSP or some other handheld gaming device.
48. Get an external USB hard-drive (>120gb). You will need this to back up data to, and to store movies and MP3s that you will fall in on from previous teams.
49. Get a Skype account and download the software from skype.com. This is how I talk to home 95% of the time. If you call computer to computer it is totally free. You can also skype out from your computer to a regular phone for $0.021 a minute. There is nothing cheaper than that.
50. Decent headset with mic for computer (skype).
51. Webcam for video calls back home.
52. Bring a min. of 18ea. M4 mags per person. 9 that are loaded and 9 that rest. Plan to do M4 mag changeover once per month.
53. Bring 8ea 9mm mags, for same reason above. Change these over every two weeks.
54. Order a LULA mag loader/unloader. It will be the best $12 piece of plastic you every bought. I have 12 mags loaded at all times and when I do change over it will do it in a fraction of the time and save your hands, and save the ammo.
55. Try to get your state or purchase yourself one 12v DC to 110 AC inverter per man for your trucks. There are crucial on mission to charge personal items, cell phone, ICOMs, and especially ANA radios (they only have re-chargeable batteries).
56. Dump the IBA tac vest you get issued. Get a Tactical Tailor MAV chest rig (does not matter if you get 1 or 2 piece one as you want to keep the front open for laying in the prone. You don’t want mags pushing into your chest making it hard to breathe) . I wish I would have bought mine at the start. It makes a HUGE difference on the back and shoulders when carrying a loaded rig.
57. Get comfortable pair of desert boots. I wear only the Converse 8” assault boots (non-zipper ones). Oakley, Bates and several others are similar in style and comfort.
58. Bring some good snivel gear for the winter time. Extra poly-pro winter hat, gloves, neck gators, etc.
59. Lock de-icer for the winter time
60. Disposable hand and feet warmers
61. Canned-air, lots of it for electronics weapons, etc.
62. Lens wipes for optics
63. Screen wipes for computers

There are probably many other things that could go on this list, but a lot of that is personal preference. The purpose of this list is to provide some insight into things that could make anyone’s tour easier.

*Reprinted by permission of and in partnership with Bouhammer.

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Categories: A.L.L., Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 04 04 AM

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 24 Apr 2009 @ 10:12 PM 

As War On Terror News pointed out in comments, and I have said in the past, not all of the Obama initiatives regarding Afghanistan are worthy of praise. Undermining President Karzai is not, in my opinion, what a loyal ally does, regardless of how irritating he can be. The Afghan government must not be, regardless of folk lore or propaganda, a puppet. It must be an Afghan government. It must be the legitimate government of Afghanistan, chosen by its people. They have elections; they have the vote. We must respect it as we respect our own if anything we say is to be taken seriously.

So, putting together a dream team must be accompanied by practicing what we preach. Given the President’s “initiative” to unilateral introduce a new office to “balance” Karzai, that remains to be seen. So, good point WOTN, and one we would all do well to bear in mind.

That said…

It was interesting to note that on the same day that the House Armed Services Committee was receiving testimony from three wise men, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was having hearings of its own. Titled “Voices of Veterans of the Afghan War,” Committee Chair Sen. John Kerry that the purpose of the hearing was to get the perspective of the Afghan veteran, the soldiers who had experienced the challenges of Afghanistan.

They promptly called forth Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich.

More after the jump

The upshot is that with the eighth anniversary of the Long War now approaching, fundamental questions about this enterprise continue to be ignored. My purpose today is to suggest that the members of this committee have a profound duty to take those questions on. In his testimony before this committee, the young John Kerry famously – or infamously, in the eyes of some – asked: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

So it’s not worth dying for…

The mystical war against communism finds its counterpart in the mystical war on terrorism. As in the 1960s so too today: mystification breeds misunderstanding and misjudgment. It prevents us from seeing things as they are. As a direct result, it leads us to exaggerate the importance of places like Afghanistan and indeed to exaggerate the jihadist threat, which falls well short of being existential. It induces flights of fancy, so that, for example, otherwise sensible people conjure up visions of providing clean water, functioning schools, and good governance to Afghanistan’s 40,000 villages, with expectations of thereby winning Afghan hearts and minds. It causes people to ignore considerations of cost. With the Long War already this nation’s second most expensive conflict, trailing only World War II, and with the federal government projecting trillion dollar deficits for years to come, how much can we afford and where is the money coming from?

It’s not a real threat, and it’s too costly. That, of course, is Bacevich in a nutshell. Always.

There is a simple question that just screams to be asked: What in the hell does Andrew Bacevich have to do with Afghan Veterans? This man is beyond unhelpful in the national conversation regarding Afghanistan, other than to be some sort of straw man. Having him testify with the other four was akin to introducing a blind owl in the middle of the lion tamer routine at the circus.

Performer: “Now I will have Simba jump atop this pedestal and roar!” *CRACK*

Lion: “ROAR!”

Performer: “Look at this rare blind owl. Isn’t he odd?”

Owl: “WHO?”

Performer: “Simba, roar!” *CRACK*

Lion: “ROAR!”

That wouldn’t even make sense at the circus.

One problem; this is not the circus. It is the United States Senate. This was the day for the lions, not to trot out the embittered owl blinded by loss. This was the day that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee set aside to listen to the voices of veterans of the Afghan War, and 20% of those who testified were not Afghan veterans or even veterans of Iraq, but instead of Vietnam. One out of five. That is a waste of limited bandwidth; a failure of your declared mission that day. Are there so few Afghan Vets that they couldn’t fill five out of five with the real deal?

Bacevich, a professor and no doubt an educated man, served in Vietnam and lost a son in Iraq. He is an outspoken critic of “The Long War,” basically counseling that we should quit and go home, that there is no real “existential” threat here, and he completely separates the Taliban and AQ, as if they have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. When looking for coherent insight into this war, Bacevich should not be on the recommended reading list, because we only have so much bandwidth available. Other than being a strong critic of the war, and being a professor, Mr. Bacevich brings no specific knowledge to the table other than a skewed understanding of the specific situation in Afghanistan. His very presence was such an anomaly to the stated purpose that there had to be some underlying reason for it, relevance being lacking.

The lions were played this day by SSG Genevieve Chase, SSG(R) Christopher McGurk, CPT(R) Westley Moore, and former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes.

Two of these veterans, SSG Chase and SSG(R) McGurk are IAVA members. It is unclear if CPT Moore or CPL Reyes have any group affiliations, but for two of the four to be affiliated with IAVA bespeaks their influence in getting before Congress.

The testimonies of SSG Chase, SSG(R) McGurk, and CPT(R) Moore were interesting reads, and completely contradictory to Mr. Bacevich’s testimony. Each of them, without specifically stating it in such language, asked for a balanced counterinsurgency campaign and a dedication to the mission. I found myself in agreement with much of what they said.

Former Corporal Reyes’ testimony was a case study in a young warrior who idealistically went into a war being very well trained in kinetic operations; and completely untrained in counterinsurgency. His story is the perfect illustration of what I have been telling these officers for months about how we don’t train our young warriors in COIN, and it causes problems not only in their performance but in their heads. This man is completely disillusioned, and that’s what happens when your leadership fails you on the level that he was failed.

I will say this again; when your young warriors talk of, “chasing ghosts,” you are not doing the right things, and your young warriors are not properly trained. This is a leadership failure. If you are a leader, this is the foot stomp. This will be on the exam.

An interesting read is Senator Kerry’s statement about Afghanistan. I’ve kept this link until last, because reading the testimonies of those who spoke without knowing beforehand what Sen. Kerry’s frame of mind at the outset made them more dramatic. It brought the immediacy of the influence that words carry home.

Quite a contrast with the activities of the House on the same day and not so far away.

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Categories: Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 04 05 AM

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 23 Apr 2009 @ 2:06 PM 

Say what you will about the Obama administration’s domestic policies, which this blog is not about, nor will it ever be. Somehow or other, they have managed to put together the dream team on Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have listened to them in forming the new “AfPak Policy,” and when you see such men as David Kilcullen testifying before the House Armed Services Committee and hear the things that they are saying… and being taken mui seriously… there is room for hope.

Even though the “new policy” appears to back away from nation-building, it holds more hope for success in and for AfPak than what we’ve been doing in the past. The “surge” may or may not be a wonderful thing in Afghanistan. It depends on whether the troops are used properly, but if GEN Petraeus pushes his authority and begins to be ruthless with commanders about enforcing a standard of counterinsurgent achievement, it will much more helpful than harmful. I’d like to quote an email from my friend and fellow blogger Vampire 6 here regarding the counterinsurgent behaviors versus words he finds in field grade officers in Afghanistan, but I didn’t ask for permission. Suffice it to say that there is a significant variance. Of course, that is only the military side of the question.

What is even more encouraging is the recognition of the importance of the civilian/economic aspects to stabilizing the societies of both Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan. This war is about society and its conditions in both areas, really. The insurgency will never be resolved through killing bad guys exclusively. While we should never shy away from killing bad guys, an exclusive quest for kinetic engagements is a great way to fail at COIN. While this causes many military listeners to shut down completely (a symptom of the problem we have in successfully implementing COIN doctrine tactically,) the more military leaders can hear that message and understand the linkage, the more success we will find. Each one who “gets it” is then capable of making a difference in their discrete area of operations. All politics is local, and as these discrete areas come under the influence of leaders who are making a difference, the balance will start to swing.

It starts at the top. While today’s hearings are only one day’s hearings, the momentum towards an effective application of national abilities in the pursuit of sane and rational foreign policy objectives is mounting. I see wicked smart people being listened to at the highest levels, and this is extremely encouraging. Nobody is perfect, and just like a sports team on game day, we play with the team we have. President Bush went to war with a team that had never anticipated or trained for, and had a policy of stringent avoidance of, irregular warfare. He had a Secretary of Defense who was more interested in showing off the conventional primacy of the our nation by beating Iraq’s military with one hand tied behind our backs, totally missing the larger picture. He had officers who had never seriously contemplated the challenges of counterinsurgency and an Army and Marine Corps without a relevant doctrine. It took the Bush administration’s Army and Marine Corps over five years after the start of hostilities to publish the relevant doctrine, and there are still traditionalist dinosaurs who resist the promulgation of the only doctrine that has a hope of succeeding against an insurgency, which is not AirLand Battle Doctrine, but Counterinsurgency Doctrine.

These are our cavemen. If GEICO were to make doctrine commercials, the slogan would have to be, “COIN; So difficult a caveman can’t do it.”

There is a saying that one good way to discredit a good idea is to execute it poorly, and as has been pointed out in two recent posts, we have an Officer Corps rife with those who wish to refuse the mission. These leaders will use all the right buzzwords and then proclaim the failure of a doctrine which is not really applied, but instead merely parroted. If the mounting momentum towards an actual integrated policy such as the one being developed by the Obama administration continues, we may yet see the ruthless weeding out of such officers from the ranks and the furtherance of a corps of leaders who have the mental and professional flexibility to actually practice what is being preached.

Hell, they may even start teaching COIN Doctrine to NCO’s in their professional education, bringing the Backbone of the Army into play. Training your troops to execute the doctrine you need to win? What a concept.

Domestic policy will never be the subject of this blog. But it would be a kick in the head if President Obama, who was expected to be a domestic policy wonk and never a foreign policy success, actually brings success not only in Afghanistan but the region. The team he has assembled has advocated a plan to do this through the proper and synergistic use of the military and civilian power of the United States to achieve excellent results. The team he has assembled are, without a doubt, world class. There is room for optimism.

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Categories: Afghanistan, AfPak, COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 23 Apr 2009 @ 02 06 PM

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 21 Apr 2009 @ 2:09 PM 

Previously an essay published in Armed Forces Journal by COL(R) Douglas MacGregor which advocated “refusing battle” was addressed in this space. There is a companion piece in the same issue which directly references MacGregor’s essay, written by an active duty Army Major named Daniel L. Davis, entitled “The Afghan mistake, Why sending more troops won’t work.” MAJ Davis is currently serving as an military trainer in Iraq, and while it is unclear if he has any experience in Afghanistan, it appears that, while he waxes scholarly about Qawms and so on, he has no real experience in working with Afghans. This impression is reinforced by the fact that he refers to Afghans as their money, the Afghani, which is an amateurish mistake and does not bespeak Afghan experience. At the same time, he chides the United States for its lack of cultural understanding of the Afghans, which is kind of rich, given the above.

More after the jump

The main point of MAJ Davis’ essay amounts to the “counter-terrorism strike theory” of containing threats emanating from this region. MAJ Davis declares al Qaeda to be in such a weakened state as to be incapable of causing any real harm to the United States interests or security and declares the Taliban to be absolutely harmless to American security. Davis invokes the specter of the indomitable Afghan who will draw together against any outsider and who will then set upon each other following such victory to squabble over the scarce resource spoils of Afghanistan. While ominous sounding, and backed by holding the defeated Soviet “counterinsurgency” up as an example, the analysis and recommendations are so disastrously flawed as to be irrelevant. This again begs the question of what is going on among the editorial staff at Armed Forces Journal. Of course, in the wake of the Obama administration’s announcement of their policy for Afghanistan, it is irrelevant. One must wonder, though, if our Officer Corps is setting up the “I told you so.” If this what is occurring, what is the commitment level of our officers in general to succeeding in this endeavor? If we are attempting a task with leadership who question the validity of the mission, what effect on that mission does this lack of commitment have?

Compelling evidence suggests that our previous troop increases have served only to increase the number of casualties we’ve suffered while witnessing a concurrent rise in enemy capability. MacGregor posits that military action ought to be avoided unless the probability of success outweighs the cost to achieve it, and even then only if our vital national interests have been sufficiently threatened. The main tenets of this concept, if applied properly, can provide a blueprint for an effective resolution to this complex and volatile war.

This evidence compels only when viewed through the particular lenses MAJ Davis has chosen to wear. When viewed through different lenses, it could compel one to agree with those many who have been on the ground in Afghanistan and decried the continual withdrawal into large, well-protected FOBs, and the resulting lack of security. Many who have served in Afghanistan and who “buy in” to the tenets of counterinsurgency have pointed out for several years that such “safety” is illusory. There is compelling evidence that as American forces withdrew into the large FOBs in Iraq, their casualties rose as they ceded the areas outside the Hescos to insurgent control. This tacit concession of the area “outside the wire” allowed insurgents to operate freely, to influence the population and to plant the most casualty-producing weapons at their disposal; the IED. We have done exactly the same thing in Afghanistan. Following Petraeus’ pushing out from the FOBs, casualties spiked as the insurgents resisted losing their gains and then dropped sharply. By early summer of 2008, Afghanistan outstripped Iraq in American casualties. That is compelling evidence, too.

One other point about the paragraph cited above is that the Soviets did not perform counterinsurgency. Not in the least. The stories of Soviets who actually performed COIN are rare as hen’s teeth. What the Soviets conducted was a brutal counter-guerrilla campaign. They did not appeal to any nascent government support. They did not try to win hearts and minds. They tried to stop hearts and destroy minds that they even thought supported the Mujaheddin. The Soviets razed and gassed villages wholesale. Destroyed villages still litter the countryside, mute evidence of the excesses of Soviet arms. There are no such villages slowly eroding in the Afghan sun evidencing such American displays of wanton destruction. Comparing the American experience in Afghanistan to the Soviet experience is a complete farce, and any officer who stretches that far shows no real understanding of a very simple difference.

MAJ Davis then publishes a time line which, while largely accurate in regards to timing events, slants the actual events. Again he refers to Soviet “counterinsurgency” and he also dismissively refers to a “small scale civil war” between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Again MAJ Davis demonstrates either willful slanting of events or an ignorance of events that disqualifies him from offering any advice for the conduct of operations in Afghanistan. The international recruiting and support for the Taliban by Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and al Qaeda was documented in the summer of 2001 (prior to 9/11) by a journalist/researcher who actually interviewed POWs held by the Northern Alliance recruited by, paid by, and armed by both of those groups in the 1990’s. This included Arab prisoners who were part of an “Arab Brigade” funded by al Qaeda.

MAJ Davis argues for disengagement in Afghanistan by maneuver forces and a fallback position of providing aid, support, air power and advisers to the Afghans, who he predicts would then fail to hold their territory. He finds the failure of Afghanistan to be acceptable, echoing Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap.

If we redeploy the bulk of our military forces — even if we provide advisers, logistic, intelligence, air and other support — it is possible that the Afghan government might eventually prove unable to stand on its own and could collapse. Zeihan went so far as to suggest this is inevitable because, as he put it, “geographically speaking, Afghanistan is ungovernable. It is a recipe for a failed state.”

But the hard question must be asked: Would the collapse of the current government after the withdrawal of our main combat troops, however undesirable, be better or worse than increasing the number of American combat forces in Afghanistan and possibly keeping the government afloat — but at the cost of a continually strengthening Taliban and increasing the number of dead American soldiers and Afghan civilians?

Geographically speaking, then, West Virginia and about half of Colorado are ungovernable, too. We should withdraw any United States support for the governments of both of those states and hope that nothing bad happens. If it does, though, there is no real security threat to the rest of the country then. Perhaps Idaho should be lumped into this as well. This all amounts to, “It’s too hard! Why do we have to do this? Can’t we just quit and go home?”

Forget the essay. It’s just ridiculous pseudo-reasoning to support another, deeper goal. It’s the song of an overwhelmed warrior who can no longer see past his own desire to go home and stay there, who has lost his will. There is a deeper problem.

I’ve got a really hard question for the editors of AFJ, which is; why in the past six months have they not published a significant article which advocates anything remotely resembling the plan for Afghanistan that was adopted by the Obama administration? Say what you want about the administration; they have tied into the smartest people on these issues, like David Kilcullen, that can be found; warriors who actually have the mental bandwidth to see the hard job clearly and come up with an actual plan. The major essays that AFJ has published are geared towards the abandonment of either the mission or the doctrine/lessons that have been learned in the past eight years. MAJ Davis, and the other contributors that AFJ has selected for publication are irrelevant to actually solving the problems that face our military, instead advocating abandonment of missions with which they have been tasked and a resolute clinging to doctrines that they feel are threatened by the requirements of the current conflict. In other words, the publication which is geared towards informing discussion among the flag officers of this country is not being helpful at all, but instead ridiculously archaic and obtuse.

While men like Kilcullen can put together a plan, we depend on these other officers to execute it, and you can tell from their rhetoric that they just don’t want to do it. Read what they write, and it becomes clear.

Why would our nation’s “premier publication for flag officers” continually counsel cutting and running? Is this the state, overall, of our Officer Corps? Are these gentlemen so baffled as to how to accomplish the mission that they shout what amounts to defeatism in the name of security from their main mouthpiece? It’s actually quite disturbing, but it points out a significant problem with our refusal to embrace the mission with the vigor that a military mission requires. This is the root of the “two Armies… the one that is downrange fighting and the one that is in garrison in the United States.” It also is a strong indicator why we do not train COIN in NCOES.

The nation is not asking us to consider showing up for work while explaining why it’s not such a hot idea, gentlemen. It’s telling us that it needs a job to be done. When I see this publication looking for a pathway to success and not a path to retreat, I will start to feel as if we are on the right track.

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Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Apr 2009 @ 02 09 PM

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 20 Apr 2009 @ 8:08 PM 

This month’s Armed Forces Journal, the journal of the American flag officer, published two articles that I cannot believe that they put between the covers of such a publication. The first of these is “Refusing battle, the alternative to persistent warfare” by COL(R) Douglas MacGregor. COL MacGregor argues that the United States, by failing to have a clearly defined purpose, method and end state when applying its military has bound itself to destroy the very society that this military was born to protect. This is not his only argument, but the one upon which the rest of his essay is based. The essay itself is incredibly flawed, which makes me question the editorial staff of AFJ.

More after the jump.

As alluded to in the title of the article, COL MacGregor advocates refusing battle as a grand strategy, pointing to the troubles that our military has had in the past few years in closing the deal; accomplishing the foreign policy goals of the civilian government. For this the Colonel blames the previous administration and the strategy itself, calling upon the current administration to set a new course of conflict avoidance that sounds so wonderful and peaceful that it’s almost too utopian to resist. It makes one want to plant daisies and wear woven hemp sandals. It is also filled with flawed analogies, and the basic premise is in reality a call to the Obama administration to adopt Weinberger/Powell Doctrine as national policy. There are, as always, the simple questions. Which end of this dog wags the other? Does the military try to tell the civilian masters when it is appropriate to use military force? Who decides when to refuse battle? Is the answer to always refuse battle, no matter what the cost?

The Bush legacy in foreign and defense policy presents Obama with a stark choice: Will we continue to pursue global hegemony with the use of military power to control and shape development inside other societies? Or will we use our military power to maintain our market-oriented English-speaking republic, a republic that upholds the rule of law, respects the cultures and traditions of people different from ourselves, and trades freely with all nations, but protects its sovereignty, its commerce, its vital strategic interests and its citizens? This essay argues for the latter approach; a strategy of conflict avoidance designed to make the U.S. more secure without making the rest of the world less so.

In historically demonstrating his argument, COL MacGregor uses two inherently flawed analogies. In the first he likens our situation to that of General Lee when he found himself decisively engaged at Gettysburg. His argument is that Lee should have refused battle. Okay, tactically that would probably been a good thing for Lee to do. Question: How does this relate to modern man as we know him today? Answer: It does not. Lee was engaged in a war. If he refused battle that day, it would have been to accept it on ground of his own choosing or at least much more advantageous to him. Lee had invaded the North and was seeking to sever Washington from the nation that it was the capitol of; a thrust at the heart of the Union. He was seeking battle. While the Colonel makes a good point that Lee accepted battle at a poor time, how this relates to our current situation is not so clear.

His second analogy relates our current situation to the quandary the British found themselves in at the advent of WW-I. He argues that the British should have refused battle on the ground in Europe, being safe upon their island homeland from the end results of any terrestrial battles and possessing a mighty navy. This, he argues, would have maintained the standards of living of the British citizen and avoided the dissolution of the British Empire. Again, this analogy is miserably flawed and simplistic. It also fails to answer the question of what would have been Britain’s future across the English Channel from a Europe learning to speak German. It also fails to recognize that while WW-I may have contributed to the end of the British Empire, there were many other factors that doomed imperialism in the 20th Century and that the avoidance of British entry into WW-I would not likely have staved them off as well.

It may have had an entirely ugly outcome for the British, and ourselves, but we shall never know, because there is no historical model, nor can anyone accurately predict what the world would look like now if the Germans had taken an abandoned France, Belgium and Holland and established a German Empire that spanned Europe in 1916. There is little doubt in my mind that Germany would have overwhelmed a solitary France, as even with massive British help all the two could manage together was a fragile stalemate on the Western Front.

Regardless, I found the analogy to be ridiculous. COL MacGregor also assumes that the British did not fully realize their predicament and had they had the sense of asking just one more question, they would have refused to participate and therefore would have salvaged not only their empire, but the riches of the Commonwealth. Oh, wait, they never would have needed a Commonwealth, as they would still be a global empire. Poppycock.

Britain fought a war that cost the British people their national power, their standard of living, and, in less than 20 years, their empire. Had anyone in London’s leadership stopped to seriously examine what outcome (end-state) it was they wanted to achieve with military power (purpose) and what military capabilities (method) were at their disposal to do so, it is doubtful they would have reached the decisions they did.

That is because, assuming Colonel MacGregor is calling this one correctly, the entire British cabinet was full of idiots. Had they seen how ludicrously simple it was to make that easy decision, they would clearly have agreed with the Colonel and saved their empire. For the lack of such pragmatic genius in that chamber, the empire was lost.

What the article boils down to is a massive excuse for the difficulty that the United States Military in general, and the Officer Corps in particular has had in taking responsibility for doing their jobs, which is to accomplish the goals set for them by their civilian masters, with the overwhelming support of the population, and to properly advise that leadership as to what the needs of the mission would be and the military doctrine necessary to accomplish it. The article is put forth as some kind of educational tool for the Obama administration to learn that either the military itself should be the determiner of when and where to use military force or that President Obama should learn how to determine where and when a short, sharp, decisive action can accomplish the foreign policy objectives of the United States. All other confrontations are to be assiduously avoided, and that should be the stated policy of the United States.

The lesson is a straightforward one: When national military strategy fails to answer the questions of purpose, method and end-state, military power becomes an engine of destruction not just for its intended enemies, but for its supporting society and economy, too. Regardless of how great or how small the military commitment, if the price of victory is potentially excessive, then the use of force should be avoided. After all, the object in conflict and crisis is the same as in wrestling: to throw the opponent by weakening his foothold and upsetting his balance without risking self-exhaustion.

In other words, “Dear Mr. President, please use military force only when it is easy and clearly defined. Please do not give us any hard jobs. You may never be sure when the leadership of your Armed Forces may not have the mental flexibility to learn how to accomplish your task, and so we will fail while blaming you for not using us properly. In fact, Sir, please don’t use us unless our shores are directly threatened with an invasion by a classic nation-state peer competitor. For everything else, please threaten our enemies with assured nuclear destruction (or some other form of undefined “attack”) and leave us to our peacetime garrisons, where we can tout our superiority without ever having to prove it. Thank you, your officers.”

Once again, the specter of Vietnam is raised.

The Johnson administration’s decision to intervene with large-scale conventional forces in Vietnam rested on this delusion. Even worse, President Lyndon Johnson subscribed to the idea that whatever military action the American government initiated, it was inherently justified on moral grounds, even if, as in the case of Vietnam, the military action turned out badly for the U.S. Tragically, Johnson’s wish-based ideology made retreat from inflexible and irrational policy pronouncements impossible when they no longer made sense.

Later he adds this.

American military interventions have routinely violated this line of reasoning. In Vietnam, American military assistance failed for many reasons, chiefly because the Saigon government was thoroughly corrupt and indifferent to the security of its own people. All the military might at America’s disposal, whether the North Vietnamese military enjoyed sanctuaries in neighboring states or not, was never enough to rescue the incompetent South Vietnamese government from its eventual conquest by North Vietnamese communists.

Any time from here on out that a military officer raises the specter of Vietnam, he should be summarily slapped and given a timeout on a chair in the corner. I’ve got news for the Colonel; the military lost Vietnam as surely as the President or the American people did. It wasn’t the Soldier’s fault; he fought well and hard. It was the leadership’s fault, because they never did learn how to fight a counterinsurgency, just as they are resisting it today. Vietnam failed because our military and our civilian leadership cannot wrap their minds around the concept that firepower is not the answer, and that propping up a corrupt regime without working to make it responsible and accountable to its own people will never work.

Oddly enough, the British brought Malaya out of a similar morass. The only ones who are bigger screw-ups against insurgents than us are the Russians. In several books, the United States in Vietnam is used as an example of how not to do counterinsurgency.

We are making similar mistakes now. The Officer Corps must take responsibility for not predicting that toppling the government in Iraq would result in anarchy and a power vacuum that would naturally end in civil war and insurgency. Our Officer Corps and our State Department must take responsibility for not projecting the power forward with the proper training to fill that vacuum instead of showing off our conventional prowess in the ultimate manifestation of the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine, trying to keep it short and sharp, which fails to take into account such events. Instead they advocate choosing to “refuse battle,” which is a wonderful idea until your president tells you to go and do a job. Our Officer Corps and our State Department must take responsibility for not understanding that one cannot just have an election and the most popular former warlord will somehow become a master administrator, flawlessly organizing a government devoid of the traditional graft and corruption that results from tossing a bunch of former mountain fighters into cabinet-level posts in a country bereft of any real infrastructure or institutional memory of good governance. Our Officer Corps must take responsibility for a culture which has failed to properly train Soldiers and leaders in counterinsurgency doctrine and the tactical practice of the types of actions on the ground that will have a positive effect on what COL MacGregor describes as an impossible situation. GEN Petraeus proved in Iraq that COL MacGregor is full of beans. MacGregor ignores this completely and resorts to Vietnam, the ultimate example of the obstinate refusal of American officers to adapt and learn; their continual attempts to apply conventional firepower without attempting to establish unconventional superiority. COL MacGregor functions from a position that these situations are impossible to resolve and therefore inappropriate as national objectives.

The fact is that COL MacGregor has no idea of whether or not the United States Military can accomplish the national objectives using the proper doctrine. MacGregor can cite examples from two past centuries as if they did not leave gaping holes in the analogy and sound quite learned, but that does not make them germane, nor does the underlying premise, making excuses, make them any more useful. In the meantime, adequately executed and adaptive counterinsurgency in Iraq has resulted in the possibility of a stable self-governing post-Saddam Iraq. Go figure. MacGregor does take a spirited poke at Petreaus’s success later, though.

Today, America’s economic woes along with the larger world’s unrelenting drive for prosperity creates the need for new choices in national military strategy. The most important choice Obama must make is to reject future, unnecessary, large-scale, overt military interventions in favor of conflict avoidance; a strategy of refusing battle that advances democratic principles through shared prosperity — not unwanted military occupation.

Here is where COL MacGregor seems to recognize the influence of globalization, and he begins to speak of respecting other cultures like some kind of zen master.

As a declaratory goal of U.S. military strategy, conflict avoidance is not merely a restatement of deterrence or a new affirmation of collective security. It is a policy stance that stems from a decent regard for the interests of others, regardless of how strange and obtuse these interests may seem to Americans. It is an explicit recognition by Washington that no one in Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Latin America wants American troops to police and govern their country, even if American troops are more capable, more honest and provide better security than their own soldiers and police. The question for Americans is how to translate the goal of conflict avoidance into operational strategy: What will the U.S. do if it is not compelled to fight?

Conflict avoidance would appear to require action on several levels. First, conflict avoidance requires that America continue to maintain the military power to make a direct assault on U.S. and allied security interests unthinkable and then pursue peaceful relations with the peoples of the world, so the danger of war involving the world’s great military powers is reduced and contained.

What of terrorism? Still avoiding the subject of non-state actors, The Colonel speaks to terrorism.

This strategy does not change America’s policy stance on Islamist terrorism. The exportation of Islamist terrorism against the U.S. and its allies must remain a permanent red line in U.S. national military strategy. Governments that knowingly harbor terrorist groups must reckon with the very high probability that they will be subject to attack. However, long-term, large-scale American military occupations, even to ostensibly train indigenous forces to be mirror images of ourselves, are unwise and should be avoided.

So the solution is merely to attack your enemies, but more in a punitive expedition; or perhaps without any expedition.

America already has a surplus of military power for this stated purpose. American nuclear power is overwhelming, and any state or subnational group that contemplates the use of nuclear weapons against the U.S. or its allies understands that nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in general have “return addresses” on them with ominous consequences for the user. American conventional military power is no less impressive when it is employed within an integrated, joint framework that exploits capabilities across service lines.

Oops, there it is. The “N” word. This is going to be as succinct as possible; to this writer, any national policy objective that includes the use of nuclear weapons is either a failed policy or a policy of failure. I’ve got another “N” word for the Colonel; NO. Weapons of mass destruction, on 9/11, included airliners. If someone tries to tell me that four rounds fired that resulted in over 3,000 casualties were not weapons of mass destruction, I’m going to stop listening because that individual is obviously cracked. So the response to that would have been to nuke Afghanistan.

No. Pretty simple; no. I’m sorry, Colonel, you’re going to have to figure out how to do your job in unconventional war. I’m sorry that nuclear weapons are but two things; a deterrent to nuclear attack and a final suicidal vengeance weapon if the first goal fails. Conventional superiority? Sorry that it’s not the Fulda Gap. Guess what? The Fulda Gap never happened. I’m sorry that it’s not Desert Storm, but that didn’t solve all of our problems, either. If men who held the rank of Colonel and above had figured out what would have been needed to do the job right from the start, it’s very very possible that Iraq never would have become what it was, and that Afghanistan wouldn’t be struggling now. This proposed policy is simplistic, overly reliant on overwhelming firepower, and maintains a dreamily wistful vision of classic military asskicking blended with a flower-petal dispensing foreign policy which would somehow placate the world and make it magically safer.

Second, conflict avoidance balances the need to make the U.S. secure against the danger of making the rest of the world less so. Instead of defining events around the world as tests of American military strength and national resolve, and rather than dissipating American military resources in remote places to pass these alleged tests, the U.S. should define its role in the world without feeling compelled to demonstrate its military power. Otherwise, the U.S. runs the risk that other states, not the U.S., will dictate America’s strategic agenda.

That sounds great, but as many times as I read it, the more it just doesn’t say anything. It sounds like what my son’s mother tried to tell him about dealing with a bully at school, which eventually had my son feeling personally powerless and trapped. When I gave him permission to stand up for himself, he did and, without having to actually perform violence, the bullying stopped and my son’s “definition of his role in the world” took on a decidedly positive tone. The fact of the matter is that we are the biggest kid on the block, and as such we will be poked, taunted, and prodded from time to time. Because of our conventional superiority, that goading will most often take the form of sneaky, terrorist activity because nobody in their right mind is going to challenge us with a direct conventional threat. It’s not other states that are going to set our strategic agenda, it’s more likely to be non-state actors with capabilities to strike that used to be the exclusive domain of states capable of power projection. Huge hole in the analysis.

Third, when the U.S. confronts crises and conflicts, American armed forces should be committed on terms that favor the U.S. where the use of military power can achieve tangible strategic gains for the nation. As Churchill argued in 1909: “It would be very foolish to lose England in safeguarding Egypt. If we win the big battle in the decisive theater, we can put everything else straight afterwards. If we lose it, there will not be any afterwards.”

Well, it seems that the empire was threatened prior to WW-I. Yes, it would be nice if everything were clearly cut-and-dry. I would like to hear what a tangible strategic gain would be for this nation. Land? Natural resources? Would ensuring security be a tangible goal? Would it be appropriate for the civilian government to decide what a strategic goal for the United States would be? As the Colonel would argue otherwise, our sitting government in 2001 decided that there was a strategic goal in Afghanistan and in 2003 it decided that there was a strategic goal in Iraq. I really didn’t think that the objectives set were all that ambiguous. I do think that they were not expeditiously achieved by those given the missions. They achieved, in each case, half of the mission, failing the rest.

America’s decision to garrison Iraq after its initial goals of removing Saddam and eliminating WMD were achieved added little, if anything, of strategic value to American security, but the presence of so many conventional American forces did present America’s enemies in the Muslim world with an opportunity they would have otherwise missed: the chance to directly attack U.S. forces, damage American military prestige and exhaust American economic resources while strengthening their own. By the beginning of 2008, the most serious unanticipated outcome of this exposure was a monthly bill of $12 billion to maintain U.S. forces in support of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that was and is effectively tied to Iran.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has become a co-belligerent for the various factions and peoples — Kurds, Turks, Iranians, Saudi, Sunni or Shiite Arabs — struggling for power inside Iraq. These realities explain why the Bush administration was reluctant to remove large numbers of troops from Iraq. The current status quo is not merely fragile, it will not survive the withdrawal of U.S. military power.

He’s right, you know. We should have turned around and left right after toppling Hussein. That would have been best. I’m sure it would have worked out much better. I’m sure that between the Iranians and al Qaeda making a power grab closer to their homeland, Iraq would have quickly stabilized.

No, the current status quo will not survive the abrupt withdrawal of military power. Here’s a bell-ringer; what damaged American military prestige was sending conventional forces into a situation that was conventional for one month, followed by unconventional/asymmetric for years, and we never trained them for the unconventional. They developed coping mechanisms, and we helped them with that, but we to this day do not train our young Soldiers and leaders in COIN. That is a failure on the part of senior military leadership, not the civilian government that gave those officers their orders.

Arguing about the objectives that the civilian administration set is useless. Those objectives were set, and the Officer Corps went to work; planning, recommending, publishing orders and making coordination. The military leadership failed to possess a doctrine, and they failed to train for the contingency of having to deal with the end result of decapitating two nations. Now, one can argue ad-nauseum against those goals, but those are just excuses for not seeing it coming and pretending that the Weinberger or Powell doctrines would somehow save the military from another asymmetric challenge, having determined in their warrior hearts that they would never again have another Vietnam. It wasn’t the President that harmed American military prestige; it was our military leaders. The results are manifest. It’s not the job of senior officers to determine national military policy. It’s their job to execute it. You don’t choose the mission; the civilian government does. It’s the military’s job to get the job done, not tell the civilian government later that it’s all their fault.

Although that tactic did work after losing Vietnam. What the hell… let’s try it again!

In consideration of what to do next about Afghanistan’s rapidly deteriorating situation, current discussions in Washington are dominated by people who advocate increasing force levels and plunging these forces into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Yet a more sober analysis suggests the real problem with Afghanistan resides in Kabul, another corrupt and ineffective government unworthy of American military support.

“Unworthy of American military support?” Another slapping, another timeout. That “real problem” residing in Kabul didn’t even exist when we went in there. We helped them set that up. We screwed that up just as surely as they did, and we helped to topple the Taliban regime for our purposes, not theirs, overwhelmingly supported by the American people. How arrogant to determine that they are unworthy of our support. Again, it’s an excuse. It has been written many times on this page that the military isn’t the best instrument for many of the tasks of nation-building, but this could have been done a ton better. It took us five years after entering Afghanistan to publish counterinsurgency doctrine, and over two years after that doctrine was published, there are still COIN horror stories being written in Afghanistan by field grade officers who should be experts in it and junior leaders who are completely untrained in the doctrine. In the meantime, we have senior leaders publishing essays in a magazine designed for our Generals and Admirals excusing such failures with trite advice for our civilian government about what they must do to prevent such challenges in the future? In what parallel universe does this make sense?

The key questions missing from discussions in Washington about Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 include: Where is the legitimate government that asked for help from the U.S. in defeating the internal armed challenge to the government’s monopoly of control over the means of violence and political power? Legitimacy is not exclusively a function of elections. Legitimacy is also defined by a government’s competence to win and hold power in ways that benefit American and allied interests.

What part of we did it for our purposes, not theirs is unclear? There have been dissident groups inside and outside of Afghanistan asking for help for over a decade. Did we do this for them? Not just no but hell no. We did it for us. We did it because we were mad, and we did it because the longer we let the Taliban provide a happy home for al Qaeda, the less secure we were. We did it because a non-state actor capable of global power projection knocked down two of the largest structures in the world in the middle of one of our largest cities and punched a hole in the Pentagon, something that no state actor had ever been able to do, no matter how much they had wished they could. Conventional power projection in the form of 63 cruise missiles had done nothing more than anger al Qaeda and inspire them to show us what a cruise missile could really do. Our civilian government, overwhelmingly supported by the American people, decided that regime change was the order of the day. Everything past that has been a series of poor executions, not on the part of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, but of leaders who have not mastered the art that is their profession, because this particular application doesn’t suit them.

Treating conflict avoidance as a declared strategic goal should give pause to those in Washington who think counterinsurgency is something American military forces should seek to conduct. For outside powers intervening in other peoples’ countries as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, so-called counterinsurgency has not been the success story presented to the American people. Making cash payments to buy cooperation from insurgent groups to conceal a failed policy of occupation is a temporary expedient to reduce U.S. casualties, not a permanent solution for stability.

American military forces do not seek to conduct counterinsurgency. As a matter of fact, we’ve got tons of military officers who absolutely want nothing to do with it. We still don’t train properly for it, certainly not down to the Soldier-level, and we are still rank amateurs at its performance. On top of that, we’ve got senior officers writing about why we should never have done it in the first place. That’s what I call a recipe for success. As Andrew Exum of Abu Muquwama has pointed out, no one who really understands COIN is an advocate of seeking opportunities to use it. The problem is that we are currently in a position where we need to do it, because the alternative sucks, and we are too busy making excuses for ourselves to do the job that has been handed us by our civilian government.

The choices the new president makes among various military missions will ultimately decide what national military strategy America’s military executes. Of the many missions he must consider, open-ended missions to install democracy at gunpoint inside failed or backward societies along with unrealistic security guarantees to states and peoples of marginal strategic interest to the U.S. are missions America’s military establishment cannot and should not be asked to perform.

Cannot. Well, it appears that question’s been decided. This would be when it needs to be pointed out that the military establishment has not been asked to perform anything; it has been ordered to.

This essay is a shortsighted pseudo-intellectual protest against the responsibility of our leadership to figure it out and accomplish the foreign policy objectives of our nation. That includes training for the doctrine that is the only doctrine that makes sense when you are embroiled in a fight against an insurgency, which would be counterinsurgency, and getting the damned job done. The Colonel laments that his big three conditions on the use of military power, purpose, method and end-state, have been missing from the current conflicts. It is submitted that the military was in fact given these conditions, and has continuously failed to achieve them, causing the end-state to constantly have to be reevaluated, making it seem as if there were in fact no strategic goal expressed from the start. Even in Iraq, the goal of establishing a new government and leaving it in control of the country was pretty clear. The same goes for Afghanistan. Purpose and end state were there; method is up to the military leadership, and of all the big three, that has been the one most lacking. Like a child faced with a daunting task, we keep hearing, “Why? Why? Why?

What senior officers of the United States Military need to be encouraging our civilian leadership to do is to do their part in the counterinsurgency, to pony up the civilian development and governmental mentoring to assist in ridding the Afghan Government of corruption and get an actual economy started there. Instead, the premier journal of the American Flag Officer, Armed Forces Journal, publishes this attempted explanation of what the military is really for, giving excuses and setting forth the caveats of the “new military deal.”

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Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 20 Apr 2009 @ 08 08 PM

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 20 Apr 2009 @ 5:20 PM 

An Angel whispered in my ear; I hear and I obey.

Okay, there she twittered and I read it. So shoot me. Thank you LovLesmile.

Go here, take a look, and support Team ChuckZ.

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Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 20 Apr 2009 @ 05 20 PM

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