Small Wars Journal

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SWJ Blog is a multi-author blog publishing news and commentary on the various goings on across the broad community of practice.  We gladly accept guest posts from serious voices in the community.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/20/2010 - 4:53am | 2 comments
The Death of the Armor Corps - Gian Gentile, Small Wars Journal

Is the Army's Armor Branch Defunct? - Tom Ricks, Best Defense

COINtras Off Their Game - Starbuck, Wings Over Iraq

COIN and Hybrid War: The Demise of Armor? - Judah Grunstein, World Politics Review

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 04/19/2010 - 6:22pm | 2 comments
Helping Others Defend Themselves: The Future of U.S. Security Assistance - Robert M. Gates, Foreign Affairs.

The United States will continue to face security threats from failed states, writes Robert M. Gates, U.S. secretary of defense, but it is "unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan or Iraq anytime soon--that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire." To face the threats of the future, then, Washington will need to "get better at what is called 'building partner capacity': helping other countries defend themselves or, if necessary, fight alongside U.S. forces by providing them with equipment, training, or other forms of security assistance." Currently, the resources to build partner capacity are spread across many parts of the government and military. What is needed, argues Gates, is a pooled fund for capacity building that is shared between the Defense Department and State Department. Such a fund would be able to deal with failed states more effectively and would "create incentives for collaboration between different agencies of the government."

"For the most part, however, the United States' instruments of national power-military and civilian-were set up in a different era for a very different set of threats. The U.S. military was designed to defeat other armies, navies, and air forces, not to advise, train, and equip them. Likewise, the United States' civilian instruments of power were designed primarily to manage relationships between states, rather than to help build states from within."

Read the full article at Foreign Affairs.

by Martin Dempsey | Mon, 04/19/2010 - 4:19pm | 6 comments
The past 8+ years of war has taught us many things as an Army. One particular lesson we've learned is that decentralized threats are best countered by also decentralizing our own capabilities. To adapt to what we've learned, the Army is training its leaders to think, act, and operate more decentralized. Now, through the promotion of mission orders, commander's intent and a new pilot program titled "The Army's Starfish Program", we are taking additional steps to promote decentralization as yet another tool to counter decentralized and networked threats.

The Army's Starfish Program evolved through an opportunistic collaboration between the USA Training and Doctrine Command and Ori Brafman, best-selling author of The Starfish and The Spider. A select group of leaders took part in the pilot program earlier this year and are now reaching out across the Army to share their insights from this unique experience. On 26 April, Ori Brafman will be joined by select students at a Town Hall Meeting at Fort Monroe in the post theater where they will discuss the tenets of the program, their experiences, and the results.

The Town Hall Meeting is open to all servicemembers, their families, and garrison personnel. For those unable to attend due to geography, it will be webcast at For those unable to attend the townhall or see the webcast, a tape of the townhall will be hung on the TRADOC webpage in the days following the townhall.

We encourage you to join us to get a sense for how the Army is seeking to learn from its experiences after 8+ years of war.

GEN Martin E. Dempsey


SWJ Editor's Note: General Martin E. Dempsey is Commanding General of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command.

by Robert Haddick | Mon, 04/19/2010 - 3:28pm | 5 comments
The weekend's big news was the New York Times leak of some details from Defense Secretary Robert Gates's January memo to James Jones, expressing Gates's concern that the Obama administration didn't have an adequate long-range policy for dealing with Iran and the consequences of its nuclear program. My colleagues at Foreign Policy (Blake Hounshell, Daniel Drezner, and Peter Feaver) have written their analyses of the Gates memo, all of which I recommend reading.

We already know that neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have gained any traction with this issue. According the NYT article, "the United States would ensure that Iran would not 'acquire a nuclear capability.'" None of the policy options aimed at preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power have much chance of success. Protected by China and probably Russia, the UN Security Council will not pass economic sanctions that will change the decision calculus in Tehran. Iran's mullahs appear to have crushed the Green movement, so regime change appears off the table. But those hoping for relief through a new government forget that Iran's nuclear program is very popular inside Iran; a new government is very likely to continue the program. Finally, even if some deal were to lead to an expansion of IAEA inspections, events from the past few decades have soiled the reputation of inspectors to thwart the aims of determined proliferators. Gates was at the top levels of the CIA and National Security Council when both his agency and the IAEA missed Iraq's nuclear progress in the late 1980s. Gross intelligence errors the other way followed 10-15 years later. As a career intelligence officer, Gates knows all too well the fallibility of that profession.

Starting with his service on the Iraq Study Group and leading up to the present, Gates no doubt believes his job is to extract the U.S. military from Iraq and Afghanistan under conditions resembling success. For him, this is undoubtedly a satisfying way to end a long career in government. Seeing how all other courses of action regarding Iran are doomed to fail, his January memo to Jones may have emerged from a fear that he and his department would soon be called on to execute "the last resort" against Iran, even when everyone knows that an air campaign would not be decisive but would result in another open-ended entanglement.

Having worked so hard to clean up the other messes, Gates undoubtedly doesn't want to end his career having ordered the start of another. Did his memo help avoid that? Maybe Gates will instead arrange his retirement before "the last resort" arrives on his desk.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 04/19/2010 - 10:01am | 0 comments
Social Scientists Do Counterinsurgency - Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker.

... But if "global war" isn't the right approach to terror what is? Experts on terrorism have produced shelves' worth of new works on this question. For outsiders, reading this material can be a jarring experience. In the world of terrorism studies, the rhetoric of righteousness gives way to equilibrium equations. Nobody is good and nobody is evil. Terrorists, even suicide bombers, are not psychotics or fanatics; they're rational actors—that is, what they do is explicable in terms of their beliefs and desires—who respond to the set of incentives that they find before them. The tools of analysis are realism, rational choice, game theory, decision theory: clinical and bloodless modes of thinking.

That approach, along with these scholars' long immersion in the subject, can produce some surprising observations. In A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (Yale; $30), Mark Moyar, who holds the Kim T. Adamson Chair of Insurgency and Terrorism at the Marine Corps University, tells us that, in Afghanistan, the Taliban's pay scale (financed by the protection payments demanded from opium farmers) is calibrated to be a generous multiple of the pay received by military and police personnel (financed by U.S. aid); no wonder official Afghan forces are no match for the insurgents. Audrey Kurth Cronin, a professor of strategy at the National War College, reminds us, in How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton; $29.95), that one can find out about Al Qaeda's policy for coí¶rdinating attacks by reading a book called The Management of Barbarism, by Abu Bakr Naji, which has been available via Al Qaeda's online library. (Naji advises that, if jihadis are arrested in one country after an attack, a cell elsewhere should launch an attack as a display of resilience.) In Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (M.I.T.; $24.95), Eli Berman traces the origins of the Taliban to a phenomenon that long preceded the birth of modern radical Islam: they are a direct descendant of the Deobandi movement, which began in nineteenth-century India in opposition to British colonial rule and, among other things, established a system of religious schools...

Much more at The New Yorker.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 04/19/2010 - 8:27am | 0 comments
Want to Read Arab News in English? Here's How. - Tom A. Peter, Christian Science Monitor.

Despite a post-9/11 surge of Westerners learning Arabic, the world's fifth-most-spoken language, English and Arabic speakers are still largely segregated on the Web.

A new translation website called Meedan aims to close that gap. Meedan ("public square" in Arabic) is creating a public forum for English and Arabic speakers to translate, read, and debate Middle East news.

"There was a real dearth of opportunities [after 9/11] for Arabic speakers in the Middle East and English speakers in the US and elsewhere to interact and share their viewpoints on world events and to see where those viewpoints diverged," says George Weyman, community manager for Meedan. "It's crucial that we open up channels of communication between the West and the Middle East."

Relying on a combination of machine and human translation, the site offers Middle East news on pages split between English and Arabic. When users comment on a story, responses are automatically translated into either English or Arabic...

More at The Christian Science Monitor.

Meedan - Bilingual News Sharing Site

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 04/17/2010 - 11:55am | 7 comments
COIN and Hybrid War: The Demise of Armor? - Judah Grunstein, World Politics Review.

... two other items serve as anecdotal illustrations of what I've previously flagged as another consequence of COIN-centric thinking, namely, the decline not so much of conventional warfare, as has often been posited, but of armor, in particular, as a central pillar of ground operations. According to Jean-Dominique Merchet, as part of a budget-induced reorganization of its armored regiments, the French army will be reducing some from four to three squadrons of AMX 10 RC light tanks. Meanwhile, Ajai Shukla reports that following successful tests against the Russian T-90, the Indian army will be increasing its orders of the indigenously produced Arjun main battle tank.

The contrast illustrates the kinds of environments in which tank commanders enjoy promising career perspectives. India and Pakistan seem like obvious bull markets, as does Russia. (Georgia, too, although the career perspective is somewhat mitigated by the less-promising outlook for life expectancy). But I'm not so sure the same holds for Western Europe or the U.S. Again, that's not to say that we no longer need to prepare for conventional war with a nation-state, but rather that even in the conventional wars we're most likely to fight, massive armored formations are unlikely to play a role...

More at World Politics Review.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 04/17/2010 - 7:37am | 0 comments
Taliban Targets U.S. Contractors Working on Projects in Afghanistan - Joshua Partlow, Washington Post.

The Taliban has begun regularly targeting U.S. government contractors in southern Afghanistan, stepping up use of a tactic that is rattling participating firms and could undermine development projects intended to stem the insurgency, according to U.S. officials.

Within the past month, there have been at least five attacks in Helmand and Kandahar provinces against employees of U.S. Agency for International Development contractors who are running agricultural projects, building roads, maintaining power plants and working with local officials.

The USAID "implementing partners," as they are known, employ mainly Afghans, who are overseen by foreigners. The companies' role is becoming increasingly important as more aid money floods into southern Afghanistan as part of a dual effort to generate goodwill and bolster the Kabul government...

More at The Washington Post.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 04/16/2010 - 7:08pm | 3 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Could a Chinese security guarantee end the standoff with Iran?

2) Hezbollah's Scuds provide a test case for Obama's deterrence doctrine.

Could a Chinese security guarantee end the standoff with Iran?

Perhaps the most important of the numerous sidebar meetings U.S. President Barack Obama held during his Nuclear Security Summit was with Chinese President Hu Jintao. At issue was how much support China would lend to a U.S. drive at the U.N. Security Council to sanction Iran for its lack of cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to the Washington Post, China is still sticking with its noncommittal position.

According to the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, China is Iran's no. 2 oil customer and Chinese companies are heavily invested in Iranian oil and gas exploration and development. China's rapid growth in oil imports virtually guarantees that China's commercial and political relations with Iran will deepen.

Proponents of a diplomatic "grand bargain" between Iran and the United States argue that the reason Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons capability is because it feels the need to deter a militarily supreme United States. Under a grand bargain, Iran would completely open itself to IAEA inspection in exchange for a U.S. renunciation of force against Iran, the restoration of diplomatic relations, and the end to the U.S. trade embargo.

The Obama administration has weakly proffered a vaguer version of this deal with little response from Iran. Iran's leaders have likely concluded that a U.S. promise not to use force against Iran is meaningless because the United States could reverse it at any time. But if Washington cannot credibly guarantee Iran's security, what about Beijing? Wouldn't all parties be better off with a Chinese security guarantee to Iran?

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 04/15/2010 - 6:56pm | 0 comments
The Tribal Engagement Workshop page has been updated with several new papers and non-SWJ blog posts written as post-event products. The final Considerations for Tribal Engagement: A Summary of the Tribal Engagement Workshop 2010 has also been posted.


One Tribe at a Time: The Way Forward - Major Jim Gant, Small Wars Journal

A District Approach in Afghanistan? - Major David S. Clukey, Small Wars Journal

Tribal Engagement Workshop: The Time Dimension - Dr. Marc Tyrrell, In Harmonium

Tribal Engagement for Afghanistan? - Andrew Exum, Abu Muqawama

Gameplanning a Solution In Medias Res - Joshua Foust, Registan

Local V. National Control - Joshua Foust, Registan

From Whole-of-Government to Whole-of-Place" - Joshua Foust, Registan

Tribal Engagement - Afghanistan - Greyhawk, Mudville Gazette

by Robert Haddick | Wed, 04/14/2010 - 5:19pm | 8 comments
This morning, U.S. soldiers departed Afghanistan's Korengal Valley for the last time. This valley, located northeast of Jalalabad and just 20 miles or so from Pakistan, is perhaps the bitterest battleground of the war for U.S. forces. The New York Times summed up America's presence in the valley this way:

Fighting for isolated mountain valleys like this one, even if they are hide-outs for clusters of Taliban, was no longer sustainable. It did more to spawn insurgents than defeat them. Better to put those soldiers in cities and towns where they could protect people and help them connect to the Afghan government, [General McChrystal] reasoned.

"There's never a perfect answer," General McChrystal said as he visited this outpost on April 8 for a briefing as the withdrawal began. "I care deeply about everybody who has been hurt here, but I can't do anything about it. I can do something about people who might be hurt in the future.

"The battle changes, the war changes," he added. "If you don't understand the dynamics you have no chance of getting it right. We've been slower here than I would have liked."

Forty-two American service men died fighting in the Korangal [sic] and hundreds were wounded, according to military statistics. Most died in the three years from 2006 to 2009. Many Afghan soldiers died there as well and in larger numbers since they had poorer equipment. In a war characterized by small, brutal battles, the Korangal had more than its share, and its abandonment now has left soldiers who fought there confronting confusion, anger and pain.


The Korangal Outpost was the third area of eastern Afghanistan where combat outposts closed: In 2007 and 2008 two posts and a smaller satellite base were closed in Kunar's Waygal Valley, and in 2009 two posts were closed in Nuristan Province's Kamdesh region. Along with the main Korangal outpost, five small satellite bases have closed, at least two of them, Restrepo and Vimoto, were named for soldiers who died there.


What will the various players in Afghanistan's drama learn from America's experience in the Korengal Valley?

First, many enemy commanders are likely to conclude that resistance is not futile, that they have a chance to defeat the U.S. military in combat.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/14/2010 - 5:07pm | 2 comments
Tribal engagement is the most viable option we have for changing the tide of the war in Afghanistan. Tribes, though weakened by decades of war and social unrest, remain the defining local organization in the rural areas of the east and south. This insurgency is about the Pashtuns. Pashtuns are waging the insurgency in the Pashtun tribal belt. The key to success in this very difficult and complex situation lies in the minds and the actions of the Pashtun tribesmen, not in the motivations of some foreign and Afghan officials who have far less invested in the war's outcome and are sitting in offices and ministries in Kabul and Kandahar protecting the "status quo."

The Pashtun tribes, with U.S. military assistance and on-the-ground presence, are the only force capable of pushing back the Taliban and providing the central government and Afghan security forces the time and space in which to assert greater stability. Seen in that light, contrary arguments that empowering the tribes would weaken the central government, interfere with the building of the Afghan Army and police, or prove too risky or unfeasible are short-sighted and reflect a failure to grasp the essential role of Pashtun tribes and tribal relationships in shaping the country's future.

At the same time, if we do not use this opportunity to give Pashtun tribes a voice in politics at the district, provincial and central levels of a reformed Afghan government, the long-term stability of the nation will be threatened. Borrowing a term from David Kilcullen at the Tribal Engagement Workshop, the real challenge may be the "catastrophic success" of tribes that are providing security but are not empowered politically.

A strategy of tribal engagement in the east and tribal-building in the south will play a vital role in determining whether Pashtun tribal influence becomes a force to help stabilize Afghanistan rather than another missed opportunity. Trained teams able to speak Pashtu and see things through the eyes of a tribesman are essential to building the enduring relationships with tribal leaders necessary to make this time-sensitive yet resource-efficient strategy succeed. The Pashtuns have a saying: "You can build anything, but you cannot rebuild trust once it is broken."

The Pashtun tribes want "people" not a plan or a process, a reality that has hit home as I've brushed up on my Pashtu over the last three months in preparation for deployment. The real question is -- are we —to give them that?

Jim Gant

One Tribe at a Time: The Way Forward (PDF)

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/13/2010 - 5:48pm | 1 comment
The Economic Imperative: Stabilizing Afghanistan through Economic Growth, by Center for a New American Security CEO Nathaniel Fick and Institute for State Effectiveness CEO Clare Lockhart, argues that U.S. and ISAF operations in the country currently have an "economic gap," and, while lack of attention to economic dimensions are numerable and justified, development is an imperative component to sustainable security and must be pursued.

"Harnessing the potential of the Afghan people to succeed on Afghan terms through Afghan institutions will reinforce stability as it spreads from areas cleared of insurgents, will give more Afghans a stake in the future of their country, and provides the only path to national self-sufficiency," write the authors.

The international community should also help catalyze a number of existing development initiatives that produce tangible benefits quickly for Afghans, including microfinance and public works programs, the National Solidarity Program, and OPIC-offered risk guarantees to potential investors, and:

- Revitalize the role of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

- Support the creation of a National Task Force for job development and training.

- Reaffirm the significance of Afghanistan's economic ministries.

- Create a global task force to identify gaps in strategy, financing mechanisms and to explore and set up additional financial instruments.

Download The Economic Imperative here.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 04/12/2010 - 7:58pm | 0 comments
Here's a great resource from Harvard's Belfer Center providing the essential background -- a "list of key facts and figures about nuclear security and terrorists' attempts to acquire nuclear materials."
by SWJ Editors | Sun, 04/11/2010 - 6:21pm | 8 comments
The True Fiasco Exposed by Wikileaks - Matt Armstrong, MountainRunner.

You are probably already familiar with the Wikileaks-edited video released April 5 of the 2007 airstrike in which a number of people were killed, including armed and unarmed men as well as two employees of the news agency Reuters. As of this writing, the initial instance of the edited version of the video titled "Collateral Murder" on YouTube is over 5 million views, not including reposts of the video by others using different YouTube accounts, and, according to The New York Times, "hundreds of times in television news reports." An unedited and not subtitled version upload by Wikileaks to YouTube, in contrast, has less 630,000, reflecting the lack of promotion of this version.

This video represents the advantages and disadvantages of social media in that highly influential content is easily propagated for global consumption. The persistency provided by the Internet means it will always be available and easily repurposed. Further, this situation highlights the ability to suppress unwanted information, both by the propagandist (omission of information) and by the supporter (removing an adversarial perspective). Lastly, the official response to this video shows the Defense Department still has a long way to go in understanding and operating in this new global information environment.

This video is, on its face and in depth, inflammatory and goes well beyond investigative journalism and creating transparency. It has launched debates about the legality of the attacks and questions of whether war crimes were committed. The video, as edited, titled, and subtitled is disturbing. It will continue to get substantial use in debates over Iraq, the US military, and US foreign policy in general...

Much more at MountainRunner.

by Crispin Burke | Sun, 04/11/2010 - 8:09am | 1 comment

"There are people alive today as a direct result of what Milbloggers

do each and every day"

--Gary Cagle of

Team Rubicon.

Military bloggers gathered in Arlington, VA this weekend for the 5th

Annual Milblog Conference.  The "Milbloggers" came from all walks of life: 

from veterans, to journalists, charity workers, even Gary Trudeau, the author of

Doonesbury.  The conference kicked off on Friday night with a panel

entitled "It's a Marathon, not a Sprint", which chronicled the early days of the

milblogosphere.  Led by pioneers of milblogging, such as Matt "Blackfive"

Burden, Lt. Col. Mitchell Bell (The SandGram),

Julia Hayden (SGT Mom), and Juliette Ochieng


the panelists shared anecdotes about their entry into the blogging world and the

role of blogging within their lives.  For many in the audience, it was a chance

to finally meet the people behind the blogs they had been reading for years.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 04/10/2010 - 6:23pm | 0 comments
COIN/SO/SFA SITREP, March 2010 - US Army/US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center

Director's Comments:

During the March 2010 Train the Trainer Course (T3C) at the COIN Training Center-Afghanistan (CTC-A) in Kabul, GEN McChrystal underscored to joint and multinational COIN trainers that his operational priority for ISAF is counterinsurgency, and that COIN is not merely a recommended technique -- it is a requirement. Receiving this COMISAF guidance firsthand were representatives from the USA/USMC COIN Center and Battle Command Training Program who will rapidly retransmit this guidance and additional insights to multiple training audiences preparing for deployment.

In support of COMISAF's population-centric approach to COIN, we recently engaged in a number of endeavors to include: continued training of the Human Terrain Teams that provide units with a deeper understanding of their operational environment; support to the Tribal Engagement Workshop sponsored by Small Wars Journal to better understand implications of tribal dynamics (report will soon be posted at; and participation in the Wilton Park's Winning Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan: Assessing the Effectiveness of Developmental Aid in COIN Operations, specifically focused on this complex and multi-dimensional challenge (Blog and Conference Report).

Would encourage your continued great feedback on COIN Center blogs on topics such as root causes and tribal engagement. Recent blog activity [Stabops ATTP blog link here] was so useful that it served as the catalyst for the Army to develop an on-line ATTP to address a crucial doctrinal gap in Stability Operations tactics, techniques, and procedures. Recommend you also review The Azimuth, a primer focused on preparing for COIN challenges.

During his recent orientation as Commander, Combined Arms Center (CAC), LTG Robert Caslen, stressed the imperative to ensure the Army is prepared both for this and the next fight and the need to ensure institutional pre-deployment training leads to the knowledge and skills required by our soldiers to conduct their operational missions. In that light, the COIN Center has been chartered to establish a CAC operational planning team (OPT) to increase focus on efforts to ensure doctrinal and training products reflect relevant lessons from operational application. We will keep you apprised on ongoing initiatives in this line of effort.

Thanks for your efforts in support of our troops,

Colonel Dan Roper

See full SITREP here

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 04/10/2010 - 10:09am | 8 comments

Our most sincere condolences to the people of Poland, a true and steady ally, on the untimely death of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, other members of the Polish delegation to Katyn, Russia, and to their families and friends.

"The Polish president and his wife were killed in a plane crash this morning, according to Russian officials. President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria were on board a flight which crashed at 10.56 Moscow time (0656 GMT) near Smolensk airport. Russian media is reporting that all 132 passengers were killed. The Kaczynski's were travelling with several senior government figures on a trip to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn forest massacre, in which thousands of Poles were executed by Soviet secret police."

-- The Times

"The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, DC wishes to inform that the book of condolence is open the Embassy's premises on April 10 (Saturday) from 12pm to 6pm, April 11 (Sunday) from 10am to 5pm, and from Monday to Friday from 10am to 6 pm."

-- Embassy of Poland, U.S.

Polish President Dies in Plane Crash - Krakow Post

President Lech Kaczyński Dead in Plane Crash - Warsaw Business Journal

Polish President Killed in Plane Crash - Voice of America

President of Poland Killed in Plane Crash in Russia - New York Times

Polish President is Killed in Plane Crash in Russia - Washington Post

Polish President, Others Killed in Plane Crash - Wall Street Journal

Polish President Killed in Plane Crash - The Times

Crash Kills Polish President - New Poland Express

Polish President Dies in Plane Crash - BBC News

Polish Tragedy in Smolensk - Krakow Post

Full List of Plane Crash Victims Issued - Warsaw Business Journal

Leaders Express Sorrow at Polish President's Death - Associated Press

Week of Mourning Announced in Poland - RIA Novosti

Poland Mourns President - Voice of America

Polish Citizens Mourn Plane Crash Victims - BBC News

Biography of Polish President Lech Kaczynski - RIA Novosti

Biography of Poland's Lech Kaczynski - CNN News

The Embassy of the Republic of Poland - U.S. Embassy

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 04/09/2010 - 9:24pm | 2 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Great news -- Karzai is acting crazy,

2) The yin and yang of the Nuclear Posture Review.

Great news -- Karzai is acting crazy

In last week's column, I discussed an anti-American outburst Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently delivered to lunch guests at his palace. After a phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to smooth things over, Karzai almost immediately opened fire again, renewing his complaints about Western interference in Afghanistan's affairs. This tirade concluded with a threat to join the Taliban if foreign interference did not stop. The colorful Peter Galbraith, the former deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan (who was fired from that position for his open quarrels with Karzai and his boss) questioned Karzai's "mental stability" and hinted Karzai might be under the influence of drugs. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley dismissed Galbraith's claim and again attempted to get relations with Karzai back on track. But we should not be surprised by another eruption from the Afghan president.

U.S. officials should be pleased that Karzai is rebranding himself as an anti-Western nationalist. Successful counterinsurgency requires a local partner who is legitimate and credible with the indigenous population. If Karzai has concluded that this attempt at rebranding is necessary to increase his legitimacy, especially among Pashtuns, the U.S. government should not object.

Obviously a rebranded Karzai is insufficient for success. The numerous shortcomings of Karzai and the central government in Kabul will not be repaired by this ploy. More troubling is the collateral damage Karzai's attempt at rebranding could inflict. The president's new hostility could damage the morale of U.S. soldiers, who will wonder why they should risk their lives for an erratic America-basher. Karzai's revised marketing strategy could also spoil U.S. political support for the military campaign and boost the Taliban's recruiting.

But there is more to Karzai's rebranding than boosting the current counterinsurgency campaign. He also has to start making plans for how to get by in a post-American Afghanistan.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/09/2010 - 9:34am | 6 comments
Defending the All-volunteer Force: A Rejoinder to Lt. Col. Paul Yingling - Dr. Curtis Gilroy, Armed Forces Journal.

In his article, "The Founders' Wisdom," in the January issue of Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling argues that the "U.S. should ... abandon the all-volunteer military and return to our historic reliance on citizen soldiers and conscription to wage protracted war." He offers several reasons in support of his argument. First, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America. Second, a conscripted force would provide the means to expand the Army to the sufficient size to meet its commitments. Third, such a force would enable the military to be more discriminating than a volunteer military in selecting those with the skills and attributes most required to fight today's wars. Finally, he believes a conscripted force would be less expensive. I respectfully disagree and will address each point in turn in four sections that follow.

Regardless of one's opinion of the management and progress of the war on terrorism, and contrary to the view of Yingling, the all-volunteer force has been an amazing success. The U.S. is fighting a protracted war with a volunteer military, and has sustained combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan for more than eight years while continuing to meet ongoing obligations around the globe. Even when unemployment rates were near-record lows in 2007, straining recruiting, the military still had tens of thousands of young men and women on waiting lists to join. In fiscal 2009, all four services, both the active and reserve components, met or exceeded their numerical recruiting goals, as well as their recruit quality standards in terms of education and aptitude. Retention also remained high - in many cases, one's tour of duty in a combat zone actually increased the likelihood of staying in the military...

More at Armed Forces Journal.

Whose Burden? - Lt. Col Paul Yingling, Armed Forces Journal.

While I appreciate Curtis Gilroy's spirited defense of the all-volunteer force, his article misrepresents or avoids many of my arguments. In the interest of fostering a more candid dialogue, I would like to pose the following questions:

The Defense Department supports its claim that the armed forces represent American society by grouping into the "top quintile" both middle-income families and multibillionaires. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans owns 38 percent of our country's wealth and wields a commensurate degree of political influence. However, DoD does not track the degree to which these most-privileged Americans serve in our armed forces. Why not?

Gilroy claims that "the services have been very successful in quickly adjusting end strength to changing requirements and wartime needs." Why is the Army unable to meet its goal of providing two years of dwell time between yearlong deployments?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dramatically increased the demands on "strategic corporals" - junior enlisted personnel who make tactical decisions with strategic consequences. Between 2001 and 2007, the percentage of high school graduates enlisting in the Army dropped from 90 percent to 79 percent. Given the increased demands of the battlefield, shouldn't DoD have raised enlistment standards between 2001 and 2007? If not, why not? ...

More at Armed Forces Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 04/08/2010 - 10:40am | 4 comments
Curing Afghanistan - Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV and Captain (USN) Mark R. Hagerott, Foreign Policy.

The battle for Marja in southern Afghanistan and the coming campaign in Kandahar are important, but victory on these battlefields will not win the war, though they will help set the conditions for success. It will take a comprehensive, holistic effort to bring stability to Afghanistan.

Drawing on our experience as institution builders, and after spending six months on the ground in Afghanistan, we would like to offer a different way to think about diagnosing this country's ills -- and finding the appropriate cures. In the course of our duties, we have helped build the Afghan army, police, air corps, educational institutions, military hospitals, logistics, and the bureaucracies of defense and interior. Rather than describing Afghanistan with the language of war and battles, we have come to think of the country as an ailing patient -- in many ways analogous to a weakened person under attack by an aggressive infection.

To extend this analogy further, to rebuild the country's long-term health, Afghan and coalition leaders must address the ailment at three levels: curing the body, mind, and spirit of the nation. This means rebuilding the body of physical infrastructure and physical security; restoring the mind of governmental and educational institutions; and reinvigorating the spirit of civil leadership and traditional, tolerant Islam...

Much more at Foreign Policy.

And also at Foreign Policy:

The New Rules of War - John Arquilla

The visionary who first saw the age of "netwar" coming warns that the U.S. military is getting it wrong all over again. Here's his plan to make conflict cheaper, smaller, and smarter.

Planet War - Kayvan Farzaneh, Andrew Swift and Peter Williams

From the bloody civil wars in Africa to the rag-tag insurgiences in Southeast Asia, 33 conflicts are raging around the world today, and it's often innocent civilians who suffer the most.

Africa's Forever Wars - Jeffrey Gettleman

Why the continent's conflicts never end.

In Praise of Aerial Bombing - Edward Luttwak

Why terror from the skies still works.

Let Europe Be Europe - Andrew J. Bacevich

Why the United States must withdraw from NATO.

Think Again: China's Military - Drew Thompson

It's not time to panic. Yet.

The Shooting War - Foreign Policy

An exclusive collection of work by the world's most acclaimed conflict photographers.
by SWJ Editors | Thu, 04/08/2010 - 3:34am | 1 comment
Why Hamid Karzai Makes a Bad Partner for the U.S. - Peter W. Galbraith, Washington Post opinion.

President Obama will soon have 100,000 troops fighting a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Their success depends on having a credible Afghan partner. Unfortunately, Obama's partner is Hamid Karzai.

In the eight years since the Bush administration helped install Karzai as president after the fall of the Taliban, he has run a government so ineffective that Afghans deride him as being no more than the mayor of Kabul and so corrupt that his country ranks 179th on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, just ahead of last-place Somalia, which has no government at all.

Afghanistan held a presidential election last August just as Obama was ramping up U.S. support for the war. Although funded by the United States and other Western countries and supported by the United Nations, the elections were massively fraudulent. Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) - which, despite its name, is appointed by and answers to Karzai - oversaw massive vote-rigging in which at least one-third of Karzai's tally, more than 1 million votes, was fake. A separate, independently appointed Electoral Complaints Commission eventually tossed out enough Karzai votes to force a second round of balloting, but the IEC ensured that the voting procedures were even more prone to fraud than those applied to the first round. Karzai's main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, rightly chose not to participate in the second round...

Much more at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 04/08/2010 - 2:38am | 0 comments
The US Army/USMC Counterinsurgency Center is pleased to host Associate Professor Daryl Youngman, Kansas State University, for a COIN Center Webcast from 1000 CST, (1100 EST), (1500 ZULU) on Thursday, 15 April 2010. Assoc. Prof. Youngman's briefing The Utility of Academic Partnerships in COIN Training will focus on the benefits of utilizing university cultural assets in COIN training.

Those interested in attending may view the meeting on-line here and participate via Defense Connect Online (DCO) as a guest. Remote attendees will be able to ask questions and view the slides through the software.

Also, a reminder that registration for the Spring COIN Symposium, 11-13 May 2010, hosted at Fort Leavenworth, KS, is open at this link. The theme of the symposium is - Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan: An Azimuth Check. The agenda can be found here and guest speaker biographies here. Lodging information can be found here.

by Robert Haddick | Wed, 04/07/2010 - 12:35pm | 10 comments
The Central Intelligence Agency now has legal permission to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, a United States citizen. An article from today's Washington Post explains:

Because he is a U.S. citizen, adding Aulaqi to the CIA list required special approval from the White House, officials said. The move means that Aulaqi would be considered a legitimate target not only for a military strike carried out by U.S. and Yemeni forces, but also for lethal CIA operations.

(I'm confused by the phrase "special approval from the White House." Being a building and an inanimate object, I did not know that the White House was capable of giving out approvals. I will assume this means that President Obama gave this approval -- why couldn't the author say this?)

In a recent "This Week at War" column, I asked the following questions about America's use of killer drones:

Specifically, if it is legal for the CIA to employ Predator drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, what about remote reaches of Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the high seas? Can the United States shoot at any sorts of criminal suspects and not just al Qaeda suspects or their allies? What if the target is a U.S. citizen? Why is it legal for drones with missiles to do what an overseas FBI agent with a pistol cannot? Does any suspect deemed "too difficult to apprehend" become legally eligible for a Hellfire missile instead?

Speaking for the U.S. government, Harold Koh, recently a law school dean and now legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, explained why states, including the United States, have very broad authorities to kill people they conclude are threats. Summarizing his conclusions on this issue (see the "Use of Force" section of his speech), Koh says the U.S. government's legal authority to shoot missiles at people comes from 1) the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al Qaeda personnel and their supporters that Congress passed in late September 2001, and 2) a state's inherent right of self-defense, which authorizes lethal force against all other belligerents anywhere at any time.

What makes someone a belligerent? According to Koh, it is someone who is part of a group that is in armed conflict with a state. Any limitations on the state's employment of firepower? According to Koh, the state's use of force must aim at military objectives and the incidental damage of the attack must not be excessive in relation to the military objective.

Applying Koh's reasoning, it seems as if it the U.S. government could legally answer "yes" to all of the questions I posed above, as long as the government could show the person was part of a group that was in some way hostile to the U.S. Koh sums it up this way:

Some have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in an armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force.

Still, some nagging questions remain:

1) Does this authority only apply outside U.S. territory or could it apply inside the U.S.?

2) Any limitation on "the White House's" discretion to define what constitutes a hostile group and who is associated with such a group?

3) What happens when (not if) other states, NGOs, and international bodies disagree with the U.S. government's legal reasoning? Will future former Obama administration officials risk arrest for war crimes when they travel outside the U.S., a risk that presumably hangs over the heads of some former Bush administration officials?

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/07/2010 - 12:32pm | 3 comments
How to Save Afghanistan From Karzai - Bing West, New York Times opinion.

... The coalition is pursuing a political-military strategy based on three tasks. First, "clear" the guerrillas from populated areas. Second, "hold" the areas with Afghan forces. Third, "build" responsible governance and development to gain the loyalty of the population for the government in Kabul. To accomplish this, the coalition military has deployed reconstruction teams to 25 provinces. We may call this a counterinsurgency program, but it's really nation-building.

The problem with building a new and better Afghanistan is that, above the local level, President Karzai has long held the levers of political power by controlling provincial finances and leadership appointments, including those of police chiefs. Regardless of the coalition's success at the district level, an obdurate and erratic Mr. Karzai is an obstacle to progress...

More at The New York Times.