Small Wars Journal

Blog Posts

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, 05/04/2010 - 6:28am | 0 comments
U.S. to Send Trainers to Afghanistan as Stopgap - Thom Shanker, New York Times.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has signed an order sending 850 more American military personnel to Afghanistan as a stopgap measure to fill vacancies in the high-priority effort to train local security forces, Pentagon officials said Monday.

Officials said the decision reflects Mr. Gates's assessment that while European allies have made substantial commitments to support the war effort, some nations have asked for and deserve more time to fulfill their pledges to supply trainers for the Afghan Army and police.

The additional American personnel - about 150 Marines and an Army battalion - have a specific and limited deployment schedule. They will serve for 90 to 120 days between now and September...

More at The New York Times.

The Way Out - New York Times editorial.

... Illiteracy, corruption and other problems are not unexpected in a country as poor and undeveloped as Afghanistan. But a disturbing Pentagon report to Congress last week acknowledged that one of the "most significant challenges" to fielding qualified Afghan security forces is a shortage of "institutional trainers."

The training effort - like everything else about Afghanistan - was shortchanged for years under President George W. Bush. It has received more attention and resources under President Obama. In November, the United States and NATO opened a new integrated training mission. Its leader, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who previously led leadership schools and training programs at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was a West Point classmate of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan.

General Caldwell has brought a new coherence and purpose to the mission by revamping the Afghan Army leadership program and standardizing police instruction, among other innovations. And he has managed to double his number of trainers from 1,300 when he started to roughly 2,700 today. But he - more to the point, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General McChrystal - is having a very hard time getting the rest of NATO to deliver on commitments...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/03/2010 - 7:21pm | 2 comments
Gates: Sea Services Must Question Embedded Thinking

By Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., May 3, 2010 -- The Navy and Marine Corps are going to have to question some embedded thinking, such as whether the Navy needs 11 carrier battle groups or whether the Marines ever will launch another amphibious landing, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates spoke at the Navy League's annual Sea-Air-Space Convention at the Gaylord National Convention Center.

The world is changing, and the sea services must be on the leading edges of those changes, Gates said to an auditorium full of Navy and Marine Corps officers and defense contractors that was just a bit smaller than an aircraft carrier's hangar deck...

Continue on for much more...

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/03/2010 - 5:50pm | 2 comments
SWJ friend, and sometimes critic, Joshua Foust has a new home at PBS. Foust, along with Dan Ariely and Jessa Crispin, are the Voices at PBS' Need to Know. Best of luck to you!

Joshua's first post is The Battle for Kandahar.

The International Security Assistance Force - ISAF, as it's known in Afghanistan - hasn't been shy about its plans to "retake" Kandahar. But as with so many other operations in the country, there seems to be as much myth as there is fact about what the city is like, and what ISAF's plans are for occupying it. As the second-largest city in Afghanistan, rich with history both for Pashtun rule in the country and as the Taliban's birthplace, Kandahar holds tremendous symbolism. Here's what's important about Kandahar, and what the military is intending to do about it...

More at PBS.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/03/2010 - 5:48pm | 5 comments
German Troops Face Pitched Battles in Afghanistan as Insurgency Spreads - Tom Coghlan, The Times.

German troops are fighting the first pitched battles witnessed by the Bundeswehr since 1945 in the face of a growing Taleban insurgency in the north of Afghanistan.

Security has deteriorated in areas such as Badghis province in the northwest, Kunduz, Baghlan and some parts of Takhar and Badakhshan provinces.

In April there was heavy fighting in Kunduz province during Operation Towheed, in which seven German soldiers were killed. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German Defence Minister, gave a warning last week of "new and greater risks" that German forces must bear. Recent opinion polls have put German public opposition to the country's 5,000-strong Afghan deployment at 62 per cent.

A spokesman for the German forces in Kunduz told The Times this weekend: "It was intensive fighting in April. The situation is not stable and not secure. It has been deteriorating for more than a year." ...

More at The Times.

What is This Thing Called War? - The Economist.

Slowly and painfully Germany's leaders and voters are coming to terms with being at war in Afghanistan.

German troops have been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years. But Germans have been slow to accept this. "Stabilisation deployment" was how the politicians described Germany's role in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to which it is the third-largest contributor of troops. This was meant to convey the impression that the soldiers were helping Afghans build schools and dig wells rather than killing or being killed. Thus did ministers seek to reconcile Germany's duties as an ally with its instinctive pacifism, born of the horrors of the second world war.

The euphemism now lies buried beneath the rubble of reality. On April 15th the Taliban killed four and wounded five German soldiers who were escorting two Afghan battalions south of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, the main area of German operations. Three soldiers were killed on patrol two weeks earlier. In September a German commander called an airstrike near Kunduz that killed and wounded as many as 142 people, some of them civilians. This was the bloodiest action involving the German army since 1945. German war deaths now stand at 43...

More at The Economist.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 05/02/2010 - 8:47am | 4 comments
The Dangers of Embedded Journalism, in War and Politics - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

The American news media has made great use in recent years of a practice called embedding, in which journalists travel with the U.S. military to cover wars...

But embedding comes at a price. We are observing these wars from just one perspective, not seeing them whole. When you see my byline from Kandahar or Kabul or Basra, you should not think that I am out among ordinary people, asking questions of all sides. I am usually inside an American military bubble. That vantage point has value, but it is hardly a full picture.

I fear that an embedded media is becoming the norm, and not just when it comes to war. The chroniclers of political and cultural debates increasingly move in a caravan with one side or another, as well. This nonmilitary embedding may have a different rationale, but there's a similar effect that comes with traveling under the canopy of a particular candidate, party or community. Journalists gain access to information and talkative sources, but also inherit the distortions and biases that come with being "on the bus" or "on the plane." ...

More at The Washington Post.

Reporters on the Battlefield: The Embedded Press System in Historical Context - Christopher Paul, James J. Kim , Rand.

Clear differences between the missions and goals of the press and those of the military, particularly centering around the issues of access and operational security, make historical tensions between the two unsurprising and complete avoidance of tension unlikely. However, significant overlaps, including core goals of professionalism and public service, make cooperation a reasonable possibility. This book traces the back-and-forth interactions between the press and the military over the past several decades. In Vietnam, the press enjoyed high levels of access to events, largely because of the relatively amicable relationship that had developed between the press and the military, particularly in World War II. However, this relationship experienced a significant shift during the Vietnam War-news coverage critical of both the war and the military engendered tensions. The legacy of these tensions significantly influenced military-press relations in later operations in Grenada, Panama, and the first Gulf War. Another notable shift occurred during the first Gulf War, however, establishing the basis for new kinds of press access, which ultimately led to the embedded press system used in the second Gulf War. The outcomes and goals for the press and the military are also explored in relation to each other and those for the public.

Read the entire monograph at Rand.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 05/02/2010 - 12:58am | 9 comments

"The Slide"

Dynamic Planning for COIN in Afghanistan - The Entire Brief

And a blast from last year by our good friend LCol John Malevich at the COIN Center.
by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 10:16pm | 2 comments

Yep, he's back and on Facebook...
by Robert Haddick | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 5:59pm | 0 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) The Pentagon sends mixed messages into space,

2) Does defending a village mean undermining Karzai?

The Pentagon sends mixed messages into space

April 23 was a busy day for the Pentagon's space program. First was a launch from Florida of the experimental X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a smaller robotic version of the soon-to-be retired NASA Space Shuttle. The Air Force hopes to develop a reusable robotic spacecraft that can carry satellites and cargo into space, stay in orbit for many months, maneuver to different orbital planes, and land on a runway for reuse. Second that day was the launch from California of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 (HTV-2). The HTV-2 is an experiment to test whether the Pentagon can develop an extremely fast maneuvering glider-bomb that could promptly strike fleeting targets anywhere on the planet. Engineers lost contact with the missile 9 minutes after launch.

The Obama administration will soon attempt to explain two contrasting messages regarding the military use of space. On the one hand, it will call for international cooperation on a variety of space issues. On the other hand, as shown by the April 23 launches, it is hedging its bets by expanding the Pentagon's space power.

In its forthcoming Space Posture Review (SPR), the Defense Department will describe how important space and its space programs are to military success. The SPR will very likely explain how dependent U.S. military operations are on the military's reconnaissance, communication, weather, and navigation satellites. The report will also discuss how these systems are increasingly vulnerable to disruption by U.S. adversaries.

In a preview of the SPR's likely content, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn recently discussed the need for international cooperation in space. Lynn called for "norms of behavior in space" that would include cooperation on space communication spectra, cooperation on navigation and missile warning, and protection of space assets from attack.

Having established the greatest range of space capabilities and with the most to lose from attacks on space assets, it is understandable that the United States government would now call for cooperation in space and the institution of a taboo on attacks on space assets.

In his speech, Lynn recognized that space has become a competitive military environment. Potential adversaries are likely to see a great advantage in offensive space capabilities that threaten the Pentagon's space assets.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 3:20pm | 0 comments

Find out at Danger Room and maybe help save a bunch of cyber Airmen from getting their lunch money stolen in the ready room or the club.
by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 2:46pm | 1 comment
Expeditionary Economics: Spurring Growth After Conflicts and Disasters - Carl J. Schramm, Foreign Affairs.

Washington's approach to rebuilding economies devastated by conflicts and natural disasters is flawed. It assumes that strong economies cannot emerge in poor countries when it should be encouraging U.S.-style entrepreneurism and allow the U.S. military to help...

More at Foreign Affairs.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 12:33pm | 1 comment
Continue on for three recent articles of interest in Armed Forces Journal...
by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 11:13am | 2 comments
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10cAfghanistan Stability Chartwww.thedailyshow.comDaily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Afghanistan Stability Chart

The military encapsulates the solution to all of our problems in Afghanistan with one simple PowerPoint slide.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 04/30/2010 - 6:32am | 0 comments
Commentary in today's Washington Times:

Fall of Saigon Revisited - Editorial

Slow Going on the Path Toward Democracy - Baoky N. Vu

Culture Clash and Communication Failure - Nguyen Ngoc Linh

Ignoring Lessons From the Ground - Rufus Phillips

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 04/29/2010 - 4:00pm | 0 comments
Afghanistan and Obama: Transparency, Credibility and a Long War - Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It has been over a year since President Obama announced the outline of a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and well over half a year since the appoint of General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry has led to newefforts to define and implement that strategy in practical terms. However, the Obama Administration has yet to address most of the key issues that now shape the ability to implement that strategy.

The Administration has failed to address the most critical aspect of "strategic communications:" Providing the American people and the Congress with a clear picture of progress in the war, the broad structure of US plans, and some picture of the timelines involved and the future costs of the conflict. There has been no meaningful transparency, and the Administration's credibility depends almost exclusively on a leap of faith...

Much more at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/28/2010 - 9:29pm | 0 comments

All transcripts from the 21 April Emerald Express Strategic Symposium are now posted at the Marine Corps University web page.

This latest EE entitled, Afghanistan: The Way Ahead, was a one-day symposium held at the Gray Research Center, Quantico, Virginia. The purpose of this symposium was to improve understanding of the United States Marine Corps area of operations, to focus on the multidimensional and multinational approaches to enable the USMC and partners to succeed in the historical and ideological birthplace of the Taliban Movement; the current stronghold of the insurgency of Afghanistan; and the epicenter of opium cultivation in the world.

Topics covered at the symposium included a geographical, cultural and historical overview of southern Afghanistan; transition of military authority to the ANSF; governing Afghanistan to include district councils, development, and judicial reform; and defining, dealing and defeating the neo-Taliban and their message.

Transcripts for each of these subjects as well as the opening remarks, keynote address, keynote luncheon address, and closing remarks can be found at the MCU EE site.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/28/2010 - 4:37pm | 14 comments
H/T to Crispin Burke at Wings over Iraq for pointing us to Actually, the Army Kind of Likes Your Blog by Noah Shachtman at Danger Room.

You'd think all the criticism from left-wing websites like the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Salon would royally piss off the Army. But at least one Army report finds the sites' posts to be consistently "balanced."

Every week, the defense contractor MPRI prepares for the brass a "Blogosphere and Social Media Report," rounding up sites' posts on military matters. It's meant to be a single source for top officers to catch up on what's being said online and in leading social media outlets. Items from about two dozen national security and political blogs are excerpted, and classified as "balanced," "critical," or "supportive." The vast majority of the posts are considered "balanced" - even when they rip the Army a new one...

Included in the post are links to three of these reports: week of March 20th, week of April 3rd, and week of April 10th. More at Danger Room.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/28/2010 - 1:42pm | 0 comments
Interesting and thought provoking 23 April piece by Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal - Kandahar Cluster**** Watch - The You Can't Make This Stuff Up Version.

Over the last few days I've written about the delusional nature of US/NATO efforts around the impending military operations in Kandahar. Today in the Washington Post we have another excellent example of this phenomenon...

This article is reflective of what seems to be an increasingly significant issue in US efforts in Afghanistan - the desire to bring short-term results that will lead to a more immediate US exit and the long-term need to create some level of stability in the country...

But as Josh Foust said to me offline,"it took eight years of construction, culminating in a specific and hard-wrought electricity-sharing agreement with Uzbekistan, to supply Kabul. ISAF now wants to supply all of Kandahar in three months." Of course, this is at pace with the military's increasingly delusional public and private declarations of how quickly they can provide governance, security and extend state legitimacy in Southern Afghanistan. Even if the US is able to buy enough diesel fuel and generators to meet the goal of powering Kandahar what exactly is the point if it's not sustainable? ...

More at Democracy Arsenal.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/28/2010 - 1:12pm | 8 comments

After PowerPoint

Before PowerPoint
by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 9:41pm | 0 comments
Pakistani Army Officer Training Visit - Small Wars Journal.

On the 21st of April, the COIN Center hosted a delegation of the Pakistani Army in support of US Army Central Command and Office of Defense Representative Pakistan (ODRP). The Focus of their US trip, which included visits to Joint Readiness Training Center, National Training Center, 4/10 Mountain Division, 1/1 and 2/1 Infantry Division, was on learning how the US Army prepares soldiers for duty in foreign cultures during home station training and at the Combat Training Centers. Pakistan's Army Director of Military Training, Brigadier Raashid Wali Janjua was the senior representative. Also present were seven field grade officers from the Pakistani Army and Pakistan's Frontier Corps...

More at Small Wars Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 2:29pm | 13 comments
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint - Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.

"When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war," General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat...

More at The New York Times.

More and Related:

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint - NYT comment section

The TX Hammes PowerPoint Challenge - Starbuck, Small Wars Journal

Essay: Dumb-dumb Bullets - TX Hammes, Armed Forces Jorunal

Does the Military Overuse PowerPoint? - The Tank

Quagmire! - Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement

PowerPoint Is Evil - Edward Tufte, Wired

"Dumb-Dumb Bullets" and Information Processing - Adam Elkus, Red Team Journal

PowerPoint, Decision-Making, and Useless Staff Work - Reach 364, Building Peace

Who PowerPoint Empowers - Tom Ricks, The Best Defense

How Many SWJ Writers Can You Spot in this Article? - Starbuck, Wings Over Iraq

A PowerPoint Briefing About Why PowerPoint Is Bad... - Schmedlap

Hollow Point Power Point? - GSGF, GrEaT sAtAn"S gIrLfRiEnD

When Technology Is The Problem - Bill Egnor, Firedoglake

Guns and Bullet Points - Julie Weiner, Vanity Fair

Army Discovers PowerPoint Makes You Stupid - Preston Gralla, Computer World

Afghanistan: The PowerPoint Solution - Julian Borger, The Guardian

The Battle for Hearts and Bullet Points - Michael Evans, The Times

The U.S. Military's Fight Against PowerPoint - Althea Manasan, National Post

Beautiful, Pointless Graphs - Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

Why the Military Declared War on Powerpoint - Max Fisher, The Atlantic

Pentagon Uses its Noodle to Win War - Brad Norington, The Australian

Baffling PowerPoint Presentation - Daily Mail

PowerPoint Backlash Grinds Onward - David Perera, Fierce Government

The US Military's War On PowerPoint - Kyle VanHemert, Gizmodo

And of course a blast from the past ppt that got many thinking WTF?:

The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation - Peter Norvig

by Robert Haddick | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 12:57pm | 0 comments
Anthony Cordesman recently posted his report The Gulf Military Balance in 2010 at the CSIS website. This report (still in working draft form) is a graphical data dump and narrative discussion of conventional and irregular warfare capabilities and trends in the Persian Gulf region.

Some of Cordesman's conclusions:

1. On the charts, Iran records an impressive "bean count" of conventional military hardware. But Cordesman notes the ancient vintage of these systems, their poor state of repair, and inadequate soldier training and concludes that Iran's conventional military capability is limited and dwindling.

2. On the other side of the Gulf, U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and others have been on hardware spending sprees. Yet in spite of constant urging from U.S. officials, Cordesman notes that defense cooperation among the Gulf Arab states remains much less than what it should be. This lack of cooperation diminishes significant mutual defense synergies these countries could achieve in areas such as air defense, missile defense, sea control in the Persian Gulf, and offensive deterrence directed at moderating Iranian behavior.

3. Cordesman asserts that the Iranian government seems to be directing its attention at high-end asymmetric (nuclear plus theater-range ballistic missiles) and low-end asymmetric (revolutionary subversion, terror, sabotage) capabilities at the expense of funding for conventional military capabilities. Iranian decision makers may have concluded that Iran possesses a comparative advantage in these "asymmetric" capabilities while at the same time concluding that conventional military capabilities are not nearly as useful for projecting power or creating intimidating effects.

Not displayed in Cordesman's charts are U.S. Central Command's military capabilities. This is an appropriate omission. In the long-run, Iranian power will need to be contained and deterred. Best from a U.S. perspective that this be done by America's local Arab allies. Regrettably, as Cordesman notes, although the Gulf Arabs states will have the capacity to contain and deter Iran on their own, such regional deterrence and containment will be in short supply as long as the Arab states squabble rather than cooperate. The result will be a major U.S. military presence in the Gulf, long after the U.S. has scaled down its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 5:17am | 0 comments
Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom, offers up some commentary and advice on the current milblog flap surrounding Michael Yon's recent Facebook postings. Posted on Gallagher's Kerplunk blogsite.

If you're not familiar with the Michael Yon brouhaha in Afghanistan, here's a good rundown. Short version: embedded journalist and author of Moment of Truth in Iraq makes a cryptic post on Facebook, saying General McChrystal is in over his head. Milblogging community reacts, generally stating that Yon is burned out and needs a break. Yon replies, stating that milbloggers are largely a "hurricane of hot air."

Unlike a lot of milbloggers, I don't know Yon. I've read his stuff, and while it's a little preachy for my taste, it's generally a decent read. And he may very well be right about General McChrystal, I have no idea. But that doesn't change the fact that he's displaying classic dick tendencies right now, something, some of you may remember, I did myself, back in 2008...

... My mid-tour leave in the Mediterranean cured a lot of my ills (the dickish ones and otherwise) back in 2008. Strolls along the beach, beers in the park, and a lot of sleep. Here's hoping Yon gets some of the same soon, and then returns back to his actual job in Afghanistan - war reporting.

More at Kerplunk.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 2:49am | 1 comment
U.S. Training Afghan Villagers to Fight the Taliban - Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post.

Taliban fighters used to swagger with impunity through this farming village, threatening to assassinate government collaborators. They seeded the main thoroughfare, a dirt road with moonlike craters, with land mines. They paid local men to attack U.S. and Afghan troops.

Then, beginning in late February, a small detachment of U.S. Special Forces soldiers organized nearly two dozen villagers into an armed Afghan-style neighborhood watch group.

These days, the bazaar is thriving. The schoolhouse has reopened. People in the area have become confident enough to report Taliban activity to the village defense force and the police. As a consequence, insurgent attacks have nearly ceased and U.S. soldiers have not hit a single roadside bomb in the area in two months, according to the detachment...

The rapid and profound changes have generated excitement among top U.S. military officials in Afghanistan, fueling hope that such groups could reverse insurgent gains by providing the population a degree of protection that the police, the Afghan army and even international military forces have been unable to deliver...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 1:54am | 0 comments
It Takes the Villages - Dr. Seth Jones, Foreign Affairs.

Current efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are based on a misunderstanding of the country's culture and social structure. As three new books show, defeating the Taliban will require local, bottom-up efforts -- beginning with a deep understanding of tribal and subtribal politics.

I met Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, twice in 2009 and was quickly drawn to his unassuming demeanor and erudition. His jet-black beard and round spectacles gave him the aura of a soft-spoken professor, not a battle-hardened guerrilla fighter who had first tasted war at the age of 15. Zaeef told me about his childhood in southern Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion, his life with the Taliban, and the three years he spent in prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. What was particularly striking was his contempt for the United States and what he regarded as its myopic understanding of Afghanistan. "How long has America been in Afghanistan?" Zaeef asked rhetorically. "And how much do Americans know about Afghanistan and its people? Do they understand its culture, its tribes, and its population? I am afraid they know very little."

Zaeef is largely correct. In fact, U.S. Major General Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, echoed this point in early 2010: "Eight years into the war in Afghanistan," Flynn wrote in a poignant unclassified paper, "the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade." ...

Much more at Foreign Affairs.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 04/23/2010 - 8:48pm | 5 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Have the U.S. military's unconventional warriors defined themselves out of a job?

2) If you can't know the future, how do you prepare for it?

Have the U.S. military's unconventional warriors defined themselves out of a job?

What exactly is unconventional warfare? The U.S. military's special operations warriors have struggled with the definition for decades. To some, unconventional warfare encompasses the entire gamut of activities off the traditional battlefield, including support for foreign militaries, support for friendly guerillas, and behind-the-lines reconnaissance and raiding. Doctrinal purists object to this notion. To them, unconventional warfare means something very specific -- support for resistance movements battling governments hostile to the United States. Last year, the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School organized a conference attended by all of the stakeholders in the U.S. special warfare community for the purpose of finally settling on a definition. This they did. But in doing so, did they made unconventional warfare completely unusable as a tool for policymakers?

Here is the new approved definition: "activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area."

The idea of the United States supporting a resistance movement harkens back to U.S. support for French, Yugoslav, and other partisans resisting German occupation during World War II. During the Cold War, Green Berets prepared to drop into Eastern Europe to organize resistance if the Soviet army were to invade Western Europe. But the concept of unconventional warfare was later tarnished by the consequences of U.S. support for the Shah of Iran's overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953, failed meddling in Cuba in the 1960s, and the Contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Unconventional warfare has since had to achieve a very high burden of proof to defend its legitimacy.

With the new definition now written into various U.S. Army field manuals, special operations units will begin to implement training programs to prepare U.S. forces to execute such a mission if called on to do so. But if the special operators are preparing for something that is either politically unrealistic or that purposely avoids the most dangerous threats to the United States, will the unconventional warriors have defined themselves out of a job?

Click through to read more ...