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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 Robert Bateman | Sat, 02/20/2010 - 5:22am | 1 comment
And so, it begins.

I have departed the Office of Net Assessment, OSD, and for the next four years, at least, I will serve the United States by serving with or among other nation's military forces. This means that, among other things, I can write again. I arrived at the NATO Defense College recently. Not exactly a hardship tour, to be sure. I am in Rome, Italy, for six months. At the end of this gig, so I hear, the odds are not bad that I will go downrange for a while, working as a Strategist for somebody. We will see. Following that...the European Rapid Reaction Corps, Lille, France, where I will be one of about six Americans.

In other words, the only time when I will be among the majority, nationality-wise, for the next four years, will be when I am in Afghanistan. How messed up is that?

Not really much at all, as it turns out. Which is why I not only accepted these gigs, but sought them.

Old Winnie once noted, "It is better to jaw jaw than to war war." Churchill knew whereof he spoke. Although, to the best of this historian's knowledge, he never made a very big deal about it personally or politically, following his deserved dismissal in disgrace in the wake of the debacle of Gallipoli from the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, Winnie did something that few other politicians have done since 1865, he went all military, in person. (His only real peer in this act being Teddy Roosevelt who did much the same following his stint as UnderSec of the Navy, following some hijinks of his own.) He jiined 'th infantry. And, while Teddy's excursion was short, if brutal, it really does not hold a candle to Winston's. Churchill, for at least a little while, was a battalion commander on the Somme Front, in WWI. Folks, as bad as we have it now, that sort of experience defines "suck." (We ought not forget, while we are at it, that Churchill fought in what is now Pakistan as well. His other wars were, technically, as a "correspondent.")

Click through to read more ...

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 02/19/2010 - 11:36pm | 8 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Could Mullah Baradar arrange a truce in Afghanistan?

2) What will get Iran to change course?

Could Mullah Baradar arrange a truce in Afghanistan?

On Feb. 15, the New York Times revealed that Pakistani and United States intelligence officers captured Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's second in command. According to the Times, the capture occurred in Karachi several days before the publication of its article. Both Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers were interrogating the Taliban leader.

What was Baradar doing in Karachi? The United States and Pakistan have greatly expanded the employment of drone missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. The countryside might now be so dangerous that Taliban leaders such as Baradar might now be forced to take their chances in cities, away from the drones' hunting grounds. But avoiding detection in the cities is even more challenging. If the drones are eliminating the countryside as a safe haven, the survival options for Taliban leaders may now be running out.

Could Baradar's capture have actually been a defection? Seeing his life expectancy running short, he might have opted for the safety of capture. Another twist on this scenario is the possibility of a rift inside the Afghan Taliban's leadership; Baradar may have defected to avoid assassination at the hands of his comrades.

Much of the commentary on Baradar's capture has focused on the role of Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI has been the Afghan Taliban's sponsor and protector in the past. Yet now the ISI is publicly involved in Baradar's capture (or defection). Does Baradar possess some long-term value to the Pakistani government?

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 02/19/2010 - 4:06pm | 0 comments
Mark Moyar, author of A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq, has a posting today at The Daily Beast entitled Can the Afghans Keep Order?

As the Marja offensive winds down, it falls to local police to keep order. But the State Dept. and defense contractors have done a lousy job of preparing them.

President Obama says bolstering Afghanistan's security forces is critical to ultimate success in Afghanistan, and few would dispute the point. But how to bolster those forces is a far more difficult question. It's an issue that has bedeviled NATO for years—and will become an especially vital concern when soldiers begin falling back after the Marja offensive and the burden of holding on to the gains shifts to the local police. Lieutenant General William G. Caldwell, the new commander of the NATO training mission, has declared Afghan leadership the mission's top priority for 2010—a welcome departure from prior years, when NATO often lost sight of the quality of the Afghans' officer corps. Experience has shown time and again that defeating rural insurgents hinges on the caliber of army and police leaders...

More at The Daily Beast.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 02/18/2010 - 4:38am | 10 comments
A newly posted Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report highlights a need to revitalize the U.S. military officer corps:

The U.S. military officer corps faces an ever-increasing array of challenges. With current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and a complex global environment, the United States is relying on its armed forces to perform an ever-widening variety of functions. CNAS's latest report, Keeping the Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps, analyzes the changing nature of military officership and provides recommendations for how the U.S. military officer corps can keep its edge in a new strategic environment.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will launch Keeping the Edge at an event today from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel followed by a reception. The event will feature a keynote address by U.S. Joint Forces Commander General James Mattis, USMC, and a panel discussion with top experts including: Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, USN, President of National Defense University; Lieutenant General David Barno, USA, (Ret.), Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University; Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF, Deputy Judge Advocate General at U.S. Air Force Headquarters; and Dr. John A. Nagl, CNAS President. Find out more about the event here and RSVP for the event here.

In Keeping the Edge, the authors -- Dr. John Nagl, Brian M. Burton, Dr. Don M. Snider, Frank G. Hoffman, Captain Mark R. Hagerott, USN, and Colonel Roderick C. Zastrow, USAF -- argue that the military must provide a broader range of educational and professional experiences to military officers, essential components of training agile minds how to think rather than what to think, and cultivate new skill sets that are more relevant to 21st-century challenges.

"The profession of officership will continue to require physical, moral, and mental excellence, but the rapidly changing strategic environment of the 21st century will place an increasing premium on agility and flexibility," write Nagl and Burton. "The emerging strategic environment will provide both challenges and opportunities to those who have the tools necessary to handle the unexpected, and to do so with honor and integrity."

Download the full report here.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 02/17/2010 - 12:40pm | 17 comments

Malcolm Nance has a new book out, An End to al-Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden's Jihad and Restoring America's Honor.

He discussed the book yesterday in

this clip on the

Rachel Maddow show.  If you suffer through the wacky "security briefing"

intro, you'll get a chance to hear him nicely frame our loss of initiative to Al

Qaeda in defining the IO battlefield.  As far as the how and what

we can do to change that and defeat them in the next 24 months?  I

guess we'll have to buy the book and read quickly.  :)   The

clock is ticking.

Speaking of ticking, Maddow's site links in to Malcolm's

earlier appearance

on the show as it took on the "ticking time bomb" argument for torture. 

Each time he hits the headlines, a few more people connect the dots and run into

his Fall 2007 post here stating

Waterboarding is Torture, Period.  We continue to appreciate that


by Robert Haddick | Tue, 02/16/2010 - 4:14pm | 2 comments
The failure on February 11 of Iran's Green Movement to disrupt the government's celebration of the Islamic revolution has caused many of the movement's activists to question their tactics and wonder what to do next. An article in the New York Times captured the despondent mood:

Now, dejected opposition supporters are re-examining their tactics and struggling to find a new catalyst for a movement that emerged with astonishing power just eight months ago, after the disputed presidential election.

"I think a failure has triggered debates and tactical analyses that have been needed for a long time now," said a 26-year-old woman in Tehran, who attended last Thursday's protest and many earlier ones, and who, out of fear for her safety, asked to be identified only as Saina. After the last major protest, around the Ashura holiday in late December, turned violent, she said, "It seemed like a lot of people were tired of being brutalized and continuing to go out into the streets."

If Iran's Green Movement follows the pattern of earlier opposition movements, two scenarios seem likely. The movement will fade away after the government decapitates its leadership and successfully intimidates its foot soldiers. Or a hardened and professional core group will take over a vastly smaller movement and lead it into a violent urban insurgency.

Click through to read more ...

by Martin Dempsey | Tue, 02/16/2010 - 12:06pm | 0 comments

General Martin E. Dempsey is the Commanding General of the U.S. Army

Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). This is a

repost from TRADOC live.

Two months ago, TRADOC published a major revision to the Army's capstone

concept under the title,

The Army

Capstone Concept: Operational Adaptability: Operating under Conditions of

Uncertainty and Complexity in an Era of Persistent Conflict 2016-2028. This

landmark document describes the broad capabilities the Army will require in the

operational environment to defend America and help secure our interests in the


The writing and publication of this concept was a significant undertaking,

and it will have major implications and ramifications across our Army for years

to come. I intend to use the capstone concept to provide the common language and

conceptual foundation for an ongoing campaign of learning and analysis that will

allow the Army to evaluate, refine, and improve all of its core competencies.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 02/14/2010 - 8:37am | 0 comments
The Center for a New American Security Officership event (keynote and panel discussion) has been rescheduled for February 18 - Keeping the Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps.

To respond to a rapidly changing strategic environment and an ever-growing array of demands, the U.S. military must develop and maintain a high degree of adaptability within its officer corps. Indeed, America relies on its armed forces to perform a wider variety of functions than any other nation in history, and existing methods of training and education may not be sufficient to cultivate the officer corps America will need in the future. In addition to demonstrating a high degree of proficiency in conventional military operations, officers should also develop broader skill sets and knowledge to cope with a more complicated and rapidly evolving international environment.

On Thursday, February 18, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will release a major report at an event on how the United States can revitalize its military officer corps to meet current national security challenges, and those that lie ahead. General James N. Mattis, USMC, Commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, will deliver the keynote address, in addition to distinguished panel of experts who will offer their perspective on this important issue, including: Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, USN, President of National Defense University; Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.), Director, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University; Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF, Deputy Judge Advocate General at U.S. Air Force Headquarters; and Dr. John A. Nagl, President of CNAS.

Keeping the Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps

Date and Time:

February 18, 2010

4:30-5:00 p.m.: Event registration

5:00-6:30 p.m.: Event

6:30-7:30 p.m.: Reception

This event was originally scheduled for February 9 but was postponed due to inclement weather.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 02/12/2010 - 9:07pm | 3 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Is the Green Revolution an insurgency?

2) A Green Beret's advice: Think COIN, but don't do COIN.

Is the Green Revolution an insurgency?

Feb. 11 was the 31st anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the occasion by declaring to hundreds of thousands gathered at Tehran's Azadi Square that Iran was a "nuclear state." Meanwhile, a heavy presence of security forces in Tehran appeared to have successfully suppressed counterdemonstrations by regime opponents. In an essay for Small Wars Journal, Dan Cox, an associate professor at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College, wonders whether Iran's rulers are battling an embryonic insurgency. And if so, is the regime successfully implementing Western-designed counterinsurgency (COIN) theory to snuff out the opposition?

Cox refers back to the French military commander David Galula, one of the original COIN gurus, and others to analyze the Iranian government's actions against the protesters. In response to well-developed insurgencies, Galula and other Western COIN theorists have recommended a gentle hand -- counterinsurgents should limit the use of force, protect the population, and stress economic development in order to isolate the insurgents. However, Cox points out the lesser-known advice Galula and other COIN theorists have for embryonic insurgencies. The COIN gurus recommend early recognition of the problem and a harsh decisive response. Cox concludes that the Iranian government, taking advantage of its authoritarian position, is employing the recommendations of these Western theorists and to good effect.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 02/12/2010 - 4:43am | 3 comments
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has released a new backgrounder, Operation Moshtarak: Preparing for the Battle of Marjah, which is the first installment in series of publications analyzing the battle for Marjah by Afghanistan expert Jeffrey Dressler. As this large scale operation unfolds, ISW will continue to provide weekly on-the-ground assessments of the major fight brewing between coalition forces and the Taliban.

"The significance of this operation, lead by U.S. Marines in coordination with coalition and Afghan partners, cannot be underestimated as it is the largest joint operation in Afghanistan since 2001 and the first major test of the additional U.S. forces President Obama ordered last December," explained Jeffrey Dressler. Prior to their deployment, Mr. Dressler briefed Marines at Camp Lejeune on his comprehensive work on Helmand province published last fall by ISW.

Key facts from this backgrounder include:

- Operation Moshtarak (Dari for "Together") is largest joint offensive involving Afghan forces to date. Unlike previous operations, one battalion of Afghan troops will be paired with one battalion of U.S. Marines.

- Marjah is a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province and remains the command and control hub for the insurgency. Marjah is also considered to be one of the main narcotics centers in Helmand.

- The Taliban has formed or forced an alliance with local opium farmers, taxing each factory at a rate of $1,200 per month. The Taliban has also installed an elaborate shadow government in Marjah including judges, a mayor and a tax collecting committee.

- British Special Forces and U.S. Navy SEALs have commenced shaping operations, killing and capturing top Taliban commanders and dropping leaflets "warning the [insurgent] fighters to leave the area or be killed."

- In preparation for Operation Moshtarak, insurgents have constructed tunnels and bunkers, brought in heavy weapons, set booby traps and strewn landmines around Marjah. It is reported that 90% of the population remain in the town, trapped by IED belts that ring navigable terrain.

Operation Moshtarak: Preparing for the Battle of Marjah.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 02/11/2010 - 5:05pm | 0 comments
Mullah as Insurgent: Social Mobility and God - Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Malevich, U.S. Army/U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center.

... Islam, piety, and the power of the mullah are important aspects of life and culture in Afghanistan and may have more to do with fueling and driving the insurgency than we have acknowledged to date. Our failure to recognize this and address this dynamic will ensure our failure in Afghanistan and the region. We are not facing a mere political power struggle which is fueled by poverty, but rather a social and religious struggle that is powered by nothing less than jihad. This jihad has the potential to be more powerful than any Afghan government or tribe. In fact, jihad is the hail-Mary play that could prove to be the game changer in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a pretty ordered and structured society. Power is divided between the government, landholders/tribes, and the mullahs, and there is a constant power struggle between these three entities. The government wants to tax the landowners/tribes. The tribes want to avoid taxes and government control and the Mullahs want to control the other two and establish an Islamic Emirate and eradicate Pashtun-wali traits of music and dancing...

More at The COIN Center.

Tribe and Prejudice: America's 'New Hope' in Afghanistan - Joshua Foust, The National.

... In the 48 months since the return of the Taliban, American planners have announced a series of new plans intended to reverse their momentum, without much evident success.

The latest of these initiatives - what the New York Times grandly called "America's New Hope" in Afghanistan - is an attempt to bribe local tribes into battling the insurgency alongside American forces. Despite public declarations that they are doing no such thing, the U.S. policy establishment clearly hopes to duplicate the Sunni Awakening in Afghanistan.

In an effort to showcase the Afghan version of an Iraqi grassroots rebellion, U.S. military commanders in far eastern Nangarhar province announced at the end of January that they would support one tribe, the Shinwari, in its fight against the Taliban, pledging $1 million in development aid for tribal leaders in exchange for their allegiance. Unlike the Iraqis in Anbar, however, the Shinwari do not support the central government - suggesting that this "tribal engagement" and others like it may have detrimental effects on the legitimacy and stability of the administration in Kabul...

More at The National.

by Dave Dilegge | Wed, 02/10/2010 - 10:08am | 14 comments
Commanders' Under Scrutiny at the Combined Arms Center Blog has an important ongoing discussion. (Hat Tip to Marine Colonel Phil Ridderhof)

All, this article was recently published in The Washington Post, written by Greg Jaffe.

I think this has the potential of engendering tremendous discussion across the Army. I ask that you take the time to read it and am very interested in hearing your thoughts on its implications. Reflecting back on your time as former company grade leaders, both as commanders and staff officers, and looking forward as you assume positions as field grade officers including battalion command, this article articulates several topics that are important to discuss as part of our profession.

V/r BG Ed Cardon

Share your views with BG Cardon at the CAC Blog.

by Dave Dilegge | Wed, 02/10/2010 - 10:04am | 13 comments
One of my pet peeves is that British Army Review is not published electronically. Dr. David Betz sums it up nicely -- why??!!. That said, David does us a service by publishing a BAR book review in full at Kings of War. See Review: The Insurgent Archipelago at KOW.

If you're a British Army Review reader you may have seen this review of John Mackinlay's The Insurgent Archipelago already. However, as the BAR is not published electronically (why??!!) I'm posting it here on KOW for those of you who don't receive a hard copy.

First, go buy the book.

Now read why.

John Mackinlay has been thinking about insurgency and counterinsurgency in one way or another for the better part of a lifetime, from 1964 when he first reported for duty in Borneo as a junior officer in the 6th Gurkha Rifles, and then after a twenty-year military career as a research academic during which time he has written many highly regarded scholarly articles and monographs on the subject. This book, The Insurgent Archipelago, is the product of those many years of observation and thought. It is an important book because unusually for the insurgency and counterinsurgency literature which, as I shall describe below, is relatively slow-moving, and repetitive (even static), it has something new to say. It is a timely book because eight years into the inaptly named 'Global War on Terror', about which Mackinlay says insightful and needful things, with the cost in blood and treasure of the two major expeditionary campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan far exceeding the hopes and expectations of those who launched them, and with meaningful success still elusive, it is past time for a strategic rethink. This elegantly written book, without jargon and largely unburdened by academic hokum, provides an essential guide to the 'when the rubber hits the road' issues of global insurgency, what it is, how to understand it, and, possibly, how to deal with it...

Much more at KOW.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 02/09/2010 - 6:12pm | 4 comments
Lot's of good stuff in the most recent edition of Armed Forces Journal to include the following by SWJ friends and la familia:

The Founders' Wisdom by LTC Paul L. Yingling.

The U.S. faces a number of difficult challenges in civil-military relations that carry with them profound effects on our national security. Among these issues are declining popular support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, growing isolation between the U.S. military and the society it serves, and unresolved disputes over the limits of executive authority. However difficult these problems may be, they are neither unprecedented nor insoluble.

The underlying issues in these debates were explicitly addressed by America's Founders in drafting the U.S. Constitution. Winston Churchill famously observed that "America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options." Having today exhausted all other options to provide for our security, Americans would be well served to return to the system of war powers established by the Constitution...

What Civil-military Crisis? by COL Joseph J. Collins.

More than 15 years after Gen. Colin Powell's tour as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, pundits and scholars are again worried about cocky generals "playing politics." For his decisive outspokenness, some critics have assigned Gen. David Petraeus the role formerly played by Powell. At times, the media's need for drama approaches the ridiculous. In one such example, Petraeus' quieter, lower profile after he gave up command in Iraq led the New York Times to speculate that he may be gearing up to run for president.

On other fronts, scholars such as Notre Dame's Michael Desch are still trying to come to grips with the Rumsfeld years, where the defense secretary aggressively guided the preparation of a new-style war plan and later micromanaged the deployment of individual units, which subsequently contributed to problems in Iraq. Compounding that controversy, a few years later there was a noisy - and for many uncomfortable - "revolt" by several retired generals who called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired...

An Alternative to COIN by Dr. Bernard I. Finel.

The U.S. military is a dominant fighting force, capable of rapid global power projection and able to defeat state adversaries quickly and at relatively low cost in American lives and treasure. Unfortunately, American leaders are increasingly trying to transform this force into one optimized for counterinsurgency missions and long-term military occupations. A fundamental problem with the adoption of population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine as an organizing principle for American military operations is that it systematically fails to take advantage of the real strengths of the U.S. military.

It is true that not all political goals are achievable through the use of conventional military capabilities. However, "victory" in war is not dichotomous, and the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan - often seen as proving the necessity for COIN-capable forces as well as a commitment to nation-building - demonstrate in reality that the vast majority of goals can be accomplished through quick, decisive military operations. Not all political goals are achievable this way, but most are and those that cannot be achieved through conventional operations likely cannot be achieved by the application of even the most sophisticated counterinsurgency doctrine either...

The War of New Words by William F. Owen.

War isn't just transforming - it's ushering in a whole new language to describe conflict, and this language is used in a way that pays little attention to logic or military history. Thus the forces we used to call guerrillas are now "hybrid threats." Insurgencies are now "complex" and require "complex and adaptive" solutions. Jungles and cities are now "complex terrain." Put simply, the discussion about future conflict is being conducted using buzzwords and bumper stickers.

The evidence that the threats of the 21st century are going to be that much different from the threats of the 20th is lacking. Likewise, there is no evidence that a "new way of war" is evolving or that we somehow had a previously flawed understanding. In fact, the use of the new words strongly indicates that those using them do not wish to be encumbered by a generally useful and coherent set of terms that military history had previously used. As war and warfare are not changing in ways that demand new words, it is odd that people keep inventing them...

Much more at Armed Forces Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:36pm | 79 comments
Kilcullen (I): Here's What Not to Measure in a COIN Campaign - Tom Ricks at FP's Best Defense.

When David Kilcullen is at his best, he is unexcelled at discussing how to wage a counterinsurgency campaign. And I think the Australian infantry officer turned political anthropologist/COIN guru is at his best when he gathers field observations, boils them down to distilled principles, and then describes those rules in a clear, practical manner.

So I want to take some time to go through a paper he wrote recently in Afghanistan. (I didn't get it from him, by the way.) While it ostensibly is about metrics in COIN campaigning, it amounts to a thorough discussion of what works in such warfare, what doesn't, and -- especially -- how to tell the difference. It is written about the current campaign in Afghanistan, but clearly has broader applications. ...

After some initial throat-clearing (one of my rules when I was an editor was to see if I could cut the first three pages of any long article), Kilcullen's first major section is about metrics to be avoided...

Continue on for "what not to measure in a COIN Campaign" at Best Defense.

by Dave Dilegge | Mon, 02/08/2010 - 1:07pm | 4 comments
SWJ just got word from the Center for a New American Security that due to the lingering effects of the recent snow storm - and the possibility of yet more snow - tomorrow's Keeping the Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps seminar has been cancelled.
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 02/08/2010 - 6:20am | 0 comments
A Well-Written War, Told in the First Person - Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times.

... Soldier-writers have long produced American literature, from Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs about the Civil War to Norman Mailer's World War II novel, "The Naked and the Dead," to Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," about Vietnam.

The current group is different. As part of a modern all-volunteer force, they explore the timeless theme of the futility of war - but wars that they for the most part support. The books, many written as rites of passage by members of a highly educated young officer corps, are filled with gore, inept commanders and anguish over men lost in combat, but not questions about the conflicts themselves. "They look at war as an aspect of glory, of finding honor," said Mr. O'Brien, who was drafted for Vietnam in 1968 out of Macalester College in St. Paul. "It's almost an old-fashioned, Victorian way of looking at war."

The writers say one goal is to explain the complexities of the wars - Afghan and Iraqi politics, technology, the counterinsurgency doctrine of protecting local populations rather than just killing bad guys - to a wider audience. Their efforts, embraced by top commanders, have even bled into military reports that stand out for their accessible prose...

More at The New York Times.

by Marc Tyrrell | Sun, 02/07/2010 - 1:55pm | 28 comments
John Stanton has just released a story at Cryptome that Issa T. Salome, a 60 year old HTT member, was kidnapped in Iraq by insurgents in January.
by SWJ Editors | Sat, 02/06/2010 - 6:40am | 2 comments
The military's invigorated focus on accountability also seems driven by commanders' experience in war zones. Many of today's senior commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are on their second or third combat tours and are more —to judge their field subordinates. Meanwhile, the military is showing a greater willingness to study and learn from its mistakes, senior military officials said. The change is particularly evident in the Army's response to ambushes on U.S. troops in the villages of Wanat and Kamdesh, both in eastern Afghanistan.

-- Washington Post

U.S. Military Faults Leaders in Attack on Base - New York Times

U.S. Outpost in Afghanistan Left Vulnerable to Attack - Washington Post

Fault Found in Outpost's Fall - Wall Street Journal

U.S. Command Errors Preceded Taliban Attack - Los Angeles Times

Camp Keating Blunders Revealed - The Times

Protection, Intelligence Problems Led to Base Attack - CNN

U.S. Faults Command Over Afghan Ambush - Associated Press

Officers to Face Action for Taliban Attack - United Press International

Delay in Afghan Base Closure Led to 8 U.S. Deaths - Reuters

U.S. Army Admits String of Failures - Agence France-Presse

Army Releases Report on Battle at COP Keating - Long War Journal

Maybe, Finally, Some Accountability? - Registan

U.S. Commanders Face Tougher Discipline - Washington Post

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 02/06/2010 - 5:35am | 9 comments
NATO Ministers, Commanders Advertise Planned Offensive in Southern Afghanistan - Craig Whitlock, Washington Post.

For the upcoming Battle of Marja, the element of surprise has already gone by the wayside. NATO ministers and commanders, gathering Thursday and Friday in Istanbul, could barely contain themselves about a major military offensive set to launch 2,000 miles away in southern Afghanistan. Ignoring the usual dictums about keeping battle preparations secret, officials were keen to talk about what they touted as their biggest joint operation since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

"In the coming days, you will see a demonstration of our capability in a series of operations, led by the Afghans and supported by NATO, in southern Helmand," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen volunteered to reporters. Although Rasmussen said he could not go into details "for security reasons," other NATO officials said an allied force, led by U.S. Marines, was preparing for an assault on the town of Marja, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province. Senior military officials began touting the offensive, the first operation since a U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan, even before President Obama announced in early December that he would be sending more forces to the country...

More at The Washington Post.

U.S. Announces Helmand Offensive - Michael M. Phillips, Wall Street Journal.

In a rare break from traditional military secrecy, the U.S. and its allies are announcing the precise target of their first big offensive of the Afghanistan surge in an apparent bid to intimidate the Taliban. Coalition officers have been hinting aloud for months that they plan to send an overwhelming Afghan, British and U.S. force to clear insurgents from the town of Marjah and surrounding areas in Helmand province, and this week the allies took the unusual step of issuing a press release saying the attack was "due to commence." Senior Afghan officials went so far as to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss the offensive, although the allies have been careful not to publicize the specific date or details of the attack.

"If we went in there one night and all the insurgents were gone and we didn't have to fire a shot, that would be a success," a coalition spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said before the announcement. "I don't think there has been a mistake in letting people know we're planning on coming in." ...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

Why are U.S., Allies Telling Taliban About Coming Offensive? - Jonathan S. Landay and Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers at Stars and Stripes.

Thousands of U.S., British and Afghan troops are poised to launch the biggest offensive of the war in Afghanistan in a test of the Obama administration's new counterinsurgency strategy. Military operations usually are intended to catch the enemy off guard, but for weeks U.S. and allied officials have been telling reporters about their forthcoming assault on Marjah, a Taliban-held town of 80,000 and drug-trafficking hub in southern poppy-growing Helmand province. Senior NATO commanders and top Afghan officials have openly discussed the approximate time of Operation Moshtarak - the Dari language word for "together" - the size of the force and their objectives in news conferences, interviews and news releases that have been disseminated around the world and posted on government Web sites. Leaflets have been airdropped on the town.

Though the exact time of the kickoff hasn't been disclosed, a "news article" posted Thursday on the British Ministry of Defense's site announced that operations involving "elements of the Royal Welsh, Grenadier Guards and Scots Guards" and Afghan forces "in preparation" for the Marjah attack had been under way for 36 hours. The unusual approach, according to U.S. and British commanders, is intended to persuade Marjah's civilian population to leave or turn against the Taliban, while pressuring the estimated 2,000 insurgents to flee the town or switch sides...

More at Stars and Stripes.

Rage, Boredom, Misplaced Offensives - Joshua Foust, Registan.

The old saying that war is boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror is very much relevant to the fight in Helmand. Over the summer, when the Marines were advertising their latest "surge" into Helmand (at least the third Marine Surge and at least the fifth misfocused ISAF surge into the province), many expressed surprise at the Taliban's propensity to "melt away" from a fight - that, rather than facing certain death with the Marines, they'll just slink away to cause trouble elsewhere.

This isn't a new thing - the Taliban have been doing it since, oh, let's go with 2001 - but the Marine Corps nevertheless seemed surprised by it. And it is indeed a bizarre, frustrating thing to deal with an enemy that generally won't fight "fairly," choosing instead to rely on roadside bombs and mortars (the unfairness of such an idea - as if the American reliance on overwhelming air power was any less terrifying to the Taliban - is probably best left for another post). It would be understandable, even easy to find the Marines are running out of patience trying to fight a counterinsurgency while their opponents are not...

More at Registan.

Announcing the Marja Offensive - Herschel Smith, The Captain's Journal.

Let's not overdo the surprise and offer too many superlatives at announcing the Marja offensive. A similar strategy was taken for Operations al Fajr and Alljah, both in Fallujah. The U.S. Marines have a rich history of using intimidation as one of the many tools in their bag. My problem isn't with announcing the offensive. It comes at a more basic level than that...

I have also spoken strongly against targeting the poppies. I cannot speak directly to whether the Marines are targeting poppy in Helmand at the moment, but my objections to the handling of the Marja offensive are much more basic and foundational. If there is no one in charge who can explain why we are in Helmand, let me do it (sigh) once again...

More at The Captain's Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 02/05/2010 - 10:28pm | 0 comments

OEF Philippines: Thinking COIN, Practicing FID - Lieutenant Colonel Brian Petit, Special Warfare.

Counterinsurgency is the formative mission of today's military. The dominant missions of the past seven years - Iraq and Afghanistan - have inexorably shaped a new force. Our leaders, equipment, tactics, logistics, and doctrine all bear the traumatic discoveries learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan counterinsurgency campaigns. Reasonably, the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will continue as the primary shaping experience for U.S. forces in counterinsurgency (COIN) and for the practice and theory of stability operations. Given the dominant hold of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (OEF-A) on our military culture, what then, does Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines (OEF-P) contribute to the expanding aperture of U.S. military counterinsurgency study? OEF-P is more relevant to the broader COIN conversation now than ever before. The OEF-P operating environment is characterized by strict - yet prudent - constraints executed by a strikingly small U.S. Task Force. Similar constraints are now in place in Iraq and Afghanistan. Legal prohibitions, strict operational directives, host-nation caveats, and reduced U.S. forces are all constraints that force a revision of operational thinking, a reconsideration of tactics, and increasingly disciplined force application. The existing and forthcoming constraints in Iraq are similar in nature to the constraints imposed upon U.S. forces deployed to Southern Philippines since 2001. Under such constraints, U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Philippines apply an operational approach and tactical methodology that has applicability to current and future U.S. counterinsurgency and stability endeavors. The U.S. involvement in the Philippines (2001 -- 2009) can be examined as a preview of the way U.S. counterinsurgency and stability strategies and tactics might look in other theaters as governments stabilize and security responsibility shifts primarily to the host nation. This article presents three tactical vignettes illustrative of the way U.S. forces in the Southern Philippines operate effectively within confined parameters...

Much more at Special Warfare.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 02/05/2010 - 3:52pm | 1 comment
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) China growls at the Taiwan arms sale. Is this time different?

2) Gates calls for expanded long-range striking power -- but not until 2020.

China growls at the Taiwan arms sale. Is this time different?

On Jan. 29, the Obama administration approved a $6.4 billion package of weapons sales to Taiwan. The Chinese government's reaction was all-too predictable: The next day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to China for a dressing-down and threatened "serious repercussions" if the U.S. government did not reverse its decision.

Beijing has had to live with U.S. support for Taiwan's defense ever since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949. Each arrival of another arms sale for Taiwan has resulted in an outraged response from the Chinese government. Tempers then cool and business, both political and commercial, soon returns to normal. Will this time be different?

The best bet is that it won't. The Chinese government will most likely deliver its routine bluster and then allow the issue to fade away. Obama administration officials are likely hoping that the composition of this arms package -- mostly defensive systems such as surface-to-air missiles, minesweepers, and communications equipment, but not new F-16 fighter-bombers -- will appear non threatening to China.

The Chinese government needs to save face and protect China's reputation in the eyes of a domestic audience that is occasionally prone to nationalistic outbursts. But at the same time, the government has to maintain an export-driven economic policy that generates millions of new jobs each year. Failure to do so risks social instability. Thus, in spite of China's anger over U.S. military support for Taiwan, no confrontation with the United States is likely to result.

Even so, some analysts wonder whether there might be a trend toward greater Chinese combativeness.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 02/04/2010 - 11:36am | 14 comments
The Way Ahead in Afghanistan: Does a Silver Bullet Exist? An Analysis of Giving Power Over to the Tribes to Achieve Victory -- Major Nathan Springer, U.S. Army/ U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center.

MAJ Jim Gant has initiated healthy discussion and analysis concerning the way ahead in Afghanistan by publishing his bold paper "One Tribe At A Time." the level of interest and dialogue it has stimulated within the COIN community is extremely positive, whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions.

I agreed with many of MAJ Gant's points, particularly his thesis. "The answer to the problems that face the Afghan people, as well as other future threats to US security in the region, will be found in understanding and then helping the tribal system of Afghanistan to flourish." I couldn't agree more. At this point in the game, it seems to me that leaders understand this war will be won at the local, village, and tribal level up, rather than from the central/government level down. Like MAJ Gant, I am one soldier sharing one hard-earned perspective on the Afghanistan puzzle. Please understand that I do not wish to imply that my time in Afghanistan gave me all the answers. Truly, it left me with more questions than answers. But the pivotal piece of MAJ Gant's proposed solution to Afghani empowerment runs so counter to the realities I grappled with there, I feel I must add my voice, in a formal way, to this discourse.

I strongly disagree with MAJ Gant's ideas on how to go about empowering the tribal system in Afghanistan. Even referring to that nation's labyrinth of tribes as "the" system over-simplifies the situation on the ground. A complicated web of Afghani tribes, sects, sub-tribes, and clans have existed there for hundreds of years, inextricably bound to that nation's history, culture, and families...

More at The COIN Center Blog.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 02/03/2010 - 3:53am | 2 comments
Revenge on the Taliban, from 10,000 Feet - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

In their joint operations against Taliban militants hiding in the tribal areas, the United States and Pakistan seem to have embraced a classic bit of battlefield advice: Don't get mad, get even.

Since the beginning of 2010, the United States has stepped up the pace of its Predator strikes, with strong Pakistani support. These attacks appear to have killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, top lieutenant Qarimullah Hussain, who trained Taliban suicide bombers, and other key members of the insurgency, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Though the Predators launch their Hellfire missiles from the lofty altitude of 10,000 feet, make no mistake: This is an intense and unrelenting campaign of assassination. U.S. officials hope that top al-Qaeda leaders will soon fall prey to the stepped-up drone attacks, as well...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 02/03/2010 - 3:33am | 0 comments
Senators Warned of Terrorist Attack on U.S. by July - Mark Mazzetti, New York Times.

America's top intelligence official told lawmakers on Tuesday that Al Qaeda and its affiliates had made it a high priority to attempt a large-scale attack on American soil within the next six months.

The assessment by Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, was much starker than his view last year, when he emphasized the considerable progress in the campaign to debilitate Al Qaeda and said that the global economic meltdown, rather than the prospect of a major terrorist attack, was the "primary near-term security concern of the United States." ...

More at The New York Times.

Intelligence Officials Say al-Qaeda will Try to Attack U.S. in Next 6 Months - Joby Warrick, Washington Post.

The Obama administration's top intelligence officials on Tuesday described it as "certain" that al-Qaeda or its allies will try to attack the United States in the next six months, and they called for new flexibility in how U.S. officials detain and question terrorist suspects.

The officials, testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, also warned of increased risk of cyber-attacks in the coming months, saying that the recent China-based hacking of Google's computers was both a "wake-up call" and a forerunner to future strikes aimed at businesses or intended to cause economic disruption...

More at The Washington Post.

Terrorist Attempt 'Certain' in Months - Eli Lake, Washington Times.

The five senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told a Senate panel Tuesday they are "certain" that terrorists will attempt another attack on the United States in the next three to six months.

The warning came during the annual threat briefing to Congress in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who asked, "What is the likelihood of another terrorist-attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months? High or low?"

"An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say," Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral, said in response. Four other intelligence agency leaders who appeared at the hearing with Mr. Blair said they agreed with the assessment...

More at The Washington Times.