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, 02/23/2010 - 8:55am | 2 comments

Marine General James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, speaking at a Center for a New American Security event on 18 February in conjunction with the official release of a study by CNAS on improving the way military officers are trained, evaluated and promoted. Also see Mattis: Obsolete Thinking Worse Than Obsolete Weapons.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:27pm | 0 comments
The Marine Corps University cordially invites you to attend a one-day strategic symposium on 21 April 2010 entitled "Emerald Express Strategic Symposium, Afghanistan: The Way Ahead." Bringing together world-renowned practitioners and scholars to Gray Research Center, MCB Quantico, the symposium will feature His Excellency Jilani Popal, Director of Independent Directorate of Local Government in Afghanistan. (A complete agenda is available on the registration website.)

Since the Marine Corps is a major player in NATO's United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) southern commands, comprising all or parts of six provinces in southwestern Afghanistan, Marine Corps University is hosting this symposium to improve our understanding of this region, 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. The purpose of this one-day symposium will be to understand the integration of all inter-agency elements of national power in the pursuit of national security objectives as it pertains to USMC forces at the operational level.

This symposium will consist of four panels designed around improving our understanding of the Marine Corps Area of Operation, Afghanistan; which include (1) a geographical, cultural and historical overview of Southern Afghanistan; (2) Transitioning Military Authority to the ANSF; (3) governing Afghanistan: district councils, development and judicial reform; (4) and defining, dealing and defeating the Neo-Taliban and their message.

This event is sponsored by the Marine Corps University and the Marine Corps University Foundation. Space is limited, so you are encouraged to register as soon as possible. To register, please go to:

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:20pm | 0 comments
Every so often Small Wars Journal receives master theses or articles based on a master thesis written at our professional military education institutions. We recently received three of particular interest and share them with you here. Hat tips to Colonel David Anderson (USMC ret.) and Colonel David Maxwell (USA) for bringing these to our attention.

Inducing alignment: The Dynamic Impact of Repression and Mobilizing Structures on Population Support -- Thesis by Major Brian E. Decker (USA) and Major Philip W. Thomas (USA) -- Naval Postgraduate School, December 2009.

This thesis provides an alternative to the surge theory as a basis for understanding the dramatic change in the security situation in Anbar, Iraq. Typological theory is used to develop a conceptual framework of strategic interaction that explains how different combinations of government and insurgent repression types lead to the alignment of the affected population. Process tracing is used to test our hypotheses of population alignment, to make inferences about how the population reacted to the repression tactics of the government and the insurgent, and ultimately, to construct an explanation for the defeat of AQI through the alignment of the tribal population in the Anbar province of Iraq. Game theory compliments process tracing by verifying the internal logic of the typology and observations.

In addition, the development of an agent based model (ABM) verifies the internal logic and extends the external validity of the author's substantive theory. The model replicates and reproduces the dynamic history of mechanisms and processes by manipulating the parameters that alter the affects of the interaction of repression tactics on population alignment. Then, theoretical predictions are tested against observations from the case study of the Anbar Awakening to assess the degree of congruence between the projections of the conceptual framework and the longitudinal variation of observations. The docking procedure of this research design confirms the utility of channeling for the counterinsurgent against insurgent coercion. However, the findings suggest that this dynamic is heavily dependent on intermediating mechanisms, such as the insurgent's social embeddedness and the population's incentive structures. Lastly, the feasibility and potential areas of applications for the models is provided.

Identifying the Pillars of Stability Operations: Using Social Science to Bridge the Gap Between the Principles of Joint Operations and the Stability Operations Framework -- Article based on a master thesis by Major Ethan H, Harding (USMC) and Dr. David A. Anderson (Colonel, USMC Ret.) -- U.S. Army Command and Staff College, 2009.

In the past, the U.S. military engaged in stability operations as an afterthought to traditional lethal operations. Still, such equality and integration between combat missions and stability operations does not always materialize, leading to diminished returns. This ineffectiveness is due to a myriad of issues ranging from poor synchronization to unit leadership lacking confidence in the benefits of executing stability tasks. Even when stability operations enjoy command and unit support, poor analysis and course of action (COA) development results in actions that minimally effect a situation, while other critical issues are not addressed. Even with the advent of FM 3-07, Stability Operations and the newly published U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) and United States Institute for Peace (USIP) Guiding Principles for Stability and Reconstruction, these problems continue to manifest themselves in "cookie-cutter" solutions that are improperly taken from one situational context and placed on another.

In 2005, NSPD-44 tasked the Department of Defense (DoD) with making the conduct of stability operations as one of their "core missions." Additionally, it established the Department of State (DoS), specifically the Department of State/Committee for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), as the lead agency for all stability-related activities abroad.1 This document propelled stability operations to the status of core mission, rather than an afterthought in military planning.

Causes of Improvement in the Security Environment of Iraq, 2006-2009 -- Thesis by Major Seth A. Wheeler (USA) - Naval Postgraduate School, December 2009.

Popular consensus exists that the 2007 surge of U.S. forces in Iraq led to an improved security environment. The surge was designed to reduce violence and improve security by protecting the Iraqi population—a change in strategy. According to the consensus, the security environment improved due to the surge, measured by the decreasing number of attacks.

For this thesis, the security environment consists of the number of attacks and their lethality, supported by data from U.S. Department of Defense reports to Congress. This thesis compares the timelines of the surge forces with the numbers of attacks, the lethality of those attacks, and with factors other than the surge that may have improved the security environment. This thesis argues that the surge and associated strategy may have hastened improvement to the security environment, but they were neither necessary nor sufficient for the improvements in the security environment.

Several theories and conflict models offer insight into how improvement in the security environment occurred: through efforts that countered insurgent sanctuary and social support, and consequently decreased the lethality of insurgent attacks. This analysis reveals that the political efforts of the Iraqi government and grass roots movements were the necessary and sufficient conditions for improvement.
by Robert Haddick | Mon, 02/22/2010 - 11:54am | 0 comments
A new president takes the oath of office. He now leads a superpower that has been fighting a stubborn insurgency in Afghanistan for seven years. Realizing he needs to take a new approach to the war, the president studies the situation and then orders the following actions:

1) He appoints a new field general in Afghanistan,

2) His army will use less firepower and adopt a more targeted counterinsurgency strategy,

3) He will engage in diplomacy with Pakistan in a effort to close the border and cut off support to the insurgents,

4) He orders a major effort to strengthen the Afghan security forces, in order to prepare for the withdrawal of his army from the country,

5) His commanders institute a tribal engagement effort, focused around Kandahar and along the Pakistan border,

6) The client government in Kabul will push a "national reconciliation" agenda in an attempt to increase its legitimacy and to weaken the insurgent movement. This agenda will include offers of amnesty for insurgents who reintegrate into Afghan society.

The new strategy for Afghanistan succeeds well beyond the expectation of the president and his advisors. Through a combination of military pressure, tribal engagement, political alliances inside Afghanistan, and international diplomacy, violence subsides and the client government in Kabul achieves growing authority. The president negotiates an international agreement on the future of Afghanistan and successfully withdraws his army from the country. To the amazement of outside observers, the client government in Kabul survives on its own for four years, outlasting the president's time in office.


Is this a forecast of how President's Obama's plan for Afghanistan will play out? No -- it is a description of how Mikhail Gorbachev extracted Soviet forces from Afghanistan between 1986 and 1989, in a study written by four U.S. military officers for the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings journal. These officers, three of whom have direct experience in Afghanistan, reached several interesting conclusions.

1) After 1986, the Soviets adopted many of the military, political, and diplomatic strategies the United States is currently attempting,

2) Although the Soviet Union had far less capacity to implement these strategies than does the U.S. today, its efforts still succeeded.

3) Gorbachev's goal was to get the Soviet army out and leave behind a friendly government in charge in Kabul. He succeeded. We will never know whether this government would have survived longer had the Soviet Union itself not collapsed.

4) Under Obama, the U.S. is "following the Bear" -- and is correct to do so.

The conventional wisdom is that the mujahideen defeated the Soviet army and chased it out of Afghanistan, which eventually led to an Islamist takeover. This perception (true or not) had crucial implications. It may have energized the willingness of people inside the Soviet empire to resist Soviet control. And Osama bin Laden used it to bolster his reputation and build his own organization.

If the Soviet client government in Kabul had lasted for ten years instead of just four, would the conventional wisdom about Soviet defeat in Afghanistan have taken hold? The answer to this question matters greatly for the U.S. regarding its post-withdrawal outcomes in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Should, after U.S. military disengagement, the governments in Baghdad and Kabul quickly collapse due to factional fighting or military coups, the impression may very well develop that insurgencies successfully ejected the U.S., as is the impression for the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.

The U.S. government intends to prevent such outcomes from happening by establishing robust country teams in both countries, combining strong diplomatic, economic, and security assistance missions. What remains to be seen is whether these efforts will be a match for variables beyond anyone's control.

The post-war reputation of the United States rides on the ability of its post-war country teams to prevent success from slipping away. Only when that happens will the U.S. control the post-war narrative -- the last but most important battle of the wars. Will the U.S. country teams in Iraq and Afghanistan be ready for these battles?

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 02/20/2010 - 11:51am | 0 comments
The U.S. Army and the other Armed Services exist to fight and win America's wars. In the current operational environment, the definition of "fighting and winning America's wars" is the subject of intense debate. In its ongoing effort to stimulate intellectual discourse, to foster informed policymaking processes, and to develop effective U.S. strategy in the post-September 11 world, the U.S. Army War College will host its 21st Annual Strategy Conference from April 6-8, 2010. Many of the world's foremost experts on the changing nature of war will attend and participate in this year's conference titled, "Defining War for the 21st Century," with the goal of clarifying the issues, outlining the debates, and generating strategic options.

The keynote speaker for this year's conference is Gen (R) Anthony Zinni, USMC, and the tentative agenda includes five panels that will debate the essence of the following questions for the purpose of "Defining War for the 21st Century:"

- Why does it matter how we define war?

- How does a nation know it is at war?

- Will all "wars" have discernable start and end points, or will some "wars" have no definable end?

- What are the political and social implications when the political elite and general polity differ in their interpretations?

- What are the dangers of misusing or overusing the "war" label?

- Must a new "theory of war" be developed?

- What are the dimensions of war -- unrestricted war, lawfare, hybrid war, cold war, asymmetric war, cyber war?

- What are the challenges in defining victory?

View the program and register at the 21st Annual Strategy Conference web page.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 02/20/2010 - 5:59am | 11 comments
Mattis: Obsolete Thinking Worse Than Obsolete Weapons

By John J. Kruzel

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2010 -- The only thing worse than obsolete weapons in war is obsolete thinking, a top U.S. commander cautioned in remarks on revitalizing America's military officer corps.

Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, yesterday emphasized the role education plays in enabling military officers to adapt quickly to strategic and tactical changes they encounter.

"It's opening the aperture," he said, describing the value afforded through education. "Once you stretch the mind open, it's hard for it to go back to how it was before."

Mattis delivered his remarks at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security, a policy think tank, in conjunction with a study by the center on improving the way military officers are trained, evaluated and promoted.

"The U.S. military must develop a model that trains and educates officers for the complex interactions of the current threat environment while being agile and versatile enough to adapt to a swiftly changing world beyond," contributors John Nagl and Brian Burton wrote in the CNAS study published ahead of yesterday's panel discussion. Mattis underscored the importance of complementing experience operating as part of a coalition on a battlefield with study of history and wars of the past.

"Through education built on an understanding of history and through experience gained on joint coalition operations, and probably commencing earlier in officers' careers," he said, "we can create an officer corps at ease with complex joint and coalition operations."

Click through to read more ...

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