Small Wars Journal

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

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 01/08/2010 - 8:13pm | 7 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Yemen learns to profit from al Qaeda,

2) Maj. Gen. Flynn wants social scientists, not military intelligence officers.

Yemen learns to profit from al Qaeda

The nearly successful Christmas Day downing of a Detroit-bound airliner has suddenly shifted the U.S. national security community's focus to Yemen. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged Nigerian-born "knicker bomber," reportedly confessed to being trained in Yemen by an al Qaeda group.

Yemen and its problems are suddenly on everyone's agenda. On Jan. 1, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus announced a doubling in annual U.S. assistance to the country. On Jan. 28, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will host an international conference on Yemen, where he will no doubt call for increased international donations. It seems that whenever the international community discovers another al Qaeda franchise, a financial reward to the host seems to follow. Pakistan has perfected how to profit from this perverse incentive. Yemen is now showing itself to be an able student of the same technique.

Writing in Small Wars Journal, Lawrence Cline -- a career military intelligence officer, Middle East foreign area officer, and an instructor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School -- provides a comprehensive summary of Yemen's political and economic challenges. According to Cline, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his government do not view al Qaeda's presence in Yemen as their most important problem. To Saleh and his government, the Houthi rebellion in the Shiite northwest and the separatist unrest centered around the southern city of Aden (due to unresolved issues from the 1990 unification of Yemen) are far more urgent. Yemen's problems do not stop there. The country is running out of both oil and water, hosts over 150,000 Somali refugees, and its trade suffers from the Horn of Africa's ongoing piracy problem. Yemen is an obviously very troubled place and Saleh is understandably seeking out as much foreign assistance as he can.

In this context, Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Saleh government may have settled into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 01/08/2010 - 1:12pm | 5 comments
How a Plugged-In DC Think Tank Published a General's Brutal Intel Critique - Nathan Hodge, Danger Room.

In military circles, the talk all week has been about how and why the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan wound up publishing a scathing critique through a small-but-influential think tank. Now, we've got the answers.

When Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn published his tough assessment of the military's spy agencies in Afghanistan, it caught Pentagon officials by surprise — not least because Flynn distributed it through Center for a New American Security. While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said through his press secretary that he thought Flynn's findings were "spot on," he made it clear he was a bit uncomfortable with the conduit Flynn used to distribute the report. Reuters, quoting Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, said Gates had "real reservations about the general's choice of venue for publication."

So how, exactly, did the think tank get picked to publish the report? According to Nathaniel Fick, the chief executive officer of CNAS, the whole thing was a "bolt from the blue."

In a conversation yesterday with Danger Room, Fick and CNAS President John Nagl acknowledged that the move was unusual, but said the decision to go through CNAS was based on Flynn's desire to get the report out rapidly, reach the widest possible audience and provoke much-needed debate...

More at Danger Room.

The Flynn report (III): A Spy Generation Gap? - Tom Ricks, Best Defense.

There seems to be a generation gap in the intel community, judging by the sharply different reactions of younger and older spooks to the controversial new CNAS report on how to change intelligence in Afghanistan, written by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn and a couple of members of his entourage. The young folks (battalion S-2s and below) seem to be saying they like the assessment and don't mind the venue. The old folks (especially back here in the DC area) dislike the assessment and are appalled at the fact that Maj. Gen. Flynn released the report through a think tank...

More at Best Defense.

The Flynn Report (IV): Cordesman's Take - Tom Ricks, Best Defense.

On the other hand, Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is one old school intel guy who likes the Flynn report...

More at Best Defense.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 01/08/2010 - 11:46am | 6 comments
I Built an African Army - Sean McFate, Foreign Policy.

In May 2004, I was hired for an unusual job: The U.S. State Department contracted DynCorp International, a private military company, to build Liberia's army. I was tapped as an architect of this new force. Previously I had worked for both the U.S. military and Amnesty International. I was a rare bird -- an ex-paratrooper and human rights defender -- and thus a good fit for this unprecedented task. When I arrived in Liberia in 2004, the country's army was, at best, a mess. After decades of civil war, soldiers' hands were as bloodied as any rebels'. The troops were undisciplined, unpaid, and undertrained. They were a motley crew that protected no one in a country where pretty much everyone was vulnerable to violence. And it was our job to turn them into a professional military.

Today, just five years later, Liberia's soldiers are among the best in the region. They have been vetted, trained, paid, and readied for action. The difference was the impact of that little-known U.S. initiative -- the first of its kind -- that literally rebuilt the Liberian army from scratch. Our goal was for the Liberian army to fill the role of U.N. peacekeepers as the latter were slowly phased out, and it worked astonishingly well. Now that model might be of use again...

Much more at Foreign Policy.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 01/08/2010 - 5:17am | 16 comments
Marines in Afghanistan Take 'The Village' to Heart - Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times.

In political terms, any rhetoric linking the Afghan conflict and the Vietnam War is usually meant to be poisonous - like the charge that Afghanistan has become President Obama's Vietnam. But for the Marines in this former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, a book about the war in Vietnam has become a guide for how to wage a counterinsurgency campaign on a small scale. Though the overall U.S. effort in Southeast Asia ultimately failed, the Marines believe that lessons learned there could help in Afghanistan.

"The Village," by Bing West, first published in 1972, is the story of 15 Marines who spend two years in the remote hamlet of Binh Nghia, protecting villagers and joining with local security forces in trying to thwart a violent insurgency. Seven of the 15 were killed in action. Although the geopolitical ramifications may be widely different, the missions given those long-ago Marines and the Marines assigned here are roughly similar: Live amid the populace, partner with local forces and together drive a wedge between the populace and the enemy.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, who led Marines into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and now heads the U.S. Joint Forces Command, says "The Village" is a must-read for troops "to understand the role of the small unit in the sort of war we're fighting in Afghanistan." ...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

The Village - Bing West. "This is the way Vietnam should have been fought - by tough volunteers who lived alongside the Vietnamese.... It will take the sternest ideologue to remain unmoved by West's perceptive and human treatment of the men who fought it."

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 01/08/2010 - 2:42am | 0 comments
Gates Endorses Critique of Military Intelligence in Afghanistan - Al Pessin, Voice of America.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has endorsed a stinging critique of military intelligence efforts in Afghanistan written by the top U.S. and NATO military intelligence officer in the country. In a paper published this week, Major General Michael Flynn orders major changes to the way his operation works.

The 26-page publication called Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan says military intelligence efforts in the country over the past eight years have been "token and ineffectual," and have not provided commanders or senior leaders the information they need. It says the current intelligence gathering and analysis processes "fail to advance the war strategy and, as a result, expose more troops to danger over the long run."

The paper's authors, led by Major General Michael Flynn, the chief of U.S. and NATO military intelligence in Afghanistan, say it should be considered a directive to his subordinates on how they should reform their operations. Among the orders - send more analysts into the field and gather more information about the Afghan people, rather than focusing almost exclusively on insurgent groups. The paper says until now, many military intelligence units have been "deaf" to the population-centered approach the new Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, has ordered...

More at Voice of America.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 01/06/2010 - 9:49pm | 9 comments
More on military intelligence in this 27 November 2009 post at AEI's Center for Defense Studies - Changing the Culture of Military Intelligence by Philipp Tomio.

Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the U.S. intelligence chief in Afghanistan, said the American intelligence effort in Afghanistan is under-resourced and requires more UAVs, intelligence analysts, and surveillance satellites to defeat the Taliban insurgency. According to a recent article in The Los Angeles Times, Flynn, who was sent to Afghanistan to improve the quality of U.S. intelligence gathering there, is said to be frustrated that other senior officers at home do not view the issue with the same degree of urgency. Originally ordered by Gen. McChrystal to lead an overhaul of how U.S. intelligence is gathered, analyzed, distributed, and employed by American troops in the field, Flynn joined McChrystal's inner circle from the Joint Staff at the Pentagon where he was the J-2 responsible for military intelligence. Flynn firmly believes in the military's need for a radically different approach to collecting intelligence on insurgent networks, their resources, movements, and whereabouts. To build a complete picture of the enemy, Flynn believes, the U.S. needs to do a better job at collecting and exploiting information on insurgents when they move, regroup, and communicate after an American or allied attack. In the past, the military primarily employed intelligence to plan and prepare for military operations, and to adjust its course of action during a campaign. Today, according to Flynn, "we do the opposite. We do the [operations] to get the [intelligence]." ...

More at CDS.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:52pm | 1 comment
Physicist: Predicting Insurgencies Is Easy. As Long as You Dumb Down Your Wars - Katie Drummond, Danger Room.

Insurgencies are easy to predict - no matter where they occur, or why they begin. You just have to assume that all militants care about is appearing on CNN. And that everything there is to know about an insurgency can be found in your local newspaper or in military press releases.

That's the assertion, at least, of New Zealand-based physicist Sean Gourley. The last time we met him, Gourley ... had come up with a tidy-looking equation to explain the chaos of war. Unfortunately, that formula didn't actually work. Last summer, Gourley admitted that he failed to accurately predict the outcome of the 2007 military surge in Iraq - and that his predictions sprang from some rather dubious data. Gourley's formula relied solely on famously sketchy media accounts of insurgent attacks.

Turns out, Gourley was just getting warmed up. Last month, he and his research team published a new paper, "Common ecology quantifies human insurgency," that made it onto the cover of Nature, one of the world's leading science journals. It features an expanded version of Gourley's original formula, and is founded on the idea that insurgencies are "an ecology of dynamically evolving, self-organized groups following common decision-making processes." But strangely, Gourley is repeating - and, in some cases, amplifying - the same missteps he made before. He's still basing his models on press reports and other transparently incomplete data. Now, to make matters worse, he's claiming that militants are fighting just to get that media spotlight...

More at Danger Room.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 01/06/2010 - 6:25am | 1 comment
Two Attacks Highlight Counterterrorism's Bureaucratic Bog - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

The Central Intelligence Agency should be asking some painful questions this week about its performance: How could a suicide bomber have flown to Detroit despite a strong warning to a CIA station that he might be a terrorist? How could a Jordanian double agent have penetrated a CIA base in Afghanistan and killed seven agency employees? Talking to veteran counterterrorism officers, I hear a common theme that unites these two disastrous lapses: The CIA has adopted bureaucratic procedures that, while intended to avoid mistakes, may actually heighten the risks. In the words of one CIA veteran, "You have a system that is overwhelmed."

The two cases are very different. Yet they both illustrate what can happen when intelligence managers are eager for results but worried about risks. The consequence is a breakdown in tradecraft that can have fatal consequences. Meanwhile, an intelligence reorganization that was supposed to improve efficiency has made the bureaucracy problem worse...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 01/06/2010 - 5:59am | 12 comments
Slow Start for Military Corps in Afghanistan - Eric Schmitt, New York Times.

The military's effort to build a seasoned corps of expert officers for the Afghan war, one of the highest priorities of top commanders, is off to a slow start, with too few volunteers and a high-level warning to the armed services to steer better candidates into the program, according to some senior officers and participants. The groundbreaking program is meant to address concerns that the fight in Afghanistan has been hampered by a lack of continuity and expertise in the region among military personnel. But some officers have been reluctant to sign up for an unconventional career path because they fear it will hurt their advancement - a perception that top military leaders are trying to dispel as they tailor new policies for the complex task of taking on resilient insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each military branch has established career paths, and the type of focus envisioned by the program would take people off those routes.

The difficulties with the program came to light when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in an unusual rebuke within the Pentagon's uppermost circle, chided the chiefs of the four armed services three weeks ago for not always providing the best people. The program - which is expected to create a 912-member corps of mostly officers and enlisted service members who will work on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues for up to five years - was announced with much fanfare last fall. So far, 172 have signed up, and Admiral Mullen has questioned whether all of them are right for such a critical job...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 01/06/2010 - 4:09am | 0 comments
More below on Top Intelligence Official in Afghanistan Urges Changes to Intelligence Mission by Major General Michael T. Flynn, Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor; Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

Overhauling Intelligence Ops in the Afghan War - Tom Ricks, Best Defense

Pentagon Slams Publication of General's Think-Tank Report - Blake Hounshell, FP Passport

The Most Important Thing You'll Read on Afghanistan This Month - Andrew Exum, Abu Muqawama

Coalition Urged to Revamp Intelligence Gathering, Distribution in Afghanistan - Walter Pincus, Washington Post

U.S. Retools Military Intelligence - Jay Solomon and Yochi Dreazen, Wall Street Journal

Military Intelligence Chief Orders Reorganization - Anna Mulrine, US News & World Report

Intelligence Overhaul Ordered for Afghanistan - Julian E. Barnes and Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Pentagon Calls Spy Critique "Irregular" - Reuters

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 01/05/2010 - 4:48pm | 1 comment

CSM Michael Hall, the ISAF Command Sergeant

Major, has created a series of Intro to COIN videos that are being featured on

the ISAF Channel at You Tube and

are worth a look.  He is one of the point people for helping to educate

audiences from average folks on the street to political leaders to the force in

theater about the challenges of COIN in general and Afghanistan in particular.

The featured blurb here is the 6th and last in this series, "Nobody's an

Afghan Expert" and subtitled "Counterinsurgency Can't Be Looked At Through

Western Eyes."

The other five are:

ISAF Vision

for Counterinsurgency



What is

"Hearts & Minds?"



the People

This is a nice, simple, applied blocking and

tackling reiteration of the challenges well treated in works from

Galula to


See also CSM Hall's blog entry

How to Win in Afghanistan and How to Lose, where three other would-be bombers

create an interesting foil to the donkey-equipped bomber trio in the

first video of

the series.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 8:53pm | 0 comments
Linked is the latest USA/USMC Counterinsurgency Center / U.S. Army Stability Operations Proponent / U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Proponent SITREP dated 4 January 2010. Here are the Director's opening remarks:

As the counterinsurgency community continues to prepare leaders and units to confront and defeat irregular threats, it is clear that in spite of much progress, there is much yet to be done. All of our efforts should focus on enabling leaders, teams, and units to be better prepared for this challenge than our adversaries. Counterinsurgency at its core is a competitive and lethal environment in which those who learn faster and better win. Rapidly assessing, understanding, and adapting are essential to counter the nexus of criminality, corruption, instability, and narcotics that fuel ongoing insurgencies. Only in this manner can we generate and sustain the momentum -- physical, social, political, and psychological -- necessary to protect the population and prevail in enduring conflicts amongst the people.

The President's recent decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan helps bring into focus the complexity of the challenge to U.S. strategic objectives. A key initiative to address this challenge is the establishment of a 3-star NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan which will seek to improve Afghanistan security force training, leadership, and sustainability. Much of its expertise is derived from lessons and experience in Iraq where a key component of the U.S. efforts continues to be spear-headed by the work of Brigade Combat Teams operating as Advise and Assist Brigades. It is imperative that COIN, Stability Ops and SFA initiatives (to include policy, doctrine, training, and leader development) are coordinated fully with joint, interagency, and multinational partners. COIN Center has been providing COIN instruction to US civil-military training held at Camp Atterbury, Indiana to prepare PRT members for deployment to Afghanistan. We will continue to look for these kinds of opportunities to support the mission in Afghanistan and Iraq and are exploring additional areas where we can collaborate with our civilian interagency partners.

In accordance with our mandate to "help connect the dots" across multiple joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners, the COIN Center and SO & SFA proponent offices are redoubling efforts to increase presence and activity on the COIN webpage [link here], COIN blog [link here], COIN Center Facebook fan page [link here] and Battle Command Knowledge System (for CAC holders) [link here]. A summary of additional ongoing initiatives is in the December 2009 Army Magazine article entitled: "COIN Center: Preparing the Force for Counterinsurgency, Stability Operations, and Security Force Assistance" (see here, reprinted with permission of ARMY Magazine, December 2009).

Thanks for your efforts in support of our troops,

Colonel Dan Roper

Much more in the SITREP.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 6:54pm | 13 comments
Top Intelligence Official in Afghanistan Urges Changes to Intelligence Mission - Major General Michael T. Flynn, Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor; Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

CNAS released today a report that critically examines the relevance of the U.S. intelligence community to the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan titled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. The authors - Major General Michael T. Flynn, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence in Afghanistan; his advisor Captain Matt Pottinger; and Paul Batchelor, Senior Advisor for Civilian/Military Integrations at ISAF - argue that because the United States has focused the overwhelming majority of collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the intelligence apparatus still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate in and the people they are trying to protect and persuade.

Quoting General Stanley McChrystal, the authors write: "Our senior leaders - the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, Congress, the President of the United States - are not getting the right information to make decisions with ... The media is driving the issues. We need to build a process from the sensor all the way to the political decision makers."

Fixing Intel is the blueprint for that process. It describes the problem, details the changes, and illuminates examples of units that are "getting it right." It is aimed at commanders as well as intelligence professionals in Afghanistan, the United States and Europe.

Among the initiatives Major General Flynn directs:

- Empower select teams of analysts to move between field elements, much like journalists, to visit collectors of information at the grassroots level and carry that information back to the regional command level.

- Integrate information collected by civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, —non-governmental organizations and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and infantry battalions, to name a few.

- Divide work along geographic lines, instead of functional lines, and write comprehensive district assessments covering governance, development, and stability.

- Provide all data to teams of "information brokers" at the regional command level, who will organize and disseminate all reports and data gathered from the grassroots level.

- The analysts and information brokers will work in what the authors call "Stability Operations Information Centers," which will be placed under and in cooperation with the State Department's senior civilian representatives administering governance, development and stability efforts in Regional Command East and South.

- Invest time and energy into selecting the best, most extroverted, and hungriest analysts to serve in the Stability Operations Information Centers.

Read the entire report at CNAS.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 1:54pm | 89 comments
COIN Toss: The Cult of Counterinsurgency - Michael Crowley, The New Republic.

On the night of December 1, shortly after Barack Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, retired Lt. Colonel John Nagl appeared on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show." Maddow was dismayed by Obama's new plan, which she called "massive escalation," but, when she introduced Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert who has long called for a greater U.S. commitment to Afghanistan--even if it means raising taxes and expanding the military--she was surprisingly friendly. And, after Nagl spent the segment praising Obama's plan, which he said would throw back the Taliban and enable more civil and economic development, Maddow may have remained skeptical--but she was also admiring. "It's a real pleasure to have you on the show, John," she said.

Had someone like Bill Kristol given that same assessment of Obama's speech, Maddow might have tarred him as a bloodthirsty proponent of endless war. Which is why Nagl is one of the administration's most important allies as it tries to sell the United States on a renewed commitment to Afghanistan. A former tank commander in Iraq and co-author of the Army's landmark 2006 counterinsurgency manual, Nagl has become a fixture on television and in news articles about Afghanistan; he's even made an appearance on "The Daily Show." With the authority of a man who has worn a uniform in combat, and the intellectual heft of a Rhodes Scholar, he has helped to persuade many liberals that pursuing a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is the only viable path to success...

Much more at The New Republic.

by Robert Haddick | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 9:35am | 0 comments
In November Robert Kaplan, author of Imperial Grunts and many other books on current security issues, delivered the keynote address at the Foreign Policy Research Institute's annual dinner. FPRI has now posted a 38-minute video of Kaplan's remarks on its website. Kaplan discussed the looming competition between India, China, and the United States for control over the Indian Ocean region. I recommend finding time to view this video in order to preview a major security story that will unfold over the next two decades.

A few highlights from Kaplan's remarks:

1) Commerce on the sea lines of communication between the Middle East and East Asia, already massive, will greatly expand in the decades ahead.

2) Echoing the pre-World War I naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain, China will not trust the U.S. Navy to protect its shipping through this region.

3) Naval and air power will dominate military planning among the major powers with China, India, and Japan competing with the U.S. for military leadership in the region.

4) China is using its relationships with unsavory regimes in the Indian Ocean region to build an archipelago of naval bases around India. India is countering by expanding its own naval and air power and by expanding its military relationships with the U.S. and Japan.

Kaplan is writing a book on the future of the Indian Ocean region and this speech likely previews his conclusions. I recommend viewing his remarks.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 6:11am | 0 comments
Afghanistan, Now and Then - Eric T. Olson, Los Angeles Times opinion.

As the new year begins, the Afghanistan surge is underway. Army brigades and Marine regiments have been alerted to deploy, and their lead elements are on the move. Even in these early stages, it is not too soon to begin to think about how this year will end in Afghanistan. Key military and civilian national security officials have said that this December, they will give President Obama an assessment of the surge and make recommendations about how it should proceed. Those of us who were in Iraq for the surge of 2007 and who have fought in Afghanistan can pretty much predict how the war in the latter nation will unfold. First, given the challenge of deploying and sustaining our troops in an incredibly difficult and underdeveloped region, the troop buildup probably will take most of the year to complete.

Initially, as new units fan out into areas where no coalition forces have operated before -- especially in the largely Pashtun provinces in the south and east -- the stark prediction of senior U.S. military commanders will no doubt be fulfilled: U.S. casualties will spike until soldiers and their leaders become accustomed to the new terrain and the enemy that has operated at will there. But as our forces adapt, they will fight with increasing effectiveness, and more and more the insurgents probably will choose not to accept battle, deciding instead to move to new havens as they are able to identify them, or simply to go to ground - that is, melt into the masses of their Pashtun countrymen. Contacts with the enemy are likely to decline, which means U.S. and coalition casualties will decrease...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 01/03/2010 - 2:47pm | 14 comments
In the most recent Armed Forces Journal Gregory Foster, a professor at the National Defense University, writes that America's military is overdue for a dramatic overhaul.

The U.S. military, if it is to measure up to its future responsibilities as an effective instrument of statecraft and a trusted institution of society, must embark on the path of thoroughgoing transformation. This means truly sweeping overhaul, not the marginal incremental change that has characterized the self-justifying, self-deluding rhetoric of "defense transformation" to date.

The international environment the U.S. faces and is destined to continue facing in the years ahead requires a military significantly different from the one we now have. What we have, arguably and at best, is a militarily effective military: an instrument of force, designed and able only to wage war — usually disproportionately, often indiscriminately — on its own preferred terms on behalf of those in power...

That there would be widespread strategic and civic illiteracy in the military should come as no surprise to anyone truly familiar with the institution and its deeply entrenched tradition of anti-intellectualism. In a society that is itself anti-intellectual, the military — a demonstrably action-oriented, physical culture — stands out as being especially so. Notwithstanding the fact that the military has an extensive professional schooling system and also underwrites civilian graduate schooling for many of its officers, it remains institutionally indifferent at best, hostile at worst, to intellectual pursuits. Education, with its focus on intellectual development, invariably takes a distant back seat in the military to training, with its focus on skill development, subject-matter familiarization and topical immediacy. The constant tension that exists in military schools between military and academic priorities consistently favors the former. Academic job assignments, for students and faculty alike, at military or civilian schools, are widely eschewed as a low-priority, unproductive, career-diverting cost (rather than a worthy investment) that comes at the expense of higher priority, more productive, more career-enhancing, institutionally more essential operational assignments. The handful of individuals in uniform who actually seek to write for publication must, even today, submit their work to internal clearance review — always, ostensibly, for security reasons — before public release. Doctrine, long a defining hallmark of military praxis, imposes a suffocatingly pervasive overlay of forced standardization and routinization on virtually every facet of military life. And political ideology (predominantly conservative) is an ever-present, if latent, intellectual crutch for the many in uniform who seek nothing more than reaffirmation and reinforcement of their pre-established core beliefs.

Collectively, these things severely retard free thought and free expression throughout the institution. Nothing so angers those in uniform and puts them on the defensive as the suggestion that they are representative — or captive — of the so-called military mind. Such defensiveness owes to the painfulness of truth. If the military is to extricate itself from the fact that its members are afflicted by a self-imposed common mindset that is unimaginative, reactive, ossified, even pedestrian, it must create a central space for intellectuals and intellectualization. Intellectual stagnation, in fact, threatens to be the military's undoing in a future where success will be determined far more by brains than by brawn...

On an e-mail discussion group David Gurney; Editor, Joint Force Quarterly; takes exception and granted SWJ permission to publish his response:

It seems to be a rite of passage for former military personnel pursuing a second career in academia to establish their bona fides by endorsing the threadbare stereotype of anti-intellectualism in the armed forces. That Greg Foster extends this malady to the general population generously confirms the heroism of academics from coast-to-coast. More now than ever before (thanks to technology), I see Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, & Marines engaged in distance learning and seminar studies in the minimal time available in the face of duties where incompetence can precipitate death and organizational failure. Our self-styled intellectuals exhibit a remarkable failure of imagination (and in Greg's case, amnesia) when they diagnose military hostility to intellectual development. It is laughable in general, yet occasional artifacts are eagerly marshaled to reinforce the charge, not least because of its rhetorical utility in university and think tank circles.

To my mind, Greg's greatest error--in an essay chock full of them--concerns doctrine. For Professor Foster to characterize doctrine as a "suffocatingly pervasive overlay of forced standardization and routinization on virtually every facet of military life" is as specious a flight of fancy as anything I have read of late. I reply with conviction that ignorance of doctrine (especially joint doctrine) is endemic in the armed forces and easily eclipses "anti-intellectualism" as a problem. Doctrine is not prescriptive; only dilettantes regard it so.

Allow me to conclude my objections (confined to a single one of Greg's "ten deeply rooted features of established military culture") with his misapprehension of writers in the armed forces. When Greg asserts that there are only a "handful of individuals in uniform who actually seek to write for publication" he reveals surprising ignorance of the facts. I receive more than a hundred manuscripts each month from military authors and my Book Review Editor has to beat military petitioners off with a stick! When one considers the plethora of military publications (many dozens!), whether technical, tactical, functional, or broadly military, the lie is given to such an uninformed claim. Similarly, Greg is out of his depth when he implies that security reviews are tailored to impede communication with the public. Security & classification problems are frequent and sometimes dangerous; these reviews are one of my greatest burdens as editor of JFQ, but they are essential and those who deny it lack either imagination or experience.
by Dave Dilegge | Sat, 01/02/2010 - 8:23pm | 1 comment
Preparing for Your Future and That of the U.S. Army - LTG James M. Dubik (U.S. Army retired), Army Magazine.

In 1990, I finished commanding the 5th Battalion, 14th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, and set out to the Advanced Operational Studies Fellowship, School of Advanced Military Studies, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Four years later, I was promoted to colonel, and, three years after that, to brigadier general.

My battalion command sergeant major, Ron Semon, left our battalion and served both as a regimental command sergeant major and as the command sergeant major for the commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

Colonels and their sergeants major run large parts of our Army. Generals and their sergeants major provide strategic guidance. Like CSM Semon and me, many of you now serving at battalion level (whether as battalion commanders, battalion command sergeants major, or in equivalent positions) will serve at the more senior ranks. What yet-to-be-envisioned future will you face in 2017? Simply put, no one knows.

For example, the Berlin Wall fell in the second year of my battalion command—a surprise to many. (At the time, many focused only upon reaping the supposed "peace dividend," which reduced the approximately 780,000-person volunteer Army to about 485,000.) Uncertain then, and still unfolding, are the strategic consequences of the Cold War's end.

Even with this uncertainty, however, there are approaches you can take now to prepare for your future, and accordingly, the future of our Army...

Much more at Army Magazine.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 01/02/2010 - 12:24pm | 2 comments
Hybrid Threats Require a Hybrid Government - Matt Armstrong, Budget Insight, Stimson Center

Nine years ago we went to war with the enemy we had, not the enemy we wanted. For several years after 9/11 we struggled to comprehend how military superiority failed to translate into strategic victory. We created labels like "irregular" and "hybrid" to describe adversaries that did not conform to our structured view of international affairs shaped by the second half of the Cold War. Today, conflict is democratized, not in the sense of bicameral legislatures but strategic influence in the hands of non-state actors empowered by falling barriers to information acquisition, packaging and dissemination as well as easy access to the means of destruction and disruption, physical and virtual.

This new "democracy" is messy and yet we continue to formulate, plan, and execute engagement using "regular" and "homogeneous" bureaucracies and budgets. Today's threats are increasingly complex, often stateless, and rarely conforming to neat lines of authorities and responsibilities across, or within, government agencies, most of which were designed in and for previous eras.

Calls for "smart power" and a "whole of government" approach has resulted in countless articles, memos, and reports on updating the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies to confront the challenges of today and tomorrow. A few more reports -- each significant -- will come from the Administration over the next several weeks, including the Defense Department's so-called "1055 Report" (named after the section in the Congressional report requiring it), a new strategy on public diplomacy from the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and a strategic direction from the National Security Council. Each report is likely to call for the blending of planning and execution across executive branch agencies. The focus on improving the operational elements of national power, while necessary, ignores a critical national security actor that has received little to no attention or pressure to adapt to the new and emerging requirements: Congress...

More at Budget Insight.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 01/02/2010 - 8:12am | 0 comments
Ceremony Formally Marks End of Coalition Effort in Iraq - Liz Sly, Los Angeles Times.

December was the first month since the Iraq war began in which there were no American combat deaths, a milestone hailed by military officials Friday as they inaugurated a new name for the U.S. force at the start of the year that will see the war wind down in earnest. Henceforth, the Multinational Force-Iraq will officially be called the United States Force-Iraq, in belated recognition of the fact that for some time there have been no other nations serving alongside U.S. troops in the nearly 7-year-old conflict. British, Australian and Romanian soldiers pulled out in July, leaving Americans as the last surviving members of what President George W. Bush once called "the coalition of the willing." A small number of foreigners are serving with a NATO training mission, but they were not part of the multinational force.

At its peak, the coalition included 32 nations, but the term often drew snickers because many of the members, such as Estonia and Tonga, were among America's smallest allies and contributed fewer than 100 troops. And now the U.S. is preparing to pull out too, adding an end-of-era feel to the renaming ceremony held at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces on the sprawling Camp Victory complex outside Baghdad. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the troops and diplomats assembled in the palace's marble foyer that the new name signaled a new phase for the military as it prepares to halt all combat operations and scale back from the current 110,000 troops to fewer than 50,000 by August. The remaining troops, who will provide support and training,are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 01/01/2010 - 1:44pm | 4 comments
The highly successful Taliban attack on the CIA compound at FOB Chapman is a reminder that the recruitment of agents to infiltrate adversary organizations is very much a two-way street. The past few months have revealed that various adversary groups -- through their persistence, observation, and learning -- have discovered vulnerabilities in U.S. security. Those on the U.S. side responsible for security - which increasingly means everyone, not just counterintelligence personnel -- need to recalibrate their assumptions about who might be dangerous.

The CIA officers at FOB Chapman were very likely in the business of making contact with Afghan and Pakistani citizens in the area with the goal of recruiting agents who could nominate targets for either missile strikes or direct action raids. It is wholly appropriate that the CIA was there for this purpose -- it is a core function of the Clandestine Service to recruit and manage such agent networks.

Naturally, the very fact that CIA officers were out making contact with the locals made them vulnerable to counter-infiltration. The origins of this dilemma date back thousands of years so we must assume that the CIA was well aware of the risks and had procedures in place to mitigate those risks. According to a story in today's Washington Post, the Taliban claimed that the suicide bomber who infiltrated the inner CIA compound was an officer in the Afghan army. Although unconfirmed, this claim seems realistic. The Taliban handler of the infiltrator could have spent many months or even years building up a trusting relationship with the Americans. If the infiltrator was an Afghan army officer, this attack is likely to create additional difficult strains between Afghan and U.S. forces.

Might misguided American assumptions about class and social-economic status now be a security vulnerability? The CIA may never declassify its internal investigation of the FOB Chapman attack, so for now I can only speculate on what actually happened. It is easy to see how the Americans could remain suspicious of a common Afghan soldier, no matter how long they had known him. But an Afghan army officer, perhaps one who had travelled to the West, maybe gone to school there, would more easily find a place inside the CIA's small circle of camaraderie.

Might a similar misguided American assumption about class and social-economic status at least partly explain how Major Hasan -- an officer, medical school graduate and mass-murderer at Fort Hood -- escaped scrutiny? We can assume that the State Department's Consular bureau would resist issuing a multi-entry visa to a common Nigerian military-aged male from a Lagos slum. But the State Department did issue such a visa to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who nearly succeeded in downing an airliner on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab came from a wealthy Nigerian family, lived in a multi-million dollar flat in London, and was an honors graduate from University College London. For a U.S. consular officer with perhaps a similar pedigree, someone like Abdulmutallab might not seem like a risk.

While the U.S. escalates its military operations in the dusty hinterlands of Afghanistan and Yemen, adversaries might be focusing their terror recruiting efforts at British universities. Which makes one wonder which side is better at learning and adapting, and exploiting his enemy's blind spots and cultural weaknesses.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 01/01/2010 - 11:31am | 2 comments
21st Century Counterinsurgency Intelligence - Seth Milstein, AFCEA Intelligence - Intelligence Essay Contest Winner.

Insurgency and counterinsurgency are radically different sides of the same coin - a truly asymmetric conflict. The intelligence demands for both sides are equally dissimilar. Effective intelligence for counterinsurgency has historically been a great challenge for those schooled in traditional military intelligence with its emphasis on fighting peer enemies in a symmetric conflict. Even with the modern gamut of collection and analytic capabilities, successful intelligence against insurgents remains difficult. History has good examples of effective counterinsurgency intelligence, notably the British experience in Malaya and more recently in Northern Ireland. British success owes more to effective organization and information management than to technology. Integrating their proven methods with contemporary technology offers the possibility of an intelligence system possessing far greater speed and flexibility, and requiring relatively low investment in equipment and training. Employing such a system is expected to drastically skew the battlefield in favor of the counterinsurgency effort, offering faster conflict resolution.

21st Century Counterinsurgency Intelligence.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 12/31/2009 - 8:36am | 1 comment
Army History Finds Early Missteps in Afghanistan - James Dao, New York Times.

In the fall of 2003, the new commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, decided on a new strategy. Known as counterinsurgency, the approach required coalition forces to work closely with Afghan leaders to stabilize entire regions, rather than simply attacking insurgent cells. But there was a major drawback, a new unpublished Army history of the war concludes. Because the Pentagon insisted on maintaining a "small footprint" in Afghanistan and because Iraq was drawing away resources, General Barno commanded fewer than 20,000 troops.

As a result, battalions with 800 soldiers were trying to secure provinces the size of Vermont. "Coalition forces remained thinly spread across Afghanistan," the historians write. "Much of the country remained vulnerable to enemy forces increasingly —to reassert their power." That early and undermanned effort to use counterinsurgency is one of several examples of how American forces, hamstrung by inadequate resources, missed opportunities to stabilize Afghanistan during the early years of the war, according to the history, "A Different Kind of War." ...

More at The New York Times.

by Dave Dilegge | Thu, 12/31/2009 - 6:57am | 0 comments
US Army/USMC COIN Center Webcast - A Study of Pashtun "Tribes" in Afghanistan

The US Army/USMC Counterinsurgency Center is pleased to host Dr. Michael Weltsch from the Human Terrain System Reachback Center for a COIN Center Webcast from 10:00 CST, (1100 EST), (16:00 ZULU) on Fri, 29 Jan 2010.

Dr Weltsch's Briefing is entitled 'My Cousin's Enemy is My Friend: A Study of Pashtun "Tribes" in Afghanistan', It challenges our preconceived notions of the role that tribal affiliation plays in Afghanistan and questions the wisdom of trying to win the insurgency through the tribal structure.

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

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/29/2009 - 7:43am | 24 comments

Watch CBS News Videos Online

60 Minutes: Out Of The Shadows - Ex-CIA operative Henry Crumpton describes using local might to oust al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in 2001, a strategy he says is needed in Pakistan, where terrorist are hiding.

Ex-CIA Operative Comes Out of the Shadows - CBS News.

You don't hear from people like Henry Crumpton very often. That's because "Hank," as he's known, spent most of his adult life as a spy for the CIA. Now he has stepped out of the shadows to tell how just after 9/11, at age 44, he masterminded the downfall of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

He did it with just a handful of CIA officers, military special operations teams and an army of Afghan tribal warriors. Crumpton probably knows more about the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban than almost anyone else.

And now that he is out of the CIA, he makes no secret anymore about what he did to defeat them in 2001...

More at CBS News.