Small Wars Journal

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

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/28/2010 - 5:56am | 0 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/28/2010 - 5:12am | 0 comments

The NATO-ISAF Placemat sets out the approximate numbers of forces provided to ISAF by Allied and other contributing nations, the location and lead of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and the countries responsible for ISAF Regional Commands.

Since February 2009, the Placemat shows the approximate size and location of the Afghan National Army. Since June 2009, the Placemat displays major ISAF units.

by Robert Haddick | Mon, 09/27/2010 - 4:18pm | 0 comments
The New York Times described the Japanese government's return of the Chinese fishing boat captain last Friday as "a humiliating retreat" and "a significant victory to Chinese leaders." After a two-week standoff, the Japanese government opted not to prosecute Zhan Qixiong for refusing an order to leave Japanese waters and for ramming two Japanese coast guard vessels. It would seem that Chinese diplomatic bluster, the refusal to allow a cargo ship with rare earth metals to sail to Japan, and the capture of four Japanese citizens in China on allegations of espionage was enough to cause Japanese policymakers to buckle. And even though Zhan is home, China is not satisfied. It has demanded from Japan an apology. Japan has refused and has responded with its own demand for compensation to repair its coast guard vessels.

China got its man back. But the greater Japan's supposed humiliation, the greater the defeat for China and its strategic interests in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is now being pilloried inside Japan for displaying weakness. Had Kan's LDP critics been in office, the outcome of this affair would very likely have been the same. But that doesn't matter. The political incentives in Japan now favor a harder line against China the next time another such incursion occurs, which is very likely.

Second, other countries in the region have not taken kindly to China's recent elevation of its claims over the South China Sea to the level of "core interest." China's high-decibel screeching at Japan only reinforces the impression among policymakers in the region that China might now be turning into everyone's problem. And if these countries view China as a problem, a collective response may follow -- the last thing China should want.

The fishing boat incident in the Senkakus does not rise to the level of Munich 1938. But the incident's outcome may be one of the last accommodations China gets before policymakers in the region begin contemplating the need for containment.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 09/27/2010 - 5:14am | 0 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/26/2010 - 7:57pm | 40 comments
So says Captain Crispin Burke... Also see what got Starbuck's attention - David Zucchino's article "U.S. military training adjusts its aim, another counterinsurgency mission like Iraq or Afghanistan is considered unlikely" in the Los Angeles Times.
by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/26/2010 - 10:47am | 7 comments
The next Petraeus, what makes a visionary commander, and why the military isn't producing more of them, by Renny McPherson in today's Boston Globe.
by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/26/2010 - 8:51am | 0 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Sat, 09/25/2010 - 7:32am | 0 comments
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by Robert Haddick | Fri, 09/24/2010 - 5:36pm | 3 comments
The president is going to regret putting off an inevitable showdown with Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus over Afghanistan.

Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) A collision between Obama and the Afghan surge faction is inevitable

2) Does the terrorism threat in Yemen warrant a billion-dollar response?

A collision between Obama and the Afghan surge faction is inevitable

Of the many revelations in early previews of Bob Woodward's new book Obama's Wars, the most corrosive is the obstinacy President Barack Obama faced from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and then Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus. According to the Washington Post's reporting of the book, Obama repeatedly pressed his military advisors for an exit plan from Afghanistan. "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars," Obama said. Yet according to the Post, Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus -- whom I will term the Afghan surge faction -- essentially barred from consideration any plan that did not involve a counterinsurgency strategy requiring at least 30,000 more U.S. troops. In spite of their resistance to his wishes, Obama chose not to confront the surge faction, opting instead to accommodate their policy inside a muddled compromise. But the compromise will only delay an inevitable clash.

Woodward's book strongly reinforces the impression that Obama's paramount goal in Afghanistan is to find the exit. Gates, Petraeus, and others have attempted to dilute the harmful effect of Obama's July 2011 deadline by explaining that any U.S. withdrawal will be very gradual and "conditions-based." Woodward's exposition of Obama's restless eagerness to get out wipes away those efforts.

If one purpose of the surge was to achieve negotiating leverage over the Taliban, Woodward's book will instead reinforce their determination to hang on and fight. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, it is U.S. commanders who are downgrading their expectations for military progress. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now likely to redouble his efforts to make a separate peace with Pakistan and the Taliban, a chilling prospect for many of Afghanistan's non-Pashtun ethnic groups.

Thus, by next summer the United States is likely to face hardened Taliban resolve, a more belligerent Karzai, and an Afghanistan that might be splintering along ethnic lines, trends reinforced by Obama's yearning for the door. If by next summer the counterinsurgency strategy's hoped-for improvements have not arrived, Obama's long-delayed confrontation with the surge faction will very likely occur. Obama is likely to look for a new team to implement the policy he wanted all along. The White House has already probably been preparing for Gates's retirement and the end of Mullen's tour as Joint Chiefs chairman. The termination of Petraeus's command in Kabul would be much more dramatic.

For the United States, there is a strict inverse relationship between the size of a troop commitment to a shooting war and the amount of time the public will allow for clear results. For example, in contrast to the political time pressure Obama feels regarding Afghanistan, the small but successful foreign internal defense missions the United States conducts in Colombia and the Philippines are under no time pressure as they gradually accumulate progress.

When policymakers choose a military strategy that comes with a short fuse, periodic decision-point crises get built into the strategy. According to Woodward, Obama perceived that the American public would give him just two years to do something in Afghanistan. True, but only because of the options forced on him by the Afghan surge faction. One of the crises built into Obama's Afghan strategy was a clash with the promoters of that strategy. Obama might regret not having that clash in 2009, before he committed so much prestige and so many lives to a strategy he never had the resolve to properly see through.

Click through to read more ...

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 09/24/2010 - 11:08am | 5 comments
An article in yesterday's Army Times discussed Lt. Gen. John Mulholland's latest plans for U.S. Army's special operations forces. An excerpt from the article:

"I'm not particularly interested in growing Army special operations forces any bigger than it is today," said Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Army special operations forces are expected to finish their currently planned growth by 2017 and at that point, "we'll be pretty well postured," Mulholland said.

This is partly because growing Army SOF force structure comes at the expense of the larger Army, the three-star told a Sept. 21 conference hosted by the Institute for Defense & Government Advancement.

"I don't think you'll see SOF growth across the force, not just in the Army," Mulholland said.

It seems as if it is not just the Marine Corps that is complaining about how SOF recruiting drains the best NCOs from the general purpose forces.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review sets a goal of fielding about 660 special operations teams across the entire SOF community.

The article goes on to detail by region the current worldwide distribution of Army Special Forces manning and missions.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 09/24/2010 - 3:50am | 0 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/23/2010 - 5:39pm | 3 comments

National Defense Univeristy Press just published a review of Understanding Counterinsurgency: Doctrine, Operations and Challenges by CPT Crispin Burke (Starbuck around here). From NDU:

"Followers of the many discussions about counterinsurgency being bandied about the blogosphere should be familiar with the name of today's contributor. As the keeper of the influential blog Wings Over Iraq and a contributor to Small Wars Journal and many other blogs, Captain Crispin Burke, USA, is in the vanguard of rising young warrior-scholars who are translating their mastery of the classic counterinsurgency canon into the dynamic contemporary milieu of online discussion and debate about the subject. For our purposes today, though, the good old-fashioned book review is CPT Burke's weapon of choice—but maybe he read the book on one of those new-fangled electronic devices... In any event, let us know if his assessment whets your appetite to delve into the book for yourself."

Here's the author lineup: Part I: Doctrine; France by Etienne de Durand, Britain by Alexander Alderson, Germany by Timo Noetzel, United States by Conrad Crane. Part II: Operational Aspects; Army by Peter Mansoor, Marine Corps by Frank Hoffman, Airpower by Charles Dunlap, Jr, Naval Support by Martin Murphy, Special Operationsby Kalev Sepp, Intelligence by David Kilcullen, Local Security Forces by John Nagl. Part III: Challenges; Governance by Nadia Schadlow, Culture by Montgomery McFate, Ethics by Sarah Sewall, Information Operations by Andrew Exum, Civil-Military Integration by Michelle Parker and Matthew Irvine, Time by Austin Long, Counterinsurgency in Context by Thomas Rid and Thomas Keaney.

Read the review here and purchase Understanding Counterinsurgency here.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/23/2010 - 8:39am | 0 comments
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by Bill Caldwell | Wed, 09/22/2010 - 7:29pm | 17 comments
In the past ten months there has been measured progress in the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF); in quality as well as quantity. Since last November, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan has supported the Afghan Ministries of Interior and Defense to recruit, train and assign over 100,000 soldiers and police, an incredible feat. To achieve this, the training capacity was increased, moving from under 10,000 seats for police training alone to almost 15,000.

Quality improved, as well. The instructor to trainee ratio decreased from 1:76 to 1:29, greatly increasing the ability of trainers to give attention to individuals. Improvements like this led to an improved basic rifle qualification rate; increasing from an embarrassing 35% to 97%. To truly professionalize the force, however, will require even more attention to quality in the force -- and trainers with specialized skills are required to accomplish this.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/22/2010 - 7:19pm | 4 comments
Combined Action Operations

What is it?

Combined action is a deliberate task organization that partners and embeds U.S. forces training teams with a host nation unit to conduct operations with a host nation face. U.S. forces can show host nation forces what right looks like, hold the host nation forces accountable for their actions, and are less likely to offend the host nation populace. The end state of combined action is the local populace having trust and confidence in local security forces. U.S. forces do not withdraw from being embedded; instead they gradually thin out and maintain a headquarters as there is a reduction of combat forces.

What has the Army done?

First coined during Vietnam, combined action is executed in a similar manner: Small teams living amid the populace, partnering with local forces to drive a wedge between the populace and the insurgency. The Army started combined action in both Iraq and Afghanistan and sees improvements in both Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Combined action operations are taking place now in the Khost-Gardez pass. ANSF and Coalition forces are partnering there to improve security and governance.

What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future?

The Army continues to use and refine this model. As host nation security forces conduct operations with confidence and integrity, the populace can begin to trust in these forces. The Iowa National Guard 2-34th IBCT (Red Bulls) is training on current patrol techniques, key leader engagements, and partnering with local security forces in the current contemporary operating environment for this mission.

Why is this important to the Army?

Combined action is paramount to defeating insurgency. Through combined action the Army, working in conjunction with ANSF, can restore the trust and confidence that the local populace has toward its local security forces.

STAND-TO! Resources:

COMISAF's Counterinsurgency Guidance - General David Petraeus

Combined Action in Afghanistan; August 2010 - Company Command document

Combined Action in the Khost-Gardez Pass - Related article

Small Wars Journal Resources (USMC / Vietnam):

Did the Marines Better Understand the Nature of the Vietnam Conflict and Was the Combined Action Program More Suitable than Civil Operations Revolutionary Development Support in Dealing With Insurgents? - Major Kenneth Eugene Wynn

Combine Action and US Marine Experiences in Vietnam, 1965-71 - Major Phillip Ridderhof

Combined Action Platoons: A Strategy for Peace Enforcement - Major Brooks Brewington

The U.S. Marine Corps Combined Action Program (CAP): A Proposed Alternative Strategy for the Vietnam War - Major Curtis Williamson III

Civic Action: The Marine Corps Experience in Vietnam - Peter Brush

The Combined Action Program: Vietnam - Captain Keith Kopets

Insurgency, Counterinsurgency, And The Marines In Vietnam - Major Frank Pelli

The Marine Corps' Combined Action Program and Modern Peace Operations - Common Themes and Lessons - Major William Go

Personal Experiences with the Combined Action Program in Vietnam - US Marine Corps Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities

The Combined Action Platoon in Iraq: An Old Technique for a New War - First Lieutenants Jason Goodale and Jon Webre

Revive Combined Action Platoons For Iraq - Marcus Corbin

Introduction to 2/7 Combined Action Program (CAP) Platoon Actions in Iraq - Lieutenant Colonel P.C. Skuta

US Marines Combined Action Platoons - CAC/CAP Web Page

The Village - Bing West's classic at

by Robert Haddick | Wed, 09/22/2010 - 1:05pm | 44 comments
Bob Woodward's latest expose of a dysfunctional White House staff will prove as embarrassing to the Obama administration as his previous volumes were to previous administrations. Based only on this morning's accounts from the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama's Wars' greatest victim will not be a few bickering staffers but rather President Obama himself. According to Woodward and the newspaper accounts of his book, it was Obama who dictated the detailed specifications of America's military strategy in Afghanistan. These specifications arrived in the form of a six-page single-spaced "terms sheet," seemingly drawn up to resemble a legal contract between Obama and his generals. But Obama's "terms sheet" is apparently a stew of bureaucratic and political compromises among interest groups, not a coherent strategy. Having personally written it, Obama will not be able to blame its inevitable failure on misguided staffers.

According to Woodward, Obama was frustrated with the military options presented to him in 2009, all of which called for escalation, nation-building, and a large open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan. Obama wanted none of these and growled at his military advisers for the messages they delivered. Obama seems to have had great trouble getting his staff to function properly. The problem is not the snide bickering, which is inevitable. The grave flaw appears to be the tight filters placed on the alternatives presented to Obama. "Personnel is policy." If all of Obama's military advice came from advisers who favor large-scale population-centric counterinsurgency, Obama should not be surprised when all of the options presented to him called for at least 30,000 more soldiers, nation-building, and an open-ended commitment. If this is in fact what happened during the 2009 deliberations, the blame for a poor staff process belongs to James Jones, Robert Gates, Admiral Mullen, and Obama himself.

As is already well-known, Obama has approved a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy but refused to fund it with the time necessary for success. Woodward also makes it clear that Obama proceeded with escalation even after acknowledging that the U.S. can't succeed while the Taliban's sanctuaries in Pakistan remain -- a problem that remains without a solution. What was newly revealed this morning is Obama's discomfort with his own strategy, his disdain for his military advisers, and his urgency to wind down America's military effort. As a result, Hamid Karzai will redouble his efforts to cut his own deals with Pakistan, the ISI, and the Taliban. And from that follows a higher risk of an Afghan civil war as its ethnic groups prepare to defend themselves.

Obama seems determined to resist any modification of his "terms sheet." But he and the military are not the only parties to the deal; the Taliban and reality are partners, too. Not long ago, Obama expressed pride at tripling the U.S. headcount in Afghanistan from the level left to him by the Bush administration. Escalation means greater risk and failure will mean three times the pain.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/22/2010 - 1:00pm | 0 comments
The Foreign Fighter Problem: Recent Trends and Case Studies

Conference and Webcast

Sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Reserve Officers Association

Mon.-Tues., September 27--28, 2010

Reserve Officers Association

One Constitution Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20045

On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have confronted third-party national combatants. Known as "foreign fighters," these individuals have gained deadly skills and connections that can be exported or exploited to devastating effect in other locations. Over the past two decades, the foreign fighters phenomenon has grown after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to the ethnically cleansed fields of the Balkans to Chechnya and beyond. But this is not a new problem. This conference builds upon the findings of the FPRI's first foreign fighters conference from the summer of 2009 and brings together recognized academic and analytical expertise in order examine recent trends in the foreign fighter phenomenon and also explore the particular cases of Somalia, the Maghreb, Yemen, and Afghanistan/Pakistan.

More here, to include the conference agenda and registration link.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/22/2010 - 6:37am | 0 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/22/2010 - 5:24am | 0 comments

Two news items published today provide a preview of Bob Woodward's new book Obama's Wars set for release next Monday. Steve Luxenberg in The Washington Post writes Bob Woodward book details Obama battles with advisers over exit plan for Afghan war and Peter Baker in The New York Times Woodward book portrays Obama aides' battles.

Blake Hounshell, at Foreign Policy's Passport, provides a nice overview of the "nuggets" from the two articles.

From the Amazon product description: Working behind the scenes for 18 months, Woodward has written the most intimate and sweeping portrait of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret war in Pakistan, and the worldwide fight against terrorism. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes, and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward offers an original, you-are-there account of Obama and his team in this time of turmoil and uncertainty.

by Robert Haddick | Tue, 09/21/2010 - 7:50pm | 0 comments
Today General James Amos (currently the Assistant Commandant) had his confirmation hearing to be the next Commandant of the Marine Corps. Senator Scott Brown asked Amos to describe his vision for the post-Afghanistan Marine Corps (fast-forward to 91:30 in this webcast). Amos' answer re-affirmed Gen. James Conway's intention to return the Marine Corps to its naval and expeditionary roots.

Amos summed up his post-Afghanistan priorities for the Marine Corps:

1. High operational readiness

2. Persistent forward deployment, especially for ongoing theater security cooperation activities

3. Be prepared to execute a wide variety of crisis response missions

Amos made clear his strong support for a minimum of 33 Navy amphibious ships (enough for the assault echelon of two amphibious brigades) and left open the possibility that the Marine Corps' Force Structure Review Group (due to issue its report in January) may call for more than 33 amphibs. He also praised Navy Undersecretary Robert Work's support of the amphibious mission.

There was no discussion at the hearing of the troubled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, nor was Amos asked to discuss his views on reducing the Marine Corps' post-Afghanistan end-strength from 202,000 to 175,000.

After Afghanistan, the Conway/Amos vision seems to call for preventive Phase Zero theater security cooperation deployments to be the Marine Corps' standard day-to-day routine. At the same time, the vision calls for the Marine Corps to be ready to rapidly mass for crisis response missions, ranging from disaster relief to raids to the possibility of brigade-sized amphibious operations.

Amos pledged that the Marine Corps would retain the counterinsurgency expertise it has re-exercised over the past nine years. But Amos also seems ready to shake the image of the Marine Corps as a second land army.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/21/2010 - 6:47am | 6 comments
Playing catch-up here: Read the Afghanistan Study Group's report "A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan" then read (or read before) Joshua Foust's take on the report at Registan. Also see Andrew Exum at Abu Muqawama.

Update: For even more on the report see Christian Bleuer at Ghosts of Alexander, Herschel Smith at The Captian's Journal, Bernard Finel at his blog, and Justin Logan at The National Interest. And Foust responds to his critics.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/21/2010 - 5:58am | 0 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/21/2010 - 5:52am | 0 comments
Army's Future Looks a Lot Like the Present by Shaun Waterman of The Washington Times. Article covers the new "Army Operating Concept" developed by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and the "false choice" between combined arms maneuver and security operations.
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 09/20/2010 - 7:12am | 2 comments
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by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/19/2010 - 6:01pm | 0 comments
Observers Debate Legitimacy of Afghanistan Election

19 September 2010

Voice of America

Observers of Afghanistan's parliamentary election on Saturday are debating whether or not the result will be legitimate. The Afghan Election Complaints Commission says it has received reports of alleged irregularities, but as ballots continue to pour in from remote provinces, officials say the final outcome is weeks away.

The main Afghan election observer group says the legitimacy of the balloting in Saturday's parliamentary election is questionable.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan says it has "serious concerns about the quality" of the elections, given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud.

Ahmad Nader Nadery is the organization's head. He said there are many serious questions about the quality of the election. He says his group is insisting the integrity of peoples' votes is protected, because Afghans made a lot of sacrifices to participate.

Alessandro Parziale is the country head of Democracy International, which also monitored the vote Saturday. He says they are still collecting information from the group's teams of observers from around the country.

Parziale says that a day after the voting, he believes it is very difficult to judge the success of the election. "For the moment for us, it is very difficult to say if there was or not any fraud. It would be irresponsible saying something today," he said.

Preliminary election results are expected next month, with final results likely announced at the end of October after any complaints of fraud or misconduct are resolved.

The Afghan Election Complaints Commission says it has received reports of alleged irregularities, including late-opening polling centers, ballot shortages and voter registration fraud.

The NATO-led international security force also says it recorded more than 300 incidents of election-related violence.

The Afghan interior minister reports at least 22 people died in election-related violence across the country.

On Sunday, the Independent Election Commission said the bodies of three elections workers kidnapped Saturday in northern Afghanistan have been found.

Despite this, IEC chairman Fazal Ahmad Mainawi says the election was a success. He said that he accepts there were some shortcomings. He says that was to be expected because of Afghanistan's situation. He promises his organization will investigate all complaints.

Afghan election officials are estimating 3.6-million people voted Saturday, much lower than the nearly six-million people who voted in last year's presidential election.

More than 2,500 candidates were running for 249 seats in the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament. Nearly 300,000 Afghan troops and police, backed by 150,000 international troops, provided security during the vote.


Light Turnout in Parliamentary Election, Violence Deters Voters - New York Times

Attacks and Threats Deter Afghan Voters - Wall Street Journal

Afghan Observers Question Election as Tally Starts - Associated Press

U.N. Says Premature to Call Afghan Poll a Success - Reuters

Fraud Casts Doubt Over Afghan Election - BBC News

Afghan Poll Figures Fiddled 'to Cover Fall in Voting' - Daily Telegraph

Afghanistan Counts Votes From Parliamentary Election - Bloomberg

Fraud Could Delay Result for Months, Observers Warn - The Guardian

Discrepancy Calls Afghan Voter Turnout Into Question - CNN News

Fraud and Turnout Weigh on "Miracle" Afghan Poll - Reuters

Why the Next Parliament Won't Check Karzai - Christian Science Monitor

Karzai Abandons Plan to Visit Kandahar, Disappointing Election - Globe and Mail

Afghanistan: Bullets and Ballots - Sydney Morning Herald