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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, 10/23/2009 - 5:37pm | 2 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Afghanistan and some unmentioned strategic risks,

2) Gates finds frustration in Tokyo.

Afghanistan and some unmentioned strategic risks

Left unmentioned in all the discussion of America's interests in Afghanistan are several risks that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional soldiers, if implemented, would create. McChrystal is asking for a permanent escalation in Afghanistan which would commit U.S. ground forces to a larger open-ended effort. Gen. George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, fears that the size and duration of this commitment could eventually break the all-volunteer Army. One strategic risk is that the United States would not have enough ready ground forces for another sustained contingency elsewhere. Finally, the funding that is diverted to sustaining ground-force intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could be creating risks in the space, air, and naval dimensions that will unpleasantly appear in the next decade and beyond.

The Bush administration's "surge" in Iraq was a strategic gamble. The increase from 15 to 20 brigades in Iraq tapped out the last of America's ground combat power. In addition, the required deployment schedule -- 15 months in combat followed by 12 months back home -- was considered a temporary, emergency measure. It was for this reason that the Iraq "surge" was a temporary measure -- it was not feasible to indefinitely sustain 20 brigades in Iraq.

In these terms, McChrystal's troop request is not a "surge" but an escalation. McChrystal's initial assessment does not define a discrete time period during which he would need the additional troops -- the request is open-ended.

In May, prior to the Obama administration's latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal's report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of "12 months deployed, 12 months home" unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.

But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal's 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.

Click through to read more ...

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 10/23/2009 - 12:42pm | 5 comments
On September 17th, President Obama scrapped the Bush administration's plans for missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. That day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General James Cartwright gave a briefing on the Obama administration's "stronger, smarter, and swifter" European missile defense program.

On September 17th I had both praise and some doubts for the new plan. I liked the shift to a distributed, flexible, and more mobile system. On the other hand, the plan seemed vague and incomplete and not very reassuring to allies in eastern Europe. In particular, I wondered where the X-band radar, previously slated for the Czech Republic and highly praised for its capabilities by General Cartwright, was going to end up. Without a convincing plan for missile defense sensors in Europe, it is hard to claim that there really is a missile defense plan for Europe.

It seems as if vagueness on the X-band radar and other sensors has turned into confusion and perhaps paralysis. In the end, Russian objections to high-powered missile defense radars, and the Obama administration's acquiescence to those objections, is for now gutting the administration's credibility on European missile defense. The Bush administration found out that its missile defense sensors would annoy the Russians but that annoyance would not stop the U.S. from having a missile defense system in Europe. The Obama team does not seem —to reach this same conclusion. Until it does, it does not really have a European missile defense plan.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/22/2009 - 6:17pm | 17 comments
Embedded video from CNN Video

Fareed Zakaria's GPS: "Lessons of war in Afghanistan" - the battle at Wanat.
by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/22/2009 - 6:45am | 31 comments
There's No Substitute for Troops on the Ground - Max Boot, New York Times opinion.

"I hope people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like." Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan's strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel's men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a "security bubble" around Nawa. Colonel McCollough recalls that when they first arrived the bazaar was mostly shuttered and the streets empty. "This town was strangled by the Taliban," he says. "Anyone who was still here was beaten, taxed or intimidated."

Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor - unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country's most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/22/2009 - 6:36am | 5 comments
Pakistan Fights Back - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

Until a few months ago, Pakistani officials often used the term "miscreants" when they described the Taliban fighters operating from the western tribal areas. This moniker conveyed the sense that the Taliban was a nuisance - a ragtag band of fanatics and gangsters who could be placated with peace deals - rather than a mortal threat to the nation. That state of denial appears to be over. This week's offensive against Taliban sanctuaries in South Waziristan is the latest sign that Pakistan has awakened to the seriousness of its domestic terrorism problem.

Here's how one of Pakistan's top military commanders put it to me, expressing sentiments that are widely shared among his colleagues: "We must win, if we want our children to be living a life of their choice and belief, and not of these beasts. I wish I could tell you how much I hate them. We want to get our beautiful and peaceful country back from their vicious clutches. We cannot allow them to destroy our future." Popular anger against the Taliban has been building this year. Back in April, the country seemed dazed and politically paralyzed. But as the Islamic extremists broke out of the Swat Valley that month and moved closer to the capital, something changed. The army launched an aggressive campaign in Swat, the Taliban fighters were pushed back and the public cheered...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 10/21/2009 - 3:51pm | 0 comments
Is There a Middle Way? - Stephen Biddle, The New Republic

General Stanley McChrystal's request to send more troops to Afghanistan has induced sticker shock for many Americans--including, apparently, President Obama. The integrated counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy that McChrystal wants to pursue has many components: protecting Afghan civilians, rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police, reforming government, providing economic development assistance, weaning Taliban fighters and leaders away from Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, reconciling them into the new government, and targeting those who refuse. This makes it a demanding strategy that McChrystal reportedly believes will require providing at least an additional 10,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops and more than doubling existing Afghan forces to a total of 400,000 indigenous soldiers and police. (Full disclosure: I served as a member of General McChrystal's assessment team in June and July 2009, but I do not speak for his command, and the views expressed here are strictly my own.) This price tag has further galvanized opposition to a war whose support was already fading fast.

Few, however, actually want to leave Afghanistan outright. Instead, most pair their opposition to reinforcement with support for a middle way--a more limited presence intended to secure U.S. interests without the cost and risk of escalation. Opponents have proposed at least a half-dozen such "middle ways," ranging from greater reliance on drone-based counterterrorism strikes to early pursuit of a negotiated settlement to end the war. The specifics are often fuzzy; none has been articulated with the detail of McChrystal's proposal, particularly regarding troop requirements. But most are tantamount to splitting off a piece of McChrystal-style integrated COIN and executing it alone. Some critics propose pursuing pieces in combination, but none attempts the totality, and, especially, none includes McChrystal's large U.S. ground combat presence for protecting Afghan civilians. For all, the underlying idea is to reduce the cost of the war without abandoning the U.S. interest in denying Al Qaeda a base for attacking the West or destabilizing neighboring Pakistan.

It is easy to see why such middle ways are so popular. They could lighten the burden on the federal deficit. They could put fewer Americans in harm's way. They would seem to better fit the U.S. interests at stake, which are real but limited and indirect. They appeal to the centrism of many American voters. The problem is that they probably won't work.

The reasons vary from proposal to proposal, but the basic problem is that the pieces of COIN are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts; implementing just one or two pieces alone undermines their effectiveness. It might make sense to do less and accept a greater risk of failure, depending on one's tolerance for risk and cost. But there is no magic middle way between the McChrystal recommendation and total withdrawal that offers comparable odds at lower cost. In counterinsurgency, less is not more...

Much more at The New Republic.

Stephen Biddle is the Roger Hertog Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 10/20/2009 - 5:00pm | 9 comments
CNAS Releases Afghanistan Policy Brief by Andrew Exum

After eight years of conflict and an ongoing policy review by the Obama Administration, the future of Afghanistan remains uncertain. Yet, as the latest assessment in Washington takes place amidst a contested Afghan national election, conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate. The brief, authored by CNAS Fellow and U.S. Afghanistan policy expert Andrew Exum, is meant to serve as a guide for strategic Afghanistan policy planning by laying out the worst, most likely, and best-case scenario for what the country might look like in 24 months, and how U.S. policy might make each scenario more or less likely. Although all three scenarios involve risks, an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors remains a possibility.

In the "worst-case" and most unlikely scenario, Afghanistan returns to pre-9/11 conditions where insurgent groups again gain control of the nation, reestablish an Islamic Emirate, and grant refuge to transnational terror groups. This inevitably leads to civil war and furthers regional instability. In the "most-likely" scenario, the Obama Administration cautiously transitions to a coordinated counterterrorism mission where allied engagement is limited to training Afghan National Security Forces, employing precision airpower and conducting direct-action special operations. Given similar attempts to execute a small footprint-type mission in Afghanistan, the likelihood of failure is high and eventually leads to a protracted proxy war between the United States and Pakistan. In the third and "best-case" scenario, the United States and its allies agree to a fully resourced campaign to provide security for key population centers and continue to develop effective security forces. By committing to a foundation for peace in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies achieve its main policy objective of regional stability.

Download the full Afghanistan Policy Brief (PDF)

by Robert Haddick | Tue, 10/20/2009 - 1:49pm | 5 comments
Small Wars Journal has featured the U.S. Army's new Capstone Concept, the Army's top-level doctrine for how it will prepare for conflict over the next two decades. The Army Capstone Concept calls for full-spectrum capability. But it also emphasizes the need for "high touch" skills, the language, cultural, historical, population, and personal skills required to be effective in low-intensity and irregular warfare environments.

It seems as if Russia's military doctrine is going in exactly the opposite direction, if a recent article from Defense News is any indication. Some excerpts:

Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the powerful security council, said the conditions under which Russia could resort to atomic weapons are being reworked in the main strategy document and will be reviewed by President Dmitry Medvedev by the end of the year.

"The conditions have been revised for the use of nuclear weapons to rebuff an aggression with the use of conventional weapons, not only on a massive-scale but on a regional and even local level," Patrushev told the Izvestia newspaper.

"Variants are under considerations for the use of nuclear weapons depending on the situation and potential of a would-be aggressor," he said.

"In a critical situation for national security, a preventative nuclear strike on an aggressor is not ruled out."

One could call "a preventative nuclear strike on an aggressor" the Bush Doctrine on Steroids.

Russia is finding itself resorting to a nuclear-centered military doctrine because it is finding it more and more difficult to maintain adequate conventional military capabilities. 20 years ago Soviet conventional forces were massive and frightening -- it was the U.S. and NATO that required a large inventory of tactical nuclear weapons to deter the Soviet armored behemoth in eastern Europe. Today, the situation is reversed -- it is Russia that needs its remaining nuclear weapons to compensate for its conventional weakness.

Naturally, any country that has a declared or undeclared "no first use" policy can instantly drop that policy during a stressful moment. The problem with Russia's doctrine is that it is doctrine -- it is what Russia will plan for, prepare for, train for, and as a result, make more likely to occur.

President Obama (as did President Reagan) dreams of a world free of nuclear weapons. Strategically, no country would benefit more from this dream, at least at this moment in history, than the United States. That is the single most powerful reason why this dream will not come true.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 10/20/2009 - 11:23am | 7 comments
The Civilian Surge Myth - Steven Metz, The New Republic.

How can we snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Afghanistan? There's one solution that has attracted analysts of all stripes: a "civilian surge," where development and political advisers working for (or contracted by) the State department and the US Agency for International Development flood the country and turn the tide against the insurgents.

The logic, at least, is sound: It takes more than military success to defeat insurgents. Insurgency grows where a corrupt and weak government does not provide security, justice, and opportunity. Unless these underlying problems are resolved, the military can kill insurgents forever, and more will emerge. Insurgency is a symptom of deeper ills. The rub is that these deeper ills are not military, but political, economic, and social--things that armed forces are not prepared to fix...

There is consensus on the problem and general agreement on the solution, but absolutely no sense of how to make it happen. There is little chance that the United States will mobilize enough civilian capability to re-engineer backward states and keep it in the field during a protracted insurgency...

More at The New Republic. Also see the discussion at Small Wars Council.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 10/20/2009 - 9:59am | 0 comments
Command Releases Approach to Operational Design Vision

U.S. Joint Forces Command has released a new vision on the approach to operational design, which provides guidance on how USJFCOM will advocate for the migration of design-related improvements from the services' doctrine, training and professional military education to a joint setting.

• Comment on this article at USJFCOMLive

• Download the Vision for a Joint Approach to Operational Design

Continue on for more on the new vision on the approach to operational design...

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 10/20/2009 - 5:29am | 0 comments
Unity of Effort: Key to Success in Afghanistan - Christopher J. Lamb and Martin Cinnamond, Institute for National Security Studies.

The US Government strategy for success in Afghanistan unveiled by President Obama on March 27, 2009, emphasized a classic population-centric counter-insurgency approach. Now, however, that strategy is being reconsidered. The latest INSS Strategic Forum by Christopher J. Lamb and Martin Cinnamond, Unity of Effort: Key to Success in Afghanistan, makes a contribution to the ongoing debate over US strategy for Afghanistan. It argues: 1) unity of effort is a more important strategy variable than resources; 2) the counterinsurgency mission conflicts with and should take precedence over the counterterrorism mission; and 3) inadequate unity of effort within special operations has contributed to civilian casualties that cripple public support for international forces. Finding the Obama administration efforts to improve unity of effort laudable but insufficient, the research concludes with recommendations that support and extend the initiatives the administration has taken to date.

Unity of Effort: Key to Success in Afghanistan - Full Article

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:17am | 3 comments
As the Commander in Chief Deliberates, Frustration Builds Within the Ranks - Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times.

Only nine months ago, the Pentagon pronounced itself reassured by the early steps of a new commander in chief. President Obama was moving slowly on an American withdrawal from Iraq, had retained former President George W. Bush's defense secretary and, in a gesture much noticed, had executed his first military salute with crisp precision. But now, after nearly a month of deliberations by Mr. Obama over whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan, frustrations and anxiety are on the rise within the military.

A number of active duty and retired senior officers say there is concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room. "The thunderstorm is there and it's kind of brewing and it's unstable and the lightning hasn't struck, and hopefully it won't," said Nathaniel C. Fick, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who briefed Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and is now the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a military research institution in Washington. "I think it can probably be contained and avoided, but people are aware of the volatile brew." ...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 10/19/2009 - 8:23pm | 0 comments
The Long Road to Indecision - Tom Donnelly, Center for Defense Studies

After White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's performances on the Sunday talkies, it's getting harder and harder to avoid the conclusion that the Obama Administration is looking for almost any reason it can find to limit any further commitment to Afghanistan.

The latest line, per Emanuel but channeling Sen. John Kerry, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and historian Gordon Goldstein--and in fact, channeling the ghosts of Lyndon Johnson and his advisers--is that, absent a "legitimate" partner in Kabul, American efforts would be fruitless. Therefore, we must wait for the question of Afghanistan's elections to be resolved before additional US troops can be deployed...

A Question of Credibility - Tim Sullivan, Center for Defense Studies

As the troubling implications of the botched Afghan elections become more clear, Obama administration officials have begun to cite with increasing frequency the lack of a credible indigenous "partner" government in Afghanistan as the primary challenge in determining a new strategy for the country. The implication is that without a legitimate regime to support, a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign would be an exercise in futility. Sen. John Kerry took this argument one step further, suggesting that "even the further fulfillment of our mission that's here [in Afghanistan] today" has been jeopardized by the marred elections.

Last week John Nagl and Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security provided an excellent rebuttal to such arguments, pointing to the chaotic domestic political environment in Iraq prior to the adoption of the successful US troop surge and COIN campaign in 2007. In the case of Afghanistan, they draw an important distinction between perceptions of illegitimacy on the national level, and broader dissatisfaction among the Afghan population with local injustices, rightly concluding that "our main goal should be helping the Afghan government work at the local level - providing the marginal but tangible improvements in security, governance and prosperity that ordinary Afghans say they want, and stopping the corruption and abuses they personally contend with and resent." ...

The Case for Humility in Afghanistan - Steve Coll, Foreign Policy

The United States has two compelling interests at issue in the Afghan conflict. One is the ongoing, increasingly successful but incomplete effort to reduce the threat posed by al Qaeda and related jihadi groups, and to finally eliminate the al Qaeda leadership that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. The second is the pursuit of a South and Central Asian region that is at least stable enough to ensure that Pakistan does not fail completely as a state or fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.

More than that may well be achievable. In my view, most current American commentary underestimates the potential for transformational changes in South Asia over the next decade or two, spurred by economic progress and integration. But there is no question that the immediate policy choices facing the United States in Afghanistan are very difficult. All of the courses of action now under consideration by the Obama administration and members of Congress carry with them risk and uncertainty...

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis on Going Deep Rather than Long in Afghanistan - Herschel Smith, The Captain's Journal

Gareth Porter writing for the Asia Times discusses an unpublished paper written by Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis currently making its way around Washington. Rather than focus on what Porter says Davis says, we'll briefly spend some time on the alternative Davis offers.

His paper is entitled Go Big or Go Deep: An Analysis of Strategy Options on Afghanistan. Davis' first problem is that U.S. troops (and ISAF) are seen as "invaders" or "occupation forces." Our troops have been there for eight years and are likely to be there many more under this plan, and this potential downfall of the campaign has not been given its due in the deliberations to date. His second problem with the go big option is that the requested troop levels (on the order of 40,000) is not nearly enough...

Afghanistan and the Problem of Legitimacy - Max Boot, Contentions

Before I came to Afghanistan, I thought that a runoff would be a good way to deal with the fallout from the disputed presidential election that took place in August. Now that I've been here a week, I'm not so sure. All the problems that plagued the first round of presidential balloting - fraud and insecurity - are likely to be present in the second round. They could even be worse because there will be less time to prepare for the second election. It would have to take place by mid-November at the latest, otherwise the onset of winter will make it impossible to distribute and collect the ballots. With little time to prepare or publicize, the turnout would be low, and fraud would no doubt occur - just as it did last time. The general feeling here is that Karzai would come out on top but that the voting would do little to enhance his legitimacy.

A better solution would be a power-sharing accord that brings his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, into the government. It is also important to appoint a chief of staff or some other senior official who would be charged with increasing the efficiency of Karzai's highly inefficient administration...

Afghanistan is Just Not that Important... - David J. Rothkoph, Foreign Policy

... Still, as with any discussions concerning whether or not and how to conduct a war, this is a debate that has a strong sense of urgency about it. It also involves a host of really interesting questions about what our real objectives are, about whether this is a counter-insurgency or a counter-terrorism operation, about how victory can be measured, about who our real allies and enemies are, about how much cost we are —to bear, about what the role for NATO should be, about how to deal with a corrupt, dysfunctional partner in Kabul, even about more fundamental issues such as how do we ultimately keep ourselves safe from terror, whether we can ever be successful at nation-building, and whether there is even truly a nation to build in a country like Afghanistan that is really (much as Iraq is) a confection of the minds of British imperialists that overlooks ancient tribal realities.

To those who say that the Obama administration should not be reconsidering a strategy it announced only last spring, my reaction is that's nonsense. We should constantly be reviewing our strategy based on the changing situation on the ground and the ebb and flow of other external priorities and factors. To those who say that the process has gone on too long, I also say, that's ridiculous given the human stakes involved...

Time to start working on Plan B - Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work. Obama's election and speechifying has done a lot to repair America's image around the world -- at least in the short term -- in part because that image had nowhere to go but up. But as just about everyone commented when he got the Nobel Peace Prize last week, his foreign policy record to date is long on promises but short on tangible achievements. Indeed, odds are that the first term will end without his achieving any of his major foreign policy goals...

President Obama May Seem to Dither, But he is Ready to Strike - Andrew Sullivan, The Times

There is a strange quality to Barack Obama's pragmatism. It can look like dilly-dallying, weakness, indecisiveness. But although he may seem weak at times, one of the words most applicable to him is something else entirely: ruthless. Beneath the crisp suit and easy smile there is a core of strategic steel.

In this respect, Obama's domestic strategy is rather like his foreign one - not so much weakness but the occasional appearance of weakness as a kind of strategy. The pattern is now almost trademarked. He carefully lays out the structural message he is trying to convey. At home, it is: we all have to fix the mess left by Bush-Cheney. Abroad, it is: we all have to fix the mess left by Bush-Cheney. And then ... not much...

Robert Gates: Solidly in the Middle of the Afghan Strategy Storm - David Wood, Politics Daily

President Obama's war minister, the man responsible for the day-to-day oversight of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and dozens of other current and future hotspots, would much rather be somewhere else than DC and doesn't mind who knows it...

Yet for all his professed distaste for Washington, he has excelled there (Gates was the only CIA officer to rise from an entry-level position to become CIA director, and he is the only defense secretary in US history to be asked to stay on by a newly elected president). He has quietly earned the confidence and trust of major players across the capital's political and military communities...
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 10/19/2009 - 5:00pm | 0 comments
The U.S. Military Academy's Department of History is pleased to invite you to a West Point Symposium on the History of Irregular Warfare, 18-20 November 2009.

The symposium will feature the scholarship of five cadet panel presenters with commentary by distinguished guest scholars, including: Dr. Stephen Biddle as our keynote speaker, Dr. Jeremy Black, Col. Robert Cassidy, Dr. Conrad Crane, Dr. George Herring, Dr. Brian Linn, and Dr. Peter Mansoor. Additionally, Dr. James Le Sueur (Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics, 2005) will present a special lecture on Algerian society since 1963. Col. Gian Gentile, a History faculty member, will participate as part of the "Visiting Scholars Panel" with Dr. Crane, Dr. Mansoor, and Col. Cassidy.

Invitation and POC Information

History of IW Symposium Agenda

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 10/18/2009 - 9:49pm | 1 comment

See Cartoons by Cartoon by Hajo de Reijer - Courtesy of - Email this Cartoon

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 10/18/2009 - 9:05am | 18 comments
How Generals Should Talk to Presidents - John S. D. Eisenhower, New York Times opinion.

In a recent speech in London, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top United States commander in Afghanistan, was blunt. Calling the military situation there "deteriorating," he warned that the United States was going to have to "do things dramatically and even uncomfortably differently." General McChrystal had already submitted a report, somehow leaked, requesting an additional 40,000 American troops. He acknowledged in his speech that in so speaking out while the issue was still under debate in the White House, he might have difficulties with his superiors. Comparisons have been made between this situation and the unfortunate instance in 2003 when the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, was punished for advising Congress of the enormous effort it would take to defeat and pacify Iraq in any meaningful way. General Shinseki was not removed outright, but he was treated shabbily by the Bush administration in more subtle ways until his retirement later that year. But the two cases were different. General Shinseki was testifying under oath before Congress; General McChrystal was speaking voluntarily, on his own.

As a former Army officer, I tend to be sympathetic to the generals who are placed in impossible situations, created partly by the framers of the Constitution in 1787. They designated the president as the commander in chief, but at the same time they gave Congress the power to raise and support armies and navies. This division of authority between two branches of government puts the head of a military service in an untenable position. Officers owe their loyalty to the president and have an obligation to resign if they are unable to carry out the commander in chief's policies. At the same time, they must sometimes testify under oath to the Congress. Trapped in this way, most officers elect wisely to keep their public opinions vague...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 10/18/2009 - 2:04am | 2 comments
Risking a Rights Disaster - Wazhma Frogh, Washington Post opinion.

As an Afghan woman who for many years lived a life deprived of the most basic human rights, I find unbearable the thought of what will happen to the women of my country if it once again falls under the control of the insurgents and militants who now threaten it. In 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, the liberation of Afghan women was one of the most important justifications for military intervention. Has the world now changed its mind about Afghan women? Is it ready to let them once again be killed and tortured by militants? Does the world no longer believe in the principles it supported in 2001?

Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world - to men who do not view women as human beings - would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country's women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it's like to have rights...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 10/18/2009 - 1:44am | 0 comments
Don't Settle for Stalemate in Afghanistan - Ike Skelton and Joe Lieberman, Washington Post opinion.

Six months ago the Obama administration concluded that the only way to stop Afghanistan's slide into insecurity and prevent the reemergence of a terrorist haven was to put in place an integrated counterinsurgency strategy focused on protecting the Afghan population, building up the Afghan national security forces and improving Afghan governance. We strongly supported the president's decision and continue to believe that he was right. He also made the right decision last week when, in a meeting with congressional leaders, he ruled out withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan.

The key question confronting the administration now is not whether to pursue counterinsurgency in Afghanistan but whether to provide that counterinsurgency effort with the resources it needs. We believe that providing those resources will be critical. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's assessment states that his new strategy requires additional resources and the proper execution of an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign. To this end, he has reportedly forwarded to the president a range of resource options, each with differing levels of risk to the mission. We hope that President Obama will carefully weigh these recommendations and provide his commander with the necessary forces and civilian resources he needs to properly execute a counterinsurgency campaign...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 10/17/2009 - 2:53am | 2 comments
The Italian Job - The Times editorial.

Silvio Berlusconi's Government must explain payments made to insurgents in Afghanistan. There is a case for local deals, but none for unilateralism. War, said Clausewitz, is the continuation of politics by other means. The Times reported this week on a distinctive political strategy adopted by Italy in the war in Afghanistan. Italian intelligence officers have paid money, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, to the Taleban in protection money.

Under the arrangement, neither side would attack the other. When the Italians were replaced by French troops in the Sarobi district of Afghanistan last year, the newcomers believed the region to carry only a low risk, as there had been only one Italian fatality in the previous year. But the Italians neglected to mention the payments. Within a month of their arrival, ten French soldiers were killed and 21 were wounded in a Taleban attack.

The Italian Government has furiously denied our report, including our statement that the US Ambassador submitted a formal complaint about Italian payments to local insurgents in Herat province. Opposition politicians in France are demanding explanations, and ought to receive them. We unreservedly stand by our account. Since its publication, a Taleban commander and two senior Afghan officials have confirmed that this strategy has been practised by Italian forces in this and other regions of Afghanistan...

More at The Times.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 10/16/2009 - 5:51pm | 0 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Learning to share the oceans with China

2) Pakistan under siege

Learning to share the oceans with China

On Sept. 22, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, titled, China's Arrival: A Strategic Framework for a Global Relationship. Journalist and CNAS senior fellow Robert Kaplan, wrote a chapter in the report, called "China's Two-Ocean Strategy" (see page 45).

Kaplan asserts that "China is in the midst of a shipbuilding and acquisition craze that will result in the People's Liberation Army Navy having more ships than the U.S. Navy sometime in the next decade." Since 1945 U.S. diplomatic and political strategies in Asia have been predicated on U.S. naval domination in the western Pacific and Indian oceans. The U.S. Navy's control of sea-going lines of commerce from the Middle East to all points in Asia has been a major component of America's alliance system in the region and its relations with potential adversaries. Kaplan's essay reminds us that over the next decade or so, the rise of China's naval power will scrap the assumptions underlying America's Asian diplomacy.

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by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/15/2009 - 12:49pm | 15 comments
Stanley McChrystal's Long War - Dexter Filkens, New York Times Magazine.

... Success takes time, but how much time does Stanley McChrystal have? The war in Afghanistan is now in its ninth year. The Taliban, measured by the number of their attacks, are stronger than at any time since the Americans toppled their government at the end of 2001. American soldiers and Marines are dying at a faster rate than ever before. Polls in the United States show that opposition to the war is growing steadily.

Worse yet, for all of America's time in Afghanistan - for all the money and all the blood - the lack of accomplishment is manifest wherever you go. In Garmsir, there is nothing remotely resembling a modern state that could take over if America and its NATO allies left. Tour the country with a general, and you will see very quickly how vast and forbidding this country is and how paltry the effort has been.

And finally, there is the government in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai, once the darling of the West, rose to the top of nationwide elections in August on what appears to be a tide of fraud. The Americans and their NATO allies are confronting the possibility that the government they are supporting, building and defending is a rotten shell...

More at The New York Times Magazine.

McChrystal's Afghanistan - Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement

... Critics might say that Filkins, whose reporting notes the military view that Afghanistan and Pakistan are intricately entwined and cannot be separated strategically or tactically, doesn't give the so-called Biden plan a full airing. However, it is a McChrystal profile, not a Biden one. Though that might be entertaining. Embedded in the District of Columbia.

Anyway, you'll want to read the whole thing. You'll come away with the sense of a man who, given the time and resources, might just pull off what he set out to do. Not the blindered military bumbler so popular in modern myth, the image that drives this country's relentless push for political failure in war.* I knew there was a reason why Filkins is my favorite NYT reporter, and not just because his book, The Forever War, is the standout war memoir of our time...

More at Forward Movement.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/15/2009 - 11:46am | 0 comments

The 2009 Army Capstone Concept from TRADOC on Vimeo.

Draft Army Capstone Concept Hits Web for Public Input

By Carroll Kim (TRADOC Public Affairs)

FORT MONROE (Oct. 14, 2009) - The 2009 Army Capstone Concept will be released on Dec. 21, but until then, Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center's Concepts Development and Experimentation Directorate, invites the public to preview and provide feedback for the draft copy on the Small Wars Journal blog.

Last updated in 2005, the ACC describes the broad capabilities the Army will require to apply finite resources to overcome adaptive adversaries in an era of complexity and uncertainty. The concept puts into operational terms Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey's vision of balancing the Army to win today's wars while describing how the future Army will fight.

McMaster furnished the draft to the Small Wars Journal to generate awareness and encourage dialogue through its discussion board. This is the first time TRADOC has "crowdsourced" a document, and more than 100 comments were posted in response to the draft ACC.

Along with this non-traditional method, McMaster has also sought input from Army fellows, joint and international partners, educators and experts in the field, not just from leaders within TRADOC.

While the ACC will enter final planning stages on Oct. 21, the discussion board will remain open for new comments. Please go to the Small Wars Journal to join the conversation. You can also read the document here.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/15/2009 - 7:33am | 1 comment
Careful to a Fault on Afghanistan - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

Afghanistan could be the most important decision of Barack Obama's presidency. Maybe that's why he is, in effect, making it twice. What's odd about the administration's review of Afghanistan policy is that it is revisiting issues that were analyzed in great detail - and seemingly resolved - in the president's March 27 announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent recommendations from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal were intended to implement that "Af-Pak" strategy - not send the debate back to first principles.

The March document stated that the basic goal was "to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the al-Qaeda safe haven that it was before 9/11." But to accomplish this limited mission, the president endorsed a much broader effort to "reverse the Taliban's gains, and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government." That gap between end and means has bedeviled the policy ever since. So now the president is doing it again, slowly and carefully - as in last Friday's three-hour White House meeting, where, I'm told, he went around the table and quizzed his national security aides one by one...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 10/15/2009 - 5:48am | 1 comment
Obama Weighs Afghan Strategy, Not Just Troop Buildup - Jon Ward, Washington Times.

Intense debate has raged for weeks on whether President Obama should send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but the dispute over numbers may be distracting attention from the more important decision he is facing: the need for a new strategy. "Additional forces are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, wrote in his now famous report to the president that was leaked to the press in September. Among the key decisions the president will make is whether to partner with an Afghan government hobbled by accusations of widespread fraud in a recent election, how to handle the prickly diplomatic situation in neighboring Pakistan, and how much effort to put into training the Afghan army.

But perhaps the most pivotal decision, however, is whether the Taliban is a force that must be completely defeated, or whether it can be bargained with. Peter Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University who served as a top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq, said President Obama's military reviews "are addressing all three facets of strategy: ends, ways, and means." "The media, and by extension the American people, are focused on means, (troop numbers)," Mr. Mansoor said in an e-mail. "But as or more important than this factor are the administration's goals (ends) in Afghanistan and its concept for prosecution of the war (ways). You need to look at all three in unison to get a clear picture of the way ahead." ...

More at The Washington Times.

Obama Focuses on Civilian Effort in Afghanistan Strategy Review - Anne E. Kornblut and Scott Wilson, Washington Post.

President Obama, convening his fifth war council meeting in as many weeks, pressed his senior national security advisers Wednesday on the political situation in Afghanistan and the effort to train the country's security forces, officials said. Allegations of fraud in the Afghan presidential election over the summer have raised questions about the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai's government, complicating US efforts to partner with him. Meanwhile, the country's security forces are seen as ill-equipped to confront an insurgency that is gaining strength.

Such factors are figuring prominently in the debate over the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan, official say. Although the discussions also include making a decision on whether to deploy tens of thousands of additional US troops, an administration official said the president was "very focused on the complexity of the situation" Wednesday - looking past the military aspect of the equation and toward the civilian effort. Another official said the focus on the civilian effort grew out of a sense that the United States needs to better cultivate Afghan leaders and institutions. "We've been at war eight years, and we realize now we're starting from scratch because very little work has been done building a credible Afghan partner," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks...

More at The Washington Post.

US Officials Look at Scenarios for Afghanistan 'Middle Path' - Julian E. Barnes and Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times.

As the Obama administration debates whether to shift its aims in Afghanistan, officials at the Pentagon and National Security Council have begun developing "middle path" strategies that would require fewer troops than their ground commander is seeking. Measures under consideration include closer cooperation with local tribal chiefs and regional warlords, using CIA agents as intermediaries and cash payments as incentives, said current and former officials who described the strategies on condition of anonymity.

Other steps would concentrate US and allied troops in cities, pulling out of Afghanistan's widely dispersed rural areas. At the same time, the allied forces would push ahead with plans to intensify training of Afghan troops, officials said. None of the strategies envision troop reductions, but officials said they would not require the 40,000-troop increase preferred by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the US and allied commander. A number of White House officials favor sending fewer than 20,000 additional troops...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 10/14/2009 - 8:05pm | 0 comments
Complete submission information is now posted for Small Wars Journal Writing Competition.

Please see this page for the complete submission instructions for entries to our $8000 writing contest. And please help us spread the word by aggressively disseminating this flyer throughout the diverse community of small wars participants.

Of note: entries are now due November 30, 2009, not November 10 as originally announced.