Small Wars Journal

Blog Posts

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

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 05/30/2010 - 7:58am | 0 comments
Continue on for Small Wars Journal's Afghanistan and Pakistan update...
by SWJ Editors | Sun, 05/30/2010 - 6:26am | 0 comments
To Join the Army's Old Guard, Iraq War Veteran Learns to Sweat the Small Stuff - Christian Davenport, Washington Post.

That ceremonial, iconic role makes it essential for Old Guard leaders to choose their soldiers carefully. Members of the unit must be at least 5-foot-10, physically fit and able to stand for hours at a time without so much as flinching. They have to master choreographed steps and marches and put together a flawless uniform, all of which they learn during an intensive three-week Regimental Indoctrination Program, which, as Pata is discovering, is unlike anything else in the Army.

Here, a ruler is almost as important as a rifle. Everything must be in its place - medals half an inch above the breast pocket, U.S. insignia one inch from the lapel edge, buckle two inches from the belt loop. Nothing in the constellation of the many decorations on Pata's uniform may be outside a one-sixteenth-of-an-inch margin of error - two tiny tick marks on the inspector's ruler, about the width of this o. Anything more and Pata gets what the Old Guard calls a gig. Three gigs and you fail.

Inspection time looms. A fellow soldier helps Pata fix his belt tight, clips one last derelict thread, and then, like a designer prepping a model for the runway, checks the soldier's shoes, soles, hair, hat, rifle, belt, gloves, cuffs, medals...

More at The Washington Post.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 05/28/2010 - 6:19pm | 0 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Can't we already write the December Afghanistan strategy review?

2) The new War Plan Orange.

Can't we already write the December Afghanistan strategy review?

The "battle" for Kandahar is now underway. But don't call it a battle, says Gen. Stanley McChrystal, think of it as a "process." According to a recent gloomy assessment by the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung, administration officials view the Kandahar operation as the "go for broke" culminating effort of the war. McChrystal will commit 10,000 U.S. soldiers and 80 percent of USAID's budget for Afghanistan to the Kandahar offensive. In DeYoung's words, "The bet is that the Kandahar operation, backed by thousands of U.S. troops and billions of dollars, will break the mystique and morale of the insurgents, turn the tide of the war and validate the administration's Afghanistan strategy. There is no Plan B."

Are Barack Obama and McChrystal really gambling on achieving a clear and convincing victory in Kandahar? The battle against the Taliban insurgents is a battle for perceptions. And there are numerous audiences whose perceptions the administration and McChrystal must alter. These audiences include Kandahar's leaders and population, the U.S. public, and the rest of the world, which will render its judgment about U.S. strength and effectiveness.

How do U.S. officials define success in Kandahar? According to DeYoung, the definition is vague, relying on "atmospherics reporting," public opinion polling, and levels of street commerce. When defining success, U.S. officials are in a logical trap; they must keep their definitions secret in order to prevent the Taliban from targeting the measurements. But without stating their goals in advance, they will have a difficult time convincing the various audiences that they are achieving them.

According to DeYoung's article, the Kandahar operation will be the centerpiece of the Obama administration's December strategy review. That review will presumably result in a decision confirming the plan to begin a withdrawal the following summer.

Given that the administration is hiding the definition of success, Obama has repeated the July 2011 withdrawal pledge, and the U.S. 2012 electoral calendar will by then be in motion, couldn't the White House staff just write the December strategy review now?

The one factor that actually remains unknown is how the Taliban will respond to the Kandahar offensive.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 05/27/2010 - 6:06pm | 0 comments
COIN Spring Symposium, Interim Report - US Army / US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center.

The US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center hosted its 2010 Counterinsurgency (COIN) Symposium with special emphasis on COIN in Afghanistan from May 11-13, 2010. Twelve featured speakers and 120-plus attendees discussed COIN theory and best practices coming from the field in Afghanistan. The purpose was to identify common themes for inclusion in pre-deployment training and professional military and interagency education curricula.

The report contains common themes and more detailed summaries of each speaker's presentation.

More at the COIN Center.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 05/27/2010 - 5:09pm | 3 comments
The Center for a New American Security's national security experts released statements today regarding the Obama Administration's National Security Strategy:

Continue on for the statements...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 05/27/2010 - 2:29pm | 0 comments
Today the Administration is released the National Security Strategy that "lays out a strategic approach for advancing American interests, including the security of the American people, a growing U.S. economy, support for our values, and an international order that can address 21st century challenges."

Read the full National Security Strategy

by Robert Haddick | Thu, 05/27/2010 - 10:49am | 0 comments
Today the Obama administration rolls out its National Security Strategy (my Foreign Policy colleague Josh Rogin got the pre-release document).

The new National Security Strategy (NSS) has the skeleton of a true strategy. It properly begins with ends, describing America's enduring national interests (security, prosperity, values, international order). It then moves on to ways, the approaches and actions the United States government will employ to achieve those ends (for example, non-proliferation strategies, encouraging science research, promoting human rights, and strengthening alliances). It even discusses means, the resources the government and the country will mobilize to implement the ways. So far, so good.

But what is missing is an honest analysis of the obstacles, challenges, and adversaries that stand in the way of execution, and how the government intends overcome these. The strategic world is almost always competitive; smart and experienced adversaries are attempting to thwart success. The strategic competition is a match-up of strengths and weaknesses; the NSS has virtually no discussion of these match-ups. The NSS in long (very long) on ideals and aspirations. It does very little to recognize the competitive global environment, the strengths and weakness the United States brings to the competition, and how these compare to the advantages and vulnerabilities of adversaries (who largely remain unnamed in the document).

It is also the case that the ends -- the enduring national interests (security, prosperity, values, international order) -- will frequently come into conflict with each other. For example, pursuing security in a certain case may inflict stress on the international order. Some policies designed to promote prosperity may require taking risks with security or with values. The NSS does not reveal its priorities in this regard or the framework for how policymakers will resolve such conflicts.

We should not be too surprised by these shortcomings in the document. It may be asking too much of the United States government's top officials to reveal their analysis of America's strengths and weaknesses and how those match up against those of adversaries. Nor should we expect that when interests and goals come into conflict, policymakers will tell us which ones are expendable.

The resulting document thus seems more like a windy political campaign speech than frank strategic analysis (the Bush administration's 2006 NSS measures up no better by these standards). So what is the Obama administration's real national security strategy? How does the administration really view the competitive environment, honestly size up America's capabilities, evaluate the vulnerabilities of adversaries, and really rank the priority of its goals? We won't know until some archives are opened far in the future.

It is understandable that the administration's real strategic appraisal must remain classified, otherwise adversaries would have crucial information to develop even more effective strategies. It would be refreshing - and fortifying - if a more revealing NSS caused the American public to have an open debate on ends, way, and means; America's competitive strengths and weaknesses; and on what the country's strategic priorities should be. A version of that debate occurs (sometimes) every four years. From the perspective of administrations currently responsible for day-to-day governing, that is often enough.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 05/27/2010 - 5:39am | 0 comments
President Obama's National Security Strategy Looks Beyond Military Might - Karen DeYoung, Washington Post.

Military superiority is not enough to maintain U.S. strength and influence in the world, and the United States must build global institutions and expand international partnerships beyond its traditional allies, according to a new national security strategy prepared by the Obama administration. Maintaining U.S. global leadership will also depend on a strong domestic economy and a commitment to "education, clean energy, science and technology, and a reduced federal deficit," the White House said in talking points summarizing the strategy document, which is scheduled for formal release Thursday.

The new doctrine represents a clear break with the unilateral military approach advocated by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Bush tempered that doctrine toward the end of his presidency, but the Obama doctrine offers a far broader definition of national security. While military advantage will remain "a cornerstone of our national defense and an anchor of global security," the strategy calls for "new partnerships with emerging centers of influence" and a "push for institutions that are more capable of responding to the challenges of our times," the summary said. At home, the strategy recognizes "American innovation . . . as a leading source of American power." ...

More at The Washington Post.

Strategy Focuses on Terrorists at Home - Eli Lake, Washington Times.

President Obama's new national security strategy will include a new focus on the threat posed by Americans who can be recruited and radicalized by al Qaeda through the Internet, the president's senior counterterrorism adviser said Wednesday. "The president's national security strategy explicitly recognizes the threat to the United States posed by individuals radicalized here at home," said John Brennan, the National Security Council's counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, in a speech.

Mr. Brennan told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that "we have seen individuals, including U.S. citizens, armed with their U.S. passports, travel easily to extremist safe havens and return to America, their deadly plans disrupted by coordinated intelligence and law enforcement." Mr. Brennan spoke on the eve of the release by the Obama administration of a new National Security Strategy report...

More at The Washington Times.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 05/26/2010 - 2:49pm | 36 comments
Olson: Counterinsurgency Ops Should 'Involve Countering the Insurgents' - John T. Bennett, Defense News.

The U.S. military's counterinsurgency tactics increasingly place too much emphasis on protecting local peoples and not enough on fighting enemy forces, said U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. Eric Olson. While the U.S. military has adopted a population-focused strategy in Afghanistan, Olson said May 26 he "fears counterinsurgency has become a euphemism for nonkinetic activities." The term is now to often used to describe efforts aimed at "protecting populations," Olson said during a conference in Arlington, Va.

The military's top special operator, in a shot across the bow of modern-day counterinsurgency doctrine proponents, then added: "Counterinsurgency should involve countering the insurgents." Olson also made clear he thinks U.S. laws give him the authority to craft and implement doctrine for America's special operators. Olson said doctrine is important for fighting wars, and "should be carefully written - but we should not fall in love with it."

In a blunt statement, Olson called "COIN doctrine an oxymoron." ...

More at Defense News.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 05/26/2010 - 10:25am | 6 comments
Gates Orders Services To Adopt McChrystal's COIN Standards - John T. Bennett, Defense News.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has directed the U.S. military services to adopt a set of counterinsurgency tools modeled after ones instituted in Afghanistan by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said a senior Pentagon official. Gates on May 24 signed a directive ordering the services to "take McChrystal's COIN training and proficiency standards ... and adapt those for the whole force," Garry Reid, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combat terrorism, told Defense News May 25.

The idea is to take the kinds of COIN training and "proficiency" standards that McChrystal, the top American general in Afghanistan, implemented there with his "AfPak Hands" program...

More at Defense News.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:09pm | 1 comment
From Navy Office of Information

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Similar to the collaborative signing of the Maritime Strategy, "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower," the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandants of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard released the Naval Operations Concept 2010 (NOC 10) http://www.navy.mil/maritime/noc/NOC2010.pdf, which guides implementation of the strategy and describes how, when and where U.S. naval forces will contribute to enhancing security, preventing conflict and prevailing in war.

NOC 10 describes the ways with which the sea services will achieve the ends articulated in the Maritime Strategy, signed in October 2007.

"The Naval Operations Concept charts more precisely how our naval forces can and do put into motion our Maritime Strategy," said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations. "Free from territorial boundaries, naval forces can responsively maneuver to meet global needs and challenges when and where they happen."

NOC 10 states who the naval forces are, what they believe, where they operate, what they provide the nation, and what capabilities they employ to meet the demands of a complex, evolving security environment. NOC also describes how naval forces use the sea as maneuver space and are employed across the range of military operations.

NOC 10 recognizes that naval forces continuously operate forward-and surge additional forces when necessary-to influence adversaries and project power.

For more information on the Maritime Strategy go to: www.navy.mil/maritime. For more information on NOC 10 go to: www.navy.mil/maritime/noc.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/24/2010 - 10:57pm | 30 comments
U.S. Is Said to Order Further Clandestine Military Action - Mark Mazzetti, New York Times.

The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents. The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.

While the Bush administration had approved some clandestine military activities far from designated war zones, the new order is intended to make such efforts more systematic and long term, officials said. Its goals are to build networks that could "penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy" Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to "prepare the environment" for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. The order, however, does not appear to authorize offensive strikes in any specific countries...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/24/2010 - 9:55pm | 19 comments
Americans Outgunned by Taleban's AK47s - Michael Evans, The Times.

The future of the standard issue infantry rifle used by American troops in Afghanistan is under review amid concerns that it is the wrong weapon for the job. With its light bullets the M4 rifle lacks sufficient velocity and killing power in long-range firefights, leaving U.S. troops outgunned by the Taleban and their AK47 Kalashnikovs and the old Russian SVD sniper rifle.

British Forces face the same dilemma but the Ministry of Defence said yesterday that there was no plan to review the SA80A2 rifle, which fires the same NATO 5.56mm calibre rounds as its U.S. counterpart. "We constantly review all of our capabilities," a spokesman said. However, Britain has followed the U.S. in investing in 400 new larger-calibre Sharpshooter rifles, which use a heavier 7.62mm round, and are effective at longer ranges. The weapon is expected to be deployed in Afghanistan, alongside the standard rifle, by the end of the month...

More at The Times.

by Michael Yon | Mon, 05/24/2010 - 4:36pm | 0 comments
We all are aware that war leads to difficult situations. In regard to detainees, we've seen terrorists released only to strike again. Yet in the interest of justice we are concerned about detaining potentially innocent people. Difficult times, difficult answers. In summary, some detainees at Bagram are trying to use American courts to chisel their way out.

Last year, a group of people were asked to join in offering an opinion to the court. Those were: Special Forces Association, U.S. Army Ranger Association, Senator Lindsey Graham, Col. (ret) Abraham German, Wade Ishimoto, Prof. Andrew Nichols Pratt, Dr. Dennis Walters, Rear Admiral (ret) George Worthington, Michael Yon and Senator Ryan Zinke.

The good attorneys who are trying to keep us from getting blown up by repeat offenders emailed today.

Continue on for more...

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/24/2010 - 4:26pm | 4 comments
President Nominates New USJFCOM Commander - U.S. Joint Forces Command PAO

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced today that President Barack Obama has nominated U. S. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno for re-appointment to the rank of general with assignment as commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM).

Located in Norfolk, Va., USJFCOM oversees a force of more than 1.16 million dedicated men and women, spanning USJFCOM's service component commands and subordinate activities. The command includes active and reserve personnel from each branch of the armed forces and civilian and contract employees.

Pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Odierno will oversee UFJFCOM's roles in joint concept development and experimentation, joint capability development, joint training, and force provision and management as outlined in the Department of Defense's Unified Command Plan.

If confirmed, Odierno will replace Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis later this year; currently, Odierno commands U.S. Forces - Iraq, a post he has held since September 2008.

Continue on for more...

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 05/24/2010 - 8:22am | 0 comments
General James Mattis Q&A - Vago Muradian, Defense News.

Q. What are the real lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

A. War is a human endeavor, a social problem, and we have modest expectations that technology is going to solve a problem as complex as warfare.

Second, no war is over until the enemy says it's over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote, as we're often saying in the military.

A third point is that what we cannot do is look towards war today as something that we are going to fight on our own. We are going to be fighting alongside allies of some stripe, and we are going to have to create a military that can easily adapt to other allies fighting alongside it as part of our formations, and perhaps us fighting as part of their formations.

But you can't simply transport the lessons from one theater, even one as recent as Iraq, directly to Afghanistan. It's its own country, the enemy is its own enemy, the terrain is different. Most importantly, the human terrain - the complexity of the human connections, the tribal relationships - is different.

Q. You're changing JFCom's name?

A. I've asked for that change: to Joint and Coalition Forces Command. That decision is not yet made.

Read the entire Q&A at Defense News.

by Crispin Burke | Sun, 05/23/2010 - 5:52pm | 1 comment
This week, two instructors at the US Naval Academy discussed some of the challenges, strengths, and shortcomings of America's service academies. The first is Dr. Bruce Fleming, a professor of English who is set to release his book Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide in August. Dr. Fleming penned an op-ed in Thursday's New York Times entitled, The Academies' March Toward Mediocrity.

Instead of better officers, the academies produce burned-out midshipmen and cadets. They come to us thinking they've entered a military Camelot, and find a maze of petty rules with no visible future application. These rules are applied inconsistently by the administration, and tend to change when a new superintendent is appointed every few years. The students quickly see through assurances that "people die if you do X" (like, "leave mold on your shower curtain," a favorite claim of one recent administrator). We're a military Disneyland, beloved by tourists but disillusioning to the young people who came hoping to make a difference.

In my experience, the students who find this most demoralizing are those who have already served as Marines and sailors (usually more than 5 percent of each incoming class), who know how the fleet works and realize that what we do on the military-training side of things is largely make-work. Academics, too, are compromised by the huge time commitment these exercises require. Yes, we still produce some Rhodes, Marshall and Truman Scholars. But mediocrity is the norm.

Meanwhile, the academy's former pursuit of excellence seems to have been pushed aside by the all-consuming desire to beat Notre Dame at football (as Navy did last year). To keep our teams in the top divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, we fill officer-candidate slots with students who have been recruited primarily for their skills at big-time sports. That means we reject candidates with much higher predictors of military success (and, yes, athletic skills that are more pertinent to military service) in favor of players who, according to many midshipmen who speak candidly to me, often have little commitment to the military itself.

Dr. Shaun Baker, a professor of philosophy, provides an excellent counterpoint to Dr. Fleming in an entry on his blog at Themistocles' Shade. Dr. Baker received his PhD from Wayne State University, and is the Assistant Director of the James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the US Naval Academy. He teaches philosophy, coaches the Academy's Ethics Bowl team, and is the Stockdale Center's webmaster.

In the Naval Academy, there is a very strong tradition of exhortation to moral excellence, honesty, integrity, ideals taken very seriously, and as more than one mid on more than one occasion has put it, "pounded" into their heads from day one Plebe Summer. Yes, this exhortation may heighten the sort of sensitivity to inconsistency that gives rise to cynicism, but I believe it also has a pronounced effect on the day-to-day thinking of a majority of the mids.

They do take these values seriously, even as they recognize their own shortcomings, those of other midshipmen and the faculty and staff. In general, I would say that this does not diminish the fact that they do take these values seriously, and think about them, have them in the forefront of their minds much more so than would people that did not go through four years of such rigorous exhortation to ethical thinking and exemplary character.

Not only do all midshipmen go through a rigorous 4 year cycle of classes intended to drive home the importance of ethical thought, and ethical leadership, classes that explicitly take up and rationally discuss cynicism, among other germane topics (just war theory, international law, military justice, principles of servant leadership, followership, constitutional principles, and etc..) but the very nature of the institution they live in for four years puts them in a good position to understand the position of the enlisted people they will eventually work with. In many ways the academy does two things at the same time. It prepares for leadership at various ranks, in various ways intellectual, moral and emotional, but it also drives home how it is to be a lower level "cog" in a big quite hierarchical command-structured institution, and teaches one how to deal with that reality, and the cynicism that naturally results.

Discuss the articles further at the Small Wars Council...

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 05/22/2010 - 10:06pm | 0 comments
At West Point, Obama Offers New Security Strategy - Michael D. Shear, Washington Post.

President Obama on Saturday offered a glimpse of a new national security doctrine that distances his administration from George W. Bush's policy of preemptive war, emphasizing global institutions and America's role in promoting democratic values. In a commencement speech to the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the president outlined his departure from what Bush had called a "distinctly American internationalism." Instead, Obama pledged to shape a new "international order" based on diplomacy and engagement.

Obama has spoken frequently about creating new alliances, and of attempts to repair the U.S. image abroad after nearly a decade in which Bush's approach was viewed with suspicion in many quarters. Unlike Bush, who traveled to West Point in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to announce his American-centered approach to security, Obama on Saturday emphasized his beliefs in the power of those alliances...

More at The Washington Post.

Obama Offers Strategy Based in Diplomacy - Peter Baker, New York Times.

President Obama previewed a new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances on Saturday as he essentially repudiated his predecessor's emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage pre-emptive war. Eight years after President George W. Bush came to the United States Military Academy to set a new security doctrine after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Obama used the same setting to offer a revised vision vowing no retreat against enemies while seeking "national renewal and global leadership."

"Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system," the president told graduating cadets. "But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don't." Mr. Obama said the United States would "be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well," while also trying to "build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions." He added: "This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times." ...

More at The New York Tmes.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 05/22/2010 - 7:52am | 1 comment
Blair's Resignation May Reflect Inherent Conflicts - Greg Miller and Walter Pincus, Washington Post.

As the intelligence community was rebuilt after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, two additions were seen as crucial to addressing systemic breakdowns: a new director to force often-squabbling agencies to work together, and a counterterrorism center to connect threat data dots. But developments this week underscored the extent to which those two institutions have struggled to carry out their missions, and are increasingly seen as hobbled by their own structural flaws.

The resignation of Dennis C. Blair as director of national intelligence Friday means the position will soon be turned over to a fourth occupant in little more than five years. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said the job has come to be viewed as a thankless assignment - lacking in authority, yet held to account for each undetected terrorist plot...

More at The Washington Post.

Dispute Over France a Factor in Intelligence Rift - New York Times.

An already strained relationship between the White House and the departing spymaster Dennis C. Blair erupted earlier this year over Mr. Blair's efforts to cement close intelligence ties to France and broker a pledge between the nations not to spy on each other, American government officials said Friday. The White House scuttled the plan, officials said, but not before President Nicolas Sarkozy of France had come to believe that a deal was in place. Officials said that Mr. Sarkozy was angered about the miscommunication, and that the episode had hurt ties between the United States and France at a time when the two nations are trying to present a united front to dismantle Iran's nuclear program.

Officials said the dust-up was not the proximate cause of President Obama's decision to remove Mr. Blair, who announced his resignation on Thursday, from the job as director of national intelligence, but was a contributing factor in the mutual distrust between the White House and members of Mr. Blair's staff. The episode also illuminates the extent to which communications between the president's aides and Mr. Blair had deteriorated during a period of particular alarm about terrorist threats to the United States...

More at The New York Times.

Ousted U.S. Spy Chief 'Faced Rebellion' - Daniel Dombey, Financial Times.

High-profile intelligence reforms since September 11 2001 have not done enough to protect the U.S. against future attacks, analysts and experts said on Friday, following President Barack Obama's decision to remove the country's spy chief. Mr Obama obtained the resignation on Thursday of Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, the most high-level departure from his administration yet. Mr Obama's move threw the spotlight on often warring U.S. intelligence agencies, which have a $50bn (€40bn, £35bn) budget and are at the forefront of the battle against al-Qaeda - not least through CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

The effectiveness of the U.S. intelligence effort has been under public scrutiny after two recent failed bombing attempts, in an aircraft above Detroit last Christmas day and in Times Square this month. While many White House officials faulted Mr Blair on alleged personal failings, the administration also ack­nowledges that his role was still not adequately defined...

More at The Financial Times.

Clapper Leading Candidate for National Intelligence Post - Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe, Washington Post.

... Clapper, who has spent more than 45 years in intelligence work, is the leading candidate to become the next DNI. The extent of the authorities the next occupant of the post will wield is a significant issue for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which will hold the confirmation hearing. "The committee has generally taken the position that the DNI needs to be a strong position, filled with a strong person," a congressional aide said.

Some question whether Clapper would want a job that is widely regarded as lacking sufficient authority to coordinate 16 intelligence agencies, ranging from the CIA and NSA to the FBI and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Clapper's former agency. DNI Dennis C. Blair, who announced Thursday that he was resigning, struggled to fully assume the role of the president's chief intelligence adviser. Hayden said that if Clapper, 69, were the nominee, he would urge him to secure President Obama's commitment that he is the go-to guy on intelligence. "He has got to believe that the president believes he is senior intelligence adviser," Hayden said...

More at The Washington Post.

Former DIA Analysts Rip Clapper's Leadership - Jeff Stein, Washington Post.

Two former top Defense Intelligence Agency officials say retired Air Force Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr., a leading candidate to be the next Director of National Intelligence, nearly wrecked the agency's analysis wing when he ran the organization in the mid-1990s. Clapper, currently Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, ran the DIA for three years before retiring in 1995 after 32 years in the Air Force.

According to the two former top DIA officials, Clapper's major initiative - to reorganize intelligence analysis by specialists in enemy weapons, rather than specialists in countries and regions - wreaked havoc at the agency and significantly downgraded its understanding of foreign events. One of the analysts, Jeffrey White, who was chief of Middle East/Africa military assessments, among other top jobs during a 34-year career at the DIA, said Clapper eventually realized the mistake he made and reversed course...

More at The Washington Post.

Mr. Blair's Departure - New York Times editorial.

It is unsettling to watch yet another shake-up in the intelligence community. As the aborted Times Square and Christmas Day bombings proved, militant groups are determined to strike here again. A well-functioning spy network is truly a matter of life and death. Dennis Blair, who was forced out on Thursday by President Obama, is the third man to have served as director of national intelligence since the job was created in 2004 in the flurry of post-9/11 reforms.

The brainy, retired four-star admiral (and former chief of the United States Pacific Command) seemed well suited to ride herd over 16 competing spy agencies. He quickly clashed with Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director (and true Washington insider), bristled at what he saw as White House micromanagement, struggled to figure out how to work the nonmilitary bureaucracy and never developed a relationship with Mr. Obama...

More at The New York Times.

Blair's Replacement Has Problems to Solve - Washington Post editorial.

The resignation of Dennis C. Blair as director of national intelligence was the product of personal as well as institutional failings. A retired admiral with a distinguished record of service, Mr. Blair's political judgment looked questionable from the beginning of his DNI tenure, when he nominated a former ambassador with close ties to China and Saudi Arabia - and crackpot views about the Israel "lobby" - to chair the National Intelligence Council. After the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing, Mr. Blair told Congress that the Nigerian suspect should have been questioned by the interagency interrogation group created by the administration for terrorism cases - only to acknowledge later that the team had not yet been launched.

But Mr. Blair's biggest problem was his poor management of the problem he inherited from his three, also short-lived, predecessors: the lack of clear authorities and responsibilities for his office, which was created by Congress in 2004 in an ill-considered attempt to respond to the intelligence failures before Sept. 11, 2001. Though it has mushroomed into a quasi-agency with 1,500 employees, the office of the DNI has never exercised authority over the nation's other intelligence agencies or solved the problem of their failure to share and synthesize information about key threats...

More at The Washington Post.

Dennis Blair Departs - Wall Street Journal editorial.

Intelligence disputes are usually murky, though the sacking of Dennis Blair isn't among them. Explanations for the Director of National Intelligence's exit this week range from Mr. Blair's turf wars with the CIA and at the White House to the failure to pre-empt three domestic terror attacks, two of which failed out of blind luck. But Mr. Blair is really a casualty of the failed "intelligence reform" of the last decade.

Mr. Blair's successor will be the fourth DNI in the five years since the office was stood up in 2005, and this unfortunate man or woman will also supposedly integrate and manage the 16 intelligence satraps. As we and other critics predicted at the time, however, the DNI has merely become another bureaucracy layered on top of the other bureaucracies, with some 1,500 employees often doing what others elsewhere also do. In a bureaucratic classic, Mr. Blair and CIA chief Leon Panetta clashed last year over naming intelligence chiefs abroad. Mr. Panetta won...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 05/21/2010 - 8:00pm | 1 comment
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Experts' advice to NATO: Slim down, scale back, and pass the ball,

2) Will China end up liable for the actions of its "rogues"?

Experts' advice to NATO: Slim down, scale back, and pass the ball

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chaired a commission charged with reviewing NATO's "strategic concept." Last revised in 1999, the strategic concept is "an official document that outlines NATO's enduring purpose and nature and its fundamental security tasks." On May 17, Albright's "Group of Experts" released its report, which forecasts the security environment through 2020 and lists recommendations for how NATO should respond. The group's conclusion? NATO should slim down, scale back, and pass the ball.

Albright's panel called on NATO to adjust to the modern threat environment. According to the group, NATO needs better preparations against cyberattacks, ballistic missiles, and unconventional threats. The report noted that many member states -- their defense budgets weighed down with excessive personnel costs -- are spending too little on new military hardware. And NATO headquarters, with a bloated staff and far too many generals walking its halls, is itself due for slimming down.

But looming over the panel's effort is NATO's inheritance from Afghanistan. Following a review of lessons learned in Afghanistan, the report calls for guidelines on when and where the alliance will again operate outside its borders. The authors remind readers that "NATO is a regional, not a global organisation; its financial resources are limited and subject to other priorities; and it has no desire to take on missions that other institutions and countries can be counted upon to handle."

Although the report left open the hypothetical possibility that NATO could engage in another out-of-area mission, it also plainly discussed the political limitations that member states will put on the organization's ambitions. Those member states with detachments in Afghanistan will no doubt be eager to join the U.S. caravan that will begin departing in 2011. After that, crushing fiscal retrenchment and sour memories of Afghanistan will likely leave most member states in Europe incapable of any significant military expeditions.

Click through to read more ...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 05/20/2010 - 9:10pm | 5 comments
The Secret Pentagon Spy Ring - Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic.

Michael Furlong, the long-time Defense Department official who set up and ran network of private intelligence collectors for the military, is being hung out to dry by the very forces that precipitated the network's formation in the first place. Here's the skinny: form follows function in the military, and the U.S. Strategic Command, or STRATCOM, has been aggressively moving into territory traditionally occupied by other military elements and the Central Intelligence Agency. They're doing it under the cover of something called IO -- Information Operations -- which they've adapted as one of their core missions. (The others: cybersecurity, which overlaps with IO, nuclear weapons, and space defense.)

Around 2004 or 2005, STRATCOM set up what it calls the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center in San Antonio, Texas. IO ops are run from here. Most everyone involved in this controversy, from Furlong to his superiors to the contractor intelligence gatherers, went through the JIOWC at some point in their careers. The CIA doesn't think STRATCOM should play in this lane. But neither does Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary, or the State Department, or the National Security Staff. Information Operations involves five fields: deception, psychological operations, computer network operations, electronic warfare and operations security...

More at The Atlantic.

What If COIN Just Doesn't Work? - Ann Marlowe, World Affairs.

I don't mean, What if counterinsurgency is too trendy? or What if we shouldn't neglect preparing for conventional wars in our enthusiasm for COIN? I mean, what if counterinsurgency has never, ever, anywhere actually worked? What if our military has been chasing a chimera for almost four years — or more? These thoughts are prompted by my last couple of trips to Afghanistan where, truth to tell, there doesn't seem to be any increase in security when our troops do the right stuff (getting out among the people, lots of presence, lots of talking). We've got it down to a science now: the shuras, the projects, the provincial development plans, the embedded partners (is it my imagination or does the current military jargon for police mentors sound like a euphemism for a gay relationship?).

COIN makes sense intellectually, especially in the pellucid prose of David Galula, who wrote better in English than Roger Trinquier in French. Part of the reason it makes sense is that COIN is congruent with our culture's bias toward a perspectival view of reality. As General McChrystal keeps saying, counterinsurgency is a matter of perception. If you feel that the government provides security, that's reality. If you feel insecure, that's reality. We think lots of stuff is a matter of perspective, from modern art and music to ethics. But when COIN succeeded, it may well have had nothing to do with the living among the people bit — or the talking bit...

More at World Affairs.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 05/20/2010 - 4:49am | 11 comments
NATO: Illiteracy, Corruption Hamper Afghan Police - Reuters via The New York Times.

An 80 percent illiteracy rate, corruption and a lack of trained personnel are hampering Afghan police, the NATO commander overseeing the training of Afghan security forces said on Wednesday. NATO has stepped up training of Afghan police in an effort to reform a force that inspires little confidence among locals, struggles with high dropout rates and is frequently accused of incompetence and drug use.

But only 45 percent of Afghan police have had any formal preparation, said U.S. Lieutenant-General William Caldwell, who heads the training mission as the alliance prepares to boost the size of the Afghan army and police to over 300,000 by 2011. The training is also central to NATO's strategy to eventually transfer control of security to Afghan forces so that Western troops can start withdrawing next year. Professionalizing the police force will not happen overnight, Caldwell said...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 05/19/2010 - 7:28pm | 1 comment

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland

David Isby

ISBN 978-1-60598-9 Cloth $28.95 6 x9 xxii, 440 pages

Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires, published by Pegasus Books in New York, is an in-depth analysis of the conflicts currently taking place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author sees Afghanistan as defined by distinct but interconnected conflicts that are currently shaping its future. The book concentrates on the realities of these conflicts in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, internal instability threatens the future of its neighbours as well. The book also makes recommendations for effective future policies.

An illuminating history of modern Afghanistan: the story of a country caught in a vortex of terror. Veteran defense analyst and Afghanistan expert David Isby provides an insightful and meticulously researched look at the current situation in Afghanistan, her history, and what he believes must be done so that the US and NATO coalition can succeed in what has historically been known as "the graveyard of empires."

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the lowest literacy rates. It is rife with divisions between ethnic groups that dwarf current schisms in Iraq, and all the groups are lead by warlords who fight over control of the drug trade as much as they do over religion. The region is still racked with these confrontations along with conflicts between rouge factions from Pakistan, with whom relations are increasingly strained. After seven years and billions of dollars in aid, efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan has produced only a puppet regime that is dependent on foreign aid for survival and has no control over a corrupt police force nor the increasingly militant criminal organizations and the deepening social and economic crisis.

The task of implementing an effective US policy and cementing Afghani rule is hampered by what Isby sees as separate but overlapping conflicts between terrorism, narcotics, and regional rivalries, each requiring different strategies to resolve. Pulling these various threads together will be the challenge for the Obama administration, yet it is a challenge that can be met by continuing to foster local involvement and Afghani investment in the region.

David Isby, the author, has published three previous books on Afghanistan, written extensively in journals such as USA Today, Jane's Intelligence Review, Jane's Defense Weekly and other publications, testified before House and Senate committees as an independent expert, and has appeared discussing Afghanistan on CNN, PBS News Hour, the McLaughlin Group, C-SPAN, the BBC, the Voice of America and many other broadcasts. The author has spent much time on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, starting in the 1980s. Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires is available at bookstores nationwide and on-line from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's and others.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 05/19/2010 - 4:53am | 0 comments
Continue on for MDA's response to The New York Times article "Review Cites Flaws in U.S. Antimissile Program".
by SWJ Editors | Tue, 05/18/2010 - 4:25pm | 1 comment
Coalition Ship Aids Iranian Mariners - US Central Command (H/T Starbuck, and here.)

The San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ship, USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) assisted six stranded Iranian mariners early Friday morning May 14th while conducting routine Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the Arabian Gulf. Mesa Verde is currently assigned to Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).

The ship received a faint mayday call over the radio just before 4 am and shortly after, the lookout spotted a signal fire coming from a dhow in the direction of the received distress call.

Mesa Verde sent an Approach and Visit (AAV) team to assess the needs of the vessel and to provide assistance if required. Once on scene, the AAV team discovered that the dhow's propulsion, electrical and steering systems had failed and that the crew had been adrift for four days at sea and dangerously low on food and water.

The Mesa Verde provided these necessities for the distressed mariners as well as medical attention for two of the crew members with burn injuries. Furthermore, engineers from the ship replaced the battery and fixed the steering so the crew of the dhow could continue their journey safely.

"It's well trained boat crews and Mesa Verde's skilled engineers that made this difficult task look easy," said Cmdr. Larry LeGree, Commanding Officer, USS Mesa Verde. "While conducting maritime security operations, it was rewarding to be able to assist mariners in trouble."

CTF 152 was established in March 2004 and operates in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf. The task force coordinates Theatre Security Cooperation (TSC) activities with regional partners and conducts Maritime Security Operations, as well as being prepared to respond to any crisis inside the Arabian Gulf...