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

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 12/03/2009 - 6:09am | 2 comments
A Wartime President - Eliot A. Cohen, Wall Street Journal opinion.

When it comes to President Barack Obama's long-awaited decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are three main points to consider: the decision itself, the manner in which he made it, and the way in which he sold it. He could not, in the end, have decided on a very different course of action. Having replaced the previous commander in Afghanistan with one of the outstanding soldiers of this generation, how could he deny Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for some 40,000 troops? To do so would tell the world that Mr. Obama had no confidence in his new commander, a tried veteran of our post 9/11 wars.

However, the White House's decision to send only 30,000 troops, while calling upon our allies for thousands more - perhaps as many as 10,000 - makes little sense. The Europeans have repeatedly revealed their aversion to combat. Only accounting tricks will let the administration claim that they have met these targets, and then only by bringing in inferior forces mostly constrained from real fighting by anxious governments. Should the scheme fail altogether, add one more to a list of occasions upon which America's allies have stiffed this president with impunity. Moreover, the president's protracted deliberations about the war undermined his chosen course of action. On March 27, he proclaimed "a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." But when Gen. McChrystal presented the manpower bill for the strategy, it seemed to all the world that the president and his advisers got a bad case of nerves...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 12/03/2009 - 5:49am | 0 comments
This Will Not End Well - George F. Will, Washington Post opinion.

A traveler asks a farmer how to get to a particular village. The farmer replies, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Barack Obama, who asked to be president, nevertheless deserves sympathy for having to start where America is in Afghanistan. But after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world. And Obama's second new Afghanistan policy in less than nine months strikingly resembles his predecessor's plan for Iraq, which was: As Iraq's security forces stand up, US forces will stand down.

Having vowed to "finish the job," Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy. Obama's surge will bring to 51,000 his Afghanistan escalation since March. Supposedly this will buy time for Afghan forces to become adequate. But it is not intended to buy much time: Although the war is in its 98th month, Obama's "Mission Accomplished" banner will be unfurled 19 months from now - when Afghanistan's security forces supposedly will be self-sufficient. He must know this will not happen...

More at The Washington Post.

by Dave Dilegge | Thu, 12/03/2009 - 3:09am | 1 comment
Taking the Pulse of Military Blogs After the President's Speech by our old friend Tim Hsia at the New York Times - SWJ, Schmedlap, Captain's Journal, Bouhammer, Spousebuzz, The Security Crank and Sergeant Danger.
by SWJ Editors | Wed, 12/02/2009 - 8:02pm | 0 comments

Continue on for the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, transcript of the interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 2 December 2009...

by Robert Haddick | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 11:04pm | 17 comments
The most controversial feature of President Obama's strategy for Afghanistan is his decision to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from the country in July 2011. This feature (no doubt aligned with his re-election plans -- why else withdraw troops at the start of the Afghan summer fighting season?) is a fatal flaw and makes it very likely that little will go right for his Afghan strategy. Indeed, it negates the point of hastily adding over 30,000 U.S. and European soldiers in 2010.

Over the past three months President Obama and his team have analyzed the Afghanistan problem from first principles. Yet in spite of this effort, their solution is not likely to make the problem go away. Regrettably, the next few years are likely to reveal that America still lacks a winning strategy for modern irregular conflict.

The two speeches

President Obama wishes he could have given two speeches on Afghanistan.

The first would have been heard only by the Taliban, Pakistan's governing elite, and by Afghanistan's population wondering which side of the fence to jump to. Obama's message to this group would have been, "I am escalating this war in order to suppress the Taliban, wipe out al Qaeda, and create space for Afghanistan to take over the war."

The second speech would have been heard only by the American electorate, and especially those who most passionately supported his campaign in 2008. His message to this group would have been, "I will get America out of the Afghan war, starting in July 2011."

Alas, Obama could give only one speech to be heard by all. Tonight's speech attempted to transmit the two messages. Unfortunately, it is very likely that Obama's signals got crossed - the Taliban, Pakistan's governing elite, and Afghanistan's population heard the second message, that America is getting out, while the President's supporters angrily heard the first. The result is a muddled strategy that will reinforce bad behavior in the region, will be unconvincing at home, and will not help the morale of soldiers in the field.

Bad behavior rewarded

In order to succeed in Afghanistan, the United States needs actors in the region to change their behavior. Under Obama's plan they have no reason to do so. Now that they know the start date of America's withdrawal, the Taliban can continue to ambush U.S. soldiers and Marines, avoid major contact, and conserve their forces for a post-NATO Afghanistan. The U.S. needs Afghanistan's elites to be a real government and not feudal lords preparing their own fiefdoms. Instead, President Hamid Karzai and his allies will divert what assets they can and look for a new major-power patron. Fearing that India might be that patron, Pakistan's intelligence service will continue to support the Afghan Taliban as its proxy army. Obama's attempt to send two messages ensures that Afghanistan will get messier in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, Democrats old enough to remember the 1960s will remember that the rebellion against the Vietnam War began as a civil war within the Democratic Party. That episode seems likely to repeat.

The roots of Lyndon Johnson's failure in Vietnam extended back to mistakes made in the Eisenhower administration. Similarly, Obama's escalation in Afghanistan ratifies a murky decision made sometime in the middle of the Bush administration to construct a strong and competent central government for Afghanistan, something alien to its culture and history. The nation-state model is the reflexive Western response to modern conflict. When applied to Afghanistan, the nation-state model supplied the West with a weak partner, and the Taliban with a powerful recruiting tool and a security guarantee for its sanctuaries in Pakistan.

America's war in Afghanistan

Regrettably, this is not likely to be Obama's last speech or even his last policy for Afghanistan. Obama is hoping to leave the Afghanistan problem behind him as he prepares for a second term. But the problem will still be there, perhaps worse than ever. And the American electorate will be left wondering what the purpose was for escalating the war in 2010.

Afghanistan is not "Obama's War," it is America's war, and always has been. What America still needs is a winning strategy for this war and for future irregular conflicts. We all have a responsibility for solving that problem.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 8:57pm | 0 comments

SWJ full coverage can be found here.
by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 1:00pm | 0 comments
An Evening of Counterinsurgency at the Pritzker Military Library

Hearts and minds? Overrated. If you want to run a successful counterinsurgency, it all starts with the person at the top.

On Thursday, December 3rd, Mark Moyar will appear at the Pritzker Military Library to discuss his new book, A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq. This event is free and open to the public. The presentation will begin at 6 p.m., preceded by a reception for Library members at 5 p.m. It will be webcast live on and recorded for later broadcast on WYCC-TV/Channel 20.

Moyar takes issue with much of the current U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which guided the "surge" in Iraq. Though its creation was overseen by Gen. David Petraeus, whose leadership he considers a near-perfect model for counterinsurgency, Moyar finds the general's most important qualities de-valued in the manual, which suffers from what he calls a "population-centric" emphasis toward defeating an insurgency by depriving it of public support. Using case studies from the Philippines, Vietnam, and other conflicts over the last 150 years, Moyar argues instead that counterinsurgencies succeed or fail based on the leaders involved: their ability to inspire subordinates, adapt to complex situations, unify civilian and military efforts, and identify capable sub-commanders, both from their own ranks and the target population.

Though A Question of Command describes historical insurgencies around the world, Moyar posits that the American South, after the Civil War, may have been the best model for the situation in Iraq. Whereas Grant and Sherman had led major victories on the battlefield, it was lesser-known leaders like Brig. Gen. Robert F. Catterson and Maj. Lewis Merrill who had the most success against insurgent forces such as the Ku Klux Klan. A Question of Command attempts to capture the qualities and decisions that set those leaders apart, making their successors easier to find.

Mark Moyar is Professor of National Security Affairs at the Marine Corps University. He is also the author of Triumph Forsaken: the Vietnam War, 1954-1965 and Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam. Moyar's writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He received a B.A. summa cum laude from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Cambridge.

Seating for this event is limited, so reservations are recommended. Call 312.587.0234 or email

Education professionals in Illinois may earn 1.5 Continuing Professional Development Units (CPDUs) for attending this event.

About the Pritzker Military Library

The Pritzker Military Library is a non-partisan, non-profit research institution located at 610 North Fairbanks Court in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, near the Magnificent Mile. Admission is free and open to the public, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and also for scheduled evening events.

Since opening in October 2003, the Pritzker Military Library has produced over 250 programs including events with award-winning authors, interviews with Medal of Honor recipients, and Emmy-nominated panel discussions on military issues. All programs are presented free of charge in front of a live audience, webcast live on the Internet, and recorded for later broadcast on WYCC-TV/Channel 20, a PBS affiliate. Programs are also available for download as audio podcasts.

The mission of the Pritzker Military Library is to acquire and maintain an accessible collection of materials and develop appropriate programs focusing on the Citizen Soldier in the preservation of democracy. The 5,000 sq. ft. facility features a collection of books and films on subjects covering the full spectrum of American military history, along with vintage posters, photographs, medals, uniforms, and other artifacts from private donors and the collection of the Library's founder, COL (IL) James N. Pritzker, ARNG (Ret.).

To learn more, visit

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 7:29am | 1 comment
Via Marine Colonel Phillip Ridderhof as a add-on to the Birtle on PROVN SWJ article (and commentary) by Colonel Gian Gentile - III MAF Pacification in Vietnam.

Phil's comments:

The attachment is four pages that I scanned in from the OSD report "United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967" pulled from the stacks at the Gray Research Center back in 2002.

I find it a fascinating read because it represents a DoD critique of the Marine III MAF Pacification approach in the I Corps zone, conducted with the knowledge available at the time. While I'm not in total agreement with what it states, I think it raises the argument above the usual uncritical "Marines had it right" and "CAP was great" conversations that occur within the Corps.

Key points highlighted:

- The Marines took to pacification, a very different strategy, with different strategic resource and time implications, through a chain of command that completely avoided the joint force commander responsible for the campaign (MACV).

- The Marines identified the need to have operational control of South Vietnamese forces in order to conduct this strategy--something the GVN did not want.

- The Marines were drawn into local politics to a larger degree than they expected due to the lack of RVN capability (which really begs the question of success of the whole US venture).

- The Marines failed to get GVN political support because the GVN political apparatus was not consulted in the planning.

Once again, all of these are assertions, but they point to questions on the USMC approach in Vietnam, and COIN campaign design in general.

III MAF Pacification in Vietnam

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 6:58am | 0 comments
What the US Can Achieve in Afghanistan, Despite Karzai - Mark Moyar, Los Angeles Times opinion.

Although the White House thoroughly examined the Afghan government before choosing the strategy that it will unveil tonight, the composition of that government - and hence its character - remains highly uncertain. We know the reelection of Hamid Karzai has left Afghanistan with five more years of a president who lacks leadership attributes essential for the job. Inclined toward conciliation and leniency, Karzai would make a fine president of a Kiwanis Club, but he presides over a country replete with recalcitrant tribal elders and crooked warlords that demands a leader with the toughness to strong-arm troublemakers and keep subordinates under control.

But Washington can compensate for Karzai's failings by persuading him to make personnel changes and delegate greater authority to subordinates, especially Cabinet ministers. During the run-up to this year's election, Karzai bought the support of a host of warlords and other power players by promising them Cabinet positions. How he distributes those posts could be more important than the election itself...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 5:58am | 1 comment
34,000 Troops Will be Sent to Afghanistan - Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson, Washington Post.

President Obama will outline Tuesday his intention to send an additional 34,000 US troops to Afghanistan, according to US officials and diplomatic sources briefed Monday as Obama began informing allies of his plan. The new deployments, along with 22,000 troops he authorized early this year, would bring the total US force in Afghanistan to more than 100,000, more than half of which will have been sent to the war zone by Obama. The president also plans to ask NATO and other partners in an international coalition to contribute 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, officials said.

The combined US and NATO deployments would nearly reach the 40,000 requested last summer by US Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the coalition commander in Afghanistan, as part of an intensified counterinsurgency strategy. The new troops are to be sent in stages beginning in January, with options to delay or cancel deployments, depending on the performance of the Afghan government and other factors. Defense officials said that, beyond Marine units deploying next month, no final decisions have been made about specific units or the order in which they would be sent...

More at The Washington Post.

US Opts for Limited Surge - Jonathan Weisman and Peter Spiegel, Wall Street Journal.

President Barack Obama has ordered a revamped war plan for Afghanistan that appears to endorse the military strategy of his top generals but will set limits on US involvement in terms of duration, manpower and money, White House officials said Monday. After a three-month review, the president delivers a televised prime-time address at the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, Tuesday to publicly define his plan for the war. He is widely expected to announce he's committing around 30,000 new troops to fighting the Taliban. Eight US allies also have committed to sending additional troops, which could total some 5,000, according to European and US officials.

That level of additional manpower comes close to the preferred option of top US commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which called for an additional 40,000 troops. Aides familiar with the new policy insist that Mr. Obama hasn't ended up where he started his review, planning for an an open-ended escalation. He will lay out benchmarks for the US and Afghan governments to meet on the recruitment and training of Afghan security forces, as well as on rooting out corruption that has bedeviled the country...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by Dave Dilegge | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 3:59am | 0 comments
With a H/T to Abu Muqawama, here is the U.S. Army War College Irregular Warfare Selected Bibliography, dated 9 November 2009:

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 12/01/2009 - 3:51am | 0 comments
Clear, Hold and Duct Tape - David Brooks, New York Times opinion.

... The administration seems to have spent the past few months trying to pare back the COIN strategy and adjust it to real world constraints. As it has done so, there has been less talk in the informed policy community about paving the way for a new, transformed Afghanistan. There has been more talk of finding cheap ways to arrange the current pieces of Afghanistan into a contraption that will stay together and allow us to go home. What's emerging appears to be something less than a comprehensive COIN strategy but more than a mere counter-terrorism strategy - shooting at terrorists with drones. It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president's speech Tuesday night, we'll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It's not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

Some very smart people say that the administration's direction is already fatally flawed. There is no such thing as effective COIN-lite, they argue. All the pieces of a comprehensive strategy have to be done patiently and together because success depends on the way they magnify one another. These experts may be right. But none of us get to have our first choice on this matter. President Obama faces such a devilishly complex set of constraints that the policy he announces will be partially unsatisfying to every American and to every member of his administration. The fights inside have been so brutal that there have been accusations that the Defense and State Departments have withheld documents from the president to bias his thinking...

More at The New York Times.

by Dave Dilegge | Mon, 11/30/2009 - 7:41pm | 5 comments
Tom Ricks on three things we need from Obama on Afghanistan - "corruption and abuses? - security problems in Pakistan? - U.S. domestic support?" And Tom Donnelly at AEI's Center for Defense Studies - strength before brilliance: "the long process during which President Obama has reconsidered America's commitment to what he described as a necessary war in Afghanistan has transformed the purpose of his West Point speech tomorrow night. The first-order question is not the number of troops or the proper strategy; it's more elemental: does this man believe in victory?"

Steve Coll at The New Yorker asks what if we fail in Afghanistan? "Last week, I found myself at yet another think tank-type meeting about Afghan policy choices. Toward the end, one of the participants, who had long experience in government, asked a deceptively simple question: What would happen if we failed?" A follow on post can be found here.

Tom Barnett on the bottom-line on nation building - BLUF: "It costs the United States $1 million a year to keep a soldier inside a theater of operations such as Afghanistan. The math is easy enough: For every thousand troops, the price comes out to $1 billion a year."

Via e-mail from the Council on Foreign Relations - "in advance of President Obama's announcement on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, CFR offers expert analysis and background resources from a broad range of views."

Over at Commentary's Contentions Max Boot says one word from Obama can rejuvenate troop morale and that word would be victory. "That is a word that has been missing so far from Obama's vocabulary. I hope it is not MIA on Tuesday night."

Foreign Policy releases its first top 100 global thinkers list. Yes another list - but you guys seem to love dissecting them - and yes - General P and Dr. K are on that list.

Andrew Exum (not quite back from the dead) has a new reading list - this one on irregular warfare courtesy of the U.S. Army War College. There's also a link to AM's counterinsurgency reading list.

by Robert Haddick | Mon, 11/30/2009 - 12:13pm | 3 comments
Before World War II, the League of Nations wagged its finger at the transgressions of Italy, Japan, and Germany. In response, those three countries simply walked out of the organization and challenged the League to do something about it. We know the rest of the story.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) censured Iran for its "breach of its obligations" to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and for its refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions directed at Iran's nuclear program.

Iran responded by announcing a plan to greatly expand its uranium enrichment capacity, with plans to add 10 additional enrichments sites. Even though Russia and China joined Europe, the United States, and a majority of other countries in the IAEA vote against Iran, the Iranian government did not hesitate to escalate its breach with the IAEA and the Security Council.

The Iran government is likely only a few small steps away from quitting the NPT and ejecting IAEA monitoring from its country. Should, as seems likely, Iran leave the NPT and disappear from IAEA monitoring, it will then be the Security Council's responsibility to formulate a response. But the international legal system designed to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation -- a system comprising the NPT, the IAEA, and the Security Council -- has yet to demonstrate that it can stop countries that are determined to build a nuclear weapons capability.

The Security Council will likely impose much stiffer economic and financial sanctions against Iran. Based on its decisions to escalate the dispute, the Iranian government doesn't seem concerned by this prospect. It must be concluding that side deals, smuggling, and oil market leverage will suffice to allow the regime to meet its goals.

The likely failure of sanctions to change Iran's behavior would then bring the contentious issue of preventive war back into focus. No doubt the Security Council is many months, probably years away from taking up this debate. It remains to be seen whether it will fare any better than did the League of Nations in the 1930s. In the meantime, the international community will have to contemplate how it will cope with a nuclear nonproliferation system which is useless against determined regimes.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 11/30/2009 - 1:42am | 3 comments
US Offers New Role for Pakistan - Karen DeYoung, Washington Post.

President Obama has offered Pakistan an expanded strategic partnership, including additional military and economic cooperation, while warning with unusual bluntness that its use of insurgent groups to pursue policy goals "cannot continue." The offer, including an effort to help reduce tensions between Pakistan and India, was contained in a two-page letter delivered to President Asif Ali Zardari this month by Obama national security adviser James L. Jones. It was accompanied by assurances from Jones that the United States will increase its military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan and that it plans no early withdrawal.

Obama's speech Tuesday night at the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, will address primarily the Afghanistan aspects of the strategy. But despite the public and political attention focused on the number of new troops, Pakistan has been the hot core of the months-long strategy review. The long-term consequences of failure there, the review concluded, far outweigh those in Afghanistan. "We can't succeed without Pakistan," a senior administration official involved in the White House review said. "You have to differentiate between public statements and reality. There is nobody who is under any illusions about this." ...

More at The Washington Post.

You've Had Eight Years, Now Get Us bin Laden, Brown Urges Pakistan - Philip Webster, The Times.

Gordon Brown told Pakistan to "take out" Osama bin Laden yesterday as Western frustration at its failure to capture the al-Qaeda leader burst into the public glare. With America and Britain seeking support for their decisions in the next two days to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, Mr Brown told the Pakistani leadership that it had not done enough to catch the men - believed to be hiding in the north of the country - responsible for the September 11 attacks.

His criticism was aimed at the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, which the West has long believed to be too close to extremist groups harbouring bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Mr Brown told President Asif Ali Zardari in a telephone call on Saturday that he intended to press home the message on Thursday when Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani Prime Minister, visits London. About 30,000 Pakistani troops are in the lawless South Waziristan region to force out the Taleban. In interviews as he returned from the Commonwealth summit, Mr Brown made clear that he wanted them also to target the leadership of al-Qaeda, which has evaded international forces since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001...

More at The Times.

Britain Presses Pakistan and Afghanistan on Militants - John F. Burns, New York Times.

Highlighting themes likely to be taken up by President Obama in his military policy speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain has demanded that Afghanistan and Pakistan match plans for increased allied troop levels in Afghanistan by taking tough actions of their own, including, in Pakistan, a stepped-up effort to capture Osama bin Laden. In two hard-edged statements over the weekend, Mr. Brown signaled a renewed sense of impatience in the approach that Britain and the United States plan to take toward the governments in Kabul and Islamabad as the allies step up their commitment to the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

In recent days, American officials have been briefing allied leaders in Europe, including Mr. Brown, on what President Obama plans to say at West Point on Tuesday. Mr. Brown has said he will move this week to announce fresh British deployments, confirming a tentative announcement last month of Britain's readiness to increase its force by 500 troops, beyond the 9,000 already deployed. On the fate of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, Mr. Brown, speaking Sunday, offered a sharp jolt to Pakistan. Western intelligence officials concluded long ago that the Qaeda leaders had taken sanctuary in the largely lawless tribal areas of Pakistan abutting Afghanistan, most likely in North or South Waziristan, barely 200 miles from Islamabad...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 11/29/2009 - 5:12am | 25 comments
The COINdinistas - Thomas E. Ricks, Foreign Policy.

Who knows everything there is to know and more about counterinsurgency and its current role in U.S. military strategy? These guys.

Pushed and prodded by a wonky group of Ph.D.s, the U.S. military has in the last year decisively embraced a Big Idea: counterinsurgency. Not everyone in uniform is a fan, but David Petraeus and the other generals in charge of America's wars are solidly behind it. Here are the brains behind counterinsurgency's rise from forgotten doctrine to the centerpiece of the world's most powerful military..

More at Foreign Policy.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 11/29/2009 - 4:17am | 0 comments
Newly Deployed Marines to Target Taliban Bastion - Greg Jaffe, Washington Post.

Days after President Obama outlines his new war strategy in a speech Tuesday, as many as 9,000 Marines will begin final preparations to deploy to southern Afghanistan and renew an assault on a Taliban stronghold that slowed this year amid a troop shortage and political pressure from the Afghan government, senior US officials said. The extra Marines will be the first to move into the country as part of Obama's escalation of the eight-year-old war. They will double the size of the US force in the southern province of Helmand and will provide a critical test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's struggling government and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy.

"The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines," Gen. James T. Conway, the Corps' top officer, told fellow Marines in Afghanistan on Saturday. "We've been leaning forward in anticipation of a decision. And we've got some pretty stiff fighting coming." The Marines will be quickly followed by about 1,000 US Army trainers. They will deploy as early as February to speed the growth of the Afghan army and police force, military officials said...

More at The Washington Post.

by Niel Smith | Sat, 11/28/2009 - 7:33pm | 7 comments
"Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them."

- T.E. Lawrence, Twenty Seven Articles, Article 15

T.E. Lawrence's quote has become quite possibly the most over-used quotation by the U.S. Army in recent memory. Nearly every military presentation regarding our recent conflicts has some form of it embedded in the text. Nearly all U.S. military officers can parrot it with rote precision. However, application of Lawrence's wisdom in the field remains spotty. One doesn't have to look far to find accounts of U.S. soldiers and advisors emulating Larry the Cable Guy's "Git r' Dun" philosophy to prevent failure in Iraqi (or Afghan) forces. Sometimes this is required, but too often our own hubris and self-perception as the all-knowing American military overcomes the wisdom of listening to the host nation.

I learned this lesson the hard way in Tal Afar, Iraq. From March-May 2006, my company engaged in a difficult struggle for control of the Hai al Sa'ad neighborhood in the northwest part of the city.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 11/28/2009 - 5:01am | 1 comment
US Tries New Tack Against Taliban - Anand Gopal, Wall Street Journal.

The US-led coalition and the Afghan government are launching an initiative to persuade Taliban insurgents to lay down their weapons, offering jobs and protection to the militants who choose to abandon their fight. While President Hamid Karzai's government has been trying to woo these insurgents for years, the new program marks the first time that the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces are systematically reaching out to Taliban fighters. The tactic comes as the US prepares to announce Tuesday how many additional troops it will send to Afghanistan as part of a new strategy aimed at bringing the eight-year war to a successful end. US officials also hope America's European allies will raise their troop contributions as part of the new push.

The Afghan government has had a reconciliation program in place since 2004, and claims to have turned more than 8,000 insurgents. That program, however, is widely derided as corrupt and ineffective. Insurgents were enticed with offers of jobs but rarely received the promised assistance, leading many to rejoin the fight. Western officials behind the new reconciliation program say they believe the majority of insurgents are fighting for money - the Taliban often pay their members - or personal grievances. Luring such men from the battlefield is a central component of America's new counterinsurgency strategy crafted by US Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied commander here...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 11/27/2009 - 3:58pm | 9 comments
Surprising Results from Afghanistan Debate - James Corum, Daily Telegraph.

While the Obama administration endlessly dithers about the US committment to Afghanistan, it would do well to look at the surprising results of a major public debate on the issue. On 10 and 11 October, New York University and Newsweek Magazine hosted a formal debate on the participation of the US forces in the conflict in Afghanistan. At New York University on 9 October the propostion "America cannot and will not succeeed in Afghanistan/Pakistan" was debated before a large audience. The next day, Newsweek Magazine's national radio programme also hosted a dialogue with experts presenting their views on reinforcing the US forces in Afghanistan or withdrawing.

There was a strong speakers' card at the New York University debate, with Steven Clemons, a prominent defence analyst, and Ralph Peters, a retired US Army officer and newspaper columnist, speaking for the motion. The speakers against the motion included James Shinn, the former assistant secretary of Defence for Asia and my old friend, Lt Col John Nagl (rtd), who now writes on defence issues. I took part in Newsweek's radio debate as a supporter of reinforcing the Western effort in Afghanistan. My credentials to speak on the subject: I have taught courses on counterinsurgency to US and British officers since 1991, I have written three books on counterinsurgency, I served as a US officer in Iraq in 2004, and I am one of the main authors of the US Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine (Counterinsurgency FM 3-24) brought out under General Petreaus in late 2006...

More at The Daily Telegraph.

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 11/27/2009 - 9:08am | 0 comments
Parameters, Autumn 2009

A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army by Gian P. Gentile

In a sense, population-centric counterinsurgency has perverted a better way of American war which has primarily been one of improvisation and practicality.

Beyond Population Engagement: Understanding Counterinsurgency by Heather S. Gregg

The battle is not the war, however. The long-term goal of a counterinsurgency campaign requires the creation of a functioning state, a government that can stand on its own, provide for its citizens, and promote regional and international stability; this achievement is victory in a counterinsurgency.

Conventional Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age by Michael S. Gerson

Deterrence is once again a topic of discussion and debate among US defense and policy communities. Although the concept has received comparatively little attention since the end of the Cold War, it seems poised to take center stage in America's national security policy during the coming decades.

Playing for the Breaks: Insurgent Mistakes by Lincoln B. Krause

Insurgent leaders commit strategic mistakes that can significantly retard their efforts, and if properly leveraged by counterinsurgent forces, may lead to the insurgents' defeat.

Filling Irregular Warfare's Interagency Gaps by Lew Irwin

The US government has consistently failed to apply the full weight of its instruments of power during irregular warfare conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, largely due to an inability or unwillingness of various agencies to agree upon the ends, ways, and means needed to prosecute those wars.

The Defense Identity Crisis: It's a Hybrid World by Nathan Freier

The defense enterprise is abuzz with lively debates on "hybrid threats" and "hybrid war." Yet, newly emergent defense trends do not automatically merit exquisite definitions, new doctrine, or new operating concepts. As Frank Hoffman implies, such a caveat might be true of "hybrid warfare."

To Stay a Soldier by Chuck Callahan

A significant number of the medical hold soldiers were men and women caught in the mire of the Army's archaic physical disability evaluation system. This system's disability rating and arduous compensation processes were more than half a century out of date.

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by SWJ Editors | Fri, 11/27/2009 - 7:31am | 8 comments
In Afghanistan, Real Leverage Starts with More Troops - Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, Washington Post opinion.

The president will soon announce the deployment of additional US forces to Afghanistan, in a speech likely to emphasize the importance of political progress there. Legitimacy is the most important outcome of a counterinsurgency strategy, not, as some have suggested, an input. It is unfortunate that much of the debate has ignored the role that additional military forces can play in building legitimacy and effective government in a counterinsurgency. Adding forces gives us leverage; military forces are vital to the success of any political strategy because they contribute directly to improving governance as well as to improving security.

The recent American experience in Iraq illustrates how US forces and diplomacy helped correct the behaviors of a sometimes malign government in ways that helped neutralize insurgent groups. In early 2007, many Iraqi leaders were using instruments of state to support sectarian death squads. The dysfunctional government could not secure the population, pass laws or provide services to its people. The implementation of a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy - enabled by the deployment of nearly six additional US combat brigades - transformed Iraq's government within 18 months. Opponents of the surge argued that Iraqis would "step up" politically and militarily only if they knew that US forces would leave. Instead, before committing to the fight, political leaders and populations throughout Iraq assessed whether US forces would stay long enough to secure them. Iraqis stepped up precisely because of the absence of conditionality and time limits on US force levels...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 11/26/2009 - 10:31am | 0 comments
by SWJ Editors | Thu, 11/26/2009 - 3:25am | 0 comments
Obama's Skeptic in Chief - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

With President Obama finally ready to announce his decision about Afghanistan, it's a good time to examine the role played by Vice President Biden, who emerged during the policy review as the administration's in-house skeptic - the "questioner in chief," as one insider puts it. Biden has been the point man in challenging some premises of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy, according to civilian and military officials involved in the review. He was dubious about committing more troops when the administration announced its initial strategy in March, and over the months his doubts came to be shared, increasingly, by the president. Biden's questions sometimes peeved advocates of the military buildup - one official describes a process of discussion that resembled bashing a pií±ata - and they added weeks of delay.

But administration officials argue that the review, protracted and painful as it has been, will produce an Afghanistan policy that can better withstand public scrutiny. Obama is still working on the final details, and one participant describes the narrow balance as "51-49." Officials predict that he will send some additional troops to secure Afghanistan's population centers, though probably not the full 40,000 McChrystal requested. Obama's support for the mission will be hedged and time-limited, as Biden has urged. Biden won his case against an open-ended commitment to a policy that, as even its strongest advocates concede, may not work. Instead, the president appears to have embraced Biden's demand for a "proof of concept" to test the strategy in the populated regions where the United States added troops this year. The time limit for this experimentation isn't clear yet, but it's likely to be less than the three to five years US commanders think is needed...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 11/25/2009 - 7:34pm | 0 comments
Continue on for a Voice of America update on Afghanistan...