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 | Thu, 09/24/2009 - 1:59pm | 6 comments
Cross-posted from the Center for Defense Studies, Lest We Forget by Tom Donnelly.

One of the reasons that Gen. Stanley McChrystal can argue that victory in Afghanistan is achievable is that he counts on a force forged in the years since 9/11 into a superb instrument for irregular warfare. Indeed, Americans in uniform have done much to rescue American strategists from their mistakes.

Yet we in Washington take the quality of the force too much for granted. We tend either to stand in awe of people in uniform or pity them; rarely do we devote much effort to simply understand them, be it individually or collectively. Tomorrow, CDS will try to rectify that with a conference "Surviving and Thriving in Harm's Way," a look at how soldiers are managing the many stresses of repeat deployments to some very cruel wars.

We'll begin with a presentation from Nate Self, a former Army Ranger who led the desperate fight of "Roberts' Ridge" in March 2002, during Operation Anaconda which swept the last major al Qaeda force out of Afghanistan. Though Self and his men passed a pure test of courage under fire--the fight has passed into Ranger legend and is honored in displays at Ranger Regiment headquarters--he suffered from a severe case of post-combat stress that drove him from the Army. Yet despite the contention of professional PTSD advocates, Self is not only himself recovering from his trauma but now works with other soldiers who suffer from similar problems.

And we will conclude with a presentation from Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, another stoic soldier. In 1991, while serving as a flight surgeon on a search-and-rescue mission to save a downed F-16 pilot, the Blackhawk helicopter carrying Cornum was shot down; many of the crew were killed and she was held as a prisoner of war until the cessation of hostilities. Her subsequent memoir, She Went to War, focused the debate on women's roles in combat. An M.D. and PhD., Cornum now heads the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, a effort to prepare soldiers and their families for the personal challenges they now face.

AEI's Sally Satel will also moderate a panel assessing and discussing new clinical thinking about PTSD. Many of elements of past PTSD mythology--especially those that comprise the caricature of the "broken veteran" in popular culture--do not withstand rigorous scientific scrutiny.

In sum, this promises to be a conference that digs more deeply in search of the understanding needed to formulate wise personnel policies for the "Long War." For if we do "break the force"--if we break these people--we cannot win.

More on Surviving and Thriving in Harm's Way - Friday, September 25, 2009; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM; Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, American Enterprise Institute; Washington D.C.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/24/2009 - 7:23am | 6 comments
Britain's Afghan Wisdom - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

When it comes to Afghanistan, the British have a special perspective: Every mistake the United States has made recently, they made 150 years ago. So it's worth listening to British experts in the debate over Afghan strategy. Afghanistan drove the British bonkers for much of the 19th century. They couldn't control the place, but they couldn't walk away from it, either. They found that there wasn't a military solution, but there wasn't a non-military solution. It was a question of managing chaos. Sound familiar?

The best answer the British came up with was working with tribal leaders in the border regions - paying them subsidies, wooing them away from the baddies who genuinely threatened British interests, but otherwise letting them run their own affairs. That was a cynical approach and it left Afghanistan a poor, backward country. But it worked adequately, especially compared with the alternative, which was unending bloodshed in a faraway country that refused to be colonized. A modern version of this "work with the tribes" approach is still the best answer. And it seems to be an important part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy that was leaked this week. It's dressed up in the language of counterinsurgency - he speaks of "population-centric" operations, and he uses the word "community" 44 times, by my count. But his assessment is basically a discussion of how to stabilize the country without just shooting people...

More at The Washington Post.

by Robert Haddick | Tue, 09/22/2009 - 1:24pm | 21 comments
Brigadier General H.R. McMaster has sent to Small Wars Journal the latest draft of Army Capstone Concept version 2.7. McMaster leads a team at TRADOC that is charged with revising the Capstone Concept, which provides fundamental guidance to the Army's doctrine and training efforts.

By December, McMaster and his team will complete their work on the Capstone Concept. Between now and then, he wants to hear from you. So please open this file, read it, and provide your comments, either here or at the Capstone Concept comment thread at Small Wars Council. McMaster and his team will read these comments and use them to improve this important document.

(You will note that the Capstone Concept draft we received is marked "For Official Use Only." I assure you that we received this document openly from the Army and for the purposes explained above. McMaster and his colleagues at TRADOC want Small Wars Journal's readers to help them improve the Capstone Concept.)

UPDATE (1515 EST 24 Sept 09): TRADOC sent me a version of the file without the "For Official Use Only" notation, which I have inserted.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/22/2009 - 12:43pm | 0 comments
A Comprehensive Strategy for Afghanistan: Afghanistan Force Requirements - Frederick Kagan, American Enterprise Institute, and Kimberly Kagan, Institute for the Study of War.

President Obama identified a number of questions that must be answered before he can make a considered decision about whether or not to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. The assessment of General Stanley McChrystal, which appeared in the Washington Post on Monday, answers those questions. The assessment does not provide an estimate of the forces actually required, which were to be submitted in a later document.

The American people need to have a detailed explanation as soon as possible of what forces are needed, how they might be used, and why there is no alternative to pursuing the counter-insurgency strategy that General McChrystal proposes if we are to achieve the fundamental objectives President Obama announced in his March 27 speech, " disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

To inform the national discussion, therefore, we have produced a report that argues for an addition of 40,000-45,000 US troops in 2010 to the 68,000 American forces that will be there by the end of this year. The report illustrates where US, NATO, and Afghan forces are now and where additional forces are needed to accomplish the mission. It links the US force requirements to the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces on an accelerated timeline. It explains the methodology for assessing the adequacy of a proposed force-level. This product, and our recommendations and assessments, are entirely our own - they do not necessarily reflect the views of General McChrystal or anyone else.

Afghanistan Force Requirements - Slide Presentation

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/22/2009 - 5:23am | 0 comments
Obama's Befuddling Afghan Policy - Leslie H. Gelb, Wall Street Journal opinion.

I'm lost on President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy - along with most of Congress and the US military. Not quite eight months ago, Mr. Obama pledged to "defeat" al Qaeda in Afghanistan by transforming that country's political and economic infrastructure, training Afghan forces and adding 21,000 US forces for starters. He proclaimed Afghanistan's strategic centrality to prevent Muslim extremism from taking over Pakistan - an even more vital nation because of its nuclear weapons. And a mere three weeks ago, he punctuated his commitments by proclaiming that Afghanistan is a "war of necessity," not one of choice. White House spokesmen reinforced this by promising that the president would "fully resource" the war.

Yet less than one week ago, Mr. Obama said the following about troop increases: "I'm going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions. There is no immediate decision pending on resources, because one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make a determination about resources." He repeated that on Sunday's talk shows.

Are we now to understand that he made all those previous declarations and decisions without a strategy he was committed to? Prior to his recent statements, it seemed clear that the president and his advisers had adopted a strategy already - the counterinsurgency one - and that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was tapped precisely because he would implement that plan. The idea, to repeat, was to deploy forces sufficient to clear territory of Taliban threats, hold that territory, and build up the sinews of the country behind that...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/22/2009 - 4:42am | 6 comments
Maladies of Interpreters - Joshua Foust, New York Times opinion.

In counterinsurgency, the most important thing is winning over the local population. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander in charge of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, was right to warn that a "crisis of confidence among Afghans" imperils the effort to rebuild the country. For most American troops, however, the only connection they have to the locals - whether soldiers in the Afghan army or villagers they're trying to secure - is through their interpreters.

United States Army doctrine describes interpreters as "vital," which is fairly obvious given the bevy of languages spoken in Afghanistan: Dari, Pashto, Tajik, Uzbek and others. Yet the way the military uses translators is too often haphazard and sometimes dangerously negligent. Many units consider interpreters to be necessary evils, and even those who are Americans of Afghan descent are often scorned or mistreated for being too obviously "different."

Mission Essential Personnel, the primary contractor providing interpreters in Afghanistan, has basic guidelines: interpreters need to be given a place to sleep, for example, and fed. But beyond that, how they are treated is often left up to the individual unit. Many times, they are treated the way they should be: as vital members of a team. Sometimes, however, they are shockingly disrespected...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/22/2009 - 3:55am | 0 comments
A Pragmatist, Gates Reshapes Policy He Backed - Peter Baker and Thom Shanker, New York Times.

On his tenth day on the job, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed off on an ambitious if politically charged plan to build a new missile shield in Europe. Just two weeks later, he supported an even more wrenching decision to send additional American troops to Iraq, into a war that was not going well.

That was nearly three years, one president and a political lifetime ago. Now serving Barack Obama instead of George W. Bush, Mr. Gates just recommended jettisoning his own missile defense program in favor of a reformulated version and once again is wrestling with whether to send more troops abroad, in this case to Afghanistan.

Quiet and unassuming, Mr. Gates has emerged as the man in the middle between policies of the past he once championed and the revisions and reversals he is now carrying out. His stature and credibility have allowed him to extract concessions on the inside, including on missile defense, according to senior officials, while serving as a formidable shield against Republican spears on the outside...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 09/21/2009 - 7:58pm | 3 comments
Here's a sampling of some early reaction - and in no particular order - to General Stanley A. McChrystal's COMISAF's Initial Assessment - released last night and posted by The Washington Post.

The Clock is Ticking - Tom Donnelly, AEI / CDS: Bob Woodward's story in today's Washington Post summarizes the Afghanistan "assessment" of Gen. Stanely McChrystal. It's a good get by the dean of Washington insiders, but the report has been ripening in the Indian summer sun since August 30 and its main points--including the need for more troops - are hardly news. What is remarkable is how long it's taking for the president to make up his mind.

The Case for More Boots on the Ground - David Wood, Politics Daily: In the sputtering debate about Afghanistan and what to do about the war, I haven't heard anyone advocate surrendering to the Taliban. What I have heard are lots of thoughts about how to make the war less painful, at least for us. Force the allies to do more. Train the Afghans to fight in our place. Cut back our own forces, just a bit. Find a cheaper way to fight, one that doesn't involve so darned many American troops. I particularly like this last one, because it feeds into the fantasy that superior American technology can overcome any adversary almost bloodlessly, especially the bearded primitives of Afghanistan.

Gulliver In Afghanistan - Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish: General McChrystal is to be congratulated, it seems to me, for the candor and seriousness of his report to the president on what has gone so wrong in Afghanistan and what can be done to set it right. McChrystal's role is to find a way to win: he's a soldier fighting a war. And yet this hardest of hard-nosed military men essentially concedes that this is a political problem at its heart. You cannot fight a counter-insurgency on behalf of a government that is as corrupt as Karzai's.

The Odd Optics of the 'Strategic Review' - Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark: I must confess to finding the entire exercise baffling. The "strategic review" brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking. Were it not for the optics of a leaked "strategic review" amidst an intensifying public debate, I doubt this would dominate the front pages.

The Afghanistan Strategic Review - Judah Grunstein, World Politics Review: Most of its principle elements have already emerged since July, but to see them finally gathered and presented in a coherent draft helps clarify the assessment of where things stand. Curiously, I was most impressed and encouraged by the discussion of the Afghan insurgency's strengths (pp. 2-5/2-8). I found myself thinking that, despite all of the insurgency's recent advances, our understanding of its various strands, how they overlap, and their lines of operation seems sophisticated enough to render aggressive kinetic operations effective.

What Strategy? This Strategy - Max Boot, Contentions: Keep in mind that this is the assessment of the administration's handpicked general, who was brought in to replace a competent but uninspiring incumbent; he was judged the best man for the job. General McChrystal has done what was expected of him. He has delivered a cogent and impressive review of the situation, one that lays out his new strategy. Now he is simply waiting for the resources needed to execute that strategy. Without those resources, the "likely result," he warns, is "failure." Yes, one might prefer that debate take place according to a set of rules from a fabled age of civility, where politics stopped at the water's edge, generals were unfailingly deferential to civilian political leadership, and nothing was ever leaked to the press.

Debating Afghanistan: Beyond the McChrystal Leak - James Joyner, The New Atlanticist: Still, the tide has certainly shifted, with the Washington consensus that "winning" in Afghanistan is necessary having given way to serious doubts about whether "winning" is even possible - or even if we know what it means. Inertia and calls from respected generals for more troops to "finish what we've started" will likely prevail in the short run but, absent a rapid change in perception, it will be incumbent on the pro war side to make the case for staying the course.

And by "Strategy," We Meant... - Tim Sullivan, AEI / CDS: So what gives? It can only be assumed that the president's strategic objectives have shifted, or that the administration is somehow dissatisfied with elements of the military plan conceived by Gen. McChrystal. As Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung suggest in today's Post, it's likely some combination of the two.

To Look Good Or To Feel Good? - Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement: Don't forget the rest of the world and all of our allies and enemies out there, also paying attention. Our last big fashion faux pas, Vietnam, was all over us like a cheap suit for decades. Right up to Sept. 11, 2001. The problem is, the decision is still in the hands of people who have signalled that they can't tell the different between looking good and feeling good.

Bob Woodward Strikes Again! - Peter Feaver, Shadow Government: It is not good to have a document like this leaked into the public debate before the President has made his decision. Whether you favor ramping up or ramping down or ramping laterally, as a process matter, the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters without it appearing concurrently on the front pages of the Post. I assume the Obama team is very angry about this, and I think they have every right to be.

General McChrystal's Report on Afghanistan and External Influences - Bill Roggio, Threat Matrix: There are a couple of redacted sections of the report that would have made interesting reading, such as information on Taliban operations and the groups' command and control, and Taliban control throughout the country. One part of the report that will get lost in the inevitable political debate on the Afghan surge will be McChrystal's assessment of "External Influences" on Afghanistan. The assessments are brief but reinforce the available information on the safe havens in Pakistan and the ISI's role in aiding the Taliban, as well as the role of Iran's Qods Force in training and arming elements of the Taliban.

Why Does McChrystal Need More Troops for Afghanistan? - Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor: McChrystal's apparent answer is that the US must mount a proper counterinsurgency effort. In the bumper-sticker parlance of counterinsurgency, coalition forces must clear, hold, and build. To do that, the US and its allies must protect the population, weed out the insurgency that attempts to grow among it, and train an indigenous security force to ultimately take over the mission. Afghanistan has long been an "under-resourced" mission, McChrystal says. This prevents coalition forces from being able to "hold" an area after clearing it. That creates a vacuum the insurgency can once again fill.

Winning Afghan Hearts and Minds - Patrick Walters, The Australian: Primarily, the war requires more coalition troops, and soon, if the military initiative is to be regained and the Taliban insurgency thwarted. McChrystal's conclusion is that the overall situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and that without a clear step-up and an overhaul of strategy and tactics, the US-led coalition cannot succeed. McChrystal's 66-page study was completed late last month and leaked to The Washington Post yesterday. At the core of McChrystal's bleak assessment is the view that US strategy in Afghanistan cannot only be focused on seizing terrain or destroying Taliban insurgents.

The McChrystal Report: A Make or Break Moment for Obama - Michael Goldfarb, Weekly Standard: It's probably not a coincidence that the McChrystal report leaked just as Obama looked like he was going wobbly on his commitment to the war effort. Democrats on the Hill are already threatening to obstruct funding for additional US forces - Pelosi, Levin, and Murtha among them - and Obama was skeptical of the need for more US forces on the Sunday shows yesterday. "I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question," Obama told CNN's John King. "Because there is a natural inclination to say, if I get more, then I can do more. But right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?"

Now That the McChrystal Strategy Review Has Leaked ... - Spencer Ackerman, Washington Indpendent: McChrystal can't be faulted for presuming that Obama's commitment in March to a counterinsurgency campaign for a counterterrorism goal meant he should interpret counterinsurgency as broadly as he could or pursue it as aggressively as he could. Nor can the administration be faulted for worrying that such commitments push the means into overtaking the ends they're supposed to yield. And the public can't be faulted for turning away from a war that exhibits such strategic drift. But the leak of the strategy review means it's now harder for everyone to make rational decisions without worrying whether their bureaucratic adversaries are going to undermine them in the media.

It is 'Fish or Cut Bait" Time - McQ, Blackfive: Note that the word used is "success", not "victory". I'm not one to quibble about those words. Victory is used in a military sense. Victory is success. But we all know that while the military is an integral part of any success we might have there, ultimately it can't "win" the day by itself. Success will be defined as leaving a sovereign nation capable of governing and defending itself when we eventually leave. We may not like that definition, we may not like the fact that we're again engaged in nation building and we may not like the fact that such an endeavor is going to take years, possibly decades to achieve - but that is the situation we now find ourselves in. If we were to abandon Afghanistan now, we'd see it quickly revert to the state it was in 2001 - ruled by Islamic fundamentalists and a safe-haven for our most avowed enemies.

McChrystal to Resign if Not Given Resources for Afghanistan - Bill Roggio, Threat Matrix: Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal's team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn't given sufficient resources (read troops) to implement a change in direction in Afghanistan.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 09/21/2009 - 4:24am | 3 comments
Via The Washington Post:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post. Bob Woodward reports; Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung provide analysis; and a declassified version of document is available on

The Report: Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." ... McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians. He provides extensive new details about the Taliban insurgency, which he calls a muscular and sophisticated enemy that uses modern propaganda and systematically reaches into Afghanistan's prisons to recruit members and even plan operations.

Bob Woodward's full story can be found here.

Analysis: McChrystal's assessment, in the view of two senior administration officials, is just "one input" in the White House's decision-making process. ... When Obama announced his strategy in March, there were few specifics fleshing out his broad goals, and the military was left to interpret how to implement them. As they struggle over how to adjust to changing reality on the ground, some in the administration have begun to fault McChrystal for taking the policy beyond where Obama intended, with no easy exit. But Obama's deliberative pace — he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal's report so far — is a source of growing consternation within the military. "Either accept the assessment or correct it, or let's have a discussion," one Pentagon official said. "Will you read it and tell us what you think?" Within the military, this official said, "there is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration."

The full piece by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung can be found here.

The Department of Defense on Sunday evening released a declassified version of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's assessment of the war in Afghanistan. The Post agreed to publish this version, which includes minor deletions of material that officials said could compromise future operations, rather than a copy of the document marked "confidential." The document can be viewed here.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/20/2009 - 6:48pm | 8 comments
Obama's Sunday TV Blitz - Washington Post 44 Blog.

President Obama said Sunday he will remain skeptical about the need for more US troops in Afghanistan until he is satisfied that the military has the right strategy for winning the war there. In taped interviews on five Sunday morning news programs, Obama said his top generals have completed another review of that strategy, and that he will not act on a further troop increase until he is satisfied that the review has produced a winnable approach.

"What I'm not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question," Obama told NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press." "Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there- beyond what we already have." ...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/20/2009 - 10:04am | 13 comments
The Picture Awaits: The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency - Anne Marlowe, World Affairs.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, counterinsurgency theory was about as popular in American military circles as tank warfare is today. An early study by the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division during its first deployment to Iraq reported "a collective cognitive dissonance on the part of the US Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it." There was a reason for this. Eager to forget the most painful experience in its history, the army had all but banished counterinsurgency from the lexicon of American military affairs after Vietnam. As a result, the army relied on a flawed strategy in Iraq for a period that lasted, according to author Thomas Ricks, at least "twenty months or more.

As US Army Colonel Gian Gentile has summarized this line of argument, there was a "bad war" in Iraq fought by officers who ignored the theory and practice of counterinsurgency, followed by a "good war" fought by its champions. In Vietnam, however, even the "bad" war was fought by commanders deeply versed in the tactics, techniques, and procedures of counterinsurgency (COIN)—much more, in any case, than their counterparts were on September 11, 2001. The United States may have gone, in James Fallows's memorable phrase, "Blind into Baghdad." It did not march blindly into Vietnam. On the contrary, counterinsurgency theory enjoyed a special vogue in the 1960s: it was certainly more fashionable and better understood by an educated public than it is today. Especially among military officers, COIN was more roundly known during this era than at any time up until the release of Field Manual 3-24 in December 2006...

More at World Affairs. SWJ hat tip to Victor Lamparski, Editor, War News Updates.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/20/2009 - 9:45am | 4 comments
'Civilian Surge' Plan For Afghanistan Hits A Snag - Jackie Northam, National Public Radio.

Speculation abounds over whether President Obama will authorize a troop increase in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the administration is expected to increase the deployment of American government civilian workers - experts who can help rebuild the country. But there are problems persuading civilians with the requisite skills to go to Afghanistan. When Obama unveiled his administration's strategy for Afghanistan in March, he emphasized that civilian experts were just as critical as the tens of thousands of additional US military personnel he was sending at that time.

"We need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers," he said. "That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. That's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground." To that end, the administration announced it would send about 450 civilians from several branches of the government by March 2010. The timetable was then accelerated to December of this year. But so far, only about a quarter of that number have been deployed to Afghanistan...

More at NPR.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/20/2009 - 4:17am | 0 comments
CIA Expanding Presence in Afghanistan - Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times.

The CIA is deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence "surge" that will make its station there among the largest in the agency's history, US officials say. When complete, the CIA's presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. Precise numbers are classified, but one US official said the agency already has nearly 700 employees in Afghanistan.

The influx parallels the US military expansion and comes as the nation's spy services are under pressure from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to improve intelligence on the Taliban and find ways to reverse a series of unsettling trends. Among them are a twofold increase in the number of roadside bombs, a growing sophistication in the kinds of assaults aimed at coalition troops and evidence that a Taliban group has developed an assembly-line approach to grooming suicide bombers and supplying them to other insurgent organizations...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/20/2009 - 3:55am | 2 comments
A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe - Robert M. Gates, New York Times opinion.

The future of missile defense in Europe is secure. This reality is contrary to what some critics have alleged about President Obama's proposed shift in America's missile-defense plans on the continent - and it is important to understand how and why.

First, to be clear, there is now no strategic missile defense in Europe. In December 2006, just days after becoming secretary of defense, I recommended to President George W. Bush that the United States place 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic. This system was designed to identify and destroy up to about five long-range missiles potentially armed with nuclear warheads fired from the Middle East - the greatest and most likely danger being from Iran. At the time, it was the best plan based on the technology and threat assessment available.

That plan would have put the radar and interceptors in Central Europe by 2015 at the earliest. Delays in the Polish and Czech ratification process extended that schedule by at least two years. Which is to say, under the previous program, there would have been no missile-defense system able to protect against Iranian missiles until at least 2017 - and likely much later...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/20/2009 - 3:36am | 0 comments
Bosnia's Lesson - George Will, Washington Post opinion.

For 11 days in late August and early September in 1995, US and NATO air power defended Bosnian Muslims, who were being attacked by Bosnian Serbs, who were supported by Serbian Serbs. This was merely the overture to something much more ambitious - a grand concert of nation-building that began when the Dayton agreement reached in December of that year calmed the Balkan furies of revanchism and revenge, for a while.

But agreements, like flowers, last while they last, and today's fraying of Bosnia is not the fault of Richard Holbrooke, whose skill and tenacity produced the Dayton peace. Or perhaps the Dayton pause. Holbrooke, whose diplomatic career began in Vietnam, continues in the Obama administration, where his portfolio is Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the president contemplates an ambitious mission in the former, as a prophylactic measure to stabilize the latter, he should read "The Death of Dayton: How to Stop Bosnia From Falling Apart," in Foreign Affairs.

Political scientists Patrice C. McMahon and Jon Western note that Bosnia was "once the poster child for international reconstruction efforts" and was considered "proof that under the right conditions the international community could successfully rebuild conflict-ridden countries." Now, however, Bosnia "stands on the brink of collapse." ...

More at The Washington Post.

How to Stop Bosnia From Falling Apart - Patrice C. McMahon and Jon Western, Foreign Affairs.

After 14 years of intense international efforts to stabilize and rebuild Bosnia, the country now stands on the brink of collapse. For the first time since November 1995 - when the Dayton accord ended three and a half years of bloody ethnic strife - Bosnians are once again talking about the potential for war.

Bosnia was once the poster child for international reconstruction efforts. It was routinely touted by US and European leaders as proof that under the right conditions the international community could successfully rebuild conflict-ridden countries. The 1995 Dayton peace agreement divided Bosnia into two semi-independent entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, inhabited mainly by Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (Serb Republic, or RS), each with its own government, controlling taxation, educational policy, and even foreign policy. Soon after the war's end, the country was flooded with attention and over $14 billion in international aid, making it a laboratory for what was arguably the most extensive and innovative democratization experiment in history. By the end of 1996, 17 different foreign governments, 18 UN agencies, 27 intergovernmental organizations, and about 200 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) - not to mention tens of thousands of troops from across the globe - were involved in reconstruction efforts. On a per capita basis, the reconstruction of Bosnia - with less than four million citizens -- made the post-World War II rebuilding of Germany and Japan look modest...

More at Foreign Affairs.

by Dave Dilegge | Sat, 09/19/2009 - 9:28am | 0 comments
COIN Center SITREP - Latest monthly SITREP from the US Army / US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center. Includes Security Force Assistance.

SSI September 2009 Newsletter - Strategic Studies Institute's monthly newsletter. Includes new publications, events and an op-ed on national security strategy reform.

Winning In Afghanistan - Anthony Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies. The US will fail ... if the Administration and the Congress temporize and delay.

Iraqi Insurgents Take the Offensive as Parliamentary Elections Approach - Ramzy Mardini, Jamestown Foundation. Regardless of the security gains made in Iraq, the country is still riddled with poor institutions, ethnic and tribal rivalries and an absence of genuine reconciliation efforts.

GAO Report on Homeland Defense - September 2009 report to Congress on US Northern Command efforts.

CJCS Speech - Full transcript of Admiral Michael Mullin's remarks Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute.

Arrr! - Today be the day me hearties!

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 09/18/2009 - 8:43pm | 0 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Obama's Afghan strategy - a blank page,

2) America's spies adjust to the post-al Qaeda era.

Obama's Afghan strategy - a blank page

According to a Sept. 17 Washington Post article, President Barack Obama stated he is waiting on making a decision about sending more soldiers to Afghanistan until he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."

This declaration will come as a surprise to those who thought he had decided on his strategy for Afghanistan on March 27th. Are Obama and his advisers preparing to rip up the March strategy and delete this link from the White House Website?

The answer is yes. In his remarks on Sept. 16 to the American Enterprise Institute, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said that the administration was reviewing its strategy for Afghanistan, starting from "first principles." Why would the Obama team feel the need to do that? Mullen had an answer for that -- if Hamid Karzai's reelection to the Afghan presidency is not accepted as legitimate, "hard questions" about the viability of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan would follow.

Obama has undoubtedly concluded that he has little chance of sustaining political support in the United States for the Afghan effort if there is little acceptance of Karzai as the legitimate winner of the election. The best case scenario is a second-round runoff, which would at least give the Afghan election process a chance to redeem its legitimacy. But a final, well-scrubbed result to the first round may be a month away; a hypothetical second could stretch into 2010. Obama will see no point in making a decision on a new strategy, and the resources such a strategy will require, until a basic premise -- the legitimacy of the Afghan government -- is established.

Click through to read more ...

by Dave Dilegge | Fri, 09/18/2009 - 12:42am | 0 comments
Department of Defense Instruction 3000.05 - Stability Operations, released on 16 September 2009, was signed by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michí¨le A. Flournoy.

Stability Operations Definition: For the purposes of this Instruction, stability operations is defined as an overarching term encompassing various military missions, tasks, and activities conducted outside the United States in coordination with other instruments of national power to maintain or reestablish a safe and secure environment, provide essential governmental services, emergency infrastructure reconstruction, and humanitarian relief.

Continue on for key excerpts...

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/17/2009 - 11:47pm | 0 comments
Exploring Three Strategies for Afghanistan - Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate. Witnesses were Dr. John Nagl, President, Center for a New American Security (prepared statement); Dr. Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations (prepared statement); and Rory Stewart, Director, Carr Center on Human Rights Policy (prepared statement). A video recording of the hearing can be found here (click on the title).
by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/17/2009 - 11:09pm | 4 comments
Afghanistan is Hard All the Time, but It's Doable - David Petraeus, The Times opinion (General David Petraeus is Commander, United States Central Command. This is an edited and abridged version of a speech that he gave last night at a Policy Exchange event in London).

... Countering terrorists and extremism requires more than a conventional military approach. Military operations enable you to clear areas of extremist and insurgent elements, and to stop them from putting themselves back together. But the core of any counterinsurgency strategy must focus on the fact that the decisive terrain is the human terrain, not the high ground or river crossing.

Focusing on the population can, if done properly, improve security for local people and help to extend basic services. It can help to delegitimise the methods of the extremists - especially if you can contrast your ability and willingness to support and protect the population with the often horrific actions of extremist groups. Indeed, exposing their extremist ideologies, indiscriminate violence and oppressive practices can help people to realise that their lives are unlikely to be improved if under the control of such movements.

For the strategy to work, it is also necessary to find ways to identify reconcilable members of insurgent elements and to transform them into part of the solution...

More at The Times.

by Robert Haddick | Thu, 09/17/2009 - 6:36pm | 8 comments
Today President Obama scrapped the Bush administration's plan to install 10 ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles and a high-powered radar in Poland and the Czech Republic. Instead, Obama proposed a distributed four-phase build-up of missile defense capability in Europe, focusing at first on the shorter range missile threats from Iran and later on potential intermediate (IRBM) and intercontinental (ICBM) range threats. Progressively improved versions of the U.S. Navy's Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) will be the centerpiece of the new architecture.

The Obama announcement (followed up by a press conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General James Cartwright, USMC) is essentially a redefinition of the U.S. response to the broad Iranian ballistic missile threat. The Bush plan was focused on hedging against an Iranian IRBM/ICBM threat, thought to be possible around 2015. The Iranian short and medium range missile threat was always a known problem but in the Bush era was managed separately. The Obama team has redefined the "Europe missile defense" issue by encompassing the entire Iranian ballistic missile threat, which in the short run won't involve Europe at all (unless you count Turkey in Europe).

In any case, here, lifted from the White House website, is the four-phase plan:

Click through to read more ...

by Dave Dilegge | Thu, 09/17/2009 - 5:04pm | 3 comments

The beat goes on, the beat goes on

Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain

La de da de de, la de da de da...

by Dave Dilegge | Thu, 09/17/2009 - 7:16am | 0 comments
I headed downtown last night to attend a reception for the kick-off of American Enterprise Institute's Center for Defense Studies. AEI was a first-class host (h/t to Tom Donnelly and crew) making for a very enjoyable evening. CJCS Admiral Michael Mullen was the guest of honor and he delivered an insightful overview address concerning national security issues in general and of course Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq in particular.

The Center for Defense Studies can be found here. From the "About" page:

The American Enterprise Institute is pleased to announce the creation of its Center for Defense Studies (CDS). The primary purpose of the center is to impart a distinct identity to the scholarship on defense issues and military affairs currently produced at AEI, while signaling a new, focused intent to pursue rigorous studies and analysis on a range of strategic, programmatic, and budgetary issues.

The center will be anchored by a series of targeted studies and reports. The American military establishment is an enormous and complex institution, only occasionally (and usually in moments of crisis) amenable to decisive direction, but also requiring constant smaller course corrections. For every major strategic point of deflection in American defense policy, there are dozens of programmatic, budgetary, and force posture decisions and assessments to be made. One purpose of CDS will be to better shape and influence these decisions, to the extent that they both determine larger strategic choices and are the systemic expressions of American strategic purposes. To that end, CDS has undertaken the following projects:

- a study, cosponsored by the Brookings Institution, on the emerging requirements for U.S. nuclear forces which will re-examine the purpose and posture of America's strategic systems and capabilities;

- a comprehensive assessment of American security commitments and defense requirements modeled on the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review;

- an ongoing study on the performance of the first Stryker brigade deployed to Afghanistan, undertaken in an effort to better understand and communicate to policymakers the technological requirements for conducting mounted operations in the theater;

- an evaluation of the "hard power" capabilities of America's allies and security partners—and how they impact U.S. defense spending and alliance culture.

To complement these scholarly efforts, CDS will also host a blog, FYSA "For Your Situational Awareness" where AEI scholars and others will regularly post commentary and analysis. The CDS website also features a frequently updated column titled "Must Reads," designed to highlight a selection of noteworthy books, reports, and articles which are (or should be) informing and driving the day's defense policy debates.

We hope that the website serves as a useful resource, and we welcome your comments.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/16/2009 - 6:08am | 1 comment
Afghanistan's Other Front - Joseph Kearns Goodwin, New York Times opinion.

Allegations of ballot-stuffing in the presidential election in Afghanistan last month are now so widespread that a recount is necessary, and perhaps even a runoff. Yet this electoral chicanery pales in comparison to the systemic, day-to-day corruption within the administration of President Hamid Karzai, who has claimed victory in the election. Without a concerted campaign to fight this pervasive venality, all our efforts there, including the sending of additional troops, will be in vain.

I have just returned from Afghanistan, where I spent seven months as a special adviser to NATO's director of communications. On listening tours across the country, we left behind the official procession of armored SUV's, bristling guns and imposing flak jackets that too often encumber coalition forces when they arrive in local villages. Dressed in civilian clothes and driven in ordinary cars, we were able to move around in a manner less likely to intimidate and more likely to elicit candor.

The recurring complaint I heard from Afghans centered on the untenable encroachment of government corruption into their daily lives - the homeowner who has to pay a bribe to get connected to the sewage system, the defendant who tenders payment to a judge for a favorable verdict. People were so incensed with the current government's misdeeds that I often heard the disturbing refrain: "If Karzai is re-elected, then I am going to join the Taliban." ...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/16/2009 - 5:16am | 1 comment
Military Chief Suggests Need to Enlarge US Afghan Force - Thom Shanker, New York Times.

The nation's top military officer pushed back Tuesday against Democrats who oppose sending additional combat troops to Afghanistan, telling Congress that success would probably require more fighting forces, and certainly much more time.

That assessment by the officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped short of an explicit request for more troops. But it signals that the military intends to have a public voice in the evolving debate as many Democrats express reluctance to expand the war and President Obama weighs options...

Moer at The New York Times.

Call for an Afghan Surge - Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal.

America's top military officer endorsed sending more US troops to Afghanistan, a shift in Pentagon rhetoric that heralds a potential deepening of involvement in the Afghan war despite flagging support from the public and top Democrats in Congress. Addressing a Senate panel, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered no new details about how many American reinforcements will be needed in Afghanistan. But his comments mean that both Adm. Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who spoke on the subject last week, now appear —to order more forces to Afghanistan despite their earlier skepticism about expanding the American military presence there.

Their support makes it easier for President Barack Obama to approve the plans of Gen. Stanley McChrystal - whom the Obama administration installed as the top American commander in Kabul - when he submits a formal request later this month for as many as 40,000 new troops, in addition to 62,000 now there...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

Mullen: More Troops 'Probably' Needed - Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post.

The nation's top military officer told Congress on Tuesday that the US war in Afghanistan "probably needs more forces" and sought to reassure lawmakers skeptical of sending additional troops that commanders were devising new tactics that would lead to victory over a resurgent Taliban.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that 2,000 to 4,000 additional military trainers from the United States and its NATO partners will be needed to "jump-start" the expansion of Afghan security forces and strongly suggested that more US combat troops will be required to provide security in the short term. "A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably needs more forces," Mullen said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mullen spoke amid a growing political debate over Afghanistan as President Obama weighs a recently completed assessment of the war by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander there...

More at The Washington Post.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen Says More Troops Probably Needed in Afghanistan - Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times.

Facing increasingly skeptical congressional Democrats, the nation's top uniformed officer said Tuesday that the Obama administration's strategy to counter Afghanistan militants probably means that more troops will be needed there. The comments are likely to sharpen an intensifying national debate over the future of the mission in Afghanistan that could force President Obama to decide between military leaders pushing for more firepower and his political base wary of a quagmire. Growing numbers of Democrats, including top congressional leaders, have expressed doubts about increasing the number of combat troops.

Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that he had not received a formal request for additional trainers and combat troops. But Mullen said that, based on the strategy outlined by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, a larger force is likely to be needed. "He is alarmed by the insurgency, and he is in a position where he needs to retake the initiative from the insurgents, who have grabbed it over the last three years," Mullen said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

President Obama's Top Military Adviser Exposes Afghanistan Rifts - Giles Whittell, Michael Evans and Catherine Philp, The Times.

Deep rifts at the heart of Western policy on Afghanistan were laid bare yesterday when President Obama's top military adviser challenged him to authorise a troop surge that his most senior congressional allies have said they will oppose. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that more US troops as well as a rapid increase in the size and capability of the Afghan army were needed to carry out the President's own strategy for prevailing in Afghanistan as the eighth anniversary of a debilitating war approaches.

His remarks to a Senate hearing came as Bob Ainsworth, the British Defence Secretary, said that the Taleban had proven a resilient enemy. "We're far from succeeding against them yet but I reject that we're not making progress," he said at King's College London. Mr Obama also rejected claims that Afghanistan was turning into a quagmire akin to Vietnam, but his immediate dilemma is political: approving a surge could trigger a high-level mutiny within his own party. Making matters worse, a new poll showed that public support for the war has slumped since April...

More at The Times.