Top Officer Sees Military Caution as Backfiring

Top Officer Sees Military Caution as Backfiring - Jim Michaels, USA Today.

Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reluctant to launch more secret operations because of an excess of caution about violating military rules and international law, a top Army officer says. The tentative approach to "deception operations" has cost the U.S. military opportunities to weaken the enemy without firing a shot, said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, commander of the Pentagon's task force to counter improvised explosive devices.

The anti-IED task force has advocated dismantling insurgent networks as an effective way to combat improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Earlier this year, Marines in Afghanistan's Helmand province read announcements over a loudspeaker to trick insurgents into thinking their specially modified roadside bombs couldn't be found by U.S. minesweepers.

As a result, the insurgents didn't bother hiding them well and Marines were able to easily find the bombs, said Marine Maj. Don Caporale, an information operations officer. "We started finding all kinds of mines with this (modification), which, of course, was a complete hoax," Caporale said. Still, Oates said in an interview, "there's a Gordian knot of law, regulation, procedure and risk aversion. We have got to do some due diligence on this problem." ...

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The problem is bigger than just commanders being timid about deception -- all forms of IO are limited by excessive caution which is manifested in over-centralization of the approval authority. Despite the emphasis placed on IO at all levels over the last few years and the encouragement by senior leaders to delegate authority, many commanders still hold approval of Info Ops way too high which causes the efforts to be delayed, allows lots of staff "good ideas" to cause endless re-works of the plan and makes the final effort too little and too late.

My position has always been: if a particular commander wants to give personal approval, then he has to make himself available when the decision needs to be made -- no different than a kinetic operation. We wouldn't leave troops in contact to wait for fire support because the commander was busy elsewhere; why do we do it for information support?