A Short Response to AF-PAK and South Asia Hands

A Short Response to AF-PAK and South Asia Hands

by Colonel David S. Maxwell

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In his article, Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?, Lieutenant Munson makes some very good points. I offer a few observations and comments to build his discussion.

First, it has taken us this long to develop the AF-PAK Hands program after we have been at war for 8 plus years. We are clearly learning and adapting but what about anticipating (as Cohen and Gooch remind us in Military Misfortune)? Clearly we have to win the war we are in and I think AF-PAK Hands can make an important long term contribution (long term because it takes years to develop the language and cultural expertise to have the kind of understanding of the politics and culture necessary to be able to effectively advise military leaders and policy makers). I think we should also adapt the SOF truth for a broader understanding -- "Competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies occur." The same holds true for area expertise -- you cannot wait for the crisis to occur to begin developing the area expertise necessary to deal with the emergency or the war. One of the important lessons that has been learned since 9-11 is how important cultural, political, and economic understanding and expertise is to political-military operations in the Era of Persistent Conflict.

Given the above, while we applaud and support the AF-PAK hands program (I agree it is the right thing to do -- but better late than never), we should be asking ourselves what other "hands" program should there be? Should we have a "Korea Hands" as the outcome to the "Korea Problem" is going to bring challenges as complex as we have ever seen and understanding North Korean culture is going to be critical to dealing with the challenges there. Should we have a "China Hands" program (though perhaps a little different than the China Hands we had in the pre-WWII Marines and in the State Department) anticipating China's rise to a near peer competitor and at least a regional hegemon? Should we have an "Africa Hands" program as we anticipate the future challenges on that continent? Of course we could go on and call for "Hands" programs around the world.

Download the full article: A Short Response to AF-PAK and South Asia Hands

Colonel David S. Maxwell, U.S. Army, is a Special Forces officer with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and the Continental U.S., and is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College of the National Defense University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own and do not represent any U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or U.S. Army Special Operations Command positions.

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Dave Maxwell again says what should be said and does it well.

We as a Nation do not anticipate well and we are not successful at strategy due to our political process (sometimes sweeping changes every two, four, six and eight years) and our sheer size -- we are such a very large nation and so wealthy that we tend to devote most of our effort to internal affairs and pay too little attention to the rest of the world.

His allegory, the pre-war China Hands of the USMC, illustrates the benefits of longer tours, less turnover and smaller forces that can focus. His call for hands programs around the world is a much needed solution to the problem of politics and focus. While our dysfunctional personnel system cannot now support such an idea, it certainly is a solution to embedding the ability to rapidly develop true regionally based strategies when the need arises.

Flavius Belisarius did an excellent job against the Sassanids and several other would-be interlopers. However, in light of his own experience, his advice is somewhat curious:

"Ergo, should there not be regional expertise focused on these areas collectively in search of strategic vectors? But then again, our great nation isnt on a war footing. We dont have a "Buy Bonds" campaign, or a singular Grand Strategic approach, do we? Maybe Ive missed something these last eight years and Im being a bit too harsh. Maybe.

Belisarius sends"

In order, seems to me that large headquarters invariably become excessively bureaucratic -- CENTCOM, his example, typifies this -- and thus are the antithesis of the "Hands" advice of Dave Maxwell simply because, due to sheer size, the small number of really knowledgeable "Hands" will be buried under many non-hands.

A a better approach would be to significantly downsize the combatant commands, orient them to be the repository of area studies and knowledge and remove them from command and control in wartime.

For that role, since we do Ad-hoc well and since large static headquarters become unduly bureaucratic, we could simply create purpose designed Joint Task Force Headquarters to oversee and coordinate the fight -- which, hopefully would be left to the Operational and Tactical Commanders...

That is essentially how F.B. won his wars and riot suppressions. He apparently has gotten bureaucratized in the modern era. Understandable, its hard to escape.

F.B. also laments that we are not on a war footing. Why should we be -- we are not at war. We do have a number of people who are engaged in various wars but the Nation is not in an existential war so there is no need to be on a war footing. Indeed, were we to do that, it is at least partly likely that we could become involved in an existential war because a Nation this large on a full war footing would be seen as a significant threat by many more people than now view us as a threat. That would seem to be an unwise course of action.

Those people who are at war volunteered for the job, most are content with what they're doing and fully understand why the Nation is not at war, only parts of the Armed Forces are.

Thus there is no need for a Bond program and he does seem to be a bit too harsh. I am unsure what he meant by "Belisarius sends," not knowing what he sends or to whom and suspecting that at his age, given his known warfighting acumen, he is unfamiliar with the affectation of some supposedly senior people in the bureaucracy today of attempting to lend a cachet to their epistles by such a tag line after they've already indicated they sent the message...

I concur fully with your comments and observations.

I would beg your indulgence concerning what is, in my humble opinion, an important thread to this discourse. That is the structure of our war-fighting command. It appears to me that we have been attempting to fight this war based on concepts of command structures developed in peacetime, without significant situational adjustments (Im sure those within CENTCOM would strongly disagree). To go one step further, it appears that we have been trying to force the square peg of CENTCOM into the round hole of a World War.

I completely understand the expedient necessity for employing CENTCOM in the initial phase of the war. We had a command structure in place to fight a war between the geographic lines of CENTCOM and PACOM (whose lines [PACOM] are drawn right up to the border of India/Pakistan... that close... ) and we used it.

However, had we correctly treated Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq and the Philippines as active campaigns in a World War to destroy a stateless foe under a single unified command, it is likely initiatives such as AF/PAK Hands would have been a natural bi-product of the strategic planning approach. Unfortunately, the isolated focus on these individual theaters begat the natural bi-products of narrowly focused tactical planning. We cant say operational planning, as that would require an actual strategy on which operations would be built to accomplish the greater goal. For that matter, a goal of destroying Al Qaeda would require greater coordination between campaign theaters (Af/Pak, Iraq, Philippines )... oops... .

Unfortunately, we have been cycling through von Neumanns minimax theorem and calling it operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sound operational art is impossible without sound strategy. Until our leadership mentally bridges the tactical with the strategic through operational art, we will continue down the rabbit hole of lost initiative and playing catch-up to our adversaries.

The reality is this war encompasses Europe, North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and, (with ever-increasing respect) North America. It is truly a World War. To a certain extent, there are common threads linking the same threat to all of these regions. Ergo, should there not be regional expertise focused on these areas collectively in search of strategic vectors? But then again, our great nation isnt on a war footing. We dont have a "Buy Bonds" campaign, or a singular Grand Strategic approach, do we? Maybe Ive missed something these last eight years and Im being a bit too harsh. Maybe.

Belisarius sends