31 August 2009

Star Wars Episode VII: Ex...I am your cousin.

Ever the one to combine cutting edge counterinsurgency theory with pop-culture references, Abu Muqawama takes us to that place where we COINdinistas have scarcely ventured*...

...that's right, it's time for some Star Wars analogies in the field of counterinsurgency theory.

*(Except for David Kilcullen's description of US troops walking through the deserts of Iraq, clad in armour, helmets and glasses which made them look like Imperial Stormtroopers).

Abu Muqawama quotes an e-mail from his cousin in Afghanistan:

I'm sitting here on watch, sending some emails, and watching Return of the Jedi on my laptop. It got me thinking.

Why didn't the Rebel Alliance pursue a strategy of insurgency in their rebellion against the Galactic Empire? I would argue that they pursued a strategy of conventional war against the Empire and forwent every aspect of insurgent strategy and tactics. They finally came around a bit in the end by co-opting the Ewoks onto their side. Why hadn't they pursued that strategy on a larger scale?

Instead, they simply staged two conventional assualts on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star. Although both attempts were successful, I think they got lucky. I think they would have been better served had read their Mao and followed his maxims.

Why didn't the Empire follow counterinsurgency doctrine? Destroying Alderan was probably the dumbest move ever, one that the Alliance could have exploited to their advantage with the proper IO campaign. What do you think the similarities are between destroying Alderan and 4ID tactics circa 2004-5 or liberal ordnance drop policies in Afghanistan?

And neither side seemed to subordinate their tactics and strategy to political goals? Clausewitz would have been appalled. Jomini and Summers, on the other hand, would have been most proud.

My thoughts on the subject are a little incomplete, but I think a good case study awaits a more dedicated set of eyes and a higher powered brain.

In any event, I bet the next time you watch the Trilogy, this is all you'll be able to think about.

The Star Wars analogies (particularly Return of the Jedi) actually have some merit in the field of counterinsurgency. After all, George Lucas wrote the original forest battle (then involving Wookiees instead of Ewoks) with images of the primitive insurgent Viet Cong taking on technologically superior US forces.

Although Muqawama's cousin brings up a good point. The Rebel "insurgents" (as Palpatine refers to them as in LucasArts' TIE Fighter) behave much like a conventional army at times, with massive starships participating in "space parity" dogfights. Maybe they're like a Maoist insurgency in that they've moved beyond the insurgent phase (started in the deleted scenes of Episode III) and take on the Empire in conventional battle. Note that their record in conventional battle is hardly perfect, due to their loss against the superior mechanized force in the Battle of Hoth. Although the asymetric counter to the AT-AT Walker--tying its legs with harpoons and two cables fired from the T-47 Snowspeeders--is quite effective.

Then again, people always have to remind me that it is a movie.

Stop the Press!

(H/T Zenpundit)

Ralph Peters posted something that isn’t 100% completely insane...



...I don’t know what to do. I had to read this thing twice just to believe it. It’s well-written, it flows well, and there are actually a few good arguments in here. There seems to be a little hyperbole, ill-conceived arguments, and some facts of dubious veracity, but by Ralph Peters standards, it’s not bad.

Even if we could persuade Afghan villagers that our values and behaviors are superior, if we could reduce state corruption to a manageable level, if we built thousands of miles of roads, eliminated opium growing, and persuaded Afghans that women are fully human, it would have no effect on al Qaeda.

The terrorists who attacked our homeland were not Afghans. Afghanistan was just a cheap motel that was not particular about asking for identification. Even a return to power of the Taliban-certainly undesirable in human-rights terms-does not mean that September 11, Part Two, then becomes inevitable.

The next terror attack on the West will not be launched from Afghanistan. Pause to consider how lockstep what passes for analysis in Washington has become. The Taliban's asymmetric strategy is not to defeat us militarily, but to make Afghanistan ungovernable. But what if our strategy, instead of seeking to transform the country into a model state, were simply to make it ungovernable for the Taliban? Our chances of success would soar while our costs would plummet. But such a commonsense approach is unthinkable. We think in terms of Westphalian states even where none exist.

In order to roll more Afghan rocks uphill, we are ignoring the essential requirement to secure supply lines adequate to the mission. Even if Afghanistan were worth an increased effort, the lack of reliable, redundant lines of communication to support our forces would argue against piling on. In the wake of 9/11, it was vital to send special operations forces and limited conventional elements to Afghanistan to punish al Qaeda and its hosts despite the risks. Indeed, we might usefully have sent more Soldiers in those early months. But instead of striking hard, shattering our enemies, then withdrawing-the one military approach that historically worked in Afghanistan-we put down roots, allowing ourselves to become reliant upon a tortuous 1,500-mile lifeline from the Pakistani port of Karachi northward through the Khyber Pass to various parts of Afghanistan. We have put ourselves at the mercy of a corrupt government of dubious stability with an agenda discordant with ours. Strategically, our troops are Pakistan's hostages.

And Islamabad already has taken advantage of our foolishness. While milking us for all the military and economic aid it can extract, Pakistan's security services recently demonstrated just how reliant we are on their good will. In the wake of the Mumbai bombings- sponsored by a terror organization tacitly supported by Pakistan's government- attacks on our convoys transiting the Khyber Pass, as well as raids on supply yards in Peshawar, swelled in number and soared in their success rate.

There are still a few items in the article which are baffling, and a number of facts which seem to be pulled out of nowhere. Most notably:

  1. Peters’ continuous misconceptions about al Qaeda. In one paragraph, he acknowledges the fact that Iraq did not harbor al Qaeda, but then proceeds to mention the possibility that it could have had al Qaeda operatives. Yes, maybe Iraq could have had al Qaeda. But several other countries actually have had al Qaeda operatives within them (including the UK and the US).
  2. Despite Peters’ acknowledgement of the claim that al Qaeda was not operating in Iraq, he notes that US efforts in Iraq have dealt a deadly blow to al Qaeda. Well, kind of. Once again, he mixes up al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Granted, there is a loose relationship between the two organizations—but they are, in fact, two separate entities (Peters often oversimplifies and lumps them as one). AQI’s leader, Zarqawi, was trained by al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, but like me with clingy women, al Qaeda doesn’t reciprocate AQI’s feelings. One could make the claim that the defeat of AQI struck a blow against violent extremists, which includes al Qaeda, but not necessarily al Qaeda itself.
  3. Peters echoes the popular sentiment that Afghanistan is strategically irrelevant, noting that the Taliban are not so much the enemy as al Qaeda is. Okay, I dig that. Now take a look at his plan. He then advocates a program to counter the Taliban as necessary by collapsing the NATO footprint into one or two “super-FOBs”, and countering the Taliban as necessary. My question, of course, is how he intends to effectively stave off the pervasive Taliban presence by reducing the US profile in Afghanistan to one or two points on the ground. Failure to seize terrain (and, in particular, human terrain) will allow the Taliban to run amok through the mountains of Afghanistan as easily as Lawrence and the Arabs ran circles around the Turks at their super-base in Medina in 1916.

Overall, despite its obvious shortcomings, it’s a relatively well-written article, and this is the Peters we always kind of knew existed. It’s also welcome to see a sensibly-written Ralph Peters argument, because it means that hell actually did freeze over, and that means that Megan Fox is bound to spontaneously appear out of thin air in the middle of Iraq. (On the flip side, It also means that the Cubs are going to win the World Series).

30 August 2009

Out of the woodwork

I've noticed that issues like PowerPoint, military writing, and military bureaucracy seem to get everyone riled up. Which is good, because I like the replies.

I need to add in a reply from Kyle (UH-60 pilot) who posted this reply in Facebook:

"Your motivation to rid the Army of awkward, grammatically incorrect and superfluous writing positively impacted the mission accomplishment of this post. As an integral member of the blogging world, your dedication to your duty has contributed immeasurably to clarifying this pivotal issue."

This is going in my evaluation support form.

By the way, Kyle also brings up my other pet peeve. Why do we always feel the need to write "positive impact" in awards? Would we be writing an award if it had a negative impact?

29 August 2009

On Ridiculous Adjectives

Well, it's that time of the deployment—time to ensure all of the awards are written. There's a lot of unwritten rules which govern the writing of all Army awards (and evaluations, for that matter as well)—many of which were expressed with great insight in Robert Corham's excellent book about fighter pilot John Boyd, entitled Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.

Military writing seems to beg the use of superfluous adjectives, ill-concieved buzzwords and baffling grammatical constructions. I've never fully understood the military writing style, but I want to ensure that my Soldiers get awards and great evaluations, so I grumble, conform, and spell "82nd" as "82d".

Needless to say, I often have difficulty adapting from professional writing Starbuck to military writing Starbuck. If you read a lot, you tend to model your writing after the people you read. This is why I think I have such difficulty writing in the "Army style"-- after all, no one willingly spends time or money on collections of Army field manuals or memorandums, do they? In fact, some of the best military writing ever looks distinctly unlike anything you'd find in Army Regulation 25-50.

Anyway, here are some bizarre examples of Army writing that I've collected over the years:

  • Whenever you take part in an operation in which you shoot at the enemy, you need to add a superfluous adverb to make it sound awesome. For example, it's not enough to "engage the enemy"—you must "decisively engage the enemy". Decisively? As opposed to what, engaging the enemy indecisively?
  • We also tend to use the phrase "conducting [blank] operations" for damned near everything. We "conduct aviation operations", "conduct parachuting operations", you get the picture. But sometimes it goes too far. A safety-gram that we received before Halloween 2004 warned us that "children in the Fort Bragg area will be conducting trick-or-treating operations". Yes, it's time to read something other than the daily operations order.
  • Now, in a 21st Century military, we thrive on updating our tactics and our doctrine. Nevertheless, we also sometimes take the lazy route and simply change around our terminology so as to incorporate the military's latest buzzwords without actually changing anything else. Note that after September 11th, the Army seemed to change the names of all of its institutions to include the terms "warfighter" or "combat". For example, the US Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker changed its name to the US Army Aviation Warfighting Center, and the US Army Safety Center became the US Army Combat Readiness Center, despite the fact that they're still the same institutions (and often referred to by their old names). Do we really need to arbitrarily add "combat", "warrior" and "battle" to everything? Christ, it's getting to the point that you can't even shuffle paperwork without having to use a "battle stapler".
  • There's also a lot of buzz words we throw about for absolutely no reason. "Full-spectrum" is one of those terms. Try it—count the number of times you see the word "full-spectrum" thrown arbitrarily about in mission statements. Are we really operating across the "full spectrum" of combat? Hopefully not, because that means nuclear war, and baby, I don't do nuclear war.
  • There's also the Army's insistence on creating proper nouns out of thin air. The most blatant example of this occurred this year when, in an attempt to make the Army more appealing to families, the Army has decreed that the word "Family" is now a proper noun. I can imagine how the unveiling of this one played out. It must have been in a speech to Families, during which someone said, "Well, we're still trying to increase the amount of time Soldiers spend at home. Oh, but guess what—now, you're all proper nouns! Yeah, they capitalize 'Families' now. Okay, just the first letter."
  • Let's also not forget the perpetual confusion over which war we are in. Even though the current administration prefers the term "Overseas Contingency Operation", many feel this term isn't quite sexy enough, and regresses to the old term "Global War on Terror", despite the strategic difficulties which many feel accompany that particular term (In the eyes of many, to include David Kilcullen, lumping a number of movements together and aggrandizing them gives these groups a sense of legitimacy).
  • Finally, my all-time least favorite: abbreviating "82nd" as "82d" in official correspondence. Seriously, we've gotten to the point where I can't buy an 82nd (82d) Airborne Division bumper sticker because I'm afraid a 2nd grader will correct me and say that I forgot the "n" in 82nd. And he'd be right, too…

Christ, I hate writing awards.

Focus: Are there any more bizarre examples of Army writing that I'm missing? Feel free to chime in…

28 August 2009

Give War a Chance

In the last week, we've seen the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullins, as well as the Commander of US European Command, Admiral James Stavridis, express grave concerns about the situation in Afghanistan. Many in the defense policy business are clamoring for an end to the war in Afghanistan. But even with NATO casualties on the rise during the past two months, there still might be some signs of change.

The increase in casualties among NATO forces is unfortunate, for certain. However, this is how counterinsurgency sometimes works. If Iraq is a good indicator (and there are significant doubts that it is, but bear with me), we are going to see NATO incurring an increase in casualties over the next few months. Counterinsurgency--particularly the population-centric counterinsurgency which General McChrystal is practicing--is very manpower-intensive, and assumes great tactical risk. It forces troops to get out of the defensive-minded "force protection" mentality, and leave the safety of the forward operating bases and their armoured vehicles and walk among the population. "Surging" in counterinsurgency operations is, in essence, an offensive operation.

During the first few months of the Iraq Troop Surge of 2007, US forces did exactly this. Although casualties climbed for the first few months of 2007, they soon dropped off precipitously during the late summer and fall of that year, and they've remained low ever since. The troops which partook in the "clear, hold, build" helped to rid many areas of significant insurgent activity once and for all, after years of playing "whack-a-mole"--ridding areas of insurgents only to have more return.

But the most important aspect of the campaign in Iraq wasn't the eventual decrease in American casualties--it was the decrease in casualties among the Iraqi population, not only from insurgent groups, but also from US forces as well.

If an article in today's Los Angeles Times is any indication, the same may be happening in Afghanistan. Maybe. Although the article admits that the data set has some flaws, this new statistic should at least provide some hope:

The period since the new rules took effect have also coincided with some of the heaviest losses of the war for Western forces. But military spokesmen deny any link, saying record fatalities were caused by the summer's troop buildup and an accompanying push into areas controlled by the Taliban, rather than any greater hazard to troops posed by the new rules.

According to the latest figures from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, coalition forces were responsible for 19 civilian deaths from the beginning of July until Thursday, as opposed to 249 caused by insurgents. During roughly the same period a year earlier, Western forces caused 151 civilian deaths, by their own count -- not far short of the 210 deaths caused by militants.

The new NATO data, however, cover a relatively short period in the context of an 8-year-old war.

And that's what population-centric counterinsurgency is all about. It's not over yet...

(I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention that even those of us in the COINdinista camp--the ones who emphasize that counterinsurgency is about protecting the population, not killing insurgents--certainly recognize the value in killing and capturing the enemy, when possible. That's why the killing of a senior Taliban commander by Australian Diggers and the capture of another Taliban commander by US forces is particularly welcome this week.)


Even while they're safe on the Forward Operating Base (FOB), Soldiers still carry their rifles with them everywhere they go, along with a magazine of ammunition. Most Soldiers strap this magazine to their rifle in a little pouch attached to the weapon's buttstock.

After wearing the same uniforms day in and day out, there's very few ways a Soldier can show any individuality. One Soldier, however, came up with a creative way of doing so by adorning his magazine pouch with the following insightful quotation from the great philosopher, Homer...


"To alcohol! The cause of--and solution to--all of life's problems"

27 August 2009

Twitter and Web 2.0: Not a revolution, but don't discount it either

In the months following the Iranian elections, much has been made of the use of social networking sites and their role in organizing protests against Ahmedinejad's regime. While the mainstream media has written extensively about the merits of Web 2.0 sites in organizing support for candidates such as Mousavi, others such as Adam Elkus (writing in the Huffington Post) have been a little more skeptical.

The latest piece in a series of articles about the use of Twitter in authoritarian regimes came from Foreign Policy the other day, and it brings up a series of great points about the drawbacks of Web 2.0 in social organizing in authoritarian regimes.

"But Starbuck", you say, "you're one of Web 2.0's biggest promoters". Well, yes, to a point. Hear me out.

The article in Foreign Policy makes it clear that the dynamics in countries like Iran are far different than in the United States in a number of ways. For starters, high-speed Internet is not as readily available in most 3rd world countries as it is in the West, meaning that fewer will have access to Twitter and other accounts. These countries can also easily shut down these sites (or lock up the malcontents) at will, thanks to state control over most forms of communication.

Even more telling still is an issue brought up by the writers at FP--that those most likely to have accounts on Twitter and Facebook are likely to be so globalized that they're already against authoritarian regimes--there's no need to sway their mind.

Indeed, it reminds me of something I just read in a book entitled War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age (oddly enough, it's about internet technology and wasn't available for the Kindle for a while when it first came out). It warns us that, although we shouldn't fall completely in love with new technology--after all, there has been a "dot-com-boom"--we shouldn't completely discount it either. Web 2.0 and social networking sites, for all their flaws, still communicate ideas far more rapidly and effectively than ever before. And that is why totalitarian regimes are so quick to shut them down. (And it's also why the US military shouldn't shut them down completely)

26 August 2009

Tucker Max and Drunkasaurus Rex never cease to provide me with entertainment...

From Drunkasaurus Rex (Nils Parker) on Twitter, regarding a stop in Raleigh, NC during the promotional tour for the movie based on Tucker Max's book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

NilsAParkerRaleigh, NC : Premiere Tour Stop #8 : this is what happens when you come to NCState in a UNC hat http://mypict.me/rNSx

ATTN: All you people looking for Megan Fox pics

Geeks are Sexy.net has just released a shocking statistic. Seems that someone has complied some alarming data about the correlation between computer viruses and Google searches for particular starlets' names.

A list of the top starlets whose Google searches link to sites with viruses reveals that seventh place is held by Megan Fox and Angelina Jolie.

(Does this mean that they were tied for seventh place, or does it mean that people wanted to see them together? I can't tell. Okay, I stole that joke from GaS.net, so sue me)

In unrelated news, my computer is running really really slow for some reason...

The more things change...

Last week, Dave Dilegge, Robert Haddick and the crew over at Small Wars Journal provided extensive coverage of the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command's recent conference in Gettysburg. General Martin Dempsey and TRADOC's senior leaders checked the Small Wars Journal posting board regularly, answering questions and asking for feedback from the SWJ crowd.

It was a great opportunity to interact with TRADOC's senior leaders, and I also saw some great discussions. One such discussion allowed SWJ readers to recommend military-related books for General Dempsey and his staff as they walked the fields of Gettysburg. I recommended a book about the proper reading (and mis-reading) of military history entitled "Re-thinking Military History" by Jeremy Black. However, one reader offered another book which featured a collection of essays from military experts which provides some great analysis of the proper lessons which can be taken from military history, as well as some of the usual mistakes military historans make.

Available in Kindle format, it's called "The Past as Prologue", and it features essays from military experts such as Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, the man who was infamous for beating the US military in an exercise known as Millennium Challenge 2002 by using many of the same tactics that insurgents currently use in Iraq.

One essay, written by the British historian John P. Kiszely discusses the prevalence of sports among the British officer corps, and noted that the worst insult to a British officer was to call him "bookish". Indeed, the emphasis on sports over any sort of intellectual pursuit is a theme that resounds throughout Janowitz's "The Professional Soldier", and "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence" by Norman F. Dixon.

Indeed, I find that in many ways, little sometimes changes in our professional military courses. I need to state, emphatically, that I feel that all Soldiers should be expected to maintain a high degree of physical stamina, and that a little competitive spirit is good for the alpha male (or female). However, I would know nothing of counterinsurgency, 4GW or maneuver conflict if it weren't for reading on my own. I find it sad that, after doing a rough tally of the hours spent in class in my captains' career course, I spent far more hours listening to the tactics and strategy for winning Ultimate Frisbee than I did listening to a speaker discuss the strategy and tactics of counterinsurgency, 4GW, or maneuver conflict.

This is why I rely on SWJ for much of my professional development needs.

H/T Jason Sigger

A few days ago, I spoke of the intense heat inside Army vehicles, the majority of which were designed during the Cold War to fight in Central Europe—not in the Middle East. For example, neither the 70-ton M1 Abrams tank, nor the multi-million dollar UH-60 Black Hawk have air conditioners. The metal hulk of the M1 tank turns into a pressure cooker in the sun, and the windows of the Black Hawk make the cockpit feel like a greenhouse.

Jason Sigger of Armchair Generalist astutely noted that the M1 Abrams (and also the UH-60) have a clever little device known as the Micro-Climate Cooling System in order to keep the crew cool.

Great. So what is a Micro-Climate Cooling System (MCCS)? Well, it’s basically a little vest that goes underneath the body armour and survival vest. When plugged into a special unit inside the aircraft (or tank), it pumps cold fluid through a series of tubes in the vest, helping to keep a pilot’s body temperature cold. (And, it’s quite stylish, as you can see).

Unfortunately, the MCCS has a level of complexity that lends itself to occasional failures, much like today. On the good side, I noticed that it seemed to work for a while after the crew chief jiggled the wires (this is the all-purpose fix to almost any aircraft problem—jiggle something).

Fortunately, I got to relax and enjoy actual trees while drinking a cool beverage. Okay, it was Chai tea, but, when compared to the temperature outside, it felt like a cold drink.

The author with an Amazon Kindle and Chai tea. With the trees in the background, it's almost like vacation. Almost...

25 August 2009

The good...the bad...

The good: great flight yesterday, with some awesome pictures suitable for posting here.

The bad: I can't find the USB cable that plugs into this camera.

I even had a great diatribe against the micro-climate cooling unit just for Jason Sigger of Armchair Generalist (with pics). Looks like it will have to wait a few days...

23 August 2009

Support the troops AND help cure breast cancer at the same time

A short time ago, I received an e-mail from a female captain currently stationed at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Iraq. She writes:

Hello from Iraq!

As some of you may know, I run in the 'Race for the Cure' [5 kilometers/3.1 miles] in Central Park, NYC each year. I do this in remembrance of my grandmother, Grace [redacted], who passed from this disease years before I was born.

I started this tradition with my aunt, Maryann [redacted], after my last vist here to Iraq in 2005. I was highly disappointed that I wouldn't make it back to the states in time to do this again this year. So....I've decided that I am going to do this here in Iraq instead. I will be running here at 4 p.m. when it is 9 a.m. there in NYC [race takes place on 13 September].

Please feel free to donate to the cause. Thank you very much!


Erica [Redacted]

I should also note that during September in Iraq, afternoon temperatures will typically top 100 degres Farenheit (38 degrees Celcius). This particular captain's goal was to raise $500 for research, which she did via a Facebook feed. I have this little theory that I can one-up her, and get another $500 donated for research. (And they say Web 2.0 shouldn't be in the hands of Soldiers...)

How can you help? Just click on this link to sponsor this Soldier who will be running the 5-kilometer "Race for the Cure" in the middle of Iraq. The 5k walk/run takes place on 13 September in Central Park in New York City.

22 August 2009

Rock Star Treatment

A few weeks ago, we got word that none other than General David H. Petraeus would be dropping by our Forward Operating Base (FOB).

To say that General Petraeus has reached nearly legendary status within the US military would be an understatement. Colonel Gian Gentile, professor of history at West Point, has noted that there is a "popular narrative" of the Surge of 2007--with General Petraeus placed squarely in the center as the catalyst for turning around the war effort with a new counterinsurgency strategy. While Gentile is correct in that there are noticable flaws within the popular narrative, and that General Petraeus should not receive all the credit for the drastic reduction in violence (Sunni concerned local citizens, the completion of the sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, disbanding of the Mahdi Army, and a myriad of other factors--not the least of which were the tireless efforts of over 100,000 service members), it should be noted that General Petraeus certainly played a key role in organizing and focusing our counterinsurgency efforts.

As a result, General Petraeus has become one of the most well-known generals since General Colin Powell. When we found out he was coming to visit our FOB, we thought we'd strategically position ourselves in order to catch a glimpse of him. Maybe even get him to sign a copy of "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the Surge of 2007". After all, since he hasn't released a book of his own, that's about the closest we can get to an autobiography.

Unfortunately, we got some erroneous information about his itinerary. As a result, we wound up waiting in the dining facility for a visit that really wasn't supposed to happen for a few hours.

Hilarity thus ensued...

As we sat down, positioning ourselves near the doorway, we wondered how he would make an entrance. I mean, he's General Petraeus, after all...

"I bet he kind of descends from the ceiling with fireworks going off, like KISS".

Although that was a joke, there are a lot of true stories about General Petraeus that actually are near-superhuman (and certifiably true). For example, during a live-fire exercise at Fort Bragg, then-Lt. Col. Petraeus was accidentaly shot through the chest with an M-16 round. After being discharged from the hospital, Lt. Col. Petraeus performed fifty push-ups, with no rest stops.

Another story (which we reported on at WOI) involved General Petraeus waking a wounded Soldier from a coma with a shout of "Currahee", the motto of the 101st Airborne Division.

In order to pass the time until General Petraeus was to arrive, we spent the time paying homage to these acts the only way we knew how--by re-wording all of the Chuck Norris facts into General Petraeus facts.

Just then, we saw the lights flicker, and heard the cough of the generator in the dining facility. The dining facilty descended into a quiet darkness...

"This is it! This is his entrance!"

We waited for pyrotechnics in order to signal General Petraeus' arrival, but sadly, no General Petraeus. Soon afterwards, the generator kicked back on, and light flooded the dining facility.

"Aha! This is his grand, let-there-be-light entrance", I proclaimed.

But once again, no General Petraeus.

We waited for a few minutes and left, my copy of "The Gamble" unsigned. But I learned a few things from the experience:

1.) General Petraeus is an exceptional military leader


2.) He is still a human being.

21 August 2009

Afghanistan Shrugged, Part IV

Another day brings two more great articles on Afghan strategy at Foreign Policy Online, plus an interesting television interview (courtesy of Small Wars Journal) which...eh…I can't view since the connection is too slow to watch a streaming Youtube video (sigh).

Anyway, on to the articles in FP Online.

Article one is written by Stephen Walt (again), and it addresses the counter-arguments to his post the other day in FP Online. This is the latest in a series of great Afghanistan strategy debates which have taken place on FP Online in the past few days. For a little back story, two days ago, Walt wrote an article questioning the popular belief that, if abandoned, Afghanistan would fall back under Taliban control and would serve as a safe haven for the Taliban.

One of the key issues brought up by both Walt and his detractors is the role of Afghanistan as a safe harbor for al Qaeda. All parties are assuming that, if the US were to leave Afghanistan, al Qaeda would attempt to return to Afghanistan (with Walt arguing that AQ would not be welcome, while detractors argue that AQ would be welcomed by the Taliban). All parties are operating with the underlying assumption that a.) al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, and that it would b.) find it necessary to move into Afghanistan following American withdrawal. However, if al Qaeda already has safe haven in Pakistan, why would it need to move north? (I'm opening this up to someone smarter than I to answer it) How do we best counter an organization as de-centralized and mobile as al Qaeda?

Article #2 is somewhat pessimistic, touting itself as "Saigon 2009". While I disagree with the overall pessimistic tone, I will concede that it brings up two of the most salient facts about Afghanistan—strong, central, democratic government such as that which we are used to in the West will not be the most enduring institution in Afghanistan (the local tribes that have held power for millennia will continue to be), and that Afghanistan is an insurgent's paradise. (So much so, that it almost resembles Galula's description of the optimal insurgent environment to the "t").

20 August 2009

Afghanistan Shrugged, Part III

With elections being held in Afghanistan today, I thought it best to delve into Afghan strategy, despite the eye-rolling that I know I am probably going to receive.

First off, though, a little news from the front. A few days ago, you may recall a story in the NYT indicating that the Taliban were threatening to cut off the ink-stained fingers of any Afghan who voted. In response, the local polling stations have been using alcohol swabs to wash the ink from the fingers of voters.

If you remember back to the Iraqi elections, you will remember Iraqis proudly waving their ink-stained fingers, announcing that they had voted. The purple ink served as a method of ensuring that no voter ventured into the polls twice. Washing the ink off the fingers of Afghans will, of course, not prevent them from voting twice. Nevertheless, as an officer in the 10th Mountain Division remarked, "I don't care if they vote once, twice or ten times — I just need to demonstrate that voters in our district are safe." (courtesy of War is Boring reporter Jason Reich)

Voter turn-out lower than expected, although Hamid Karzai is expected to win. Also, new update regarding voter fraud in Afghanistan—apparently, even Britney Spears voted.

Having said that, you may have missed the Afghanistan debate heating up at Foreign Policy Online. Two days ago, Stephen Walt wrote an article in FP Online challenging the assumption that Afghanistan, if abandoned, would serve as a safe haven for al Qaeda, who would use the area to plot future attacks. Over the past eight years, we had accepted this argument at face value and hadn't subjected it to much analysis, particularly with Iraq being in the spotlight so much. However, much has changed in Afghanistan in the past eight years of involvement. Additionally, the situation in Afghanistan is incredibly complex—there are dozens of actors in that country, each with their own motivations.

Walt challenges the standard "safe haven" assumption with a number of rebuttal statements. Many of these arguments are worth examining in full, as each statement seems to be made with varying degrees of validity. What's thrilling to see with the latest strategy assessments is that we seem to be conducting "Systemic Operational Design"—a military planning model (so new, it's not in an official military publication as of yet) which first seeks to understand the problem of an area in all of its facets in order to then decide best as to how to proceed. Although he makes many interesting points, the one I want to home in on is his first point. (This isn't so much for the sake of argument, but rather because it's late and I'm lazy, and I can post the remainder of this tomorrow)

Argument #1: There is no one, monolithic "enemy" in Afghanistan. Rather, an odd mix of various jihadi movements, loosely referred to as the "Taliban", who have a primarily local focus, as opposed to al Qaeda, which is composed largely of foreign Arab fighters, and has a much more global focus.

Nothing frustrates me more than those who confuse al Qaeda and the Taliban. Indeed, a sound byte on Fox News a few months ago quoted Senator McCain [without context] as saying that there is "no difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban". Hopefully, the quote was out of context, because nothing could be further from the truth. The groups are distinctly different and have separate agendas. Indeed, there have been credible reports that AQ and the Taliban have split, completely. One of the key weaknesses of insurgencies is the fact that they are often composed of various factions who would almost as soon fight each other if it weren't for a common enemy. This can work out well if we decide to defeat various factions in turn, but disastrous if we take them all on simultaneously and give them a common enemy.

Check out the rest at Foreign Policy Online, and check out the rebuttals by Peter Bergen (the only Westerner to interview Osama Bin Laden), and Paul Cruickshank. Whatever your take on Afghanistan, there are a lot of misconceptions, and much has changed since American intervention eight years ago. It's best to keep abreast of the latest coming out of that country.

19 August 2009

Karma is a bitch

Yesterday, I mentioned the report from a tanker* who mentioned that tanks are big metal boxes without air conditioning that bake in the desert sun--with a crew of four inside. I laughed and felt glad that I'm not a tanker.

That was until I became power-less and air-conditioner-less, once again (anyone want to play "name that contractor"?). Now I am beginning to understand what it must feel like inside a tank in the middle of the day. And trust me, it isn't pleasant.

*=I need to mention that Jason Sigger (of Armchair Generalist) astutely brought up the issue of the micro-climate cooling system in the M1 Abrams the other day, so the innards of the tank may not be that hot (any tankers care to weigh in on the MCCU?). Nevertheless, I'm trying to tell an amusing anecdote with this one, not give in-depth defense analysis.

Links of the Day

A few articles from around the Mil-blogosphere from the past day or so.

  • Robert Haddick of Small Wars Journal and Foreign Policy Online fame just participated in a staff ride at Gettysburg with Dave Dilegge and a number of senior leaders from the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). I've always despised the Army's obsession with the Civil War, and particularly, the Air Cavalry's obsession with the old Cavalry battles and Native American campaigns of the past. The glorification of the linear battlefield and the emphasis on a "scorched-earth" approach to counterinsurgency were laughably outdated and horribly inapplicable to modern-day operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Yes, OH-58D guys, I'm talking to you in particular). Unfortunately, it's a lot cheaper for the US military to tour a Civil War battlefield than it is to fly to Italy, Germany or France and view those battlefields, so we're stuck with US Civil War analysis. Robert Haddick, however, shows us how the US Civil War actually can be relevant to modern-day military operations, when viewed in the right context--not a concentration on the tactical aspects of who charged whom on Cemetery Ridge--but the grand strategic questions we should all be concentrating on. Staff rides provide an incredible opportunity to explore these issues.

...Capt. Robert Chamberlain, also writing in Armed Forces Journal, calls it a “Leeroy Jenkins” situation, comparing Army advisers to the World of Warcraft player who famously botched a delicately planned raid on a dragon’s lair, pictured, through a dangerous combination of recklessness and insensitivity. (Video not safe for work.) The Leeroy Jenkins parallel highlights the “blunt ignorance with which [soldiers] approach advising,” Chamberlain writes.

There are two major problems, Chamberlain asserts. “The first is the Lawrence of Arabia fantasy.” Advisers are taught to heed the legendary British leader’s advice, codified in his autobiography, to facilitate local solutions and put native forces out front. But U.S. advisers “are much more apt to imagine themselves in the movie version: dashing Peter O’Toole taking center stage and persuading their Arab counterparts to go trekking across the desert to capture eternal glory,” Chamberlain laments. “Shockingly, egomaniacs tend to make terrible team leaders.”...

...Incidentally, Chamberlain reflects a growing trend in the Army, to harness World of Warcraft for itstraining, conceptual and metaphor value. There’s a good reason for this, according to my new favorite roboticist, Missy Cummings from MIT. The best gamers, she told me this week, are great at strategic thinking, always planning several steps ahead...

  • Finally, a discussion on Small Wars Journal's posting board highlighted much of the hidden backstory behind the removal of General McKiernan as the commander of forces in Afghanistan, and the changing dynamic of military leadership. Quoting an article from the Washington Post:
[General Petraeus] broke the mold [of the typical officer]. The traditional responsibilities were not enough anymore. You had to be adroit at international politics. You had to be a skilled diplomat. You had to be savvy with the press, and you had to be a really sophisticated leader of a large organization. When you judge McKiernan by Petraeus's standards, he looked old-school by comparison."

As SWJ poster William F. Owen mentions:
So basically the mould breaking was being like the majority of successful wartime leaders anywhere on the planet in the last 3,000 years.
Indeed, this is why the Army, despite incredible institutional resistance, pushes the model of the "Pentathlete" (or whatever sports analogy you use--Haddick, Boss Mongo, et. al. have commented on these)

18 August 2009

UCP…easy as 1-2-3

(Okay, fine, I gave into the Michael Jackson craze)

A number of outlets have picked up on the story regarding the controversy surrounding the Army's "Universal" Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which appears on the Army's current generation of combat uniforms (called "ACUs"). Yesterday, the Army Times picked up the story, and collected a number of complaints about the pattern. One complaint actually came from a UH-60 aviator I had worked with. He writes:

"The general consensus on the ACU pattern among many, many soldiers is that it is ineffective in breaking up a soldier's outline in just about every environment except in urban areas and the local gravel pit," Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Ulsh wrote to Army Times. "As an aviator, I can tell you that from the air most other nations' camouflage masks a soldier better than the ACU does."

As if to accentuate the remark, an article regarding the UCP a few days ago showcased a number of Soldiers standing in a gravel pit on a Forward Operating Base (FOB), where the UCP easily blends in. Granted, it's nice to blend in to the ubiquitous gravel pits that the Army inexplicably places everywhere on FOBs, but it's not exactly the best thing for blending in to many of the environments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers had complained about the new uniforms from the instant they were first unveiled. They appear to glow in the dark at night, particularly when compared to the older forest uniforms. They also did a poor job of blending in to any vegetation. They seemed to work better when they got dirty and dusty. But of course, a dirty and dusty uniform is usually about to fall apart, so there goes that idea.

PEO Soldier, the agency within the US Army which is responsible for equipping Soldiers with the latest personal gear, has the following to say about the sudden revelation (which was well-known by troops several years ago):

"PEO Soldier and the Army continually strive to provide the best to our soldiers," Army spokesman Maj. Jimmie Cummings said in an Aug. 6 written statement. "As such, a team led by Training and Doctrine Command is working an effort to determine if a change is required to our Universal Camouflage Pattern in support of soldiers operating in many different environments. It is premature to go into any detail on this effort at this time."

PEO Soldier shouldn't be expressing surprise at the ineffectiveness of the pattern in Afghanistan. After all, Army laboratories knew that the "Urban Track Pattern" (which would later be modified and turned into the Universal Camouflage Pattern) was the worst-performing of the four patterns which made it to Phase IV of testing. These patterns were tested in a number of environments (desert, forest, urban, night vision, etc), and the "Desert Over Brush" pattern was the winner, with Multi-cam (known as "Scorpion") coming in third and Urban Track Pattern coming in fourth place (last by the final phase of testing).

What's sad is that, upon its introduction roughly three or four years ago, the pattern has quickly replaced the previous woodland and desert patterns—not just in terms of the uniforms themselves, but also in terms of the accoutrements: hats, jackets, ammunition pouches, assault packs, flight uniforms, and the like. Upon its introduction, the pixilated pattern quickly appeared in every Army recruiting commercial, presumably to give the Army a more futuristic look.

While many aspects of the uniform are worth keeping—zippers, arm pouches, desert boots, built-in pen pockets, and the like---the pattern needs to go. The expeditionary Army isn't just deployed to gravel pits and desert areas, but also the jungles of Central and South America, as well as the wooded areas of the Balkans.

Some final notes—I should reiterate that although many are waxing poetically about the benefits of Multicam ("Scorpion"), it did not rate the highest in the Army's trials. Additionally, to its credit, the UCP is also reportedly very good for use in urban areas, where much of the fighting occurs in Iraq. Finally, I should also mention that attempts to make a much more concealment uniform might just be academic. After all, we're still have to wear reflector belts over them anyway.


Today, one of my friends who typically flies AH-64 Apache helicopters, got a chance to fly the Black Hawk. His thoughts, via Facebook status feed:

"I can't believe that an aircraft that has a max gross weight of 22,000 lbs can't spare a few pounds for an air conditioner" [Note: purists will debate the 22,000 lbs remark, but let's just keep it for the time being]

Responses to his status update:

Me: "Sure there's an air conditioner. Just take the doors off!"

However, it was a tanker that had the ultimate perspective on things: "Try a vehicle that weighs 140,000 lbs and has no air conditioner"

17 August 2009

News back in America...

Well, Afghanistan's elections are only a few days away (with the Taliban threatening to cut off voters' ink-stained fingers), but I bet that's not the lead headline back in the US.

I'm guessing that the latest scandal involving Vanessa Hudgens' topless pictures (again) is the lead story, judging by the fact that this kid is completely losing his mind at the prospect of Vanessa Hudgens topless pics. Again.

Anyway, I love how the kid says "She's really hot, but really dumb. Almost as dumb as a blonde".

Ms. Hudgens, please take a lesson from Nautica Thorn regarding the futility of taking topless pictures of yourself. Seriously:

"Hybrid War"--the other definition

SWJ linked to an excellen article about Afghanistan in the New York Times today, entitled "The Land of 10,000 Wars".

The crux of the article regards the multiple forms of conflict which occur under the umbrella of "The War in Afghanistan"--war between ethnic factions, war with al Qaeda, war with the various groups which are often lumped under the category of "Taliban", and war against narcotics lords.

In short, it's complex. This is one of the central points of one of the best books about counterinsurgency written in the past few years--David Kilcullen's "The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One".

We use the term "hybrid war" a lot in the milblog community, but we usually use it in the same sense as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates does--to describe a tactical phenomenon which combines conventional and unconventional warfare.

Kilcullen defines "hybrid war" as a framework for understanding the complex environments in which we find ourselves in these days. We're not simply fighting one war in Iraq or in Afghanistan. We're fighting multiple enemies, who take multiple forms: insurgents, terrorists, militias, criminal organizations, and tribal blood feuds.

Take a look at the article, as it's a good description of the complexities of waging war in Afghanistan. General McChrystal is certainly a great general, but I don't envy his job in the least.

16 August 2009

Don't tell me I need to buy ANOTHER uniform...

The Army's Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which adorns the uniforms (known as Army Combat Uniforms, or "ACUs" for short) appears in almost everything having to do with the Army...from backpacks, to teddy bears, to website backgrounds, even in recruiting commercials on TV.

The Universal Camouflage Pattern, as of mid-2008, replaced the standard Army uniforms designed for desert wear and forest wear. Actually, it did a little more than that. You see, as recently as five years ago, the American armed services all wore the same type of utility uniforms. For example, Airmen, Marines, Soldiers and Navy personnel assigned to land duties (e.g., Navy SEALs) all wore the forest uniforms when assigned to wooded or tropical areas.

However, all the services now have their own distinct utility uniforms. The Army has its ACUs,
the Marines have desert and forest uniforms, the Air Force has a pixelated uniform which looks surprisingly Army-like, and the Navy even ditched its classic khaki uniform for a Navy blue pixelated monstrosity which helps Sailors blend into...a ship...or something.

The design of the ACU is great--the velcro pockets eliminate the need to spend money getting multiple uniforms tailored every time you go to a different duty station. Not to mention they make promotions (and demotions) that much easier. The zipper doesn't interfere with the wear of the body armor like the old buttons did, and the pockets on the sleeves work great with the body armor as well. Not to mention, most troops like the fact that the new uniform doesn't have to be inexplicably ironed and starched like the old ones did, nor do the boots need to be shined. After all, we have better things to do than ironing and polishing, since we've been at war longer than the World War Two generation.

Anyway, the one gripe that a lot of Soldiers have had with the new uniform is the pattern--what is this uniform designed to blend into? In desert environments, the uniform is okay, but it
certainly doesn't blend in to foliage well at all--and there's actually a good deal of it in Afghanistan, as anyone who's ever exchanged gunfire with the Taliban over a poppy field can tell you. (This isn't
idle griping either--this issue is currently being brought up in Congress and is expected to go before the President)

I went back and did a little research. It seems the Army held a competition between a number of different uniform types and rated their effectiveness in a number of different environments.

And then they proceeded to pick the worst one, according to this document from US Army Research and Development Command. A number of competitors were chosen, with the "urban track pattern" scoring the lowest among four competitors. Nevertheless, this was the pattern was modified and turned into the UCP which adorns Soldiers uniforms today.

So will we be getting new uniforms shortly? Well, maybe. The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat
Congressional intervention just might finally kill the UCP altogether.

So what would be next? If the experience of some special forces units and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is any indication, a pattern known as Multicam might be a viable replacement.

Regardless of what pattern the Army picks, I think it's safe to say we can all say goodbye to "foliage" green. Or grey. Or whatever color that is...

Upstate New York's finest do counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

War is Boring Reporter Jason Reich is embedded with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. Reich discusses the complexities and nuances of "COIN" in Afghanistan. Also of note is the use of artillery Soldiers as infantrymen in these environments, and not as artillerymen (certainly not new, but it's an interesting trend worth discussing)

I don't know why I noticed this, but take a look at the picture from the article (included here). Check your sack, #2 man in the stack. I guess the Army is still having problems with the crotch coming apart in the Army Combat Uniform. (Gives new meaning to the phrase "going commando". See, I'm not the only one who does this.)
JALREZ VALLEY, Afghanistan -- It's a chilly summer night in the Jalrez valley, lit well by a three-quarter moon. I'm on a mission with the men of the 4/25 Artillery Battalion, part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, based in the Wardak and Logar provinces. We are weaving through ancient irrigation canals and wading across the numerous small rivers that feed the fertile valley, making our way to a medium sized village nestled into a hillside. Our winding path has been carefully chosen to minimize the chance that we will step on an IED, but it also seems to maximize the chance that everyone's feet will be completely soaked by the end of the operation. The men of 4/25 are almost all "13 Bravos," the U.S. Army's designation for heavy artillery -- but there won't be any artillery fire tonight. In fact, their "tubes" are all packed away in storage, and have been since the 10th Mountain's arrival in Afghanistan eight months ago at the head of the "Afghanistan surge." What these artillery soldiers are doing here, on a dismounted infantry patrol through one of Afghanistan's most IED-laden provinces, illustrates the flexibility and patience that this new breed of warfare demands. This fact isn't lost on the men in 4/25. They are quick to remind me that Napoleon called artillery the "king of the battlefield" and they bemoan the lack of artillery in these COIN operations. "I've seen guys in training put consecutive 155mm rounds through a window" boasts Sgt. First Class Ernest Steih. Yet the restrictive rules of engagement, coupled with an elusive enemy has prevented them from using their cannons in the fight -- and it's beginning to take a toll on their morale. The company I am embedded with has just lost four men in an IED attack, and like many attacks in this area, there was nobody around to shoot back at. But this is what tonight's mission is all about -- a rare chance for the men of 4/25 to go "kinetic." Even without the support of their heavy guns, the men are energetic and ready for battle. They are looking for the local Taliban cell leader and his deputy in the village of Ala-Khel, the men likely responsible for the IED that killed four of their friends only two weeks earlier. They have been told that there are at least 20-30 armed Taliban fighters protecting the village and they are ready for a fight. After trudging for a few kilometers, we reach our initial objective and blocking positions are established. As we get ready to start clearing houses, a new order filters down the radio net -- houses are not to be searched at night, we must wait until daybreak. The frustration is palpable -- the soldiers, who moments ago were wound up and ready for battle, now seem visibly deflated. We move to a small culvert between two khalats, and hunker down for the few remaining hours until dawn.

From a COIN perspective, the reason for this "tactical pause" is obvious. The coalition doesn't want to barge into peoples' homes in the middle of the night -- especially in this village with its large, traditionally friendly, Hazara population. On the other hand, Lt. John Gillette, the platoon leader, thinks that this is mission suicide. "We're calling a time-out," he jokes to his men, "I'm sure that our target will understand." At daybreak, the troops assemble and begin searching through the 40 or 50 khalats in the village. As per coalition protocols, the Afghan National Police is always the first to enter a house, followed by the Afghan National Army, while the Americans secure the perimeter. After numerous operations with the ANP, I have yet to see an Afghan policemen actually unshoulder his rifle before entering a home. They usually knock softly on the door, exchange a few words with the homeowner, and then casually enter the courtyard. This is in sharp contrast to the team of tightly wound U.S. soldiers by the door, lined up in "stack formation" with weapons at the ready. Curiously, almost no males of military age are found in the village -- in every home children answer the door. By the end of the operation, a couple of detainees are brought back to the battalion headquarters, but from what I understand, they are small-time operatives. It seems the elusive Taliban in Wardak have escaped to fight another day. This operation perfectly illustrates the paradox of the coalition's new COIN doctrine: The more you protect your soldiers, the more you endanger them. Slow, infantry-style dismounted patrols and joint operations with the ANA and ANP are what provide the necessary intelligence required to unmask the Taliban, but they carry with them the risk of higher coalition casualties. Instead of shelling the target house from kilometers away with their 155mm artillery rounds, the soldiers of 4/25 put themselves on the ground, and very much in harm's way, in order to protect the civilians here in Wardak. Sadly, the same measures that are put into place to protect the civilians can protect the Taliban as well. In Wardak, like in the rest of Afghanistan, many of the Taliban are civilians -- for at least 12 hours a day. This challenge of shifting from "kings of the battlefield" to "armed social workers" has not been easy on the soldiers of 4/25. On a recent patrol to purchase supplies for an upcoming key leader engagement, one disgruntled soldier expressed it best: "If I die here today, what are they going to tell my mother? Your son was killed buying drinks for dinner."

14 August 2009

Lynndie England needs to STFU

The other day, SWJ posted an op-ed from Morris Davis, an employee at the Library of Congress, who expressed outrage at the fact that Lynndie England, the most infamous of the Abu Ghraib bunch, would be lecturing at the LOC. Her lecture was apparently a part of a series of lectures from Iraq War veterans. Wow, of all the Iraq War veterans, we pick Lynnie England to speak on our behalf! Wonders never cease.

Says Morris Davis (who also served as a prosecuter in the case against torture at Guantanamo Bay):

She is a convicted criminal who was dishonorably discharged, but she’s out of prison and on stage at the Library of Congress. You may recall many of the memorable pictures of the glowing Private England during her tour in Iraq, including the one of her standing next to an Iraqi prisoner, a cigarette dangling from her lip, as she points at the Iraqi prisoner’s genitals as he stands there naked with a sack over his head as he’s forced to masturbate in the presence of GI England and several other nude men. It sure looked like she was enjoying some good times in the picture, so maybe she’ll give more behind the scenes details during her lecture on Friday as she expounds on how she’s a victim who is deprived of veteran’s benefits because of her dishonorable discharge. As she said in an interview published in the West Virginia Metro News on Monday: “Yeah, I was in some pictures, but that’s all it was … I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” That has to be comforting to those who died because of the wave of anger her snapshots ignited in the Middle East, like the family of Nick Berg who was slaughtered in front of a video camera in retaliation for Abu Ghraib, according to his murderers. America as a whole still pays the price for Private England’s “wrong place – wrong time” misadventure, but that won’t stop the Library of Congress from opening its doors and handing her the mike.

Think of what a huge public relations victory this is...for our enemies. Giving Lynndie England any more attention than she deserves will only play directly into the hands of anti-American groups. It also sends the wrong message to our troops--there are thousands of milbloggers out there who serve their country with distinction, and do their best to tell the story of the US military the best they can. Few of them ever get any hits on their blogs. However, torture a few prisoners, and suddenly, you're a celebrity with credibility--lecturing at the Library of Congress, no less!

The other day, I paid the article scant attention. After all, I care as much about Ms. England as I do for Paris Hilton (which is to say, not at all, except Paris has sex tapes which I kind of care about). I missed the outlash against Ms. England's appearance in the comments, most of which seemed to express the same dismay that I felt.

However, a few people took notice and threw a fit. Dave reports at SWJ:

Courtesy of the Associated Press:

A lecture by the woman who became the public face of the Abu Ghraib scandal was canceled Friday at the Library of Congress after threats led to concerns about staff safety.

Former Army reservist Lynndie England had been scheduled to discuss her biography as part of a veterans forum on Capitol Hill. The book by author Gary S. Winkler is called "Tortured: Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib and the Photographs That Shocked the World."...

Members of the Library of Congress Professional Association, the employee group holding the talk, received an e-mail from president Angela Kinney saying the event was canceled due to staff safety concerns. A spokeswoman for the library said Kinney would not comment further.

The group had received "numerous expressions of protest" about the lecture from its members, the e-mail said.

David Moore, a Vietnam War veteran and German acquisitions specialist at the library who organized the event, said he received several e-mails threatening violence and shared them with police and the library's inspector general...

...He blamed an essay decrying the event on the Small Wars Journal blog for stirring up much of the opposition. The site focuses on war politics and strategy.

"It's a disgrace that the dishonorable profit and that we use government property and resources to glorify the gutless. If you attend the lecture on Friday, don't save me a seat," reads the posting by Morris Davis, another Library of Congress employee.

Davis, who retired from the Air Force after serving as chief prosecutor for military trials at Guantanamo Bay, resigned from his Army legal post in protest because he believed waterboarding was torture.

Davis said he was bothered by England because he said she portrays herself as a victim, while other soldiers who lost arms and legs at war don't get book deals and don't complain.

Other efforts to promote the book on England have been disrupted, its author said in an e-mail, though he didn't elaborate. Winkler defended the biography as balanced, saying it includes voices besides England's to tell the full story of the events and people involved at Abu Ghraib.

Moore has organized the library group's veterans forums for eight years, and he said the talks generally draw 40 to 80 people and some have been carried on C-SPAN.

Moore said he won't plan future lectures because of the England problems and that he's canceling three already scheduled, including those with a woman who wrote about sexual harassment in the military and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq.

Wait, hasn't Cindy Sheehan also had her fifteen minutes of fame already? She was so 2005.

Anyway, from what I can tell, there were no threats in the responses to the article on SWJ. Mr. Moore, on the other hand, seems to claim that the article inspired threats against England. If so, they didn't come from any of the posters at SWJ.

As for Ms. England, I have little sympathy. Certainly, I will not advocate any act of violence committed against her (let me make that clear). However, what does she expect? Does anyone have sympathy for someone who actively took part in torture of prisoners, posed with their naked bodies, pointed at them, and gave a little "thumbs up"? Does anyone have any sympathy for someone who tells stories like this (courtesy of Greyhawk):

The American forces took up residence in an abandoned date-processing factory...

Not long into their stay, two of the soldiers appeared at the base one day with animal carcasses. They'd found a dead goat and a dead cat somewhere and started slicing them up. Someone took a photo of a soldier pretending to have sex with the goat's head. "Then they cut off the cat's head and shoved it on the top of a soda bottle," England says.

For several weeks, the decaying animal heads provided entertainment for the soldiers. "Someone put sunglasses on them, and put the rifle next to the heads and took a picture. Some soldiers put a cigarette in the cat's mouth," she says. The soldiers stashed the severed heads in their rooms.

"It was funny," England says. "So funny."

Wow, I bet that's the new LOLCat craze!

Looks like things have settled down somewhat…

You may remember Dave Dilegge's post the other day in Small Wars Journal asking all of the amateur Afghanistan pundits to quiet down. At first, it seemed a little strange, coming from him. After all, the community which typically gathers on Small Wars Journal certainly understands the importance of honest feedback and analysis of the situation on the ground. Surely, Dave wasn't telling us all to simply STFU?

As it ends up, he wasn't. In an interview on the radio program "Outside the Beltway"*, the Small Wars Journal editor-in-chief noted that the massive amount of sudden Afghanistan analysis from the mainstream media and the milbloggers was simply overwhelming the planners in General Stanley McChrystal's headquarters with the large volume of contradictory evidence.

In other words, General McChrystal's staff reads the milblogs.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to most of us, since we all know that one of the participants in General McChrystal's policy review group was none other than Andrew Exum of Abu Muqawama fame.

*--okay, actually, the bandwidth here is such that I couldn't actually listen to the program myself, so I'm stealing the executive summary from Zenpundit. Sue me.

13 August 2009

How does the Kindle hold up in hot weather?

A little Kindle experiment for the day. Today was a relatively normal day in Iraq--a little bit cooler than it had been in June, but still relatively warm. Anyway, here's a look at the FAT--Free Air Temperature--gauge. For those of you who aren't on the metric system (all of us Yanks), 42 degrees Celcius roughly equates to 108 degrees Farenheit. Again, this certainly isn't the hottest Iraq gets, but it's good enough for our purposes.

Anyway, I pulled out the Kindle and--what do you know--it works just fine. I've used it in far hotter temperatures (closer to 50 degrees Celcius) and there's no real damage. The only issue I have occurs when I place it in direct sunlight, and the ink seems to fade a bit. But that's fixed by just bringing it in the shade and letting it cool a bit.

Anyway, what would I be reading on my Kindle on a day like today? Take a look...
Why, it's David Kilcullen's excellent book on counterinsurgency, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

12 August 2009

The Geneva Conventions, 60 years later

Here's an excerpt from an interesting article I received from my Swiss fans regarding the Geneva Conventions, 60 years later, and how they relate to 4th Generation Warfare--against non-state actors. Would it be a good time to re-examine the conventions and possibly revise them to reflect current world affairs?

Two issues have become particularly troublesome in recent conflicts involving irregular non-state armed groups, especially those that fight through the use of terrorism rather than more traditional military campaigns. The first is to determine when such fighters can be the target of military attack. According to a provision of both Additional Protocols that is also recognised as customary law, civilians can only be targeted when they are taking a direct part in hostilities. (This is in contrast to formal combatants, who can be targeted at any time when military necessity demands, except when they are hors de combat.) But it is far from clear how this criterion should be interpreted, and the ICRC has recently produced guidelines that have already been the focus of much discussion.

The second issue concerns the detention of those suspected of fighting for such groups. The Geneva Conventions provide a detailed scheme for the detention of prisoners of war in international armed conflict, and civilians in occupied territory. But there is nothing in the law to specify rules and procedures for the detention of suspected enemy fighters in armed conflicts involving non-state groups. This question has been at the centre of debates about how prisoners captured by the United States in Afghanistan and elsewhere in its “war on terror” should be regarded.

One effect of the increasing attention paid to conflicts against insurgents and terrorists has been to raise the question of how the laws of armed conflict relate to human rights. Already the Geneva Conventions reflect the influence of a human rights sensibility—most notably in Common Article 3, which imposes obligations on states during internal conflicts which are binding even when insurgents do not observe the law themselves. A possible direction of future legal development could involve the clarification of how human rights against prolonged arbitrary detention and arbitrary deprivation of life should be understood in the context of military action, both domestically and overseas.

Undoubtedly one of the most striking developments in international humanitarian law since the drafting of the Geneva Conventions in 1949 has been the growing assimilation of international and non-international conflicts. Building on the foundation of Common Article 3, a whole structure of legal thought has grown up that increasingly treats all armed conflicts as subject to the similar rules. This tendency reached its highest development in a recent ICRC study of customary IHL, in which all but 13 of the 159 rules applicable in international armed conflict were also found to be applicable in non-international conflict.

This development clearly represents an enormous advance in humanitarian protection, given the prevalence of civil wars and other campaigns against non-state groups in today’s world, even if the enforcement of the law in such conflicts remains difficult. But at the same time, there may be grounds for believing that the pendulum has swung too far. The drive to promote protection for the victims of all conflicts should not obscure the essential ways in which non-international conflicts remain distinct. One of these concerns the aims of the fighting. In inter-state wars it is prohibited to annex any territory seized or import your own political system, and IHL recognises a strict separation between military and political targets. But it is precisely the aim of insurgent groups to seize political power and the structures of domestic authority—so rules that forbid attacks on political targets in domestic conflicts do not offer an equal playing field to such groups. This threatens to forfeit the impartiality between parties to a conflict that has always been an essential attribute of the laws of armed conflict.

Similarly, there is an increasing tendency to treat non-state groups as analogous to regular armed forces for the purposes of targeting. The ICRC’s recent guidelines on the concept of direct participation in hostilities suggested that fighters who perform a “continuous combat function” for armed groups should no longer be regarded as civilians, but subject to attack on the same basis as combatants in an armed conflict. The purpose of the proposal is to avoid a situation where fighters can benefit from a “revolving door”—fighting on a regular basis, but benefiting from civilian protection when they are not actually fighting. At the same time, it appears anomalous for IHL to create a category of fighters who are deprived from protection from attack by virtue of their status, yet who are not themselves protected from prosecution for their military acts if they are captured.