30 November 2009
29 November 2009
'Tis the season to buy things, to be certain. If you're stumped what to get someone this Christmas, here are a few ideas, contributed by quite an eclectic mix of bloggers:
- On Violence's Christmas Recommendations
- Tom Ricks, "So You're Heading to Afghanistan". (Speaking of which, his recent book, The Gamble, wound up as #11 on Omnivoracious' list of the best books of 2009)
- 101st Airborne reading list for Afghanistan (c/o Tom Ricks)
- Hidden gem: Gen. David Petraeus' reading list (you need to scroll to the bottom), courtesy of Foreign Policy Online
- My summer reading list in Iraq, 2009. As an interesting note, I noticed that someone from Wasilla, Alaska wound up on that page after Googling something to the effect of "kindle books iraq". I only know of one person who resides in Wasilla, Alaska, and that individual does have a son who (at the time) served in Iraq. I never, for the life of me, would have thought she'd actually be interested in a book (unless she wrote it). Truly, blogging thrusts me into all sorts of bizarre situations.
- Andrew Exum's Counterinsurgency Reading List
- US Army War College's Irregular Warfare reading list (h/t Andrew Exum)
- Boss Mongo recommends a series of books, which, despite having a bit of a bizarre premise (The Islamic States of America?), does point out the differences between the branches of Islam quite well, and is an exciting read. It's a trilogy so far, with the first book being Robert Ferrigno's Prayers for the Assassin. Boss Mongo says he enjoys reading the series, when he's not out bludgeoning sharks with his bare hands (seriously, Boss Mongo is who Chuck Norris wishes he was).
- EDIT: Let's not forget The Great Satan's Girlfriend's COIN reading list.
Neil "Cavguy" Smith (whose awesome visage can be found in this picture), a regular writer for Small Wars Journal, has written an excellent article regarding the application--and misapplication--of T.E. Lawrence's most favorite quote, which is quickly being relegated to the realm of cliche in modern counterinsurgency:
Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.
--T.E. Lawrence, The Arab Bulletin, 20 August 1917
Cavguy paints a wonderful vignette of how this quote is practically applied, and applied well. But not everyone has applied this quote to great effect. Bob Woodward's The War Within, an inside look at the decisions which led to the Troop Surge of 2007, begins with General George Casey refusing to ask for more troops, and insisting that US troops continue to play an advisory role, using the aforementioned quote from Lawrence...
...and misattributing it to Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Seriously, bad form.
But aside from the literary criticism, the quote was misapplied for a second reason. As the counterinsurgency manual notes, the key word in Lawrence's quote is tolerably. In 2006, the Iraqi Security Forces weren't performing tolerably--they were part of the problem. It meant that US troops had to step in to take the lead in 2006.
For more on the application and misapplicaton of Lawrence, check out this great article in Armed Forced Journal from Lt. Col. Robert Bateman.
28 November 2009
27 November 2009
Fortunately, I am quite experienced in this. I occasionally play Command and Conquer: Generals from the point of view of the Global Liberation Army instead of the US, so this should be relatively simple, right?
A quarter-century ago, [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] was a top Central Intelligence Agency officer aiding the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan, and he remembered how a 1985 decision by the Soviet Union to widen that earlier war had failed to turn the tide...
...Few American officials know the Soviets' bitter Afghan predicament better than Mr. Gates. In the 1980s, he was the deputy director of the CIA, overseeing a massive U.S. effort to fund, train and equip the Islamic insurgents, called mujahedeen, who fought the Soviet army to a standstill.
Now some of the most prominent of these insurgents, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, are allied against America with the Taliban and al Qaeda. Almost daily their men are killing Western troops, who often operate from former Soviet bases and use Soviet-drawn military maps with faint Cyrillic markings.
"It's an eerie sense of deja vu," said Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution scholar who headed the Obama administration's Afghan policy review in the spring and who in the 1980s worked under Mr. Gates as a CIA officer in the region. "America," he said, "is in the rare position of fighting the same war twice in one generation, from opposite sides. And it's easier to be the insurgents."
There are major differences between the two conflicts. For one, unlike the isolated Soviet Union, America operates in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate, part of a coalition of 42 allies. Allied dead, currently 1,528, are barely one-ninth the Soviet toll. Afghan civilian deaths are a small fraction of the estimated one million killed in the 1980s.
Afghans who compare the two campaigns acknowledge the differences, yet argue that these aren't always in America's favor. An examination of this debate over the Soviet experience offers an insight into what American troops are up against -- and the issues President Obama must weigh as he decides the course of an unpopular and costly war he didn't start.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also faced a troop-increase request during his first year, for a war he had inherited. Soviet generals in 1985 asked for tens of thousands more soldiers to bolster their 100,000-strong contingent, roughly the same size as the current Western force in Afghanistan.
Mr. Gates, discussing that period in his 1996 memoir "From the Shadows," wrote: "The Soviets had to either reinforce or lose. Because they clearly were not winning." Gen. McChrystal used similar language in his recent warning about possible American "failure" in Afghanistan unless adequate resources are committed. Mr. Gorbachev ended up authorizing a small troop surge; 18 months later, he announced plans for a withdrawal.
The U.S. Army, in a 1989 secret "lessons learned" study of the Soviets' campaign, said they simply didn't have enough boots on the ground. "Insufficient forces were available to expand appreciably the area of physical control, or to identify and attack many insurgent targets at the same time," said the study, now partially declassified. "When major operations were conducted in one part of the country, forces had to be drawn from other areas."
Mr. Gates's knowledge of how the Soviet occupation and its brutalities inflamed local anger contributed to his initial skepticism about a U.S. surge. "I worry a great deal about the size of the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan," he told a Senate hearing in April. "Soviets were in there with 110,000 troops, didn't care about civilian casualties and couldn't win."
Gen. McChrystal, at his meeting with Mr. Gates in Belgium, managed to persuade the defense chief that the U.S., unlike the Soviets, is still welcomed by most Afghans. The general argued that certain tactics such as using Afghan rather than American soldiers for house searches could further blunt perceptions of the U.S. as an occupier and put the momentum in America's favor.
"I take seriously Gen. McChrystal's point that the size of the footprint is [less important than] the nature of the footprint and the behavior of those troops and their attitudes and their interactions with the Afghans," Mr. Gates said in September after talks with military leaders.
Gen. McChrystal has explicitly addressed concerns about falling into Moscow's pitfalls. In his August assessment of the war, he quoted Abdul Rahim Wardak, President Hamid Karzai's defense minister, as telling the U.S.: "Unlike the Russians, who imposed a government with alien ideology, you enabled us to write a democratic constitution and choose our own government. Unlike the Russians, who destroyed our country, you came to rebuild."
But it might be a bit arrogant to claim success where the great powers such as Alexander, the British (twice), and the Russians (twice) have had their share of failure. Fortunately, aside from the argument in favor of stabilizing a largely failed state, there is one other national objective. John Oliver and Jon Stewart explain:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The Unwinnable War in Afghanistan|
26 November 2009
Okay, so, I suspect that...193% of Americans support the Republican party ticket for 2012. Right? That's what this pie chart says...
Remember, this is the same news station that apparently can't identify the country we've been at war with for the past six years, according to this map:
Then there are the military folk. These travelers make up more than you realize. It has been a game of mine since living in Europe to try to spot these people in a crowd. In Germany on the streets it was too easy. Jeans plus t-shirt plus sneakers plus the dead giveaway of sunglasses, gives it away every time. Well in airport there are different rules. The kid with a buzz cut and a metal chain tucked just under his shirt with they're head high and shoulders squared back just came out of initial training. They are still recovering from the brain washing.
Then there are the senior NCOs; these can be a bit tricky to catch. They are probably sick of being in the military and riding out their finial years till retirement. Unfortunately being in for so long they have no clothes except a closet full of unit t-shirts and hats. Look for that, add in the sunglasses that should be on the top of their head instead carried in their left hand (leaving that right hand open at all times in case General Casey walks by)...their kids will probably be in step and have high and tights.
The junior officers are the hardest to spot, which is because they don't want to be. But there are tricks to this too. Look for the guys that are very in shape, walking with their shoulders back and looking constantly left and right in case there is an IED in the trash can. They will be dressed nice but wearing either a GPS watch or a plastic ironman one. They will always have a backpack, probably black and on both shoulders. When walking they will lean forward and step lively (unless they are Air force then the unusual weight on their back will pull them back). Unfortunately that only works with the men, young officer woman are next to impossible to spot...
...A last note, anyone traveling in uniform is trying to get a free meal. I don't care if they are on R&R from down range, if they are in uniform they are looking for a free drink. Guys this is pathetic, have some class for Pete's sake.
Charge: Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires.”
Response: “This refrain belongs, as they say now in the military, in the graveyard of analogies,” writes Tom Cotton in the Weekly Standard. “The Soviets, in particular, teach us how not to win in Afghanistan. A heavily mechanized force, the Red Army was ill-suited for Afghanistan's treacherous terrain, and it was dependent on long, vulnerable supply lines. It also discouraged innovative junior leadership, which is critical against an insurgency. To compensate, the Soviets employed vicious, massively destructive tactics that inflamed the Afghan people and still scar the country with depopulated valleys and adult amputees maimed as children by toy-shaped mines. Our present way of war couldn't be more different. We deploy light and wheeled infantry to Afghanistan, making our tactics more flexible, our supply lines shorter, and our soldiers more engaged with the locals. We also radically decentralize decision-making authority to our junior soldiers and leaders, who increasingly can draw on years of combat experience. In short, America has a counter-insurgency strategy, whereas the Soviet Union had a genocide strategy. Afghans I spoke with always recognized the difference, reviled the Russians, and respected our troops.” -- Weekly Standard
Max Boot makes a similar point in Commentary, “The two most commonly cited examples in support of this proposition are the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 1980s. This selective history conveniently omits the military success enjoyed by earlier conquerors, from Alexander the Great in the 4th century b.c.e. to Babur (founder of the Mughal Empire) in the 16th century. In any case, neither the British nor the Russians ever employed proper counterinsurgency tactics. The British briefly occupied Kabul on two occasions (1839 and 1879) and then pulled out, turning Afghanistan into a buffer zone between the Russian Empire and their own. In the 1980s, the Russians employed scorched-earth tactics, killing large numbers of civilians and turning much of the country against them. Neither empire had popular support on its side, as foreign forces do today.” -- Commentary
I don't exactly know where to begin with this one.
I guess I could start by mentioning that the term "Graveyard of Empires" doesn't selectively omit the case of Alexander the Great--it's a specific reference to Alexander's Afghan campaign, which took over three years, and cost him a good portion of his army.
I'm a big fan of learning from history, but let's keep in mind that Alexander marched through what is now Afghanistan over 2300 years ago. It was an era during which one could rape, pillage, and plunder and get away with it--and the Greeks certainly did it in large numbers. The Greeks turned Afghanistan into a wasteland, and called it peace.
As part of their "clear, hold, build" strategy, they could execute all men in a village (clear), garrison it with Greek troops (hold), and then the Greek troops could have the women to themselves, to consolidate the Greek empire in Afghanistan (build).
The symbol of Alexander's victory was a marriage to an Afghan princess (somehow I don't think Mrs. McChrystal will approve of a similar victory by ISAF), and Alexander's conquest was tenuous and short-lived.
Alexander didn't have to deal with a safe harbor for insurgents across the Pakistani border, either. Not that he held Afghanistan long to begin with--he died only a few short years after the campaign.
I would suggest that FPI do a little research of themselves before they accuse others of selectively interpreting history.
24 November 2009
23 November 2009
Reach 364 has provided a link to what is hands-down the funniest thing I've seen on the Internet today. And I looked at a lot of LOLcats today, so this is quite an achievement.
You need to watch this in order to gaze upon the visage of the second-most awesome instance of a man beating up another guy in an animal costume (first place going to Tucker Max's savage beating of a hockey mascot).
But, alas, Farfour the Mouse dies at the hands of the Israelis. In the next scene, a not-so-heartbroken child reads from her note cards, and informs us of the dreadful news. Seriously, WTF? Even in Sesame Street, we get the kids to memorize their lines.
At any rate, whereas we in the US had a half-hour long episode of Sesame Street to explain why Mr. Hooper died, Palestinians are treated to a girl reading a note card, informing us that Farfour is no longer with us.
But not to fear, Farfour has been succeeded by...a bee thing or something:
On a trip to the Gaza Zoo, a bee is invited to enter the...cat cage. Yes, the amazing Gaza zoo has an exhibit dedicated to creatures that most people have in their house. The cats don't even say things, either, like they do at "I Can Has Cheezburger", either. This truly is a 3rd-world country.
Anyway, much to the jubilation of the children watching the show, the bee thing actually picks up cats by the tail and throws them through the air. Let that sink in: on a show that alleges to take some sort of moral high ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lead character picks up cats by the tail and throws them through the air.
Unfortunately, the bee thing dies. Much to my surprise, I realize that a human male weeps over the loss of "his son", the bee, and the bee's brother, Farfour the Mouse. This brings up all sorts of jokes of what exactly this guy did to have children which were bizarre animals. Anyway, behold the new creature, the Jew-eating rabbit: (Yes, you heard that correctly)
Finally, Hamas hate videos can not be complete without Jon Stewart putting his own spin on them at the Daily Show, in a segment entitled "Dr. Bagelman's Hour of Hate".
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
So thanks to Reach 364 for wasting a lot of my time this morning. It was worth it :)
22 November 2009
21 November 2009
20 November 2009
19 November 2009
18 November 2009
That's right, it's time for everyone's favorite game: Name That World Leader!
If you guessed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi...you'd actually be wrong. Indeed, the perpetrator in this case is none other than Qadaffi. Apparently, Qadaffi invited 200 hot Italian chicks to a meeting, whereupon he lectured them on the merits of Islam.
Seriously, I need the phone number of that agency that recruited the 200 hot Italian chicks.
17 November 2009
16 November 2009
KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Legends of the Wall|
White House officials have said comparatively little about the Pakistan side of the administration’s evolving war strategy, in part because they have so few options. They cannot place forces inside Pakistan, and they cannot talk publicly about the Central Intelligence Agency’s Predator drone strikes in the country, though they are so much of an open secret that Mrs. Clinton was asked about them repeatedly in meetings she held late last month with Pakistani students and citizens. (She refused to acknowledge the program’s existence.)
15 November 2009
14 November 2009