30 November 2009

The Afghan Troop Surge Drinking Game

President Barack Obama is set to deliver a major address regarding the anticipated Afghan Troop Surge and subsequent strategy tomorrow night at 8 PM EST/5 PM PST at West Point, New York. A number of milbloggers will actually be live-blogging the event, to include Right Pundits and Ink Spots, the latter of which will be sipping some fine wine while watching the speech.

Unfortunately, I would say these bloggers are missing a golden opportunity. Why simply drink fancy wine when you can play...

...The Afghan Troop Surge Drinking Game!

It goes something like this...it starts out with beer and some hard liquor.

Every time President Obama says the following/drink the following:

Taliban/1 sip of beer
al Qaeda/3 sips of beer
"disrupt, dismantle and destroy al Qaeda"/1 shot (I guarantee he says this)
9-11/1 sip of beer (thank God this isn't Guiliani giving this speech, I wouldn't make it)
exit strategy/1 shot (hopefully Obama follows Tom Ricks' advice and doesn't say "exit strategy")
Surge/1 sip of beer
"Petraeus" or "McChrystal"/1 sip of beer

Any other suggestions?

(Edit: I just realized that Right Pundits also made a joke about a drinking game. I submit this game for their use)

29 November 2009

On Reading Lists

'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:

I scanned through a few "Top 10" and "Top 100" lists, and noticed that a book called "The Good Soldiers" by David Finkel keeps popping up. I hadn't heard of this book, but I think I'll check it out.

Focus: I know I've accidentally left off a few reading lists, and for that, I apologize in advance. Please, give me a link to your Christmas reading list so I can add it here.


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.

Congratulations to the COINdinistas

Tom Ricks posted an article in Foreign Policy Online listing the top ten brightest minds in the world of counterinsurgency (commonly known as COIN). Collectively, these men and women are known as COINdinistas.

The first nine names do not come as a surprise--names like Gen. David Petraeus, Lt. Col. John Nagl, Dave Dilegge (retired Lt. Col.?) of Small Wars Journal, Lt. Col (Ret) David Kilcullen of the Australian Army, Andrew Exum...you get the picture.

But the last name kind of surprised me: noted COINtra (someone who opposes what is commonly known as the "COIN Kool-aid") Gian Gentile. Say what you want about Gentile, but he does serve as a useful voice of balance against becoming too focused on counterinsurgency. There may be other wars we will find ourselves in, of only for a brief time.

28 November 2009

The Star Wars Holiday Special...Bad News...

Edit: Updated the video and links.

I didn't make it all the way through. In fact, I only made it about six minutes. A full five minutes of Wookiees grunting at each other and making frantic gestures was just too much for me. I didn't even make it as far as the Bea Arthur song, nor the Jefferson Starship song, nor the Carrie Fischer song about the Wookiee holiday (set to the tune of the Star Wars theme), nor the scene in which Chewbacca's father watches porn while Chewbacca's son and wife are playing in the living room.

That last sentence may sound kind of bizarre to those who have not seen this monstrosity, but I'm not making this up. Chewbacca has a son, a wife, and a father on Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, whom we never see or hear about in the movies. Well, maybe Chewbacca actually talks about them, but we're just unable to translate it. Maybe during the award scene on the planet Yavin, when Han and Luke get medals (and Chewbacca, for some reason, doesn't), his triumphant growl means "I wish my dad and wife and son were here". We really never know.

Anyway, on to the Wookiee porn--well, yeah, judge for yourself as to whether or not Chewbacca's father is actually watching porn in this video. I argue that he is. And it's human porn, too, which makes Chewbacca's father a sick bestial freak. They never showed THAT in Revenge of the Sith!

The following video is--surprisingly--rated G. Seriously, watch it...if you dare.

27 November 2009

Speaking of suicide...

On the day after Thanksgiving, 1978, America witnessed true horror: The Star Wars Holiday Special. Today, thanks to the prevalence of pirated videos on Youtube, I vow to re-visit this terrible day.

I may not make it through the entire 117-minute ordeal without alcohol.

If war is hell, the Star Wars Holiday Special is the icy river of Coctyx. Help me, Virgil.

The greatest danger to troops in 2009?

US military service members killed in Afghanistan in 2009: 297
US military service members killed in Iraq in 2009: 144
US military service members who committed suicide in 2009: 334

Jamie McIntyre has further details at The Line of Departure, where he brings up two interesting notes regarding these figures. First, that the 334 number does not include veterans who committed suicide after leaving service. Secondly, that nearly 1/3 of the service members who committed suicide had not yet deployed to a combat environment, leading me to believe that the increase in suicides is attributable to far more than simply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Karma is a bitch, according to this article from today's Wall Street Journal.

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."

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?

Fortunately, not everything is quite as bleak as the Soviet experience:

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 StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Unwinnable War in Afghanistan
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

26 November 2009

Last Thanksgiving Video...

...But by far the funniest one. Well, if you have a warped mind, which I do.

I would be remiss if I didn't say...

...Happy Thanksgiving, especially to all those who could not be at home this year.

(Courtesy of Greyhawk)

Fox News Math...FAIL

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:

Did I go on vacation?

I hopped on a commercial plane in Syracuse in order to travel down south for the Thanksgiving weekend, but I didn't feel like I was actually on vacation.


Because I wound up surrounded by Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines at each airport.

I have to re-post something from my old flight school/drinking buddy Moe (who is an instructor pilot now, God help us all), regarding the military people in the airports. This will totally go over the head of some people, but for many, it will hit too close to home.

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.

Some of you know exactly what Moe's talking about. I'd echo his sentiments about the backpacks, and note that many of us can spot an assault pack--either the standard-issue military ones or the commercial ones from Black Hawk--a mile away. We can even tell what branch of service you are in, based on the type of assault bag you wear. (And in the case of the one guy that wore a Multicam assault pack in the airport--173rd Airborne Brigade?)

Guys, if you ever travel abroad, shy away from these mannerisms. I went through the Dubai airport on mid-tour leave en route to Australia, and I noticed that I stuck out like a sore thumb due to my tan assault pack*.

Focus: More give-aways for "combat casual". (Besides the cheapskates who wear their tan boots with pants.)

*As a sidebar, I need to add in that the flight to Sydney was filled with Iranians as well, so that made for interesting conversation.

"What do you do and where do you live?", asked one Iranian.

"Uh, I'm a writer for a newspaper and, uh, I live in New York", I replied.

"There must be a lot of Jews where you work. Do Jews own your newspaper?", he asked.

Let's just say that an aviator's Ambien prescription isn't just for crew rest...

I see dumb people...

Foreign Policy Initiative wrote a piece this past week which attempts to rebut many facts about Afghanistan...poorly, I might add. Some of them are rebutted so laughably poorly that they bear mockery in this blog. But, with it being Thanksgiving, I thought I'd only concentrate on one which made me laugh out loud.

Quotes FPI:

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.

Reading for the day: Steven Pressfield's "The Afghan Campaign"

24 November 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend

Posting may or may not be light over Thanksgiving Weekend.

For those of you who are interested, I had Thanksgiving lunch yesterday (Monday) at the Combat Aviation Brigade's dining facility (I'll spare Tom Ricks' sensibility and not use his least favorite acronym, "DFAC", or as I sometimes see it, "DEFAC"). It was quite a good meal, but almost impossible to finish. Fear not, as today's lunch was...Thanksgiving leftovers.

I'm tired of turkey and it's not even Thanksgiving yet, either...war is hell.

I wish that this chocolate display wasn't the last thing I saw...

Well, this is depressing

Two great blogs have pseudo-shut down today.

The first is Defense and the National Interest, run by Chet Richards, one of John Boyd's acolytes, and the number one repository of John Boyd and 4th Generation Warfare material you will ever find. The second is Abu Muqawama, run by former Army Ranger Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, who announced that he would be curtailing his daily blogging activities.

What's distressing is that both have made the decision to shut down based, in part, on what I describe as jackassery in their fan base. DNI reported numerous security threats, and Andrew Exum drew the line with a post in a blog which called for his crucifixion.

It's truly a sad day. I wish both of them the best.

23 November 2009

I can die happy now

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.

Behold, Hamas' Broadcasting Service's children's programming, featuring Farfour the Palestinian mouse! Gaze upon his visage and...notice...something...familiar...

Wait. Wait. You know, usually when has-been stars take a tumble, they just turn to drugs and maybe star in some B-flicks or public service announcements i.e., Willie Aames). But not Mickey. His tumble has landed him in the employment of Hamas.

(As incredulous as all of this sounds, keep in mind that I'm not making this up, either. This is really a children's show created by Hamas' broadcasting wing.)

In this video, we witness Farfour the Mouse interacting with a pimpin' Israeli, who demands that Farfour give him the deed to all the Palestinians' land. Watch:

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 StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Farfour 2007-2007
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

So thanks to Reach 364 for wasting a lot of my time this morning. It was worth it :)

Tired military cliches, part XCVII...

I have this semi-regular segment here at Wings Over Iraq dedicated to tired military cliches. Today, I was afforded with yet another gem:

We have a number of quick reference guides on various aspects of life in Iraq that we tape to the restroom walls just over the urinals. The theory is that when you go to the restroom, you'll look at the various flyers concerning the pillars of Islam, basic Arabic, or insurgent tactics, and you'll probably learn something. It's a great idea, except for the fact that someone entitled the series "Learn While You Burn". Seriously, burning and urination don't go together.

Anyway, one such poster discusses the latest insurgent IED tactics in Iraq. Now, there are numerous means of employing IEDs: you have the suicide IED (SIED), vehicle-borne IED (VBIED), suicide vehicle-borne IED (SVBIED), you get the picture.

Now, the adaptive Iraqi insurgency wreaks havoc on the American military by creating an IED which defies official description, leading American troops to endure the atrociously-conceived
milspeak term:

"House-borne IED"

I kid you not. It even has the acronym "HBIED".

Doesn't something have to move or carry something else to, well, bear it? How can a house "bear" an IED? Can't we just say that it's a "booby trap"? Wikipedia does list that as an established military term...

Seriously, my head hurts...

22 November 2009

I got the new dress uniform...

Tom Ricks' latest post regarding the ethical conduct of generals has provided some off-topic remarks on Army uniforms. Today, there are many in the Army who look down on those whose uniforms don't spot significant amounts of ribbons, medals and badges (hereafter referred to as "bling"), but this hasn't always been the case.

The five-star generals of yesteryear, such as General George Marshall (pictured as a four-star with twelve discernible ribbons), wore uniforms which were relatively sparse when compared with those of today. General Marshall sports nearly as much bling in this picture as many junior sergeants or captains do today. Notable generals such as Eisenhower and noted egoist Douglas MacArthur were no different. (MacArthur, however, was most proud of his five-star rank, with his staff reportedly staying up throughout the night, filing down coins in order to create his rank insignia, lest he arrive at a meeting with Admiral Chester Nimitz without the appropriate bling)

But as much as I like the simple khakis of times past, I discovered this past Saturday night that the new Army Service Uniform isn't half bad when it's worn as a dress blue uniform (minus the hat). The cut of the jacket and pants are much like wearing a civilian tuxedo. I especially like not wearing the suspenders and high-water straight-leg pants which used to be worn with the dress blues. Instead, the pants are the same as those worn with the business-like Class A uniform--tapered and with belt loops instead of suspenders.

Still, wearing the standard Army dress belt wasn't flashy enough for some people. Indeed, some people are having flashbacks, believing that they are still at war...

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

Jason Sigger and Rob Farley recently discussed an observation made by Tom Ricks in The Gamble regarding General David Petraeus' physical fitness obsession. (Ed. note: I need to go back and re-read this portion of the book)

Ricks' observation (and I'm going by Sigger and Farley's summary of it instead of going back to The Gamble because I'm lazy) is that General Petraeus doubled his physical training in order to prove to the promotion boards that a braniac could compete in the physical realm with his less academically gifted peers.

I'm not quite certain that's the case.

Every officer evaluation does have a spot for the rated officer's physical fitness...only it simply says "Pass" or "Fail". Passing with a 180 (the minimum passing score) counts just as well as a 300 (the highest possible score) for the purposes of an evaluation. There might be comments in the officer's narrative, but this hardly gets any attention. Only the tiny block for the comments for an officer's senior rater--the one two levels of command higher--carry any weight at the board. This block only allows for two sentences at most--and metrics such as marksmanship scores and physical fitness scores are usually absent.

However, there are a few good observations one can draw from General Petraeus' fitness obsession. I would say the first is that the endless running General Petraeus does might be his "alone time", where he finally gets to think. Despite the fact that long-distance running might not be the best warrior workout (you'll have to go to Crossfit for that), it does allow for uninterrupted alone time, which is why I like it. I would think that someone like General Petraeus would thrive on an hour of quiet contemplation and meditation each day.

Secondly, I've also noticed that the US military's attitude towards fitness differs greatly from that of many other militaries. I've encountered a number of generals who feel obligated to remain in tip-top physical condition, in order to serve as a good example for younger troops. Indeed, in the US military, it's expected that commanders be in better physical condition than their troops.

In many other militaries--particularly those in the third world--you see the exact opposite. In the Honduran military, I witnessed junior enlisted troops who were thin and wiry, while their commanders were habitually obese. The benefits of an officer apparently included sitting around all day and stuffing one's face.

I'd say that General Petraeus isn't setting out to overcompensate for being bookish. I'd say that he, like many generals, is simply out to set a good example. After all, it only says "PASS" on your evaluation.

All right!

I found my old handouts from the Aviation Captains' Career Course. I'd better save these...I might need to study them should the Soviet Union get back together and rush through the Fulda Gap...

21 November 2009

In the Sky with Emma Sky

Emma Sky has become a very unlikely heroine in the Iraq War. An avowed pacifist, she nevertheless has become a fixture alongside Generals Raymond Odierno and David Petraeus. A woman of particularly small build, she seems to be quite an amusing walking beside General Odierno. (If Gen. Odierno is Shrek, according to comedian Stephen Colbert, Emma Sky must be Princess Fiona. Before Princess Fiona turned into a green thing, I need to make that clear).

She's become somewhat of an unlikely celebrity in Iraq. I was part of the afternoon crew, flying a mission in Northern Iraq to pick up a general, after the morning crew had dropped him off for a meeting. The morning crew had passed along some details of their mission.

"We flew the general and Emma Sky!", said one warrant officer, with some noticeable excitement.

Another warrant officer asked, "Wait, you mean the Emma Sky? From that book, The Gamble?"

He turned to me and said, "Sir, have you read that book?" I sheepishly nodded an affirmative. (I only hang out with cultured people.)

It surprised me that she was well known not only among the ranks of senior policymakers in Iraq, but also among many of the troops who usually spent most of their day talking about airspace coordination measures.

The warrant officer continued, "Yeah, they accidentally put her in the 'hurricane seat'", referring to the rearmost right passenger seat of the Black Hawk. When the cabin doors were open, which they usually were in the summertime, owing to the lack of air conditioning in the aircraft, the winds would buffet whoever was flying in that particular seat.

The warrant officer noted that the day's ride was not the best one she'd experienced. I felt sorry that she had such a horrible flight--the hurricane seat isn't where you put a VIP, to be certain. Fortunately, there was a little e-mail correspondence back and forth between us, and I was relieved to learn that reports of her discomfort were greatly exaggerated. (Still, don't put VIPs in the hurricane seat. Seriously.)

With that said, the New York Times ran a great story about Dr. Sky today. I find it amazing that a pacifist has become an important player in military policy. I'll also never forget her words when referring to the quality of character found in the US military, when contrasted with much of American society: "America does not deserve its military".

20 November 2009

The old lessons still apply

In the old US Army Field Manual FM 7-8, "Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad", there's a section which covers the basics of patrolling. In this section, the infantry patrol is told that it should be fully alert and at 100% defensive posture no later than 30 minutes prior to dawn, a process known as "stand-to". The book's reasoning is that this is the time when the Soviet Army is most likely to attack.

The great book, The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa, notes that the same thing is done in Iraq. The authors tell a story which features American troops on a combat outpost waking just before dawn to man the defensive positions. What's interesting is that the young platoon leader gets this advice from one of his sergeants, who notes that this tactic comes not from the conventional battlefield, but from the campaigns against the Native Americans on the plains of the American West during the 19th Century.

Some things really never change. Indeed, the Taliban also appear to use this tactic, judging from this video from the Battle at Wanat, shot from the Taliban's perspective.

19 November 2009

If at first you don't succeed...find a different line of work

You may remember the story of the Maersk Alabama, the cargo ship which was seized by Somalian pirates in April of this year: The crew of the ship fought back against the pirates, reclaiming the ship, but not before four pirates escaped with the captain of the ship as a hostage in a life boat. A US Navy destroyer was dispatched, and US Navy SEALs joined the action, parachuting into the water. After a standoff which lasted a few days, the US Navy destroyer, having attached a line to the life boat, slowly began to reel the boat in to range of the SEAL snipers. Suddenly, all three pirates were simultaneously shot through the head, allowing the captain to escape.

It was a masterful mission, and the crew of the Maersk Alabama, as well as the US Navy SEALs, showed considerable bravery. I would have thought that the actions of the US--as opposed to some countries which have simply paid pirates ransom--would deter future pirate attacks.

Of course, this assumes that the pirates are using common sense. Yesterday, Somalian pirates attempted to seize an American vessel...which turned out to be none other than the Maersk Alabama. Again.

The pirates were easily driven off thanks to a compliment of armed guards which now stands watch over the vessel.

18 November 2009

Light vs. Heavy: Brigade Combat Teams

While the Obama White House debates the exact troop numbers for the new counterinsurgency strategy, it's safe to say that there will be an increase of around 20,000 to 40,000 additional "combat troops" (definition to follow). While the troop numbers must primarily take into consideration the desired effect in Afghanistan, planners must also take into account one additional factor: how many brigade combat teams we have available. (Based on over 100,000 troops in Iraq and over 60,000 in Afghanistan)

The Washington Independent (H/T Spencer Ackerman) has the rollup of current US Army force strength (including a really good chart). Before I begin, let me define some terminology. There's been a huge debate at Tom Ricks' "The Best Defense" blog regarding what "combat troops" are in this era of asymetric war and non-contiguous battlefields. Using the term "combat troops" and "support troops" is somewhat of a misnomer, as even cooks and lawyers have been shot at and returned fire during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the purposes of this entry, however, we will use the term "combat troops" to refer to troops who serve in brigade combat teams, as opposed to aviation brigades or support brigades. (See also "combat brigades")

According to the Washington Independent, there will be some 50,000 troops in 14 active-duty
brigade combat teams available for reinforcements in Afghanistan, based on a 12-month "dwell time" at home for rest, refitting, and re-training. However, of those 50,000 active-duty troops, 19,000 are in "heavy" brigade combat teams. That means they fight in tanks and Bradley armored fighting vehicles, which are unsuited for Afghanistan. The 30,000 remaining troops are a mix of light brigades and "Stryker" brigades--using the Stryker wheeled armored vehicle for transportation.

Light infantry units can be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, but heavy units have only been used in Iraq. While serving in Iraq, most brigades fight as "motorized infantry"--trading their usual vehicles for up-armored HMMWVs and MRAPs--so there really isn't much of a difference. Afghanistan is a different story--only light and Stryker brigades have participated, leaving about 1/3 of the force unsuited for combat operations.

Solution? Re-train tankers and mech guys as infantrymen. I'll admit that I'm recycling this story, but The Capatain's Journal had a great piece about physically training mechanized infantrymen--who normally ride in Bradleys--for operations in Afghanistan by conditioning them to 50-mile long excursions in the Appalachians.

Name That World Leader...

That's right, it's time for everyone's favorite game: Name That World Leader!

(Okay, that's probably not your favorite game, but just humor me)

Anyway, try to guess the identity of this head of state, based on this article kindly provided by the one and only Karaka Pend:

[World leader] disappointed some 200 Italian women after he invited them using an agency advertizing a “party ...

The ad, by the Hostessweb agency, was very specific in the kind of woman that should attend and read: “Seeking 500 attractive girls between 18 and 35 years old, at least 1.70 meters (5 foot, 7 inches) tall, well-dressed but not in mini-skirts or low cut dresses.”

Some 200 women showed up at a Rome villa, having been told they would receive €60 ($90) and “some...gifts.” Among them was an undercover reporter for Italian news agency ANSA, who took photos and described the evening’s proceedings.

The reporter described how the ladies answered the ad expecting to attend a lavish party but were instead told to wait in a large hall until the arrival of [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

On Sports Analogies

According to popular legend, the Duke of Wellington had once claimed that "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". Indeed, there always seems to be a link between war and sports--note the Victorian British Army's irrational obsession with rugby skills which will seem all too familiar to captains in our career courses forced to play Ultimate Frisbee ad nauseam.

The link between sports and war are most striking in American football, which seems to perfectly mirror the linear battlefield. Two lines of similarly-equipped teams clash into one another, sometimes in a battle of attrition and gridlock, sometimes in deft maneuver-war like passes and lateral movements.

Should anyone doubt the link between war and football, just witness dozens of defensive linemen bashing through gaps in the offensive line at top speed, wreaking havoc in the rear areas of the formation as they sack the quarterback-- American crowds refer to this play as a blitz, as the quick breakthrough of the defensive line resembles the dreaded blitzkrieg, when German Panzer formations broke through the heavily-fortified Maginot Line in France, as they sacked Paris.

But just as football takes terms from linear war, so do American commanders take terms from football. For example, in the movie Black Hawk Down, Army Rangers parody then-Captain Michael Steele's motivational speeches which draw heavily from football imagery. (Steele played football for the University of Georgia before being commissioned as an infantry officer)

However, while football analogies have their place, they're not always the best framework for understanding a non-linear battlefield, which counterinsurgencies and policing actions usually are.

When I first arrived in Iraq, we sat down to brief a general regarding our upcoming year-long mission. The general, after a few introductions, turned to the commanders in the unit we were replacing. He noted their accomplishments during their deployment, which took place during 2007-2008, just as the violence in Iraq began to drop off precipitously. The general claimed, "This team here has taken the ball to the twenty yard line. And I think you guys", he said, pointing to us, "are going to take this one all the way across the goal line to put this one into the 'W' column for the United States of America"

Some cheered when they heard this, but I remained skeptical. (Sorry, but the last time someone dramatically claimed that we won the war, he wasn't exactly right).

A year later, as we transferred control to another unit, I heard the following speech from yet another general:

"You guys have taken this one to the twenty yard line, and I think [your replacements] are going to take this one to the goal line as we depart Iraq and turn over responsibility to..."

Wait, that was the exact same speech from two different generals! You mean we're still on the twenty yard line?! How long have we been on the twenty yard line? Have we been on the twenty yard line for two or three rotations now? Are we 3rd and 10 on the 20 yard line? Seriously, I think these guys need to have their speech writers compare notes.

The next charity

I'm a bit late with this, but thanks to everyone who participated in Soldiers' Angels Valour IT campaign, which raised over $100,000 this year. The proceeds will be used to purchase voice-activated laptops for wounded service members, as well as Nintendo Wii systems for use in hospitals as a rehabilitative device.

Although Valour IT fell short of its goal of $140,000, I should note that one team used social networking sites particularly well. Indeed, much to my chagrin, the smallest of the services, the US Marine Corps, brought in the most money, beating out the US Army by about $6,000 (grumble grumble).

But it wasn't the Marine Corps' size-to-contribution ratio that puzzled me. What really threw me for a loop was the fact that, of all the services, the Marines' leadership seems to be the most resistant towards Web 2.0 sites.

This brings me to my point. Jobs are scarce this holiday season, and many children might not have the Christmas they deserve. Fortunately, the Marines' Toys for Tots campaign has collected and distributed thousands of toys to needy children each Christmas season for over sixty years. It's probably one of the most well-known Christmas charities.

However, search for "Toys for Tots" on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube and you'll find very little. There are a handful of commercials on Youtube (not sponsored by the Marines), two channels on Twitter sponsored by local Marine Corps reserve units, and a group of 210 sorority girls on Facebook who got together to help the campaign. (Hey ladies)

Look, I can't guarantee that using Twitter or Facebook to advertise will help bring in more toys this season. Let's face it, unemployment is rampant this holiday season, so the odds are against a booming campaign. However, these technologies can at least remind people to donate this season, and help them locate a suitable location to drop off toys. I know that the Marines are concerned about security issues with Web 2.0 sites, but come on, they want people to know about the Toys for Tots campaign.

I think the Marines might be amazed at the response can get from these sites.

16 November 2009

Your Cultural Awareness for the Day

A number of pundits are weighing in on President Obama's bow to Emperor Akihito of Japan, to include one writer in the Los Angeles Times who asks "How Low Will He Go"? The crux of the arguments coming from the right echo the sentiment that the President of the United States should bow to no one.

This simply isn't true.

During the Vietnam War, some American prisoners of war refused to bow to their North Vietnamese captors. In Asian cultures, bowing was not seen as a sign of submission, but rather one of respect. (Keep in mind that service members in captivity are required to
render basic military courtesy and respect towards their captors). American serviceman suffered terrible beatings at the hands of the NVA for refusing to bow. In response, Admiral Jim Stockdale, the senior ranking officer in the Vietnamese POW camp, insisted that American POWs simply not bow in public, so as not to provide propaganda for Western audiences, who would interpret the bow as a sign of submission.

UPDATE: I have received exclusive video of what people think that President Obama's capitulation in front of Emperor Akihito must have looked like.


($10 says that Jon Stewart shows the exact same clip tonight)

In case you missed it

I've been so focused on the tragedy at Fort Hood that I haven't been able to post much about another recent event--the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was 9 years old at the time, and I didn't understand what it truly meant.

Fortunately, Sarah Sophia, who blogs from her home in Denmark, summed up many Europeans' thoughts about the fall of the Berlin Wall in a post she wrote last week.

When I was in college, I occasionally ran into students with Che Guevara t-shirts who claimed that life in Communist countries was actually quite good. Sorry, but Sarah Sophia describes the situation in East Germany quite well, and reminds us that the Soviets put the wall up in order to keep those in the East from fleeing in droves to the West.

Anyway, for a lighter look at the fall of the Berlin Wall, here's Jon Stewart.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Legends of the Wall
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

I suspect this was an awkward meeting....

Much has been written about the CIA's use of Predator strikes in the FATA region of Pakistan. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the program is actually highly classified, and is largely disavowed by many government officials, despite the fact that it seems to appear in the news every other day.

Anyway, a few Pakistani students repeatedly asked Secretary of State Clinton about these strikes during a recent Q&A session (from the NY Times, in an article regarding Pakistan's reluctant support in the AF/PAK region):

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.)
If I were Secretary Clinton, I'd say, "Well, while we're on the topic of open secrets, let's discuss the Pakistani ISI and Frontier Corps providing fire support for the Taliban". (Tom Ricks article, In the Graveyard of Empires excerpt, India Defence, you get the picture)

15 November 2009

Winning hearts and minds...even canine ones

Thanks to the Swiss UN worker/pilot extrordinaire Claudia-Tatjana (who runs the blog Global Philanthropy), I came across this story regarding US Marine Corps Major Brian Dennis and his dog, Nubs. Major Dennis, a fighter pilot by training, came across Nubs, an abused dog, when he was serving in Anbar province in western Iraq. Major Dennis interacted with Nubs throughout the course of numerous patrols through the local town--which, incidentally, highlights the value of the routine foot patrols through the villages...you get very familiar with all the locals. A turning point in the relationship occurred when Major Dennis gave first aid to Nubs, who had been injured by one of the local Iraqis. One day, as Major Dennis was driving away in his HMMWV column, Nubs tracked the convoy some seventy miles to their combat outpost.

With the help of a charity organization, Nubs was transported through the country of Jordan back to the United States, where he was reunited with Major Dennis upon his return to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego.

Major Dennis, in conjunction with two other writers, composed a children's' book about Nubs' journey, entitled "Nubs: A Marine, a Mutt and a Miracle", which I'd highly recommend checking out this holiday season.

Lateral entry

Kings of War hosted a good point/counterpoint session between two people regarding the merits and drawbacks of "lateral entry" into the military--that is to say, joining the military from the outside world, and starting off at the rank of, say, captain or major.

It's not entirely without precedent, particularly in wartime. Note the extremely rapid advancement (by today's standards) of many officers in the US military upon the outbreak of World War Two. Additionally, Dr. David Betz of King's College in London uses T.E. Lawrence, who first joined the British Army in 1915 and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel by war's end, as an example of a successful lateral entry into the British military.

Indeed, Lawrence seems to have greatly benefited from not having experience in the British Army; he was free of the terrible preconcieved notions of warfare which plagued many British officers. Lawrence based his guerrilla campaign against the Turks on his in-depth reading of military history, rejecting the conventional military wisdom of the day.

However, we must acknowledge that Lawrence was truly an exceptional case. Lawrence's upbringing, education, and archaeological work prepared him for guerrilla war in Arabia. Although Lawrence lacked many "military" qualities, most notably the spit-and-polish look of a British officer (even when he wasn't dressed in Arab garb), he made up for his shabby appearance in other areas. Lawrence spent a great deal of time before the war excavating ruins in modern-day Jordan and Syria, becoming familiar with much of the territory in which he would later fight. During his travels, Lawrence became a decent shot with his pistol, learned to speak Arabic fluently, and developed such incredible stamina that he could cross the Nefud desert on camel alongside experienced Bedouin tribesmen. Such skills were hardly commonplace in British officer training programs. Indeed, many descriptions of cadet life at Sandhurst place much more emphasis on playing sports than learning languages.

Moreover, Lawrence' skills--language, physical conditioning, exceptional knowledge of military history--would be even more rare among civilians today. In fact, a recent study indicated that over 70% of Americans would be unfit to even enlist as a private in the first place, due to factors such as obesity, medical waivers, mental health, educational requirements, family readiness, or criminal records.

Even if one does find exceptional leaders who pass the basic requirements for entering the military, there's also a few more hurdles to overcome. These leaders must first be trained in their warrior tasks. For example, picking up a Bell 206 pilot off the street doesn't mean he can be thrown into an OH-58D as a fully-rated combat pilot. The basic warrior skills and tactical leadership take years to hone.

Last but not least, commanders at all levels need experience in mastering the ins-and-outs of military bureaucracy in order to be successful. They need to know the things that you won't read in a military history book: how to coordinate with the civilians at Range Control for training resources and ammunition, how to apply for on-post housing, military legal matters, developmental timelines, property book issues, office politics, additional duties, and last but not least, how to write in the Army writing style.

Indeed, the sheer magnitude of bureaucracy generated by a modern military organization would serve as a near-insurmountable goal for a commander, should he or she have a year or less experience. Lawrence could afford to not have as much bureaucratic experience--his Bedouin army had no payrolls, minimal property, no formations or duty rosters, and most importantly, few individuals capable of reading and filling out paperwork in the first place.

While some can transfer into the military from the outside world, let's face it, it's a rare individual that can do so in a rare situation.

It begins...

The Facebook group "PT Belt" has created a photo contest in order to produce a sexy reflector belt pinup calendar. I can't tell if this is real or fake, but let's just send them pictures anyway...

(If you're a sexy reflector belt girl, just CC me the pics also)

14 November 2009

ATTN: European Readers

Since the tragic air strike in Kunduz Province of Afghanistan which killed roughly 140 civilians, there have been a number of articles questioning the German Army's fitness for operations in Afghanistan, to the point where it's become somewhat of a running gag at this blog (Airstrikes and alcohol, German Eurofighter Typhoon gets groceries). The latest round of Bundeswehr-bashing comes from the Wall Street Journal, which includes a quote from the governor of Kunduz, who asked for more American troops, not Germans, noting that the Americans "love to fight".

Now, on one hand, I should be counting my blessings, as the new-found German pacifism in the wake of the Second World War is greatly preferable to, well, watching the Germans invade France and Poland on a regular basis. Still, the performance of the German Army in Afghanistan has left much to be desired--which is surprising, as I've interacted with the German Army on a few occasions (not the least of which was during an airborne operation with paratroopers from the 26th Luftlandebrigade serving as jumpmasters), and they didn't seem to be as bad as their record in Afghanistan makes them out to be.

Anyway, I have a lot of foreign readers, and was wondering if there's anyone in the Bundeswehr with experience in Afghanistan that might be able to fill us in on the difficulties, or maybe even set the record straight in some areas. I suspect much might result from extreme risk aversion within the political leadership.

Unlikely sources

Adam Elkus pointed me towards some great reading on Effects Based Operations and Systemic Operational Design. (I swear that I do go out on Saturday nights) Most notably, he pointed me towards a critique of SOD written by Milan N. Vego. I will fully incorporate Mr. Vego's thoughts into a coherent essay, but it's funny how many times he brings up the fact that SOD--the military's new planning process for complex environments like Afghanistan--is based on French postmodern theory.

It's almost as if he brings this up in the same way COINtras point to FM 3-24 and note that it's based on French Captain David Galula's experiences in Algeria--as if coming from a French source discredits its military value completely (the Franco-phobia was soooo 2003...get over it).

I should also point out the fact that David Galula isn't the only one who gets heavy mention in FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency Theory and Practice. T.E. Lawrence also gets plenty of ink in the new manual. Which is certainly to be expected--Lawrence was one of the greatest writers and thinkers on the topic of insurgency in the 20th Century, (in fact, Seven Pillars of Wisdom is my favorite book of all time).

But what makes his inclusion in FM 3-24 chuckle-worthy is that that an American military manual heaps great praise upon a British officer who, according to a number of biographies, might not have been completely straight.