30 March 2010
Out of necessity, I've taken a break from drawing parallels between the Iraq War and the Revolutionary War and moved on to something a little different. I'm doing some volunteer work, of sorts, creating a brief information packet regarding the role of airpower in counterinsurgency. Hey, it's what any self-respecting COINdinista would do, right?
28 March 2010
Go unclassified early - The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fought on classified information systems. While an operational necessity for these conflicts, most disaster relief partners, to include a majority of the US Embassy staff, can neither see nor access classified material. During the initial days of the relief operation, the ability to pass timely and accurate information...was arguably as important as the availability of food and water. In the initial weeks of Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE, Blackberry text messages became the primary means of communication, chiefly because they were the simplest and most reliable means of corresponding with the host of US Government agencies, United Nations offices, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) coordinating the relief efforts. Going “unclassified” required several unique hardware solutions; among which was purchasing unclassified hard drives for most of the BCT’s computer systems. While a costly investment, the decision allowed the BCT to share information with all government agencies and humanitarian organizations working in Port-au-Prince.Later, Major Webster also notes:
The [Humanitarian Assistance Common Operational Picture] was a Microsoft Excel-based spreadsheet containing over 1500 data points on everything from internally displaced persons (IDP) camps to medical facilities to ration distribution sites. Utilizing this simple, near-universal format allowed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to display the information on a Google Earth based website where anyone with internet access could access the information.
A few years back, 2006, when the sons of Iraq were coming into prominence, and being utilized by coalition forces in the various Iraqi awakenings, there were several comparisons of that group with Revolutionary America's Sons of Liberty. There are interesting parallels.
But, predictably, the comparisons began getting rather sloppy, and Michael Moore, among others, began arguing that the Sons of Liberty are indeed more similar than dissimilar to the insurgents in Iraq, or indeed Al Qaeda, than they are to the Sons of Iraq.
How apt is the comparison? Consulting my always reliable wiki-sources I find that, yes indeed the Sons of Liberty did destroy property (tea, ships, houses and contents of said houses), did incite mob action, did scare the bejeebers out of loyalists by acts which included tar-and-feathering, and ransacking of homes of folks involved in collection of the various onerous taxes that had the colonists in uproar. They hung such folks..in effigy.. often in front of their houses. They were a secret organizations, considered vigilante not only by loyalists and the British, but by a fair number of the more 'respectable' revolutionaries. Their existence was also exploited by more straightforward criminals, thugs and gangs, used as cover for violence, theft or destruction. So, it was often hard to tell which acts were those of the SOL and which were not.
But, they did not do anything equivalent to systematic planting of roadside bombs, killing of British soldiers, nor did they murder or behead captured British, loyalists or sympathizers. Nor did they use women, children or the mentally retarded as weapons delivery devices.
...and Purpleslog ("Where Awesomeness and Modesty Meets Sexy"), in an article dated 3 April 2006:
How could a sort of British Pro-Consul defuse the situation (which is being politically led by Sam Adams and John Hancock)? Here are some of my ideas...
- Roll back some of the repressive acts that have the colonist agitating
- Minimal Parliamentary participation for each colony ("No Taxation without repre…oh…right then…never mind")
- Utilize a strong Crown appointed Governor and a weak (but non-token state legislatures
- Create a North American High Court of Appeals to handle judicial appeals (with judges from both Britain and the Colonies)
- Create a King's Commission for Grievances and Petition for North America (have both Colonist and Britons serving on it…co-opt Sam Adams time on this)
- Remove one Regiment Garrisoned in Boston to outside of Boston. Reposition the other regiments to a coastal fortress. Create a joint colonial/British constabulary to provide policing functions.
27 March 2010
[The War] was short but intense, leaving the world shocked and enthralled by its drama. A large number of foreign military observers and journalists witnessed its conduct. Their findings were widely publicized in popular books and official studies. Pundits immediately acknowledged that the war offered important insights into the nature of future conflict at a time of seemingly revolutionary technological change and social upheaval, as well as a novel strategic geography...
...It is hard to identify any lesson of the war that was not appreciated or documented at the time. Inevitably, many of these lessons were contradictory, peculiar to the theatre, and more or less appropriate to different military cultures. Moreover, observers viewed those lessons through the distorting lenses of political intrigue, social attitude, military orthodoxy, and wishful thinking. The result was what historians at the beginning of the twenty-first century see now as having been clear auguries of the future of warfare generally went unheeded. The military organizations of the time often proved lethally wide of the mark. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the war was how human folly can arrive at lessons that in the end prove to be self-destructive and delusional to a gargantuan degree.
Nevertheless, Major Irvin Oliver, an instructor at West Point, gets much of it right in a recent article at Small Wars Journal. Let's observe.
As the United States fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and continues its counterterrorism efforts, the US Army is in the midst of transformation. This transformation is affecting nearly all aspects of the institution, to include organization, doctrine, and training.Good introduction, although it kind of begs the question: isn't the Army always transforming? I think we need to move beyond the term "transform"--which implies that an institution morphs from one defined form into another. I'd quote Webster's, but I'm certain this is what we all think about when we hear the word "transform":
25 March 2010
24 March 2010
However, with a little money, legitimacy, and cooperation from tribal leaders, ISAF is betting that these young men can protect their villages from Taliban intrusion. Armed with AK-47s, the men of the Local Defense Initiative are virtually indistinguishable from the Taliban, save for one unmistakable feature…
When I first shared this story via Google Buzz, Tim Haggerty believed this was a joke. No one would have combatants run around with reflector belts, would they?
Apparently, we would.
This reminded me of a curious incident I encountered while flying over Iraq. Whenever we passed through a unit’s area of responsibility, we would contact them over the radio, paying special attention to any enemy activity or aerial danger zones, such as artillery fire or unmanned aerial vehicles. One day, while flying over the desert somewhere near Baqubah, we overheard a curious conversation between two American infantry units. The chatter broke up the boredom of an otherwise uneventful flight.
One American voice came over the radio, reporting to what we assumed was his operations center. (Ed. Note: Radio chatter is drawn from memory as best I can recall. I’ve taken the liberty of “translating” the chatter to plain English for the purposes of story-telling)
“Roger", radioed one unit to his headquarters, "we just had a firefight between two CLCs, [Concerned Local Citizens] with one KIA."
“What happened?”, the Op-center asked.
“Apparently, one of the CLCs was carrying an AK-47 and approached an SoI checkpoint. There was some arguing, and one of the CLCs shot the other CLC.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Well, the SoI claimed that the other CLC wasn’t wearing his reflector belt"
Aghast, I muttered to myself, “Damn, they’re not kidding.”
I looked back at the rest of the crew, “You guys better wear your fucking reflector belts.”
Clearly, I'm not the only person who's run into a situation like this:
Look out, IDF girls, you've got competition. Meet Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge, an Adjutant-General in the Royal Anglican Regiment. Joining the British Army on a dare, she reported for basic training in high heels, fake eyelashes and a pink suitcase. Although jokingly called "Combat Barbie", she quickly distinguished herself in Basra, Iraq in 2005 after her vehicle was involved in an accident. Hodge and her crew came to after rolling her vehicle three times, only to find that an Iraqi male had snatched two rifles from her truck. She quickly wrestled the Iraqi to the ground, saving the lives of her comrades, and earning her a medal for valor and a promotion to lance corporal.
[T]he lads at work always see me at my best: hair gelled back, covered in mud, falling over during a training exercise. Not very attractive.” Besides, “there’s so many lovely pretty girls in the army, I kind of go unnoticed. All of my friends are girlie. Most people have a stereotype about girls in the army, but I don’t want to comment on that because I don’t want to sound bad.
Kings of War, seriously, you are holding out on us.
Anyway, let's add Lance Corporal Hodge to the growing number of women who who have shown skill and courage in combat.
23 March 2010
The theory — which has evolved since pioneering female peacekeepers started participating in U.N. missions in the Balkans in the 1990s — is that women employ distinctive social skills in a rugged macho domain. They are being counted on to bring calm to the streets and the barracks, acting as public servants instead of invaders.
“When female soldiers are present, the situation is closer to real life, and as a result the men tend to behave,” said Gerard J. DeGroot, a history professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has written books about women in the military. “Any conflict where you have an all-male army, it’s like a holiday from reality. If you inject women into that situation, they do have a civilizing effect.”...
...The softer approach is critical in Liberia. In 2004, a U.N. report criticized peacekeepers in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti for the sexual abuse of young women by trading food and money for sex. In 2005, 47 peacekeepers were accused of sexual abuse in Liberia, compared with 18 peacekeepers who were accused last year, according to the U.N. mission.
Top U.N. officials credit the arrival of women for helping improve behavior. Yet within Liberia, national peacekeeping units from different countries are still debating the best approach, tinkering with ways to best deploy female peacekeepers — or “blue helmettes” in U.N. lingo.
Another article, which appeared in a SWJ roundup of masters' theses, was written by Major Herb Daniels of the Naval Postgraduate School. Entitled, "No Child Left Behind: COIN Strategies to Deny Recruitment of Adolescent Males in the Southern Philippines", it touches upon important aspects of the male psyche. Towards the end of the article, Maj. Daniels describes the various methods by which a "man can be a man". In prosperous democratic societies, males can compete with one another for alpha male status in any one of a number of endeavors--the arts, politics, sports, education, even in World of Warcraft and the emerging field of douchebaggery. Just give guys a system where we can compete for money, power and status and, inevitably, we will compete.
Unfortunately, in poor rural societies, there are fewer methods for men to prove themselves and gain social accolades, leading to the rise of criminal gangs and insurgent groups. Indeed, many of the "accidental guerrillas" who have found themselves among the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq were simply young, unemployed and disenfranchised young men looking for an outlet. But don't just take my word for it:
The fact that adolescent males seek to achieve some degree of status is common in all societies.55 Tausug society is no different. Not only is status important to teenagers, but it is equally valuable as a teen matures into manhood. Leadership in traditional Tausug society is based on acquired status; the greater your status the greater your influence and betterment for your family. The warrior tradition of the Tausugs puts heavy emphasis on status achieved through bravery in battle.If an adolescent male has no opportunity in legitimate society to achieve status, then the ASG offers an avenue for attaining status in keeping with traditional Tausug values. Some males may choose to join or help the ASG to impress family, friends and/or especially females.57 Others may be impacted by the depressed economic conditions, and therefore seek fame and fortune from the only means available outside legitimate society. The most dangerous potential recruits, however, may be those disaffected youth who truly want to achieve status through legitimate means, but have no opportunity for advanced education or employment. In such cases, individuals will be drawn to the ASG’s initial raison d’etre or they may come to believe they can advance their cause as well as the Tausug people’s cause through participation in ASG activities. The disaffected adolescent males in today’s Tausug society can become the future ideologues who bring the ASG back from profit-driven activities to those focused on an Islamist agenda.
Recently, the US Army was in quite a conundrum. It's National Guard inventory consisted of aging UH-1 Huey and OH-58A/C Kiowa aircraft, with UH-60 Blackhawks--badly needed in Iraq and Afghanistan--often filling their roles. Clearly, a new Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) was needed.
22 March 2010
Despite the usefulness associated with virtual training, everyone in the military knows that there is no replacement for real training. Commanders frequently say that units have to “train as you fight.” Additionally, virtual reality cannot mimic the Murphy’s Law associated with even simple tasks such as starting and maintaining a vehicle, or ensuring that one has good communications with higher headquarters. Nonetheless, scenarios conducted in virtual reality have their allure because they can be good for the military’s budget. No real jet fuel, ammunition or equipment is consumed. Moreover, there are some lessons that can be imparted in virtual reality that pay dividends in reality. For example, pilots in training are often required to spend hours in virtual scenarios in order to become accustomed to flight controls. For this reason, most of the cutting-edge virtual reality technology is in training pilots.
Video games are being used by the military not just to recruit and train soldiers for conventional skills, but also to help soldiers to learn cultural sensitivity and to help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Virtual reality is used not just at the tactical level but also at the strategic level. In 2002 the military ran an exercise, Millennium Challenge, which involved both virtual reality and live exercises. This blend of reality and video game sought to simulate the United States fighting a Middle East adversary, presumably Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As chronicled in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink,” the exercise was halted and the rules of the game altered in order to favor the United States military. Most likely, the $250 million exercise was used as a study for an actual war.
And, of course, the obligatory:
21 March 2010
- Think corrupt contractors are solely a modern-day phenomenon? Think again. During the Revolutionary War, quartermasters and contractors were estimated to have embezzled more than 400,000 British pounds over a five-year period.
- The British Army, as well as Hessian private military contractors, campaigned in luxurious conditions compared to those of the Colonists. This was largely out of necessity; American militiamen and Continental regulars could forgo luxury, as they fought on a relatively short-term basis. The British Army, on the other hand, could not operate in foreign territory for years at a time without their creature comforts. American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan find themselves in a similar situation, with many forward operating bases offering fast food, salsa dancing and pedicures.
- Asymmetry applied to the American Revolution just as easily as it applies to modern-day hybrid war and insurgency. British troops, trained to fight in mass formation upon the plains of Continental Europe--not unlike the US Army, trained to fight in the Fulda Gap--had considerable difficulty facing amorphous formations of Continental soldiers, concealed in forests. The British Army had to re-learn light infantry tactics in order to counter well-camouflaged sharpshooters and ambushes.
- The British Army lacked a general with the strategic vision of, say, a General Petraeus. The Howe brothers--Lord William Howe in particular--were described as having "no profound knowledge of the American political scene...their known professional abilities were those of tacticians". Of William Howe, author Piers Mackesy writes, "He was to command the greatest army ever sent across the ocean, in a situation of deep political and military confusion...the highest levels of command press harder on the intellect".
- Did the British get COIN? Maybe. One British general noted, "I never had an idea of subduing the Americans. I meant to assist the good Americans to subdue the bad". Really? Maybe they planned on setting up a "Sons of America". Another staff officer wrote, "The inhabitants received us with the greatest joy, seeing well the difference between anarchy and a mild regular government".
- Despite an early string of successes against General Washington and the Continental Army, the British remained a little too optimistic in the waning days of 1776, regrettably boasting that "everything seems to be over with [the American Colonists], and I flatter myself now that this campaign will put a total end to the war". Mission accomplished?
- Is al-Qaeda on the run? Maybe. Pakistani forces narrowly missed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two operative (and some say the real brains behind al-Qaeda) earlier this month. The Washington Post also reported that al-Qaeda's operations were in "disarray", with others noting that al Qaeda has sacrificed well-planned, spectacular demonstrations for more hastily-assembled plots.
- No more talks with the Taliban? Some reports have suggested that the recent arrests of Mullah Baradar and other Taliban leaders have practically nixed all chance of negotiating with less extreme Taliban elements. However, some commentators at Small Wars Journal speculate that Baradar's capture might have been a Taliban set-up all along.
- Congratulations to Michael C of On Violence, who guest-blogged at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense this past Friday. Contributing the weekly "Dog of War" story, Michael lets us in on the dirty little secret that many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have unofficially adopted dogs, cats and foxes, in defiance of General Order #1, as they tend to keep the less savory cobras, mice and scorpions in check. In a few cases, Iraqi and Afghan dogs have been brought back to the US as life-long companions for American service members, as was the case of "Nubs", who stars in his very own book "Nubs: The Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle".
- Bravo Zulu to Tom Ricks (you know, Fiasco and The Gamble), whose "The Best Defense" was named the best blog of the year by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
- The USNS Comfort, one of the US Navy's two floating hospital ships, returned to her home port of Baltimore this past weekend. The Comfort performed 843 surgeries during her Haiti deployment, over half occurring within the first ten days of her arrival in Port-au-Prince. Check out the US Naval Institute for some incredible pictures of the Comfort's exploits in Haiti, including some interesting artwork on the tail of this SH-60 helicopter.
- Thanks to Nathan Hodge of Wired.com for linking to this site in an article published this Friday in Wired.com's Danger Room. My web counter has been going crazy, and I've even seen people dropping by from "Chirp", a secure social networking tool used by the US Government's Intelink. (It even appears on Intelink's Twitter feed). Another great site that's been linking here recently is "1 Raindrop", a site which covers network security.
- Quote of the week: "Ali Farokhmanesh is the best Iranian since Mithridates"--Tucker Max's Twitter feed.
- Quote of the week honorable mention: "Everything I learned about the thumb drive ban came from Wired's Danger Room"--Reach 364. Dude, you think that's bad? I personally wouldn't have had a clue that USB drives were unbanned until I read it on the Danger Room.
20 March 2010
[1.] Operations in which large numbers of men may lose their lives ought not to be described by code words which imply a boastful or overconfident sentiment,. . . or, conversely, which are calculated to invest the plan with an air of despondency. . . . They ought not to be names of a frivolous character. . . . They should not be ordinary words often used in other connections. . . . Names of living people--Ministers and Commanders--should be avoided. . . .Nevertheless, training exercises often allow military officers to add their own brand of personal humor to the otherwise tedious process of planning massive operations. Units often publish naming conventions--guidelines which govern the naming of objectives, landing zones, engagement areas, and air corridors. A unit might dictate that landing zones, for example, might all be named for birds of prey, for football teams, or for US presidents.
2. After all, the world is wide, and intelligent thought will readily supply an unlimited number of well-sounding names which do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way and do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called "Bunnyhug" or "Ballyhoo."
3. Proper names are good in this field. The heroes of antiquity, figures from Greek and Roman mythology, the constellations and stars, famous racehorses, names of British and American war heroes, could be used, provided they fall within the rules above.