"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."
Sir William Francis Butler
27 February 2009
If you've been hiding under a rock for the past fifteen years
Kilcullen re-defines conflict
26 February 2009
Think you hate ringtones?
Bus passengers in Kirkuk fire angry glances at Ahmed Ali as he takes a call on his mobile phone.
The young man soon realises why: the Kurdish song that serves as his ringtone singles him out as an ethnic Kurd on a bus used by many Arabs and Turkomans.
“Immediately after that, I changed my ringtone to the default one provided by the phone’s manufacturers,” said Ahmed Ali, who did not give his real name for security reasons.
In Iraq’s most diverse and disputed province, mobile phone ringtones play a big part in the politics of identity. Kirkuk contains most of Iraq’s many religious and ethnic groups, and has been described as everything from a colourful bouquet of flowers to a powderkeg.
Okay, let's start a new COIN rule...
But I saw an article about a talk given by David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency strategist, which had this slide, and I nearly lost it:
But then I read the description of the slide from Sic Semper Tyrannis, which noted that this was not the be-all, end-all counterinsurgency/stability/governance plan. Whew. Rather, it simply demonstrates that Kilcullen "attempts in this mess to show how complicated this form of warfare may be".
That's putting it mildly.
25 February 2009
Afghanistan: Ramp up the tactics, Scale back the strategy
Kilcullen says the current U.S. approach is "enemy-centric."
"We are chasing the bad guys around Afghanistan, and that leaves the population feeling unprotected and insecure," he says.
Kilcullen says the militants are elusive, and don't have to hold and defend territory. He says that instead of hunting the extremists, the U.S. would do better to focus its efforts on providing the local population with better security as a way to gain their cooperation and trust.
"It's slightly counterintuitive, but if you want to make the population feel safe, striking the enemy doesn't actually help you that much," he says.
Kilcullen uses the example of the U.S. dropping a huge bomb in the middle of night a mile from someone's house.
After they've been awoken by the explosion, it's not particularly comforting to be told that the bomb was intended for a "bad guy," Kilcullen says. "[It] doesn't make them feel safe."
Kilcullen says the U.S. needs to isolate the militants from the rest of the population — in large part by creating links with the local people by learning their ways, their relations with other tribes and trying to provide justice. He says that often it is the Taliban that has filled that vacuum. The best way to build those links, Kilcullen says, is to deploy in the communities.
Locals will begin to feel safe, he says, if there is a unit that lives in their village that they see every day, that they know will protect them and ensure that assistance programs work.
But wait, there's more:
"If we don't provide security and turn things around this year, then we've lost. If we do succeed in turning it around, all we will have done is like in Iraq — we'll have hit the political reset button, and we're in a position to start pursuing a political agenda," he says.
In short, Kilcullen is promoting a plan similar to, but not exactly like, the Surge of 2007: pushing large numbers of troops off of massive bases and into the communities. This plan takes time, and it is effective in fighting insurgents and general stability operations, to be certain, but it does little to confront the some of the massive problems which face Afghanistan, most namely, government corruption, opium trading, and the challenges of trying to establish a stable government in one of the poorest nations on the Earth.
Ralph Peters, most notable for well-thought out plans such as whipping out a crayon and re-drawing the borders of the Middle East, actually makes sense for once in this article from USA Today: he recognizes the futility of attempting to transform Afghanistan into a modern, secular liberal democracy. However, he gets the tactics wrong. He advocates a de-escalation of troop levels, consolidating American troops into fewer and fewer mega-bases, from which they launch an increasing number of airstrikes against the enemy. The same airstrikes that have been emboldening the Taliban insurgency in the first place and have caused Secretary Gates to claim that, if they don't cease, the war is lost. His rationale is that, since nation-building isn't the goal, destruction of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban should, then, be. However, consolidating on mega-bases and rarely venturing outside won't provide the vital human intelligence necessary in order to succeed in the highly xenophobic tribal communities of the Afghan/Pakistan border region.
A troop surge strategy, as advocated by David Kilcullen, is the best course of action for pursuing the Taliban and Al-Qaida, but it must have a realistic stopping point. While population security should be an essential part of our counterinsurgency strategy, nation building must be realistically limited. No one should expect Afghanistan to become a miniature America. It is one of the poorest, most rural countries in the world, and will probably remain that way for centuries to come. With ethnic tribalism rampant, democracy might not be the most viable alternative either. Additionally, with an unassailable base of operations in Pakistan, it is likely that neither of these organizations will ever be effectively destroyed. And if they were to be destroyed, they represent just two of dozens of violent terror networks in the region.
There are no easy answers to this situation, and no clear end state for Afghanistan. A troop surge strategy, of limited duration, should be conducted with the following goals:
A first priority would be to use a population-centric surge strategy in order to facilitate a stable government with a strong police force and military, in order to prevent the failed state haven that permits further instability (look at piracy in Somalia). Note that I didn't say democratic government--any strong governing institution will do. (John Nagl notes that liberal democracy isn't likely in Afghanistan any time soon. The rampant illiteracy and poverty is likely to prevent a democracy from taking hold.) Nevertheless, a stable and secure Afghanistan is somewhat useless if the border region of Pakistan remains a lawless haven for terrorists.
A lower, but nevertheless important priority--if only for the symbolic factor--would be the killing or capturing of the original high-value targets of this campaign: namely, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Mohammed Omar. The only way to gain the human intelligence necessary to accomplish this would be to gain the trust of the local population of the border region through a troop surge, as the intelligence is not likely to come from satellites or target drones. Unfortunately, given the culture of Afghanistan, it could be difficult to gain this information from the population, and downright impossible if these targets were across the border in Pakistan.
Anyone still want some soup? I have plenty of knives...
Since you know I'm going to post about it...
24 February 2009
In the news, more links
23 February 2009
Link of the Day
The Joker was operating inside Batman’s and Harvey Dent’s (and pretty much everybody else’s) OODA loops. He was changing the situation and exploiting it before his opponents could comprehend. Textbook case.
As Boyd observed in Patterns of Conflict, chart 132, if you can operate inside your opponents’ OODA loops, you can do all sorts of neat things, including:
Generate uncertainty, confusion, disorder, panic, chaos … to shatter cohesion, produce paralysis and bring about collapse.
Should seem familiar to Batman, Dent, etc.
Now I can make fun of Quantum of Solace
19 February 2009
Articles of the Day
Red Team Journal does Economics, I do Megan Fox
The military-related blogs, such as Small Wars Journal, MountainRunner and the like have been relatively quiet on the current economic crisis, even though this has almost as much of an impact on foreign and defense policy than whether or not the military's planned "M-5 Tactical Segway" will ever see the light of day.
17 February 2009
Okay, I'm lazy today
16 February 2009
Okay guys, it's time to discuss PowerPoint
But it's Starscream!
12 February 2009
I am in awe at Abu Muqawama's skills
10 February 2009
And here it is now, your moment of Machiavelli
09 February 2009
Small wars aren't sexy, but they have me to make up for that
08 February 2009
And Valentine's Day is coming up!
In other news
06 February 2009
Topic of discussion
So it was a bit of a slow day today, so I wound up in a conversation during which I tried to determine who the most useless 1980s cartoon character ever was.
05 February 2009
I have a great idea: it's called "Command and Conquer"
04 February 2009
03 February 2009
Inspiration in unlikely places
02 February 2009
Sometimes, it pays to be cheap
John Boyd and his "acolytes", fellow officers and contractors within the military, tried to circumvent the Pentagon's corrupt and bloated procurement practices. Throughout the 60s and 70s, the Air Force had a fascination with bigger, faster, more complex, and ultimately, more costly jet fighters. These fighters, despite their advanced technology, were ultimately cannon fodder for the more nimble (albeit older and cheaper) MiGs of the North Vietnamese Air Force.
Unfortunately, there was little incentive to change. Many generals in the Air Force were under severe pressure to increase the Air Force's budget, even to the point of buying weapons systems that the Air Force didn't need. Other Air Force generals felt pressure to make aircraft that were increasingly pricey or complex (such as the F-14 and F-111, for example), because these same companies were offering them jobs after their retirement from the military.
John Boyd and his acolytes developed the ultra-nimble and inexpensive F-16 as a result, and it grew into one of the greatest fighters in the world today. Boyd's acolytes also had a little program to develop an air to ground aircraft to destroy tanks. The Air Force felt that an expensive jet fighter would do the trick, while Boyd's acolytes designed a beast of an aircraft to destroy tanks up close: the A-10. Reviled by the Air Force, but beloved by troops everywhere, the A-10 has, in several clashes, taken a punishment from ground fire and still returned safely. It even has two confirmed air to air kills.
With that said, let's look at modern day options for close air support. On one end of the spectrum, we have the possibility that the Marines might resurrect the OV-10 Bronco. An old, propellor-driven aircraft, it has the ability to loiter at low speeds and altitudes for an extended period of time, and drop machine gun fire or bombs on its target. And they're cheap, proven, and relatively simple aircraft--perfect for counter-insurgency.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the ultra-expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. While sexy and stealthy, it'll be in development for at least another 10 years, and it has already run into extreme cost overruns. Maybe it's time to just axe the program and look for an unmanned vehicle? I don't know, you decide...
01 February 2009