30 March 2010

Ooo-rah! Marines OK Web 2.0

Wired.com's Nathan Hodge reports that the US Marine Corps has now opened its networks up to Web 2.0 sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

About damned time.

Seriously, I couldn't even find a Toys for Tots page on Twitter or Facebook. Are the Marines afraid that al Qaeda is going to find out that the Marine Corps Reserve is collecting toys at Best Buy this holiday season?

It's hard for me to fathom the Marines not adopting at least some Web 2.0 technologies by now. Then again, I am coming from the 10th Mountain Division, arguably one of the most Web 2.0-savvy organizations in the US military.

Milblog Conference 2010

The 2010 Milblog Conference is less than two weeks away. Who else will be going? I know for certain I'll be in town.

If anyone from the DC area cares to meet up, just contact me. Should be easy enough to do in this Web 2.0 world.

Airpower in Counterinsurgency

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?

Fortunately, I've been getting some great help from my fellow COINdinistas, such as Mark Safranski and the Small Wars Journal crew. Special thanks to the gang from CNAS, including Commander Herb "Herbal" Carmen--an E-2C Hawkeye pilot, piracy expert, and producer of some of the finest Youtube videos ever.

Another "thank you" goes out to Adam Elkus, my frequent partner in crime, who recommended that I pick up the book "Airpower in Small Wars" by James Corum. After reading it for a day, I've been intrigued by the RAF's experiment in fighting counterinsurgency from the air in Iraq...in the 1920s. Although predating the invention of Sikorsky's helicopter, the jet engine, thermal sights and guided missiles, it still remains an interesting case study for modern air powers attempting to fight insurgencies.

After the end of the First World War, Britain and France suddenly found themselves in possession of much of the former Ottoman Empire, thanks to the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Britain governed Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), an amalgam country consisting of three former Ottoman states lumped together--the Mosul Province, the Baghdad Province, and the Basra Province. Given the circumstances, it's not surprising that the Kurdish people of the north began to rebel against the fledgling government in Baghdad, which was ruled by a Hashemite.

Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War and Air, needed to subdue the insurgency in northern Iraq. However, following the First World War, Churchill was compelled to fight the insurgency on the cheap. Then, much like now, the air strike seemed to be a popular alternative to a costly ground campaign--airstrikes were was quick, they could deliver tons of ordnance, and best of all, Britain's enemies had little defense against an aerial attack. Thus, the British reduced the number of troops in Iraq, replacing infantry battalions with RAF squadrons, and giving control of the entire operation to the RAF.

Although the airplane proved to be an effective asset--particularly in the reconnaissance and strike role--the British soon discovered that it was not a replacement for ground troops. Indeed, as British troop levels shrank, the Kurdish insurgency only grew--little surprise to anyone who witnessed the Iraqi Troop Surge. It was only after embarking on a massive land campaign, during which infantry forces fixed Kurdish rebels long enough for airplanes to inflict massive losses, was the rebellion finally quelled.

Among the limitations of airpower was the lack of good human intelligence on insurgent positions. Kurdish rebels managed to construct some ingenious overhead camouflage, concealing them from the prying eyes of RAF fighters. Indeed, even in the era of advanced optical sensors, our most advanced aerial platforms can still be deceived by a cunning enemy. Such was the case in the Kosovo War of 1999, when Serbia's effective use of camouflage allowed many tanks to escape the NATO bombing campaign unscathed. It was also the case in the 2006 Lebanon War, when some well-concealed Hezbollah fighting positions were discovered a mere hundred yards away from IDF observation posts.

I also found it interesting to see how the British would use airplanes to reconnoiter the routes ahead of supply convoys headed from Baghdad to Mosul--just as AH-64 Apaches and OH-58D Kiowa Warriors do nearly 90 years later.

I was contemplating posting the final product on AKO, but that would mean my Air Force and Navy comrades would be unable to use it. I might look at experimenting with the whole Google Wave thing. I don't know. Suggestions greatly appreciated.

28 March 2010

Disaster Relief: Go Unclassified Early

Major Kelly Webster, the executive officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, recently returned from Haiti with some outstanding advice for anyone who might partake in future disaster relief missions. Once again, the military's information technology policies--often erring on the side of security--have proven to be an impediment to mission accomplishment, encouraging troops to bypass the DoD's software and rely on commercial applications. (An issue my friends and I have covered time and time and time again...)

Says Major Webster:
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.
This is one reason why the USB drive ban is so detrimental to mission accomplishment. During disaster relief, the US military might need to share critical data with Non-Governmental Organizations, which often lack the military's robust communications infrastructure. This may very well mean opening up USB ports across the board.

It also means that the military has got to start taking advantage of Google Earth-style networks in order to share a common operating picture with NGOs. However, this might be easier said than done. We have enough difficulties simply sharing a common operating picture between aviation units (which use PFPS and Falcon View) and infantry units (which use Blue Force Tracker BFT and the Command Post of the Future CPOF systems).

Lastly, Major Webster also gives credit to Colonel Gary Anderson, the author of a brief two-page article on disaster relief which appeared in Small Wars Journal immediately following the Haitian earthquake. Major Webster mentions that he not only relied on this SWJ article, but that he also contacted Colonel Anderson directly for some additional pointers. SWJ FTW!

American Insurgency, Part III

A few of you have been chiming in on the parallels (or lack thereof) between the American Revolution and the War in Iraq. Some notable highlights:

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.

Support Our Troops?

Courtesy of Lamebook.

epic fail pictures

(H/T) Commander Herb Carmen.

27 March 2010

Reading the Tea Leaves

As many of you know, I'm writing a paper about the Lebanon-Hezbollah war for an upcoming CENSA essay compilation. One of the greatest issues I've been running in to is the lack of good analysis of the war--typical of history written in the immediate aftermath of any event. My frustration can be summed up in a quote from the book "The Past as Prologue":
[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":

I think "evolution" is a more appropriate term when applied to armies. Transformation happens once, evolution happens all the time. (Well, unless you're the Kansas State Board of Education)

Nevertheless, the introduction to the theme of "hybrid war" is solid, noting that Hezbollah--which fought protracted battles against the IDF--is not too dissimilar from large irregular movements such as the Taliban or the Mahdi Army, both of which have assembled in groups of several hundred. I applaud Major Oliver for not falling into the trap of many hybrid war authors by claiming that the Hezbollah model is radically new.

Major Oliver spends a great deal of time discussing many of the tactical aspects of Hezbollah's campaign. One issue of particular concern is Hezbollah's use of UAVs for reconnaissance and, potentially, strike purposes. (Hezbollah presumably received their UAVs from Iran--who has recently operated UAVs over Iraq.) These vehicles--small, slow, and possessing a small radar and infra-red cross-section--presented a difficult target for the IAF. This should provide a wake-up call to military planners, who have largely operated under the assumption that they would always have air superiority. Not to mention, it should also demonstrate that our greatest air-based threats are not necessarily the PAK-FA or the Su-37.

I could go on and on about Hezbollah and the IDF on a beautiful Saturday, but I won't. I'll simply implore you to go read Major Oliver's article. Like now.

25 March 2010

Good News for Helicopter Crews

Helicopters in Afghanistan will soon be equipped with a system which detects incoming bullets, warning the crew, and giving them the chance to evade.

And if it weren't for Nathan Hodge at Wired's Danger Room, I wouldn't have known this thing even existed...

24 March 2010

Starbuck's Safety Tip of the Day...

Recently, Blackfive reported that concerned local citizens in Afghanistan--the Local Defense Initiative--were forming armed neighborhood watch groups, similar to the Sons of Iraq (SoI) program. Much like the SoI, these are young men, many of whom are unemployed, and some of whom had previously fought for the Taliban. After all, with no source of income, no daily occupation, few opportunities for social advancement, and a culture which glamorizes tribal warfare, it’s obvious why many Afghans turned to insurgency.

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…

…a reflector belt.

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:

Move over, Megan Fox...

In this next "Womens' History Month" special (see here, here and here), I travel across the pond to sunny England for the story of a truly remarkable soldier in the British Army.

(ATTN: Kings of War--why have you not posted about 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.

Hodge received the title of "Miss England" after competing in a beauty pageant in 2009, after being signed by the lingerie company La Senza. Recently, Lance Corporal Hodge has been working with British clothing chains in order to offer discounts to British Soldiers (La Senza already offers 15% off).

When asked about her plans to stay in the army, Lance Corporal Hodge appears enthusiastic, even suggesting that she might do a full 22-year hitch in the service. However, the most salient point of her interview with the London Times is this quote:

[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

Chicks and Dudes--COIN Edition

I came across two articles this morning which discussed the role of gender in counterinsurgency environments. (As a side note, I should add that I read these articles during breakfast on my Amazon Kindle; one came from the New York Times, and the other came from Small Wars Journal's newly-created Kindle feed.)

"The Female Approach to Peacekeeping", from the 5 March issue of the New York Times, discusses the advantages of female peacekeepers, drawing examples from current UN missions.

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.

US Eyes Import Aircraft

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.

After testing a number of models, the Army, surprisingly, picked the proven Eurocopter 145. Renamed the LUH-72A, the "Lakota", as it's officially known, performs homeland defense, search-and-rescue, light medevac, VIP transport, and observer/controller duties. Pilots love the 6-million dollar aircraft, which sports a digital avionics package which rivals those of the latest CH-47F and UH-60M model helicopters. The Lakota will even reportedly fly an entire instrument approach down to a 10-foot hover.

It's part of a larger trend within the US military. Fighter designs such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II are soaring well over $100 million per copy. Yet, the F-22, which entered service in 2007, still hasn't flown a combat mission in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead of these expensive stealth fighters, American troops are asking for inexpensive, low-tech aircraft which can loiter over the battlefield and drop ordnance right on top of insurgents.

That might mean the return of prop-driven ground-pounding aircraft like the A-1 Skyraider, T-6 Texan, OV-10 Bronco, or even the PA-48 Enforcer (a highly modified P-51 Mustang). More likely, though, it might mean Brazil's Embraer A-29 "Super Tucano". Armed with a .50-cal machine gun, 20mm cannons, a rocket pod, and pylons for air-to-ground bombs and air-to-air missiles, the Super Tucano can fly low enough to deliver amazing firepower in support of ground troops, all for $9 million per copy. Just the thing for Iraq or Afghanistan. That's a lot more than can be said for a $180 million stealth fighter.

22 March 2010

For more on "COIN Games"...

Captain Tim Hsia, a frequent contributor to Small Wars Journal, echoed some of my sentiments on military combat simulations in an article in the NY Times blog. Check it out.

(H/T TCC Feed on Twitter)
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.

Now I remember...

You might remember an excellent essay penned by Major Mehar Omar Khan, entitled "Is There an Islamic Way of War?". Major Khan, a Pakistani officer studying at the US Army's Command and General Staff College ("CGSC"), shatters the myth that "Islamic" terrorism and insurgency being a purely Muslim phenomenon. Major Khan notes, correctly, that many of the tactics of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are ripped directly from the playbooks of Mao, Lawrence, Giap, and the IRA.

Major Khan wrote the article in response to a class at the CGSC called "An Islamic Way of War?". At the time, I thought that this topic sounded intriguing. In fact, it seemed as if someone could write an entire book about the myth of Military Orientalism.

Then I looked at my "to-read" pile and noticed that someone did, in fact, write such a book. Patrick Porter--a former King of War who runs the "Offshore Balancer" blog--just released a book called "Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes", which is getting some awesome reviews, including one from Martin Van Creveld.

I should be able to get to this in a little while. I'll have to sequence it in after I finish reading about the American Revolution...

Nanny State and Armed Neutrality Don't Mix

The tiny Alpine confederation of Switzerland--notable for mandating that able-bodied men keep automatic rifles in their homes--is considering imposing a ban on violent video games because, truly, banning video games is the best way to reduce violence.

One estimate shows that legislation might ban up to 16% of video games (those rated for gamers age 16 and up). That means the Command and Conquer series, Rainbow Six, and most of the Tomb Raider games might soon be verboten.

First minarets, now Lara Croft?


Thanks to the Son of Neocles, I discovered that today was the second annual Talk Like William Shatner Day. In honor of this glorious day, I decided to delight you all with a video from the original Star Trek. Truly, this heart-wrenching scene, beautifully acted by Shatner, is probably the most poignant lesson on the Constitution which makes our nation great.

And to think it took a Canadian to deliver it...

And, of course,
the obligatory:

21 March 2010

American Insurgency, Part II

About a month ago, I solicited some recommendations for books on the American Revolution. Like many military officers, I've been dedicating myself to learning as much about counterinsurgency as possible. Yet, most case studies on insurgency typically include foreign wars, such as the Arab Insurgency during World War I, the Malaysian Emergency, the Algerian War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet-Afghan War. Few, however, consider the American Revolution among notable insurgencies.

The American Revolution has all the hallmarks of modern insurgency. The colonists revolted against a British government which they perceived as illegitimate. Washington's fledgling army was funded, in part, by Britain's rivals, hoping to overstretch and bankrupt the British Empire with a costly occupation. Moreover, American militiamen--the "Minutemen"--were capable part-time volunteers not unlike Motaqa al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

But despite the Revolutionary War's obvious value to counterinsurgents--and its central role in our American heritage--it's been largely overlooked in counterinsurgency reading lists. Nevertheless, my readers came through with great suggestions. Tom Ricks suggested Piers Mackesy's The War For America 1775-1783, noting that it was also a great book on strategy. I've gotten a few chapters into this book already and found some great parallels to our modern-day counterinsurgencies.

  • 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?

General McChrystal's Nowruz Greeting

Courtesy of NATO's Facebook page:

Weekend Roundup

  • 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

What's In a Name?

Overlord. Eagle Claw. Rolling Thunder.

Military history is replete with names of legendary operations. Indeed, choosing an adequate name for a military operation is just as much an art as, well, war. Yet, for every "Praying Mantis" or "Power Pack", there's a "Sharp and Smooth" or "Tangerine Squeeze". The Washington Post covered this issue in depth today, highlighting the difference between named operations spearheaded by "shock and awe" commanders, and those led by the diplomatic counterinsurgents.

During the initial invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, planners proposed names such as "Operation Infinite Justice" (rejected because Muslims believe that only Allah can provide justice) and "Operation Iraqi Liberation" (rejected because it spells "OIL"). In a few instances, named operations were allegedly the subject of jokes after being translated into Arabic. In 2006, the 101st Airborne Division launched their largest air assault since the invasion of Iraq, "Operation Swarmer". Designed to seize al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "Swarmer" not only fizzled in the desert, but it also reportedly translated into "insects attacking" (see slide 10 from this presentation created by a major from the 4th Infantry Division).

Nevertheless, overly-dramatic and violent names often made the local population wary of American intentions. Disturbed by the negative perception caused by bellicose names, then-Colonel H.R. McMaster charged one of his officers with creating more politically-correct operational names, often seeking the input of local sheiks. This set the course for operations with names like "Glad Tidings of Benevolence" and "Together Forward".

With battle plans often being drawn up by junior officer and NCOs, snide commentary often comes in to play. One veteran of the 101st Airborne Division recalled drawing upon ancient history, proposing "Operation Actium", named for the final stand of Mark Antony against Octavius. However, he noted, he named the battle for the sole purpose of labeling one objective "Hot Spot Cleopatra". Surprisingly, hilarity did not ensue.

Indeed, while boredom often tempts officers to insert snide humor into operational names, the military has a long-standing tradition against such names. An article appearing in a 1995 issue of the Army War College's Parameters invokes Winston Churchill:

[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. . . .

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.[24]
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.

With a little creativity, a planner can sometimes create some interesting double-entendres and cultural references, particularly when combined with ill-conceived acronyms. In one training exercise, we had so many objectives--which we decreed would be named for planets--that we had exhausted the traditional nine (or eight) planets in the solar system. Not to fear, as we simply created "Objective Tatooine", "Objective Hoth", and "Objective Endor". On another occasion, our naming convention involved birds. After exhausting all possible puerile puns on "Objective Swallow", I simply chose two different names: "Objective African Swallow" and "Objective European Swallow".

Focus: Words can create powerful images, be they good or ill. What operation names have you used in the past that sounded great? Have you ever inserted puns or in-jokes into your naming conventions or acronyms?