Saturday, May 31, 2003
Global war on terror continues -- in the Philippines
Today's New York Times passes on this report that Al Qaeda operatives have began to train in the Philippines with their affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. In the past, these two groups were loosely affiliated -- more like two baseball teams in the same league than two subsidiaries of the same corporation.
For the last six to nine months, recruits mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia, but also a few from as far off as Pakistan and the Middle East, have received training at inaccessible, rough-hewn sites — basically a few huts and some tents — in a marshy region on the island of Mindanao, officials said.Analysis: Al Qaeda has purposefully built an organizational structure that is loose, networked, and able to respond to direct attacks on its leadership and infrastructure. The move to conduct operational training in the Pacific is significant, because it represents a major increase in the scope and importance of this relationship for Al Qaeda. Furthermore, it may represent the opening of a "second front" in the Pacific -- or at least a greater one than we've seen to date. Terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda were responsible for the bombing in Bali last year which was purportedly targeted American interests through our proxies, the Australians. There has also been a significant, but low, level of terrorism in the PI, conducted by the Islamic terrorist groups MILF and Abu Sayyaf. We currently have American military and humanitarian aid to assist the Philippine government in fighting this war, but that may not be sufficient. If the Al Qaeda presence in the Pacific expands, and begins to threaten American interests, we may need to fight a campaign there similar to the one in Afghanistan.
Bottom Line: The war on terrorism is not over, and may only be marginally influenced by our success in Iraq. The real war on terrorism is still being fought by intelligence analysts, financial analysts, law enforcement officials, and soldiers, and it will continue in places like Sudan, the Philippines, Algeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, and everywhere else that Al Qaeda has spread.
Friday, May 30, 2003
U.S. to realign military footprint in Asia
Esther Schrader has this interesting report about the Pentagon's plans to alter its deployments in Asia. I'll write more on this later, but I think that Ms. Schrader has a real big scoop here. Asia has most of the emerging threats we will deal with in the next decade, and it is very significant that we are altering our footprint there. I think we will see a number of changes in the near future to respond to new and emerging threats, both of the conventional variety (e.g. China) and the unconventional variety (Indonesia and the Phillipines). More to follow...
American soldiers face increasing hostility in Iraq
I was not surprised to read this report in today's New York Times about increasing hostility towards American troops in Iraq. We have, in short, become an occupying army and one that appears to be there for the long haul. That's probably the right thing to do, given our imperatives to build lasting institutions in Iraq. But we must recognize this effect, and the increased risk it poses to our soldiers. It may necessitate the deployment of additional forces to manage the short-term security risk, either from the U.S. military or from our allies.
The complexity of postwar Iraq has led American forces into law enforcement tasks for which they are not well prepared. They are still searching for Mr. Hussein and his key officials. They are fighting hardened criminals freed from prison by an amnesty granted by Mr. Hussein late last year.Coda: I first heard that phrase "ugly American" in Korea, when my colonel exhorted us to not act that way as MPs on patrol in Tongduchon. Like a lot of things in the military, though, it's easier said than done. I'm not sure how you can maintain law & order, maintain security, and also be the nice guy (or respected guy) on the block.
Light Blogging: I'm away from Los Angeles for work so I won't have much to say until Sunday when I get back. I hope to have a good dump on the weekend's news then for everyone.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
How effective was "shock and awe"?
Slate's Fred Kaplan asks some pretty tough questions in his War Stories column today about the conduct of America's second war on Iraq. Specifically, he focuses on the recently released statistics by the Air Force on sorties flown, bombs dropped, targets hit, etc. The numbers will make even a seasoned analyst's head spin. But Kaplan does a good job of putting them together in a larger picture of what really happened. Here's a sampling:
How smart were the smart bombs? During the war, most analysts assumed the majority of bombs were smart bombs and the majority of smart bombs were the new, cheap Joint Defense Attack Munitions or JDAMs. The old smart bombs, the ones used in Desert Storm, were laser-guided. In other words, a crew member would shine a laser on the target; the bomb would follow the beam. However, the beam could be deflected by dust, smoke, rain, even humidity. And the laser-guided bombs were expensive—around $100,000 apiece. JDAMs are guided by Global Positioning Satellites. The pilot punches the target's coordinates into the bomb's GPS receiver andthe bomb homes in on the spot; environmental conditions aren't a factor. And they're cheap—a JDAM kit can be strapped onto an old-fashioned "dumb bomb" for $18,000.
Iraq -- the most likely place for Al Qaeda's next attack
The Associated Press and others report that two American soldiers died today in an attack on a U.S. Army checkpoint in Fallouja. Two Iraqis reportedly emerged from their cars, automatic weapons drawn, and started firing on American soldiers manning a checkpoint. They killed two and wounded nine. Also today, in Baghdad, a rocket-propelled grenade wounded two Army MP officers working out of a Baghdad police station. In describing the attacks, 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III said they were seeing "very small groups — one or two people — in isolated attacks against our soldiers." Yesterday, an American soldier died in a convoy ambush in Northern Iraq. On Sunday, Iraqi guerillas ambushed an American HMMWV driving in Baghdad, detonating it as the vehicle drove past. Two other incidents targeted American soldiers on Sunday, but inflicted no casualties. The New York Times reports that anti-American attitudes and violent tendencies have become commonplace among Iraq's young male population:
As American troops keep flowing into Iraq to provide greater security and departures of other troops are delayed to strengthen police functions, military commanders continue to express private concerns about whether they have sufficient forces to re-establish a stable postwar environment.Analysis: Clearly, we are seeing an upswing in the level of insurgent activity in Iraq. Without access to the raw intelligence I might have in the field, I can't do any kind of reasonable trend analysis or predictive analysis. However, I can read the tea leaves from here somewhat. American units are seeing what appear to be frequent, widespread, pre-planned, deadly acts of violence. It's more likely than not that these are coordinated attacks -- possibly part of a larger anti-American strategy. It's impossible to tell (without better intel) who might be behind these attacks, or why they might be happening. I can speculate that Shiite factions are instigating the attacks as a way of destabilizing the American presence and hastening our departure. I could also speculate that the attacks come from Saddam Hussein's loyalists who retained their weapons from their military service.
But I'd like to suggest a more sinister possibility that must at least be considered by America's security and intelligence communities: Al Qaeda action in Iraq. It appears from a number of reports that Al Qaeda has been hobbled to some degree. The global terror network retains the ability to operate, but it has been constrained by America's war in Afghanistan and efforts elsewhere. Our military, financial, law enforcement, and prosecutorial efforts may have crippled the network's ability to act inside the United States -- it's hard to tell (see this Newsweek report). But one place where we have barely made a dent is in Al Qaeda's ability to operate in the Arab world. This month's attack on the American housing complex in Saudi Arabia are the best evidence of this, along with recent reports indicating the presence of an Al Qaeda cell in Iran. This is an organization that retains the ability to move men, materiel and money around the Arab world, at least, and retains the ability to plan and execute terrorist operations. In short, Al Qaeda remains a potent threat.
Why do I think they'll hit us in Iraq? First, Al Qaeda's stated goal is to remove American soldiers from the Saudi peninsula, and by extension, the Arab world. Osama Bin Laden deeply resents America's influence on Islam, and especially our efforts to build rapport with secular, moderate and fundamentalist governments in the region. Their doctrine cannot allow us to maintain a presence in Iraq, and it cannot allow us to successfully install a Western-oriented government in Iraq that disdains Islamic law in favor of democracy, capitalism, and individual liberty. (It may be possible for these things to live together, but at least for now, no one has figured out how to do that.)
Second, Bin Laden deeply hates American military imperialism, which is almost certainly how he sees our attack on Iraq in this second Gulf War. He has deliberately targeted our military deployments before (e.g. Somalia and the USS Cole), and it makes sense that he will do it again. Al Qaeda stands against a lot of things, but few institutions have inflicted as much pain on Al Qaeda as the American military. I think that Bin Laden has a blood debt to settle with the American military after Afghanistan, and he will attack American soldiers wherever he can (Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan) to settle the score.
Third, the opportunities abound in Iraq for a terrorist -- particularly a terrorist who seeks to wage war through proxies. Large numbers of Iraqi soldiers melted away in the face of American firepower, and they took a lot of their weaponry with them. Those men would make great recruits for a terrorist sponsor. There's a lot of ordnance, weaponry, and stuff on the street in Iraq for a terrorist to buy. He wouldn't have to smuggle stuff in; he could probably buy it on the black market. On top of that, there's an abundance of American targets -- from well-protected American military bases to less-well protected contractors and relief organizations. Hitting Bechtel or Halliburton may not seem as sporting as hitting the 4th Infantry Division, but this enemy has never been one for chivalry.
The biggest reasons, however, are the large numbers of reporters inside Iraq and the amount of coverage that any such attack would receive. Nearly 30 years ago, terrorism expert Brian Jenkins wrote that "terrorism is theater." Without an audience, terrorism is mere violence perpetrated in the name of a cause -- but without an effect to justify the effort. The violent act is a mere precursor to the act's effect on society at large. Media coverage gives terrorism its audience, and most contemporary terrorism is scripted with the media in mind. It's possible that Al Qaeda might hit American soldiers in another part of the world -- the motive, means and opportunity certainly exist. But the presence of the media in Iraq all but guarantees that such an attack will happen there.
Monday, May 26, 2003
That's not the sound of a turkey -- it's the sound of large defense contractors gobbling up smaller tech firms and defense-related start-ups, according to this report in Monday's Washington Post. After a wave of consolidation during the 1990s in the defense industry, large conglomerate firms like Northrop-Grumman and General Dynamics have been semi-covertly buying up small firms that provide critical pieces of hardware and software for the large ships, tanks and planes they already build. The result is that the industry has become more consolidated than ever, with just a few large contractors (GD, Northrop-Grumman, Boeing) owning most of the business.
The buying spree is contributing to a fundamental change in the structure of the defense industry as the top players move away from their roles as mere weapons makers and increasingly cast themselves as "systems integrators" that produce high-tech networks for the battlefield. In the past three years, contractors have swept up about 180 small tech firms, mostly in Northern Virginia, a 25 percent increase from the previous three-year span.Analysis: I think the jury's still out as to whether this is a good or bad thing for America and its military. In theory, larger contractors can achieve economies of scale across the vertical and horizontal dimension. However, they can also act like a monopolist. Ultimately, I think what matters is getting the best rifle, ship, plane or tank into the hands of the warfighter. So far, they appear to be doing well, but it's hard to know whether a less consolidated industry might do better.
A chaplain's story of war
Chaplains play an important and unique role in the American military. Constrained by our First Amendment and tradition of separating church and state, they serve as part-adviser, part-chaplain, part-sage for battalions of soldiers in war and peace. John W. Brinsfield, who retired as a colonel in the Army's chaplain corps, has a thoughtful essay in Monday's New York Times on the meaning of war and remembrance -- from his perspective as a military chaplain.
In the 1991 Persian Gulf war, I was a senior chaplain assigned to the headquarters of Army Central Command in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My mission was to help place 568 Army chaplains of all denominations throughout the combat zone so that our troops would always have one nearby. My ministry involved visiting hospitals, counseling the lonely and the fatigued, dodging Scud missiles, conducting worship services under the sky, and later, holding memorial services for the dead.Definitely worth a read... Ironically, the piece is juxtaposed in the same day's paper as this report from San Luis Obispo. There, it appears that fire department chaplains are making a bad name for themselves and their department, according to allegations of six firefighters who are suing over their quasi-official use of religion.
The middle-level officers brought the lawsuit earlier this year, saying that the chaplain's corps, run by an evangelical minister who is also a senior official of the department, was almost exclusively Christian and had improperly injected religious faith into a government organization.I can't speak for how the chaplains behave in the San Luis Obispo fire department, nor can I really speak with any authority about this case since I'm just an acolyte to First Amendment law. This case in SLO is not unique. In recent months, lawsuits have challenged their ability to function, and the military's ability to include prayer and religion in certain aspects of life like the meals at the Naval Academy.
While I support the Constitution and its intent to separate church and state, I do think these movements can go too far. There are times in the military when a little religion can be helpful -- regardless of which faith it comes from. America's military certainly embraces Christianity more than Judaism, Islam, or any other religion, somewhat to the detriment to whose who serve (like me) from those other faiths. However, the military chaplains I knew were especially aware of this fact, and they did everything they could to take care of my needs too. Whether they're checking on soldier morale, helping to run the casualty collection point, or providing religious support, chaplains play a key role in our fighting units. Ultimately, I hope that judges balance the interests on both sides to find a Solomon-like answer to the problem of religion in the ranks.
A short note on the meaning of Memorial Day
Veterans Day was established after World War I on the day of the Treaty of Versailles. After World War II, Congress passed a resolution extending the holiday's meaning to honor the veterans of that war. After Korea, Congress passed a third resolution, this time extending the holiday to "honor American veterans of all wars." Over the years since, Congress has updated its resolutions on Veterans Day, made it a federal holiday, and pushed the states to accept it as a holiday too. Veterans Day is properly celebrated on Nov. 11, to mark the day the treaty ending WWI was signed, but is usually observed on the first or second Monday in November.
Memorial Day has an older lineage, which traces back to the Civil War. Unlike Veterans Day, which commemorates living veterans, Memorial Day is expressly intended as a day to memorialize the sacrifice of men and women who have given their lives in uniform. General John Logan, national commander of the Union Army, published an order in 1868 which established Memorial Day. His soldiers placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. New York recognized the holiday in 1873, and most northern states followed by 1890. Southern states were somewhat recalcitrant, and some even maintained a separate holiday to honor Confederate war dead. After WWI, Congress extended the holiday to honor American soldiers who died in all wars, not just the Civil War, and this tradition has endured until today. On Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment continue to place flowers on every grave in Arlington, honoring those who rest there.
It's not my goal to take anything away from the millions of Americans who celebrate this holiday more as a 3-day weekend and the start of summer. Our soldiers gave their lives in part for the American way of life, so such a tribute is fitting. However, we should all enjoy this holiday with the knowledge of what it's about, and at least take some time to think about those who have given their lives in our name.
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
I'm now working full-time at a law firm in downtown Los Angeles, and thus unable to devote the time I had for Intel Dump during the academic year. (The life of a grad student is significantly less demanding than the life of an apprentice attorney.) Intel Dump will be updated 3-5 times a week, with lengthier posts on the weekend when I read the Sunday papers and newsmagazines. I hope you'll continue to read this site, as well as my colleagues who I've linked to on the left side of the page. Thanks!
Monday, May 19, 2003
Faux Pax Americana
The lesson from Iraq is that using fewer troops can win a war, but can't keep the peace.
The Washington Monthly just posted a piece that I wrote on military transformation and peacekeeping, in which I argue that America had enough boots on the ground (barely) to win the war in Iraq -- but not nearly enough manpower to do the jobs of post-war occupation or nation-building. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his advisers have pushed hard for a vision of America's military that is lighter, faster and more lethal -- but also more technology-centered and less people-centered. I disagree with this vision, and think that the full spectrum of operations like peacekeeping requires more soldiers than gadgets.
When victory arrived, we lacked the troops on the ground to prevent Baghdad--and most of the rest of the country--from collapsing into anarchy. We had tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles galore in the capital, but not nearly enough soldiers to guard such facilities as the key ministries, hospitals, and the National Museum. Ministries torched and looted during the first days are now unavailable to house the planned interim government. The plunder of hospitals set the stage for a still very possible humanitarian crisis. Looters who ransacked the National Museum stole many of the priceless historic artifacts that connected contemporary Iraq with its ancient roots, inflicting a mammoth public relations disaster upon the United States.Coda: A couple of readers have e-mailed me to say this is all great, but could we have actually put more boots on the ground? From a logistics or manpower standpoint, did we have the capacity to do so? The answer is yes -- and no. America had the manpower in the active force to do so, and it surely had the manpower in the reserves. But for a variety of political, readiness and institutional reasons, those troops were not committed to the Iraq mission. Moreover, we were unable to tap into our NATO allies like France and Germany for peacekeeping support because of the animus between our countries. Still, the mission could have been accomplished with U.S. troops alone. We should have had the foresight -- in Oct. or Nov. 2002, when attacking Iraq became certain -- to mobilize enough of the National Guard to meet the post-war need. (Mobilizing these troops requires a long lead time)
Second, there's the issue of capacity. Could we have actually sent all these troops and their equipment to Iraq, and then staged them in Kuwait? The answer may be no. America has a finite amount of "strategic lift", defined as all the transportation stuff (ships and planes mostly) needed to move things in between theaters of operation (from the U.S. to Iraq). A lot of that finite lift capacity was used to move the existing force to Iraq, and subsequently to supply that force. The U.S. could have contracted for more shipping and aircraft support, but at a high cost. It's not clear that we had the political support in Congress to pay that bill.
Saturday, May 17, 2003
Three excellent pieces in the June issue of the Atlantic Monthly
The June issue of the Atlantic Monthly has a great collection of articles on topics ranging from the psychology of terrorism to the psychology of John F. Kennedy. Since subscribing a year ago, I've looked forward to reading the A.Monthly because of its writers' skill and editorial choice of subjects. This issue is probably the best I've read thus far. Here's a sampling of the pieces I liked:
The cover piece by Bruce Hoffman (not available online, unfortunately) dissects terrorism -- from the perspective of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I've read a lot on this subject, and this is one of the most brilliant essays I've read to date. According to Hoffman, terrorism is not an amorphous phenomenon for either side; it's a mechanical, institutionalized, planned and financed act that is countered by the Israelis in well-planned, rehearsed, well-financed, institutionalized ways. Hoffman's well qualified to write on this subject. He's the foremost expert on terrorism in the world, having studied it for more than 30 years -- well before it became the subject du jour for academics. Hoffman now directs the Washington DC office of the RAND Corporation, and wrote what I consider to be the seminal book on the subject -- Inside Terrorism -- in 1999. (Also see this online discussion with Hoffman on the magazine's site.)
Buses remain among the bombers' preferred targets. Winter and summer are the better seasons for bombing buses in Jerusalem, because the closed windows (for heat or air-conditioning) intensify the force of the blast, maximizing the bombs' killing potential. As a hail of shrapnel pieces flesh and breaks bones, the shock wave tears lungs and crushes other internal organs. When the bus's fuel tank expodes, a fireball causes burns, and smoke inhalation causes respiratory damage. All this is a significant return on a relatively modest investment. Two or three kilograms of explosive on a bus can kill as many people as twenty to thirty kilograms left on a street or in a mall or a restaurant. But as security on buses has improved, and passengers have become more alert, the bombers have been forced to seek other targets.The next outstanding piece comes from James Fallows, one of America's leading journalists, on the shooting of Mohammed Al-Dura on the second day of the second Intifada. Many will remember the vivid images of 12-year-old Al-Dura's shooting -- allegedly by Israeli soldiers -- and his subsequent death in his father's arms. Since the incident, however, evidence has surfaced to add more than a reasonable doubt to this account. Unfortunately, most of the evidence has been buried, lost or destroyed, and no one trusts the outcome of any investigation run by the Israeli Defense Forces. Nonetheless, Fallows puts together a compelling account of the facts as he can best tell, and the story is worth a read.
Al-Dura was the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy shot and killed during an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators on September 30, 2000. The final few seconds of his life, when he crouched in terror behind his father, Jamal, and then slumped to the ground after bullets ripped through his torso, were captured by a television camera and broadcast around the world. Through repetition they have become as familiar and significant to Arab and Islamic viewers as photographs of bombed-out Hiroshima are to the people of Japan—or as footage of the crumbling World Trade Center is to Americans. Several Arab countries have issued postage stamps carrying a picture of the terrified boy. One of Baghdad's main streets was renamed The Martyr Mohammed Aldura Street. Morocco has an al-Dura Park. In one of the messages Osama bin Laden released after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he began a list of indictments against "American arrogance and Israeli violence" by saying, "In the epitome of his arrogance and the peak of his media campaign in which he boasts of 'enduring freedom,' Bush must not forget the image of Mohammed al-Dura and his fellow Muslims in Palestine and Iraq. If he has forgotten, then we will not forget, God willing."The third piece I liked (also unavailable online) comes from Robert Dallek, a history professor who has written extensively on the American presidents of the mid-20th Century. It discusses the presidency of John F. Kennedy that might have been -- and derives in large part from his new 1-volume biography An Unfinished Life. The interesting parts to me were the discussions of JFK's rocky relationship with his military advisers, who, Dallek reports, Kennedy thought were either too audacious, too aggressive, or too dumb to give him good advice. Dallek speculates that Kennedy would have not "Americanized" the Vietnam War as LBJ did in 1965, and would have eventually pulled American advisers out before committing large units of ground forces.
A consideration of likely post-1963 Kennedy policies must begin with JFK's views on how political and military leaders should make decisions about armed action. Why England Slept, his Harvard senior thesis, which was published as a book in 1940, showed a healthy skepticism regarding the astuteness of both political and military officials in assessing foreign threats. He also doubted the effectiveness of a purely military approach to many political problems, especially in light of what he observed during his extensive travels to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia in the late 1930s and after World War II. "If one thing was borne into me as a result of my experiences in the Middle as well as the Far East," Kennedy said after a trip as a congressman in 1951," it is that communism cannot be met effectively by merely the force of arms." And his own military experience as a young man had convinced him that military chiefs were not necessarily the best judges of when and how to fight a war. As a junior naval officer in 1943 and 1944, he marveled at the incomptence of many of his superiors. In a letter to his parents from the South Pacific, where he was serving as a PT Board commander, he wrote that the Navy had "brought back a lot of old Captains and Commanders from retirement and... they give the impression of their brains being in their tails."Unfortunately, two of these three pieces aren't available online -- even to subscribers. However, I don't think you'll be disappointed if you buy the June issue of this magazine.
Friday, May 16, 2003
More bad news from Al-Tuwaitha nuclear research lab
Looters and locals develop symptoms of acute radiation sickness
As if the decision to leave the nuclear research facility at Al-Tuwaitha unguarded -- with the possible theft of radioactive material that could be used for "dirty bombs" -- wasn't bad enough, CNN reports tonight that civilians near this facility are starting to show signs of radiation sickness. The sick include those who went into the facility, as well as those who did not. If contaminated material was removed from this facility, it's possible that fairly large numbers of Iraqis were exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation. That seems to be the case with several children who have gotten sick, mostly from looted items which have contaminated local water supplies.
Some of the items stolen from the facility have been dumped on the street. Others were used by the people who stole them.It goes without saying that this story is bad. I wrote a couple of days ago that the decision to leave this facility unguarded -- while putting troops on oil facilities and other critical infrastructure -- was probably a big mistake. Now we have some hint of the cost of that decision. This story also shows the price of not having enough troops to do the job at the precise moment necessary. The critical window for establishing order was right after Saddam's statute fell -- that's when the looting happened; that's when the proverbial radioactive cat got out of the bag.
These cases of radiation sickness may, unfortunately, be irreversible and incontrovertible evidence of that. But at this point, hand-wringing won't do much good. We have to get enough soldiers on the ground to secure Iraq -- whether they come from NATO, the National Guard, or elsewhere. Once the streets are secure, we need to get all the NGOs and aid organizations necessary into Iraq to fix this kind of stuff. There may not be much that we can do for children like Amar. But if they get there fast enough, groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Crescent can try to save thousands of others.
Enough for the war, not enough for the peace
When Ralph Peters talks, I listen. He's a retired Army intelligence officer whose view of the world tends to be more prescient than anyone else I've read. Even his fiction books, like War in 2020, have great insight into the nature of warfare and how it will evolve in the future. Recently, he wrote a New York Post piece (thanks to Tapped for the tip) arguing that the U.S. still doesn't have enough troops on the ground in Iraq to do the job -- even after sending thousands more after the war's end to bolster the force.
During the war, we did not have enough troops to do everything that needed to be done, but the quality of our armed forces pulled off a brilliant campaign nonetheless. Now, a month after the fall of Baghdad, the most consistent complaint from our soldiers, our diplomats and even from Iraqis is that we don't have enough boots on the ground to do what must be done.I think that's about right. Moreover, there are secondary and tertiary effects which flow from not having enough troops, besides simply having less ability to control the country. All manner of nation-building tasks get delayed, because non-governmental organizations don't like to work without security, nor do private U.S. contractors or U.S. government relief agencies. Security tasks get done in series -- rather than in parallel -- enabling opposition forces to play cat and mouse with us. If we had enough boots on the ground to secure everything at once, this would not be an issue. And the list grows from there. (For a good historical discussion of the tasks facing the Army and L. Paul Bremer in Iraq, see this paper by Army War College professors Conrad C. Crane and W. Andrew Terrill.)
More than just a soldier -- A Mix of 'President . . . and Pope'
Today's Washington Post has a great piece on MG David Petraeus, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, and his experiences trying to find the right balance between "president and pope" in Iraq. The piece points out that MG Petraeus is far from the caricature of an Army officer, and that his methods are far from what you'd expect from an airborne-qualified Ranger who commands 18,000 of America's toughest infantrymen.
In normal times, Petraeus is the wiry, intellectual commander of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles of military lore. During the Iraq war, his division fought along the Euphrates River, pounding through an epic sandstorm and subduing the cities of Najaf, Karbala and Hilla. His unit arrived in this walled city 220 miles north of Baghdad last month after U.S. soldiers killed at least 10 Iraqis during anti-American demonstrations.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Not so fast...
Military leaders clarify their "shoot first" policy
Civilian and military leaders clarified the New York Times report from Wednesday's paper in which one of L. Paul Bremer's staff indicated that America's new rules of engagement called for the pre-emptive shooting of looters and criminals. The new, muscular guidance was intended to provide highly visible shows of force that would intimidate the Iraqi population into submission and compliance with American occupation. However, defense officials say now that this comment was mistaken, and that the old ROE of shooting-in-self-defense still apply. Speaking from Iraq, top American generals said their troops would most assuredly not shoot first and ask questions later.
In an internationally televised press conference, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan said that simple looting is not enough to warrant shooting an Iraqi civilian. Soldiers will, however, arrest and hold those caught in criminal acts.Similarly, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said today that Bremer's staffmember was out of line, and that no such changes to the ROE were being made.
"That was hyperbole," Rumsfeld said. The rules of engagement for troops in Iraq have not changed, he said. Rumsfeld said that the rules all along have authorized whatever use of force was necessary "for self-defense and other selective purposes."This is a good sign -- that cooler heads have prevailed in the Pentagon over hotter heads in Baghdad. Nonetheless, it does not cure the real problem here. Soldiers may be forced to compensate for their lack of numbers with force. If pushed too far, or outnumbered by too high a ratio, soldiers may have to employ excessive amounts of force to resolve situations. The answer here is to get enough soldiers to Iraq to do the job. It may not be possible to get enough U.S. troops there quickly. However, this might be the time to enlist our NATO allies in the effort, particularly the British, French, German, Dutch and Russian armies who have extensive nation-building experience from the Balkans. That may require some eating of crow by the Bush Administration. But it may be necessary to accomplish the mission in Iraq, which is what really matters.
Army halts troop flow out of Iraq
Criticism of "boots on the ground" leads Pentagon to keep soldiers in country
Today, V Corps halted the depature of soldiers from Iraq, according to the New York Times and other media. Some of these units, like those from the 3rd Infantry Division, have been in the region for a year. The new orders come amid mounting criticism that America does not have enough soldiers in Iraq to establish law and order, and that cuts to the troop count might be premature. This change also comes at the time when diplomat-turned-proconsul L. Paul Bremer has vowed to stop crime in Iraq and establish order (he sounds like LAPD Chief William Bratton).
At the Pentagon, a senior Defense Department official said that American commanders in Iraq were "reviewing the appropriate mix of forces" to stabilize Baghdad, and that "some numbers" of troops would likely have their departures affected. The official said it remained unclear whether these troops would remain in Baghdad for additional days or weeks or longer.Analysis: As much as this sucks for the 3ID soldiers now stuck in country, I think it's the right decision. Until we can get enough troops into Iraq to do the job, we ought not bring these soldiers home. They've fought a long, hard fight, but mission accomplishment has to be come above morale. It is true, however, that the 3rd Infantry's soldiers are tired and in need of replacement. This is not the division you want patrolling the streets of Baghdad, if at all possible. Ideally, the U.S. would have had a pre-staged occupation force in waiting, either of American troops or NATO troops. However, we did not. I imagine the Pentagon is trying very hard right now to build such a force. Until then, 3ID may not get to come home.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Rumsfeld v. The Army, Part II
Fred Kaplan has another provocative piece in Slate on the past, present and future battles between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Army establishment. The piece echoes a similar one that he wrote a couple of weeks ago, except that this one focuses on the legitimate areas of disagreement between the heavily armed camps. Specifically, Rumsfeld has disagreed with the Army leadership on how to best transform the lethargic, heavyset, expensive, Cold War-minded Army.
The problem is that the mainstays of U.S. Army "force structure"—M-1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, self-propelled artillery guns, and the caravans of logistical trucks that provide their supplies and fuel—are big, heavy things. Just one M-1 can fit inside a C-5 or C-17 (the largest of our military cargo-transport planes), and not every airfield in the world can accommodate those planes. (Tanks are too big to load into the smaller, more flexible C-130s and C-141s.) These planes are also expensive; the fiscal 2004 military budget includes $3.7 billion to build a mere 11 more C-17s. Many more tanks and armored fighting vehicles can be loaded onto cargo ships, but ships are by nature slow, and they're expensive, too, not just to build but to maintain and keep on station. There's a bureaucratic problem here, as well: Neither the Air Force (which buys cargo planes) nor the Navy (which buys cargo ships) likes spending billions and billions of dollars to expand an intercontinental shuttle service for the Army.True enough... but as Kaplan points out, the Army also supplied the Special Forces that provided the unconventional manpower to win the unconventional war in Afghanistan, together with their Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps brethren. (See Stephen Biddle's article for a great exegesis of the lessons learned from this war) In addition, the Army has several light infantry units which can deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours, and they're working to build a mechanized force at Fort Lewis that can do the same thing. Finally, the Army has developed its own 21st Century tactical internet system -- communications gear that has revolutionized the nature of ground warfare. Army leaders have not just sat around on the decks of their 70 ton M1A2 tanks and grilled steaks on the BBQ. They should get some credit where credit is due.
Secretary Rumsfeld is right that transformation needs to happen. But the Office of the Secretary of Defense does not necessarily have all the answers about transformation. In my old unit, the 4th Infantry Division, the smartest minds on transformation were usually the junior officers and sergeants who actually used the stuff in the field. Similarly, Secretary Rumsfeld should realize that some of the best ideas on transformation may be out in the field right now -- perhaps even in the Army. Furthermore, acrimony between the OSD staff and the Army staff is not in the best interests of America's defense. If there are legitimate areas of disagreement, so be it -- let the best ideas prevail. If there are personality conflicts, those need to be dealt with. But the price for pursuing the wrong vision of transformation will be paid in American blood. Eventually, the OSD and Army staffs are going to have to find the right answer together, and put the Rumsfeld v. Army feud behind them.
Shoot first... win hearts and minds later
The New York Times reports today that American diplomat-turned-Iraq-administrator L. Paul Bremer is set to announce a more muscular set of rules of engagement for American soldiers in Iraq. The new rules would essentially authorize American soldiers to shoot to kill when they see a crime in progress, such as looting. Presumably, the rule change is a response to mounting criticism that American forces are not doing enough to stop looting and crime in Iraqi cities. The idea behind the change is to show the Iraqi people that American soldiers mean business -- possibly by making an example out of a few looters and criminals.
"I think you are going to see a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control," [said an official who attended the meeting today.]Analysis: The Times is right to point out that this policy carries a great deal of risk. American forces currently hold some piece of the moral high ground, having vanquished Saddam's Baath Party regime and brought some semblance of liberty and freedom to Iraq. However, we've also seen a backlash against America's forces. In Fallouja last month, Iraqi citizens protested the occupation of a school by American troops. In an event reminiscent of Britain's awful 1972 Sunday Bloody Sunday incident in Ireland, American soldiers shot and killed 15 demonstrators in response to small arms fire. In Baghdad, thousands of Shiites have protested the American presence, calling for a theocratic government based on Islamic law. It is not clear that the Iraqi people support what we are doing in Iraq. We know their support is critical to our nation-building efforts, yet, we adopt policies like this which can only undermine the relationship between American forces and the Iraqi people. (A good analogy here is the still-tense relationship between the LAPD and residents of South Central L.A.) I'm not sure that shooting looters will go far towards winning Iraqi hearts and minds.
As a matter of law enforcement, I think this is the wrong solution. It's a band-aid measure to cover up the fact that we simply don't have enough soldiers in Iraq to do the job. A strong show of force -- soldiers on dismounted patrol; mounted patrols by armed HMMWVs and Bradley fighting vehicles, quick response to any breach of the peace -- could impose law and order on the chaotic streets of Iraq. But such a show of force takes a lot of manpower -- more manpower than the U.S. has in theater. It would have been wise to mobilize 3-5 National Guard divisions 6 months ago, when we committed to the Iraq mission, so they could be ready to perform this kind of mission today. America's military is stretched thin, but despite the callup of 150,000 reservists, we did not reach very deeply into the ranks of the National Guard, who have a proven track record in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. It's not too late to pursue this course of action, or to enlist the help of our NATO allies in this mission. But we must do it quickly, or else our soldiers will be forced to compensate for their lack of manpower with overwhelming and excessive force -- as evidenced by this new policy.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
And in other news...
5th member of "Lackawanna Six" pleads guilty
Wednesday's Los Angeles Times reports that a fifth member of the alleged Al Qaeda cell in upstate New York has pled guilty charges that he worked with Al Qaeda and trained with them in Afghanistan. The cell was originally charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, among other charges, but it's not clear from the news report what Yasein Taher actually pled guilty to. Like the four co-conspirators before him, Taher actually pled guilty to allegations "that he had undergone weapons and explosives training at the notorious Al Farooq training camp in the spring of 2001 and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in the war on terrorism in return for a likely sentence of no more than 10 years in prison."
I think it's all but certain that the sixth defendant will plead guilty in the coming weeks, lest he be put on trial with the testimony of the other five and sent to jail for life. Already, Attorney General John Ashcroft and US Attorney Michael Battle have claimed this as a victory in the war on terrorism:
...the case against the Lackawanna Six was, in the words of U.S. Atty. Michael Battle in Buffalo, "a model in pursuing and prosecuting terrorism suspects, and in preventing terrorist acts here and abroad."I understand the elation in the Justice Department at these guilty pleas, and as a taxpayer, appreciate the money that's being saved by getting these defendants to plead guilty. However, I'm not so sure this is the victory it's being made out to be. Indeed, I think this is a Pyrrhic victory at best, because we may have deceived ourselves into targeting and imprisoning some pretty small fish while the big fish swam away. The point of going after men like the Lackawanna Six is to focus on the vulnerable parts of a global terror network like Al Qaeda. The men who provide financial, logistical, immigration and technical support are the most visible and vulnerable, and they are the parts which enable Al Qaeda to project terror around the world. By targeting these parts, we hurt Al Qaeda's ability to operate in the United States. (This may make targets in the Middle East more attractive because of their relative ease) Nonetheless, we miss the big fish -- the actual operational planners like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Indeed, we make such men more cautious and harder to catch by prosecutions like this. I think there's a delicate balance to be struck between the two sets of tactics. We've got to net the small fish and the big ones. However, I'm not as ready to celebrate as the Attorney General in this case. This prosecution has made a dent in Al Qaeda's ability to operate, but I don't think it's a very big dent.
Major nuclear research facility left unguarded near Baghdad
Critics say we should've just left a sign: "Get yer dirty bombs here!"
MSNBC has a really disturbing Newsweek report that American forces might have left the wrong thing unguarded in Baghdad -- the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center. Among other things, the Al Tuwaitha site contained tons of nuclear material that could itself be used to make a nuclear device -- or more easily, combined with an explosive (like the one used yesterday in Saudi Arabia) to make a radiological dispersal device or "dirty bomb".
The well-known Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters—but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. “We told them, ‘This site is out of control. You have to take care of it’,” says Munther Ibrahim, Al Tuwaitha’s head of plasma physics. “The soldiers said, ‘We are a small group. We cannot take control of this site’.” As soon as the Americans left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults’ seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.Analysis: There are two problems here. The first problem is the priority list that was developed. Newsweek reports in the same story that "Roughly 900 possible WMD sites appeared on the initial target lists." It's good that the Army had this kind of list in existence; it should have been prepared well before any war, with the knowledge we had about Iraq before we went in. However, the list itself may have been out of whack. I echo Josh Marshall and Tapped on this one. I can understand why the oil ministry might get security before the Iraqi national museum. But clearly, the Al Tuwaitha facility should have been high on this list -- higher, for instance, than lots of other places where we have American troops. In the wake of this report, I really hope that someone is scrubbing and re-scrubbing this list to make sure we have the right priorities for protection.
The second problem is the number of troops we had to secure the sites that were high enough on the priority list. In a perfect world, there would be no prioritized list -- just a list -- and every site on the list would be guarded by American soldiers. However, no commander ever fights with infinite resources, so priorities have to be established and certain things have to go unprotected. The more troops you have, the lower the threshhold for guarding stuff, such that only the really unimportant sites are left unsecured. We knew beforehand that this site -- and others like it -- existed in Iraq. Yet, we did not have enough soldiers on the ground to secure all of these sites. This is the second problem -- too few troops in theater to do the job right. Our lighter, faster and more mobile military might have been able to beat the Iraqi army. However, securing Iraq -- and building it anew -- are much more difficult tasks. Moreover, these are jobs that must be done by young American men and women -- not by expensive gadgets.
High-tech unmanned vehicles and cruise missiles can find and kill tanks, but they can't secure a nuke site or keep looters out of an office building. I might forgive this error if America were new to the business of peacekeeping or nation-building -- but we're not. America has learned what it takes to enforce the peace and build a nation in places like Bosnia and Kosovo. Yet, we continue to try "economy of force" operations because they cost less, and because they are more politically expedient. The truth, unfortunately, is that boots on the ground are what it takes to get the job done. In his famous history of the Korean War, retired Army Col. T.R. Fehrenbach captured this point when he wrote:
“You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life,” wrote Fehrenbach. “But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud."
The wild streets of Baghdad
The Newark Star-Ledger carried an interesting report on Sunday from Mark Mueller, their reporter in Baghdad, on the state of law and order in Iraq. Mueller's lead could have been the opening scene for a Law & Order episode -- or a crime story from the streets of New York. But it's not -- he writes from the city where we currently have tens of thousands of soldiers attempting to secure the peace.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The men burst into the house before dawn, stabbing some people as they slept, shooting others who tried to run.
The problems, Mueller writes, are many. The Baghdad police lack weapons, training, organization, funding, vehicles, radios, or the tools of a modern police force. Their ranks have been decimated by the war, then decimated again by American officers seeking to keep former Baath Party officials out of the new nation's police force. In short, Baghdad's police force is a hollow shell -- unable to protect or serve the Iraqi people.
...few of the officers are actively policing. At police stations across the capital, Iraqi commanders say most street cops won't return to work until the pay materializes and until they have the equipment to safely do their jobs.Analysis: This has to stop, and fast. Letting the Iraqis loot their National Museum and other buildings was bad; this is much worse. It's a safe bet that nascent pockets of organized crime have begun to form in Iraq, in the absence of any public force to maintain law and order. Organized crime elements will focus first on establishing order themselves -- by means of violence and extortion -- then they will start to fight one another for turf and control over various criminal syndicates. If the United States does not stop this crime with brute force and establish order, we will almost surely have to contend with larger, more complex, more organized crime problems in the future.
This is not the time to redeploy forces from Baghdad (as we're currently doing), nor is it the time to let the Iraqis try to police themselves. We must establish order with a firm hand, first, before disorder and chaos become the norm. Once people feel secure in their homes, and trust the U.S.-Iraqi authority to maintain the peace, then we can cede authority to the newly reconstituted Iraqi police. It's clear that the Iraqi police force is incapable (for now) of doing this job. American soldiers may not be police, and they may not be perfectly trained for this job. But they can certainly establish security by force and stop this criminal activity for as long as it takes to get the Iraqi civilian police up and running.
War game's outcome stuns decisionmakers
Frank Tiboni reports in DefenseNews (subscription required) this weekthat a wargame conducted at the Army War College last month has caused consternation a number of key military and civilian leaders in Washington. Specifically, the exercise showed that America's strategy of pre-emptive defense might lead to pre-emptive strikes by terrorists and rogue nations around the world, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Asymmetric warfare -- striking at U.S. weakpoints with unconventional tactics -- will also become the norm by which our enemies fight us.
Conventional U.S military forces are so vastly superior to those of any potential adversaries that future foes will likely attack with conventional arms or weapons of mass destruction — either aimed at American troops in theater or citizens at home — at the outset of a conflict to blunt a U.S. assault, said military officials.Analysis: The military conducts such exercises all the time. Exercise results provide the basis for budget requests, troop-stationing decisions, procurement orders, and many other things. Exercises are also used to wargame the secondary and tertiary effects of decisions at the tactical, operational and strategic level. This exercise was designed for that last reason -- to explore the repercussions of American strategy today, by looking to strategic outcomes 10 years in the future.
The results of this war game should not necessarily deter America from its current strategic path. But it should give us pause. Our overwhelming conventional superiority is bound to trigger a massive unconventional, asymmetric, possibly terroristic response. Faced with the type of firepower exhibited in Iraq, our enemies know they cannot challenge us on the open plains of battle. Instead, they will attempt to find the chinks in our armor -- the places they can hit us where we're not well protected. One set of these vulnerabilities is military -- the springboards like ports and railroads we use to project our military muscle overseas. The other set is civilian. In the future, I think we can expect to see attacks on both military and civilian soft targets by our enemies. Indeed, the lines between civilian, military, political and economic targets will increasingly blur for our enemies, who will target American power writ large in any manner they can.
Saudi bombings appear to bear Al Qaeda's thumbprint
Last night's simultaneous bombing of three housing compounds in Riyadh appear to have been the work of Al Qaeda, according to the Washington Post and other news agencies. The story is still developing, but the blasts appear to have killed 20 people including 7 Americans. Speaking today in Saudi Arabia (on a prescheduled visit), Secretary of State Colin Powell said these bombings were unmistakedly the work of Al Qaeda.
Although the investigation is continuing, Powell said today that "the suspects are clear . . . It has the earmarks of al Qaeda." He vowed that the United States would not be deterred from continuing its campaign against the organization and other terrorist groups.Analysis: Let's review what we know from the attack on one of the compounds, and why we think this might be Al Qaeda. The attackers appear to have entered in a convoy of three vehicles, using two cars of shooters to kill guards in order that a third truck might enter the compound and blow up. The attackers also appear to have perished in the blast, acting as suicide bombers. The attack appears to have used some reconnaissance and professional planning, based on the types of tactics used. And the attack used an improvised explosive device, probably with plastic explosive, something that would not be the work of amateurs. The tactics, coordination, planning and materiel used all indicate a professional terrorist group. On top of that, we have the targeting decision -- a compound of foreigners in Riyadh. That matches the political agenda of Al Qaeda, a group dedicated to the ejection of foreigners from Saudi Arabia.
Finally, we have historical comparisons. Al Qaeda has conducted similar car bombings in Tanzania, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia during the past 10 years. Indeed, this bombing looks very similar to both the Khobar Towers attack in 1996 and the embassy bombings in 1998, except that this attack improves on those past attacks by adding a security element whose mission was to eliminate the guards around the housing compound. American anti-terrorism tactics have evolved -- we now used posted guards to detect car bombs and truck bombs before they can get close enough. Al Qaeda appears to have reacted to that evolution by developing a tactic to eliminate those guards in order to get the bomb close to the target. Fighting terrorism is a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and for the moment, it appears that the mouse has gotten a little smarter.
Coda: As I've said before, first reports are always wrong. We still don't have a lot of well researched, well reported, detailed reports from the field. The FBI has already dispatched a team to the scene to gather evidence on these attacks, and their careful analysis will yield a lot of hard evidence about who actually conducted these attacks and with what means. All we have right now is highly circumstantial evidence -- nothing that I'd take to court. All of these indicators point towards the conclusion I've laid out, but it's very possible they were contrived to point that way. Until we get the hard forensic evidence and analyze it, we can't be sure who bombed these buildings, how or why.
Coda II: The Associated Press reports that Saudi authorities have definitively linked the attack to Al Qaeda. Specifically, the Saudis linked several of the individuals in the attack to Al Qaeda members involved a shootout earlier in the month.
Saudi authorities made a direct connection between the attacks and a May 6 gunfight between police and 19 al-Qaida operatives in the same part of Riyadh where the bombings occurred.Again, this is not the kind of hard evidence you'd need for a prosecution in America's criminal courts. But it is pretty good evidence for intelligence and military purposes. It's enough to convince me. The bottom line is that Al Qaeda retains a dangerous operational capability to conduct "spectacular" terrorist operations in various parts of the world, notwithstanding our campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. We must be vigilant to ensure that they do not demonstrate this capability on American soil.