Monday, July 21, 2003
Army examines its choice of weapons lube
After taking sharp criticism from current and former soldiers alike for its continued use of "CLP" weapons lubricant, Inside the Army (subscription required) reports today that the Army has decided to relook its choice of lubricant for the standard M-16A2 assault rifle that most soldiers carry. (The same lube is also used for the M4 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon)
Inside The ArmyThis is something I've written on before, in connection with the report on the 507th Maintenance Company ambush. "Soldiers For The Truth" has also had some good reporting on this, along with blogger colleagues One Hand Clapping and Winds of Change. Few things are more important in combat than having small arms which work when they're needed. I'm not sure if Militec is the right answer here, but I'm pretty sure that CLP is less than adequate. Of course, no weapons lubricant will work when soldiers fail to do the necessary weapons maintenance, a trend which also appears in the 507th report. However, we owe it to our soldiers to give them the best materiel that our defense dollars can buy. I hope this investigation pushes the Army a little bit closer to that product -- whatever it is.
Update: I recently updated this post with the full text of the article from Inside the Army, which is an independent publication which covers the Army and is associated with several other such publications about the other services. The original article was quite balanced, but I made the editorial decision to only post certain excerpts which criticized the Army. I received a note asking me to post the entire article, as well as permission to do so from the publisher, in the interest of fairness. I thought it was the right thing to do. For more outstanding coverage of this issue and others, I recommend making Inside the Army a regular stop. Their reporters consistently do a good job of reporting on this kind of stuff -- which as we see from this story, has a direct effect on the way our soldiers perform in combat.
Sunday, July 20, 2003
Every generation has its heroes
Sunday's Washington Post has an extremely moving story about the men who suffered some of the most grievous wounds during the war with Iraq, and who now are recovering from their wounds at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. (The Post also has the photos from the article available online.)
On TV, the war was a rout, with infrared tanks rolling toward Baghdad on a desert soundstage. But the permanent realities unfold more quietly on Georgia Avenue NW, behind the black iron gates of the nation's largest military hospital.Some thoughts... The human cost of war is always one of the most troubling things to accept, because it really calls into question our reasons for the war itself. When you look at a wounded combat veteran, the question stares back at you: "Was this man's injury worth it?" I will reserve judgment on that question, given all that has come to light in the last few weeks regarding our casus belli in Iraq. However, I believe that we owe these answers to the men and women we sent to Iraq, and to the families of those who will not return. Our nation should never fight for an unworthy case; the cost in blood and treasure is too high.
Saturday, July 19, 2003
Two memorials in Santa Monica
I took my dog Peet for a walk today to the Third Street Promenade, and walked through two memorials to Wednesday's horrific incident at the Santa Monica farmer's market. One was what you might expect from the city of Santa Monica -- a multicultural, non-sectarian gathering to mourn the dead and give thanks for our existence. I've been a lot of memorial services, but this one didn't move me in any particular way.
The second memorial was the Saturday farmer's market itself, which promoters and farmers decided to hold today despite Wednesday's tragedy. Every vendor commemorated the incident in some way, whether with black cloth around his stand or black ribbons in front of his table. But the overall message was: we will persevere through this tragedy. That was a powerful message, and I think it was the best way to memorialize those who died on Wednesday.
Friday, July 18, 2003
Tony Blair: a great American
The British have been blessed in our time to have great orators like Winston Churchill and Tony Blair for national leaders. In times of crisis, these men lift their citizens' morale and spirits with moving words. Speaking before a joint session of Congress yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair turned his words towards us, his somewhat reluctant allies across the Atlantic.
Members of Congress, if this seems a long way from the threat of terror and weapons of mass destruction, it is only to say again that the world's security cannot be protected without the world's heart being won. So America must listen as well as lead. But, members of Congress, don't ever apologize for your values. (Applause.) Tell the world why you're proud of America. Tell them when "The Star-Spangled Banner" starts, Americans get to their feet -- Hispanics, Irish, Italians, Central Europeans, East Europeans, Jews, Muslims, white, Asian, black, those who go back to the early settlers, and those whose English is the same as some New York cab drivers I've dealt with -- (laughter) -- but whose sons and daughters could run for this Congress. Tell them why Americans, one and all, stand upright and respectful. Not because some state official told them to, but because whatever race, color, class or creed they are, being American means being free. That's why they're proud. (Cheers, sustained applause.)Words like these remind us of our ideals, and of what it means to be an American. I can't help but feel pride when a national leader like Tony Blair speaks this way about America and its role in today's world. Now all we have to do is live up to these expectations -- a task which is easier said than done.
Planning for success?
The Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times has a very interesting (and very lengthy) report today on what went wrong with America's planning for post-war Iraq. This is more than your typical "first draft of history" journalism -- the Times reporters painstakingly lay out the pre-war planning process, and the various ways that nation-building planning was neglected by the Administration.
Since the fall of Baghdad on April 9, U.S. and British troops have struggled to bring order from chaos. Water, electricity and security are in short supply, fueling resentment among many Iraqis. A guerrilla-like resistance has taken shape against the occupation; U.S. casualties mount almost daily in an operation that is costing nearly $4 billion a month and stalling the withdrawal of American forces.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Great initiative... not so great judgment
Every month, the Defense Department General Counsel's Standards of Conduct Office publishes a monthly advisory on ethics within the Pentagon and the military services. SOCO has responsibility for promulgating ethics regulations, training guidelines, etc., for the Pentagon. Their staff takes it really seriously too, however, they often find ways to teach their lessons in humorous ways. Here's an excerpt from their July 2003 advisory:
In yet another remarkable case of bad judgment, a Marine Corps company commander who was deployed in Iraq asked a tobacco company to send his men its products for free. After receiving the free goods, he sent a "thank you" note that was used as part of the tobacco company’s advertising. The letter implied that the DoD endorsed the product, and, eventually, garnered the attention of two Congressmen. Please remember the standards of conduct apply in Iraq, too.It's hard to suppress a smile at this Marine captain's initiative. If I was his commander, I'd probably recommend him for a Navy Achievement Medal for this sort of thing, while chiding him privately about the thank-you note. These are the kinds of things we expect of our junior leaders, who we entrust with the lives of our finest sons and daughters. I hope his chain of command took care of him the way he took care of his Marines.
Federal judge says legal mission to Iraq was a sham
USA Today reports today that 6th Circuit Judge Gilbert S. Merritt has blasted the American government in Iraq for impeding a mission arranged by the Justice Department to restore Iraq's legal institutions. The DoJ-sponsored mission included federal judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys who had the charter of advising Iraq on its Constitution and the establishment of a new legal system.
Senior U.S. District Judge (sic) Gilbert Merritt said the 25-member delegation's hopes of assessing Baghdad's judicial and law enforcement institutions were hindered by the chaos in the city of 5 million people. Guerrilla warfare continues, water and electricity service are limited, police forces are barely functioning, and many courthouses are bombed-out shells, he and other members of the delegation said.
Pentagon to call up two National Guard brigades for Iraq
Greg Jaffe reports in this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that the Defense Department has decided it must call up two brigades of National Guard soldiers for the Iraq mission, since it has been unable to enlist America's allies in the effort there. Two brigades equates to roughly 10,000 soldiers, which does not seem like a lot for the 480,000 active-duty Army to manage. However, as the article points out, nearly all of the Army is committed to operations in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea and Afghanistan right now, leaving the Guard as America's only option.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to sign off on a plan later this week that would establish a rotation to relieve Marine and U.S. Army soldiers deployed in Iraq, a Pentagon official said. After training, it would be March or April by the time National Guard soldiers would be deployed, likely for stints of 13 to 16 months including the training. Even so, demands on the active-duty Army would remain intense. Asked if he had ever seen the Army stretched so thin, one senior defense official recently said: "Not in my 31 years" of military service.This is going to be a challenge. America's National Guard has already been stretched thin by consecutive homeland security deployments since Sept. 11, known as Operation Noble Eagle. In the California Army National Guard, nearly every combat arms unit has already deployed once. The units which have deployed have returned in deplorable condition, with most soldiers opting to leave the Guard. There are a number of National Guard units which have been left alone for homeland security, and these are the likely units to deploy to Iraq. However, even that is a finite supply. If America is to stay in Iraq for the long hall, this solution won't work.
Painful lessons in Santa Monica
Yesterday's tragic incident in Santa Monica which left nine people dead is a tragic reminder of how quickly accidents can escalate into mass-casualty situations when crowds are involved. The incident (not an accident -- nothing is ever accidental; it always has some cause) happened a short walk away from where I live. I go to 3rd Street a lot, and I've been to that farmer's market a dozen or so times. Suffice to say, it was hard to work yesterday afternoon as the story unfolded.
It appears that this driver had no evil intent. Details are still emerging, but it looks like he tried to pump his brake pedal, but instead found his accelerator pedal. That doesn't change the carnage he caused. He still killed 9 people, and left dozens more hurt. Despite the apparent lack of evil intent, this incident holds many lessons learned for us as we think about how we might respond to another kind of mass-casualty event -- a terrorist attack. This is just my thinking, as a former anti-terrorism plans officer, but I think it's what a lot of folks in the Santa Monica Police Dept. are probably thinking about right now.
1. Large groups of people are targets. The reasons are many fold. First, large groups of people maximize the chances for large casualty counts, and that's usually a goal for terrorists. Second, the proportion of people who have been to a place where lots of people are is high, thus, lots of people will say afterwards "I've been there before -- that could have been me." This increases the fear factor of an attack, adding to its psychological impact. Finally, large gatherings of people tend to be media magnets -- there's often a camera crew there already to catch the news. As Brian Jenkins said 30 years ago, "terrorism is theater."
2. Simple measures can work. A threat assessment for the farmer's market in Santa Monica would have noted the threat of an inbound car or truck-borne explosive -- either one of which would be deadly. The proximity of this market to traffic makes that a possible threat, though not a probable one. Moreover, mitigating this threat would not have been hard. Parking two cars to physically block the street at either end of Arizona Ave. would have been sufficient; so too would have been placing "jersey bounce" barriers (concrete barriers that can stop a speeding car) at either end. (This would've been more costly, and entailed a crane to move them every time.
Ironically, the 3rd Street Promenade has retractable, sunk-in metal barriers at all ends, but those devices were never installed for the farmer's market area -- which has become somewhat of a permanent fixture. Perhaps the City Council should consider those before they reopen these markets.
3. Mass casualty plans and mutual aid plans work. The city of Santa Monica does not have the ambulance or medical capacity to deal with this kind of event. Luckily, the larger West L.A. area does. Within minutes, reports indicate, ambulances from other jurisdictions sped to Santa Monica to help, as did Life-Flight helicopters. Emergency rooms elsewhere in the area also pitched in, adding to the capacity of UCLA-Santa Monica Hospital and allowing the most urgent patients to be seen at the closest hospital. These measures save lives.
California (and the L.A. area in particular) are actually quite good at this kind of anti-terrorism preparation. Our region has been cursed with natural and man-made disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, floods and riots. In response, our "consequence management" agencies (fire, medical, public health, etc) have developed great plans and working relationships for these kinds of incidents. Those plans and coordination paid off yesterday in Santa Monica.
There are more lessons to be learned, but those are my initial thoughts on this morning after. More to follow as the story develops.
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Pentagon to loan Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to homeland security effort
The trade journal Aerospace Daily reports today that the Defense Department plans to loan some of its high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles ("UAVs") to the Department of Homeland Security for border security. The loan will include military personnel and equipment. It's not clear whether the DoD personnel will merely train and familiarize DHS personnel with UAVs, or whether this loan will include some operational use of the UAVs for actual border security missions.
The deployment, set to take place within the next few months somewhere along America's southern border, comes at the request of Gordon England, deputy secretary for homeland security at DHS and former secretary of the Navy.Analysis: This raises some of the same legal questions that I wrote about in Slate last year when the Pentagon loaned surveillance aircraft to look for the D.C. sniper. Federal law bars the use of military personnel for law enforcement, although a number of exceptions exist.
So, when, exactly, can soldiers help the cops?As a matter of law, this UAV plan may be different from the case of the D.C. sniper. Arguably, the Department of Homeland Security is a national security agency more than a law enforcement agency. Its primary purpose in guarding the border is to prevent entry and secure the nation, though it certainly has the secondary purpose of prosecuting those who might break the law entering the U.S. The Posse Comitatus Act bars the use of military personnel and equipment for law enforcement -- it does not bar their use for national security functions. In addition, a number of exceptions exist, such as 10 U.S.C. 372, which states:
(a) In General. - The Secretary of Defense may, in accordance with other applicable law, make available any equipment (including associated supplies or spare parts), base facility, or research facility of the Department of Defense to any Federal, State, or local civilian law enforcement official for law enforcement purposes.Ultimately, these exceptions are limited by 10 U.S.C. 375, which states that such assistance shall not include "direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law."
Bottom Line: It looks to me like this UAV loan program will be covered by the exceptions to Posse Comitatus. The interesting thing will be whether the loan program will be covered by two provisions in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the DHS. Sections 876 and 886 expressly limit the military activities of the new department, and reaffirm Congress' commitment to the Posse Comitatus doctrine. Sec. 876 states:
Nothing in this Act shall confer upon the Secretary any authority to engage in warfighting, the military defense of the United States, or other military activities, nor shall anything in this Act limit the existing authority of the Department of Defense or the Armed Forces to engage in warfighting, the military defense of the United States, or other military activities.There's a pretty good argument that this deployment of UAVs violates the spirit -- if not the letter -- of the Homeland Security Act. If Congress wanted a military homeland security effort, they would have simply told the Pentagon to make it happen without creating a Dept. of Homeland Security. Instead, I think that Congress wanted a civilian effort on the domestic security front.
Eventually, I think that DHS probably plans to buy its own UAVs to run its own border security operations. But in the interim, I think they need to answer some tough legal questions about their plan to borrow them from the Pentagon.
Judicial deference and national security
I have a piece today in Writ, Findlaw.Com's online journal of legal commentary, which criticizes judicial deference to the Executive Branch on national security grounds as somewhat anachronistic and out-of-step with modern reality. The piece tries to paint a picture of Constitutional tension between individual rights on the one hand, and the President's power to command the military on the other. Ultimately, what's needed is more of a balancing approach, rather than a strict policy of deference by the courts whenever national security is involved.
Does the judicial deference doctrine still make sense today? For a number of reasons, it may not be as well-justified as it once was.Update: CNN.com just picked up this piece and published it on the legal page of their news site.
Monday, July 14, 2003
3rd Infantry Division to remain in Iraq
MSNBC and others report that the Army has delayed the return of its 3rd Infantry Division from Iraq again. With attacks on Americans growing more frequent and deadly, Pentagon leaders appear unwilling to reduce their force in Iraq to deal with those attacks. The decision is the second for the "Rock of the Marne" division, whose soldiers had been told they would return to the U.S. in June. Many of 3ID's soldiers have been in the desert for 9-12 months, and numerous stories have reported on the morale problems for both soldiers and families created by the back-and-forth over the division's redeployment.
Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, the division’s commander, said last week he hoped the division’s 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams of roughly 9,000 soldiers could return home to Fort Stewart within the next six weeks.According to the 3ID website, a number of units have redeployed from Iraq, and more are on the way home. It also appears this redeployment is being done in rough reverse chronological order, based on who deployed to the desert first.
Balancing mission accomplishment against morale is a hard thing. It's the quintessential challenge for every military leader, in peace and war. Every unit finds its own balance; some are more "hard core" than others. The redeployment of 3ID is essentially a large version of this problem. The Pentagon must accomplish the mission in Iraq; we've spent too much blood and treasure to lose now. But at the same time, we must take care of our soldiers and their families -- we owe them that. I think it's time to bring 3ID home and rotate another unit over there. But I would hate to see this division come home at the cost of the mission, because that would undermine all the sacrifices these men and women have made.
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Four-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong seized the overall lead today in the L'Alpe D'Huez stage that he has historically dominated. Although Lance didn't win the stage as he normally does, he did gain enough time on the pack to slide into 1st overall in the 21-day race. Lance now leads Joseba Beloki of Spain by 40 seconds. Winning the Tour De France four times in a row is spectactular enough, but Lance hopes to match Spain's Miguel Indurain by winning five consecutive tours.
As many people know, Lance nearly died a few years ago from testicular cancer -- a story which he tells in his extremely moving book "It's Not About the Bike". I think it's amazing for anyone to even finish the Tour De France, let alone win it. Add to that winning it four times. Add to that winning it four times in a row after near-certain death. Lance is one of my heroes, and I am stoked that he has taken the yellow jersey in the French Alps.
Friday, July 11, 2003
Rumsfeld orders restructuring of America's military
Policy changes would shift forces from the reserves to the active force
Esther Schrader scoops the competition in Saturday's Los Angeles Times by reporting on a memo that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent to his senior commanders and policy chiefs which directs them to start considering radical changes to the active/reserve mix of America's military. The changes come in the 22nd month of America's war on terrorism, with its military stretched to the limit with current operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The goal, Ms. Schrader reports, is to ready America's military for the next conflict -- one for which we may get only a couple of weeks warning.
In a July 9 memo to the secretaries of the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rumsfeld called for shifting a broad range of professional specialties from the reserves to the active duty force to allow the military to mobilize for a major war within 15 days.Ms. Schrader's article correctly points out some of the complexities of this issue. In Vietnam, America's political leadership made a conscious decision to fight without the reserves; to use a conscription-based force of regulars instead. This was done because the reserves reach into every city and town in America. A callup of reserves requires a tremendous amount of popular support and political capital -- two things lacking in Vietnam. After that war ended, Gen. Creighton Abrams and others created the "Total Force Concept", in which critical functions would be put into the reserves so that their callup would be necessary for any future wars. The idea was to force the President to only fight wars where he had the political capital to callup the reserves.
Acting on that idea, the active-duty services moved many of the specialties needed to fight a war - security, intelligence, transportation and logistics - over to the reserves and National Guard.The Bottom Line: America has missions is has to accomplish with its military. Its military is stretched to the limit. Our leaders can influence the ledger on either side of this equation. We can increase the size of our military, or we can decrease our mission commitments. It looks like our war on terrorism will last for the foreseeable future, and the same can be said of our occupation in Iraq. Therefore, we must figure out a way to bolster our force. The Pentagon has relied on a steady stream of reservists for some time to do this, but those reserves may be running out. The Rumsfeld plan may be the best available option. More to follow...
The myth of the monolithic Pentagon:
SecDef's office opposes move to give health coverage to reservists
The AP reports today that the Secretary of Defense's office has written Congress to request deletion of a provision in the defense budget bill that would give full medical coverage to reservists and their families. This provision was designed to extend the benefits of the military health-care system to thousands of reservists (like me) who do one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. It would also have the side benefit of making mobilization easier, since these soldiers/families would already be integrated into the military health care system when the call to active duty came.
However, the SecDef's office warned Congress that the policy would be enormously costly -- to the detriment of the Pentagon's already bloated $380 billion budget.
[Rumsfeld] said he would recommend that President Bush veto the defense authorization bill if it included a Senate plan to expand TRICARE, the military health program. He estimated the change could cost $5 billion per year; Democrats disputed that figure.Analysis: I think both sides have a point here. The SecDef is correct about the financial impacts this would have on the current military health-care system, and the cost for the Defense Department. However, that may be a cost worth bearing. America has relied on these reservists more in the last 22 months than anytime since the Korean War. Medical coverage would be one way to show the reservists and their families that America cares about them. It would also boost reserve readiness, since a major mobilization problem has been getting soldiers up to active-duty medical standards. There may even be a tangential recruiting benefit here, if joining the reserves carried the benefit of full medical coverage.
Bottom Line: I think the benefits outweigh the costs here. There's enough fat in the Pentagon's budget to pay for this; taking care of soldiers and families is more important than a lot of things in the $380 billion bill.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Recommended reading: The El Paso Times has uploaded a scanned version of the Army's report on the 507th Maintenance Company ambush. This is an extremely well-written executive summary of what happened to these soldiers, and I think it supports my conclusions below.
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Report: Unit's weapons didn't work during convoy ambush
Breakdown in basic soldiering skills led to disastrous capture of American POWs
The Washington Post reports tonight on a report (also reported by the NY Times and LA Times) that identifies the main reason why PFC Jessica Lynch and five other soldiers were captured by Iraqi guerrillas on the road to Baghdad -- faulty weapons training and maintenance. The report indicates that soldiers had difficulty firing both their personal weapons (the M16A2 rifle) and their crew-served weapons (the M2 .50 caliber machine gun) at the enemy when fired upon. Few things will end a firefight badly more easily than weapons that won't shoot. Unfortunately, it appears from this report and others that the culprit was poor weapons training and maintenance.
"These malfunctions," the report says, "may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment" where sand, heat and improper maintenance combined to render the weapons inoperable.Analysis: I'm going to revert back to my NTC Observer/Controller training to pick out some issues that seem obvious from this story. These may seem like harsh criticisms, but if these things happened during a rotation at the National Training Center, these are exactly the things that would be discussed in the After Action Review. A causal link exists between each of these failures before combat and what happened in combat.
(1) Weapons Maintenance. Rifles and machine guns require a lot of tender loving care to work properly -- they require even more TLC in the harsh desert environment. Despite popular conceptions, the M16A2 rifle is a fairly intricate piece of machinery with lots of small moving pieces. It takes regular cleaning and lubrication in order to work. In the California desert, my platoon made a standard practice of field cleaning our rifles once a day -- more if possible. The sand is even more fine in Iraq. I have been told it resembles an awful form of talcum powder that gets in everything. In those conditions, the rifle would need to be cleaned and lubricated more than once a day. The rifle would also need to be protected in some way from the elements, such as with a plastic cap or latex balloon over the muzzle. Leaders must check their soldiers' weapons constantly to ensure this is being done. As the old maxim says: "Soldiers do what leaders check."
(2) Lubrication. It's not enough to clean the M16 rifle, M249 squad automatic weapon, or M2 .50 cal machine gun -- you also have to regularly apply lubricant in order to keep the metal parts moving against each other. The standard military lubricant for small arms is called "CLP" (See this discussion regarding CLP at Winds of Change). It worked okay for me in Korea and Texas, but not well. My platoon sergeant (an avid hunter) liked to use special commercially-available lubricants that he knew worked better. Apparently, he knew more than the Army's procurement folks. In the weeks since the war, several after action reviews have concluded that the Army's standard weapons lube was inadequate for the job in the desert.
Lubricant: Soldiers provided consistent comments that CLP was not a good choice for weapons maintenance in this environment. The sand is as fine as talcum powder here. The CLP attracted the sand to the weapon. ? Soldiers considered a product called MiliTec to be a much better solution for lubricating individual and crew-served weapons.Various current and former military officers echoed this report, saying that CLP was one of the worst lubricants the Army could buy for the desert:
"The CLP and Breakfree brand oil the military purchases is worthless," said Aaron Johnson, a 10-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserve, and author of a DefenseWatch guest column on the Army M9 sidearm "How to Save the M9 Beretta"; June 16, 2003). "I'm sure large amounts are acquired [by the Army] at relatively low cost, but that's why it should be done away with. That oil is too rich, and has little effectiveness at keeping weapons clean."Once again, our soldiers went into harm's way with lousy equipment because the procurement system failed them. There is some irony here, in that the original M16 rifle went into combat in Vietnam with many flaws that were learned at the cost of American lives. Today, we appear to have the best military in the world. Yet we are forced to learn lessons about our equipment the hard way.
3. Weapons Training. Weapons maintenance and lubrication are often a function of weapons training. Soldiers who know their weapons well will take care of them, because they are familiar with the effects of not doing so. Moreover, at least one part of the 507th Maintenance Company report indicates a probable failure of weapons training:
King [the company commander] then split the company into three groups, according to the Army investigation.The M2 .50 caliber machine gun doesn't just fail -- it fails for a reason. It's one of the most venerable weapons in the Army inventory; its basic design has not changed for decades. The most common reason for failure is the operator's failure to properly set the head space and timing. The internal parts of the .50 cal have a certain amount of play, and these parts have to be set right in order to work. If you set the headspace or timing wrong -- or fail to reset it after a while -- the weapon will malfunction. In some cases, this means it will fire one shot and then stop. In others, it may cause the weapon to misfire more severely, or even blow up.
In any case, this is the most probable reason for the .50 cal's failure in the 507th convoy. And it traces directly back to a failure to train the operator on how to shoot the .50 cal. In many units -- especially support units -- .50 cal training is hard to get in peacetime. The ranges are few and the ammunition is usually short, and it's often hard to get the right guy to the range because soldiers are often rotating through positions within a given unit. In combat, all of these are just excuses. The bottom line is that the 507th's convoy didn't have its .50 cal when it needed it, and its soldiers paid the price.
4. Land Navigation and Fieldcraft. It appears that Captain King got his convoy lost in the desert. Either he failed to properly copy the route, failed to follow the route, or failed to adjust the route based on information from his higher headquarters. The results were fatal. Soldiers in the Army don't do enough training on basic land navigation. Indeed, in many units, they simply rely on their Global Positioning Systems for this skill, as Captain King appeared to do:
The 507th, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, was not a combat unit; its members included cooks, mechanics, technicians and clerks. On March 21, the company crossed into Iraq from Kuwait as part of a convoy supporting a Patriot missile battalion. But early into the deployment, the company's commander, Capt. Troy King, misread his assigned route, the report said.Getting lost in peacetime is embarassing; it usually means you have to buy the beer or do pushups. Getting lost in wartime can be fatal. I learned this lesson in Korea when I misread the terrain once and wound up driving up a long canyon that led straight to the DMZ -- it took an extra 2 hours to back up the canyon and drive home. I never got lost again as an Army officer. My unit, a division MP company, trained a lot on land navigation because we knew that logistics units like the 507th would rely on us for this skill. As flattering as that was, it's the wrong answer. Every soldier and leader must be capable of moving from point A to point B in a way that gets them there alive. And they need to be able to do it without gadgets like the GPS, at night, with just a map and a compass (see FM 3-25.26 for more on the basics of land navigation)
Summary: I don't want to keep picking on support units, but in this case, I see a trend. Support units work hard in peacetime to keep our equipment running, often to the neglect of their own field training. The result is that they do not meet the standard for basic soldiering and warfighting skills. Of course, they learn through trial and error just like every unit. But the result of waiting to learn these lessons in wartime is that young Americans die as the unit climbs the learning curve. Our Army needs to embrace the warrior ethos in all units -- not just the combat arms -- and it needs to ensure that every unit can fight its way out of an ambush like this one.
In the end, none of this may have made the crucial difference and saved the convoy. War is chaotic, and bad things happend to good units who do everything right. But commanders strive to set their units up for success; to do everything possible to make the fight an unfair one -- for the enemy. Training, maintenance, pre-combat checks, pre-combat inspections, and fieldcraft are what enable good units to execute when the time comes on the battlefield. The 507th Maintenance Convoy failed in these areas, and the effects were devastating.
Enemy combatant asks court for release
Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, who has been deemed an "enemy combatant" by President Bush, filed suit in federal court today seeking release from that status and from Defense Department custody. Like Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi before him, Al-Marri contends that such a status is unlawful and unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the student, Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, argued in an appeal filed in federal court in Illinois that Mr. Bush's June 23 order declaring Mr. Marri to be an operative for Al Qaeda and an enemy combatant represented an act of "unbridled authority" that was illegal and unconstitutional.Indeed they will... If the Hamdi and Padilla cases are any indicators, the Bush Administration will vigorously contest this case in court to uphold its authority to designate enemy combatants and detain them as such. This is another issue where the courts have been very deferential to the Executive Branch. However, the deference hasn't been perfect. A federal judge in New York ordered the Pentagon to allow Padilla to meet with his lawyer in Dec. 2002, and the government has lost other legal battles in the Moussaoui case relating to its power to sequester combatants who may also be material witnesses. It's likely that the Al-Marri case will follow the path of the others, and end at a brick wall for Mr. Al-Marri.
That may be right outcome. Nation-states have had the authority to designate their enemies for centuries. If Al-Marri is an enemy of the United States, then our President has the inherent power as the leader of a sovereign nation to take military action against him. Normally, that would entail killing him. But we have chosen in this instance to take him prisoner and interrogate him for intelligence. That is a perfectly lawful act as a matter of international law. Indeed, the Third Geneva Convention precludes the trial of a combatant in civilian court for the lawful acts of a soldier (war crimes are a different matter).
Plaintiff files first post-Lawrence challenge to the military
Today's New York Times reports that a former Army lieutenant colonel has filed suit in federal court against the Army challenging his discharge for being gay. Loren S. Loomis was forcibly discharged one week before his 20-year retirement after firefighters found tapes of him having sex with another man while responding to a fire at his residence near Fort Hood, Texas. Emboldened by the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence, Mr. Loomis has filed suit challenging the legality of his discharge.
The Army discharged Mr. Loomis, who was wounded in the Vietnam War, in which he won two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, under "other than honorable" conditions, a move that deprived him of pension and benefits that he says are worth more than $1 million.Analysis: The discharge of gay servicemembers is governed today by Title 10, Section 654, United States Code, which states:
"A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations:To win, Mr. Loomis will have to get the court to rule that this statute places an unconstitutional burden on his fundamental right to intimate conduct, as stated by Justice Kennedy in his Lawrence opinion. Once a fundamental right is implicated by a law, the court must ask two questions:
(1) Does the law further a compelling government interest?
(2) Is the law narrowly tailored to further that compelling government interest?
Lots of things can affect this calculus, and it's by no means easy to predict how courts will go. However, the burden clearly lies with the government to justify its exclusion of gays from the military. Laws which burden fundamental rights are presumptively unconstitutional, unless the government can show why the law should survive. I think they have the "compelling interest" prong down cold -- America needs an effective military with cohesive units. But it's not clear that this policy is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. It may be both underinclusive and overinclusive in the sense that it requires an overt statement, act or marriage to trigger the exclusion.
So will the law survive here? It's hard to tell. The reason is that the courts have historically given great deference to the Executive Branch and the military on matters of national security. See, e.g., Korematsu v. United States; Doe v. Bush. Such deference will be given to the military on both prongs of the fundamental rights analysis. The courts will most likely defer to the military on the issue of whether this policy furthers a compelling government interest. And the courts will also give weight to the military's judgment about whether this is the best tailored policy possible for achieving the compelling interest of a cohesive and effective military.
In any other context, the law would certainly fail. But the doctrine of military deference affects the fundamental rights calculus in a weird way, as seen in military cases on religion and speech. In addition to the military deference doctrine, there's also a doctrine of deference to the political branches on issues best resolved by Congress and the President. The legislative history of 10 U.S.C. 654 indicates that this statute was hammered out as a compromise between the two political branches after an extremely contentious political debate. The courts may not be willing to step into that fight.
Bottom Line: Military deference and political deference can only go so far. At some point, the court may decide this issue is too important to decide on those bases. The court may also decide the Constitutional rights at stake are too important to leave to military decisionmaking and political arm-wrestling. I honestly don't know how this will turn out, because I don't have the Constitutional Law expertise to offer an intelligent answer to these questions. Lawrence put this issue into play, after a series of courts had ruled against such challenges in the 1990s, but it's not clear how it will be resolved this time. Good arguments exist on both sides -- it's now up to the judge to decide.
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Army contracts for 100,000-soldier barracks in Iraq
In what seems like deja vu from our deployment to the Balkans, Inside the Army reports that the Army has contracted Kellogg Brown & Root to build barracks for 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. This is a major step towards a long-term, institutionalized, semi-permanent U.S. presence in Iraq. Permanent bases are easier to secure, better for the soldiers, and more conducive to long-term deployments. I think this is an indicator that the Pentagon is planning for a long-term occupation of Iraq -- perhaps up to 10-30 years.
While some of the housing might be as crude as tents, Army officials say the project could provide more durable structures and describe accommodations similar to those found at longer-term peacekeeping spots around the world, like Kosovo.
Monday, July 07, 2003
The ugly face of war
Embedded reports from the Marines' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion
A lot has been made of the reports that came from embedded reporters in the recent war with Iraq. For the most part, I think they did a good job of reporting on a part of war that has often been neglected for operational security reasons. Some reporters, such as the Washington Post's Rick Atkinson and William Branigin, and the LA Times' Tony Perry and David Zucchino, did a particularly good job of covering the units they were with. But until now, I haven't read any stories that hit me the force of some first-person accounts I've read.
Evan Wright's reports in Rolling Stone are different. For the entire war, Mr. Wright traveled with a platoon of the elite 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the U.S. Marines. The 1st Recon Marines were not used as stealthy infantry scouts, the way such a unit might normally be employed. Instead, these Marines were employed like an Army light cavalry unit, fighting their way in Hummvees north from Kuwait to Baghdad. Mr. Wright reports on the entire journey of these men, over the course of three outstanding pieces in Rolling Stone magazine. Here's an excerpt from the second piece:
It's not a good day for god in Iraq. Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Bodley, chaplain for the First Reconnaissance Battalion, is trying to minister to fighting Marines, now resting for the first time since the invasion of Iraq began more than a week ago. They have set up a defensive camp by the airfield they seized near Qal'at Sukkar, in central Iraq. After their initiation into urban-guerrilla warfare in An Nasiriyah to the south, followed by three days of continual fighting against an enemy they seldom actually saw, the 374 Marines of the elite battalion have been given forty-eight hours of downtime to recuperate. Their camp is spread across two kilometers of what looks like a fantasy Martian landscape of dried-out, reddish mud flats and empty canals. Each four - to six - man team lives in holes dug beneath camouflage nets placed around its Humvee. Throughout the day, Bodley walks around the camp and attempts to minister to his flock of heavily armed young men. Although the Marines in First Recon have already killed dozens, accidentally wounded civilians and taken one casualty of their own (a driver shot in the arm), the chaplain encounters few troubled by war itself. "A lot of the young men I talk to can compartmentalize the terrible things they've seen," he says. "But many of them feel bad because they haven't had a chance to fire their weapons. They worry that they haven't done their jobs as Marines."I hope that Mr. Wright takes this material and writes a book about the experience these Marines went through. I suspect his detached view would make a great companion to first-person accounts like that of Anthony Swofford in Jarhead. If he writes it, Mr. Wright's book will join Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down on my bookshelf as two of the best journalistic accounts of war that I have read. Rolling Stone has also put the first and third articles online; I recommend them to anyone who wants to see the ugly face of war up close, without censorship.
Attacks on U.S. troops raise specter of guerilla war
Was an urban insurgency the Iraqi strategy all along?
Tom Ricks, probably the best defense reporter out there, reports today in the Washington Post (along with Rajiv Chandrasekaran) that Iraqi attacks on American troops in recent days have spurred concerns about the conflict that just seems to keep going in Iraq. Despite the declaration by the President that major combat operations have ended (see below), and the repeated declarations by Pentagon officials that we are not in a guerilla war, that seems to be exactly the case.
Recent Iraqi attacks on U.S. troops have demonstrated a new tactical sophistication and coordination that raise the specter of the U.S. occupation force becoming enmeshed in a full-blown guerrilla war, military experts said yesterday.Keeping the peace is just one problem. Fighting the war is another. Peace and war are not like pregnant and not-pregnant -- it's not a binary choice. Conceptually, I think there's more of a spectrum from peace to war, along which you have law enforcement, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, low-intensity conflict, and war. (This isn't just my thought; it's also what official U.S. Army doctrine says.)
So what are we seeing in Iraq? I don't think we're just seeing criminal activity or the activity of out-of-work soldiers. I think we're seeing the start of a real guerilla war, in which we will fight a determined, well-equipped and organized enemy in the streets of Iraq for some time. Ricks' article alludes to this trend:
Retired Army Col. Richard Dunn, a former head of the Army's internal think tank, agreed, saying, "I'd like to be wrong on this, but we may be seeing a classic insurgency situation developing." At the same time, he said, it is possible that "we may just be seeing a surge of activity that they're unable to sustain."Analysis: What if this was their strategy all along? What if, instead of fighting America in the desert, the Iraqi command authority made a conscious choice to suck us into their cities and fight us 1 platoon at a time, with small-unit ambushes and such? This looks an awful lot like classic insurgency warfare; what some call 4th Generation Warfare. It reflects an old maxim most recently stated by Chinese leader Mao Zedong: "The reed bends with the wind, and then snaps back up again."
I do not think we're seeing low-level criminal activity anymore; I also don't think we're seeing uncoordinated attacks. I think that our enemy has coalesced into something larger and more menacing. Of course, I don't have the on-the-ground intelligence to make this assessment, nor do I have access to anything but open-source reports. But the tea leaves look clear to me. The Iraqis have strategically withdrawn from the desert and regrouped in the cities, and instead of fighting us where we are strong (the desert), they are now fighting us where we are weak. Their ultimate goal is to mimic Somalia. The Iraqis hope to inflict enough casualties on us that we will go home with our tail between our legs. Ultimately, this is a dubious strategy, given our national level of commitment to Iraq as compared to our commitment to Somalia. But in the short-term, it means that Iraqi guerillas will seek to kill as many Americans as possible wherever they present targets of opportunity.
If I were a planner again... I'd recommend three main courses of action:
(1) Boost the U.S. troop presence, because you're going to need a lot more boots on the ground in order to properly secure the American footprint in Iraq.
(2) Ratchet up the force protection level significantly, to the point where U.S. troops conduct their nation-building operations as if they are still at war. This will hamper and delay much of the nation-building, as it's more difficult to conduct business at rifle's length that an arm's length. But we cannot let our guard down like we have been in recent weeks.
(3) Go on the offensive, as we did with Operation Peninsula Strike and Operation Scorpion. Find the Iraqi guerillas, their weapons caches, and their leadership -- and take them out. Again, these offensives require more soldiers, because you have to have enough for basic security and offensive missions. But if you let the enemy seize the initiative, you're toast. We absolutely have to take the fight to these Iraqis before they take the fight to us, and fight them on terms favorable to us.
Update: I've been asked to comment on this issue and the situation in Iraq tomorrow morning between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on WCTC, New Brunswick, NJ (AM 1450). If you're in that area, I hope you can tune in.
Update II: David Adesnik at Oxblog has some thoughts on the relationship between stories like this and soldier morale. For what it's worth, I think that criticizing the mission and the cause can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. We ought do that for the sake of the mission and our soldiers in the field. But I think we should recognize this conflict for what it is -- something in the gray area between peace and war -- and devote the resources necessary to win it.
Back from the holiday weekend... blogging will resume at my regular summer pace. Thanks for stopping by; more to follow.
Thursday, July 03, 2003
You make the call...
May 1, 2003 -- Remarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California.
"Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.) And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country."Jul. 2, 2003 -- Press Conference by LTG Ricardo Sanchez, Commanding General, V Corps, Baghdad (as reported in the New York Times).
"We're still at war," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said in a news conference today. While saying the attacks did not appear to be centrally or even regionally coordinated, he asserted that there had been an "increase in sophistication of the explosive devices used" against American forces.Who's right? It's really hard to tell. The President is correct that major combat operations have ended, insofar as American tanks are no longer charging across the Iraqi desert. But it appears that we are now fighting a new kind (or a very old kind) of war -- a counter-insurgency campaign against hardened guerillas and terrorists who attack with unconventional weapons and tactics. I think LTG Sanchez is right to say the war has not ended -- it has merely begun a new phase. This phase will look a lot more like Somalia than Gulf War I, but hopefully with a better result. More to follow...