Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Pentagon announces U.S.-Australia deal for Gitmo detainee
The Pentagon issued a press release today announcing the terms of an agreement for the military tribunal of David Hicks, an Australian being held at Guantanamo Bay after his capture in late 2001 in Afghanistan. Pentagon lawyers negotiated this deal with Australian authorities, who were concerned that military tribunals might provide less procedural and substantive due process than ordinary American criminal trials. Mr. Hicks was already on a short list of tribunal candidates. With this agreement, I think it's a safe bet that he will be one of the first tried by these procedures at Gitmo. The U.S.-Australian agreement focused mostly on the procedural issues for Mr. Hicks' eventual trial, including:
The prosecution has reviewed the evidence against the Australian detainees, and based on that evidence, the prosecution would not seek the death penalty;Analysis: This is a really interesting development in the saga of the U.S. military commissions planned for members of Al Qaeda. On the big-picture level, this development represents a retreat of sorts for the Pentagon lawyers who drafted the military commission regulations. Essentially, the Pentagon has given ground on a number of key issues, such as attorney-client monitoring, the use of classified materials, and the use of ex parte proceedings. I think that critics of the tribunals will seize on this agreement to say "the Pentagon is willing to give these things up because they recognize that these procedures are inherently unjust." I think the situation's a bit more complex, but that's the likely argument to be made.
On the micro-level, each of these provisions makes an interesting statement about the nature of the charges against Mr. Hicks, and the evolution of thinking within the Pentagon about the tribunals:
1. "[T]he prosecution would not seek the death penalty" To me, this means the case against Hicks is pretty flimsy -- kind of like the case against John Walker Lindh. I think this guy was probably just a foot soldier -- on the wrong side at the wrong time in the wrong country. Unfortunately, that's a violation of U.S. law, and if he didn't follow the rules for combatancy in the Law of Armed Conflict, it could be a violation of international law too. But it's not a major violation, and it certainly doesn't deserve the death penalty. This interpretation of Mr. Hicks' case is buttressed by the following clause, which states "The security and intelligence circumstances of Mr Hick’s case are such that it would not warrant monitoring of conversations between him and his counsel." Clearly, the Pentagon wouldn't agree to this if they thought Mr. Hicks had any residual intelligence value whatsoever.
2. "[T]he prosecution does not intend to rely on evidence in its case-in-chief requiring closed proceedings from which the accused could be excluded." This means that the Pentagon does think it will use classified evidence at trial. The inference that I draw from this is that Mr. Hicks was a member of the Taliban, but not Al Qaeda, and that the U.S. government doesn't need to use any intelligence sources or assets to describe his membership in that quasi-governmental organization. If this guy were a member of Al Qaeda, a shadowy organization at best, we'd probably need to use some classified evidence to show that.
3. "[M]ilitary commissions will be open, the media present and appropriately cleared representatives of the accused’s government may observe the proceedings". Again, we're not looking at a deep sleeper in Al Qaeda or a leader of that global terror network -- we're looking at a foot soldier. Given the likely facts of his case, there's no reason to shut the media out. Indeed, if this is a slam-dunk case and if the facts are relatively innocuous, this coudl be the deception/diversion/obscuration effort for the rest of the military tribunals. If the Hicks tribunal goes first, it will get a lot of publicity -- more than it probably deserves on the basis of the facts of the case. Let's say the Pentagon throws the doors wide open, and uses this as a case study for how the tribunals can work in a kindler & gentler manner. After the publicity fades, and after public opinion switches to support for the tribunals, the Pentagon can roll out the real bad guys -- and use the full panoply of procedural devices such as ex parte hearings, classified evidence, and closed trials.
Recommendation: Look for the articles tomorrow by Jess Bravin (Wall Street Journal), Richard Serrano (LA Times), and Charles Lane or Dan Eggen (Washington Post). They do the best reporting on these issues, and I suspect they'll have the best analysis in tomorrow's paper.
Army transfers Yee; announces new charges
The case of CPT James Yee, the Muslim chaplain suspected of espionage at Guantanamo Bay, took a strange turn today when the Army decided to release him from the military brig at Charleston to regular duty at Fort Benning, GA. The Army also added new counts to his current charges of mishandling classified information, including allegations of adultery, storing pornography on a government computer, and disobeying a lawful order. The next step for CPT Yee is an Art. 32 hearing, which is somewhat like a grand jury hearing, and then he may face a general court martial for his actions. Suffice to say, the stakes are much lower than when I wrote this article arguing for capital punishment in this case. But I still think there is more here than meets the eye. I expect we'll see more charges in the near future -- more to follow.
An amazing story of human kindness in war
Bryan Gruley tells a great story today in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about Lt. John Withers, U.S. Army, and what he did at the tail end of WWII to save two Jewish concentration camp survivors. The story is more remarkable because Lt. Withers was black, at a time when the Army was bitterly segregated, and he could have faced serious sanctions for violating the general orders regarding the treatment of displaced persons at the end of the war. As the story relates, Lt. Withers' humanity won out over his orders.
The two young men stood trembling before Army Lt. John Withers, dressed in the rags they'd worn at the recently liberated Dachau concentration camp. Sores pocked their bony arms and legs. Decades later, the lieutenant would remember how their sunken eyes sought mercy.Thoughts: This is the kind of story that makes me proud to have been an American army officer. There aren't many armies in the world that can lay claim to this kind of lineage -- as peacemakers and humanitarians as well as warfighters. Lt. Withers was a junior officer who knew what the right thing was -- and he did it, notwithstanding his orders to the contrary. If faced with a similar situation today in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think my peers would probably do the same thing. There's something about the American military officer that transcends more obeyance to orders; that wants to do the right thing. As Lt. Withers said in the story, he couldn't have done anything different, because to do so would have made him lose face in front of his men. American soldiers know the difference between right and wrong; good and evil. In this case, they chose the right path.
Monday, November 24, 2003
The Pentagon starts a weblog... sort of
New "Penta-blog" service offers RSS/XML feed to the public
I've commended the Pentagon's web page before as a great repository for information -- press releases, transcripts of press conferences, and other useful data. DefenseLink is searchable; it keeps stuff on file for a long time; and DefenseLink is pretty well organized for a government website. Now, the Pentagon introduces an RSS/XML feed for defense news junkies who just can't get enough news from inside the Pentagon. This isn't really a weblog, but it's only a couple of steps removed from one. An RSS/XML feed lets interested parties tune in to information in streaming format, much like a weblog. Indeed, many people consume weblogs almost entirely via RSS/XML. In a few years, I think the weblog and RSS/XML formats will become the standard medium for news sites and public affairs offices who want to offer real-time news in a digestable format.
Of course, I doubt we'll ever get the SecDef or DepSecDef offering up snarky and irreverent commentary on a Penta-blog . . . but anything's possible.
Army reserve starts to see personnel exodus
The Boston Globe has an interesting report on a very problematic trend: declining reenlistments among Army reservists coming home from the war on terrorism. For the past two years, Army and Pentagon officials have maintained that they were on glide-path for recruiting and retention, and that repeated mobilizations were not affecting their ability to get and keep quality people. I was always skeptical of those reports, but the Army had the hard data -- not me. Now, it appears that the rumblings in the ranks were true, and that the numbers support what many have thought for some time: repeated mobilizations have begun to decimate the ranks of America's reserves.
The Army Reserve has missed its retention goal by 6.7 percent, the second shortfall since fiscal 1997. It was largely the result of a larger than expected exodus of career reservists, a loss of valuable skills because such staff members are responsible for training junior officers and operating complex weapons systems.Analysis: Some background is useful here. The Army divides up its reenlistment numbers in countless ways, and it's often hard to figure out which number matters. The big picture is that the Army Reserve missed its reenlistment goal by 6.7%. The first thing is that this does not mean the Army Reserve is losing 6.7% of its total manpower each year. This statistic means that the Army Reserve has fallen 6.7% of its reenlistment target, which is a subset of that larger attrition figure.
Here's how it works. Let's say the Army Reserve has 200,000 soldiers who are up for reenlistment/discharge in a given year. The Army headquarters decides to set a reenlistment target of 50%, or 100,000 of those reservists who are getting out. To meet the target, Army Reserve commanders have to convince/persuade that many soldiers to stay in the force. If the Army Reserve missed its target by 6.7%, that means that it got 93,300 reservists to reenlist -- and fell 6,700 soldiers short. Not bad, actually. But not good if the Army Reserve has the same trend for month after month, year after year.
The next number is that the Army Reserve missed its "career soldier" retention mark by 9.3 percent. The same math applies, but this pool is different. This group does not include the "first term" soldiers who joined for one hitch and college money. These are the senior sergeants who have been in the reserves for a while, and presumably are pretty close to retirement or already eligble for retirement. These guys have put a lot of time into the reserves, and it says a lot that they're willing to walk away from it. My gut tells me these numbers indicate there's a large pool of guys who basically said "enough" after the last mobilization.
(Thanks to the detail-oriented readers who corrected my math above -- I appreciate the feedback)
One other note: these are aggregate numbers from across the reserve force. We haven't mobilized the entire Army Reserve or National Guard, just a percentage of it. Presumably, in those units that have been mobilized, these retention numbers are a lot worse. My recent experience indicates that the Reserve and Guard can retain as little as 40% of a unit after mobilization, depending on the mission and the unit's leadership. There are a lot of hollow units out there right now as a result of mobilizations, and the collective decision by soldiers to get out.
Is there any good news here? No, and yes. The bad news is that the reserves can't sustain these numbers. If senior sergeants and officers get out in these numbers, it literally decimates the Army Reserves' cadre of leadership, and that has a terrible effect on unit readiness and effectiveness. The good news is that the reserves will gain a lot of recruits from the active force as stop-loss is lifted and soldiers come home in large numbers from Iraq to get off active duty. Typically, the biggest recruitment source for the reserves is the active force. Despite the risk of mobilization, the flow of discharged active-duty soldiers to the reserve forces is still pretty good, and that will fill the reserves with a lot of knowledge and expertise. It may not completely offset this exodus, but it will help.
Over time, however, even this won't help. If the Army Reserve and National Guard continues to have the operational tempo it now does, a lot of active-duty veterans will decline the chance to serve in the reserves. They won't want to join up if it simply means a return to active duty. Second, the current operational tempo will continue to attrit units as they come off of their mobilization, at increasingly high numbers. In the reserves, it has increasingly become a question of when you will be mobilized, not if you will be mobilized. Most of these reservists are willing to go once, but I think the threat of a second or third trip to the desert will cause many to decline reenlistment.
House committee to hold hearings on LTC West
The House Armed Services Committee put out a press release this morning announcing that it would hold hearings on the case of LTC Allen West, a former artillery battalion commander in Iraq who may face a court-martial for allegedly mistreating an Iraqi prisoner. (Thanks to M.L. for the e-mail) At this point, the military inquiry into LTC West is in the preliminary stages. His unit (the 4th Infantry Division) held an emotional Art. 32 hearing last week, and the decision has not yet been made to court martial him. However, an offer to let LTC West resign in lieu of court martial has lapsed, and all tea leaves point to a decision by his CG to try him in court.
Based on the information currently available to them, Hunter and McHugh believe that West's actions may well have been necessary to protect the lives and safety of his fellow soldiers and not the actions of a criminal, as he is charged. Hunter is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and McHugh is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Total Force, which has jurisdiction over military personnel matters.Analysis: This is really strange. First, it should be said that Congress has the Constitutional authority under Art. I, Sec. 8, to make laws for the governance of the armed forces. But I'm not sure if they have the authority to exercise direct oversight of the military justice system in this fashion. Although Congress passed the statutes (the UCMJ and others) which set up the military justice system, that may be the limit of their authority. Everything else may fall within the President's sphere of responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, per Art. II of the Constitution. So there are Constitutional questions raised by this press release.
Second, if the President or SecDef exercised this sort of prerogative, it would almost definitely be seen as a case of "unlawful command influence." According to law and custom, senior officials and higher headquarters are not supposed to intervene from above in courts martial. The 4th Infantry Division's commander, MG Ray Odierno, is supposed to make the decision to try or not to try on his own, on the recommendation of his Art. 32 hearing and the counsel from his Staff Judge Advocate. This move by HASC may give LTC West some ammunition for his appeal if he is ultimately tried and convicted.
Finally, even if Congress does have the power to hold this hearing and it's not command influence, I'm not sure this is a wise thing to do. If Rep. Duncan Hunter is truly concerned about the Rules of Engagement in Iraq and other operational law issues, he can hold hearings on that. Indeed, he can subpoena just about anyone he wants on the subject, up to and including the Secretary of Defense. If there is a problem with ROE in Iraq, such a macro-level look may be better for policy reasons than a micro-level look at LTC West's case, or a macro-level look through the lens of LTC West's case. The facts of LTC West's case are, as they say, not good for the defense. In addition to allegedly protecting his unit, he ordered his soldiers to do his "wet work", and then let them be tried by the same military justice system he now stands accused in.
If I were the decisionmaker here, I probably wouldn't try LTC West, anymore than I would try some of the other officers who have made tough decisions in wartime. My reason is that I wouldn't want to communicate to commanders in Iraq that they will be second-guessed by a court martial for errors in judgment. Ironically, by intervening here, Congress may be sending that same message on a higher level: if you make a discipline decision we disagree with, we'll hold hearings back in Washington. That may not be the best thing for LTC West, or the Army, or the mission in Iraq.
Real combat heroines
For those that think women have no place in ground combat, there's this excellent report from Baghdad by Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post, one of the 10 best reporters on the military beat. (Thanks to M.L. for the tip) Loeb writes about several women now serving in Iraq as Army military police soldiers, an MOS where they often find themselves fighting as scouts or infantry. Thanks to tough training and good leadership, gender hasn't gotten in the way of these women's performance in Iraq, as this story shows:
Pvt. Teresa Broadwell is in the middle of the maelstrom, standing on tiptoe in the turret of a Humvee in a vain attempt, at 5 feet 4 inches tall, to see through the sight of her M-249 machine gun. American soldiers are down in the street. Iraqis are firing at her truck from the rooflines and alleyways along Highway 9 near the center of this dusty city an hour south of Baghdad.Analysis: As several of the women point out in this story, the MP corps is really the leading edge for women in the military. It's the closest they get to being in the combat arms -- and many times, the MP corps is a combat force that sees as much action as the infantry. One thing that often gets missed is that MPs are more likely to see other kinds of action, e.g. riot control or hand-to-hand combat, than their infantry brethren. And MPs are also likely to be tapped for urban missions like cordon-and-search, or other "kick in the door" operations.
In my experience as an MP officer, women like PVT Broadwell and her commander, CPT Terri Dorn, were the rule, not the exception. Women who join the MP corps and make it through basic training (or officer selection) are typically more motivated and more mentally prepared than their male peers. Though they may lack some of the upper body strength and size of their brethren, they quickly make up for it in marksmanship, street smarts, and interpersonal skills (all important skills for an MP). In fact, the female MP officers I knew were head-and-shoulders above the average male officer, and were often some of the best leaders you could find in uniform. Again, the dynamics of self-selection had a big role here, in that the toughest and most motivated women from West Point and ROTC knew the MP corps was where the action was at. (The same is true for women in the aviation and the MI branches)
So what does this mean for the larger debate over women in combat? Well, as I wrote nearly a year ago in the Washington Monthly:
In the end, what will really determine public reaction is how well women perform their jobs under fire. On the ground in Afghanistan, women did not participate in the main actions of Operation Anaconda. But since the fighting died down, female MPs have gone out on long infantry patrols with the 82nd Airborne Division, and by most indications perform-ed well. To be fair, they have not seen combat, and haven't performed the most physically demanding tasks the military has to offer. But women have covered 10 to 20 miles of very hard country per day carrying loads of up to 75 pounds, all while living in close quarters with male infantry.I think the proof is in the way that women have performed in Iraq -- both in "major combat operations" and in the guerilla war since 1 May 03.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Assessing blame for the Istanbul attacks
The Washington Post reports today on the reaction of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to the bombing in Istanbul, which killed the British consul-general among others. The article is misleadingly headlined "Bush, Blair Say Iraq War Is Not Cause Of Attacks". The story's lead paragraph goes on to say that "President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared Thursday that the invasion of Iraq was not to blame for the recent wave of terrorist violence and that bombs that devastated two British facilities in Istanbul . . . ", but the rest of the story (and its quotes) do not support this assertion:
"Our mission in Iraq is noble and it is necessary, and no act of thugs or killers will change our resolve or alter their fate," Bush said at a joint news conference with Blair, as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested the Iraq war on streets nearby. "We will finish the job we have begun."Okay. So far, that's the sort of defiant "still upper lip" rhetoric we expect to hear from political leaders after a terrorist attack. However, the only quote that supports this headline is buried far down in the story:
At the news conference, Blair responded with pique when asked if the U.S.-British alliance in Iraq has invited terrorist attacks such as Thursday's. "What has caused the terrorist attack today in Turkey is not the president of the United States, is not the alliance between America and Britain," he said. "What is responsible for that terrorist attack is terrorism, are the terrorists."Analysis: Tony Blair is a brilliant orator and statesman, but I think he's wrong. First of all, his comment is both circular and conclusory. He asserts that terrorism is responsible for the terrorist attack. That says nothing. Moreover, it ignores an essential element of the definition of terrorism, which is that terrorism is politically or ideologically motivated violence. It is not violence for its own sake, or violence for pecuniary gain, as crime is often described. Terrorism is violence for a purpose. The purposeful targeting of British nationals in a Muslim nation provides strong evidence of the purpose behind this attack. While Al Qaeda has not explicitly claimed these attacks, nor linked them to Iraq, I think that's a fair reading of the tea leaves.
Update: The WP also has this excellent analysis of who was behind the Istanbul attacks. The article makes two important points. First, Al Qaeda has morphed into a far more decentralized and dangerous enemy than on Sept. 11. Second, the real enemy is Islamic international terrorism writ large -- an Al Qaeda is only one of a number of groups committed to global terrorism in the name of Allah. Al Qaeda's doctrine may have inspired these attacks, and its TTPs may have been used for them, but the actual act may have been carried out by anyone in the loose confederation of international Islamic jihadists.
One senior U.S. official said al Qaeda's children were "growing up and moving out into the world, loyal to their parents but no longer reliant on them."This story quotes all the "giants" in the field of terrorism, and is about as accurate as any threat assessment I've seen lately.
There is some tragic irony here. Al Qaeda has built an international coalition of sorts with which to wage multilateral, networked, global jihad against the West. The Western coalition in the war on terrorism is strong, but it also shows some signs of fissure over issues like Iraq. America's best hope for defeating such a global networked threat is to build a network of its own -- it takes a network to fight a network.
Army sergeant develops a new body warming system
Battlefield innovation shows the ingenuity of the American NCO
There's an old maxim of leadership in the Army that if you tell someone how to do something, you'll get results, but if you tell someone what to do, they'll often amaze you with their initiative and brilliance. Army Staff Sgt. Adam R. Irby of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) of the 28th Combat Support Hospital proves this maxim in spades with his new invention: an improvised field warming system for casualties which works three times better than the similar Army-procured device and is made from cardboard boxes and hair dryers. (Thanks to Donald Sensing for the link)
Soldiers wounded in combat or accidents who suffer high blood loss almost always have internal bleeding. Stopping internal bleeding is crucial to save their lives - but the blood loss lowers their temperatures dramatically. And cooler blood does not coagulate to seal internal wounds quickly. Casualties have died from internal bleeding before their bodies could be warmed in the hospital.Analysis: This is truly amazing work by SSG Irby. There's a reason why Army leaders call non-commissioned officers the "backbone of the Army". NCOs are the repository of the warrior ethos, as well as the professional knowledge and technical ability that is necessary to fight on the modern battlefield. You can't take conscripts, train them for a year, and expect them to fight the way that SFC Eversman did in Mogadishu, or do things like SSG Irby. Building NCOs like these takes years, and an incalculable amount of investment in training, education, and leadership development. Borrowing a phrase from the Army's standard award language, SSG Irby's actions reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Sending a message with terror
As Brian Jenkins said so many years ago, "terrorism is theater." The Los Angeles Times captures that point nicely with this article today on the twin suicide bombings in Istanbul which killed dozens and left hundreds wounded. The aim of this attack was clearly not destructive, although it did horiffic damage. It was to communicate the simple message that "we're here, we're still capable, and we're still on the offensive."
By bombing the British Consulate and the headquarters of a Britain-based bank, the attackers served notice on Washington's chief ally in Iraq and other members of its coalition, as well as moderate Islamic countries, that cooperating with the Bush administration is risky — and that the danger extends to the business as well as the diplomatic community.Analysis: This last point is intriguing, and correct in my opinion. Iraq has become a focal point for international jihadists; a point on the map they can rally towards. From their perspective, Iraq is a place where Western/American/Christian imperialism has squashed a secular Arab state, and is now frustrating the Sunni and Shiite Muslims there from determining their own government and establishing an Islamic state. Iraq provides evidence of our evil for the terrorists to raise money, arms and personnel. It also provides a training ground for terrorists to hone their deadly arts. And it gives them a raison d'etre -- a reason to fight -- by justifying any political violence which might hasten the end of the occupation. I think it's inevitable that such violence will spread to countries beyond the U.S. and Britain, to possibly include our other allies helping with Iraq like South Korea and Poland. More to follow.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
An old refrain: too few MPs to go around in America's reserves
Jeff Quinton passes on some news from South Carolina that ought to seem eerily familiar to those who have been following the state of America's military reserves since Sept. 11: too few Military Police units for too many missions. Immediately after Sept. 11, MPs were called up to handle force protection missions everywhere from the Pentagon to the Golden Gate Bridge. Since then, reserve MPs have taken on the Afghanistan MP mission, the Guantanamo Bay mission, and a great deal of the MP mission in Iraq. I can't think of a single MP unit in the reserves that hasn't been mobilized in some way since Sept. 11, along with a few other high-demand specialties like Civil Affairs, Military Intelligence, and Special Forces.
Practicing judo with the Senate Armed Services Committee
The New York Daily News reports that Gen. Peter Schoomaker has effectively learned how to deal with Congress -- agree with them when they criticize the military, and turn the criticism to the Army's own benefit. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Hillary Clinton criticized a recent Pentagon study and used the occasion to argue for more pay, more benefits, and more money for Americans who serve and their families. (Not a bad way to get votes, according to this Washington Monthly story) Rather than obfuscate, obscure and tapdance, Gen. Schoomaker took ownership of the problem and did something wholly unexpected -- he agreed with Sen. Clinton.
New York's junior Democrat laid into a Pentagon cost-cutting study that suggests closing dozens of schools and commissaries on bases - and won the support of Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the new Army chief of staff.Nice job, Gen. Schoomaker. If you can combine your political acumen with your extensive experience as a snakeeater to pry money out of Congress, the Army will be better for it.
Admin note: Just as my college newspaper, the UCLA Daily Bruin, studiously ignored the O.J. Simpson trial while I worked there as a reporter and editor, so too will I studiously ignore Southern California's latest celebrity trial: People v. Michael Jackson. I may comment on the implications this story's prominence has for foreign policy, in that it may push news of Iraq and terrorism off the front pages and TV news shows. But probably not -- I think such stories are best left to Court TV and the tabloid news shows.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Al Qaeda 3.0?
Global terror network evolves into an opportunistic enemy
Peter Bergen, the brilliant journalist who wrote Holy War, Inc., described the evolution of international corporate jihad recently as "Al Qaeda 2.0". A report in today's Los Angeles Times makes me wonder if the enemy has evolved even more, to something beyond what Mr. Bergen has described thus far. Here are the two key parts of the story:
Al Qaeda has always been relatively decentralized and unstructured. But today it moves faster, inciting attacks that require less time, expertise or high-level supervision, said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst and terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.Analysis: This is truly a living, breathing, thinking, evolving enemy. Its original form was probably the "Afghan Arab" movement which successfully fought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with a composite force of Afghans and Arabs supported by America and others. In the 1990s, this force mutated into the international terror network responsible for the 1996 bombings in Africa, 1998 embassy bombings, 2001 USS Cole attack, and Sept. 11. Over that period, the Al Qaeda network evolved, building redundancy and operational capabilities, building doctrine, and learning lessons from other conflicts. One lesson it learned well was how to survive the eventual Western counter-attack.
The organization had enough redundant operational capability, as well as enough dispersal, to withstand our operations in Afghanistan and continue its operations abroad. The best that can be said is that Al Qaeda has been diminished. It currently appears to lack the ability to conduct "spectactular operations" in the U.S. or Western Europe. But Al Qaeda does not lack the ability to conduct operations abroad, either in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. It appears likely that Al Qaeda has adopted a purposeful operational strategy of "wait and strike where we can." Even pinprick attacks on seemingly insignificant targets can be a big deal for Al Qaeda, because they show the ability to continue the fight even in the face of overwhelming odds.
The tale of David and Goliath is an old one, but it has never lost its ability to inspire the masses. Al Qaeda vs. the United States has became a tale of David and Goliath writ large on the Arab street, and only spectacular successes on our part (which are broadcast by Al-Jazeera) will have any effect on this. To lure more recruits and more donations from sympathetic Arabs around the world, Al Qaeda doesn't have to launch another 9/11-style spectacular operation. They can simply go on, throwing rocks and bombs at insignificant targets while being hunted by American special operations units. Doing so will inspire their followers, which will make them stronger.
At some point in the future, Al Qaeda 3.0 will resume its larger operations, perhaps when we have become complacent or when America can no longer politically justify the exhaustive hunt for Al Qaeda. This enemy has the tactical patience to wait for that moment, and to strike then. Our best counter-measures are psychological. We can never allow ourselves to become complacent, and we must conceptually think of everything as a potential target.
Coda: The original Afghan Arabs may be evolving too, and learning lessons from both the Somalia operation and the current occupation of Iraq. Michael M. Phillips reports in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that Afghan insurgents have adopted many of the same disruptive tactics as their Iraqi contemporaries. That is to say, they are striking so-called "soft targets" of opportunity when they can in order to create chaos and inflict casualties. The goal is not to defeat the NATO military operation in Afghanistan, but to destabilize the situation and make it politically untenable for the West to continue its nation-building operations there.
The recent surge in violence, particularly in areas adjoining Pakistan where the Taliban enjoys considerable support, is impeding the international reconstruction effort. Following the assassination of a French staff member, the United Nations refugee agency scaled back its aid operations Tuesday and, for now, shuttered its offices in several southern and southeastern cities. The killing followed a bomb attack on a U.N. vehicle and another on the U.N. offices in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the ousted Taliban regime.Coda II: Citizen (formerly LT) Smash has an illuminating chronology of post-Afghanistan Al Qaeda operations around the world. Note the fact that all are confined to the Arab and Islamic world. Why? Because Al Qaeda has been hobbled -- not dismantled -- by our global war on terrorism. They are limited to opportunistically hitting the soft targets now. Will they rise again? Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes, for some of the reasons discussed in this UN report. Our charge is to be ready for them.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
America's new military plans for the world
Bradley Graham reports in the Washington Post about an extremely important strategic/operational development in the Pentagon: the creation of new operational plans for such major theaters as the Middle East and Korea. Unfortunately, news of the sniper's conviction and Arnold's swearing-in pushed this story from page A1 to A18. But I think this is probably the most important story to come out of the Pentagon in weeks. The most important change is that the new operational plans assume America's ability to "do more with less" -- that is, to fight a military campaign with fewer boots on the ground and more airpower/artillery guided by "C4ISR" (command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance).
U.S. military commanders, working with the Pentagon's Joint Staff, have revised plans for potential wars on the Korean peninsula, in the Middle East and elsewhere based on assumptions that conflicts could be fought more quickly and with fewer American troops than previously thought, senior officers said.Analysis: In essence, these changes take the alleged lessons learned from Iraq and incorporate them into updated and revised operational plans. We all watched the way that American firepower and intelligence capabilities worked together in Iraq to defeat the Iraqi army in three weeks. I haven't seen these new operational plans (obviously, they're classified), but I would guess that these plans assume a lower number of infantry, armor and combat-support troops on the ground as well for the mission, either because those troops may be tied up elsewhere (e.g. Iraq) or because there won't be time in future conflicts to deploy them before the balloon goes up.
What's wrong with this plan? Well, I see two glaring areas where the operational plans assume substantial amounts of risk -- at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.
Risk Area 1: Security. The decision to fight a war with less of a ground footprint leaves you with less manpower to protect those things that you do actually put on the ground. Although the initial stages of a war may be fought entirely by airpower, I think it's still true that you must eventually commit ground troops in order to seize, hold or occupy terrain -- or to truly impose your will on an enemy government. As T.R. Fehrenbach said so brilliantly in This Kind of War:
"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."This is still true. The problem then becomes one of force protection. Our enemies have learned to hit us asymmetrically because they know that they cannot hope to succeed against the combined-arms effort of American infantry, armor, artillery and air support. Indeed, if Gulf War I and II are any indicator, they will lose thousands of soldiers in any such effort. However, they have also learned from Somalia, Afghanistan and Gulf War II that asymmetric tactics can be highly effective -- particularly against those parts of the American war machine that are less well-protected: supply lines, logistics bases and command posts. Such units are absolutely critical to the American way of war, because our front-line units can't operate without the support of a heavy logistics tail -- and they will be less effective without the assistance of a command post to direct close-air support and artillery, among other force multipliers. Asymmetric attacks on these targets will likely produce American casualties, which in turn will make Americans question the war effort and possibly hasten our withdrawal from any endeavor, according to this theory. They will also reduce our effectiveness and slow our advance.
As we saw recently in Iraq, such attacks will eventually rise to the point where the operational commander must pull front-line troops out of the fight to secure the lines of communication and critical American high-value assets. The asset requirements for force protection will sap combat power from the fight, where it's needed. And if the decision was made before the fight to deploy less troops to the theater, it's often too late during the fight to get them there, since American units typically require weeks to deploy anything heavier than a paratroop battalion to war. If this problem grows bad enough, it will necessitate an operational pause. But at that point, the whole point of moving fast and light is lost, and you should've just deployed enough troops when you had the chance.
Risk Area 2: Troops to Secure the Peace. As this article states, the new operational plans don't fully consider the post-war requirements in each respective theater of operation. In Iraq, those post-war requirements were assumed away too, according to excellent reports in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, among other sources. The result was a hasty effort to secure the peace in the immediate aftermath of the war, compounded by a lack of resources (boots on the ground) to do the job in April and May. The result was chaos. If there is one lesson that operational planners (and I've been one) should take away from Iraq, it is this: don't assume the post-war phase of the operation out of the planning process. You simply can't afford to assume a d*mn thing when it comes to planning, and failing to plan such a major part of the operation is planning for failure. The post-war phase in Iraq is turning out to be far more important, far more costly, and far more lengthy than the war itself.
But that's always been the case. In every war we have fought since WWII, the ends have been messy. After WWII, we had to occupy Germany and Japan for years. We're still in Korea, although the nation-building efforts were largely complete by 1960. Vietnam ended quite messily, though we're now returning there to rebuild the nation's economy with the foot soldiers of capitalism. Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Rwanda, East Timor -- every recent nation-building op has shown that it takes more troops to secure the peace than to win the war (or change the regime, if that's the case). I made this point in May in the Washington Monthly, and Amb. James Dobbins made it more elegantly in the RAND study America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq.
If you commit less troops to the fight, then you will have less troops on the ground at the moment the mission changes from war to post-war stabilization. Moreover, America lacks the strategic-lift (think Air Force cargo plane) capability and rapid-deployment (think 82nd Airborne) capability to rapidly get troops to the battlefield in the time it will take to affect the situation on the ground. In Iraq, the situation deterioriated in a matter of days, and even if we had made the decision on 9 Apr 03 to deploy additional forces, it would've taken weeks to get them there. The pre-war decision to commit less troops to battle has profound post-war implications, and these operational plans appear to miss that point.
I don't think these are necessarily fatal flaws. The combatant commands (e.g. CENTCOM) can scrub these plans, generate their own requirements, and request more resources for operations when the order is given. But they really don't have the resources -- or the asset visibility -- to do so as effectively as the Joint Staff and the service staffs (e.g. Army and Navy). Plus, they will be under significant time pressure to execute the mission, and it will be hard to request more resources if and when the balloon goes up in a place like Korea. The right answer would be to incorporate the real lessons learned from Iraq into these operational plans. History has shown us that winning the peace is often more difficult than winning the war, and we should plan for that. Depending on your perspective, such an event may be a contingency or an eventuality. But a good planner plans for both.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Novices at nation building
Stanford Professor Stephen Krasner writes in today's Los Angeles Times that American difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq should come as no surprise to observers around the world, because frankly, America and the world lacks experience in building democracies.
What we do know — or should know — is that getting from here to there will be hard. The states we're most interested in helping to transform today generally have low per-capita incomes, limited experience with democracy and long histories of autocratic and sometimes brutal rule. These are not conditions that tend to foster democracy.Analysis: I think this is a powerful argument, and one that's not without a shred of truth. I suppose it's debatable whether democracy should emerge first -- and set the conditions for a liberal society -- or whether the liberal society and market economy must come first. In many ways, it's a classic chicken/egg problem. I happen to think that the market economy, infrastructure, and educational systems must come first in order to set the conditions for the emergence of democracy. You have to build a class of educated persons with a personal economic incentive to become stakeholders in society; to defend what they have acquired by means of civil government. Towards that end, America can create the conditions for the emergence of democracy in Iraq by building roads, schools, markets, hospitals, and other institutions to help Iraqi society reestablish itself. Self-determination will take over at that point, and while we may not get the government we want, I think that the Iraqi people ought to be trusted to decide their own destiny.
"A citizen check on war"
Active/reserve mix in American military effectively checks the President's war powers
Former Air Force pilot Janine Davidson has a well written essay in today's Washington Post Outlook section on the "total force" concept, which is the term of art to describe the mix of active and reserve forces in today's American military. Ms. Davidson lays out the history behind this concept, and the way this concept has developed into a check on Presidential warmaking and deployment power.
The current U.S. military structure -- known as the "Total Force" -- was implemented after the Vietnam War. The system was designed to require activation of Guard and reserves personnel in order to wage war. Defense officials ensured that war-fighting capabilities were integrated across the active and reserves components to such a degree that, as an Army chief of staff, Gen. Creighton Abrams, is said to have claimed, "they're not taking us to war again without calling up the reserves."Analysis: Indeed, Gen. Creighton Abrams' total force concept has become a more effective check on presidential warmaking ability than either the Art. I power of Congress to declare war, or the potentially unconstitutional War Powers Act. This check works because it's closely tied to the Art. I power of Congress to fund the military. Mobilization decisions also require political capital, and even in this gerrymandered age of safe Congressional seats, decisions to send large numbers of Americans into harm's way translates into lots of political pressure on Congress to manage those deployments.
On the other hand, this force balance effectively ties the SecDef's arm behind his back, because it limits his ability to deploy certain critical units such as Civil Affairs, Military Police, Military Intelligence and logistics. And, America's reserve system was designed for a WWIII-style scenario where the entire nation would mobilize to fight the Soviet hordes as they streamed through the Fulda Gap. It does not work well for the constant level of peacekeeping deployments we had in the 1990s, and it is about to break down from the strain of repeated, long-term deployments to support the Global War on Terrorism. There is a good argument for moving some of the most critical units into the active force, such as Civil Affairs, at least in sufficient numbers to give America a 9-1-1 capability in these specialties.
The travels of LCPL David C. Botti
Sunday's New York Times carries an exceptional personal essay from David Botti, a Marine reserve infantryman who was mobilized first for post-9/11 security and later for combat duty in Iraq. LCPL Botti answered the call both times, taking himself away from his nascent writing career and dreams of living in New York City. But he took his journal with him to war, and captured a number of the stories of his comrades while deployed. The result, I hope, will eventually be some sort of war memoir (or work of fiction) that accurately characterizes the experiences of Marines in Iraq. His essay today marks his journey from New York to Iraq and back again to the big city.
The August night I returned to the city from Iraq, I found myself drunk in the bathroom of an East Village bar. As I steadied the wall, I wondered how this skin of mine, tanned brown from the Iraqi sun, could now soak up the atmosphere of a good, seedy city bar. Wondered how the people in line behind me could enjoy the night while their peers still slept with rifles, halfway around the world, where I had been just the week before.
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Is the NYT rewriting Time's copy?
2 stories on combat casualties seem eerily familiar, down to the details
Time had an exceptionally well-done piece in last week's issue (with Russell Crowe on the cover) about America's wounded from Iraq, and the long road they travel from wound to recovery. I was about to comment on it, and some of the advances (like body armor and medical corps doctrine) that have led to this paradigm shift in casualty evacation, treatment and recovery. Then I saw this piece by Neela Banerjee in the New York Times, scratched my head, and said "Gee... these look awfully similar." The stories are so similar, they even talk about the same computerized prosthetic limb that costs $100,000 each. And what's even odder is that the 16 Nov 03 New York Times story bears a 10 Nov 03 dateline, leading me to believe it sat in the editor's hopper for a while.
After the Blair incident, I doubt the NYT is actually lifting Time's copy or story ideas, and Ms. Banerjee is known as a good reporter. But it still struck me as odd that these two flagship publications would run what is basically the exact same story. What do you think?
Friday, November 14, 2003
Jessica Lynch and women in combat
Why Elaine Donnelly gets it wrong in the National Review
A lot has been said so far about Jessica Lynch, from the date of her capture through her rescue, recuperation, return home, discharge, and release of her book. Now, the inevitable charge has come from Elaine Donnelly, chair of the Center for Military Readiness, that Lynch's story exemplifies why women should not be sent into ground combat. Moreover, Donnelly argues in the National Review that Lynch was sent into harm's way because of 1994 reforms by the Clinton Administration that changed the Pentagon's policies for women on the battlefield. Here's an excerpt:
How did Lynch get to the frontlines, many Americans may wonder. Under rules issued by the Clinton administration, female soldiers in support units are now being forced into areas involving a "substantial risk of capture." This policy is inconsistent with privacy rules that deny information about what happens to women who are captured — unless a victim of sexual abuse decides to write a book months later.Analysis: This argument is wrong on several levels. As an initial matter, I should say that good things happen to bad units (sometimes it's better to be lucky than good) and bad things happen to good units. I have analyzed the 507th Maintenance Company ambush and I think that this was the predictable result of training, resourcing and leadership decisions made which sent a poorly prepared unit into combat and put them too close to the front lines. At the end of the day, though, the 507th was unlucky, and they paid a heavy price for that misfortune.
1. Jessica Lynch's position in the 507th Maintenance Company was not opened to women as a result of then-SecDef Aspin's rule change in 1994. (See the actual memo here) The 507th Maintenance Company habitually supports a Patriot missile unit. Doctrinally, this unit exists at the echelon above corps level. Doctrinally, they should fight far back on the battlefield, beyond the reach of enemy artillery and well behind the battalions, brigades, and divisions which actually fought the ground war in Iraq. PFC Lynch's supply clerk billet would have been open to women in 1990 for Gulf War I. PFC Lynch was not a front-line position, such as that in the 3rd Military Police Company or 1-227 Aviation (Attack) -- two units where women fought as MP soldiers and Apache helicopter pilots respectively. Instead, she held a supply clerk position in a rear area logistics unit where the risk of combat was thought to be low.
The 1994 rule change opened up a number of jobs for women, as I explain in this December 2002 cover article in the Washington Monthly. This rule changed allowed women to lead the way to Baghdad as MPs, intelligence officers, Apache pilots, front-line surgeons, and many other specialties. But this rule change had nothing to do with the 507th Maintenance Company, which even under the old Reagan-era rules, would have been open to women. Even under the "risk rule" that Ms. Donnelly writes of, the 507th would have been open to women.
2. So what happened? Well, the 507th Maintenance Company stumbled into combat as the result of many factors. Most importantly, CENTCOM planners built a warplan that called for a rapid advance through Iraq to Baghdad -- an advance which stretched American supply lines and left main supply routes unprotected. This allowed Iraqi guerillas to attack American logistics convoys and wreak havoc in our rear area. In addition, the "bypass criteria" was set very high on the advance to Baghdad, meaning that American tanks and infantry would bypass enemy platoons and companies as they fought on. These bypassed units were then faced by lightly-armed MPs and logistics units in the rear area, and also caused problems. At one point, GEN Tommy Franks had to pull entire brigades of infantry out of the fight in order to secure his rear area, because the dual problems of enemy guerillas and bypassed units had become so threatening to logistics and command units. The 507th Maintenance Company convoy was in this rear area, and they suffered as the result of an ambitious operational plan that lacked effective planning for security in the rear area.
On top of this failure, PFC Lynch's unit failed her. CPT Troy King, the company commander for the 507th, failed to effectively lead his company on the day in question. He wrote his route down wrong, got his convoy lost, and then failed to take effective actions on contact when the ambush was initiated -- at least, according to the Army's report on the subject. PFC Lynch paid the price for her company commander's dereliction of duty and poor performance, as have soldiers throughout history for the failures of their commanders. (Note: CPT King has not been officially disciplined by the Army, which appears to have taken the position that his bad luck should not be punished with criminal or administrative action. I beg to differ, and have a hard time reconciling the prosecution of men like LTC Allen West when the Army lets a commander like this escape the blame. Good or bad, company commanders are responsible everything that happens to their unit. The buck stops with the man or woman who wears captain's bars.)
3. Ironically, had PFC Lynch been assigned to a front-line unit like the 3rd MP Company, she probably would have been better prepared for combat. The 1994 reforms did open up a number of opportunities for women, including service in front-line MP units assigned at the division and brigade level. In these MP units, male and female soldiers conduct missions such as route reconnaissance and area security -- missions which often require them to train and fight as infantry or scouts. My last unit, the 4th MP Company, trained hard on these missions, and was well resourced to conduct them. We often trained with the scouts and infantry of our brigade, and even shot gunnery with our brigade's reconnaissance troop. That training has paid off. Despite seeing as much fighting as any unit on the battlefield, MP units have experienced relatively light casualties -- including no fatalities in my old unit. (Thank God) The best way to take care of soldiers and bring them home alive is to train them hard, and front-line units at the brigade level and below train hard with that in mind.
PFC Lynch was not assigned to such a front-line unit. She was assigned to a rear-echelon unit that likely had never done an NTC rotation, had never done a live-fire exercise, and had never done a field exercise longer than 2 weeks. Indeed, I doubt that PFC Lynch had effectively trained for combat since she graduated from basic training. The 507th certainly did not train effectively with the 3rd Infantry Division, under which it fought in Iraq. None of the 507th's officers or sergeants had experience with 3ID orders, maps, or TTPs. This lack of training and readiness was to blame, according to the Army, for the chain of events that led to the 507th being ambushed.
Jessica Lynch herself had this to say in an interview with Time Magazine:
What did they tell you to expect? "What you trained for [maintenance and supply] obviously wasn't what happened. We had to do the whole weapons qualification again to make sure that we knew how to operate a weapon, but also we did a lot of training with gas masks. In a sense we were ready, but we weren't ready for an ambush attack."As I stated earlier, it's impossible to know whether good training and leadership would have made the difference when the 507th was ambushed. But we can certainly point to the absence of such training as a key factor in the 507th's failure to respond to its ambush. As PFC Lynch herself has said -- she didn't even get off a shot. Why? Because her weapon jammed. Why? Because it was poorly maintained and poorly lubricated and poorly cleaned. Why? Because the NCOs and officers in her unit lacked the training, experience and fieldcraft to effectively lead their soldiers in combat. The results were all too clear. If you want to fix these problems, don't take women out of these units. Make every soldier a rifleman instead, led by competent officers and NCOs who have what it takes to accomplish the mission and take care of their soldiers.
Bottom Line: PFC Lynch and her unit were not ready for combat when they went into harm's way. Too many of the soldiers in the 507th paid the price for that readiness. PFC Lynch was no front-line soldier, and she was no Rambo. But PFC Lynch was no further forward on the battlefield than thousands of other women -- women who have served ably and effectively for more than 15 years. Her ambush and capture should not be used to judge the 1994 reforms which opened up more positions to women, because frankly, those reforms had nothing to do with where PFC Lynch was on the battlefield.
If you want to draw lessons from the 507th Maintenance Company incident, you should do so. But draw those lessons from what actually happened, as reported by the Army's after-action review and its forthcoming 15-6 investigation; draw those lessons from the facts about the 1994 policy change, and how it allowed women further forward on the battlefield than ever before. But don't draw conclusions about the 1994 policy changes that let women into front-line units, when those policy changes had nothing to do with the 507th Maintenance Company or PFC Lynch. Doing so is disingenuous, and takes liberties with the facts and the policy of this matter. It also does a disservice to the thousands of women in Iraq today who have ably and effectively served their nation in uniform, and deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.
John Keegan's latest work
Joseph E. Persico reviewed John Keegan's latest book this past weekend in the New York Times, titled Intelligence In War: Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. (The Times also has this excerpt from the first chapter of the book) The book looks like a must-buy for anyone interested in military history, intelligence, or operational art. (In other words, it's on my list to buy/read) Mr. Persico's review makes the book look even more appealing.
Though ''Intelligence in War'' carries the subtitle ''Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda,'' Keegan has written not a history, but several case histories, measuring the contribution that intelligence made to victory. He is put off by the romantic notion generated by espionage fact and fiction that spies somehow win battles, even wars, by ruses, pilfered secrets and cracked codes. His own conclusion, hammered home again and again, is that ''decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge. Let those who disagree show otherwise.''