Monday, May 25, 2009

"At War": Stunning.

I've been waiting for months to review Scott Kesterson and David Leeson's film, "At War." I finally received a copy for review purposes and took awhile this afternoon to sit down and screen it all by myself.

I'm glad that I was alone.

I have permission to share it with family, which I will do, at least with my immediate family and my older children. I am still glad that the first time I saw it, I saw it alone. I've read that when it was screened at the Milblogging Conference, many Afghan vets were deeply affected by the film. I was immediately engaged by "At War," but about a third of the way through it, I was wondering what was different about me that it wasn't affecting me so deeply.

At the end of it, I sat there stunned; a tear rolling slowly down my left cheek, glad to be alone. It's that good, that powerful.

It wasn't a single moment that took me there. It was the entirety of it. There was so much of my experience in it. Scott Kesterson and his collaborators have captured the unique experience of what was like to be there, especially as an ETT or PMT. The only thing missing was the gritty taste of the Afghan dust and the distinct smell of cooking fires in the villages.

Kesterson's ground-level visuals are more than just documentary. He captures the impressions. He captures those moments that I think that all of us who have served as advisors have had. He captures the simple truths about working with Afghans. He captures the frustration and even the humor of dealing with the Afghan personality as advisors work to convert the raw warrior into a soldier. He captures the drawbacks and the small joys; finding your influence making little differences in the way that these men, whose fierceness cannot be denied but whose disorganization is just as marked, do their jobs.

"At War" also captures the sense of caring that develops between an advisor and his charges. You can see the duality of the cat herder and the brother-at-arms who speaks only a few words of his brother's language yet gets the intent of so many communications. As one advisor goes "grocery shopping" for hamburger on the hoof for his men, you see the paternal aspect of the mentor.

The soundtrack is unique and, I thought, very well done. This is not a soundtrack done twenty years later, seeking to evoke a sense of period via aural memories; it is a distinct soundtrack made for this movie. At times folksy, at times the edgy metallic background that draws one more deeply into the tension of the moments when death can suddenly materialize like an entity in your midst, this soundtrack adds shading to the color. It is not an attempt to shoehorn popular culture into what is not a popular experience. It is seasoning, adding to a flavor so few have tasted. It gives this film a flavor as distinctly different from the standard American experience as kabuli pilau is different from McDonalds.

Kesterson captures the Canadians doing a fantastic job as well. He captures Canadians advising and as maneuver forces, showing that the Afghan experience is the Afghan experience, not just an American Afghan experience. The Canadians do themselves proud, and Scott Kesterson's videography captures it.

Kesterson's triumph transcends the excellent capture of the moments that bring the Afghan experience home. It's also what this film is missing. While the editing carries the veteran viewer like the current of the deployment, you cannot edit some things in or out. Kesterson is a participant, and he's accepted. He's just like another rifleman, grenadier, or gunner... except his weapon system is a camera. There is no friction between the journalist and those he is with. You can just tell that he is accepted as a professional in a soldierly sense. It's hard to explain how you can accept someone as a professional and still feel burdened by them when you have to carry them along with you operationally. There is no sense that Kesterson is viewed in this light by those with whom he embeds. He's another combat system operator. This comes out not only in the way that he operates around teams of men under fire, but also in the way that they speak as if they are not talking to a camera. They aren't. They are speaking to Scott Kesterson, a guy they know and accept, who just happens to have a camera on.

It's hard to explain how rare, and therefore how brilliant, that is.

"At War" is a film that I can point to and say, "That's it. That's what it was like. That's a sample of my experience in Afghanistan." There is a total lack of judgment in "At War." It's not a morality play or a political message; it's an experience captured.

Afghan veterans, beware; this film may kick your ass. For those who want to get a sense of what it's like, "At War" is the best you can do without deploying.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

And Now This Day Is Yours

I know that a lot of folks use Memorial Day as a day to honor all service members, but that's not really what it is. It was started as a day to honor the dead; those who gave their all for this great republic. I've often spent this day as a living symbol of those who have gone before me. Parades, memorials, ceremonies; I've accepted the thanks of grateful people... but it wasn't for me. It wasn't my day.

I've gazed upon the graves of soldiers lost in the Civil War and wondered about them. I've seen the photos from the Civil War, WW-I, WW-II, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq; photos of the anonymous dead who symbolize all of the dead of each of those conflicts. So hard to personalize beyond the abstract... they were, "the other guy." They weren't like me. I was the survivor, the one it wouldn't happen to. Memorial Day was their day.

I have two brothers who are significantly older than myself. One, since passed, spent a career in the Army and a tour in Vietnam that forever changed him and may have ultimately led to his loss at a young age. My other brother was in ROTC for a spell in college. He eventually went on to a doctorate, but one of his closest friends was also in ROTC, accepting his commission when I was fairly young; perhaps seven or so. His name was Bob Rice.

Before he went to Vietnam, we went to what was, at the time, Cincinnati's amusement park, Coney Island. Since replaced by Kings Island, I remember it to be pretty cool. I thought Bob and my brother were the coolest things going. I was in awe of Bob, the strong young man who carried me around on his shoulders that day and accompanied me on the roller coasters I was tall enough to ride.

I never saw him again after that day. 1LT Robert Thomas Rice, Jr., 23, of Springfield, Ohio, was killed near Pleiku, RVN, on August 8, 1970. He was in B Co, 2nd Bn, 8th Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division. He was awarded a Silver Star. For me, he and my brother were the face of the Vietnam War.

Memorial Day is his day.

Many years later, I met a man who seemed to be liked by all who met him. He was fairly soft-spoken and calm. He carried an air of self assurance and common sense, and, like me, he loved to play golf and was just as much an amateur. We became fast friends. He was prior service Marine Corps and Army, and pined for an opportunity to do his part in this war. He had been turned away by recruiters who didn't want to make the effort to go through the medical review process his back injury would have required. They preferred the low-hanging fruit. Jon Stiles would not be deterred.

He fought his way through bureaucracies across state lines, and eventually got back in, joining the Colorado Army National Guard. When their scheduled deployment was delayed, he found an open position with a unit from Louisiana and actually transferred across state lines to make sure that he wasn't left behind.

Last November, Jon saw a suspicious vehicle approaching his Route Clearing Team of Engineers in Jalalabad. Sensing danger to his team, Jon went through his escalation of force measures and wound up engaging the vehicle with his M-240B machine gun. The vehicle-borne explosive device detonated and Jon caught a facefull of the blast and fragmentation. He was knocked unconscious immediately, and SGT Jon Stiles, 38, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, died in the helicopter on the way to the hospital of head and neck wounds. Numerous Afghan civilians were killed, but Jon was the only American casualty. He couldn't prevent the civilian carnage, but he forced the bomber to detonate prematurely, saving his buddies from the blast. He was awarded a Bronze Star for valor for an action the previous month in which he pulled soldiers from a burning vehicle after a similar attack. He had declined medical leave for his wounds from that day which would have had him at home on the day he met his fate.

Jon joins the ranks of such men as Bob Rice in the ranks of our hallowed dead. This is his first Memorial Day, a day that he earned with his sacrifice on that dusty road in Afghanistan. I can barely remember Bob Rice's face these many years later, but I can still see Jon's, and I can still hear his voice and his laughter.

I will spend part of this Memorial Day in uniform, standing in for Bob and Jon at a ceremony at a school, symbolizing those who are the very fabric of the red stripes in the flag. It's not my day, though. It belongs to so many men just like Bob Rice.

And now, Jon, this day is yours.


CJ put up this post, a tribute to 1LT Schulte, killed recently in Afghanistan.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009


The "surge" of troops into Afghanistan is something that most of us who have been there have been recommending for years... as long as the added troops do helpful things. It does matter what they do, not just that they are there. It's important that we change not just the numbers that are in-country, but also the way in which they are used.

Most of us who have been there have pointed out the FOB mentality that reigns in Afghanistan, that ISAF forces withdraw into large FOBs at night and cede control of the countryside to the ACM, primarily operating under the name of the Taliban.

An article recently published details the problems that came up with the attempt to expand FOB Wolverine in Zabul Province. CPT Paul Tanghe, an ETT advising the ANA operating in the area, warned of the backlash that the locals would have against interfering with their water supplies, which run through an underground channel called a "karez." No one listened to him, and by the time they figured out that there was a problem, they had already really ticked off the locals and unknowingly fed the living hell out of the Taliban IO. Good job, gentlemen.

Next time, listen to the advisor. He might just know something about what he is doing there. He also has closer contact with Afghans than most Americans (NO, a shura once in awhile doesn't count as having a lot of contact with Afghans.) Instead, as many of my advisor brothers can attest, we are (much) more often regarded with suspicion, as if we'd been photographed leaving a Communist Party meeting or something. More than once, I heard the words, "gone native." I'll tell you what; if more senior leaders would go a little native, we'd have a much better grip on what the hell we are doing there and what we need to do to succeed.

My second question about that article is; Why in the hell are we shoving all of these new capabilities into the same boxes? If it's going to be more commuting to work and a Green Beans Coffee shop, I'd recommend putting a few more FOBs, COPs, Firebases, or whatever you want to call them around the countryside. Hey, I've seen it done, and it makes a difference. They don't have to be really big. The first time I saw FOB Kutschbach, it was a rocky open area at the foot of a ridgeline that overlooked Tag Ab. It started out as a VPB and was grown into a full-fledged FOB from there. A lot of people put serious work into making it into that.

I wonder if the "Mosh Pit" is still there.

In any case, building accommodations to cram all these new troops into FOB Wolverine is just repeating the mistakes of what Tim Lynch calls the "Big Box FOB." By the way; if anyone wanted to see "change we can believe in" regarding the way we do business in Afghanistan, they'd be beating this guy's door down to hire him to manage something for us in Afghanistan. Careerists would hate him, those who like to see progress would love him, and Afghans would likely feel like they were being listened to. But what do I know?

Don't tell him I said that. I don't think government work is on his agenda. Oddly enough that's why I think that someone with half a brain would badger him to death to get him on board to change the way that we do business.

He's safe. That'll never happen.

Finally, we've got the issue of staffing the mentoring effort to do JOB #1; bring the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) like the ANA and ANP up to speed. We're now throwing Lieutenants and buck Sergeants at Kandak (Battalion)-level mentoring jobs, and a brigade of the 82nd augmented with a very few field grade (Major and above) officers attached to take over mentoring for a significant portion of the ANA. Time will tell, but the level of training that the 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne is receiving to prepare them for mentoring doesn't appear to be a lot.

LTC(R) John Nagl once proposed an Advisor Corps. He concept received little serious consideration and is still thrown at him by his detractors. I'm not sure that such an organization is sustainable, but I can testify that mentoring ANSF requires certain attributes. Truly professional mentors are hard to come by. For an Army that doesn't even bother to train its NCO's in COIN, I think it's a pretty ballsy move to just toss a few paratroops at the problem and hope for the best. I think that we're going to get what we pay for out of it. Dr. Nagl recognized the importance of professional mentors to security force development in foreign countries. His proposal was a way to retain that critical skill as a set. He realized that what we were doing was hit-or-miss. It just got worse.

Hey, if you can't just toss a BCT at it, how are you supposed to solve the problem?

That's not to say that a tremendous amount of good can't be done, but we'll see.

Two recommendations:

1) Don't just expand the "Big Box FOBs" and stick all of these new assets into them. Spread it out and take control of area that have lacked control in the past. You have to BE THERE. You can't mail this shit in. Start pushing out; FOB Kutschbach can be replicated... over and over again.

2) Figure out how to train these BCT-A's to actually do the "A" part. Just sending in Americans isn't going to cut it, no matter how highly we think of our young soldiers. We have left them out of the revolution to this point by not training them in COIN. Now we're going to expect them to advise ANA and ANP in how to perform COIN? Not what I'd call a recipe for resounding success. You need a plan to train the junior leaders in COIN and in advising. Winging it is not a solution.
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Word For "Generic Concept"

This from an Anonymous commenter on the last post:

The crazy vet is a generic concept. It's like the "Postal" guy. While a Middle Easterner or an Arab or a Muslim is an actual guy. There are actual kids and families who are Arab, Muslims from the Middle East.

Behind every veteran identity (Marine, Ranger, Soldier, Sailor, etc.) is an actual identity, that is off limit.

Most law enforcement are military veterans, I think they know what they need to prepare for.

That's exactly what I'm talking about. It shouldn't be a "generic concept." It has been made that way by a meme that has been started and supported by anecdotal evidence; by such things as Lizette Alvarez's slanted reporting in the New York Times. She's not the only one; she's just my poster child. A word for "generic concept" is stereotype.

The same could be said of the Arab stereotype. Each Arab has their own story, their own history, their own experiences, their own trials and tribulations. Take this logic and turn it the other direction and it works just as well. As a matter of fact, in the original article I wrote about, the law enforcement officer wondered if he might offend the ethnic group by stereotyping them, but gave not a thought to training children to shoot a veteran and depicting the bad guy as a veteran; as if that were completely inoffensive and rational.

We are a country of images. Someone pointed out recently that many Americans have little contact with this war or the men and women who are fighting it. The image of the "crazy vet" has taken hold to the point that when a cop is tasked with coming up with a training scenario, he dreams up a crazy murdering vet. That is completely unacceptable.

Completely unacceptable.

There are no other words for it. It's no understandable. It's not accurate. It's stigmatizing, and while people like Lizette Alvarez couch their writings as "bringing attention to the plight of the veteran" as if they really give a damn, they are doing more harm than help by a far sight.

Most law enforcement are military veterans, I think they know what they need to prepare for.

No, many law enforcement officers are military veterans, but I don't believe that most of them are. And no, I don't think they do know what they need to prepare for. I'll bet you a quarter that the Border Patrol Agent who dreamed up that nifty little scenario isn't a vet. With cross-border kidnappings and murders happening on a fairly frequent basis, I'd think that they could come up with a more realistic scenario. In fact, in the general geographic area where these men operate, there have been hostage situations involving drug traffickers barricading themselves in houses with competitors held hostage. Those are realistic scenarios, and things that the Border Patrol may have to deal with.

Perhaps they don't want to stereotype drug dealers.

What struck me about this comment is the matter-of-fact way that someone who has come to accept the meme justifies this subtle form of abuse as completely reasonable.

Lizette's work is nearly complete.

Here are the facts; you are less likely to be harmed by a veteran than a non-veteran. We are not "victims." There are a tiny tiny tiny minority with chips on their shoulders who participate in such jackassery as IVAW and their ridiculous "Winter Soldier" displays. They cry out in some crazy mimicry of "victimhood," but for the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of us who don't participate in such bullshit, they are the complete dorks of the veteran world. Many of them have been thoroughly discredited, and some have proven to be frauds. All of them will live forever in shame before the rest of us.

We are not victims. We are not crying babies. We are grown adults who have made the choice to stand between this nation and whatever danger presents itself, even if there are sheeple who don't believe that the danger is there.

I see a lot of honorable people dealing with the effects, physical or otherwise, of their sacrifices for their country, only to have writers with beautiful prose and oafish motives cast aspersions on them en mass with manipulated data and piteous cries of how they "care." These honorable veterans are not moaning in victimhood, nor are they dangerous. They are the people who, if anyone's life was in danger, would be most likely to endanger their own lives to protect that stranger. These are people who very often give of themselves, of their own time, their own efforts and their own money to make a difference; and they do make a difference. They are the ones who find ways to personally contribute to making the lives of wounded warriors better, instead of moaning about how "someone" or "the government" or "they" should take better care of our veterans. These veterans are the ones who are not so overwhelmed by the dichotomy between war and patient caring that they shirk it off for someone else to do something, satisfied with their acceptance of an ignorant stereotype.

"Generic concept" is exactly what I'm talking about.

So, what Anon is saying is, "Hey, it's only a stereotype. Behind the stereotype identity is an actual identity, and that's off limits."

Errr... what?

Never mind that it doesn't make a lot of sense, or that the whole thing is contradictory. What this says to me is, "Yeah, it's become a stereotype, but don't worry about it. It's just like stereotyping Postal workers because of all the workplace killings. As long as you have your actual identity, then you can just withdraw from your military identity and you're just fine." The thing is, it's not fine. In this country where intolerance is unacceptable, in this country where stereotyping is decried... when it is against a group for whom sensitivity is bred in the media... we are sliding down a slippery slope towards demonizing and victimizing those who have demonstrated commitment to this country, and it's led by the media. Those who have sacrificed their safe easy chair in their living rooms, those who have sacrificed time with their families, firsts for their children including the births of those children, those who have lost friends and given of themselves are becoming the accepted bogey man of training scenarios as if it were simply a matter of course.

Regardless of what the facts say.

We have the Department of Homeland Security writing opinions that returning veterans are a threat to domestic security, and instead of some great hue and cry against it (except from veterans groups themselves,) there is, "Hey, it's okay... law enforcement knows what they're doing."

Nice, people. Really nice.

Now, I've been thanked personally by more Americans than I can count; these are people who are not going to listen to such claptrap. Many of them are veterans themselves, or have family members who have served or are serving. They cannot be turned against the veterans. It's the other, larger, portion of the population who can be influenced by images and repetitive, subtle messages that are at risk of buying into the imagery that is being created. As a matter of fact, the comment that this post regards is a great example that the unacceptable is being accepted.

I saw the slope, and I pointed it out, and we are well down it right now. The only answer is to react with vigor every time the stereotype is forwarded. When there is significant pushback whenever such a falsehood is advanced, there will be a little more thought put into a concept, instead of the lazy acceptance of a stereotype.

My brother returned from Vietnam to people waiting to shower him with dog feces and epithets. I have not had that experience, nor will I tolerate it while I have the words to fight back with. The Deer Hunter didn't come out of the blue; it was a culmination of the distrust that developed between the country they had served and the veterans of that war. It started with stereotyping and demonizing. It resulted in the largescale casting of Vietnam veterans as hapless victims. There are groups at work here in the United States whose business it is to create that same divide. Their tactic is to shape the vocabulary of the current conflict. They resolutely use certain terms, paint pictures and advance stereotypes in order to further their ideas. My tiny voice will not likely stem this tide, but I will not sit silently by as my cohorts and I are cast in a suspicious light in the very country we have risked our all for.
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Friday, May 15, 2009

Politically Correct

There is this snippet about Boy Scout Explorer training in New Mexico.

In a competition in Arizona that he did not oversee, Deputy Lowenthal said, one role-player wore traditional Arab dress. “If we’re looking at 9/11 and what a Middle Eastern terrorist would be like,” he said, “then maybe your role-player would look like that. I don’t know, would you call that politically incorrect?”

Yes, yes, God forbid we should offend foreign nationals; but don't let that take away from the full magnificence of the article.

IMPERIAL, Calif. — Ten minutes into arrant mayhem in this town near the Mexican border, and the gunman, a disgruntled Iraq war veteran, has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.

The responding officers — eight teenage boys and girls, the youngest 14 — face tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots — BAM! BAM! — fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed.

So the Deputy who leads these kids is worried about being politically correct about simulating someone from the Middle East, but a disturbed veteran is okay. It's not even an issue. This is a training scenario that some guy came up with off the top of his head, and the first thing that occurs to him is a disturbed Iraq veteran; but the idea that someone thought up a scenario involving an Arab makes them wonder if maybe they're being insensitive?

The guy who thought up the "disturbed vet" scenario was a federal law enforcement agent, and he's teaching this to kids. We've already pitted our law enforcement professionals against veterans to the point that when you say, "Okay, come up with a training scenario where a guy has flat lost his mind and he's killing people," his first response is, "Got it. Disturbed Iraq veteran. Let's do this."

That wasn't the point of the article in the New York Times, it was background, but it's the part that leaped out at me like the DHS report demonizing veterans.

Then there's this. There is an unchallenged statement in this article by a gun control advocate who unequivocally states that veterans are more likely to kill people, when we've already seen in the past, when people have looked at the numbers, that it just isn't true. It's a myth, a meme, that some state as if it's actually knowledge. It's not. It's misinformation at best and disinformation at worst; a lie to support their stance. The more people that they can frighten, the better for their agenda.

In the meantime, the very people who have had enough love for their country and their fellow citizens to go and put up with the worst living conditions and the most dangerous situations that most of them are ever likely to face are sliding down that slippery slope into becoming the suspects of their society.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Do We Know?

There is a tremendous conversation going on now that the firing of GEN McKiernan fits right into. There are many voices, with standard bearers on each side. It is a conversation that contributes directly to whether or not we actually succeed in the current conflict. Many of the posts on this blog have been outliers to this central conversation.

Central players in the conversation like David Kilcullen, John Nagl, COL Gian Gentile and Andrew Bacevich have been going 'round and 'round for quite some time now. I have sparred a bit with Gentile, and more recently with Michael Cohen, a relative late-comer to the conversation.

I've heard the arguments. I even hear the others, who are not "spokesmen" for one side or the other. For quite some time now, I've said that a lot of this is diversionary. Recently, a comment string had me about to tear my hair out as the conversation turned to such things as whether or not COIN was done in Somalia, which is pretty inane, really. (It came from my assertion, in refuting Cohen, that there had been no nascent nation-building in Somalia.) Some men who consider that they have a grasp of counterinsurgency, at least strong enough to intimate that my understanding is not quite up to their standards, wrote authoritatively about Afghanistan, though they had not been there. In putting forward my opinion, I was running into quibbling over such things as terrain denial and purely kinetic operations being possibly the direction that we need to head in Afghanistan. I've also run into some kind of derision about population-centric COIN, which is interesting in that it doesn't seem to make any sense.

Strangely, if you call it something else, they will often agree that the action would be a good idea. They suggest things that are part of pop-centric COIN as if they weren't, and that's fine with them, too. There's some kind of knee-jerk negativity, but it seems to be emotional, which I find strange.

There's something that I would like to point out; there is very consistent feedback coming out of the veterans of Afghanistan. There are a number of us now, and there are a number of us who write, and we all say very similar things. Whether or not we are fans of Galula or of FM 3-24 or whatever. We differ on small points, but our feedback is remarkably similar.

Discussion can be a lot of fun. It can be stimulating. It can be maddening, especially when those of us who have been there, particularly those of us who have been there as advisors, keep saying the same thing over and over and those who have their opinions about COIN or the war or both just brush past it dismissively. I can point to a number of bloggers who say similar things, who have provided similar feedback, and this has not changed in several rotations.

I can still say that I'm encouraged. Prof. Bacevich may not like it, as his viewpoint is clearly marginalized in the new administration, but I'm encouraged. We may not be doing a great job here in the States preparing our NCO's for leadership in COIN environments, and that's more than a shame; it's dangerous. I'm still encouraged. I was encouraged when the strategic plan for "AfPak" was released, and I'm even more encouraged now. Sec. Gates, ADM Mullen and GEN Petraeus have shown that they are career-ending serious about what we are doing. That's the kind of message that has been a long time coming.

The message that the advisor veterans of Afghanistan have been bringing back for years may not be clicking with all of those who enjoy the various discussions; but it seems to have caught on with those who are calling the shots now. Don't get me wrong; I have no illusions that this is being read by those leaders. GEN Petraeus was the driving force behind the manual which lays out the doctrine.

The point is not lost on me, though, that advisor veterans say very similar things and we have pointed out a number of things consistently... and when the leaders who proposed the doctrine for counterinsurgency get their time in the barrel, they appear to be moving in a direction that addresses those concerns.

Many argue, as COL Gentile does, that other factors were more responsible for the improvements in conditions in Iraq than was GEN Petraeus and "the surge." They claim that Iraqi just happened to get tired of the violence right at that point. They argue that the "Sunni Awakening" occurred independently of American actions or any change in behavior on the part of our leadership. They speak convincingly, and they have an audience. It is their argument against a narrative which would tend to disprove their assertions. Basically, they argue fortuitous circumstances that magically made it appear as if the surge in Iraq worked. While to me their narrative seems a bit self-serving, here comes Act Two.

If this team is able to begin to reverse our recent fortunes in Afghanistan, it will still be argued that other factors beyond our control were responsible. It's going to ring a little more false, though.

In my opinion, the self-serving narratives of the COINtras, though persuasive, are diversionary. Counterinsurgency is the most complex environment that can be imagined for a military leader. With so many factors, there will always be plausible alternate explanations. Here's what I know; if you do the right things, a lot of different moving parts will begin moving in the directions that you need for them to. This is not a science, it's an art with a lot of science involved. COL Gentile says that COIN requires a lot of leaps of faith. I can see where he would get that. I would say that it's just my observation, but it's more than just me, who has seen both good and bad done and seen the results.

Following a series of moves over the past few months, particularly the past seven weeks, I have found room for optimism. Not all of my fellow advisor veterans share my optimism. They have come to distrust the system, or the administration, to too great a degree and have gone into "show me" mode. Again, understandable. I have a lot more faith in this team from the Secretary down, and they have shown that they have teeth that they are willing to use.

In an email exchange today with a few veterans, we all acknowledged having seen horrible leaders who were just breezing through disastrous combat tours and still getting promoted. I don't think that this team is going to completely eradicate that type of behavior; but I do think that they've sent a strong signal.

I'm more encouraged than I was after reading the strategy review.

Now, a real telling point will be what the civilian governmental agencies such as State and USAID do to handle their responsibilities in the new strategy. All of the military changes in the world are not going to amount to much if Afghanistan's government is left with such corruption, and if there is no economic development the outcome will remain very much in doubt.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

A New Accountability? *UPDATED*

SECDEF Gates spoke this afternoon on the replacement of GEN David McKiernan as the commander of US forces in Afghanistan. McKiernan was on the job for less than a year, having been appointed the task under the Bush administration. LTG Stanley McChrystal will replace him. McChrystal was a Special Forces officer, and former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.

The whole thing was quite civilized; GEN McKiernan's service was duly praised... perhaps eulogized. It is the first major sacking of a commander in this war. Could it be that senior officers will be held accountable for the success or failure of their mission, or is this just a political move to replace a Bush assignee?

Based on Gates' announcement, it appears that it is a signal that field commanders will be held accountable for the lack of progress in their areas. Gates spoke of LTG McCrystal's experience as a counterinsurgent. He announced the appointment of a Deputy Commander in Afghanistan, LTG David M. Rodriguez, who he also touted as an experienced and strong counterinsurgent. LTG Rodriguez was the commander of the 82nd Airborne when I was in Afghanistan. I saw him once as he conducted a FOB visit. Being a good little advisor, I wore my uniform properly and stayed the hell out of the way, taking care of my business whilst he went about his.

I do not know GEN McKiernan. I have no reason to have anything other than respect for him and his service. I wouldn't be disrespectful to him. It appears that he is being used to symbolize to the Officer Corps that counterinsurgency failures will come home to roost. This is a message that needs to be taken to heart.

I think it's more about the message than the man.

It's unfortunate that one man has to take the blame, but that's the nature of command. A commander is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen. I saw one joyful commenter on a popular counterinsurgency website today, figuratively jumping for glee that GEN McKiernan was being sacked for this "cavalier attitude towards civilian casualties." This is clearly not the case, but the man will have to live with that kind of speculation from here on out.

That being said, it's time that leadership downrange hear the bell clearly; no more losing ground and coming back holding your place on the promotion list. Many have commented that a tower guard at Camp Phoenix could lose rank at the drop of a hat, but there was no accountability for the myriad of broken systems that were run by officers. A team could spend weeks downrange without the proper equipment while staff officers bickered over who got one of the 42 new humvees... but no officer's career was ever in danger while a team of advisors was rendered nearly disabled for lack of the equipment that the denizens of Phoenix cast lots for. A brigade or battalion commander can leave an area notably less secure than when he got there and go back with a shiny new medal, a great evaluation and a choice assignment.

I recently asked in the comments on Abu Muqawama if there had been a single maneuver force commander who had suffered any negative impact on his career due to the degradation of security in Afghanistan or Iraq. There had not been. Battalion and brigade commanders came back from the theaters of combat having visibly lost ground, or having failed to make progress, with medals and nice new assignments including promotions. Apparently, that has now changed.

This should not be construed as a criticism of GEN McKiernan; I think it's more about the message than the man. I feel for the man, but I applaud the message.


On his blog, Andrew Exum agrees with the commenter below. In an NPR interview on 5/12/09, Exum sounds more like the above. In the end, a significant portion of the event is about the message that there is a new strategy and it will be ruthlessly enforced.
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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dogs And Cats Sleeping Together

From the time following the election, there was an increasing pace of articles, papers and interviews geared towards "informing the President's decision" about the way forward in Afghanistan. Since the plan was announced just over a month ago, there has been a swelling cry amongst those who did not find their opinions well-represented in the new plan. These people knew, with the appointments of a number of those who champion opposite views to influential positions in the Pentagon and elsewhere, that their chosen paths were probably not going to carry a lot of weight. The reaction has been to raise a hue and cry in an attempt to catch hold of any lack of commitment or loss of enthusiasm due to difficulty.

This has resulted in some strange actions, such as calling Andrew Bacevich during Senate hearings dedicated to hearing from Afghanistan veterans. It has also made for some strange bedfellows. The website recently published an interview with COL Gian Gentile, which many would find odd, in that a serving officer and department head at West Point would grant such an interview. The author of the article does rather stridently go after Gentile's ideological opponents, presenting his opposition argument in a purposely dim light. This prompted one commenter on Abu Muqawama to point out that the author, Kelley B. Vlahos, is a correspondent for Fox News and a writer for conservative publications, labeling her among the "Paleo-Conservatives."

Regardless of the political affiliation of the author, it is very odd that a military officer who has become a lightning rod for the traditionalists in the military establishment would find, or accept, such a warm embrace from In fairness, COL Gentile explains that he did clear the interview with the West Point PAO. I would expect nothing less, really, nor would I expect a different answer from that PAO. That does not make the interview less odd in its character.

Those who are on the side of the argument that hasn't found favor in the administration are arguing strenuously that the administration is continuing to pursue "failed policies of the Bush administration," which has become the ultimate political slam, the equivalent of labeling someone a racist to those who use it. Of course, those who advocate the adoption of the "new" strategy for what has come to known as "AfPak" are painted with that same brush here. COL Gentile comes out looking like the great patriot, while those who differ with him are painted as, well, not as patriotic. In fact, Gentile is painted as being the one who is sincere for simply being willing to embrace, while his opponents receive a slightly different treatment.

Gentile laughed when he thought of the ribbing he might get among the COIN-set, being interviewed by a site with the name "Antiwar." Ultimately, he doesn’t care. He is driven by a sincerity his detractors cannot touch, and a personal mission not to let current war doctrine go unchallenged. He might just have a ghost of a chance.

A sincerity his detractors cannot touch. Nice. Sincerity, for a military officer, is now defined by their willingness to interview for We've come a long way, baby. Note the overwhelming sincerity below that cannot be touched by the likes of Nagl:

Deny it they may, says Gentile, but today’s policymakers are promoting a similar Surge strategy for Afghanistan (See congressional testimonies by Flournoy and Chief Af-Pak envoy Holbrooke this week: clear, hold and build, with more boots on the ground, more civilian experts, more COIN). As an active duty officer, Gentile won’t question current plans outright, but he left me with this:

"As soldiers, our role is to do whatever we are told to do by our civilian masters. However, my experience is, that the idea of using military force to change entire societies — to use John Nagl’s words — at the barrel of a gun, is highly problematic and it is not as clean and as clear and as sensible as I think our own COIN doctrine makes it seem to be," he said. "I saw what it is like changing the entire society at the barrel of a gun in Baghdad in 2006, it wasn’t as simple."

The wording of this quote is unfortunate. Nagl has made the statement about changing societies. I cannot find any reference to this change being, "at the barrel of a gun." There are several instances of Gentile saying this, however. It's actually a phrase that he resorts to repeatedly. It's part of his schtick. Now, I may be wrong, and I'd have no problem with having it pointed out, but while I have found those two elements linked together frequently in Gentile's writing and again in quotes from him, but I have not found an instance of it said by Nagl.

It may also be cleverly worded, especially in the quote above, to appear that Nagl has said that the Army, "can change entire societies at the barrel of a gun." Now that's sincerity that cannot be matched. Clever = sincere.

Overall, this is an exercise in First Amendment rights, and I support it as such. No problem there. Other than that it is quite the display of odd bedfellows. It was also a great way to challenge the patriotism of his ideological opponents, and specifically Nagl, without having to say so himself. Nicely played. I can't say that it added to COL Gentile's stock in my book, but it was well played.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

DC/Richmond Fly For A Dollar

JetBlue is honoring service members with flights for a buck. Book by May 7th.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Never Again

The post regarding Mr. Cohen's articles on Democracy Arsenal on COIN and specifically John Nagl and Brian Burton's article in the April issue of Washington Quarterly was cited on Abu Muqawama and began a lively discussion thread over there. This is good, since the COINtras are raising a point that needs to be discussed, dealt with, and moved past. It is the politics of fear.

More after the jump

Here is the lone comment that was left on this blog (there are nearly 140 over at AM) regarding the post, made by Mr. Anonymous:

You completely miss Michael Cohen's point. Utterly.

As simply as possible: There is an upper bound on the efficiency of COIN. No matter how good you get at it, as a policy option, it's always bloody, expensive, and comparatively undesirable.

The problem with the COIN industry is that getting better at COIN is on some level a futile endeavor. You can get better enough to perform better tactically, or operationally, at the current goals of your campaign. But you can never get enough better to make being in COIN strategically positive.

Through the power of agent theory and path dependence, by making us better at COIN, you are making us more likely to use it, thus making us actually worse off, because two competent COIN engagements are still worse for us as a country than one incompetent COIN engagement.

It would be one thing if you actually engaged this argument, but you instead quite failed to comprehend, articulate, or rebut it.

I do get Mr. Cohen's point, actually. Mr. Cohen is afraid that if we grasp the doctrine of counterinsurgency well enough to be successful in Afghanistan, we will be, as a nation, forever seeking new venues in which to display our counterinsurgent prowess; that the civilian masters of the military will find a new and irresistible toy with which to play endlessly.

The operative word is afraid. It's the operative word in all of the COINtra dialogues. They are afraid that by retaining the lessons learned in Iraq and the lessons being learned in Afghanistan, they will lose control of something. Some fear that the United States will lose its conventional edge. Some fear that they will lose massive budgets for very expensive new aircraft. Some fear that the stigma of Vietnam will be lost, and that the deterrent to engaging in counterinsurgency or nation-building will melt away, allowing America to be drawn endlessly into long and messy engagements in strategic backwaters.

The commenter writes about a COIN industry. Aside from a few publishers (have you seen the price of Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice lately?) I fail to see an industry. I do see a massive conventional weapons industry. I do see that the funding for the F-22 has been cut. I do see an industry to support the military that guards us from the bogeyman who can nuke us to death or supposedly invade our country and subjugate it. I don't see a COIN industry. COIN actually pushes back against the greater defense industry in many ways. It does not play to technological strengths, heavy equipment, or present a technical challenge in overcoming enemy systems. It does not respond to advanced radars that can pick out a gnat at a hundred miles at 50,000 feet. It does not spur the development of more capable fighters or of advanced armored vehicles networked seamlessly together. It doesn't respond to generals who can see each detail through a Predator feed and a networked map.

It responds to a man on the ground, dirty and tired and frustrated, trying to get a bunch of backwards people to feel safe enough to tell him that their neighbor likes to play with explosives at night and threaten to cut their heads off if they tell anyone.

COIN strategically positive. Now there's an idea. COIN is not strategically positive. It never was. It may support a strategic goal, but it is never strategically positive. COIN is the end result of failed strategy or the failure to strategize. It is the end result, as are all wars, of failure to resolve problems non-violently.

Failure in an endeavor is not strategically positive, either. In fact, it is strategically disastrous. Maj.Gen. Charles Dunlap states that the loss in Vietnam didn't cost the United States the Cold War, and it didn't cause the nation to become a failed state, and therefore loss in Afghanistan is acceptable, perhaps desirable. Yes, it would be desirable to him. It would once again cause a version of the Powell/Weinberger Doctrine to be adopted, perhaps by law. The lesson learned from Vietnam; "Never again."

Never again would an advanced fighter be put on hold while the military pursued an objective in which they held air superiority by default. Never again would all of his training and planning for a conventional knockdown of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Air Force be rendered useless. Never again would he face internal dissent from a guerrilla group of junior officers who point out that a two-engined version of the Spooky gunship could be bought by the squadron full, to include crews, for the price of a single F-22.

I don't know where Maj.Gen. Dunlap was in the years following the humiliation of Vietnam. Of course, Vietnam had positive effects on the Air Force in many ways. The Red Flag school was begun, the F-15 and F-16 learned from the challenges faced by the F-4, and the United States fielded the best fighter in the world as the world watched America's panicked flight from Saigon.

The disaster in Vietnam did irreparably harm the United States. We were lucky that the Soviets did not view our weakened Army as the easy prey it would have been in the mid-'70's. The services struggled with drug addiction and the Vietnam veterans suffered from the double edged sword of fighting the wrong doctrine in an insurgency, which to me complicates PTSD, and the stigma of failure which cannot but increase their suffering. These men and women who fought as well as any in the history of the United States were failed by their leadership and training.

Laos and Cambodia fell. Millions perished. To this day, none of these countries match their liberal neighbors economically. Malaysia, which survived an insurgency only a few years before Vietnam collapsed, produces computers. Vietnam produces cheap clothing and hats.

The loss of American prestige, the aura of invincibility shattered, led to numerous confrontations abroad. The USS Pueblo, the Embassy in Tehran, and a myriad of other incidents demonstrated our loss of standing. It changed the way that America views itself and its government forever. It emboldened asymmetric threats around the world as they saw the limits of American resolve and learned that if they had more patience, we would tire and concede any fight.

It made our media and our Armed Forces mortal enemies, which they remain to this day. The relationship between the American people and their Armed Forces did not heal until the Gulf War. I know. I wore a uniform during the 80's, often in public on American streets.

One incompetent engagement is better for those who live in fear of the future. It is not better to me, who has lost friends and allies and has sacrificed months and months of my life and family time for it. It is not better for the legions of Vietnam veterans who live daily in the aftermath of futile sacrifice. No. It is not, and it never will be. Question the motives for engagement, do reasonable work to prevent such occurrences in the future; but do not make our sacrifices mean nothing so that your fear can rule you.

The military response, following the insidious behavior of those who had resorted to lying, cheating and cover-ups to justify failures and poor behaviors, learned a lesson; "Never again." To them, "never again" meant never again engaging in asymmetric warfare. Documents were written, studies done, to demonstrate the failures and point the fingers at everyone and everything except themselves. First the Weinberger Doctrine and later the Powell Doctrine aimed at avoiding all such engagements, keeping our military restricted to "short, sharp" engagements, which to military officers was both exculpatory and very desirable. It simplified their jobs, and, confident that they would never again be called upon to perform in an asymmetric environment, allowed them to focus strictly on AirLand Doctrine and the weapons required to prosecute it.

Meanwhile, the government failed to learn how to engage the true might of our nation, its economic might and the freedom of its people, to engage in the diplomatic and developmental activity that would prevent the failure to thrive that pushes individuals towards extremism. We set up our own enemies of the future.

As the Armed Forces recovered from the TBI of Vietnam and built into a force that the Soviets dare not challenge across the Fulda Gap, American Soldiers and Marines muddled through a series of asymmetric disasters for which they were untrained and unprepared. Having thrown out what we had learned from Vietnam, eager to distance ourselves from the memory of having our collective asses handed to us by a nation of rice farmers, hundreds of Marines were killed by what we later came to call a VBIED in Beirut. The ignominious withdrawal from Somalia and the vision of naked American dead being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by dancing Somalians did not wake up the leadership but instead inspired the Powell Doctrine.

Yet the political masters of our Armed Forces ventured forth again, into fields where our mighty M-1 Abrams meant nothing more than a really nice roadblock.

I see the fear in every argument made by the COINtras. Fear for their particular rice bowls, fear of losing a glorious image, fear of success driving future endeavors. I am a Soldier. This does not mean that I do not feel fear; far from it. It does mean that I am not bound to a course of action or inaction because of it. Cohen's fear is that by adopting the doctrine that is necessary for success in the current war, and by being realistic enough to look at our past and maintaining the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed again, we will ensure the advent of future instances of involvement in foreign insurgencies. We, however, realize that civilians will, for whatever reason, throw me and my brothers in arms into a similar situation, regardless of their fluffy expressions of goodwill and world brotherhood.

When they do, after we have taken their well-intentioned advice and planning for a raging conventional holocaust and the righteous, clear-cut conventional victory Americans crave, we will once again make mistakes that cost young men their lives.

The right lesson that we should have derived from earlier failures in such situations was indeed, "Never again." Never again will we send young men out to "chase ghosts" untrained in the doctrine and tactics that will keep more of them alive, end your adventures more quickly, and avoid failures that invite such events as the Tehran Embassy due to our loss of prestige. Never again will we have officers who attempt to fail at their tasks with cries of, "We don't do windows." Never again will we, through willful negligence and wishful thinking, endanger the lives of our Soldiers and the accomplishment of whatever mission our nation calls upon us to perform.

I see the COINtras fear, and I see Cohen's. It's okay to be scared. It's not okay to let it rule your life or your decisions, and it's not okay to allow it to rule the advice you give to others. It is particularly not okay for it to rule the minds of military officers, and especially not for reasons of individual or service-related selfishness, parochialism, or their boyhood visions of glory.

I get Cohen's point all too well. His point was arrived at before his readings and his writings and that, to me, is intellectually dishonest. That's why I wrote about it.

If anyone wants to avoid such future entanglements, then learn your own, "Never again." Learn that by establishing an excellent Phase 0 capability, you position yourself better to never have to consider Phase IV COIN in a kinetic environment. Influence your government to deal with the development of radicalized elements by addressing them at their birthplace, before they plan attacks on our home soil for whatever crazy reason that their minds grow into. Start addressing the next Taliban or al Qaeda now before they kill Americans.

COIN is awful business. It boggles the best minds. It can never be done perfectly, only adequately, but it can be done. I hope that Afghanistan is the last time this nation ever engages in foreign COIN or FID, but I don't for one second believe that it will be, especially in a world where the only way to really interfere with American interests or strategies is asymmetric. I am here to tell Michael Cohen, Maj.Gen. Dunlap, or anyone else that never again will I listen to someone who tells me to be willfully negligent in my duties to my Soldiers and my nation, and to help them prove their points by purposely failing in Afghanistan; or that it would be alright to do so. Never again will I heed leadership that tries to guide me away from having the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform in whatever role my nation tells me I need to function in. That is my never again.

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Listening? That's A Start.

Lt.Col. Glen Butler is on to something here. Listening would be good. Empowering would be better. The only problem is that it would involve training them. It's amazing how many are doing good things without being trained.

Imagine what training them would do for us.

Depending on where they go, the Captains are likely getting some COIN education. The Corporals? Not so much. COIN is not trained in NCOES. In fact, many tactical tasks are trained to Cold War standards. Emplacing an M-8 chemical alarm was not done on one single OP I ever saw in Afghanistan. Nor were anti-tank mines. Both are still part of the ARTEP standards for tactical tasks trained/evaluated at the first line leader level.

What happened to, "Train the way you fight, fight the way you train?" For us, it's "Train the way you train, forget it. Fight the way you fight."

No, instead we train for a war that will not be fought again until well after these Corporals are out of the military entirely. But by golly, we're ready for those pesky Reds!
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Monday, May 4, 2009

I've been to Gondalabuk

Just found this. I'll dig up the pictures of a place few Americans have been. These went further. A little over a year ago, the Police Chief of Doab was known to have Taliban affiliation, was fired for staging a Taliban attack on his own district center, and somehow found his way back into power. Wonder if he's the same one now. Oily guy...

I'll try to dig up the pictures of Gondalabuk.
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Outclassed by Gentile

No, not John Nagl. Not in this lifetime. No, we're talking about Democracy Arsenal's Michael Cohen who, for a fellow at a think tank and a former speechwriter for the United States Representative to the United Nations is pretty thick on a subject into which he has been putting a lot of study. He's been taking on the COINdinistas and being a bit condescending about it at that, which is ironic. In a May 1st post on Nagl and Burton's article in the April edition of The Washington Quarterly, Cohen writes some pretty silly stuff.

More after the jump.

The COIN-danistas deterministic notion of future military conflict is particularly hard to reconcile with Nagl's later point that "U.S. conventional military capabilities still qualitatively outstrip those of potential adversaries to a significant degree. Such capabilities are too costly and infrastructure-intensive for most countries to develop, purchase, or field. Instead of playing the U.S. game, current and potential enemies have turned to asymmetric approaches designed to neutralize our strengths and exploit our relative weaknesses."

Well wait a minute here - if no country can qualitatively match the United States and if our enemies only approach for confronting the United States is through asymmetric approaches then wouldn't this suggest that the United States has a rather fulsome capability to decide when, where and how to fight wars?

Ummm... no. It gives us a fulsome capability to decide when, where and how to react to being attacked by non-state actors. It gives our nation a fulsome inability to have someone against whom to declare war because we don't have an institutional memory of declaring hostilities against a non-state. It gives current and potential enemies a fulsome and demonstrated ability to confuse us, play against our demonstrated weaknesses and strike against not only our homeland but those of other nations with whom we share good relations.

Simply, it puts us in the position not of actor but of reactor. Our conventional primacy in the world precludes any nation-state from having a direct conventional assault on our interests or allies. As Nagl points out, likely scenarios for traditional state-state war are pretty scarce. This forces those who would see the United States taken down a peg to resort to the unconventional, asymmetric insurgent type behaviors that we have a demonstrated difficulty in dealing with.

It does allow us to determine how, when and where to react. Cohen points out that in the days following 9/11 we had choices in how to pursue al Qaeda. This is true. While he points out an obvious truth, even divining the method of our reaction, there is an essential failure in his logic; that our conventional primacy completely failed us; we had been attacked. We had been attacked not on the fields of Europe, not by a nuclear strike by a conventional power, but on our own soil by a non-state actor. We did not choose the fight. We did choose, in the aftermath, to fight. In the end, citing a favorite childhood movie, Cohen advocates choosing not to fight.

Take it on the chin, America, and just say no.

This is simplistic at best. Simplistic answers in a complicated world are absolutely worthless.

In another post, made the same day, Cohen tries to tackle Nagl again, this time on the subject of failed states.

Note to Cohen: Dude, you are so totally out of your league. You thoroughly miss the point, and for someone with your credentials, this is absolutely frightening. Truly sad.

Nagl is not an advocate of COIN for the sake of COIN. Nagl is an advocate of being able to prevail in the conflicts at hand, and for never again being such utter failures at having the ability to achieve what this nation's civilian leadership decides is in the nation's interests. We are not out of the woods yet; not by a far sight. The Army has a long way to go, and will likely never really commit culturally to accepting the abilities to overcome an insurgency. There are points of light, though, and they are increasing in both number and influence.

Nagl is an advocate of being capable of facing the threats that face us in the modern world, where the new phenomenon of globalization has given non-state actors the ability to strike within the shores of the United States on a scale that has never been done by any state actor since the War of 1812.

This is highly misleading. The experience of the US military in Somalia was a disaster and conveniently ignored is the fact that this intervention -- where we sent ground troops and tried nascent nation-building -- was stunningly unsuccessful. As for the Balkans, the United States did not intervene with ground troops (peacekeepers) in Bosnia or Kosovo until only after a peace agreement/cease fire had been reached in both locales - and it was not our military that did nation building in either country, it was the United Nations and other civilian agencies. And while Nagl is right that the demands to intervene militarily in places like Darfur and Rwanda have grown, doesn't it tell us something that such demands have gone unmet? It is hardly accidental that the United States did not send ground troops into kinetic environments as nation builders in each of these situations.

Failed and weak states represent areas of potential threat to the US, but Nagl's response - counter-insurgency and nation-building -- is not only political realistic it makes little sense from either a strategic or tactical perspective. Above all, it is a disproportionate response to what are, for the most part, not vital threats to the United States.

What horrible analysis. Somalia was nothing like Afghanistan or Iraq, nor were the goals. There was no "nascent nation-building" in Somalia. It was a humanitarian intervention and, while terribly ill-conceived, had nothing to do with any real or perceived threat to our national security. The Balkans was, again, a response to a humanitarian disaster. In both cases, it was a military response to a humanitarian crisis. They are great examples of why Nagl is right, but horrible examples of why he may be wrong.

Nagl does not advocate counterinsurgency as a driver of national policy. What he does is point out that because of our conventional primacy, we are unlikely to face a conventional threat. He also points out that most military activity in the past 60 years, that which our nation has asked us to do, has been unconventional, asymmetric and often insurgency-related. He points out that the real threats to our country are now and are more likely (than conventional) to be asymmetric. He also points out that the civilian capacity to avoid using military force to assist in stabilization is woefully lacking.

Why people like Cohen find John Nagl to be threatening and feel a need to argue with him or discredit his ideas is beyond me. There have been military thinkers over the years who have examined the failures of Vietnam. Most got it wrong. Much of the military analysis has been flawed in the favor of blaming the civilian government for the failures of the Army to figure it out. They have ascribed abilities to supposed counterinsurgency in Vietnam that wasn't there. Even in the wake of asymmetric failures such as Somalia retrospective analysis failed to do more than reflect a desire to force the Powell Doctrine (a military solution to counterinsurgency that amounted to the Cohen Doctrine of "just say no" on the civilian leadership) to the level of law. Nagl never would have written his book Learning to eat soup with a knife had such efforts been successful.

Oh snap; Cohen calls for the Powell Doctrine, too.

COINdinistas, who Cohen treats with derision, are not advocates of looking for more opportunities to do COIN. John Nagl doesn't advocate COIN as national strategy. Nagl advocates COIN as the proper doctrine for achieving the goals of our civilian leadership in cases where failed states harbor asymmetric threats to our national security. Use a hammer to drive a nail, use a shovel to dig a hole. As our experience in Iraq has shown, when you put down the shovel and pick up the hammer, suddenly it's easier to drive the nail.

COL Gian Gentile makes much more cogent arguments, fundamentally flawed but intellectually honest, than Cohen. Cohen's arguments are driven by a conclusion already arrived at. Cohen has been studying COIN not to see what it offers but to see how to discredit it. He has done a terrible job.

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Gates On Fareed Zakaria's Global Public Square

SECDEF Gates is on GPS on CNN right now. I'll try to find a link to video later. Really good explanation of the strategy.

UPDATE "If there ever was an example that military force alone cannot succeed in Afghanistan, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan was it."

"If the Afghan people begin to see us as the occupiers, then we will lose."

Gates says he would be skeptical of any further raising of force structure in Afghanistan. He says that the partnership with the ANSF is the key to success for security in Afghanistan.

Plenty of other stuff on Afghanistan and the SECDEF's views on it. I'm nodding my head. My only question is if he can find enough leaders who can actually implement it. The Army is apparently full of COL(R) Macgregor mavens, still hoping that the halcyon days of the Weinberger/Powell doctrines where the military thought for some reason that it could determine its own role in national policy.

Update 2... the video. Part 1. Part 2.
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