Tuesday, March 31, 2009

At Some Point, Bill Maher Is Going To Have To Learn To **** Himself

The latest exercise in jackassery focused against the US Armed Forces, Bill Maher submits this for your approval:

Bill can be entertaining to watch, because he's made an art form out of the same sardonic wit he developed on the playground as a child. Being neither particularly athletic nor obviously popular for bringing anything to the party that the popular kids usually bring, he found another route. Being fairly bright, he found that witty sarcasm could win points in many contests. He probably earned himself a few ass-whoopings, but more than likely not too many. His tongue was his weapon. If your kid ever came home near tears because of some kid with a propensity for verbal bullying, your kid ran into a budding Bill Maher.

Picture him as a kid on the playground running his mouth... not too hard, is it? Little roundish kid with a mop of hair, a prominent nose and a smart mouth. He's made quite a living out that; because as adults we're entertained, just as kids are, by seeing someone else sardonically abused. Bill making a living as an ass doesn't bother me until he points his shitty little mouth at people who serve this country in a time of war.

You know what, Bill? Let's compare rape rates with American cities with similar populations of males, why don't we? Would you like to do that? No, because that won't be funny. Because small cities in every state will come up with higher rape rates than a similar population of Marines on Okinawa or Soldiers in Germany. Then your joke won't make any sense.

Bill, I think that now would be a good time to learn to **** yourself. Somehow, I don't think you're going to need lessons.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

The New Plan

Just a little while ago, President Obama revealed his new plan, in broad strokes, for Afghanistan. All in all, the plan makes sense. I do not see an abandonment of Afghanistan's development in favor of counter-terrorist activities, rather a realization that without a lasting framework, the region will have no other result but to slide back into chaos and a home for international terrorism.

This recognition that the future of stability in Central Asia is tied to our own national security interests is welcome. Many have argued, including an Air Force Major General, that a "loss" in Afghanistan would not seriously damage U.S. interests or security. Obama's statement has refuted that in at least the sitting administration's opinion. That's a good thing.

Michael Yon has already expressed disappointment. He feels that the increased troop levels aren't enough, and that the administration will have to make announcements of further increases in the future. That may be so; however, it's a good start, and it's not the best news.

The best news is twofold; first there is finally an acknowledgment, officially, of the role of good governance and corruption in the stability of Afghanistan. Secondly, there is the commitment, finally, to fully man the advisor effort in Afghanistan. These two critical pieces are so key in any potential strategy for success in Afghanistan that it cannot be stressed enough.

Pakistan is dealt with as sensibly as possible, and the engagement of the other Central Asian states is a new strategy that cannot do harm and may help in many ways.

Overall, this is a step in the right direction. Personally, I hope to play a part in it.

A deeper and ongoing look will undoubtedly follow, but that's my first take on it.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some Gravy For Your Bishkeks?

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexei Borodavkin, stated in an interview with Interfax that Russia will not be sending troops to Afghanistan. I didn't even know that this concept was in play, and I'm certainly relieved (as are 30 million Afghans who still haven't quite gotten over the last Russian intervention in Afghanistan) at the Russian announcement.

I do wonder if anyone had asked them for their help.

Borodavkin went on to speak about how ISAF was helping to provide regional stability surrounding Russia's southern border, which I found odd in light of their incursion into Georgia to send a message to any breakaway republics who may consider applying for NATO membership.

More after the jump

Talking about the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Borodavkin said that, "in the current conditions, these troops in fact remain a force curbing the terrorist threat."

"Their presence at this moment meets both interests of Afghanistan itself, as well as regional and in a wider context international security. Proceeding from this understanding, Russia intends to continue to provide political support to the international forces stationed in Afghanistan under a UN Security Council resolution," he said.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan meet long-term interests of both Russia and the NATO member-states, which make up a majority at the ISAF, he said.

"And vice versa, a failure of the ISAF's operation in Afghanistan and a buildup of the conflict potential near our southern borders would pose a threat to the interests of Russia's national security. This is exactly why we welcome interaction on Afghan affairs within the Russia-NATO Council format," he said.

While acknowledging some benefit to Russia from NATO's presence in Afghanistan, Mr. Borodavkin found it necessary to scold ISAF for civilian casualties.

Moscow views as unacceptable "indiscriminate actions by foreign military contingents inflicting damage on the civilian population," Borodavkin said also.

"Such excesses should be avoided in the future," he said.

Wow, those are strong words coming from a country known for flattening villages suspected of harboring Mujaheddin. Someone should sit this guy down for a viewing of The Beast, the most socially responsible movie ever made by a Baldwin. After that we can have a round table discussion about the responsible use of chemical weapons in a counterinsurgency, followed by a request for another announcement of what Moscow views as unacceptable.

It's not like we shouldn't be more careful in the future, but to hear it from a Russian is like being called a racist by a Klansman.

"As for our possible assistance in the formation of the Afghan Armed Forces, we might consider such requests from the Afghan government," Borodavkin said.. "

And Russian military anything being asked into the country by Afghans will be immediately preceded by the White House proclaiming it "National Hug a Klansman Day." Much of what we found wrong with the ANSF had to do with their Russian training and habits. The Afghans need more Russian "assistance" like they need a bigger opium crop. Speaking of which...

As for international cooperation on Afghanistan, there is a need to coordinate efforts in fighting against drug trafficking, he said.

"It would be useful for NATO to coordinate its efforts in Afghanistan with the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] in combating drug trafficking along the perimeter of its northern borders," the Russian diplomat said.

"[Drug trafficking] is one of the major Afghan problems, which spills out far beyond its borders, and ignoring it would be short-sighted, to say the least," he said.

"In our view, international military forces must be more active in fighting against drug criminals," Borodavkin said.

Well, if anyone were sure that the Russians wouldn't feed that information directly to the drug cartels, I'm sure that we could work something out. The power of Russian organized crime is not to be underestimated. What Mr. Borodavkin doesn't understand is that we have been allowing Afghan heroin to flood across their borders so that it would be easier for them to catch the fattened rats on their side of the border. So far, so good. Their "drug criminals" are doing fine, addiction rates in Russia are soaring, and the Russians get to call us short-sighted. Great stuff!

He said also that Russia was not against Kabul's contacts with the moderate wing of the Taliban if Kabul sees fit to seek such contacts.

"If the Afghan leadership sees fit to establish contacts with the moderate wing of the Taliban, Russia will not object to this on condition that they lay down their arms, recognize the Afghan constitution and government, and denounce any ties with Al Qaeda," Borodavkin told Interfax.

At the same time, Moscow believes it is important to stick to a clear and principled position with regard to the leaders of terrorist and extremist organizations acting in Afghanistan, Borodavkin said. "We are categorically against any agreements with them," he said.

This is pleasing. I wonder what part of, "No one asked for your approval or conditions!" is hard to understand.

Russian diplomat also told Interfax that so far no applications had been received from NATO member states for the transit of military cargo to Afghanistan via Russia.

I wonder if they ever gave back our humvees they stole off the dock in Georgia. Hmmm. Perhaps we never filed that application. Somebody get a bureaucrat on this issue immediately!

"We have signed a number of bilateral inter-governmental agreements setting out easier terms for military gear and personnel transit to Afghanistan through Russia. Such agreements were signed with Germany, France and Spain. So far we have not received any application for this type of transportation from these countries," he said.

In April 2008, Russia and NATO also signed an agreement for the transit of non-military cargo to Afghanistan for the alliance forces and its member states, as well as all the countries which sent their troops to the country as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Borodavkin recalled.

"According to the Russian regulations, ISAF's non-military cargo will be transited by Russia as commercial cargo in accordance with international and Russian customs regulations," he said.

"This is a half-hearted attempt on our part to make up for inducing the Kyrgyzstanis to evict the U.S. from Manos Air Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan," Mr. Borodavkin went on to say... just kidding, he didn't say that. I wish he would have, but he didn't.

Borodavkin said also that the authorities in Moscow hoped that an upcoming international conference on Afghanistan under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will help bring stability to the country.

"The agenda of the conference will focus on searching for more effective ways to jointly counter the terrorist and drug threats. Naturally, its results, which its organizers and participants hope to receive, will objectively contribute to efforts to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan," Borodavkin said.

This is the second half of the July 5, 2005 pronouncement by the SCO that the United States should set a time line to leave Afghanistan.

An action plan outlining a wide variety of specific measures will be announced as well, Borodavkin said. "They include plans to step up the activities of the consultative mechanism of the SCO member-countries' anti-drug agency chiefs and to give it a bigger say, plans to reinforce the legal foundation for cooperation in the combat against the illegal turnover of drugs, and the idea of conducting joint anti-drug operations," the high-ranking diplomat said.

"The results of the conference will be summarized in a declaration, which will reflect the views of all participants in this forum regarding the development and improvement of multilateral cooperation to counter the threats of terrorism, drug trafficking and cross-border crime," he added.

Declaration; good. Cooperation; good. Russians in Afghanistan; just look at the bones, man! So I'd say that this is a win for the Afghans at this point. Russians are apparently like vampires... if someone doesn't invite them in, they won't kill your whole family.

On a serious note, hopefully the conference will provide some framework for cooperation and there is word that the US will be making contact with Iran behind the scenes. That should be an interesting story in itself. Oh, to be a fly on that wall!

However, with the recent encouragement (buyoff) of Kyrgyzstan's decision to remove Manos Air Base from our logistical bag of tricks, it's hard to take Russian pronouncements of goodwill seriously. It's especially hard to accept any scolding from them (the worst, most brutal counterinsurgents in the world) regarding brutality against civilians.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


The latest news about an "initiative" to "install" a Prime Minister in Afghanistan to "counter" Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not bode well, and is not what was expected from this administration. For an administration whose campaign rhetoric seemed to flow against foreign interventionism, it is an astounding thought that it would consider interfering in the internal workings of Afghanistan to this extent.

Now, Hamid Karzai has often spoken about ISAF and civilian casualties (of which there were two more yesterday,) even threatening at one point to commit national suicide by asking NATO to leave the country. Between that and completely failing to stem corruption in the Afghan government, there have been many calls to forcibly remove Karzai from power.

This would be a tremendous mistake.

More after the jump

No matter how difficult Hamid Karzai may be, we have not done our part to help this former Mujaheddin to become a chief executive of a country the size of Texas and with 30 some-odd million citizens. Just as we have conducted counter-terrorism operations in lieu of counterinsurgency for the past seven years, we have failed to properly mentor the Afghan government in administering itself. Then we point to these former warlords and fighters and express dismay that they can't effectively run a government. A good administrator would have great difficulties in properly administering anything in a country whose infrastructure, never substantial to begin with, has been mauled by over thirty years of warfare. Now an administration who objected to American interference is considering tampering with the internal structure of a government which we are supposed to be legitimizing through our efforts and expenditures of blood and treasure. This is not the way to legitimize the sitting Afghan government.

We could encourage the Loya Jirga to change the Afghan Constitution and add the office which the President of the United States is considering creating. We could actively back another candidate, like the one that the Obama administration would like to see installed as "Prime Minister." We could use our considerable financial clout to change the way that aid is administered, controlling it down to the local level and thereby pressuring Karzai to accept more help and mentoring. We can use many methods to influence the Afghan government to attack corruption.

We can also take more responsibility for preventing civilian casualties, including training COIN to the Soldier level and being the first to admit when we have made a mistake. We could make sure that compensation for civilian deaths is excessive compared to local norms, which it is not. (Just so you know, monetary compensation for a death caused by another is normal in Afghan society. It is often the decision of local courts or shuras/jirgas to award such compensation in cases that we would prosecute as manslaughter or negligent homicide, sometimes even as murder.) These are things that could be done by our civilian and military leadership to influence the Afghan government in acceptable ways.

Willful tampering in the structure of what we insist is a sovereign nation is not an acceptable way. It has been described as colonialist behavior, which is exactly the type of behavior that President Obama seemed to object to in his campaign. This is the type of shift once in power that is totally unwelcome. It would also torpedo our national objectives in Afghanistan in ways that cannot be totally foreseen. First of all, think of the boon to Taliban information operations (propadanda.) This would, along with some of our other behaviors, feed directly into Taliban assertions that the Kabul government is a puppet government. This is a central argument of the Taliban, and such an action would add great credibility to that argument.

We are, and must rightly be, held to a higher standard, even when that makes our job more difficult. We must at all times endeavor to take the high road, even when that road makes us vulnerable or our job more difficult. We are the powerful, we are the well-educated, we are the "advanced." Every bit of tampering, every bit of subversion against the sitting government, every bit of underhanded or untruthful action on our part damages us much more deeply than the daily lying of the Taliban does to them. They are insurgents; they are expected to lie, cheat, steal and murder. We are not. Not even by our own press or the press of other countries.

Witness the article about the two farmers killed near Khost yesterday. There is a multi-paragraph article about NATO and civilian casualties, even noting Karzai's statements about ISAF-related civilian deaths. The article only notes in passing that three quarters of the civilian conflict-related fatalities were not caused by coalition forces. In an article several paragraphs long, here is the note given to another incident which killed four times as many civilians, this one caused by a roadside bomb (IED) which is by definition not coalition.

Separately in Khost, a roadside bomb killed eight civilians aboard a minibus and wounded eight others, NATO-led forces said.

One sentence. One lousy sentence. We are held to a higher standard, and this standard is not limited to civilian casualties. It is also related to not tampering in the established government of our ally, the country and the government that it is our job to legitimize and who we are helping to defend (in our own best interests.) The job is tough. It is hard, and it is increasingly dangerous... due in part to our own failings as counterinsurgents both militarily and civilly. That is no excuse to stoop to manipulation on the scale of externally creating an office for which there is no provision under existing Afghan law.

Why don't we try helping to teach Hamid Karzai what a president is really supposed to do? Why don't we try to teach and support those who are teachable in each government ministry and apply strong pressure to remove those who aren't? We have not done that, and seeking the easy road is to find the road to Hell.

2009 is a pivotal year in Afghanistan. It's time to take a hard look at ourselves and objectively seek where we can do better. It's time to do our jobs, not look for the easier, softer way. There is none. Meddling to this extent will only bring more difficulty.

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"Sustainable Security in Afghanistan," New Report From The Center For American Progress

The Center for American Progress has published a new position paper called, "Sustainable Security in Afghanistan." While there is nothing earth shattering, the report touches on some keys that have been notably absent from much of the higher-level national discussion in any meaningful way.

First, the call for a "civilian surge," while nothing new, is more detailed than just two words. Also, for the first time in a policy paper, (I may have missed something somewhere) there was an acknowledgment that the military strategy to this point has been "counter-terrorism," or what I have referred to as "counter-guerrilla." This is an acknowledgment that, despite the terminology used by military maneuver units on the ground, there has been little pop-centric COIN actually implemented.

More after the jump

Also there is a suggestion that NATO partners with "caveats" be called upon not for more military contributions, but civilian contributions; particularly in the area of governance. I have called for this in lieu of further pleas for military contributions, and I'm glad to see this in a policy paper.

Another edifying point is the call for a focused effort on the judicial system, and perhaps a bonding of tribal/local mechanisms with government writ as a way to facilitate this. Using the ANP as the Arbakai to enforce shura/jirga decisions has not been raised often in policy papers, and this one does so. I also strongly agree with the point that any "Sons of Afghanistan" effort is ill-advised and dangerous. As noted, it is the type of thing that gave rise to the Taliban initially. This call should be heeded.

The weakness of the effort to reform/rebuild the Afghan National Police was noted, and a recommendation to fully pursue manning of the mentoring program is made. Also good stuff.

Overall, this paper calls the spade a spade and puts forth some good recommendations that should be listened to. While some spades are called without a strong solution recommended, there were a few sacred cows that, if not slaughtered, were bled a bit.

Potentially the strongest point is that the "limited objectives" strategy is presented as a reasonable short-term strategy, while making the strong argument that if the long term goal of a self-sustained and stable Afghanistan is abandoned, there will be dire consequences in the future, including a waste being made of all the blood and treasure invested to this point. These consequences will affect both national safety and regional stability, particularly in Pakistan.

I did note the complete absence of any recommendation to undermine the Afghan government, an "initiative" which, if pursued, will also backfire. In fact, the call was strongly made to increase the legitimacy of the sitting Afghan government; part of which would entail strong efforts to attack corruption within that government. I strongly agree with the call to fully back the national elections.

Overall, I find myself in agreement with both the assessments of the current weaknesses and with the proposals to improve the situation in Afghanistan and the region in both the near and long terms.

Okay, so it wasn't "earth shattering," but there were some key points made that have not been strongly made in the national discussion of the way forward in Afghanistan and Central Asia. A number of things that I have felt strongly need to be said out loud have been said, and that is the first step to undertaking a solution.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Knock It Off!

In the early days of this blog I once made fun of the French. Okay, it was twice. In Afghanistan I learned that I had been mistaken. I never held a low opinion of the Canadians, who Scott Kesterson spent some time with and videos of whom fighting hard were posted on YouTube. They look, act, and fight like Americans. They use the same types of weapons, wear similar uniforms, are aggressive, and sound like Guardsmen from Minnesota. I did something wrong back in November of '06; I engaged in making fun of an ally of which I had no real knowledge. I have learned my lesson, and I know of what I speak. Now it's time to use that knowledge to speak up against the same type of immature behavior that I engaged in myself once upon an ignorant time.

More after the jump

The Canadians did not have any buildings knocked down on 9/11. They did not lose thousands of lives that day; and yet they have stood by our side from the very start. The Canadians took the difficult and dangerous mission in Kandahar Province, one of the deadliest in Afghanistan, and with a contingent much smaller than the American contingent (their Army is much smaller) they have borne the brunt of some of the most vicious fighting in Afghanistan. They have sustained casualties and given lives for a threat that is much more nebulous to them than it is to even we short attention span theater Americans.

While some here in the States, very often for the purpose of political maneuvering, go on about our strained military (with a basis in reality, but not in any genuine sense of caring, to my perception,) the Canadians have literally worn themselves out in a cause that has never affected them to the extent that it has affected us. While we complain that our conventional capabilities are stressed and weakened by the exertions of the GWOT, the Canadians have worn out their equipment and Soldiers, have repatriated many dead, and have given a full measure of themselves on the battlefields of Afghanistan. The Canadians have acquitted themselves honorably in this effort. Their relatively tiny military has gone the extra mile and now heaves itself forward on sheer willpower, never giving up.

Now the Canadians have to take a breather. Like a marathoner who literally crawls across the finish line, they need to recuperate. A Canadian Lieutenant General states that it will take a year to refit the Canadian Army. Folks, a year is not a long time when it comes to all of the maintenance, retraining, and refitting that is required when a small army expends itself to the extent that the Canadians have.

What is their reward for their expenditures of blood and treasure in a fight that it could be argued they could sit out reasonably? This. Fox News, usually the more patriotic of the bunch, slams our brothers-in-arms to the north with what amounts to a juvenile comedy routine that is based not on facts but on asinine jokes about our very capable and scrappy allies.

I am not an advocate of basing our foreign policy on what the rest of the world thinks. Their agendas are their agendas, and they are welcome to them, but remember always that the rest of the world never has our best interests at heart; they have their own interests at heart. Like a friend who runs when you knock a ball through the neighbor's window, most of them will leave when it is in their own best interests. That doesn't mean that we can't be friends; it means that we have to take care of our own business. My disagreements with our foreign policy are not based on "My God, the Europeans just hate us!" It is based on whether or not I believe that we are going about our objectives properly. Character is not just what you do when no one is looking. Character is also doing what you believe is right when everyone is looking and opinion runs against you.

That is a weak spot in our national character. A huge segment of our population is far too concerned with what others think of us. If that makes me an exceptionalist, then so be it. Every other country in the world is exceptionalist to one extent or another. Look at the Germans, for instance. Do they care what we think of their rules of engagement in Afghanistan? No. They care what their national conscience tells them.

That being said, the last thing in the world that we should be doing is making fun of our allies for breaking themselves against the Sisyphean task of fighting an international insurgency in general and a national insurgency with external support halfway around the globe. We should be patting them on the butt and saying, "Good game, you played it well." We should be writing love letters to the Canadians for the heartbreak and sorrow they have incurred bringing home Canadian dead at their own version of Dover. They have done this plenty. On the day that Fox News let their weasels off the chain to run their comic mouths, four more Canadians had their all taken from them in a fight that is unarguably more ours than theirs. Their reward? A sharp poke in the eye from a major U.S. media outlet.

There is a difference between exceptionalism and arrogance, and that video clip shows what that difference is in childish crayon colors. That was a playground-style taunting of a good friend. It's stuff like that which spoils friendships, while an honest difference of opinion may strain it but not destroy it.

Fox, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You owe the Canadians an apology from each and every one of those jackholes who opened their yaps to spew forth giggling venom at our allies. You are usually one of the less jackassic of the outlets, but this time you're not. As a Soldier and a veteran, I demand an apology be made to the Canadians. Man up, Fox. You did something wrong and I will respect you more if you apologize.

Then there is the matter of this site, a British blog that posted an asinine video downgrading the French. I found this awhile ago, and I tried to post a comment, not too strongly worded, pointing out that they don't know what they are talking about and pointing them to a hilarious YouTube video done by a (large) group of British Soldiers in Iraq. The site author didn't have the balls to print my comment. Nothing like maintaining that you're right by not acknowledging dissent based on personal knowledge.

So, while we are not alone in our practice of jackassery, that doesn't make it right. None of the above referenced commentators have earned the right to poke fun at their targets. If you served with them in this war, then you may poke good-natured fun at them. If you haven't, either ruck up and see how much respect they actually deserve by suffering with them on the ground or have the sense that God gave a rabbit and knock it off.


While Fox has not commented, Greg Gutfield, host of Red Eye on Fox, has apologized... sort of. He claims that the "comedy" was misunderstood.


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Monday, March 23, 2009

Listening To Voices Who Know

There are many voices out there who speak a lot of hypothesis, who get visits from the Good Idea Fairy and, while well-intentioned (for the most part,) there is a lot of wandering around in circles. Some, driven by a deeply rooted defeatism or some sense of purpose leading to withdrawal, literally preach the "impossibility" of the task of succeeding in building a free Afghanistan. Many even espouse the idea that Muslims are incapable of developing and living under a representative form of government.

There is little understanding of what it's like on the ground in Afghanistan.

More after the jump

There are a million voices out there, some influential, some inconsequential, all asking to be heard. I read many who just don't get it. Some are deeply affected, educated men like Andrew Bacevich, who while an honorable man who can argue his points very well, in my opinion have lost any real concern for the outcome and have come to believe that the security of the United States is not affected by what happens in the little valleys in a distant land nearly halfway around the world. I disagree with his assessment. It's a shame, because he is a very smart man who could be adding a lot to the conversation instead of wanting to call it off.

At the other end of the spectrum are men like Robert Young Pelton, who used his embed as a platform to assassinate a team of people who are working in a young program under difficult circumstances and to try to forward his own business interests by doing so. We have so few good journalists downrange who can paint a real picture of what it's like to be on the ground. We have so few smart guys who are willing to, in good faith, throw the flag at things going on downrange that are less than fully productive, and present realistic alternatives that would be so much more effective than what we are doing. We are seriously in need of both.

Let's go to the journalist side first. Before August, 2006, I had sought deployment to Iraq; rarely, like the rest of America, thinking of Afghanistan. When I learned of the ETT mission and began researching it, I found a number of sources of information. Scott Kesterson was an embedded journalist from Oregon who had gone to Afghanistan with the 41st BCT. I read his reports with relish, and his video clips gave me rare glimpses into what I was getting myself into. Now, as a veteran of Afghanistan, his work is even more impressive.

Scott, in partnership with some really good people, has made a documentary film called "At War." I have not had an opportunity to review this movie, but I hope to soon. In the meantime, there is a little support that people can lend to the movie to help it get more attention and reviews. Check this out over at Bouhammer (who went downrange with Scott and knows Scott well) as far as what you may be able to do to help this important documentary gain some more attention.

Now to those who offer solutions to some of the most overriding concerns standing in the way of success in Afghanistan. Today's post by Tim "Babatim" Lynch over at Free Range International speaks volumes about the need for a civilian surge; what works and what doesn't. There are several links to others there as well as a podcast. Tim spends a lot of time outside the wire and outside the influences that may tint the opinions of others. Tim knows what works and what doesn't from experience, and he really needs to be listened to. He also puts his butt out there, so he can speak clearly as to what he sees.

What can the average citizen do? Here's a recommendation; start sending blog links to your congressman and/or senator. Educating yourself by reading milblogs is great stuff. If you are reading this, you are likely seeking and finding information on everything from the experience of warriors in the GWOT to what it all means. I applaud you. Now, let's use that knowledge to steer our politicians to some of this information that doesn't make it to the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. If you didn't find what you were looking for there, why would you leave your elected representatives in the dark. They are busy people; give them a hand.


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Monday, March 16, 2009

Knowing Jon Stiles

The shock of learning of Jon's death has worn off a bit. I called a mutual friend, a retired Master Sergeant who now works as a representative for a company that sells systems to the Army, the one who introduced me to Jon Stiles. They had been next door neighbors in Dayton before Jon had moved with his wife, Launa, back to Colorado. I asked if he had heard about Jon. He hadn't, and I became the bearer of bad tidings. Jeff was shocked. We spoke only briefly before he had to go, but he promised to call me back this weekend.

We spoke together about how Jeff's kids cried to find out about Jon's death. We talked about Jon and how much effort he put into getting downrange. We talked about how hard Jon had to work to get back into the service. Jon sought out his service, he struggled to get back in. He jumped through many hoops, he ran into walls, he ran into lazy people who didn't want to do their jobs, he ran into bureaucracy and botched paperwork. Jeff and I talked about how Jon kept his purpose in mind and never quit.

I walk among people here in the United States, which I've seen a lot of in the past few days as I've traveled hundreds of miles by road, and I wonder about the people I see. I see people who are too busy living their lives, too interested in their careers, having too good a time to give serious thought to putting themselves into harm's way for our country. I have seen tens of thousands of people in the past three days. I have seen easily several thousand able-bodied men having their weekend and as I've driven around Florida during Spring Break time, the contrast is so clear to me.

Jon's story needs to be told. Jon Stiles is such a strong example of the type of man this country produces in small numbers. Even among the members of the military, Jon stands out. Jon was not ordered to go. Jon marched towards the sound of the guns. He sought to do as much as he could. He worked so hard to lay his life on the line.

When I met Jon, he was not a member of the military. Jon had been a Marine and had served on active duty in the Army, but he had been out of the service for years. He had been injured and he had had surgery on his back. Jon wanted to serve, but he had spoken to recruiters like Mr. Jones, an MPRI contracted recruiter in the Dayton area, who couldn't be bothered with a tough accession. Jon had been blown off. He believed that he couldn't get back in, though he desperately wanted to serve, to do what he saw as his part.

As we worked together, helping National Guardsmen from Tennessee and Pennsylvania get ready to go to Iraq during their predeployment at Camp Shelby, MS, Jon and I became fast friends. We shared an apartment in Hattiesburg and in our off time we often played golf together. Jon had brought a PS2 game system, and when the weather was poor he taught me to play "Tiger Woods Golf." It took me nearly a month to become a worthy adversary, but Jon demonstrated the patience of a saint.

Jon saw me taking phone calls related to deployments that I was seeking, and he asked me for advice on how to handle getting back in uniform. I did my best to be helpful, but Jon did the work. He began a quest that would span over a year and three separate states to get back into the service.

Jon became frustrated with the family business, and he and his wife sold their home in Dayton and moved back to Colorado. Launa's family was there, and while she had sacrificed being close to her family so that Jon could be part of the business, when he decided to leave the business, they decided that Colorado was the place for them to be.

While I only met Launa once or twice, Jon's relationship with his wife was remarkable. Jon never said anything negative about his wife. He was the type of husband that every father wants for his daughter. He was thoughtful, respectful, loving, kind and he would tell anyone that Launa was his best friend. He treated her like it, too. Jon was a man's man... because that's the way that real men are supposed to be.

After their move back to Colorado, Jon and I spoke pretty regularly. Jon continued his pursuit of service, and finally found a recruiter who was willing to listen to him, hear his commitment to service, and put forth the effort to do the paperwork. This process took months. I've still got the emails that Jon and I exchanged over this time, and they span months until he finally sent me an email the day that I arrived in Afghanistan that he was raising his hand two days later.

Jon had gathered all of his medical records together and presented his case to a recruiter who was willing to go through what promised to be a lengthy process. Jon had a physical and his case was referred to a medical review board. There were so many hoops for Jon to jump through that I lost track. Most men would have quit trying. There was dismal news at every turn. Jon was repeatedly given discouraging words, but he never gave up. He never quit.

Finally, the case had to go to a General for approval. The paperwork sent for Jon initially had the wrong name on it, setting him back months. Jon's email was ecstatic when he informed me of his impending enlistement. The email was sent the day that I arrived in Afghanistan, and showed that his efforts were not complete.

Hey Brother,

I am there man!!!!! They finally are going to let me in. I am raising my right hand this Friday morning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for all of your support and prayer's it did help. I hope all is well in the ZONE drop me a line when you get a chance, and know that I am praying for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Keep your ass down and your eyes open brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will write soon and let you know if and when I can catch a deployment.

Love you BRO


Every one of those exclamation points are his, and he was not one to use them lightly. Jon's commitment wasn't just to wearing that uniform, either. As you can plainly see, he fully intended to deploy.

While Jon looked into what it would take to get downrange, he worked for the Colorado Honor Guard, doing funerals for service members who had passed away. He took pride in rendering honors to those who had served their country. Here is a picture of Jon dressed for Honor Guard duty.

The unit that Jon had enlisted into had been slated to deploy to Iraq, but when that deployment was pushed back, Jon went looking for an ETT mission. Jon would have made a great ETT. His patience and maturity would have stood him in good stead, but it was not to be.

Hey Hey Hey, Brother... I wish we could have talked more when you where home,
but such as life, it was just good to hear your voice and know that you are
hanging in there. As far as ETT deployment goes that is a big fat negative,
they wont take an E-4 know matter how hard the DET COMMANDER fights for me.
He even went so far as to duke it out with Fort Riley and the powers that may
be, but to no avails. On the other hand I am still going to the STAN I am
getting deployed with the 927th Eng Co SAPPERS from Baton Rouge, L.A. I go on
three week SRP/AT in February, and then we MOB in march for a 70 day train up
at Fort McCoy Wisconsin. Then it is boots on the ground for 9 to 9 1/2 months
(probably longer), the total order package is supposed to be for 400 day's.
The mission is a good mission! We will be on the Pakistani border doing the
route clearing mission (IED Hunting) using the Buffalo Vehicles, as well as
being the QRF for that area of OPS. Not sure exactly where on the border we
will be yet but I am sure it will all become very clear soon enough.

Jon and I never crossed paths in Afghanistan. He arrived over a month after I had left the country. We exchanged a few emails... very few. Jon was busy, his access to the internet limited, and he spent most of it on his best friend; his wife.

Jon emailed me in October, telling me that he had a broken thumb from a bad ride on bad roads behind a .50 caliber machine gun. He also had a hairline fracture to an ankle. He reveled in the fact that neither injury would keep him out of the fight. I've seen men beg off of missions for less. Not Jon. Shortly thereafter, I would learn recently, Jon sustained lung damage and vocal chord injuries while helping rescue two men from a burning truck after it had been struck with a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device.)

Jon was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions that day.

He was offered medical leave, but he wanted to stay with his team. Even after that, Jon was still unwilling to take the easy road. If he had taken the leave, he likely would have been stateside when the IED that took his life detonated near his vehicle on November 13th, 2008. Jon died of his wounds that day.

Andy Rooney stated recently that we have no heroes today. I'm here to tell Andy Rooney that when a man can no longer find the relevant, he himself is irrelevant. Andy Rooney has lost all relevance, because when men like Jon Stiles walk the earth, and now lie in its embrace because of what no man can deny is valor of the highest caliber, men like Andy Rooney should take notice.

Jon Stiles was not remarkable in many respects. He looked like a normal Joe. He wasn't flamboyant, he didn't cry out for attention, and he wasn't a seeker of anything except service. He returned to the Army at a reduced rank without complaint. You cannot spot a hero by his looks or hear it in his words. You see it only in his actions. Jon clung to his ideals and values tenaciously, and while he laid his life on freedom's altar willingly, you can believe that his life was not willingly forfeit. It had to be taken from him. Jon had a lot to live for.

Jon loved life. He loved his wife, his family, his friends and his country. He believed that what a man did when the chips were down was what defined him more accurately than at any other moment of his life, and he defined himself well. I am honored to have known him as I did.

There are many others who knew him for far longer. Launa Stiles, his wife, gave her husband for this country; a husband that most women only dream of. You see, Jon was one of the finest men that I have ever known. He was absolutely dedicated to his wife, and I'm sure that she knew it. She knew what she risked losing, that Jon was a one-in-a-million man. Yet, she supported him in his service. She risked all but her own life when Jon went off to war in Afghanistan. She was taken up on her wager on freedom to the fullest measure. Jon and Launa Stiles were a heroic couple. Now she must wait to see Jon again, for it will not be in this life.

On Monday, March 17th, 2009, Highlands Ranch, the town where Jon and Launa Stiles settled when they returned to Colorado, will name a street after Jon.

If anyone needs a hero, I offer them Jon Stiles.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Finding Jon Stiles

I started this blog to capture, and share, my experiences related to this war. Somewhere, this thing took on a life of its own, and it has become many things. Some have followed this since fairly early on, and back when I first started writing it, it was all about experiences, feelings, perceptions... the stuff that one man feels as he goes through playing his small part.

This blog has changed. After returning home, I didn't know what to do with it or even if I should keep writing. Describing this process to a university professor who uses it in her classroom for some of her assignments to journalism students, I had to find my "post-deployment voice." She thought that a very apt phrase, and expressed her disappointment that some never do. I have turned to a very different type of writing. I have been sharing what I see with my changed eyes; the way that I view the war, what is said and written about it, and what I see concerning our successes and, all too often, our challenges to being successful. It has become something different.

Today is about a singularly wartime experience. No high-minded bullshit about COIN or Afghanistan in broad, sweeping terms. This is about an experience.

How all this came about is a long story. Perhaps I can tell that more clearly tomorrow. It needs to be told. It is a small story, just a wee part of a much bigger story, but a little long. Today I will do my version of brief.

God brings people in and out of our lives. Some stay and have meaning, and some just pass through. As we pass through the web of life, we weave our own web and we touch each other's lives. Sometimes our webs only touch briefly, and sometimes they bind together and are knotted forming lasting bonds. Soldiers understand this, and they also understand that some of those lasting bonds have long periods of lapsed communications, especially when one or the other is deployed. It's not unusual. But we always touch base again. Those are the people that you can not talk to for a year, but when you do, it's like it's only been a couple of weeks. You know the type.

Sometimes you have to look for your friends... the ones who are worth looking for. They are the ones who will look you up, too.

It's funny that, when you meet someone, you never know if the webs are just brushing or if you are going to develop the kind of friendship that lasts a lifetime.

Jon Stiles is one of those whose web is bound to my own. He was one of the people I took the time to call when I was home on leave, even though he moved to Colorado a couple of years ago. He was excited to tell me that he had found a deployment to Afghanistan. He arrived in Afghanistan shortly after I left, and we exchanged a few emails... a very few emails. He spent most of his internet time, when he had any, chatting with his wife as their time frames overlapped from across the world; he on the end of his day, she on the front end of hers. I've never met a better husband than Jon. That guy could be an example of "this is how you do this right" in any pre-marriage seminar. It was no big deal not to hear from him for long periods. I last heard from him on October 7th. Before that it had been July. He was busy living his deployment.

Jon went active in March of 2007, so he should be coming off of active duty soon. I had started to wonder, and then I tried his cell phone. Still disconnected. Lots of guys shut off their phones while deployed. No big deal.

Then I tried Google and my heart broke instantly when I saw this at the top of the list.

I still can't keep it together. Thank God I'm by myself right now.

Today, all I can do is feel. All I can do is hurt. My heart is broken.

Jon was killed on November 13th, 2008 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. I'm not connected to his family, and so I just went to check on my friend from Colorado who should be coming home soon only to find that he has been home for almost four months now. Now I know why he has not had time to email me about how his tour is going. His tour ended in November.

I will tell more about this, hopefully, tomorrow. Jon Stiles jumped through a million hoops to get back into the service and he couldn't wait to do his part and make a contribution. His story puts to shame all those who have never raised a finger to put themselves in harm's way for this nation, and I will tell it the best way that I can.

When I can.

I'm having problems seeing my keyboard. All I could think to do is write about it, to get it down and express it. It's one of the few tools I have to deal with such things. But I don't think it's helping.

Here are some pictures of his funeral. It looks like they did a good job for Jon. Jon served on that Honor Guard before he deployed. He gave the same honors to many before receiving them himself.

Jon was an exemplary man. I mean that in every sense of the word. He was just simply exemplary.

I want to thank the Patriot Guard Riders for keeping the vultures away from Jon. If anyone who reads this is a Patriot Guard Rider, please know that what you do is important, and I thank you for it.
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Guest Post: The Good Question Man

Dale Kuehl, who posted the "good" question which inspired the last post, has presented a different viewpoint in a comment responding to the response. It deserves to be its own post. Mr. Kuehl (rank unknown) works at the NTC (National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California,) and he feels that the Combat Maneuver Training Centers are doing a good job of preparing units for COIN in-theater. His viewpoint deserves not to be lost in comments.

I have been aware of the progress of the CMTC's in working to provide more realistic COIN training and evaluation. I can also tell you that right this minute, there are PRT's in Afghanistan that are not functioning in conjunction with their maneuver forces. I don't mean coordinating; I mean in conjunction with. I can tell you that there is a unit in Afghanistan right this minute that had a competition going for who could break the most windshields with water bottles during convoys. No shit. I can tell you that after searching for NCOES (Non Commissioned Officer Education System... the people who train Sergeants) curricula that included COIN doctrinal training, I couldn't find any. I think that it's great that the CMTC's are trying hard to make a difference. Hopefully, that will work.

Right this minute, on the other side of the world, there is a man who told the story of being prevented from getting illumination by a battlespace owner a hundred miles away. Right this minute, on the other side of the world, there is a man who witnesses occupation-type disruptive behavior from United States Army troops nearly every time he passes a convoy. My personal experience from the fairly recent past was that American maneuver unit Infantrymen from an "elite" unit couldn't work well with indigenous forces and left a bad taste in many Afghan mouths.

There are very few stories out there of night patrols to secure a village that has been having a problem with night letters, of our forces taking back the night. There are very few stories of COPs set up near a threatened village to provide that 24-7 security and the developing relationship when the Soldiers started to connect with that community. As a matter of fact, Wanat is being used as a cautionary tale against it, and the investigation of the battle at Wanat completely missed the fact that the ANP who were complicit in the attack were not properly engaged prior to the attack. That investigation happened in the past six months.

I'm glad that there are those out there trying to make a difference. I'm glad that Dale Kuehl says that they're doing good things at the CMTC's. That means that we should start seeing effects very soon.

Here's Dale's comment:

I have a bit of a different perspective having spent the past eight months at the National Training Center training units preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Having had the opportunity to work closely with seven different battalions I would say that leadership at all echelons have a pretty good understanding of COIN and not just from reading, but from actually trying to implement our doctrine. I have only seen one unit who had what I would call a counter-guerrilla focus and they had many aspects of COIN within their operational design.

More after the jump... it's worth it

We try to build a scenario for the training unit that requires them to balance both lethal and non-lethal operations. While our scenario includes demonstrations (which I believe relevant since I had to deal with several during my time in Baghdad in 2007) it also includes sectarian tensions, mortar and rocket fire, complex attacks, and of course the various types of IEDs. Units also have to deal with local and provincial government, PRTs, ISF/ANSF, and local police. They have to develop projects along with the local civil leaders and their PRT. We are also placing greater emphasis on partnering with host nation security forces.

We have over two thousand role players to include hundreds of Iraqis or Afghanis depending upon the focus of the rotation to add texture to the environment.

Every battalion commander I have worked with has developed a pretty solid campaign plan which encompasses several lines of effort to include governance, economic development and information operations in addition to security.

We take a hard look at how units are doing on what we have labeled Individual Skills in a COIN Environment which includes negotion skills, language skills, counter IED, counter sniper, and every Soldier a sensor and ambassador.

We also try very hard to stay abreast of latest developments in TTP in theater from both Iraq and Afghanistan and try to incorporate best practices into our training and leader teaches. We try to pull lessons learned from OCs who have just returned from deployment and also try to maintain contact with units in theater. We also send OCs in theater to gather information and best practices. We have included State Department personnel, Law Enforcement Professionals, and the Assymetric Warfare Group to name just a few of the organizations we try to bring into our training.

We have also worked hard along with JIEDO to try to get units to focus not just on force protection to defeat the IED, but to use intelligence and developing relationships with the people to more effectively identify and target the insurgent network.

This training is much more complex and advanced than it was when I came through here with my battalion in 2006 and we seek to improve how we replicate the environment in theater for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Bottom line is I think we have come a long way in understanding the COIN fight and it has become institutionalized in the way we train and prepare units for deployment. While we can't duplicate the environment any unit may face, I believe all the maneuver training centers do a pretty damn good job of replicating many of the conditions units will face and force them to think through complex problems in an ambiguous environment.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If You Haven't Seen This...

You should. Do not have anything in your mouth that you don't mind having in your sinuses while viewing this. Then come back here and read the post below.

(h/t to Abu Muqawama who steered to Checks with Chart)
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Good Question; Silly Question

The good news is that apparently the COINdinistas (would COINtras be better? Hmmmm...) are gaining a greater toe-hold on the DoD and in the Army specifically.

One note of interest in all of this is that the Marine Corps is "getting" COIN better than the Army. I've discussed this with a Marine Major at a joint center that takes a great interest in COIN regarding the assistance of foreign governments in the stabilization of their own countries. These guys, who operate in one of a few bubbles in a world filled with "green-suiters," "blue-suiters" and so on, are referred to as "purple-suiters." This is because none of the other sobriquets are apt. "Purple suiters" are "joint" types. Those who play well with others... from other services. This Major ascribed the ability of the Marine Corps to institutionally accept the new doctrine more quickly has to do with the Marine culture of agility, adaptability and the Marine tendency to devolve authority to the lowest practicable level.

And now you know what the military meaning of "purple" is. Made it worthwhile to get out of bed today, didn't it? Anyway, purple is catching on and COINtras are gaining a toehold.

How could you not want to read what's after the jump?

We'll see how this works out, but the signs are somewhat encouraging. Meanwhile, there are some questions out there; one being a current sub-topic in the "national conversation" regarding policy vs strategy, tactics and doctrine. The other is a question posted by Dale Kuehl on the last post. One is silly, one is a pretty good question that begs a coherent response. Both are related like second cousins.

We'll start with the silly, and it's not Mr. Kuehl's question. It's the micro-debate that is largely over, but leaves a gap in the veneer showing an underlying "concern" with becoming good at COIN. The gist of it seems to be an objection, the narrative of which (Reader's Digest condensed version) is that if we get really good at counterinsurgency, our civilian masters may deem it simple and more desirable to run about willy-nilly unseating governments that we deem offensive on a regular basis. The simple answer to that question was put forth that those who truly understand COIN see it as an entirely unpalatable exercise that should be avoided at all costs.

This, of course, begged the question from the opposition of why those selfsame individuals were such proponents of the doctrine. The natural assumption seemed to be that the COINdinista in question was a proponent for some reasons relating to personal enjoyment of the doctrine rather than any expediency related to the situation in which we find ourselves.

The deeper question was whether our civilian masters (whatever administration holds the keys at any given moment, presumably in the future) can be trusted with such capability... the temptation to use such incredible cosmic power being obviously nearly irresistible.

The real answer to this question is a sibling to the answer to Mr. Kuehl's question, which is not silly at all.

Just curious. Why do you think the Army is confusing counter-insurgency and counter-guerrilla? From what I have seen the Army as a whole has embraced counter-insurgency while conducting counter-guerrilla operations. The big difference now from the 1986 Counterguerilla manual is the focus on the people vice an enemy centric approach. ~ Dale Kuehl, posted on "Not Now, Cato!"

There are a number of indicators that the Army has not fully grasped, nor fully committed itself to practicing COIN as if its life depended on it. As noted before on this blog, there is an active counterpoint being made against further promulgation of the doctrine within the Army, the assumption being that we are already masters of this domain. This is not because this assumption is in fact correct. A simple response to this assumption is that the "proof is in the pudding." The pudding that we have produced to this point in Afghanistan is not pudding at all, but instead a weak slurry with lumps of pudding-like material that is being stirred madly by a group of people with a few straws and one plastic spork.

This may seem a bit disjointed, but the answer to the second question is intimately related to the answer to the first. Part of the reason that we are not "getting" COIN, the reason why our pudding is not thickening evenly, is that we are not performing COIN in anything resembling a coherent manner. We've left out significant ingredients. For those who are reading such writers as Tim Lynch at Free Range International and Vampire 6 of Afghanistan Shrugged can easily see some of the serious errors being made in the actual theater of operations. Vampire 6 addresses the mistakes being made in the application of military efforts to secure the population, while Mr. Lynch is a strong advocate of not only military but also civilian COIN-related behaviors.

Lynch, who operates outside of the traditional parameters (meaning he doesn't stay within the Hesco-rimmed sanctuaries which harbor Green Beans Coffee shops and trailer park Burger Kings,) observes that we are making epic mistakes. Not only the Army but also USAID, the State Department and other governmental agencies who are responsible for and capable of making great differences in the security and development of one of the poorest nations on earth, whose security is linked directly to our own, are so busy protecting themselves that our efforts are being watered down to the point of ineffectiveness. Weak slurry... not pudding.

Dale, don't listen to the words and exhortations; look at the results. Here's another clue; we don't know how to measure success. The Army rates its own performance constantly. It does this on an individual basis as well. Every leader gets evaluated on his or her performance. The Army has a couple of forms that are used for this; the OER (Officer Evaluation Report) and the NCOER (Non Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report.) The NCOER is a rigid format. The OER includes something called an OER Support Form. Officers basically tell their supervisors what they are going to do and thereby set the objectives by which they are measured. The support form is done in conjunction with input from the supervisor, but the rated officer himself has a considerable amount of input into what the parameters of his evaluation are to be.

The Army is big on measurables. Most businesses are, too. Here's the beginning of the rub; how do you measure success in a counterinsurgency? In Vietnam we learned that enemy body counts are not a good measure. In fact, counting how many enemy you have killed is so counterproductive as to pretty much ensure that you are not going to be successful. What is most important to the military in a counterinsurgency? Securing the populace. How do you measure that? Do you go by the number of instances where civilians are harmed? Do you go by how many successful incidents of insurgents targeting civilians there are over a period of time? If so, does the loss of civilians to the actions of coalition forces count against a commander... or the whole series of commanders from the most local to the highest in that chain?

Leaders will put their efforts towards the measurables upon which their OER/NCOER is based. They will work for the reward; the good evaluation that sets them above their peers for promotion purposes. Witness these recommendations from the recently released Rand report:

•Introduce the creation, use, and employment of effect-based metrics into all echelons of leader and staff training. Training must include understanding the link between causality or correlation and outcomes, the importance of incorporating local conditions in metric development and assessment, and the use of qualitative and quantitative metrics to form compound metrics for aggregation and interpretation at higher levels of command.
•Conduct systematic reassessment and refinement of metrics at periodic intervals. Review metric baselines to ensure that they remain relevant.
•Establish a doctrinal metric framework that promotes objective definition from the top and identification of input measures from the bottom, with effects as the common link.
•Use a red-team approach to assist in metric development and evolution.
•Portray metrics by using simple, easy-to-understand tools that facilitate commander decisions.

~ Intelligence Operations and Metrics in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rand National Defense Research Institute, November, 2008

While these recommendations had to do with measuring effects (and therefore success) in counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, if OERs were based on such metrics, officers would be exceedingly interested in them, including how they are developed and how they are affected. They are not, currently. Here is one of the effects of the current setup:

That so many leaders at every level were less familiar with counterinsurgency than they should have been means that they failed to educate themselves. ~ ibid.

The Rand authors are not saying these things because they felt like spouting off; they are making recommendations based on the same things that I have seen.

This could go on and on, but there is one more thing upon which I will rest at this point; we are not training our subordinates in COIN. I have been saying this for awhile, and the good people at Rand have seen the same thing. As long as we are not training our junior leadership in COIN, we are not taking it seriously. This despite the fact that most of our junior leaders will not be members of the Army by the time the next major conventional conflict arises. Here is a telling statement as to the importance of well-trained junior leadership and decentralization:

Decentralization, and therefore good junior leadership, is essential to urban-operation mission accomplishment. ~ ibid.

We're not the Lone Ranger in this. The Dutch have apparently realized this and not they are training specifically.

Dutch leaders were concerned when some of their combat-unit soldiers demonstrated intolerance for Afghans in their AO. Recognizing the importance of maintaining positive relations with those able to provide critical intel, they introduced predeployment training that instills in their men and women the vital lesson of taking more than merely their own perspective. (he Royal Netherlands Army is now also considering in-theater reinforcement training in this regard.) ~ ibid.

Not being the only one in the boat doesn't make it any more right to be in it, by the way. Now the Dutch are kicking our butts in mission preparation, by the sound of it, because we don't do any of that. We train for stuff that doesn't happen, like protests outside the FOB. My young SECFOR from New York were better prepared to time warp back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention than they were for Nuristan.

Okay, so how does this tie in to the silly question of why success in our current COIN ventures won't bring us to the verge of empire? Because first, we're not getting it right... yet. The Army does very difficult things, and it's actually full of smart people, including a pretty large number of well-educated smart people. Not only are these people smart and fairly well-educated, but they are also well-trained. Any corporation would give their portion of the bailout to have people who were this well-trained and dedicated. When have you seen Chevrolet send tens of thousands of people overseas and pretty much every single one of them actually went? No, they can't pull that off... because try as they might, they can't get that kind of training and discipline instilled in their employees.

So they just send the jobs instead.

The point is that real, effective COIN is hard. It's complicated and it's hard. If it were less than really really difficult, we would have gotten it right probably sometimes after the first few years to attempting it. COIN? Nope. Never did get it right in Vietnam, and now we're over seven years into it in Afghanistan and we're losing ground. Now, some may say that's because it can't be done.

Slackers. They are like when my son insisted that his shoes were impossible to tie because he was struggling with learning how to tie them. He tried to sell me on the idea that, due to Velcro, shoelace tying was an archaic and dying art. It turned out with the proper training and education, he could indeed master the ancient art of shoelace tying.

There was one more thing that he needed: motivation. If the motivation to develop his new skill had been less than the motivation to assist the good people at 3M in the furtherance of their business growth objectives and their endless pursuit of the Italian shoe market, my son would still be wondering what in the hell rabbits running around trees had to do with footwear.

Those who insist that Afghanistan is too hard or not worth the effort required to actually do the job right are pretty much right along in that vein... except most of them are nearly four feet taller than my son was at that point in his life. The effect is the same. Now, if someone can just figure out how to motivate them to buckle down and learn how to tie this shoe... well, you get the idea.

Oops... there's part of the equation that's been left out.

Sometimes it seems we are the only people dealing with the beladiya [community government]. I have a MiTT [military transition team] with the battalion. There is a [MiTT] with the brigade. There is no equivalent on the civilian side.”

Huh? Civilian side? Yes, civilian side. You see, the biggest reason that we aren't going to take this COIN thing global once (if) we get it right is because it's going to require civilian governmental work, too. You see, one of the really cool things about these Rand guys is that they can see that it takes civilians to teach civilians how to run a government and how to start and run businesses.

Whoa... what a concept. You know what that means, right? Yep... hard work. Hard, tough work that isn't the easiest thing in the world but will bring a deep sense of satisfaction from helping some folks pull themselves up by their bootstraps and grow into the 21st Century. You guessed it... totally against the principles of government employees.

That in itself will prevent future governmental types from getting any screwy ideas about conquering the world in the furtherance of apple pie, baseball and democracy.

There you go... once again Old Blue has saved the world from the Cato-strophic consequences of well-executed COIN to whirled peas.

Actually, Membrain answered the question much more succinctly, but I still had a good time. Thanks for reading.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Not Now, Cato!

In the Pink Panther series of movies, Inspector Clousaeau had a trusty companion whose job it was to keep Clouseau sharp by attacking him at the most inopportune times, like when he was just coming in the door. The cry of inspector Clouseau at these inappropriately-timed attacks rang through my memory this evening.

Earlier I indulged myself in ruminating all over Abu Muqawama's post this afternoon. I missed the point. Completely. COL Gian Gentile made an appearance and raised one of his calls, which is like Pavlov performing a cowbell concerto to me. Gentile was not the point. In part it was a response to Justin Logan at the Cato Institute, who criticized Exum's statement that real counterinsurgents want less counterinsurgency, not more of it.

More after the jump...

Exum's response sparked a discussion of the differences between policy, strategy, operations and doctrine. The discussion widened to include "grand strategy" and so on and the discussion in comments seemed to take a turn. Somewhere around my delight at seeing Gentile present a question that I thought, "Oooh! Oooh! I got it!" I lost the point. I completely forgot to read Logan's petulant post which had inspired the need to discuss policy vs doctrine. I posted two lengthy comments and, satisfied, went about finding things worth reading.

Having opened Logan's post in a separate tab, I eventually came back around to it. "D'oh!" I said to myself. Not only had I missed the point, but there had in the meantime been a response to Exum's post by Benjamin Friedman.

Sheesh, fellas, he's barely warmed the seat he's occupying. As with Clouseau, Cato attacks before one is settled in the house.

Logan quotes a Bush NSC member in what appears to be a slam by agreement, then settles on his point:

Orienting planning and resources more toward COIN is likely to lead to more counterinsurgency wars. I’m pretty confident in this prediction. If somebody disagrees, I’d like to hear a better fleshed out argument behind the idea that telling policymakers “we now know how to do COIN pretty well” will lead to those policymakers to decide we ought to do it less.

Mr. Logan's main peeve is that people like Exum, if successful, will provide politicians with a capability that they just shouldn't be trusted with, and so the best alternative is to not develop the capability.

Friedman strikes with a slightly different approach with a similar theme, first exhorting Exum to exercise his stark power as the FNG at CNAS, and then stating the meat of his argument:

Second, the stark divide between strategy and operations is an ideal. The theory that the military services are only professional technicians serving the ends of politicians is too simple. The Army has political interests, which change with its structure and leadership. Those interests affect our defense and foreign policy.

I will not argue that, given the opportunity, the military will influence policy. Leaders of any significant organization in this country will, given the opportunity, say their piece and will attempt to influence policy. In fact, isn't that what think tanks do?

The question is, how is becoming capable of succeeding in what is now a shooting war in Afghanistan threatening? How does the Army's addition of "secure" to the bag of tricks alongside "attack" and "defend" threaten these two men? Their response is that of threatened men, and it appears that they are irritated with Exum for having joined CNAS, who they wish would quit advocating counterinsurgency as a remedy for terrorism. I will have to look into Cato's recommendations for dealing with terrorism. I don't know anything about their corporate stand on that topic. The only thing I do know is that they object to the CNAS take on it.

More clear to me is that the realist view of small wars wars could use support.

Friedman wraps it up,

They say that the best solution is don’t do it and next best is to severely curtail your objectives and stop confusing counterinsurgency with counterterrorism.

Personally, I'd like to see my Army quit confusing counter-guerrilla with counterinsurgency. Perhaps then this discussion wouldn't seem somewhat silly. What this argument seems to settle into is that good counterinsurgency will not only not help stop terrorism, but will also lead policymakers into trying to change the governments of even more countries. You know, if the government ever "got" counterinsurgency, and that removing one government in favor of revamping the governmental landscape of a nation will include counterinsurgency; understanding that really effective counterinsurgency is not a purely military exercise, then the enormity of the task would be plenty discouraging to its wanton application.

A quick glance at the current state of Afghanistan will answer the question of whether the United States Government in its many forms has truly learned this lesson.

It seems to me that their real fear is has to do with the policymakers, not the military's attempt at development and deployment of doctrine to satisfy the requirements put on its plate by those policymakers.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Happy Dance

I won! I won! I won!

No, it's not the lottery, it was a contest at Abu Muqawama. While I can't claim to have perfectly deciphered the cryptic etchings of two Pentagon-bound think-tankers, I have been declared the winner by Abu Muqawama himself. That makes it official. (He makes the rules.)

This is very exciting.

If you haven't already, please go and wish Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama's human incarnation) good things in his new position as a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, where he joined Dr. John Nagl and an all-star cast this week.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

We Found A Duck; Now Let's Cook One For A Good Cause

The votes are in, tabulated, certified by the auditor, protested, recertified by the auditor, and de-chadded.

It's a duck. 91% of the 87 votes cast say it's a duck. Only Robert Young Pelton, Max Factor Forte, Vladimir John Stanton, and a couple of their cronies voted for "eagle."

Question: If the duck votes for "eagle," does it count?

Well, we'll be egalitarian and count it. The good news is that over 90% of people can spot a duck. Thanks for voting.

Now that we've found a duck, it's time to cook it. Honor Their Service, Inc. is a non-profit group (still waiting for their official 501c(3) letter) who perform good works such as Operation Santa in hospitals and Operation Fresh Air.

Carrie Constantini, President of Honor Their Service Inc. says, "Our events have always been modest proposals. They do not require lots of money to execute. We are budgeting about $500 to put on one Operation Fresh Air... that's a day of fishing, food and fellowship at Leesylvania State Park for wounded/injured servicemembers and their families at Walter Reed and Bethesda."

Because they are not officially a tax-exempt charity until they have that letter, there are legal complications to them taking donations over the 'net; so they are going to provide something of value... a cook book of recipes from milbloggers and their readers.

First things first; they need recipes. Please go and read a better post about this and then see if you can add something to the duck stew. Or... you can click on my newest widget to the upper left below the oh-so-scary 2-2 Vampires Logo. (It will take you to the same post... it's just more fun.)

Let's give some great wounded warriors a fun day out with their families. To quote Wilford Brimley, "It's a good thing to do and a tasty way to do it."

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Welcome Back To The Suck, My Friend

Months ago, I read my first post by Vampire 6. I commented, and he emailed me back to tell me that he had read my posts while preparing to deploy. As Bouhammer pointed out, we are links in a chain. Vampire 6 is the current baton-carrier for the embedded trainer types in Afghanistan. He's done some fantastic posts, sharing the experience and the frustrations wonderfully. His "Illum, Illum, Where Art Thou?" should be required reading for battalion commanders deploying to Afghanistan.

I've had the privilege to get to know Vampire 6 over the past months not only through his posts but also through emails and a brief phone conversation that he squeezed into his leave. Vampire 6 is now back in The Suck and posting again. I told him that when he got back it would feel different, and he told me via email from FOB Bermel that he feels it, but can't put his finger on it. It took me back to my own return, fresh from the normalcy of home, family and the mall.

The change... Afghanistan feels different; but I'm convinced that it's inside us. Coming home hits the reset button. Riley had us on trajectory. First there is the shock of entry... like jumping into a pool. The mind is busy with accepting, reorganizing reality. The job takes over, a comfort level is established. There is the relief of competence... the deepest fear of any Soldier is to fail his comrades, to be that guy. We hit a comfortable stride in the marathon of our deployment. We begin to feel nearly at home in the stark poverty.

Leave, and home, are a distant dream.

More after the jump...

Then, in a blur of misery and warped time, we are home. The reality of home hits us and we are comfortably numbed. It's so real, so comfortable, so normal. We get our first taste of being the ghost; walking among our fellows who have no clue that less than a hundred hours earlier we were walking in a country that we can describe but never convey. Harm's way was just where we went to work. No one can look at us and just know. It's like having a secret. We discover that most do not care. Seeing our friends, it's like it always is with old friends; like we had seen them last week. Except we have seen something that has changed the way that we see everything. It's not PTSD. It's having our vision changed by knowing something that we will struggle to put into words completely. Those of us who write about it have a blessed outlet. Those who can't or won't try to express it will suffer for it.

We feel what we knew we had been missing, but like the taste of certain foods, it's better than we had even remembered it; being around those who love us unconditionally and for whom the dust and rocks and varying looks from bearded men are still alien. We realize our personal isolation while in country; part of a team that we will remember forever and for whom we will always have a special bond that only happens under such circumstances... but we are isolated from the presence of our family. Our solitary journey home in the company of so many others had only driven home that isolation. Our team soldiers on while we make our pilgrimage.

When we return, the spell is broken. The rhythm that we had found; the stride is changed. It's like pausing for lunch in the middle of a marathon. The rhythm will never quite be the same. It just feels different. This is the phase that no one told us about. The reset button has been hit. Home has now changed the way Afghanistan looks and feels.

But Afghanistan has changed the way that the world looks and feels. Home will never be quite the same, either.

Godspeed, Vampire 6.

Go click on the nifty 2/2 ETT skull icon at the top left of my page and buy a t-shirt. The money supports a Marine Veteran-owned business with $5.00 from each shirt going to Soldiers' Angels. No serving Soldiers receive any money, but you get a really cool shirt.

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