I’ve come across a few interesting pieces to do with the Marines lately, starting with Victor Davis Hanson’s article in the National Review. “Marinistan:”
The Marines are now starting to redeploy to Afghanistan from Iraq and are building a huge base in Delaram. They plan to win over southern Afghanistan’s remote, wild Nimruz Province, which heretofore has been mostly a no-go Taliban stronghold. While NATO forces concentrate on Afghanistan’s major cities, the Marines think they can win over local populations their way, take on and defeat the Taliban, and bring all of Nimruz back from the brink — with their trademark warning “no better friend, no worse enemy.”
So, once again, the Marines are convinced that their ingenuity and audacity can succeed where others have failed. And, once again, not everyone agrees.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, retired three-star Army general Karl W. Eikenberry, reportedly made a comment about there being 41 nations serving in Afghanistan — and a 42nd composed of the Marine Corps. One unnamed Obama-administration official was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, “We have better operational coherence with virtually all of our NATO allies than we have with the U.S. Marine Corps.”
Some officials call the new Marine enclave in Nimruz Province “Marinestan” — as if, out of a Kipling or Conrad novel, the Marines has gone rogue to set up their own independent province of operations.
Yet once again, it would be wise not to tamper with the independence of the Marine Corps, given that its methods of training, deployment, fighting, counterinsurgency, and conventional warfare usually pay off in the end.
Setting aside the initial impulse to belt out “ooh-RAH” after reading this, the Marine Corps has more than once undergone transformative change in order to better adapt to the battles its being tasked with fighting; the Corps will continue to adapt in the future, whether or not it gets formally titled alongside the Department of the Navy.
This interview with General Mattis is a worthy read, if only to gain some insight into a probable candidate for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Though I find him a particularly fascinating human, myself.
Q. What are your capability priorities?
A. No. 1, we must be able to fight in coalitions. No. 2, we must recognize that the information warfare, the battle for the hearts and minds of the global audience, is just as heavy a priority as the military operation itself and the tactical events on the battlefield must feed the narrative: that we are living up to our values, that while winning this fight, we are saving the innocent people that we are out there to protect.
Somehow, we’ve got to tie together the capabilities to win the information war, at the same time working with like-minded nations to keep these experiments we call democracy alive against people who really don’t like them.
He’s an active proponent of small-unit counterinsurgency operating, and of giving more control to field units. Interesting stuff.
Lastly, by way of Exum, this comment by Rebecca Frankel comes as an amusing comparison of the Army/Marine Corps to Stanford/MIT. Good discussion here.
I’ll start with a non-sequitur which I hope to use to get at the hear of the difference between MIT and Stanford: recently I was at a Marine publicity event and I asked the recruiter what differentiates the Army from the Marines? Since they both train soldiers to fight, why don’t they do it together? He answered vehemently that they must be separate because of one simple attribute in which they are utterly opposed: how they think about the effect they want to have on the life their recruits have after they retire from the service. He characterized the Army as an organization which had two goals: first, to train good soldiers, and second, to give them skills that would get them a good start in the life they would have after they left. If you want to be a Senator, you might get your start in the Army, get connections, get job skills, have “honorable service” on your resume, and generally use it to start your climb up the ladder. The Army aspires to create a legacy of winners who began their career in the Army.
By contrast the Marines, he said, have only one goal: they want to create the very best soldiers, the elite, the soldiers they can trust in the most difficult and dangerous situations to keep the Army guys behind them alive. This elite training, he said, comes with a price. The price you pay is that the training you get does not prepare you for anything at all in the civilian world. You can be the best of the best in the Marines, and then come home and discover that you have no salable civilian job skills, that you are nearly unemployable, that you have to start all over again at the bottom of the ladder. And starting over is a lot harder than starting the first time. It can be a huge trauma. It is legendary that Marines do not come back to civilian life and turn into winners: instead they often self-destruct — the “transition to civilian life” can be violently hard for them.
Someone noted on twitter, when this link was spread this morning, that asking a recruiter for any opinion is going to get you this kind of propaganda. But I thought Frankel retold it well, with an interesting allegory to the two universities.
There’s something of a culture of Brooks-bashing, I’ve noticed. Many folks respond to whatever he’s published at the NYTimes with skepticism, if not outright derision. Perhaps its because of his tendency to make sweeping claims in his opinion column without ever really backing them up, as if his audience is either expected to know the sourcing he is doing already or to take his word at face value. Those that I read, however, are less than inclined to accept what he says without first questioning, which is for the best, really.
Brooks’ current op-ed is Leading With Two Minds, an eight hundred word romp through the contemporary history of counterinsurgency. Ricks called it, effectively, an account of the dominant narrative, which I suppose is accurate enough, but wow are those some broad strokes Brooks is painting with.
The first women to be trained to serve on submarines in the USN have been selected and are preparing to train this summer.
From Kabul, Shootings of Afghans on Rise at Checkpoints:
Civilian deaths from aerial bombings have declined, General Rodriguez said. But in convoys and at checkpoints, “you’re faced with a different challenge of snap decisions” by troops “much closer to not only the people but the enemy.”
At least 28 Afghans have been killed and 43 wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings this year — 42 percent of total civilian deaths and injuries and the largest overall source of casualties at the hands of American and NATO troops, according to statistics kept by the military.
In the same period last year, 8 Afghans were killed and 29 wounded in similar episodes. For all of 2009, 36 Afghan civilians were killed in the so-called escalation of force incidents by Western and Afghan troops, according to the United Nations. Over all, the Taliban and other militants account for a much larger number of civilian casualties than Western forces do, the United Nations found.
Since last summer, none of the Afghans killed or wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings had weapons that would have posed a danger for troops who killed them, commanders said.
The new military guidelines instruct troops to “tailor” procedures to the local environment by consulting local Afghan leaders, and whenever possible, to remain at the scene of convoy shootings and take responsibility for their actions.
Can anyone point me to discussions on this, if there are any?
Finally, part of the 170th BCT are all shined up for their march on Victory Day. (H/t Danger Room.)
I don’t care if the Army said it was nifty keen, I can’t get this stupid Lady Gaga song OUT OF MY HEAD and I’m blaming it on paratroopers.
Of note: Stephen McInerney’s article on budget & appropriations for the Middle East in 2011. His analysis notes the increases in funding for Yemen, the withdrawal of support to Iraq in line with the withdrawal of assets and personnel, and the continued increase in funding to Afghanistan/Pakistan. The URL itself is actually a nice brief on Obama’s budget submission, but there’s a longer PDF as well. Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal responds, noting the Problem of Egypt.
USAID has released a couple of reports of note, including a report on internally displaced persons in Iraq, and human resources and logistical support in Afghanistan (both PDF). The GAO has also released Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Facilitate the Efficient Drawdown of U.S. Forces and Equipment from Iraq, which is sure to be a scintillating read, and a report on the problems of aid and contracting in Iraq and Afganistan (both PDF, more at Diplopundit).
It’s even worse than that, according to an in-depth poll of Kandahar residents completed last month for the U.S. and ISAF command. Conducted by U.S. Army human terrain teams, the poll found that corruption is viewed as “a widespread problem,” and that “most people have sympathy for the reasons AGEs (anti-government elements, i.e., the Taliban) take up arms against the government.”
A majority of the 1,994 people surveyed said a lack of security was their biggest problem, and that they felt danger mostly from Afghan army and police checkpoints and convoys.
The poll found “almost universal agreement that negotiation with the Taliban is preferable to continued fighting.”
At leas the Human Terrain Teams are working? I feel like my comparison of Ahmed Wali Karzai to Don Corleone is a little more on the nose now. From the Washington Post, the US is shoring up support the actual, technical governor of Kandahar:
In the hope of pushing power brokers such as Karzai to the sidelines, American officials are trying to infuse Wesa and his government with more clout and credibility. They see better governance as a central part of a U.S.-led effort that has brought thousands of troops to the region for a summer offensive against the Taliban.
But the government headed by Wesa has severe problems of its own. It remains understaffed, is viewed by many as corrupt and does not reflect the province’s tribal mix. Karzai and other allegedly corrupt political bosses who dominate Kandahar show no sign of giving way.
“Wesa is a weak governor,” said Rahmatullah Raufi, a former general and Kandahar governor. “If Ahmed Wali Karzai wants him to die, he will die. If he says, ‘Live,’ he’ll live.”
Isn’t that something. If it looks like a warlord, quacks like a warlord, it must be…
AP via Stars & Stripes covers the perils of contracting in Afghanistan:
Afghan companies often bid on projects that they don’t have the money or skills to complete, Wilson said. Quality inspectors end up teaching the basics of drainage or safe electrical wiring.
Small Afghan companies are also under more pressure to pay bribes to local authorities than large international firms, Wilson said. The military has received invoices for as much as $40,000 from Afghan contractors for bogus building permits, he said. International companies either have the power to say no or don’t even try to get their money back from the military.
On NATO bases, hours are also lost each day getting Afghan workers through security.
Despite the problems, Wilson says the “Afghan First” program is the right approach given the new focus on winning over the population. The problem is that this year, in the midst of a troop surge, there’s just too much to build.
Makes you wonder how much of the appropriations for Afghanistan in the budget above will actually be used for stated purposes.
Anthony Cordesman issued a pointed critique of the Obama administration’s communications efforts (or lack thereof) on Afghanistan et cetera via CSIS; some good notes, though I wonder what, if anything, Cordesman might have changed if this had been released after the Afghanistan report instead of before.
In addition to his whirlwind speaking schedule, Secdef Gates published an article in the May/June Foreign Affairs, Helping Others Defend Themselves (PDF). It effectively articulates what Gates (and presumably Clinton) would like to see change in the duration of their time with the Obama administration, perhaps in part from the conclusion of the QDR and QDDR.
The United States now recognizes that the security sectors of at-risk countries are really systems of systems tying together the military, the police, the justice system, and other governance and oversight mechanisms. As such, building a partner’s overall governance and security capacity is a shared responsibility across multiple agencies and departments of the U.S. national security apparatus — and one that requires flexible, responsive tools that provide incentives for cooperation. Operations against extremist groups in the Philippines and, more recently, Yemen have shown how well-integrated training and assistance efforts can achieve real success.
But for all the improvements of recent years, the United States’ interagency tool kit is still
a hodgepodge of jury-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent shortfalls in resources, and unwieldy processes. The National Security Act that created most of the current interagency structure was passed in 1947, the last major legislation structuring how Washington dispenses foreign assistance was signed by President John F. Kennedy, and the law governing U.S. exports of military equipment was passed in 1976. All the while, other countries that do not suffer from such encumbrances have been more quickly funding projects, selling weapons, and building relationships.
Yemen, Yemen, Yemen. The Martha Brady of insurgency-riddled nations. Anyway, I’m curious to see what Gates says in his next speech–he seems to be on something of a campaign. Also, let me point out this rebuttal of Gates’ Navy League speech from Brian McGrath at Information Dissemination; it’s a point by point response, and really gets into the meat of what Gates is proposing.
A lot to cover today.
I got oversaturated pretty quickly with information and speculation about the Times Square bombing, but I recommend Kings of War, All Things Counterterrorism, and obviously LWJ for the story. And Steve Coll has some perspective:
Anyone who tries to set a vehicle on fire in Times Square on a warm Saturday night is going to make news in a big way. Presumably that was the primary goal of the perpetrators—to attract attention, to spawn fear. The very amateurishness of the attack—unlike the Christmas Day attack, for example, it does not immediately call into question the competence of the government’s defenses—offers President Obama the opportunity to start talking back to terrorists everywhere in a more resilient, sustainable language than he has yet discovered. By which I mean: They intend to frighten us; we are not frightened. They intend to kill and maim; we will bring them to justice. They intend to attract attention for their extremist views; the indiscriminate nature of their violence only discredits and isolates them.
“Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” Gates asked. “Any future plans must address these realities.”
In a pointed speech about the future of the naval arsenal, the secretary told a gathering of naval officers and contractors that no U.S. adversaries are attempting to out-build the U.S. fleet. Rather, he said, they are developing other ways to neutralize U.S. power. He cited Hezbollah’s anti-ship missiles and Iran’s use of everything from cruise missiles to “swarming speedboats.”
In response, he called for more shallow-water capabilities, long-range drones and sea-based missile defenses.
What’s the saying, fighting the next war while you’re still building for the last one? That seems to be the idea Gates is battling.
Two bits on Kyrgyzstan, which has kind of dropped off the face of news coverage in the last several days. First, the interim government has turned the state-run KTR television channel into a public broadcasting station, which is effectively a show of faith from the interim government to show Kyrgyzs that it’s going to keep the promises it made. Which is great, but more than anything I really love the picture that accompanied the article, reposted here.
The interim government has also authorized cash rewards in exchange for information that helps capture the former government’s leadership, presumably to answer for crimes committed.
Of interest, AFRICOM is undergoing a three-week Operation Flintlock as part of its The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. It’s effectively a military exercise designed to train partner African nations in counterterrorism programs as a deterrent method. At least twelve nations and 1200 people are involved. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.
From Diplopundit, it’s been a tough time for mandarins as of late.
And finally, I’m reading Paul Scharre’s article in the AFJ about meeting needs for irregular and conventional warfare in the Army. More thoughts when I’m finished reading, but figured the COINers and anti-COINers would be interested.
The first women to serve on U.S. Navy submarines are expected to be on the job by fall of 2011, Navy officials said Thursday, ushering in a policy change to what has been an elite service open only to men since the start of the modern Navy’s submarine program.
While Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the change last month, the Navy had to wait for Congress to review and approve the policy change over a 30-day period which ended at midnight Thursday morning…The Navy will implement the policy change by assigning three female officers to eight different crews of guided-missile attack and ballistic-missile submarines. The assignments involve two submarines on the East Coast and two on the West Coast, according to Navy officials.
I’m pleased at the follow-through. I honestly had some doubts that the policy change would actually go through, and I’m happy to be wrong.
The new NavyLive covered the announcement with a little more depth in this post by RADM Barry Bruner:
The change in the policy to allow women to serve on submarines is applicable to both officer and enlisted – but, right now the plan is only focused on bringing officers onboard. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important being that selectivity demands we open the aperture for officer selection. In 2005 and in 2008 we did not quite meet our goals for officer accession in the submarine force. Over the past 40 years the percentage of men graduating with technical degrees has gone down from 75 to 49 percent with an increase in women earning technical degrees (an increase from 25 to 51 percent). Given this increasing need to open up the selectivity aperture – along with the fact that our SSBN and SSGN class of submarines allows for privacy and a viable career path for women, the logical step forward is to allow female officers into the submarine force. Based on the lessons we learn while implementing this plan I anticipate the Navy will then consider the way forward for enlisted women on submarines.
Now, that’s the best practical argument I’ve seen for the policy change. Setting aside whatever discomfort one might have with the policy, on traditional or prejudicial grounds, the numbers above dovetail with an adherence to non-discriminatory policy. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: if a person can meet the physical and job-related qualifications for a service, gender should be irrelevant.
Yesterday morning, the DOD gave a little more detail about the integration of women into two classes of submarines, including an interview with the above RADM:
“We’re looking for the same qualifications that we have for men,” Bruner said. “There is no difference.” Those qualifications include a technically-based education that includes calculus and physics, he said. Female candidates for submarine duty also will undergo the Navy’s intense interview and screening process for prospective underwater sailors.
Because the policy is new, officials can’t yet gauge women’s interest in serving on submarines, Bruner said, but added that a number of female academy students and graduates have shown interest.
The plan calls for phasing in three female officers in eight different crews of guided-missile attack and ballistic missile submarines, Bruner said. The class they will serve in is comprised of 14 ballistic missile submarines and four cruise missile submarines, he said. The submarines were chosen because the berthing and restrooms are designed so they need very few changes, he said. It is too soon to say specifically which submarines they will serve on, but there will be one each in King’s Bay, Ga., and Bangor, Maine, he said.
A couple of interesting facts: women represent 15% of USN personnel. Women have served on USN surface ships since 1993. The policy change only affects female officers. It seems likely that female enlisted personnel will eventually be integrated as well.
About bloody time.
Relevant interesting links:
Judah Grunstein over at the WPR blog tackles the lack of response from NATO in regard to the tactical review going on in the White House. Michael Cohen also takes an angle on the McChrystal drama, and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post does an op-ed comparing McChrystal to Petraeus.
These similarities were a big selling point for the Obama administration, which this summer decided it wanted its own Petraeus — a creative wartime commander and gifted manager who could push the military in Afghanistan into unfamiliar realms, such as economic development and tribal politics…These days, the last thing that the White House and the Pentagon brass want is a general who can bypass the chain of command; a general who speaks directly to the president; a general who emerges as the dominant American voice on the war. The last thing they want, in other words, is another Petraeus.
H/t Diplopundit for this article on the State Department’s conflict over aid to Pakistan, which continues my media watch on USAID.
Also regarding Pakistan, the Pakistani army launched its offensive today, in response to the significant array of attacks last week.
George Packer has a really interesting post about Rufus Phillps, Vietnam, and the Obama administration:
About to turn eighty, Phillips was contemplating a trip halfway around the world to Kabul. He was worried about the war in Afghanistan and thought that the presidential election, set for August 20th, would be a critical event. An independent Afghan group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, had invited him to come over as an unpaid adviser. Having seen America try and fail to win a war without a political strategy once before, he thought he had something to contribute in Afghanistan. He asked me for advice on what to wear, what kind of cell phone to bring, how to get into the city from the airport. I asked him why he was going to put himself through it, and he replied that he believed in putting your money where your mouth is. “I’ve still got the fire,” he said as he walked me to the elevator.
Well worth your time, that.
Via S&S, AP covers the continuing conflict over the Afghan election, including the resignation of Afghan election commissioner Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai and the acknowledgment–finally–by the UN of the problems with the election process.
U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique called the resignation “regrettable” but said the U.N. continues to trust that the group will produce a fair outcome. “We have full confidence in the ECC as the important work continues,” Siddique said, adding that the U.N. “stands by the work that they are doing on behalf of the Afghan people.”
Barakzai’s resignation was the latest in a series of problems that have confounded the electoral process since the election, the first run by the Afghans since the war began in 2001.
The NYT reports that Secstate Clinton and Secdef Gates are working on the same side of the tactical review, which seems to have surprised everyone but me. I guess I was the only one who listened to that panel from GWU last week; they seemed pretty similar-spirited then.
What most Western observers are missing when they offer their expert advice regarding Afghanistan is an absence of a strong sense of history and an understanding of the culture of that country. Stewart is an exception to that observation.
The decision to add more troops in Afghanistan cannot be made purely by couching it in the requirements of American domestic politics, and by viewing it from the perspective of what is appropriate and acceptable inside the United States. I say that because, as more troops are inserted in Afghanistan, that will be seen as an evidence of commitment by outsiders, but not necessarily by the Afghans. They need more persuading than mere escalation troops for now.
The abruptness by which the United States left Afghanistan after the redeployment of the Soviet troops in 1989 leaves them no reason to believe that we are likely to stay there. This time there is no much difference. All they have to do is to watch the current debate regarding Afghanistan inside the United States.
Mind you, I am not questioning the legitimacy of these debates. They are quite genuine in the sense that, before more US young men and women are sent there and before more money is invested, we need to debate the nature of our commitment. However, that is precisely why the Afghans are skeptical that we mean to stay there for a long while this time.
And there went my Tuesday morning.
The Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, was on the Daily Show this week. In case you didn’t catch it, here it is:
I miss Rob Riggle.
Also, I always find it funny when Stewart and I have the same reading list:
This just in: Nate Silver is my hero. Mind, this has nothing at all to do with foreign policy, the military, or US politics; I just really like it when smart people get their smart-ass on in service of pointing out grave blunders.
Nifty photos of the Navy Command Center of the Future from CNET. It reminds me not a little of the Star Trek Enterprise set. Now, I ask again: where is my jet pack?
Peter Galbraith was dismissed by the UN envoy to Afghanistan, which is in line with the Western support for the Karzai in the Afghan election. I still come down on the side that considers it a pretty bad call to support a president who rigged the election, and stability cannot be won long-term when situations such as this are so clearly corrupt. You can’t blind yourself to the problem without it coming to bite you in the ass; one can’t help but wonder if this call will end up throwing support to the Taliban who have taken over governance of over 200 provinces in Afghanistan; in sum, all they have to do is wait and point at the ways corruption is overtaking the government.
Thanks to Starbuck for the link to the Boston Globe’s hi res pictures of Afghanistan from last month. They are universally remarkable, but this one took my breath away:
The Globe also has an article detailing a response to DADT out of the Pentagon in Joint Force Quarterly, which was just made available today. The article in question is here, and I’m hoping to read it tonight. A quote pulled from the article:
“After a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly,’’ writes Colonel Om Prakash, who is now working in the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “Based on this research, it is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.’’
You know, of a handful of disappointments I’ve had since Obama took office, his reversal of his stance of DADT was probably the most disheartening. When the flipping JFC is publishing an article in favour of a review of DADT, it’s time to get your ass moving, O Commander in Chief. Temporizing does nothing but make you look less and less support of those individuals you purposefully named in thanks in your acceptance speech last November. It’s a year later, and I’m waiting.
FiveThirtyEight has some nice numbers and a run-down of the various interested parties in Afghanistan with regards to elections at home and abroad:
As the pieces begin to sort out, this week could see a final announcement regarding the international strategy conference on Afghanistan, which the US and UN have reportedly agreed to holding along with France, Germany and the UK. At the same time, a concrete timeline for the final results of the Presidential election is forthcoming. Given the instability in the country and the month that has already passed since the 20 August balloting, additional delays in the formation of a new government could be quite damaging to efforts to build support for the national authorities.
Insightful and succinct, as per usual.
Russia scrapped its own missile plans. Interesting to see the public results of American diplomacy…
The Guardian reports that Obama is pushing for a stricter review of US nuclear weapons doctrine, probably another tool in the public diplomatic arsenal towards legitimizing Obama’s goals regarding nuclear proliferation and Iran. And Stratfor goes into detail on the effect the decision to scrap the Eastern European missile shield program has on other nations in the region.
I found this article, also in the Guardian, about Iraqi widows choosing to remarry really interesting. In one sense, that is a very real, very palpable cultural change that’s resulted from war, necessity, and poverty. And I’m not suggesting it’s a de facto good one. But I do think it speaks to a near inevitable one, after seven years of conflict and–let’s be honest–Western influence.
But, in many areas of Iraq, where the fabric of societies has been shattered by the bloodshed of the past six years, tribal leaders have begun to re-assess prohibitions that make a second attempt at family life all-but impossible. Now, slowly, attitudes are beginning to shift. Operating as part-matriarch, part Islamic scholar, amateur psychologist and de facto big sister, Um Omar believes even hardline areas are starting to accept that Islamic law overrides their customs.
It’s like a perverse dark mirror of women’s rights. Or something. I don’t know, I’m still digesting this.
I really like the blog of the US Naval Institute; it’s always interesting, whatever subject they tackle. Today Christopher Albon had some thoughts on the Navy’s role in current US engagements well worth reading. Also, I’ll be repping for Team Navy in the upcoming blogging contest in support of Project Valour-IT, so keep an eye out for that.