Permissible Arms

Afghan Me Dave Petraeus

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us military by Karaka on 29 June 2010

You can read through all the fun of #P4ISR at Danger Room–fun I mostly, sadly, missed–but if you’re really committed to General Petraeus and his shockingly unshocking confirmation, you can watch the whole three-hour escapade here, on CSPAN2.

The only things I miss about having cable, or even a digital box, are CSPAN and the Discovery Channel. But at least I can stream one of those.

ETA: Oh my god, the Senate Armed Services Committee website is the saddest thing I have ever seen. JFC. I can’t find a transcript for Petraeus’s opening statement–can anyone throw me a link?

For reactions and reporting, see also Small Wars Journal. (They still need funding, and you should give it to them!

It’s funnier in the original Pashto.

This morning kind of sucked. I spilled coffee on myself and my books not once, but twice; missed my bus this morning; and spent the first hour putting out work-related brushfires. I guess everyone has to have a bad hump day now and again, but did mine have to involve ruining all the papers, books, and magazines in my bag?

Linkdump time. Danger Room’s interview with Admiral Mike Mullen was great, but I was way too taken with the confession that Adm. Mullen actually does tweet over at @thejointstaff. Oh, Twitter. You are a Chinese curse.

Stratfor’s security brief this week is on the relationships of India, the US, and Pakistan to Afghanistan, which I weirdly feel like I scooped (even though I clearly didn’t). To wit:

Ultimately, with long experience bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States was inherently wary of becoming involved in Afghanistan. In recent years, it has become all too clear how distant the prospect of a stable Afghanistan is. A tribal-ethnic balance of power overseen by Pakistan is another matter entirely, however. The great irony is that such a success could make the region look remarkably like it did on Sept. 10, 2001…The Indians are concerned that with American underwriting, the Pakistanis not only may be about to re-emerge as a major check on Indian ambitions, but in a form eerily familiar to the sort of state-militant partnership that so effectively limited Indian power in the past. They are right.

From At War, “Military Disputes Taliban on Korangal Valley Outpost:”

The absence of the Americans from the valley has made the area somewhat less secure, according to local people and the Afghan army. That would be in line with American expectations about the impact of their withdrawal. The American military had expected there might be some decline in security, but also thought it was possible that without the presence of the Americans to provoke the insular Korangalis, the area eventually would become calmer. That has not seemed to be the case — at least not yet.

“People are trapped in Korangal because of repeated fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban,” said Major Turab.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann have recently published an Almanac of al-Qaeda over at Foreign Policy, which details the rise of the organization and a fascinating data dump with some rockin’ graphs. One of the best contemporary briefings on the subject, I think, from two trusted authors.

Gunslinger over at Ink Spots posted a criticism of Michael O’Hanlon’s article on non-lethal weapons (NLW) that I found clearheaded and compellingly argued. There’s some good discussion in the comments too.

Anne Marlowe has a column over World Affairs Journal that takes a long view of COIN and Afghanistan. I’ve read it a couple times now, and I’m reacting against it for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. I think it has something to do with the claim about the effectiveness of insuring the security of the population over engaging the enemy with arms, and the implication that that isn’t by definition an underlying principle of COIN. Still mulling it over.

David Wood reports on when Iran goes nuclear, confirming my general hapless view on the matter:

Relying on traditional deterrence against a nuclear-armed Iran would be a mistake — that is the cautionary conclusion of a two-year study at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. It saw three problems with trying to deter Iran:

– The regime is split into factions, making it difficult to know whether to deal with clerics or civilians like Ahmadinejad, the military or the ultra-hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.

– Rather than threatening to launch a nuclear attack, a nuclear Iran would likely be more aggressive in backing terrorist attacks or even minor conventional or very low-level nuclear operations against U.S. interests in the region — nuclear sea mines along the Persian Gulf’s oil routes, for example. Such operations would complicate U.S. decisions about whether a nuclear response would be justified.

– Domestic political instability could affect how Iran’s leaders play their nuclear weapons card, making it difficult to predict how they would react in a crisis.

And finally, also at Danger Room, the Army has been reading you! and you! and you! (Okay, maybe not you.)

Every week, the defense contractor MPRI prepares for the brass a “Blogosphere and Social Media Report,” rounding up sites’ posts on military matters. It’s meant to be a single source for top officers to catch up on what’s being said online and in leading social media outlets. Items from about two dozen national security and political blogs are excerpted, and classified as “balanced,” “critical,” or “supportive.” The vast majority of the posts are considered “balanced” — even when they rip the Army a new one.

I downloaded & read the three reports that were made available, and they’re depressingly poorly researched. I dread knowing how much money gets shelled out for these, and levied some further criticism in the post over at SWJ. Since when are HuffPo and World News Daily balanced?

Thursday Errata

My Google reader just ate the 103 posts I hadn’t read from Small Wars Journal, leaving behind only the most recent of posts.

Sigh. I had been looking forward to reading through it after I’d gotten through everything else; it’s just not quite the same, reading it chronologically in one long page versus navigating forward from post to post.

I had wanted to go to the 2010 Milblogging Conference, take a couple days of vacation and poke around DC while I was up in the area, ’cause I haven’t been there in several years. I ended up taking my vacation a little closer to home, but possibly next year? It’s got to be a lot easier for folks on the West Coast, that’s for sure.

Via @BostonMaggie, looks like the Navy has finally launched NavyLive in an appropriate shade of blue.

Looks like elections in Kyrgyzstan have been scheduled for early October; here’s hoping they keep to their own deadline. Iran is mucking about with war games, which I’m sure has the television pundits in a massive tizzy.

I’m interested to see Danger Room reporting on the deployment of Culture Units from the UK to Afghanistan. It’s a fairly explicit practicum of COIN, no?

I still haven’t worked my way through Joe Klein’s Time Maganize piece on US troops in Afghanistan, but there’s a lot of talk about it out there in the blogosphere.

Musing on Iraq looks at the US Human Rights Report on Iraq, tracking failures and improvements. Worth your time to read.

This week’s public STRATFOR intelligence report has to do with Iraq’s strategic placement near Iran, and how the US might fit into the cracks there.

Washington’s way forward depends upon what the American government believes the probabilities are at this point for a viable Iraqi government and security force able to suppress insurgencies, including those fomented by Iran. If the Americans believe a viable Iraqi government is a possibility, they should roll the dice and withdraw. But it is not clear from our point of view what Washington is seeing. If it believes the probability is low, the United States not only will have to halt the withdrawal, it will have to reverse it to convince the Iranians that the Americans are hypercommitted to Iraq. This might cause Tehran to recalculate, opening the door for discussion.

Food for thought, anyway. And now I’m for home, and cracking open the copy of In the Graveyard of Empires that I finally managed to find a reasonable price for. I mean, I already spent a godawful amount of money on books, but a $30 new hardback is like three or four used paperbacks. Pretty easy math for me.

Boom Goes the Dynamite

Posted in afghanistan, us defense, us military by Karaka on 6 November 2009

I meant to do this on Thursday, but Thursday was a sucking void of meetings followed by the whiskey applied to ameliorate said meetings, so instead it’s getting done today. Let’s talk about bombs, and the things that stop them.

MRAPS, courtesy "Afghanistan My Last Tour"

Rex/Afghanistan My Last Tour

In the latter part of last month, MRAPs–mine resistant ambush-protected all terrain vehicles–were shipped out to Afghanistan as part of Secdef Gates’ push to overhaul the design to be more appropriate to Afghanistan compared with this version’s predecessor in Iraq. The AFG version is leaner, a bit thinner, designed to traverse the more narrow roads that cross the AFG terrain. At half a million dollars each, these high-tech armoured vehicles were important and expensive:

With an independent suspension system designed for off-road mobility, the M-ATV is built specifically to navigate Afghanistan’s rugged landscape.

“The M-ATV really answers some of the challenges of the terrain, high altitudes and the real unevenness of a lot of the terrain out there,” Haggerty said. The M-ATV seats four passengers and one gunner, and features an armor system with a “V” shaped hull engineered to protect occupants from enemy attack.

“It looks like a modified, huge, heavy-duty Jeep,” said Anthony Deluca, the Kandahar site lead for the mine-resistant, ambush-protected, or MRAP, program. “It’s got very good suspension systems, and everyone raves about how well it functions in the field.”

While some original MRAP vehicles may weigh nearly 60,000 pounds, the M-ATV weighs about 25,000 pounds, including standard equipment and fuel.

But the real test of these modified MRAPs is just beginning. As Danger Room reports, less sophisticated IEDs can do as much or more damage as their more advanced cousins in Iraq:

Afghanistan’s low-tech, relatively primitive bombs might be even harder to stop than Iraq’s comparatively sophisticated improvised explosives. The Pentagon is sinking almost a billion dollars into new tools to stop this dumbed-down threat, like sensors and software that can detect minute changes on the ground, along with dozens of other initiatives.

It’s a particularly urgent need: Between 70 and 80 percent of coalition casualties in Afghanistan are now caused by improvised bombs. The International Security Assistance Force announced today that eight U.S. troops — and an Afghan civilian working for the coalition — were killed in “multiple, complex” roadside bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan.

The effectiveness of such improvised explosives is having a toll. From David Wood, IEDs are the cause of 384 deaths in Afghanistan in 2009, and with the year two months to conclusion that number could still rise. Quoting Wood:

The dramatic upswing in dead and wounded came despite months of preparation for the “surge” of troops authorized last spring by President Obama. The Pentagon deployed close to $1 billion worth of IED jammers, mine-clearing vehicles, heavy armored trucks and other gear as well as intelligence analysts and technical specialists to Afghanistan to blunt the expected wave of new IED attacks. […]

“The IED is playing a larger and larger role in the enemy’s effort,” Lt. Gen. Tom Metz, the Pentagon’s top IED hunter, said Tuesday.

More to the point, he said, the IED “is a weapon system the enemy has figured out has strategic impact.” Its effect on the battlefield may be horrifying, not only for those it maims, but for the tens of thousands of troops who set out each day under the stress of knowing that an IED blast could come at any second. But for the Taliban, the more critical (“strategic”) target is the American public and politicians, whom the insurgents hope to convince that the cost in blood is simply too high to continue the war.

As Wood notes and Stars and Stripes correlates, the insurgency may be getting their wish:

JIEDDO Director Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz said he thinks IED attacks would continue to increase if the U.S. sent more troops to Afghanistan.

“Just as we found in [Regional Command-South], the enemy had a lot of time to put a lot of IEDs in and we have bumped into a lot of them,” Metz said. “The enemy’s having to replace them, and that’s taking time and energy and money, and the fight’s on.”

Metz, who will retire on Nov. 13, attributed the slight decrease in recent months to the fact that all the extra troops already approved for Afghanistan have arrived are learning the terrain. Still, he acknowledged that the ratio of IED incidents to casualties has remained fairly steady in Afghanistan, compared with Iraq, where insurgents increasingly have to use more IEDs to inflict a single casualty.

Speaking of JIEDDO, you sure can’t claim they’re not earning their paycheck. Its director, LtGen Thomas Metz, spoke before the House Armed Services Committee on 29 October 09 about JIEDDO’s efforts to quell the effect of IEDs.

The environment and the enemy in Afghanistan pose an altogether different challenge. Although initially slower to develop in Afghanistan, the IED has now replaced direct fire weapons as the enemy’s weapon of choice. Our enemies in Afghanistan also use IEDs in combination with conventional direct and indirect fire weapons as a part of complex attacks.

Furthermore, Afghanistan local insurgents, tribal factions, and the Taliban enjoy a greater freedom of action to emplace large numbers of IEDs in movement corridors vital to our success. Our challenge is further compounded because these groups intimidate local populaces, preventing their cooperation with the often suspiciously viewed Afghan government and, in turn, with us.

To ensure the most comprehensive possible support to this complex theater, JIEDDO has undertaken an ongoing Afghanistan support planning process that has so far generated more than 100 counter-IED initiatives for this theater. Continually refined as we move forward, this planning effort provides an ongoing assessment which guides department-level decision makers on critical counter-IED investments and resource allocations.

“Weapon of choice” is, I think, an important phrase. Despite it’s occasional innocuousness, it has a larger and more deadly implication. From AFPS late last month:

More intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including the most advanced drones and other equipment, are among the supplies the department is working to field to troops in Afghanistan, where one defense official today said the IED has emerged as the enemy’s preferred means of attack.

Gates last month ordered nearly 3,000 extra route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal teams and other key personnel downrange, in addition to a parcel of the more than 6,600 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles designed specifically for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain that the department plans to field.

Morrell has said previously the department would like the M-ATVs, as the vehicles are known, to have an effect in Afghanistan similar to the one that the original MRAP vehicles had when they were delivered en masse to Iraq, leading to a reduction in casualties resulting from roadside bombs.

“Even with all these additional counter-IED resources, there will no doubt be many difficult and dangerous days ahead for our forces,” Morrell cautioned.

Of the various counter-IED resources, the MRAP is probably the most visible and most significant in terms of daily impact. But as Rex over at Afghanistan My Last Tour (Part Two, Part Three) getting them going isn’t always so easy. And are they only going to combatant soldiers? Or will some of these mine-resistant vehicles go to diplos-at-war?

According to a recent post on Dipnote, the State Department’s official blog, the Civilian Response Corps — a newly created organization that has 50 active members, and another 200 on standby — will be receiving a fleet of 28 “fully armored vehicles” next year. “The vehicles will also be available for use by other U.S. Government employees supporting reconstruction and stabilization missions abroad,” the post says.

In addition, the Corps will receive additional gear to become more self-sufficient in the field: Medical kits, solar powered equipment rechargers, and office start-up kits. They will also have body armor, helmets and self-contained, solar-powered communications equipment packages to keep in touch with Foggy Bottom.

That’s not to detract from the importance of diplos (and their security), I caution. Just a note that there are limited quantities so far, even if Secdef Gates is pressing for greater production. And it makes me wonder about those sixth-sense bomb-sniffing wonders and their value to an MRAP-ing unit:

Military researchers have found that two groups of personnel are particularly good at spotting anomalies: those with hunting backgrounds, who traipsed through the woods as youths looking to bag a deer or turkey; and those who grew up in tough urban neighborhoods, where it is often important to know what gang controls which block.

Personnel who fit neither category, often young men who grew up in the suburbs and developed a liking for video games, do not seem to have the depth perception and peripheral vision of the others, even if their eyesight is 20/20.

The findings do not surprise Army Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett, the top enlisted man with the Pentagon-based Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, which conducted the study. He’s made multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and ridden in more than 1,000 convoys and, on 19 occasions, been in a vehicle hit by a roadside bomb.

The best troops he’s ever seen when it comes to spotting bombs were soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard, nearly all with rural backgrounds that included hunting.

“They just seemed to pick up things much better,” Burnett said. “They know how to look at the entire environment.”

Maybe, in addition to staffing units with well-trained women, units should also have a good deer hunter in their midst. In an appropriately armoured ATV, of course.

Veni, Vidi–then what?

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 4 November 2009

As we wait and wonder what number of troops will be allocated for the US engagement in Afghanistan, several pieces have come up all wondering the same thing: how will we staff this war?

In General Casey’s Doubts at FP, Robert Haddick touches on the real requirements of pulling 100k+ troops out of Iraq and upping tens of thousands in Afghanistan:

In May, prior to the Obama administration’s latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal’s report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of “12 months deployed, 12 months home” unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.

But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal’s 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.

Assuming the U.S. really does evacuate all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Army and the Marine Corps would find a way to sustain the larger effort in Afghanistan while also increasing home-station time — assuming that this would be McChrystal’s final escalation of the war.

Paula Broadwell at KOW picks up the thread as it pertains to officers as well:

Retaining officers from all sources is essential to the health of our military. “Unlike the corporate sector, which can expand or contract quickly in response to market needs, pulling talent from various sources such as the military or various industries,” there is no lateral entry in the Army because our developmental structure and “industry-specific” training limit the ability of even a successful corporate leader to assimilate quickly into the culture.

The good new is that the Army is no longer hemorrhaging junior officers, due in part to the state of the economy and incentives like the G.I. Bill. But the underlying bad news is that it is only holding steady at a rate that is 15-20% under required strength, and there is no comprehensive Army strategy to correct the market.

Good stuff in the comments there, too.

As Danger Room reports, the problem isn’t simply retaining existing personnel but recruiting new personnel:

More than three-quarters of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds couldn’t serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They’re too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.

The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions – asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military’s biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.

And it’s not only the military. The Department of State may be undergoing the beginnings of its QDDR, but there is a more immediate question, as Diplopundit notes: where will civilian staff come from?

2007 is still remembered by some as the year when a muddy “near-revolt” happened in Foggy Bottom and diplomats were publicly threatened with directed assignments to Iraq. Just about everyone enjoyed the target; this one was the only one I remembered who tried to understand the fuller picture.

In the waning days of Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department there was understandably a big do to separate facts from myths (it’s harder than you think). AFSA tried to help. In it’s AFSANet message it also says that “Congress, at AFSA’s urging and with this Administration’s support, did include some FY-08 and FY-09 “bridge” funding for additional positions in the Iraq/Afghanistan War supplemental that was passed last summer. To our knowledge, State has not said how many new Foreign Service positions that funding permitted.”

In the long life of a bureaucracy, a well resourced agency like the Defense Department has hundreds of proud parents and godparents who can claim responsibility for its successes; but who claims responsibility for an underfunded/understaffed agency that must constantly wrestle with — well, people and paperclips?

Without Congress authorizing an increase in foreign service personnel, without the Department of State restructuring to provide more and easier in-roads for potential FSOs and other civilian positions into their ranks, there simply will not be, nor does really exist now, a class of trained, able civilian personnel to implement the necessary development programs in Afghanistan, or for that matter, Iraq.

If General McChrystal’s assessment is generally integrated into US foreign policy in the US under the Obama administration, and the terms of his project are implemented, there will be a significant need for human personnel, both military and civilian. But I wonder if the realism needed in assessing the situation in Afghanistan is not so much what can and should be accomplished in-country, but what can in fact be resourced by the US Departments of State and Defense with current recruitment and retention numbers. Or, put more simply, this graph courtesy Schmedlap via zenpundit:

And the Y axis is still under 100,000. There’s a lot of shortfall to make up on all sides.

At what price, greatness

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, terrorism, us military by Karaka on 12 October 2009

Another forty plus people killed in Pakistan, following on the heels of twenty killed this weekend in Islamabad. This, I believe, is the bloodiest week of the calendar year.

In Iraq, 26 people were killed as part of a political reconciliation meeting in Anbar, a precursor to the election in January ’10.

An election delay could in turn delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the bulk of which are scheduled to pull out immediately after a new government is seated. U.S. officials have said the elections will have to take place by Jan. 16 if the estimated 80,000 troops, with all their gear, are to leave in time for the August deadline set by President Obama for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat personnel from Iraq.

Iraq’s Constitution also stipulates that the elections must take place by January.

This as General Lanza announced the pace of the withdrawal:

By the end of October, American troop strength in Iraq will be 120,000, a decrease of 23,000 since January, the top United States military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, said Monday. The next big reduction will not come until well after the national elections in January, he added … “I really think the elections will be a point of departure by which we look at an assessment of true drawdown and really start moving our numbers from, let’s say, somewhere between 120,000 and 110,000 by the election, and then getting at that 50,000 by August 2010,” he said Monday.

Regarding Afghanistan, Nathan Hodge picks up the dearth of civilian forces in-nation; at the heart of my thesis about Afghanistan is the belief that US/international civilian involvement is direly needed, and it’s interesting to read it from someone else’s brain.

While the administration is still weighing strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has already made one thing clear: The mission in Afghanistan may fail without an influx of civilian experts. So where are muddy-boots diplomats and aid workers? According to the New York Times, nearly half of them have yet to get their passports stamped in Afghanistan.

The NYT article he references is here:

State Department officials also said they were close to their target of having 974 aid workers in Afghanistan by year’s end as part of what they called Mr. Obama’s civilian “surge.” They said 575 civilians were on the ground now.

“From the very start, there was an understanding that we need to move quickly,” Jacob J. Lew, the deputy secretary of state overseeing the civilian deployment, said in a telephone interview. “We feel very good about the people we’re sending out. They’re motivated, they’re prepared, they’re brave.”

But Henry Crumpton, a former top C.I.A. and State Department official who is an informal adviser to General McChrystal, called those stepped-up efforts inadequate. “Right now, the overwhelming majority of civilians are in Kabul, and the overwhelming majority never leave their compounds,” said Mr. Crumpton, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan. “Our entire system of delivering aid is broken, and very little of the aid is getting to the Afghan people.”

Hodge rightly points out that 974 is a great deal more than 575–nearly half as much more–and the concerns that the civilian aspect of this mission are failing has not gone unnoticed by the President. Either way, those jobs I was looking at the other day are in serious need of being filled. And still no USAID administrator.

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