Permissible Arms

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.


An unexpectedly proven truth

Posted in united states, us military by Karaka on 6 November 2009

Okay, it turns out I have one thing to say about Fort Hood.

Texan police officer Kim Munley who shot Fort Hood gunman hailed as a heroine [Times of London]:

But the death toll from the rampage could have been far worse had it not been for the actions of Sergeant Kimberly Munley, a civilian police officer stationed at the base who was the first on the scene as Major Hasan picked off his victims.

Sergeant Munley managed to hit Major Hasan four times but was herself hit by a bullet that passed through both her legs, according to witnesses.

Colonel John Rossi, briefing reporters at Fort Hood this morning, said that Major Hasan’s victims, who were killed in a part of the base used to process soldiers for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, had all been unarmed. Sergeant Munley had been the first armed person on the scene and had immediately taken him on.

“Her efforts were superb,” he said.

The base commander, Lieutenant-General Bob Cone, also paid tribute: “She happened to encounter the gunman. In an exchange of gunfire, she was wounded but managed to wound him four times,” he said.

“It was an amazing and aggressive performance by this police officer.”

The reportage of which lead to this. Girls in the Hood–If women can defend Fort Hood, they can defend America [Slate]:

Here’s a better way to honor Munley: End the ban on women in combat.

Department of Defense policy states that “women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” According to the policy, “Direct ground combat takes place well forward on the battlefield.”

Well forward on the battlefield? In Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no forward. There isn’t even a battlefield. We’re living in a world of car bombs, snipers, suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, and civilian airplane attacks. The battlefield is everywhere.

So are women. By the most recent count, courtesy of ABC News two weeks ago, there are 10,000 female personnel in Iraq and 4,000 more in Afghanistan. They’re driving trucks, treating wounded, and shooting when attacked. More than 100 have given their lives in Iraq; another 15 have died in Afghanistan.

The no-combat policy pretends that women can’t take such risks without harming overall military performance. It bars women from infantry positions, training as armored vehicle drivers, and being assigned as medics to combat units.

Damn right. And I refer you back to Paula Broadwell’s Women At War [Kings of War]:

“Direct ground combat takes place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire, maneuver, and shock effect.”

However, the persistent threat of counterinsurgencies combined with evidence of women’s proven effectiveness in such situations serve as powerful reasons for updating the law.

The U.S. military’s Central Command recently published a “Memorandum of Law Concerning Women in Combat Support Operations.” It explicitly condones the use of the F.E.T.’s. The Defense Department’s general counsel is scheduled to consider the matter in the near future.

Perhaps police Sgt. Munley’s heroism will step it up further.

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.

Stop Loss Special Pay, Round Two

Posted in admin, us military by Karaka on 2 November 2009

The past seven days have been a vast sucking void of nothingness, and I really hope I’m back to normal. I guess we’ll see.

In an attempt to get back into SOP around here, here’s what I did Friday morning:

There’s nothing quite like having a conversation with the DoD at eight in the morning. The burden of being on the West Coast, I suppose. Anyway, here’s some relevant information about Stop Loss Pay:

  • If you served on active duty between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 and were stop-lossed, you should be eligible for special or retroactive pay.
  • You must file a claim yourself; this isn’t an automatic process. The claim must be filed with the appropriate documentation indicating your stop loss activation.
  • Your claim must be filed by October 21, 2010. The stop loss program is very short, so do it ASAP.
  • Retired/separated servicemembers and family of deceased servicemembers can apply for the program with the appropriate documentation.
  • Servicemembers who are already receiving Stop Loss special pay from fiscal year 2009 are not eligible for this program.
  • Reserve members keep active under Stop Loss were made inactive in August/September of 2009. The goal is to do the same for the standing members by January 2010.
  • There is an appeal process in place for servicemembers who are denied Stop Loss special pay under this program, in cases where documentation has been lost or other reasons.

At its height in 2005, over 16,000 members of the armed forces were active under Stop Loss. The current figure is about 9,100. Seven months was the average time of service under Stop Loss; there was no comprehensive record kept in each service branch of the members who were stop-lossed, but the estimate is 185,000 people. That lack of accurate record is why this claims process is in place, so please pass on this post and reblog this information.

  • For the Marines, go here or email
  • For the Army, go here or email
  • For the Air Force, go here.
  • The Navy currently does not have a site for Stop Loss, but you can email for information on how to file your claim.
  • If you were in the National Guard and were stop-lossed, you should also be able to make a claim, but I can’t find a website for it and it wasn’t provided in the released material.

You can also read the DoD order here as enacted by the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009.

I think everything I have is accurate and factual, but if I have made a mistake please let me know. Also, please pass on this information, either by linking to this post or by posting the information yourself–there’s no central website to inform or process this program, and there’s no national media campaign planned; I think it’s important to inform as many people as possible. I’ve copied all the HTML into a Word doc that you can download here, to copy and paste into your own blog/website. Thanks to the nice folks at DoDLive and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (that’s a mouthful) for their invitation and information.

DoDLive and BlogTalk Radio, 11 Oct 09

Posted in admin, us military by Karaka on 29 October 2009

I’m still gaining back the ground I lost a week ago. This vaccine really hit me hard, and on Monday I go back in for another. Hopefully it will be worth it, but right now it’s still pretty miserable.

I wanted to mention that I’ve been invited to the DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable tomorrow on the implementation of the Stop Loss special pay for servicemembers “who had their enlistment extended or retirement suspended due to stop loss are eligible for this special pay, if they served on active duty between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009.” I’m not sure who else is participating in the Roundtable, but we’ll be talking with Sam Retherford, a retired Army colonel who is the Director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management.

You can listen live here (I’m sure you’ve been waiting this whole time to hear my dulcet tones) and DoDLive will make an audio file available after the event that I’ll embed here on the blog. It’s tomorrow, Friday 11 October, at 1100 EST. Let me know what you think after the Roundtable!


Support Team Navy in the Valour-IT fundraiser!

Taking a stand against whole grains and world peace

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us politics by Karaka on 27 October 2009

A couple quick links before I hit the sack:

Banned USB Drives May Get Thumbs Up:

After being banned almost a year ago as bug-infested cyber threats, thumb drives may soon be allowed to plug back into U.S. Defense Department computers and networks.

But not all thumb drives. And not for all computer users, according to Pentagon officials and industry sources.

Thumb drives were banned in November 2008 after thousands of military computers and networks became infected by worms, viruses and other malicious software. Many of the infections were traced to thumb drives, which acquired malicious software from computers or the Internet and passed them on.

The ban has been a major hassle for many who came to rely on thumb drives.

I seriously cannot imagine my life without the three thumb drives I carry with me every day.

Via Danger Room, Simon Klingert‘s photographs of medevacs in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Helmand Medevac Marines

U.S. Marine soldiers carry an injured Afghan boy towards a Medevac helicopter of Charly Company, 3rd Battlion 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade in the Garmser district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, August 26, 2009

Finally, I don’t always take the National Security Expert blog terribly seriously, because in a sea of wankiness their topic discussions always stand out as being particularly wanky, but I noted this week’s panel discussion. How Is Hillary Clinton Doing As Secretary Of State?

Clinton has taken charge of relations with great powers China and Russia, and is a key player in reinforcing Obama’s multilateral approach to international issues, one of the things that the Nobel committee cited in giving him the Peace Prize. People give her credit for giving this administration some spine. And she certainly is getting more resources for the State Department. David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote a piece in the Washington Post in August saying that Clinton is “rethinking the very nature of diplomacy and translating that vision into a revitalized State Department, one that approaches U.S. allies and rivals in ways that challenge long-held traditions.”

But we would like to know what you, the experts, think about Hillary’s performance so far, what she has accomplished, and what more she could or should be doing. So what kind of report card do you give Hillary Rodham Clinton so far as secretary of State? Was she a good, or bad, choice as the nation’s top diplomat?

The responses are a mixed criticism of celebritas, political history, and the minor accomplishments thus far this year; but the real point to me, that only a couple of the respondents touch on, is that ten months is too early to make grand proclamations about any staff member’s work. By elevating her performance to criticism so early on, she can’t help but fail in some respect. A bunch of dudes trying to discern trends and scry future challenges only focuses on a face rather than a mission, a person rather than the department. What’s the point?

Rights, civil and federal

Posted in afghanistan, kuwait, us military by Karaka on 21 October 2009

In all the fuss about Senator Kerry’s work to get Karzai to accept a runoff, it’s been interesting to note that Special Rep. Holbrooke hasn’t really been present:

Mr. Holbrooke’s absence on the world stage in recent weeks has raised questions about his role going forward.

His staff offers a simple answer: The famed 68-year-old diplomat who helped broker the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian conflict in 1995 has been in Washington helping to preside over the president’s monthlong Afghanistan strategy review.

He has provided the White House with much of the information reviewed at a series of war council meetings, according to those involved.

“His job is [in Washington] right now,” said Ashley Bommer, Mr. Holbrooke’s spokeswoman at the State Department.

The article is a little hyperbolic, but it’s one of the few I’ve seen mentioning Holbrooke on this issue at all. With all five of President Obama’s internal war-room reviews concluded (enough to send Secdef Gates off in search of other assurances), one wonders if Holbrooke is going to make in back in time for the 7 November runoff, and when the White House will announce the results of this policy confab.

Elsewhere, Paula Broadwell’s op-ed in the NYT yesterday (crossposted to KOW, h/t akinoluna for the link, who also has a practical, clear-eyed assessment of Broadwell’s suggestions) is predictably making…no waves, as far as I can tell. Which is a shame, because I think she makes some well-thought points:

However, the persistent threat of counterinsurgencies combined with evidence of women’s proven effectiveness in such situations serve as powerful reasons for updating the law.

The U.S. military’s Central Command recently published a “Memorandum of Law Concerning Women in Combat Support Operations.” It explicitly condones the use of the F.E.T.’s. The Defense Department’s general counsel is scheduled to consider the matter in the near future.

For now, these F.E.T. initiatives are confined to the Marines and there are relatively few women available for these jobs — only 6 percent of Marine Corps personnel are women. Moreover, given the ad hoc nature of the teams — F.E.T. members have “day jobs,” serving as logisticians or intelligence officers or in other vital positions — their commanders are often understandably reticent to give up an individual for an additional duty.

To quote akinoluna:

She never actually says it, but all the talk about how female Marines in FETs have “day jobs” and have to “find time” for the extra training and how their commanders are reluctant to release them to join a FET, it seems like she could be implying that it’s time to train female Marines specifically for FET-like jobs.

It makes sense. It’s not good to pull Marines from one important job to work at another important job: you might be causing them to work abnormally long hours and you’re definitely forcing someone else to pick up the slack at their original job when they aren’t around.

There’s also no reason why the Marine Corps can’t do it.


In Afghanistan, thirty-one certified midwives graduated from an 18-month programme [Pajhwok]:

One midwife named Fahima said she would use her knowledge in serving mothers and children in rural areas. “I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders, because most of the treatment in rural areas is traditional and unhygienic.”

There is no way to understate the difference modern medical knowledge can make to rural ob/gyn needs. Even rudimentary knowledge can be the difference between a successful pregnancy/birth and an unsuccessful one.

And in Kuwait, women were granted the right to pursue a passport of their own volition [BBC]:

The country’s first female MPs were elected in May 2009.

The article abolished by the court dated back to Kuwait’s 1962 passport law which required a husband’s signature on a woman’s passport application.

Aseel al-Awadhi, one of the new MPs, welcomed the passport law ruling as a “victory for constitutional principles that puts an end to this injustice against Kuwaiti women”.

Meanwhile, it looks like the pope might have a place for me if I ever give up my lapsed Anglican ways and wish to return to the fold. Unlikely, but it’s nice to have options.

Tuesday Errata

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.

You know, I always find the USNI blog very interesting and educational, and today it and I wish the US Navy a happy birthday!

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.

Khaleej Times printed an op-ed by Ehsan Ahrari today (h/t SWJ) which doesn’t necessarily offer anything new to the debate, but does summarize a couple things nicely:

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.

Keeping up with the Gates

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, us defense, us military by Karaka on 7 October 2009

Secretary Gates has been doing a veritable sightseeing tour, talking to the Air Force, the Association of the US Army, GWU, and John King all in the space of about two-three weeks. His speech before the AUSA this past Monday caught my attention.


General Odierno said last week that violence is down 85 percent over the past two years – an accomplishment made possible by the hard work and sacrifices of many thousands of U.S. soldiers. At the same time, Afghanistan has been on a different, and worrisome, trajectory – with violence levels up some 60 percent from last year.

Less significant for the comparison, more for the numbers. Sixty percent more violence in Afghanistan–yet still you’re four times more likely to come to harm in Iraq. As we withdraw, I wonder how that figure will change. And I wonder how it’s measured–is that violence to troops, international civilians, local civilians, or all three?

The active Army has surpassed recruiting and retention goals recently, allowing the service to reach its goal of enlarging to 547,000 soldiers earlier this year. Considering the stress on the force, and upcoming deployment rotations, I’ve also authorized a temporary expansion of an additional 22,000 soldiers to get through this high-demand period. This temporary increase will not add new force structure but will fill out the units we already have. The goal is to end stop-loss and increase dwell time.

Word is that the USMC hit their recruiting goals as well. Interesting. Ninth year of war, and we’re hitting our goals.

Even with all these efforts to mitigate the stress on the force, the reality is that a significant numbers of soldiers will continue to be deployed for the near- to mid-term. In fact, right now there are more soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan combined than were deployed to those two countries during the height of the Iraq surge.

To be honest, I think that speaks more to paucity of resources granted both occupational security programmes prior to FY09 than it does a real reflection of martial deployment in and of itself, but worth noting.

One of the most important is the Advise and Assist Brigade – the AAB – that has three main functions: traditional strike capabilities, advisory roles, and the enablers and command and control to support both functions. In July, I visited the first AAB deployed to Iraq. I was impressed with the ability to retool a standard brigade combat team in only a few months and with relatively small force augmentation. By the end of next year, we plan for the Iraq mission to be composed almost entirely of AABs, and the expectation is that, some time down the road, the same will be true in Afghanistan.

Now that’s interesting. Can anyone point me to some more information on the AAB (that’s not behind a logon .mil site)? The CAC Blog gave me a quick briefing but more info is always better. This summer press release mentions four brigades, but I’m curious as to how many have been trained and prepped for deployment.

Perhaps the greatest change, however, is on the ground level with the men and women on the front lines. Young officers and NCOs at the front have always had to make profound life-and-death decisions. In today’s conflicts, their responsibilities are even greater and more complex: playing the roles of warrior, diplomat, mayor, economist, city engineer, and tribal liaison – all often at the same time. We must ensure that the kind of mental agility, entrepreneurial spirit, and independent judgment required to be effective downrange carries over into future assignments. It’s a safe bet that a leader who thrives in an environment of this complexity can adapt quickly to other missions and other forms of war. But, looking forward, we must find a way to retain seasoned young officers and NCOs and give them opportunities to use these same talents when they move on from combat positions of momentous responsibility to more mundane assignments in the bureaucracy. Their battlefield experience must form the core of an Army prepared to fight wars in the future.

You know, sometimes I forget that the majority of the troops currently serving the US military are of my peer group; this served as a needed reminder. The same people I knew from high school, college, from my small town in the South, those are the people who now have this experience. Important thing for me to remember. Retaining them would be very valuable to the military complex.

I’m kind of looking at Secdef Gates like a Where’s Waldo picture: where will he show up next?

Two Older White Dudes, Reviewed.

Posted in afghanistan, american media, pakistan, us defense, us politics by Karaka on 22 September 2009

There are a couple profiles out of key players in today’s military-political-defense scene. First is Noah Shachtman ‘s look at Sec. Defense Robert Gates over at Wired:

Every secdef talks about changing the Pentagon, then almost immediately gets stymied by bureaucratic resistance. Only this time, Gates’ talk is turning into action—a Gates Doctrine, if you will. Its core tenets: Base policy on the wars that are most likely to happen and the technology that’s most likely to work. Stop trying to buy the future when you can’t afford the present. With a White House veteran’s feel for Washington, a love of policy, a penchant for secrecy, and an old man’s sense of the ticking clock, the silver-haired administrator has become the most dangerous person in the military-industrial complex. “I’ve referred to myself as the secretary of war, because we’re at war,” he says in a nasal Kansas twang, raising his voice over the roar of the plane’s engines. “This is a department that principally plans for war. It’s not organized to wage war. And that’s what I’m trying to fix.”

Also related, a similar look at Gates from the NYT:

The looming decision on Afghanistan could put Mr. Gates’s experience to the test as never before. With both Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now on record as saying more combat troops would be required for victory, Mr. Gates must balance his commanders’ desires and his president’s stated skepticism.

As sort of the single major holdover from the transition from Bush to Obama, Gates seems to be in a unique position to advise the President on previous doctrine, namely the “suggestions” and “deadlines” left in place by a Cheney-directed group of defence aides; the desires of the military officials (McChrystal and Mullen and, as other bloggers never fail to remind me, McKiernan as well before his dismissal) to shore up the troops and resources; the limits of Obama’s political willingness to remain in Afghanistan; and the places all of those different things intersect.

Either way, he’s an interesting man to follow.

The New Yorker’s George Packer goes in-depth with US Special Representative to Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. That links to the abstract; the print edition won’t be out until the 28th, and I will be patiently waiting for it until then. (Unless some friendly reader can hook me up with an electronic copy?) Either way, given how much influence Holbrooke has on the President, I am certain it will be an interesting read.

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