Permissible Arms

Friday Miscellany (Think long, think hard.)

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 27 August 2010

My Afghanistan in 2050 post has been cross-posted to Feminist Philosophers, which pleases me to no end. There’s been some interesting discussion in the comments of the Chicago Boyz post as well that I’m working on parsing.

Also from that discussion, see Afghanistan 2050: A Chronic Low-Grade Sameness. Or, Each Life, A Story. by Madhu.

Ours was not a typical refugee or disaster victim virtopsy. Those we had done in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, on international hospital ships in rough and calm seas both. We only needed the scans to do those. The bodies were not ours and were disposed of as the locals or families saw fit. (Presuming the families would let us scan them. This was sometimes difficult to arrange.) From the scanned images, however, we could compile data and enter it into the open database that our physician-NGO group provided to the public. We shared our conclusions with a world-wide audience of academics, the curious, the bored, the skeptics, war proponents, human rights activists, nationalists, speculators, terrorists, cranks, freaks, perverts, politicians – whoever felt like “tuning in.”

In the “things I never expected” file, Murfreesboro, TN on The Daily Show this week. I would embed, but WordPress apparently hates anything but Youtube. Murfreesboro–where we used to shop for back-to-school clothes, and maybe hit the Red Lobster. Weird.

Andrew Bacevich’s personal missive in Salon this week about the “unmaking of a company man” seems to shed some light on his point of view, light that helps to understand something of his recent pieces, I think.

These visits to Jena and Berlin offered glimpses of a reality radically at odds with my most fundamental assumptions. Uninvited and unexpected, subversive forces had begun to infiltrate my consciousness. Bit by bit, my worldview started to crumble.

That worldview had derived from this conviction: that American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed and affirmed the nation’s enduring devotion to its founding ideals. That American power, policies, and purpose were bound together in a neat, internally consistent package, each element drawing strength from and reinforcing the others, was something I took as a given. That, during my adult life, a penchant for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not — to me, at least — in any way contradict America’s aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places testified to the seriousness of those aspirations.

Interesting. I missed an opportunity to see Bacevich speak earlier this month, which I regret.

David Wood sort of cheerleads General Conway, or at least doesn’t criticize:

But it took the Marine Corps’ blunt-spoken commandant, Gen. James Conway, who retires this fall, to name the rhetorical fig leaf that emerges from all the comments officials have made about July 2011: the White House could order an inconsequentially small withdrawal of, say, three dozen troops — and claim it had fulfilled Obama’s promise.

“I certainly believe some American unit, somewhere in Afghanistan, will turn over responsibilities to Afghan security forces in 2011,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday. But not Marines in southern Afghanistan, he said, where “it will be a few years” before any withdrawals are possible.

Seeming to call for some forthright talk from the Oval Office, the outgoing commandant added: “I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war, but I would remind [them] that the last of the 30,000 troops only arrived this month. I would also quote the analysis of one of my regimental commanders when asked about the pace of the war. He said, ‘We can either lose fast or win slow.’ ” The upshot of all this hedging and backtracking, together with the steady drumbeat of sobering news from Afghanistan, is that a general understanding is emerging in Washington that July 2011 may come and go without any significant troop reductions, and perhaps without any troop reductions at all.

Conway spent the last week and a half going off without a filter, for which one might rightly be wary of engaging in his claims, but I do think there’s a fair assessment here of where ISAF will actually be in July 2011. In addition, Karzai has stated that the withdrawal deadline has boosted Taliban morale, for whatever that is worth.

In the amusing-and-truthful file, this post by @laurenist on celebrity aid appeals has both edgy humor and pointed assessment. Good for a Friday afternoon read.

At least when it was Sean Penn, I didn’t care. But with Misha, I care. Misha, I want you to succeed! You seem like a smart guy, I figure maybe there’s hope.

Let’s start with the orphanages. They tug at heartstrings, the stories about Haitian orphans were all over the news cycle, I get why there is a natural desire to support and fund orphanages. One of the things Misha says in the Random Acts’ introductory video is he wants to “cut out the middleman” in aid delivery. (That was the sound of a thousand heads hitting their desks in aid agencies across the land.) That means sending funds not to an Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, or even Save the Children, but instead sending funds directly to three orphanages in Haiti.

Long story short: bad idea. Disaster relief, especially after an earthquake like the one that hit Haiti, takes years, not just months. Long-term development projects for rebuilding livelihoods, schools, and public services are essential.

Here’s the gentleman in question, give you his best brooding, smoldering stare:

People, you do not understand how much effort it takes to resist photoshopping Starbuck’s head onto this image. (It would make such a good profile picture, man!)


What are you fighting for? A request for support.

Posted in us military by Karaka on 7 July 2010

I am back from vacation, flush with vitamin D and a lot of excellent Napa valley wine (and Northern California beer!) and while I have a lot to write about I’m running short of time. So until I get this egregiously full inbox wrestled under my control, have something I meant to post before I left, but didn’t have the chance. Here’s Boston Maggie’s request for support for a Kandahar Marine base which cares for injured soldiers:

So, what’s the problem? Well, for one thing, the Marines have none of their own gear. Except for seeing the docs, they are sitting around bored silly. So, my BMCS has rounded up some stuff for them (cumshaw, anyone?); a TV, a DVD player and an X-Box. But he needs more stuff.

It’s a specific list and as much as you might want to embellish, should you decide to help….and I hope you do, stick with the list please.

New twin bed sheets sets.
Inexpensive comforters.
Shower shoes.
X-box games.
and finally……
IPods/Mp3 players. Most of these Marines have their own, but they are back with the rest of their gear, which won’t catch up with them for weeks. I can’t emphasize enough how much these Marines miss those IPods. Do you have an old one in a drawer at work or at home? Send it over!

It seems like there’s been a lot of stuff sent over already, but I have no doubt they could always use more. Head over to the post for contact information and instructions on what to do.

I hope everyone’s Independence Day was as lovely as mine; but nothing speaks louder to the patriotism of the citizens of the United States than caring for those who serve for us. (And you probably have a spare mp3 player, right?)

Putting the “Marine” in Marine Corps

Posted in japan, united states, us military by Karaka on 25 June 2010

It’s taken me months–I keep getting distracted by other books–but I’m finally almost done with Derek Leebaert’s deeply academic book To Dare and To Conquer, a book of ruminations on the influence of special operations in history’s wars. It’s a compelling book, if quite dense, and part of why it’s taken me so long to read it is that I keep stopping to look things up. I guess that’s the best kind of book, right?

I’ve gotten finally to World War II, and read this:

In their 140 years before World War I, the marines had never fought in such size, nor, as in that war, had their brigades been a segment of a large US Army division. Success jeopardized existence; what was their distinct purpose if they were performing US Army functions? Yet if there was now to be a war for the Pacific, if the navy had to break down modern hardened ground defenses, the corps had to be more than just the navy’s landing force, Caribbean policeman, or adjunct to the Army. Even the visionaries of that generation such as HG Wells, the patron-prophet of tankers, never got around to rethinking the role of marines. Had not Nelson said “never fight a fort” after he had lost his arm at Tenerife in 1797, when his landing force was smashed on the beach by the Spanish? Had not the bloody sinkhole of Gallipoli seemed to show that defending soldiers, given the backup of fortifications, could contain and wear away the highest-quality troops throw against them even when supported by a powerful fleet? But with the United States and Japan glarin at each other across the Pacific, and with China’s future apparently at stake, something had to be done.

Soon after the Armistice, while America was still embroiled in Siberia, a brilliant Lieutenant Colonel of Marines, Earl “Pete” Ellis, wrote an astonishing paper for his commandant, Major General John Lejeune, outlining most every move the United States would gear up to make in countering Japan twenty years later. It explained how heavily fortified islands might be stormed by landing craft and envisioned the likely new roles of aircraft carriers, submarines, and torpedo planes. All had to be preceded by trained demolition specialists using wirecutters and explosives to break up obsctacles on the beac–the most advanced of units, said he, which included “skilled water men and skilled jungle men.”

…With Lejeune’s backing, the forty-one-year-old Ellis booked out in May 1921 on an intelligence mission to discover the extent to which the Japanese were fortifying their Pacific Islands…In May 1923, Japanese representatives let it be known to Washington that, to their deepest sorrow, an American who was apparently a US Marine officer had–it could not be imagined how–been found dead a Palau in the forbidden Carolines…Among Marines, Ellis came to be regarded as a human sacrifice, a name and a face on the forty building up against Japan in the long, teeth-clenching years before December 1941.

Wow. Talk about prescience. I don’t know how well it works as an argument for retaining full-scale amphibious warfare capabilities, but it certainly speaks to the benefit of keeping the Marines their own, crazy service branch.

Reconsidering Amphibious Warfare

Posted in us military by Karaka on 24 June 2010

I was very amused by this response in the LA Times from LTC Roger Galbraith on reconsidering amphibious warfare for the Marines:

In this age of sophisticated, cheap anti-ship missiles, I understand why one might question the need to assemble hundreds of ships for an Inchon-style beach assault or thousands of ships for another D-Day. As The Times reported in its June 21 article, “U.S. rethinks a Marine Corps specialty: storming beaches,” assaulting a defended beach is seen as a thing of the past. If that is the only perceived mission for the Marine Corps, then why do we even need a Corps?

Well, if not a Corps, then what do we need?

Our nation — a maritime nation — will always need to be involved with populations and crises across seas. What kind of crises and what kind of crisis response force (CRF, for the purposes of this article) will be required to carry out our nation’s interests?

What will the nation want to do? Americans are a law-abiding, free-trading, caring lot, and we like to exhibit these behaviors in our foreign affairs. We want a CRF that can respond to provide humanitarian assistance within a few days of a tragedy to have the greatest chance of saving life and limb. Because many humanitarian crises are caused by armed conflicts, the CRF will need an ability to provide its own security as well as create an umbrella of security for others in a city or small nation.

How large should this CRF be? It should be large enough to make a difference in a city or small nation. It should be able to create several micro-camps or security points that can be assisted and controlled by one headquarters. The new force should be able to support itself with enough transportation, security and supplies to last for at least a couple weeks before help arrives. The actual type of transportation should be able to make a seaport or airport where there are none, as is often the case after a natural disaster or armed conflict.

What is the best way to get to the crisis? Food, water, generators, weapons, trucks and armored vehicles are heavy. In the commercial world, we can see that air transport and sea transport each have their places. Flowers are transported by airplane, while vehicles are moved on ships. So to take a lesson from the civilian companies that transport heavy items for a living, the best way to transport large amounts of heavy items is to do it by sea.

How many crisis response forces should there be? Our CRFs should be positioned within a few thousand miles of each other to ensure an adequate response time. Placing CRFs at those distances around the globe gives you a necessary number of five to seven CRFs. Then multiplying the number of CRFs times three to give an adequate ratio of at-sea time to training and rest time gives you the structure of the total strength of the new crisis response force needed.

So we have done it. We have created a new crisis response force that economically transports itself over the sea, can provide humanitarian assistance and security, can provide for its own transportation and resupply until more help arrives, and can connect the lowest levels of command in the field with national goals and objectives.

I am reminded of the last time our nation had a crisis response force like this: We called them “Marines.”

Now that’s some snappy comeback. Chesty would be proud.

I got 99 problems, but a General ain’t one.

Posted in afghanistan, japan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 23 June 2010

Okay. Time to turn to more productive and less hand-wringing matters. It’s done, it’s over, the lady has sung and that song is a Rolling Stones cover.

This afternoon, Secretary McHugh released its review of Wanat.

After careful consideration of the additional information, Campbell concluded that the officers were neither negligent nor derelict in the performance of their duties and that their actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, he withdrew the adverse administrative actions.

“In every review and study conducted to date, the courage, valor, and discipline of the soldiers who fought at Wanat have been universally praised. These soldiers were well-trained, well-led, and fought bravely to defeat a determined and intense enemy action to overrun their base in Wanat. They persevered in a fashion that deserves broad recognition of their bravery and tenacity,” said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff. “Our hearts go out to the families of the fallen soldiers.”

You can access the public (redacted) files from the CENTCOM investigation here. This is probably for the best, though I’m refraining from saying anything firm until I’ve had a chance to review the CENTCOM files.

Newly affirmed Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has apologized to the Okinawans who live in close proximity to the US bases on the island, in a smart early political move.

“On behalf of all of our people, I apologise for the burden,” Mr Kan said, but added that it was integral to the “peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region.”

“I promise to seriously try all the more to reduce Okinawa’s burden related to the US bases and eliminate the associated dangers.”

Okinawa currently hosts more than half of the 47,000 US soldiers in Japan. Mr Kan was speaking at the ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, in which some 200,000 soldiers and civilians were killed.

He states he will adhere to the 2006 US-Japan agreement, which is what his predecessor finally acceded too; rebuilding Japan’s relationship with the US was a quick follow. Okinawans will likely not be happy, but they weren’t happy before, and at least PM Kan is being honest about the limits of his influence on this issue.

The NYT’s Lens Photojournalism column features photographs from Restrepo’s Tim Hetherington. Some of them are dramatic; others are a study in contrasts.

How does your Afghanistan work tie into what you just said?

I am interested in visually representing something in as many ways as possible, exploiting as many different forms as possible, to reach as many people as possible.

And how did you do that in Afghanistan?

By working across the spectrum, by first saying, “O.K., I’m going to photograph for Vanity Fair.” And that is a platform that has, say, a two or three million readership. Then those images, because I retain the copyright, are syndicated worldwide. They appear in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Great, that’s another valid audience. The image that won World Press Photo gave another spotlight and went global in a way that could lead people to reach my other work. Then I made “Sleeping Soldiers,” which was a digital projection. It was an art piece, meant for galleries – but that’s still a valid audience.

The whole interview is long and meaty and a respite from the many interviews with Hetherington’s colleague, Sebastian Junger, whose FDL Book Salon with David Axe devolved into a tiresome anti-war kabuki with little to do with the actual book. That seems to be more and more where conversations on “War” are heading, and I agree with Axe that Junger might have been better off calling the book “Combat.”

Finally, CFR has an interview with Stephen Biddle on Afghanistan that got promptly buried by RollingStan.

Will there be pressure on the president, when he looks up from the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, to try to be clearer on this whole policy? We’ve had many officials saying, “That July date doesn’t really mean much, it was just a symbolic statement.”

There are a lot of people that want to pin the administration down on this. The hearings in the Senate the last couple of days have been the latest example. The hearings right after the West Point speech were an earlier example. Lots of people are confused and want more clarity. They want more clarity for widely divergent motivation. Typically, progressive Democrats want it made very clear that there’s going to be a big, fast withdrawal. Conservative Republicans want the perception that there’s going to be a big, fast withdrawal to be explicitly denied by the administration in order to increase the likelihood that we’re going to stay. So lots of people want more clarity. My guess is that they may not get it. We’ll see what happens with this upcoming December review [Obama in the speech also said the Afghan policy would be reviewed in December].

All this, and America and England face off for the next round of the World Cup. Independence Day never looked so much like a footie metaphor.

“…and every once in awhile, they let us out to attack someone.”

Posted in us military by Karaka on 21 June 2010

I’ve been working my way through Flags of Our Fathers for a little while, taking it a chunk of intensely patriotic moto narrative at a time. So I found it interesting that I had recently read this:

The Marines had until then been on the fringes of the American armed forces. Organized as an internal security and marksmen adjunct of the Navy in 1775, the Marine Corps had never played a significant role in American military history. As recently as the spring of 1940, the Marines had numbered only 25,000 enlisted men.

But by then, forward-thinking military strategists had long since perceived the coming importance of Marines in twentieth-century warfare.

It was in the early 1920s that a veteran Marine officer of World War I by the name of Holland M. Smith (nickname: Howlin’ Mad) assembled a team of officers to conceive the Marines’ mission. Smith, a man at once pugnacious, profane, and professorial, proposed that the business of mounting continental land offensive was the historic province of the Army, and should remain so. But the ominous stirrings in the Far East, Smith insisted, suggested that a great many American boys must soon be trained to master a more exacting array of combat skills. These skills would coalesce around the concept of amphibious warfare: troops disembarking from large ships, speeding toward enemy beaches under heavy fire, and charging ahead to enemy-held islands. Smith and his colleagues foresaw that the islands would be in the Pacific; the enemy, Japan (96).

and then caught this headline from the LA Times. U.S. rethinks a Marine Corps specialty–storming beaches:

Marines argue that amphibious operations encompass much more than Iwo Jima-style landings, referring to the U.S. assault on the Japanese island during World War II. In fact, most operations from the sea involve uncontested landings, including humanitarian relief missions and disaster response, including January’s earthquake in Haiti. Others call for evacuations of Americans from war zones, as the Marines did in Lebanon in 2006.

“When visualizing amphibious operations, some people default to Iwo Jima or Inchon, and those are not the operations we are contemplating in the future,” said Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, the Marines’ deputy commandant for combat development.

Still, many officers concede that Gates has a point. The development of defensive technology means the Marines must rethink how they come ashore and avoid fortified beaches or landing zones.

But many Marines believe the ability to conduct amphibious landings is what makes them different. Take away their unique characteristics, and you take away the Marines’ reason for being.

“There is a paranoia, bred into every Marine, that the Marine Corps will be made to look like the Army, and then in lean times something will get cut — the ‘extra’ army,” said Emerson “Emo” Gardner, a retired lieutenant general who served as a close advisor to Gates.

Ahh, existential paranoia–not just limited to Middle Eastern countries that shall remain nameless. I do find it interesting that this critique is actually being undertaken now, in light of the last ten years of Marine warfare. But more than that, I think it speaks to a necessary internal review that the Marine Corps should undertake to revise and refine their mission and capabilities.

After all, Howlin’ Mad’s insight was to prepare twenty years in advance for a warfare model that came to fruition. Should the Marine Corps apply the same principle, it would strive to meet a similar far-off (or arguably more close) situation with different strictures and demands.

I get the argument that amphibious warfare has come to define the Marine Corps and its purpose in a foundational way. But can’t the Marines retain a uniqueness, a capability that stands them apart while reinforcing the idealism of being “America’s pitbull,” in the immortal words of Ray Person, while focusing on future probable engagement tactics?

(Also, Howlin’ Mad is the best nickname ever.)

Monday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, kyrgyzstan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 14 June 2010

If you haven’t yet read it, zen’s interview with Steven Pressfield is a worthy read. It’s also nice to see Mark talk a little about himself, which we don’t see much in his blog! For good reason, of course, but it’s also nice to know the person behind the mind.

Thunder Run has an interview up with Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger on Restrepo.

The film is very balanced and doesn’t lead you, but rather just shows you how it is. Could you describe whether you had any guiding principles about how/what you shot as well as how you edited, how you shaped the film ultimately?

Sebastian: We were not interested in the political dimensions of the war, only the experience of the soldiers, so we limited ourselves to the things soldiers had access to. We did not ask any generals why they were in the Korengal, for example, because soldiers don’t have that opportunity, either. Our guiding principle was that we would only have people in the movie who were fighting in the Korengal. It was that principle that excluded Tim and me from the movie as well… and prevented us from using an outside narrator.

Tim: It was a conscious choice. We are journalists, and as such, we are not supposed to “lead” people to a certain opinion. That is called “advocacy,” and it certainly has its special place in the media world, but as journalists, it’s not something we wanted to engage in.

Also, here’s a counter review on War that speaks very negatively of the book–I called it “delightfully scathing” in the comments to my review at SWJ (hey, give them money, won’t you?), which I still think is true on the re-read. I mean, I think the author of the review, Lewis Manalo, is generally barking up the wrong tree, but he makes some strong points. Points I disagree with, but strong nonetheless.

I’m following Registan’s thorough coverage of the situation in Kyrgyzstan; it remains one of the best english-language sites for updated information. If only I read Cyrillic. The Post this morning picks up the story, noting:

Kyrgyzstan’s own security forces have failed to contain a rising tide of ethnic violence in the south, where more than 100 people have been killed since fighting began Thursday night, according to the country’s health ministry. The officials say the death toll could be considerably higher, as the current count includes only the dead at hospitals and morgues.

Around 75,000 people have now fled fighting into neighboring Uzbekistan, Russia’s official news agency said, citing the Uzbek government.

Kyrgyzstan has contacted Russia, asking for military assistance, but so far Russia has only provided minimal aid. As Christian and Michael at Registan note, what we know is what we don’t know, and conspiracy theories are worming their way outward at a rapid pace.

More pictures of FETs in action (h/t Akinoluna as per usual).

Must read article I haven’t had time to read yet: Dexter Filkin’s portrait of a wavering Karzai.

And–this one is just for you, Chris Albon–the New York Times suddenly discovers there are lucrative minerals in Afghanistan! Which have been a known property for at least thirty years! Shocking. Film at eight.

Sisyphus at Work

Posted in japan, united states, us military by Karaka on 11 June 2010

TNR has a long piece on the transition of power in Japan, which covers a lot of ground between the LDP and the DPJ, and really gets to the heart of the matter, which is Japan’s yearn to grow into a fully developed actor with less dependence on the United States.

The United States has long complained that Japan seems incapable of acting like a serious country; that most of its people live in a never-never land of wishful thinking on security issues while its leadership cannot seem to act decisively—whether that be a matter of dealing with longstanding economic problems or equipping a military establishment with the actual means to deal with the threats Japan faces. But the political setup that produces this irresponsibility is of Washington’s doing—it’s the way a vassal state can be expected to behave. And while President Obama is not answerable for the stunted sovereignty that forms the most enduring legacy of the American occupation in Japan, he can be blamed for the complicity of his administration in blocking efforts to transform Japan into a politically mature democracy.

For the underlying subtext of last week’s events is that the United States may really after all prefer vassals to allies.

But I maintain that the issue remains a fundamentally internal one, whatever pressure and action the United States can apply to Japan’s turnkey administration. Until Japan can reconcile its fragile position in east Asia with its wariness of extensive and deadly weaponization, it cannot–as was shown by Hatoyama’s scuttling–claim the position of independent authority it rightly covets. The United States has as much control over Japan’s defense mechanisms as it ever has in the last six decades, and it will take a significant force of public opinion (still understandably hostile towards weaponization) combined with ruthless pursuit of policy change to truly grasp independence on the world stage.

This is not to discount Japan’s power, mind. Japan is the second-largest economy in the world, a well-placed democracy in its region with undeniable influence. But there are clear limits to that power, and they start right about where Futenma is.

Speaking of Okinawa, the US military has instituted a curfew for troops stationed there as of today, locking the doors on those winsome doves from midnight to five am. It is an obvious–but potentially effective–olive branch towards new Prime Minister Kan’s administration and the people of Okinawa. I will be watching attentively to see how it goes.

Lastly, PM Kan spoke today about Japan’s massive internal debt problems, comparing their future bleakly to Greece’s present. In the Guardian:

“We cannot sustain public finance that overly relies on issuing bonds. As we can see from the eurozone confusion that started in Greece, there is a risk of default if growing public debt is neglected and trust lost in the bond market.”

Japan’s public debt stood at 218% of gross domestic product last year, according to the International Monetary Fund – the highest in the industrialised world.

Kan said the debt problem could not be dealt with overnight. “That is why we need to have a drastic reform from now in order to obtain fiscal health.”

Now, the Japan and Greece aren’t quite apples-to-apples comparable–the sources of each country’s debt is quite different. But fiscal austerity measures may actually go down more easily in Japan than they have in Greece or Spain, owing to Kan’s fiscal knowledge and current approval ratings (near 70%). Consumer taxes, however, tend to roil public support, and that’s a potential mechanism that could be proposed. For a consumer-goods driven culture, taxes on goods are hateful. But they could prove necessary.

If Kan chooses to make fiduciary responsibility a cornerstone of his work in the next couple of months–as opposed to divisive and generally unsolvable issues such as Futenma and other culture rifts–he has a good chance of surviving. And to tell the truth, I really hope he does.

Semper Fierce

Posted in us military by Karaka on 9 June 2010

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.

Finding a Way

Posted in afghanistan, us military by Karaka on 8 June 2010

You know I dig the Female Engangement Teams. I think it’s a long overdue program that connects with half a population otherwise hidden away. Elisabeth Bumiller, who has covered FETs before, profiles two Marines emplacing the program currently in Afghanistan:

Two young female Marines trudged along with an infantry patrol in the 102-degree heat, soaked through their camouflage uniforms under 60 pounds of gear. But only when they reached this speck of a village in the Taliban heartland on a recent afternoon did their hard work begin.

For two hours inside a mud-walled compound, the Marines, Cpl. Diana Amaya, 23, and Cpl. Lisa Gardner, 28, set aside their rifles and body armor and tried to connect with four nervous Afghan women wearing veils. Over multiple cups of tea, the Americans made small talk through a military interpreter or in their own beginner’s Pashtu. Then they encouraged the Afghans, who by now had shyly uncovered their faces, to sew handicrafts that could be sold at a local bazaar.

“We just need a couple of strong women,” Corporal Amaya said, in hopes of enlisting them to bring a measure of local commerce to the perilous world outside their door.

The first link describes the goal of FETs as one to “build a rapport,” and it sounds like that’s exactly what Amaya and Gardner are doing. From further on:

Since then, Sergeant Latimer said, Afghans have been more receptive when his patrols included the female Marines, who hand out stuffed animals to village children. When male Marines try that, he said, “It’s just a bunch of guys with rockets and machine guns trying to hand out a bear to a kid, and he starts to cry.”

But what do all the visits and talk add up to? Master Sgt. Julia Watson, who helped create an earlier version of the female engagement teams in Iraq and has been working in Helmand, said that the women had to move beyond handing out teddy bears and medicine and use what they learn from Afghan women to develop plans for income-generating projects, schools and clinics. “You have to have an end state,” she said.

And that end-state must be one of economics. Women in third-world nation-states are the untapped resource.

Research has shown that women are more likely to reinvest profits back into human capital than are men. When women have economic power – defined as control of income and capital (land, livestock, etc.)-they gain more equality and control over their own lives, while contributing directly to their children’s development (nutrition, health and education) and thereby indirectly to their nation’s income growth.

Pulled from here. By blocking access to economic systems, to retain power or to continue cultural traditions or to adhere to religious doctrine, a nation effectively retards its own economic growth.

In a fit of disheartening irony, Bumiller reports as well on the (male) marine’s reluctance to take FETs out into the field.

The women, who carry the same weapons and receive the same combat training as the men, cannot leave the bases unless the men escort them. Lt. Natalie Kronschnabel, one of the team leaders, said she had to push a Marine captain to let her team go on a five-hour patrol.

“It wasn’t that hard, it was only four or five clicks,” said Lieutenant Kronschnabel, 26, using slang for kilometers. “And they kept asking, ‘Are you doing O.K.? Are you breathing hard?’ ”

Like the other women, Lieutenant Kronschnabel, a high school athlete in soccer, softball and gymnastics, had to meet rigorous physical requirements in the Marines. When she got back that day, she said the captain told her, “ ‘O.K., we’ll start getting your girls scheduled for more patrols.’ ”

Despite those hurdles, soldiers are still going through the FET program–including soldiers from NATO allies. Via Helmand Blog:

Two British female soldiers in Helmand have completed the United States Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Team Course in Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.

Army administrator, Lance Corporal Jennifer Garraway (22), from Peasedown St John in Somerset and Army medic, Lance Corporal Nicola Murray (27), from Stretford, Manchester, both serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland in Helmand Province, have become the first British soldiers to have attended the 9-day Female Engagement Team (FET) Course which was held at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) base, Camp Leatherneck near Camp Bastion.

…Both soldiers will now form a FET within a newly formed infantry rifle company from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, in a ground holding role in Combined Force Nad-e Ali in Helmand over the next four months.

Here’s to another month of growth for the program, and continued outreach to women in Afghanistan.

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