Tag Archives: Military

Kvick Tänkare

Harper’s has a really interesting interview with an author of a new book on neoconservatism.  I usually wouldn’t consider a book like this, expecting a typical MSNBC screed but it does appear to have some promise.  Unfortunately, the term ‘neo-con’ has sort of become a catch phrase and I don’t think people understand the deeper philosophical tenets that underpin it.  The interview does a pretty nice job of hitting some high points.

War–perpetual war–is the ultimate means by which the neocons can fight creeping nihilism and promote sacrifice and nationalistic patriotism. An aggressive, proactive foreign policy therefore serves a greater purpose–to raise ordinary Americans above their daily, selfish concerns.

Shirky’s perspective on the Wikileaks issue is worth reading:

If the long haul were all there was, Wikileaks would be an obviously bad thing. The practical history of politics, however, suggests that the periodic appearance of such unconstrained actors in the short haul is essential to increased democratization, not just of politics but of thought.

We celebrate the printers of 16th century Amsterdam for making it impossible for the Catholic Church to constrain the output of the printing press to Church-approved books a challenge that helped usher in, among other things, the decentralization of scientific inquiry and the spread of politically seditious writings advocating democracy.

I find the comparison to attempts by the Church to restrict information interesting (and don’t forget that religion was a much more serious affair for people than it is now.  You could get tortured and burned at the stake for trying to translate it into English.)

I’m glad to see ‘Get your War On’ is back and J. uses it to highlight the fact that a recent poll identified that 92% of men in Helmand or Kandahar don’t know that 9/11 is the reason for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.  I can’t speak to that.  I would say that in the area around Bagram in 2003/2004 those numbers would have been much, much lower.  Of course we had a lot more Tajiks in the area who had affiliations with or membership in the Northern Alliance and so 9/11 was a bit of a godsend to them since it meant American help was coming.

Tom Ricks posted an article by a Marine who’s pretty upset, doesn’t buy the idea that we’re really an all-volunteer force, thinks we’re dangerously setting up the military as a supra-elite portion of our society and would like to see a return of national service.  It’s a raw, emotional argument that I agree with in principle but not in degree.  I really recommend it for its comment section which is quite robust and, in my opinion, contains a better discussion than the original post.


I’m soooo glad I’m not in the Saudi army

h/t Foreign Policy

If Rambo decided to do a community theater version of a Midsummer’s Night Dream it might look like this.  If you’re going to wear a…uniform (I hesitate to give that outfit the dignity of that name) like that you really better be able to work it.  I mean, you better either be so totally badass that your withering glare convinces everyone that even thinking about snickering at you in all your leafy glory would be a life threatening activity or you should be so over the top with your flamboyancy that everyone thinks you’re an out of work art student making some really deep social commentary.

A military themed post…

I’m on military duty for the opening part of this week and so it’s appropriate to talk about such matters here.

First (admittedly petty):  I just qualified with my rifle yesterday and I STILL have an M-16A4.  It shoots just fine but given that the weapon is essentially the same one I had when I was in basic training (back in 1986) I feel like I’m carrying around a musket.  I had really hoped to have my own E-11 blaster rifle by now.

Oh…and I think I have some cordite lodged in my sinuses since I keep getting whiffs of gunpowder.

We also did our PT test this weekend.  I had to use traditional running shoes instead of my Vibram Five Fingers but it’s hard to tell if there was a performance difference or not.  I will say that I could tell a big difference in my posture when running.  I felt like a running question mark.

Pretty interesting analysis of a recent interview with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on German TV posted in Foreign Policy.

…it became very obvious that Hekmatyar tried to walk on a political tight-rope. He apparently felt that he had to positively address different audiences. To the West, he projected himself as someone who might be willing to talk peace under certain circumstances although his Palestine remark might not earn him much credibility. To the Taliban who recently criticized him and fought his fighters, he presented himself as a good co-Mujahid with Islamic principles who is not soft at all vis-a-vis the “occupying forces” and Karzai.

It’s hard to figure out what’s going on in Afghanistan right now.  It seems every day you see one report saying we’re making progress and right on its heels is another saying that the first report was overblown.  The NYTimes captures the confusion in this story.  More important than the day to day, however, is that all this may be a campaign to change the narrative here (and maybe in the West more generally).

“It is certainly true that Petraeus is attempting to shape public opinion ahead of the December review,” said an administration official who is supportive of the general.

“He is the most skilled public relations official in the business, and he’s trying to narrow the president’s options.”

But national security officials across Washington are already saying that the December review will only tweak the policy, not change the strategy, and that the real assessment will come in July 2011, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops.

So this may be an attempt to lay the groundwork for a case to delay (or minimize) the 2011 draw down of forces, and walk back the 2014  official mission handover.

Kvick Tänkare – Military edition

I’ve never been fond of the current trend of referring to American soldiers as ‘warriors’.  The terms aren’t synonymous and each has implications about the values they hold, who they answer to and their professionalism.  Kings of War does a much better job of putting those with a warrior fetish in their place.

Cracked has a list of five international incidents (a couple of which led to armed conflict which is why it’s included here) which were started because of an animal.  My favorite was the ‘War of the Stray Dog‘ which led to a dust up between Greece and Bulgaria.

Greek soldiers were sent out to occupy the nearby town of Petrich, where they clashed with Bulgarian soldiers and left 50 men dead. All-out war seemed inevitable, until the League of Nations surprised everyone by doing their goddamn job and stopping the war.
Greece was ordered to withdraw from Bulgaria and pay a fine of 45,000 of whatever they used for dollars back then. History doesn’t record what happened to the dog, so we’re going to speculate that it traveled to the United States and somehow caused the Great Depression.

A big ‘screw you’ all around to those who refused to repeal DADT. John McCain seems intent on putting as many nails into the coffin that holds the last shred of his integrity that he can (Stay classy, John!  Why don’t you kick a dog while you’re at it!).  Ye gods, it’s 2010, the argument that gay soldiers can’t fight or will go on wild sexual binges in war zones has been irrevocably shredded and the only thing left is simply bigotry and still the damned thing can’t get killed.

We’re 9 years into our Age of War and it’s has been entirely possible for the majority of American citizens to have not seen one casualty (let alone an American casualty) during that time because of media considerations for our delicate, sensitive nature.  I think that’s ridiculous.  If you’re going to send people off to war, you owe it to them to at least be able to look at what they have to go through.  You don’t honor them or their memories by pretending it doesn’t exist and the your buddy just lost his arm accidentally.  PBS has a clip of a group of soldiers in an ambush in which a couple get wounded.  Since such footage might dampen the right’s campaign of continual war (hey, let’s pretend only bad guys get hurt!) there is, of course, outrage from that corner.  I however, think it does those soldiers a great service.  They act professionally, respond to the attack, take care of their wounded and continue with their mission.  What the hell is there to object to?

Boingboing links to a podcast about the cargo cult in Vanuatu Islands.

The War of Transnistria

EnglishRussia has some photos from the War of Transnistria from back in 1992.  From Wikipedia:

The War of Transnistria involved armed clashes on a limited scale that broke out between Transnistrian Republican Guard, militia and Cossack units, supported by the Russian 14th army, and Moldovan troops and police forces as early as November 1990 at Dubăsari (Russian: Дубоссáры, Dubossary). Fighting intensified on 1 March 1992, with the accession of newly independent Moldova into the UN and alternated by ad hoc ceasefires, lasted throughout spring and early summer 1992 until a ceasefire was declared on 21 July 1992, which has held ever since.

How old is this kid?  12?

And, I’m not sure how good this thing would be in a fight.  It might do fine in a zombie apocalypse though…

Check it out, there’s lots more to see.

COIN Training

I’m simply been swamped recently and and working through a backlog of stuff I need/want to write about.  A week or so ago I wrote about some training I did for some soldiers in an S2 section that centered around COIN doctrine.  The scenarios were inspired by some tactical decision games put together by the fine people who used to run D-N-I net.  We also got to run through some guys from an MP platoon.  I have a soft spot for MPs.  The 805th MP Company was in Afghanistan when I was and they were super to me whenever I needed a security element to go on one of my expeditions.  I suspect they were just bored from driving back and forth to Kabul every day but still, they did North Carolina proud.

The scenarios revolved around a fictional unit arriving in an Afghan province that had not previously seen coalition soldiers.  There was minimal information about the area and so one of the primary missions of the unit was to develop an understanding of the operating environment.  The soldiers were part of one of the initial presence patrols through a local village.

When briefing the intel personnel I asked them to keep a few things in mind:

  • While it’d be pretty rare for an S2 section to be conducting a presence patrol, they should be more attuned to identifying information of intelligence value.  Seeing the sorts of things a combat arms patrol sees should help refine procedures for conducting mission debriefs and developing collection requirements.
  • An understanding of all the things an infantry squad (for example) has to do in addition to intelligence gathering should help intel personnel refine and prioritize collection requirements.
  • The value in getting out of the wire themselves and seeing the environment they’ll be expected to assess.

I think they generally discovered how difficult it is to pick out potentially valuable information.  Our scenarios were in small, contained simulated village ‘lanes’ (probably 80 feet by 20 feet).  While we did have approximately 7 role players in each lane (between 50% and 100% of whom were bystanders or had casual contact with the patrol) there was minimal environmental distractions (like street noise, heat, etc) and they were allowed to take their time.

Some interesting observations:

  • Units might want to prep their soldiers for how to react in a populated environment.  I sort of learned by doing but that’s not really a good method.  I saw soldiers go through the lanes acting like they were strolling down their neighborhood main street and others ready to shoot everyone that moved.  Spending a bit of time talking about how you expect soldiers to interact with the population could yield some major benefits.
  • Communication skills need to be improved.  If there’s one thing every soldier should be able to do in their sleep, it’s a SALUTE report.  I was shocked at how few soldiers seemed to use it.  Some training on how it might be used in a non-conventional situation might be helpful.  I was further shocked to hear terrible radio procedures.  No use of the phonetic alphabet, even when soldiers knew how difficult communications were from previous iterations.  Lesson learned:  Get soldiers on the radio…a lot!
  • I was also surprised in that they often wanted more complication in their training, not less.  I’m not sure that’s always best but it is very nice to see people chomping at the bit for a challenge.
  • While we had observer/controllers there to guide teams through the lanes, there was huge value in having a leader from the unit tag along to observe how their soldiers did.  In our training the leaders were able to identify training needs that they could immediately plug into their training schedule.
  • We were lucky enough to get some ‘civilian’ actors  (i.e. some of the kids of our soldier/roleplayers).  They did a phenomenal job and added a bit of complexity to the scenarios.  Even though it was a training environment, having a 9 year old kid ‘wounded’ by a fake IED caused a lot of confusion.  During one scenario I played a father to a wounded child and dragged a soldier away from his team, begging for first aid.  It was amazing watching the thought process work over this guy’s face as he’d take a step with me, stop and think, and take another step trying to figure out what he was supposed to do.  Huge training opportunities there.
  • Film the training.  We had a videographer there as well as one of the visiting NCOs coincidentally having a video camera on hand.  This will allow for a little Monday morning quarterbacking and let units talk through what happened and what should have happened.
  • This sort of training can’t be rushed.  It’s not well suited to situations where an hour or two pop up in the training schedule.  Ideally, you’ll have 60 or 90 days lead time where an OPORD can be issued, some training can be done at home station, ROE can be discussed, etc.  The lanes can, in fact, be a capstone exercise.

My favorite scenario was the final one where we had a small group of armed men pulling a civilian out of a house, heaping abuse on him and possibly getting ready to execute him.  The backstory was that the armed men were part of the local militia (nominal allies) who were taking revenge for a tribal dispute.  The events clearly would have allowed soldiers to engage with deadly force given their ROE (with appropriate escalation measures) but no one did.  Some groups did a very good job of separating the parties and establishing order (one group did just stand by until the gunmen, not sure how long to go on abusing their ‘prisoner’ just executed him) but no one was quite sure what to do after that.  Really great opportunities to talk about commander’s intent and how that translates to actual actions in the field.

I’ve been working on this training for more than a year now and this was a great proof on concept.  Response from soldiers was very positive (with a couple saying it was the best in they’ve had with was both flattering and a bit scary).  The ball is now in the court of some of these units to see if they want to see more training like this.  There’s a good framework in place and the system is set up to accommodate all sorts of new scenarios (hopefully based on actual events in the future).  More updates as they’re warranted….

Who said there’s no romance in foxholes….

via XKCD

Professional army birthing pains in Sweden

The Swedish military has just (as of July 1st) converted from a conscript to all-volunteer force.  The planning and implementation seemed rather quick and there seem to be some kinks that need to be worked out.

Case in point:  overseas deployments.  In the old system, deployments were voluntary but in the new system, the government wants to make all service people liable for duty overseas.  Seems reasonable, right?  After all, everyone will have volunteered to be in the Swedish military and Sweden has a long standing commitment to international deployments.  So this sort of thing shouldn’t really come as a shock.

But, the four (FOUR?!) unions that represent military personnel object to the new rule, according to the Local.  Soldiers that refuse to serve under those conditions risk being fired.

In other Swedish military news the Defense minister has proposed a new organizational structure.  The assumptions which underlie the policy include:

A concerted, direct military attack on Sweden remains unlikely in the foreseeable future. However, crises or incidents in our region involving the use of military force cannot be ruled out. Nor, in the longer run, can the threat of a military attack. Meeting these challenges requires relevant, up-to-date crisis and contingency planning, particularly with respect to strategically important areas and vital public services.

A military conflict in our immediate region in which one country alone is affected is virtually inconceivable. Sweden will not take a passive stance should another EU member state or Nordic country suffer a disaster or come under attack. We expect these countries to act in the same way if Sweden is similarly affected. Sweden should thus both extend and receive military support.

Sweden’s increased commitment to peace-support operations under UN and Nato command should continue. Continued participation in training activities and exercises under EU and Nato command, or as part of other bi- and multilateral operations, are important to the development of our operational capability.

Worthwhile points to note:

  • The present distinction between a national operational organisation and a special task force for foreign missions should be ended.
  • Although sustainability must remain a feature of Sweden’s defence, accessibility must take priority. Our defence forces need units which are immediately available to safegu
  • Mission specific, predefined battalion combat groups will make up the Army’s main operational units.  A battalion combat group is assembled around a tactical operations battalion equipped with reinforcement resources from usable units such as tank, air defence, engineer, logistical and intelligence units.
  • An increase from three available manoeuvre battalions today, to eight tomorrow. This means more than twice as much availability.
  • Twice as much capability for peace-support operations. It will be possible to keep 1 700 people in continuous engagement in international operations.

Clearly, the Swedes are going to try to continue to be major players in UN/EU sponsored operations.  It may be a very good time for them to make this move and try to gain more influence than a nation their size would normally be expected to have.  It’s likely that the U.S. and U.K. will be less inclined to get involved in international missions after getting their fill in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Sweden might be well positioned to fill any gap created by isolationist leaning policies by nations with larger militaries.

I also find it interesting that the only conflict they mention by name is the 2008 Georgian war.  I suspect that conflict had an impact in the region that doesn’t really resonate with most here in the U.S.

Today’s threats against Sweden cannot be dealt with by yesterday’s defence. The war in Georgia, for example, shows that developments can occur rapidly. This war went on for five days and was determined in two. Not many Russian soldiers were deployed to the area, but they came very quickly.

And now, time for some gratuitous Gripen footage:

    Robot uprising Wednesday!

    Oh…this won’t turn out good.  The Brits have announced that they’re developing a pilotless fighter plane.  That’s not particularly shocking but look at the picture of the thing:

    Ok, I’m not a huge Battlestar Galactica fan, but this thing looks a little too much like a cylon for me.  The thing has a giant red eye for chrissakes!  Don’t the engineers know that robotic creatures with red eyes are always evil?  Didn’t these guys learn from Cyberdyne Systems?  Oh, wait.  I guess they couldn’t have learned from them since the robot uprising hasn’t happened yet.

    Here’s the boilerplate ‘don’t worry…nothing can go wrong statement’.

    The MoD also stressed that all weaponised UAVs were under human control.

    “Should such systems enter into service, they will at all times be under the control of highly trained military crews on the ground,” it said in a statement.

    Yeah, until the computer system acquires self awareness, disengages the self-destruct system and nukes the nearest megalopolis.

    Law Enforcement / Counterinsurgency Intelligence Mashup Part 3

    So, last time I made the point that military intelligence could probably realize some gains by looking to law enforcement for ideas of how to improve their intelligence capabilities in COIN environments.  Specifically, I think improvements in the collation and dissemination parts of the intelligence cycle could be ways in which the military could better imitate the ways in which a local law enforcement agency develops a deep understanding of its operating environment.

    Now the way things generally occur now (at least as it went back in 2003 and I assume it hasn’t changed that much since) is that when a unit is ordered to deploy (let’s say to Afghanistan), they should be given some contact information for the unit they’ll be replacing.  This allows the two commands to talk and begin to exchange information.  Perhaps a small group will be allowed to act as an ‘advance party’ and go to Afghanistan early to smooth the way for the incoming unit and pick up more information.  Finally, when a unit arrives in theater they should operate in tandem with the unit they’re replacing (called ‘left seat/right seat’)  to get a handle on the routine of things.

    That’s about the extent of how institutional knowledge transfers from one deployment to another.  It’s important to know that as a unit is transferring into theater the staff is concerned about a whole host of issues and, I suspect, intelligence isn’t always at the top of the list.  Even if it is, however, this system isn’t really geared for transmitting knowledge in any sort of comprehensive or systematic way.  Rather, you’re most likely to get is a pretty good overview of what’s hot and current and issues that aren’t the current focus of attention of the staff will be minimized.

    Further, it means that your historical perspective will be limited.  You might get a decent understanding of what’s happened during the tour of your immediate predecessor, maybe (but I doubt it) something from the operation before that and not much other than perhaps some legends and myths from earlier tours.  This is one reason why some have said that Afghanistan isn’t a nine year war but rather 9 one year wars.  But in population centric operations you HAVE to have that historical context or you’re going to keep fighting your war one year at time…over and over again.

    War story:  Shortly after we arrived in Afghanistan and the unit we replaced had left a local commander had come and asked for something (I don’t remember what know but it was for some special consideration – unfettered access to the base, a development project, a competition free contract, something).  When we balked the commander said that our predecessor had always afforded that courtesy and reluctance to continue would jeopardize our relationship and future cooperation.

    Was there such an arrangement?  Who knows?  With all of the ‘important’ issues that the hand over was concerned with information about local commanders was limited to one or two meetings and some briefings but let’s face it.  There’s simply no way you’re going get a meaningful, detailed summery of a one year relationship with a local official who comes from a different cultural background, has a different language in an unfamiliar environment on issues that no one has much training with in a few PowerPoint briefings.  Now, magnify the difficulty of doing that by realizing that you don’t have the luxury of only having to worry abut one person but rather you’ve got to get that level of familiarity with several (many?) different actors and not only have to understand how you interact with them but also how your actions might impact the relations between them and if that will help or hinder your overall mission.

    What’s needed is a way to capture that information as it’s collected, absorbed and analyzed and made accessible to future units.

    Currently, the military has products and processes to collect and report information in a systematic way but it remains based on a system that’s more suited to a fast paced conventional war rather than a long term one.  Information is produced and sent up or down the chain but the important questions now should be how is stored, collated with other information products and retrieved?  We want to avoid a situation where every unit that occupies district X asks the same questions because it’s easier than digging through tons of old reports to find the answer.

    Of course, that’s not the only obstacle.  Our system of classification can create problems as well.  My understanding is that sharing information with coalition partners has gotten better than during my time there but I suspect there still remain difficulties in sharing information due to classification, or even language barriers.   The fetish of classified information, I suspect, continues as does the reluctance to embrace outside information (that is, information developed outside the military collection system).

    In my last post I said I thought the recommendations to improve intelligence thus far collation and dissemination.  Collation is defined as “the assembly of written information into a standard order”.  The information isn’t just ordered but it’s formatted in a way that it can be used by customers.  You might have all of Shakespeare’s works summarized in note cards but if I want to do a text search or some sort of analysis on theme I’m going to have problems.  I’d need you to digitize those cards in such a way that my text analysis program could read them.  Then, it’s collated.

    And here’s where I think Gen. Flynn doesn’t take the bull by the horns.  He advocates better collection and analysis but his solution then is to produce the same old hard copy reports and tell commanders that they’re just going to have to find the time to read and digest lengthy written documents.  I’m just not sure that’s the most practical or efficient thing to do with intelligence products because it’s not just the commanders that are going to need this information.  If we’re going to buy into the idea of the ‘strategic corporal’ then we need to accept that everyone up and down the chain is going to need more information.  The sergeant may not need as much (maybe, however, it’s a matter of focus rather than volume) information as a general but he’s still going to need more information than his counterpart of 20 or 30 years ago was expected to need.  Apart from that, do we really expect commanders (and their staffs) to cram time in to regularly read lengthy analysis?  Do they have that much extra time?

    But let’s say they do.  As a new unit is rotating in to the command, what are they to do?  Go through every previous report?  Even if you could present the reports as some sort of coherent whole (through editing the old reports into some sort of ‘super summary’) that’s hardly a long term solution since such work would require a great deal of time and effort and have to be repeated for every new incoming unit.

    Nope.  Altering the way we do collection and analysis may produce better products but alone they aren’t going to solve the deeper problems forces have in understanding the operating environment and passing along that knowledge in a way that minimizes disruptions when new units come into the area.

    Next time:  Part 4