Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wanat Revised


The WaPo reports today on the Army's revision of the battle of Wanat (Army edits its history of the deadly battle of Wanat). Top officers were absolved of responsibility, foisting the failure off onto the Platoon level.

Gen. Campbell "concluded that the deaths were not the direct result of the officer's mistakes," but if not that, what did cause the deaths? Mistakes = death in combat.

The Army doctrinal formula is, "officers are responsible for everything that is done of fails to be done."

"The Army's final history of the Wanat battle largely echoes Campbell's conclusions, citing the role of 'uncertainty [as] a factor inseparable from any military operation.'

"In its conclusions, the study maintains that U.S. commanders had a weak grasp of the area's complicated politics, causing them to underestimate the hostility to a U.S. presence in Wanat."

Understanding the political situation is not relevant; an Army plans for worst-case scenarios, and soldiers are not politicians. Uncertainty is not the same as poor mission planning. Uncertainties should be addressed in the assumptions section before the Operations Order is finalized.

Poor planning caused these deaths and the failure rests at Battalion and Brigade which were derelict in this action, not at Company or Platoon level. The Commanders may have misunderstood the hostility of the locals, implying Battalion and Brigade leaders were doing best-case estimates rather than worst-case, the more appropriate combat stance.

Did the Chain of Command lack Predator feeds and satellite photos of the position for use by higher headquarters? If the assets needed to fulfill this mission were not allocated, this cannot be the result of a Platoon leader's failure. Asset allocation is a Battalion Commander function.

The responsibility for placement of the Observation Post (OP) should not be placed upon a Lieutenant. This is why the Army has Company Commanders and higher. The fight is fixed in time and space and the facts are constant. What changes are institutional efforts to justify derelict Battalion, Brigade and Company command actions.

Wanat is important because it is a microcosm of the corrupt macrocosm, which is a corrupt phony war.

Winter Twilight, 2010

Niedersachsen in Winter

As 2010 wanes we consider the events and what they mean, what they could indicate for the future. Twenty-eleven is going to be an eventful year in that in all the mass assumptions that have survived up until now probably will have little currency a year from now. Things seem to be moving that quickly.

My recent trip to Germany provided a different perspective and fueled by what I've been doing on and off MilPub over the last year . . . boosted of course by the great input this, our blog provides . . .

So I have someone I would like to introduce:

Hermann Rauschning. A conservative, actually a monarchist German politician, who joined the Nazi Party in 1932, but resigned his office as President of the Free City of Danzig Senate in 1934. Campaigned against the Nazis in 1935 and left under threat of violence for the US in 1936. Had served as a German Army officer in World War I and was wounded in action. Rauschning is also credited with a masterpiece of anti-Nazi propaganda, Hitler Speaks, which was published 1940 in the US and portrayed Hitler as a sleazy, somewhat insane, cynical opportunist in his personal policy dealings, Rauschning claiming that he had had countless personal conversations with the Nazi Leader while in the Danzig Senate. Rauschning isn't dealt with by historians today mostly because of that, since he was a propagandist.

But he was also a political theorist of fascism since he had been part of the movement for awhile and saw clearly its actual nature (having initially mistaken it for something else), so it's this "second Rauschning" I'm talking about, rather the author of an earlier anti-Nazi book, The Revolution of Nihilism: Warning to the West of 1938, that comes across today has both prophetic for his times and a strange warning - in that important similarities exist between his time in Germany and our time in the US - imo.

In The Revolution of Nihilism, Rauschning goes back to the collapse of 1918, the in-built fatal flaws of the Weimar Republic, the absolute failure of the Conservatives to do their basic duty (safeguard the Nation and people) and explains in detail the "deal of 1933" which brought the Nazis to power. His description of Hindenburg is also quite interesting. What Rauschning describes is a systemic failure of all the various institutions to deal with both the dissolving political situation brought on by the economic collapse (which in turn to a large extent was due to over reliance on foreign credit) and the revolutionary nihilism of the Nazis. Too many failed to take the Nazis seriously and after 1933 too many thought that their radicalism would be tamed and they would simply become the instrument for the return of the conservatives. The German Army of course misjudged the situation badly, and what Rauschning describes after 1934 is the relentless politicalization of the military. In the end it was no longer the heir of the old German Army, but Hitler's Army.

In Rauschning's view there were many turning points along the way, when the opposition (and there was potentially a serious one) could have stepped in and turned the tables on Hitler. What was really lacking was simply the "will" to do so - too many saw their economic/professional interests as being possibly at stake and it was easier to simply "go along" or "wait and see what happens". This of course refers exclusively to the German elites since the people were hopelessly confused and disoriented by the chaos of late Weimar and the dizzying pace of Hitler's decrees after 30 January 1933. Fear was a part of the air people breathed, violence a constant political weapon, systematic lawlessness by the new authority difficult to comprehend, while at the same time the old values and virtues were trumpeted, they were simultaneously undermined and destroyed. This since the Nazis understood that to implement their radical worldview would require the destruction of the old, conservative view, that of those who had made the opportunistic deal with them in 1933! While Hitler's successes were of course assisted by the fecklessness of the Western allies during 1933-38, the main reason for his success from the German domestic perspective was the collapse of German conservativism, according to Rauschning, which should have recognized the moral threat the Nazis manifested. In essence they should have seen the swindle and the "movement" for what it was . . .

For the very reason that we acknowledge the eternal values of the nation and of a political order rooted in the nation, we are bound to turn against this revolution, whose subversive course involves the utter destruction of all traditional spiritual standards, utter nihilism. These values are the product of the intellectual and historical unity of Western civilization, of historic intellectual and moral forces. Without these, Nationalism is not a conservative principle, but the implement of a destructive revolution; and similarly Socialism ceases to be a regulative idea of justice and equity when it sheds the Western principles of legality and the liberty of the person.
Today in Germany any criticism, even from the noblest and most genuine of patriots, is accounted one of the worst of crimes, and placed in the same category as high treason . . . xii-xiii

The basic problem in 1933 was the rejection by the ruling elites of dealing truthfully with the people, instead they lied to them constantly, painting rosy pictures of potential success, when ahead was only failure. The actual goal of the conservatives and the Nazis as well was power, but the conservatives misunderstood the nature of the tiger they were riding. Rauschning laments that this misunderstanding was the same as what had happened in 1918, when Ludendorff and the German High Command demanded "fixed resolve and unquestioning faith" in final victory, while viewing the people with a "contemptuous belittlement of the moral forces of the nation". In 1918, as in 1933, the conservative elites were mostly to blame for what followed:

But the nation that reveals this weakness of excessive capacity for illusion has a greater need than any other of criticism and plain speaking. "We have been lied to and duped" - such was the despairing exclamation, twenty years ago [1918], of no demagogue but the last leader of the old Conservative Party, von Heydebrand, when the truth about the terrible situation burst through the clouds of pseudo-patriotic propaganda. It seems our destiny to have to repeat the same mistakes with a berserker's infatuation. xiii

So, let's see, what we've got: collapse of conservatism as a political philosophy, systemic institutional failures, economic collapse linked with an irresponsible demand of foreign credit, the political focus on gaining and retaining power regardless of the means or damage, total contempt for truth and honesty in public communications, politicalization of the military, radicalism wearing the mask of conservatism, growing government lawlessness and suppression, confusion among the people exacerbated by relentless irrational propaganda (ie constant repetition of symbols, emphasis on fear), fostered unquestioning belief in future "success" by simply "going along", lack of a focused opposition and many missed turning points along the way, a political movement which is essentially a rejection of the Enlightenment/classic Western values . . . see anything familiar?

Of course history does not repeat itself, and I am not saying that the USA today is a repeat of Nazi Germany, but rather the situation that Rauschning describes in 1933-38 (remember the book was written before World War II had begun) does imo indicate certain similarities of a political resemblance. This should not be surprising since the most dynamic political philosophy in US politics today - Neoconservativism (actually the only political philosophy of note) - seems to follow a certain familiar pattern, but that's not surprising given Leo Strauss's private view . . .

In many ways the distinctions are more interesting than the similarities, but I'll comment on those in the postscript since I'm interested in any comments which will thus ultimately influence my conclusions, so this is hopefully an attempt at achieving a dialectic, a real dialogue.

There is one last point of many I could make. The predictions that Rauschning makes in regards to the coming war are many and most historically accurate: he uses the term "holocaust" at least twice although in a broader sense, predicts the quick collapse of France, the ultimate attack on the USSR, a policy of "depopulation" in regards to the Jews and Eastern Europe in general, that America will be drawn in, that Japan, Italy and Germany will be on the same side, etc. The point, however I would like to make concerns the actual political goal that the Nazis hoped to achieve. Here he relies on the thought of Karl Haushofer regarding geopolitics. Karl Haushofer is largely forgotten today, but in Edward Earle's The Makers of Modern Strategy of 1943, Haushofer rated his own chapter. Reading Haushofer today with his emphasis on strategic minerals, "heartlands", "renovating and resisting powers", and the need for a new "imperialism" one is struck by this obvious influence on what passes for US strategic thought today, yet none speak his name, obviously since no one with a few exceptions dare admit what US "grand strategy" actually is.

Rauschning provides an idea as to what the actual Nazi goal was and how Germany was not the aim, but the instrument for the achievement of that goal . . . sound familiar?

Germany's Role as a World Power

New rulership, would influence, world transformation, world hegemony - this is the direction of the principles of German foreign policy thus far considered. But they do not aim at a Greater Germany, they are not content with the place of Germany as an element of order in Central Europe; they are no by any means confined to "overland" conceptions, as Haushofer calls them. The "faith in a role of leadership in world policy" inspires the German activities. The "mystical faith in a world mission which at times of slowly crippling pressure throws itself into an unheard of inner strengthening and steeling, in order to be ready at the given moment for the highest achievement," is Haushofer's description of the actual nerve of the new German political purpose. "For we have not much more time to allow the energy of movement of the worlds Powers and the speed with which they are marching toward their immediate and remote objectives, and their thrust, already begun, though the old Great Power groups . . . to pass by, without being clear in our minds that in this approaching settlement the destiny of our people and Reich will be determined for centuries, perhaps for ever". The German situation leaves the nation no political choice. Dynamic movement is necessarily more important for us in world politics than a static condition, a condition of holding on. . .

The lesson the National Socialists draw from Germany's past is that dismemberment can only be prevented by rigid centralization. The developments of the British Empire seem to their historians to be a repetition of the error of the old German Reich. . . The essence of the German mission today is the universal task. Germany no longer menaces Britain; she is seizing the leadership only because the British nation has become feeble and weary. The young German imperialism of pre-war days was an attempt to solve our pressing population problems without suffering a continual loss by emigration; the new German will to world hegemony is the definite resolve to transform the world order under German leadership. pp 208-9

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quo Vadis?

I am revising this post in light of the good work that bg and Aviator47 have done in annotating the subject addressed in the original.

The foundation was this post, in which the correspondant, an active duty soldier, complained of being told that his "Spiritual Fitness" was a problem. His - and my initial - interpretation was that this was the result of a conventional religious bias of the survey authors and reflected the influence of conventional religion in the Army. Given the well publicized religiousity of people like LTG Boykin and the USAFA evangelism crowd, this was very disturbing to me as an individual, a citizen, and a soldier.

Al and bg (see the comments section for their excellent criticism) make the point that this appears to be an effect, however, of a poorly designed survey and not a cause per se. bg examined the survey itself (which is unavailable to me) and pointed out the ambiguous questions and the linkage between things like the soldiers' feelings of inclusion in their unit and their sense of mission with their overall "spiritual" well-being. Al points out that the effect of survey questions can be extermely variable depending on the wording of the question and the surroundings of the surveyed. They both see no attempt to actively promote religion in the Army and I accept their interpretation.Based on their work I agree that this survey does, in fact, appear to be an attempt to determine the "legitimate concerns about the well being of the troops resulting from feelings of frustration, isolation, lack of identification with the "big picture" and so forth." as Al puts it, or, as bg explains, to "...change the organizational culture of the Army to one that encourages soldiers be introspective about their mental state and seek help when needed."

But that, in itself, raises some larger questions.

Al points out that "(s)urveys are typically conducted to measure issues of interest, for either descriptive or prescriptive reasons. More disturbing to me is the concern that the soldiers are possibly floundering from an emotional standpoint, and this is just a well intentioned (if dubiously valuable) attempt to promote self help." And certainly there is no lack of examples from human history of nations and ideologies attempting to erase moral and spiritual uncertainty towards their causes, from the god-kings of Egypt to the "Gott Mit Uns" on the belt buckles of German landser in WW2.The late enthusiasm for all things "warrior" as opposed to secular soldiering, the outspoken evangelism of many officers and defense department officials, the current climate of bristling passive-aggressive defensiveness from religious conservatives still worries me. But more to the issue of this survey is; are we unintentionally creating a more-difficult emotional and moral climate for our guys on the ground in central Asia?

The public face of these wars has been a "War on Terror", that we are fighting those who "hate our democracy" or "hate our values". And yet, what we're DOING is what imperial troops have done since Cicero's day; suppressing a rebellion against a local ruler we've erected to accomplish our foreign policy goals.

I suspect that a GI in Kandahar isn't seeing a whole lot of "democracy" and "freedom" coming from the local government we're supporting. No doubt they're marginally better than the Talibs...but, still. Imperial powers have traditionally had imperial reasons for their actions. We are trying hard to avoid those reasons, while taking most of those actions. And I can't imagine that this is going unnoticed among a portion of our troopers.

I wonder; is this attempt to rearrange the "Spiritual Fitness" of these guys an artifact of the disconnect between what they're doing and what they're being told they're doing? And is the solution to adjust the propaganda? Or the policies?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Feast of Stephen

I returned from a jolly week of drilling on a barge up the Columbia Gorge to note that it is Christmas Eve. And one of the things that has always been especially poignant for soldiers is holidays far from home. And that, in turn, made me think about my bride and our little Peeper and Missy warm and snuggly in their beds, inside our little house strung with lights and full of presents and cards and the other impedimentia of the Season, and contrast that with the last time I was far away from home on a Christmas Eve.

Ft. Kobbe, Panama, December 24, 1986

It was a practice in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) (Light) 187th Infantry Regiment for the unmarried sergeants to volunteer to take holiday duty for the wedded guys. So that's why I found myself standing on the landing outside the dayroom of the HHC barracks Christmas Eve day dressed tastefully in holiday-green tropical fatigues and a santa-red beret being violently abused by a Panamanian taxi driver.

It seems that one of our American heroes had, in an excess of Christmas cheer, commandeered the driver's services to motor all around Panama Viejo attempting to find a shapely little elf who had a Christmas stocking he could fill.

Not surprisingly, given his slobberingly drunk condition, the only attentions he could find came from ladies who expected to receive green, folding presents in return, which struck our young hero as more than a little Grinchy.

This seeker of the true Spirit of Christmas imbibed some Christmas spirits and resolved to return to his only REAL family, his buddies at HHC 2/187, only to find on arrival that one of Santa's little ho-ho-hoes had lifted his wallet during his importunations. Or he had left it on the bar. Or whatever.

The upshot was, anyway, that he had nothing to give the infuriated driver whose worn taxi now reeked of cheap perfume and drunken G.I. Worse yet, he turned out to be nimble as a monkey - even drunk - and had shinnied up the mango tree in front of the barracks and was hiding in the branches lobbing the occasional overripe fruit at both the driver and the taxi windshield.

The street in front of the barrack reeked of mango juice and the combined noise of a furious taxi driver and an intoxicated arboreal G.I. This, in turn, drew a small crowd of pre-Christmas revelers, who took turns abusing both parties and shying additional fruit at the taxi when the driver wasn't watching.

I managed to pay off the driver, scatter the crowd and talk the monkey-boy out of the tree just as one of my other single friends came sauntering down from his post as battalion staff duty NCO.

"I see life in the slums is still exotic and vigorous, even on Christmas Eve" he sneered.

SGT Chief: "Little you know about it, lolling about up there at Battalion as you do. It's like a freakin' Jerry Springer show down here. Oh, and a Merry Christmas to you, too, jackass."

BN SDNCO: "Yeah, well, lucky for us that the first Christmas happened in Bethehem, not Fort Kobbe, eh?"

SGT Chief: "Why's that?"

BN SDNCO: "'Cause where the hell'd you find three wise men and a virgin around here..?"

It was an old joke but I was still chuckling as I ran back up the stairs to the dayroom to share warm Coke with the three guys watching football.

This year, as they have for the past nine years now, American soldiers are preparing for a holiday in faraway places much less entertaining and far more hazardous than my Panamanian Christmas Eve two decades ago. I'm sure that they share many of the same feelings I did then: loneliness, regret, some pride in a hard job well done in demanding circumstances, but mixed with others I didn't; fear of death or wounding, anger and grief at lost friends, hope that their own homecoming will be soon and safe.

As do I.

So Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah...however you say it, however you celebrate it, all you young - and not so young - men and women in the hard places far from home; I hope you will all be home soon to enjoy this time with your families.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Fight Against Islamic Extremism

Acording to the American Religious Right, we are facing a struggle against Islamic extremism. Back in early 2001, an Orthodox Bishop from Lebanon's Balamand Theological Institute was the guest lecturer at the Orthodox Institute of Cambridge (UK) University, where we were studying. During one of the discussion sessions, he spoke about the Church in Muslim countries, as he had served as the bishop in support of the Church in Iraq. At the time, the Church was not allowed to practice any active proselytizing, but was free to conduct services, maintain property, and, as long as the building was not architecturally obvious as a Christian temple, establish new facilities to support existing Christians. In short, the bishop said that while the Iraqi government and people did not support Christianity, they did not actively oppose it. Christianity was holding its own.

In 2001, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians (primarily Orthodox and Catholic) in Iraq. Today, that number is estimated to be between 400,000 and 600,000. Post Operation Iraqi Freedom violence directed specifically toward the Iraqi Christian population and their churches has encouraged hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee the country. Recently escalating violence has lead Christian leaders, in the interest of protecting lives, to recommend foregoing Christmas worship services in Iraq.

On behalf of my fellow Orthodox Christians in Iraq, I'd like to tip my hat to the American Religious Right, who see the invasion of that country as a positive step. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees (from Christian faiths dating back to the Third Century, not the American Johnny Come Lately sects), along with a few million Iraqi Muslim refugees really appreciate you and your president's stupidity.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

War and Remembrance

If I had a child who wanted to be a teacher,
I would bid him Godspeed as if he were going to war.
For indeed the war against prejudice, greed
and ignorance is eternal
-- James Hilton

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure
conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness.
They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature,
of his feelings and of his intellect . . .
They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs,
their thoughts, their emotions, and their sensations.
They conferred as against the government
the right to be left alone -- the most comprehensive of rights
and the right most valued by civilized men
-- Supreme Court Justice Brandeis (Olmstead v. the U.S.)

A nation of warriors and fanatics,
marching forward in perfect unity,
all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans,
perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting -
three hundred million people all with the same face
--1984, George Orwell

The Medals of Honor since 2001 have been about loss and failure, moreso than conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty which they are meant to recognize. Although the medals recognize gallantry, the gallantry is to no end. The reality is the futility and conspicuous waste of young, vibrant American fighting men, to no discernable purpose.

Of all of the Phony War on Terror (
PWOT ©) MOH's, only SFC Paul Smith's is a validation of soldierly skills, leadership, devotion to duty and the subsequent validation of soldierly valor. Of all of the PWOT MOH's to date, only SFC Smith's represented the completion of a mission, albeit at the loss of the soldier's life.

Smith's sacrifice saved a collection point for wounded soldiers, and SFC Smith's loss was for the greater good.
All of the subsequent medals represent the failure of arms. The medals have gone to sacrificial lambs throwing themselves on grenades to save their comrades. This valor ignores the validity of their sacrifice.

The MOH's of the Special Operations Command went to Michael Mansoor, a SEAL that self immolized, and Murphy and Miller, who both symbolized exceptional courage dedicated to the completion of their assigned missions.

However, courage has become institutionalized as a symbol of defeat and frustration within a military that has become devoid of success.
Our losses have become our victories; our medals symbolize a devotion to combat that has no end point and no military significance.

Historically, the MOH was a representation of hope and duty that led to victory; it has now come to signify self-immolation and meaningless death. It is not that heroic actions are not occurring -- certainly Pararescue Technical Sergeant
John Chapman on Roberts Ridge (Operation Anaconda) should have received the MOH, without question. Yet despite these episodes of unmistakable heroism, fully recognized or not, the nagging question remains.

Our medals have become our Cassandras.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Does the Military Need a Professional General Staff?

OK, Mike suggested that a comment on another thread be promoted to a self standing thread, and here it is.

Before jumping up and starting this thread, I did a little looking around and found that retired LTC Louis DiMarco had written on the subject in Small Wars Journal, albeit pertaining to staffs within the Army, not the Joint Staff, as I had mentioned. Sadly, there was very little discussion by the SWJ denizens, but then, there is much more talent here in the Pub.

DiMarco makes some excellent points for having a professional staff "corps" within the Army. In addition, since current military doctrine involves joint operations, I would offer that the "Joint Staff" should equally be considered as a place where professional staff officers, to include so called "strategists", need to be the majority.

There is no question that two historic examples of a permanent, professional general staff (Germany & the Soviet Union) showed periods of tension between the political leadership and the military staff. But, as DiMarco points out, Germany still sees fit to maintain a professional staff corps, probably as a result of much more success with it than otherwise.

In my years in the Army, the "Holy Grail" was always command. That is what was sought, as it was the key to promotion. Battalion and Brigade level command billets are by central selection boards, yet key staff positions are not. As I have opined in the past, occupants of key staff billets and the Joint Staff are transients through the field, simply taking time out from operational assignments. No permanency, mentoring, staff development or continuity. Perhaps it's our alleged belief in having "citizen soldiers" that makes us afraid to have a permanent cadre of staff planners and strategists.

The thing is, we see what the constant turn over of transients has caused at the strategic level, no less the operational level. And, calling our AVF "citizen soldiers" is horse-puckey. We've already discussed the growing separation of the military from mainstream society.

Is it time for a change? And why?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everybody out at once!

I'm shocked, shocked! to find that the latest inquiry into the state of the Afghan nation concludes that:
"The perceived potential for Afghan forces to switch sides (after being trained by international forces) is at a dangerous level. Fifty-six percent of respondents believe Afghan police are helping the Taliban and 29 percent think that Afghan police end up joining the Taliban. Thirty-nine percent think that the Afghan National Army (ANA) are helping the Taliban; 30 percent of respondents think that ANA soldiers end up joining the Taliban."
And would you believe that there is also gambling going on in Rick's Cafe' Americain?

Shocked, I tell you.

I suspect that William Hay Macnaghten would remind you, could you dig his disarticulated corpse from the forgotten grave where it was flung after his murder in 1843 and make it speak, that Afghans have been known since Baibars' day as the most shifty, cunning, and least trustworthy of ruffians; treachery and double-dealing are both entertainment and art form in the high plateaus of central Asia.

The British knew perfectly well that the trooper of the Guides that saluted you today was probably the Waziri jezailchi that sniped down your messmate the last time your column invaded his mountains.

And yet here are a couple of Americans reporting with straight faces that the "ugly" part of the latest survey is that the Afghans suspect that their government troops and police are following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers?

What the fuck else should we have expected?

Honestly. The level of stupid surrounding this war is sometimes so intense it burns like dry ice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

U Signed the Mother-Fucking Contract

This seems to be my week for blogrolling.Out-fucking-standing essay here.

I can't even begin to summarize it. Yes, it's one man's opinion. Yes, it has a very definate objective - to make you think about the AVF versus a draft, and the issues that revolve around a small, volunteer standing military. Yes, the author has a strong bias, and it shows. No, I don't agree with everything he says.

But IMO the man's observations are spot-on to what I was seeing the the ARNG in the last couple of my years before retirement. He makes some cogent points about the way we procure our soldiers and Marines.

Well worth a read, whether you agree with his point or not.

AAR: Gowardseh 25 JAN 2008

Our fellow barkeep jim (you probably remember him for his rabid following on Ladies' Night; I understand that he honed his technique on the grass widows who decorate the bar at the Dragon Club, and it shows) is doing a very worthwhile analysis of the action in Gowardesh, Afghanistan between an ODA of the 3SFGA and its attached(?) Afghan squad and what appears to be a company-sized element of mujaheddin. This engagement is notable for the actions of SSG Robert Miller, who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. Sadly, this decoration was posthumous.

I normally don't fiddle with tactical analysis; tactics are too situational, and now that I'm retired I have not use for tactical skills. But this action caught my eye in that I had just written up the Battle of Unsan over at GFT, and it's worth reading the account and jim's analysis for the ugly reminder of how we in the U.S. Army can't seem to get over what Dave Hackworth used to call "CRS Syndrome".

We learned the hard way in Korea that driving around the roads in the bottom of Korea's steep canyons wan't a good idea when the Chinese were humping over the hills above like good infantrymen. We relearned the lesson - that sticking to the roads, trails, or paddy dikes was dangerous - a dozen years later in Vietnam. My platoon sergeants in the early Eighties were products of that hard lesson. We never moved along roads, trails, or similar channelized routes if we could avoid it - they had learned the hard way that it made it way too easy for the bad guys. Now it seems that we're re-re-learning that lesson - or not - in Afghanistan.

Anyway, jim brings up some worthwhile issues this engagement points out. For those interested, well worth the time to read and discuss.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Other Side of the Hill

One thing I think affects us here in the U.S. - and has the effect of violently skewing our perspective on the wars we have been fighting since the end of WW2 - is the degree to which our government, and to an extent, our military and diplomatic arms, have figured out how to control and when in their interests spin the accounts we read of those wars.

Nir Rosen has just released a book about his view of the war in Iraq. One of the few non-embedded journos in the U.S.-occupied Middle East, Rosen has connections inside the Arab/Muslim world that we seldom hear from our news media. Obviously he has his biases, just as Tom Engelhardt, Tom Ricks and Michael Yon have theirs, but his biases are a bit useful in coming from what the British used to call "the other side of the hill".

I don't think that anyone reading here will be shocked that Rosen's account suggests that the U.S., while effective in subduing the Sunni muj (who in many cases were coopted not as much by the fear of American power as the fear of the Shia ratissage that would follow the departure of American power...) and the Sadrist Shia nationalists, seem to have neither a plan for nor a clue as to what will emerge from the wreckage. But there's knowing something and really knowing it, and I highly recommend Rosen's work (I've already gotten through the first chapter) as a window into the really terrifying complexity of the reality we have had such a large hand in creating.

Worth getting on your Christmas list..!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Airland Battle

For your consideration, I refer you to scan Robert Farley's column at World Politics Review "A User's Guide to Inter-Service Conflict". As an article it's really just a stub. But I want to use it to suggest an idea.

Here's Farley on the the impact of two typical inter-service conflicts: "Whereas resource conflicts (emphasis mine) can shift a nation's strategic orientation, they typically leave a military organization with a set of tools appropriate to the solving of certain defense problems. They can even produce genuine moments of strategic decision-making. By contrast, mission conflicts hamstring the ability of military organizations to do the jobs that are asked of them, especially when civilians use the disputes to cut procurement."

In the article he gives an outline of several of these mission conflicts between the air forces and the army and navy of the U.S. and Great Britain. Most of us here are familiar at least in brief with these conflicts and the problems they generated.

Now the UK is in the position of having to make hard choices about military budgets, and I would argue that the U.S. will soon - or should now - have to think about the same sorts of cost/benefit analysis in reducing its military spending.

I want to consider returning the Air Force to the status of a Corps within the Army and Navy.

The Air Force has five overall or general missions:

1. Tactical support of land and sea operations; close air support, or CAS.
2. Local through theatre-level air defense and deep-attack missions in support of ground or naval operations. This would include interdiction and theatre air defense, air superiority, SEAD, interdiction, and deep tactical strike sorties.
3. Continental air defense, including aerial and satellite surveillance, and interception.
4. Strategic deep attack, to include nuclear attack.
5. Air transportation and air movement, from the tactical (theatre) to the strategic (intercontinental) levels

Of these five, it would seem to me that at least four could be done by a sub-service level Army Air Corps or Naval Air Arm. And I'd argue that one - strategic deep attack - is problematic as a mission at all.

Let's review.

1. CAS has always been a problem for the Air Force. It's not cool, it doesn't encourage wearing scarves or sunglasses, and, my dear, the people! I've often thought that one genuine innovation the USMC ever came up with was holding on to its own air arm. Marines tend to get pretty good air cover because their wing wipers are often Marines, or Navy pilots who train and fly with Marines. I can't see how returning these missions to the Army and Navy would be a problem.

2. The theatre-level missions are a little more dicey, in that they call for fighter and medium bomber aircraft that don't really intermesh directly with the ground or sea missions. They would require an Army theatre commander, or a Navy task force- or fleet-level commander to broaden their mental horizon beyond the grand tactical to the local strategic level. But I think this could be done. Difficult, but do-able.

3. I don't see how this can't become a naval mission. The USN was our continental defense prior to Kitty Hawk; I don't see how a naval officer couldn't be taught to think of the defense of North America in three dimensions rather than two.

4. The USN is already in control of a third or more of our ballistic missile defenses; putting squids in silos in North Dakota doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. And I would argue that "deep strategic attack" - the sort of thing that reached its apogee in 1944-1945 over Germany and Japan - is really questionable. What does a manned strategic bomber really give you at this point, other than target practice for enemy air defenses and the chance of a POW? I would like you to consider that deep penetration bombing, like mass tactical airborne operations over defended airspace, is really a relict of WW2 whose utility in the 21st Century is not just unproven but unlikely.

So give the missiles and the AWACS and the DEW line to the Navy. And mothball the heavy bombers.

5. Military airlift is also a mission that does seem too "aerial" for the land and sea services. Yet the USN flies large four-engine patrol aircraft, and it would seem like an Army Air Corps could fly and maintain tactical transports of the C-130/C-17 variety, leaving intercontinental transport of the C-5 sort and aerial refueling the only thing I would consider a truly "aerial" sort of mission.

I realize that this is truly woolgathering; the lobbying power of the USAF, and the vested interests of the Air Force community, will prevent any serious attempt at distributing the USAF's capabilities between the other two major services.

But the problems, costs, and difficulties incurred by "mission conflicts" are real, and in time where the demand for the specialized "air" sorts of missions seem to be declining and likely to continue as such, and the costs of the specialized air force seem to be rising, I would consider we might want to at least give the idea enough thought to formulate reasons why it shouldn't go further.I wonder - if the SecDef, Army and Navy chiefs had known in 1947 what they know now...might they have had second thoughts?

(Disclaimer: for the record, my father was a naval aviator (V-12) 1944-1945, while I have never really forgiven the USAF for trying to bag the A-10 - beyond that I have no animus beyond the usual contempt for lower military life forms common to the Artillery, which as a branch lends tone to what would otherwise be a Vulgar Brawl)

Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards

July 3, 1949 - December 7, 2010

Yesterday morning, she succumbed to the cancer that was always waiting for her. I supported her husband, John Edwards, in his campaign to win the nomination for the 2008 presidential election until he gave it up when it was obvious that he would not make it happen.

I knew about her in Kerry's doomed compaign, but really got to know her in her husband's run for the presidency. John seemed to be a decent substitute for Howard Dean since he ran on most of the same principles, chief among them the issue of health care and the "Two Americas", which still exist today and which still are becoming more sharply defined.

I found myself thinking why couldn't Elizabeth be president.

She wouldn't, I'm positive, want us thinking why good people like her have to leave us and why others less worthy live on. Still, we will miss her voice and the country will be less for its absence.

God bless her and her family and may the Light she showed a bit of to us shine perpetual upon her.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'm RAPping on yer forehead, dude.

Speaking of the's a snapshot from this on-line album of photos taken from the last little dust-up the Koreas had this past November.The thing I noted about this UXO projo is that it appears to be what in the USFA we'd call a "RAP round" - a rocket-assisted projectile. Given that the stated distance from the DPRK shore to Yeonpyeongdo is about 12km and the maximum range of a standard 122mm projo is about 15km, it sounds as if the KPA is looking for a smidgen more stand-off for their little game of bitchslap.

No deep observation here, just noted in passing.

November in December

Better late than never: November's "Decisive Battle" - Unsan, Korea 29 OCT - 6 NOV 1950.MacArthur, foot cavalry, yellow Reds, KATUSAs, bravery and bug-outs in the land of the Morning Calm.

Super Dave is not so Sure Now

Sounds like he's been reading MilPub - or creating a cover story for the inevitable.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We Haven't Got a Chance

A PhD at a US think tank has proposed privatizing the TSA as the answer to air travel security. In an opinion piece, Robert P. Murphy gives all the "free market" reasons that private security would work. After all, government always fails.

I may be a bit dumb, and perhaps missing something, but his reasoning of how turning over air travel security would actually improve things strikes me as a poster child why these free market worshipers will complete the destruction of the US.

First, I am no fan of the TSA or the draconian security techniques in place in the US. Our regular air travels in the rest of the world have shown us that security need not be as oppressive as it is in the US. In my view, and that of the Mrs., a retired major airline executive who knows a bit about the business, TSA has embarked on a “Zero Defects”, “Zero Risk” course that it simply ludicrous. So I am not in any way writing in defense of TSA’s recent issues.

Murphy sees airline security as a simple exercise in free market operation. Airlines could employ any screening technique they desire, and should an airline’s aircraft be used by a terrorist, the airline would be legally liable for the damages. Of course, the airline could “take out large insurance policies, just as surgeons must carry malpractice insurance.” What Murphy doesn’t address is that malpractice claims, covered by insurance, have not been shown to reduce malpractice. In fact, he and his right wing buddies say that malpractice liability only results in higher medical costs. Further, is the screening for the purpose of limiting monetary damages or loss of human and limb? Screening is safety insurance before the fact, not monetary loss coverage after the fact.

My second immediate thought was his statement that “No one can say what security techniques would develop in a truly free market. That's actually the whole point: We need entrepreneurs to experiment and discover new approaches.” Yup, just like sub-prime mortgages, CDOs, Blackwater and the lot. I would also mention that those 19 guys with box cutters were screened by private contractors, not TSA employees. They boarded fights at small airports, where they determined that the screening in place was sufficiently lax to let them pass into the system armed with their “weapons”. Once inside security in the boondocks, they had a free pass throughout the system.

Now, from a purely business standpoint, leaving screening up to each and every airline means that at an airport such as JFK, where over 70 airlines have operations, many of which are only one arrival and departure per day, would be an interesting affair under the Murphy Plan. What would be the cost of 70+ different screening operations? How would “damage liability” be sorted out if airlines shared a screening operation? If the screening operator was a contractor, how would an airline be liable for contractor errors. Could Carrier B require re-screening of passengers connecting from a flight on Carrier A. After all, Murphy says the airline who’s aircraft is used by a terrorist becomes liable. What about checked bags that are transferred between airlines?

Since “free market” businesses generally seek to minimize costs, how could screening “quality” be assured? Keep in mind that Murphy sees the cost of screening being included in ticket prices, so the flying public will pay for the cost of an airline’s screening and liability insurance. In markets where there is only one or two carriers, will the consumer have a choice between Murphy’s two models of intrusiveness versus price. Will they even have service?

Murphy and his fellow travelers live in an “all or nothing at all” universe. In their view, there is little or no need for government, as the private, for-profit sector can do everything better. Alan Greenspan finally had to admit that the free markets were indeed capable of decisions that would be in their worst interest.

Well, the following can be gleaned from this article and Murphy’s bio. 1) He knows absolutely nothing about the transportation industry. 2) He has never run nor been employed in a “free market” business in his life 3) As an academician, he has never achieved permanent (tenured) employment 4) He has never held a position that has had to produce a profit. 5) has stated in his writings that "my ethical beliefs are informed by my Christian faith, and I am a firm believer in natural law."

When are people like Murphy going to figure it out? I'm not sure they ever will.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Fails

This is a still taken from a poorly shot movie where a hot dog test pilot was showing off what he thought the old buff could do. Needless to say, he must've forgotten that big planes bleed speed in tight turns, and need a flat run to regain momentum in order to perform another tight turn.
Unfortunately, for the pilot, he did not survive the crash, but you can see the co-pilot ejecting. Anyway, important reminders for the stick jockeys...just because it has jet engines doesn't make it a jet fighter.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What does it matter?

So now it turns out that the young Scotswoman Linda Norgrove, kidnapped by Afghans back in September, died at the hands of her rescuers.The BBC is quoted as saying that the hostage rescue team made an airmobile assault into the mountainous area her captors had occupied on 8 OCT. The unit, said to be from U.S. "special forces", was apparently moving to the objective - or what they thought was the objective - by bounding (the unit is described as "two teams"); the moving element was "along a narrow ledge" when the Afghans detected the movement and initiated fire.

The British Foreign Secretary attended Norgrove's burial. He is quoted as saying that the unit "believed Ms Norgrove was being held in buildings higher up a mountain" when they made contact. One of the SF team used a grenade, probably in an attempt to break contact; that was our SOP in the 82nd, anyway, for a ambush where either the terrain did not permit or the tactical situation made assaulting through the enemy impractical. A firefight ensued; the news reports are sparse. At some point it sounds as if the Afghans broke contact; the AC-130 is said to have killed two. It appears that the SF team occupied the ambush site.

The woman's body was found at the site, killed by the grenade; I don't doubt that the troopers knew this at the time; a grenade tends to rip up the outside of people a fair bit more than 5.56 rounds do. But they are said to have kept this from their superiors, who then announced to the world that the woman was killed by the Bad Guys. When the truth emerged, as it had to, it made ISAF look either foolish or duplicitous. So everyone involved can now be considered to have failed.

I can't imagine how to put a good face on this. ISAF was apparently warned that the Dewagal Valley, where Norgrove was held, was badass injun country, a real old-fashioned Afghan tribal holler, a kind of Ozarks with more goats.It sounds to me as if the strike team, described as "highly experienced personnel", still lacked good intelligence prep of the battlefield as well as adequate reconniassance and security once off the LZ. Even with aerial observation they were ambushed trying to move to the objective. Once in contact the team seems to have gone into immediate-action-drill mode, which is completely understandible given the circumstances. But the result, for this poor woman's family and beloveds, was tragic. The team then withheld critical information from their commanders, who were allowed to sound like liars or fools.

What a fucking mess.

This seems to summarize the current Western experience in Afghanistan in a single firefight. The quixotic mission of the young woman. The tribal rapacity of her captors. The opacity of the landscape. The mistakes, confusion, and mutual incomprehension of the occupiers and the local headmen. The sudden flurry of misdirected violence. And, finally, the silence of the dead, and the grieving of the living.

It may be that by the long and patient application of force and diplomacy that the Western occupiers and their local proxy can "beat" the Talibs in some fashion.

But what then?

The foreigner, unless he wishes to become the colonial power, must leave. The local, who stays, cannot change the immutable calculus of men and mountains. Afghanistan will remain Afghanistan; the mullahs and headmen, farmers and smugglers, bazaar badmashes and an entire generation that has grown up with nothing but war...these will remain to decide the future of the land.

Linda is today's headline, and her life and death made subject of our passing interest. But the works of Linda Norgrove, and the soldier who killed her, what will they matter? To the Afghans, or to us? Five, ten years from now, who will care?For that was in another country and besides, the wench is dead.