Sunday, July 13, 2003


Four-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong seized the overall lead today in the L'Alpe D'Huez stage that he has historically dominated. Although Lance didn't win the stage as he normally does, he did gain enough time on the pack to slide into 1st overall in the 21-day race. Lance now leads Joseba Beloki of Spain by 40 seconds. Winning the Tour De France four times in a row is spectactular enough, but Lance hopes to match Spain's Miguel Indurain by winning five consecutive tours.

As many people know, Lance nearly died a few years ago from testicular cancer -- a story which he tells in his extremely moving book "It's Not About the Bike". I think it's amazing for anyone to even finish the Tour De France, let alone win it. Add to that winning it four times. Add to that winning it four times in a row after near-certain death. Lance is one of my heroes, and I am stoked that he has taken the yellow jersey in the French Alps.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Rumsfeld orders restructuring of America's military
Policy changes would shift forces from the reserves to the active force

Esther Schrader scoops the competition in Saturday's Los Angeles Times by reporting on a memo that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent to his senior commanders and policy chiefs which directs them to start considering radical changes to the active/reserve mix of America's military. The changes come in the 22nd month of America's war on terrorism, with its military stretched to the limit with current operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The goal, Ms. Schrader reports, is to ready America's military for the next conflict -- one for which we may get only a couple of weeks warning.
In a July 9 memo to the secretaries of the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rumsfeld called for shifting a broad range of professional specialties from the reserves to the active duty force to allow the military to mobilize for a major war within 15 days.

The proposal is running into opposition from senior officials at the Navy and the Air Force, who warn that moving these jobs into the active-duty force would drive up costs. Reserve officials say they were stunned by the proposal, which they fear would shrink the role of citizen soldiers into irrelevance.

Rumsfeld's office could not be reached for comment.

Calling the effort "a matter of the utmost urgency," in the memo obtained by The Times, Rumsfeld ordered plans for implementing it to be drawn up by the end of the month.

The secretary's action was a direct result of the crisis in force strength caused by the deepening violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, sources close to him in the Pentagon said.

Before and during the war, Army officials had planned for no more than 50,000 soldiers to still be in Iraq at this point. But 148,000 are there, and with attacks against them growing in number and sophistication, senior Pentagon officials say they expect troop numbers in the country to remain at or near the same level for years to come.

As the war on terrorism continues, more than 370,000 Army soldiers are deployed away from home and family in 120 countries around the world. About 138,000 are reservists, many in certain specialties that are being called up again and again. Another 67,000 reservists from the other military services are also deployed.
Ms. Schrader's article correctly points out some of the complexities of this issue. In Vietnam, America's political leadership made a conscious decision to fight without the reserves; to use a conscription-based force of regulars instead. This was done because the reserves reach into every city and town in America. A callup of reserves requires a tremendous amount of popular support and political capital -- two things lacking in Vietnam. After that war ended, Gen. Creighton Abrams and others created the "Total Force Concept", in which critical functions would be put into the reserves so that their callup would be necessary for any future wars. The idea was to force the President to only fight wars where he had the political capital to callup the reserves.
Acting on that idea, the active-duty services moved many of the specialties needed to fight a war - security, intelligence, transportation and logistics - over to the reserves and National Guard.

But the force that resulted was not designed to be in a state of constant mobilization. It currently takes from one to three months to mobilize most reserve units. Although some units are designed to deploy quickly, most must first undergo intensive training in the United States before being shipped out.

"The type of war that we're in, the war on terrorism, is going to be something that is going to require long-term commitments of our armed forces. And the way that we're structured right now is to have conflicts where you send people over, they fight, and they go home," one Pentagon official said. "The war on terrorism is a much longer, twilight struggle."

That struggle is putting unprecedented strains on the military - and the Army in particular, which shoulders the burden of peacekeeping and nation-building operations more than any other service. In recent weeks, Army officials have repeatedly and insistently told Rumsfeld that the service needs more soldiers to handle its new duties.

Before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Army officials had openly voiced concern that Rumsfeld would seek to cut as many as two of the Army's 10 divisions. After the attacks, Rumsfeld has continued to insist that Army troops should be deployed in different places around the globe, and in new ways, but he has not proposed slashing troop numbers.

At his retirement ceremony June 11, departing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki warned to "beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army."
The Bottom Line: America has missions is has to accomplish with its military. Its military is stretched to the limit. Our leaders can influence the ledger on either side of this equation. We can increase the size of our military, or we can decrease our mission commitments. It looks like our war on terrorism will last for the foreseeable future, and the same can be said of our occupation in Iraq. Therefore, we must figure out a way to bolster our force. The Pentagon has relied on a steady stream of reservists for some time to do this, but those reserves may be running out. The Rumsfeld plan may be the best available option. More to follow...

The myth of the monolithic Pentagon:
SecDef's office opposes move to give health coverage to reservists

The AP reports today that the Secretary of Defense's office has written Congress to request deletion of a provision in the defense budget bill that would give full medical coverage to reservists and their families. This provision was designed to extend the benefits of the military health-care system to thousands of reservists (like me) who do one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. It would also have the side benefit of making mobilization easier, since these soldiers/families would already be integrated into the military health care system when the call to active duty came.

However, the SecDef's office warned Congress that the policy would be enormously costly -- to the detriment of the Pentagon's already bloated $380 billion budget.
[Rumsfeld] said he would recommend that President Bush veto the defense authorization bill if it included a Senate plan to expand TRICARE, the military health program. He estimated the change could cost $5 billion per year; Democrats disputed that figure.

"These unfunded entitlements would drain resources from important programs benefiting our military, such as continued improvements in pay, quality of life, readiness, and other pressing requirements," Rumsfeld said.

At issue is a plan approved by the Senate in May to allow inactive members of the National Guard and reserves to be covered under TRICARE, the health-care program offered to active-duty soldiers. National Guard members and reservists are now covered by the program while on active duty.

"It's only a matter of fairness," Sen. Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) said yesterday. "As we speak, members of the Guard and reserves are still on active duty... . I believe that as they come home, having sacrificed so much, at least we ought to give them the opportunity to pay for their own health insurance under TRICARE."
* * *
The Pentagon said 204,100 members of the reserves or National Guard were on active duty as of Wednesday.

One in five National Guard members or reservists do not have health insurance, and the TRICARE measure could allow them to be healthier when called to active duty, said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of America.
Analysis: I think both sides have a point here. The SecDef is correct about the financial impacts this would have on the current military health-care system, and the cost for the Defense Department. However, that may be a cost worth bearing. America has relied on these reservists more in the last 22 months than anytime since the Korean War. Medical coverage would be one way to show the reservists and their families that America cares about them. It would also boost reserve readiness, since a major mobilization problem has been getting soldiers up to active-duty medical standards. There may even be a tangential recruiting benefit here, if joining the reserves carried the benefit of full medical coverage.

Bottom Line: I think the benefits outweigh the costs here. There's enough fat in the Pentagon's budget to pay for this; taking care of soldiers and families is more important than a lot of things in the $380 billion bill.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Recommended reading
: The El Paso Times has uploaded a scanned version of the Army's report on the 507th Maintenance Company ambush. This is an extremely well-written executive summary of what happened to these soldiers, and I think it supports my conclusions below.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Report: Unit's weapons didn't work during convoy ambush
Breakdown in basic soldiering skills led to disastrous capture of American POWs

The Washington Post reports tonight on a report (also reported by the NY Times and LA Times) that identifies the main reason why PFC Jessica Lynch and five other soldiers were captured by Iraqi guerrillas on the road to Baghdad -- faulty weapons training and maintenance. The report indicates that soldiers had difficulty firing both their personal weapons (the M16A2 rifle) and their crew-served weapons (the M2 .50 caliber machine gun) at the enemy when fired upon. Few things will end a firefight badly more easily than weapons that won't shoot. Unfortunately, it appears from this report and others that the culprit was poor weapons training and maintenance.
"These malfunctions," the report says, "may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment" where sand, heat and improper maintenance combined to render the weapons inoperable.

The report on the incident, scheduled to be released this week, adds new details to the circumstances reported last month by The Washington Post, which described how the 18-vehicle convoy got lost in the southern Iraqi city after its company commander, Capt. Troy King, did not receive word that the larger column it was following had changed routes. The convoy then made several navigational errors, which required the slow, lumbering vehicles to make two U-turns in the middle of hostile territory.
* * *
The unit's 18-vehicle convoy had broken into three clusters as the unit retraced its route. "Most soldiers" in the first group reported that their M-16s malfunctioned as they tried to "return fire while moving," the report said.

When Cpl. Damien Luten, sitting in the passenger seat of a 5-ton tractor trailer in the second group, attempted to fire the unit's only .50-caliber machine gun, it failed, the report said. Luten was wounded in the leg while reaching for his M-16. Spec. James Grubb, in the passenger seat of a 5-ton fuel truck, "returned fire with his M-16 until wounded in both arms, despite reported jamming of his weapon," it said.

The third group of vehicles, which included the Humvee in which Lynch was riding, also had weapons problems.

After Lynch's Humvee crashed, Sgt. James Riley ran with two other soldiers to see if the vehicle's occupants could be saved. His weapon jammed. Riley reached for 1st Sgt. Robert Dowdy's M-16 to use instead. Dowdy had been killed instantly in the crash. Riley ordered the two soldiers with him to take cover and then tried to use each of their M-16s against the Iraqis. "But both jammed," the report said.
* * *
Spec. Joseph Hudson attempted to fire his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon as he drove a huge wrecker towing a 5-ton tractor-trailer that had broken down. But the weapon malfunctioned. After driving past obstacles and debris strewn in his path, the vehicle broke down on the southern edge of the city as he neared safety. Iraqi forces fired on the stalled wrecker, killing Hudson's passenger, Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata.
* * *
U.S. officials also said recently that Lynch's weapon may have jammed during the ambush. Because she was seated between two other soldiers, however, it is also possible she did not fire it, one Army official said yesterday.
Analysis: I'm going to revert back to my NTC Observer/Controller training to pick out some issues that seem obvious from this story. These may seem like harsh criticisms, but if these things happened during a rotation at the National Training Center, these are exactly the things that would be discussed in the After Action Review. A causal link exists between each of these failures before combat and what happened in combat.

(1) Weapons Maintenance. Rifles and machine guns require a lot of tender loving care to work properly -- they require even more TLC in the harsh desert environment. Despite popular conceptions, the M16A2 rifle is a fairly intricate piece of machinery with lots of small moving pieces. It takes regular cleaning and lubrication in order to work. In the California desert, my platoon made a standard practice of field cleaning our rifles once a day -- more if possible. The sand is even more fine in Iraq. I have been told it resembles an awful form of talcum powder that gets in everything. In those conditions, the rifle would need to be cleaned and lubricated more than once a day. The rifle would also need to be protected in some way from the elements, such as with a plastic cap or latex balloon over the muzzle. Leaders must check their soldiers' weapons constantly to ensure this is being done. As the old maxim says: "Soldiers do what leaders check."

(2) Lubrication. It's not enough to clean the M16 rifle, M249 squad automatic weapon, or M2 .50 cal machine gun -- you also have to regularly apply lubricant in order to keep the metal parts moving against each other. The standard military lubricant for small arms is called "CLP" (See this discussion regarding CLP at Winds of Change). It worked okay for me in Korea and Texas, but not well. My platoon sergeant (an avid hunter) liked to use special commercially-available lubricants that he knew worked better. Apparently, he knew more than the Army's procurement folks. In the weeks since the war, several after action reviews have concluded that the Army's standard weapons lube was inadequate for the job in the desert.
Lubricant: Soldiers provided consistent comments that CLP was not a good choice for weapons maintenance in this environment. The sand is as fine as talcum powder here. The CLP attracted the sand to the weapon. ?… Soldiers considered a product called MiliTec to be a much better solution for lubricating individual and crew-served weapons.
Various current and former military officers echoed this report, saying that CLP was one of the worst lubricants the Army could buy for the desert:
"The CLP and Breakfree brand oil the military purchases is worthless," said Aaron Johnson, a 10-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserve, and author of a DefenseWatch guest column on the Army M9 sidearm "How to Save the M9 Beretta"; June 16, 2003). "I'm sure large amounts are acquired [by the Army] at relatively low cost, but that's why it should be done away with. That oil is too rich, and has little effectiveness at keeping weapons clean."

"The troops will tell you, CLP attracts dirt and grit," Johnson continued. "It is also so thick it can reduce recoil speed, resulting in stoppages. It thickens in the cold, and when in hot weather areas it is usually attracting dust and sand."

In an e-mail forwarded to DefenseWatch, retired Lt. Col. Robert Kovacic, who works for a defense contractor in Kuwait that trains U.S. military units, echoed Johnson's remarks. "I can say with complete assuredness, from many, many observations of training exercises], that CLP does not work. I did not use it at Fort Polk (cause it did not prevent rust)... I don't care what the government says... and it sure as hell does not work here."

What is bewildering to veterans such as these is that there is a product that has proven effective in desert combat. MILITEC-1 Synthetic Metal Conditioner, manufactured by the company of the same name, has been approved for Army use and is already widely used by the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and a host of other federal police agencies. But the Army apparently is still shipping CLP en masse to the troops and has resisted ordering the synthetic lubricant, forcing unit commanders to pay out of their own pockets to acquire it.

The problem, Kovacic said, is that the Defense Logistics Agency allegedly refused to ship MILITEC to a number of units heading for combat in Iraq, despite previous approval of the product for Army weapons. "So, if front-line commanders order this product," he asked, "where does DLA have the authority to stop shipment? It is the brigade commander's butt in battle and if he wants to use a different lubricant, because the government stuff does not work, he can't"
Once again, our soldiers went into harm's way with lousy equipment because the procurement system failed them. There is some irony here, in that the original M16 rifle went into combat in Vietnam with many flaws that were learned at the cost of American lives. Today, we appear to have the best military in the world. Yet we are forced to learn lessons about our equipment the hard way.

3. Weapons Training. Weapons maintenance and lubrication are often a function of weapons training. Soldiers who know their weapons well will take care of them, because they are familiar with the effects of not doing so. Moreover, at least one part of the 507th Maintenance Company report indicates a probable failure of weapons training:
King [the company commander] then split the company into three groups, according to the Army investigation.

He took Group One, and they fought their way south through the city. Iraqis tried to block their exit with vehicles and debris. "Most of the soldiers in this group report that they experienced weapons malfunctions," the Army said. "These malfunctions may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment."

But they made it out, and soon joined a Marine Corps tank battalion.

In Group Two, Cpl. Damien Luten "attempted to return fire with the 507th's only .50-caliber machine gun but the weapon failed," the report said. "Luten was wounded in the leg while reaching for his M-16."

Small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades burst around them. Their escape route also was partially blocked. Five soldiers were wounded, including Spc. James Grubb, who "returned fire with his M-16 until wounded in both arms, despite reported jamming of his weapon."

Marines also rescued Group Two.
The M2 .50 caliber machine gun doesn't just fail -- it fails for a reason. It's one of the most venerable weapons in the Army inventory; its basic design has not changed for decades. The most common reason for failure is the operator's failure to properly set the head space and timing. The internal parts of the .50 cal have a certain amount of play, and these parts have to be set right in order to work. If you set the headspace or timing wrong -- or fail to reset it after a while -- the weapon will malfunction. In some cases, this means it will fire one shot and then stop. In others, it may cause the weapon to misfire more severely, or even blow up.

In any case, this is the most probable reason for the .50 cal's failure in the 507th convoy. And it traces directly back to a failure to train the operator on how to shoot the .50 cal. In many units -- especially support units -- .50 cal training is hard to get in peacetime. The ranges are few and the ammunition is usually short, and it's often hard to get the right guy to the range because soldiers are often rotating through positions within a given unit. In combat, all of these are just excuses. The bottom line is that the 507th's convoy didn't have its .50 cal when it needed it, and its soldiers paid the price.

4. Land Navigation and Fieldcraft. It appears that Captain King got his convoy lost in the desert. Either he failed to properly copy the route, failed to follow the route, or failed to adjust the route based on information from his higher headquarters. The results were fatal. Soldiers in the Army don't do enough training on basic land navigation. Indeed, in many units, they simply rely on their Global Positioning Systems for this skill, as Captain King appeared to do:
The 507th, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, was not a combat unit; its members included cooks, mechanics, technicians and clerks. On March 21, the company crossed into Iraq from Kuwait as part of a convoy supporting a Patriot missile battalion. But early into the deployment, the company's commander, Capt. Troy King, misread his assigned route, the report said.

According to the Army findings, King relied primarily on his Global Positioning System device and an annotated map on which he had highlighted "Route Blue." King "believed in error that Blue was his assigned route," the report said.

King could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman at Fort Bliss said he was on routine leave.

As the convoy sped north, the 507th, with 18 vehicles, "bogged down in the soft sand," the report said. "Drivers from many units became confused due to the darkness, causing some vehicles to separate from their march columns."

And the route King chose, the report said, "proved to be extremely difficult, over rough terrain."
Getting lost in peacetime is embarassing; it usually means you have to buy the beer or do pushups. Getting lost in wartime can be fatal. I learned this lesson in Korea when I misread the terrain once and wound up driving up a long canyon that led straight to the DMZ -- it took an extra 2 hours to back up the canyon and drive home. I never got lost again as an Army officer. My unit, a division MP company, trained a lot on land navigation because we knew that logistics units like the 507th would rely on us for this skill. As flattering as that was, it's the wrong answer. Every soldier and leader must be capable of moving from point A to point B in a way that gets them there alive. And they need to be able to do it without gadgets like the GPS, at night, with just a map and a compass (see FM 3-25.26 for more on the basics of land navigation)

Summary: I don't want to keep picking on support units, but in this case, I see a trend. Support units work hard in peacetime to keep our equipment running, often to the neglect of their own field training. The result is that they do not meet the standard for basic soldiering and warfighting skills. Of course, they learn through trial and error just like every unit. But the result of waiting to learn these lessons in wartime is that young Americans die as the unit climbs the learning curve. Our Army needs to embrace the warrior ethos in all units -- not just the combat arms -- and it needs to ensure that every unit can fight its way out of an ambush like this one.

In the end, none of this may have made the crucial difference and saved the convoy. War is chaotic, and bad things happend to good units who do everything right. But commanders strive to set their units up for success; to do everything possible to make the fight an unfair one -- for the enemy. Training, maintenance, pre-combat checks, pre-combat inspections, and fieldcraft are what enable good units to execute when the time comes on the battlefield. The 507th Maintenance Convoy failed in these areas, and the effects were devastating.

Enemy combatant asks court for release

Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, who has been deemed an "enemy combatant" by President Bush, filed suit in federal court today seeking release from that status and from Defense Department custody. Like Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi before him, Al-Marri contends that such a status is unlawful and unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the student, Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, argued in an appeal filed in federal court in Illinois that Mr. Bush's June 23 order declaring Mr. Marri to be an operative for Al Qaeda and an enemy combatant represented an act of "unbridled authority" that was illegal and unconstitutional.

Specialists in military law said that the legal challenge, coming just days after the Bush administration announced it was considering the use of military tribunals against six terrorism suspects, could present an important test of the executive branch's power to imprison suspects outside the reach of the civilian court system.

Mr. Marri, 37, had been scheduled to go on trial this month in Illinois on charges that he lied to the F.B.I. soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about his travels and engaged in credit card fraud. But in a surprise decision last month, the Bush administration instead had him removed from the court system and jailed in a Navy brig in South Carolina as an enemy combatant. Officials said recent intelligence indicated that he had visited a Qaeda terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and that he was prepared to help "settle" operatives in the United States for further attacks after Sept. 11.

Bush administration officials declined to comment on the legal challenge today. "If we have any response, we'll respond in court," said Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman.
Indeed they will... If the Hamdi and Padilla cases are any indicators, the Bush Administration will vigorously contest this case in court to uphold its authority to designate enemy combatants and detain them as such. This is another issue where the courts have been very deferential to the Executive Branch. However, the deference hasn't been perfect. A federal judge in New York ordered the Pentagon to allow Padilla to meet with his lawyer in Dec. 2002, and the government has lost other legal battles in the Moussaoui case relating to its power to sequester combatants who may also be material witnesses. It's likely that the Al-Marri case will follow the path of the others, and end at a brick wall for Mr. Al-Marri.

That may be right outcome. Nation-states have had the authority to designate their enemies for centuries. If Al-Marri is an enemy of the United States, then our President has the inherent power as the leader of a sovereign nation to take military action against him. Normally, that would entail killing him. But we have chosen in this instance to take him prisoner and interrogate him for intelligence. That is a perfectly lawful act as a matter of international law. Indeed, the Third Geneva Convention precludes the trial of a combatant in civilian court for the lawful acts of a soldier (war crimes are a different matter).

Plaintiff files first post-Lawrence challenge to the military

Today's New York Times reports that a former Army lieutenant colonel has filed suit in federal court against the Army challenging his discharge for being gay. Loren S. Loomis was forcibly discharged one week before his 20-year retirement after firefighters found tapes of him having sex with another man while responding to a fire at his residence near Fort Hood, Texas. Emboldened by the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence, Mr. Loomis has filed suit challenging the legality of his discharge.
The Army discharged Mr. Loomis, who was wounded in the Vietnam War, in which he won two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, under "other than honorable" conditions, a move that deprived him of pension and benefits that he says are worth more than $1 million.

Mr. Loomis appealed his discharge through the military's administrative process, petitioning the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records, but the board declined to reinstate him or award him retirement benefits.

"A soldier's sex life should be private and protected by the Constitution," Mr. Loomis said in a interview. "Too often, the Army denies those who have sacrificed in its service the basic protection of law."

Mr. Loomis, who now runs a land development company in Albuquerque, says he kept his homosexuality a private matter. It became an issue to the Army only after his home, near Fort Hood, Tex., was burned in 1996. The arsonist, an Army private who had posed for nude photographs for Mr. Loomis, said he was trying to destroy the pictures.
Analysis: The discharge of gay servicemembers is governed today by Title 10, Section 654, United States Code, which states:
"A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations:
(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts . . .
(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual . . .
(3) That the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex."
To win, Mr. Loomis will have to get the court to rule that this statute places an unconstitutional burden on his fundamental right to intimate conduct, as stated by Justice Kennedy in his Lawrence opinion. Once a fundamental right is implicated by a law, the court must ask two questions:

(1) Does the law further a compelling government interest?
(2) Is the law narrowly tailored to further that compelling government interest?

Lots of things can affect this calculus, and it's by no means easy to predict how courts will go. However, the burden clearly lies with the government to justify its exclusion of gays from the military. Laws which burden fundamental rights are presumptively unconstitutional, unless the government can show why the law should survive. I think they have the "compelling interest" prong down cold -- America needs an effective military with cohesive units. But it's not clear that this policy is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. It may be both underinclusive and overinclusive in the sense that it requires an overt statement, act or marriage to trigger the exclusion.

So will the law survive here? It's hard to tell. The reason is that the courts have historically given great deference to the Executive Branch and the military on matters of national security. See, e.g., Korematsu v. United States; Doe v. Bush. Such deference will be given to the military on both prongs of the fundamental rights analysis. The courts will most likely defer to the military on the issue of whether this policy furthers a compelling government interest. And the courts will also give weight to the military's judgment about whether this is the best tailored policy possible for achieving the compelling interest of a cohesive and effective military.

In any other context, the law would certainly fail. But the doctrine of military deference affects the fundamental rights calculus in a weird way, as seen in military cases on religion and speech. In addition to the military deference doctrine, there's also a doctrine of deference to the political branches on issues best resolved by Congress and the President. The legislative history of 10 U.S.C. 654 indicates that this statute was hammered out as a compromise between the two political branches after an extremely contentious political debate. The courts may not be willing to step into that fight.

Bottom Line: Military deference and political deference can only go so far. At some point, the court may decide this issue is too important to decide on those bases. The court may also decide the Constitutional rights at stake are too important to leave to military decisionmaking and political arm-wrestling. I honestly don't know how this will turn out, because I don't have the Constitutional Law expertise to offer an intelligent answer to these questions. Lawrence put this issue into play, after a series of courts had ruled against such challenges in the 1990s, but it's not clear how it will be resolved this time. Good arguments exist on both sides -- it's now up to the judge to decide.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Army contracts for 100,000-soldier barracks in Iraq

In what seems like deja vu from our deployment to the Balkans, Inside the Army reports that the Army has contracted Kellogg Brown & Root to build barracks for 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. This is a major step towards a long-term, institutionalized, semi-permanent U.S. presence in Iraq. Permanent bases are easier to secure, better for the soldiers, and more conducive to long-term deployments. I think this is an indicator that the Pentagon is planning for a long-term occupation of Iraq -- perhaps up to 10-30 years.
While some of the housing might be as crude as tents, Army officials say the project could provide more durable structures and describe accommodations similar to those found at longer-term peacekeeping spots around the world, like Kosovo.

Approximately 146,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq. President Bush last week said the United States faces a "massive and long-term undertaking" there, although military officials have been hesitant to say how many troops will stay and for how long.

The $200 million order for housing in Iraq was tasked to KBR in Arlington, VA, on June 13 through a long-term contract called the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program.
* * *
The latest task order under LOGCAP is designated for V Corps: $200 million for "the setup and operation of all housing and logistics to sustain task force personnel."

Dan Carlson, a spokesman for the Field Support Command, said the order would provide "temporary housing services" for 100,000 troops at various locations throughout Iraq. The housing structures might be just tents in some spots, Carlson said. However, more substantial housing facilities, including wood structures, could be built depending upon requirements in the area, he said. Plans have not been finalized, Carlson added.

Plywood structures, or "SEAhuts," are commonly used by Army peacekeeping personnel elsewhere, including the Balkans. The name stands for "Southeast Asia huts" -- because they were used by soldiers in Vietnam -- and are regarded as suitable for "temporary operational use."

Joan Kibler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Program Center, which oversaw construction of SEAhuts in the Balkans, said temporary construction is defined more by the "length of the military operation than the strength of the structure." If maintained properly, the SEAhuts can house soldiers for several years, or be dismantled, she said.

So far, the military has not built any living facilities for soldiers in Iraq beyond providing tents and a few "trailer-type" structures, according to a spokeswoman for the Coalition Forces Land Component Command at Camp Doha in Kuwait.

Monday, July 7, 2003

The ugly face of war
Embedded reports from the Marines' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion

A lot has been made of the reports that came from embedded reporters in the recent war with Iraq. For the most part, I think they did a good job of reporting on a part of war that has often been neglected for operational security reasons. Some reporters, such as the Washington Post's Rick Atkinson and William Branigin, and the LA Times' Tony Perry and David Zucchino, did a particularly good job of covering the units they were with. But until now, I haven't read any stories that hit me the force of some first-person accounts I've read.

Evan Wright's reports in Rolling Stone are different. For the entire war, Mr. Wright traveled with a platoon of the elite 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the U.S. Marines. The 1st Recon Marines were not used as stealthy infantry scouts, the way such a unit might normally be employed. Instead, these Marines were employed like an Army light cavalry unit, fighting their way in Hummvees north from Kuwait to Baghdad. Mr. Wright reports on the entire journey of these men, over the course of three outstanding pieces in Rolling Stone magazine. Here's an excerpt from the second piece:
It's not a good day for god in Iraq. Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Bodley, chaplain for the First Reconnaissance Battalion, is trying to minister to fighting Marines, now resting for the first time since the invasion of Iraq began more than a week ago. They have set up a defensive camp by the airfield they seized near Qal'at Sukkar, in central Iraq. After their initiation into urban-guerrilla warfare in An Nasiriyah to the south, followed by three days of continual fighting against an enemy they seldom actually saw, the 374 Marines of the elite battalion have been given forty-eight hours of downtime to recuperate. Their camp is spread across two kilometers of what looks like a fantasy Martian landscape of dried-out, reddish mud flats and empty canals. Each four - to six - man team lives in holes dug beneath camouflage nets placed around its Humvee. Throughout the day, Bodley walks around the camp and attempts to minister to his flock of heavily armed young men. Although the Marines in First Recon have already killed dozens, accidentally wounded civilians and taken one casualty of their own (a driver shot in the arm), the chaplain encounters few troubled by war itself. "A lot of the young men I talk to can compartmentalize the terrible things they've seen," he says. "But many of them feel bad because they haven't had a chance to fire their weapons. They worry that they haven't done their jobs as Marines."

Bodley is new to First Recon, and he confesses that he finds these Marines tough to counsel. "The zeal these young men have for killing surprises me," he admits. "When I first heard them talk so easily about taking human lives, using such profane language, it instilled in me a sense of disbelief and rage. People here think Jesus is a doormat."

Over by Sgt. Brad Colbert's Humvee, the Marines lounge under the camouflage netting, enjoying a few idle hours on a hot afternoon. Cpl. Joshua Person, the team's driver, lounges with his shirt off, trying to roast the "chacne" -- chest zits -- off his skin in the harsh Iraqi sun. Gunnery Sgt. Michael Wynn, the senior enlisted man in Bravo Company's Second Platoon, stops by to pass the latest gossip. "Word is," he says in a mild Texas accent, "we might go to the Iranian border to interdict smugglers."

"F*ck, no!" Person says. "I want to go to Baghdad and kill people."
I hope that Mr. Wright takes this material and writes a book about the experience these Marines went through. I suspect his detached view would make a great companion to first-person accounts like that of Anthony Swofford in Jarhead. If he writes it, Mr. Wright's book will join Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down on my bookshelf as two of the best journalistic accounts of war that I have read. Rolling Stone has also put the first and third articles online; I recommend them to anyone who wants to see the ugly face of war up close, without censorship.

Attacks on U.S. troops raise specter of guerilla war
Was an urban insurgency the Iraqi strategy all along?

Tom Ricks, probably the best defense reporter out there, reports today in the Washington Post (along with Rajiv Chandrasekaran) that Iraqi attacks on American troops in recent days have spurred concerns about the conflict that just seems to keep going in Iraq. Despite the declaration by the President that major combat operations have ended (see below), and the repeated declarations by Pentagon officials that we are not in a guerilla war, that seems to be exactly the case.
Recent Iraqi attacks on U.S. troops have demonstrated a new tactical sophistication and coordination that raise the specter of the U.S. occupation force becoming enmeshed in a full-blown guerrilla war, military experts said yesterday.

The new approaches employed in the Iraqi attacks last week are provoking concern among some that what once was seen as a mopping-up operation against the dying remnants of a deposed government is instead becoming a widening battle against a growing and organized force that could keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops busy for months.

Pentagon officials continue to insist that the U.S. military is not caught in an anti-guerrilla campaign in Iraq, that the fighting still is limited mainly to the Sunni heartland northwest of Baghdad and that progress is being made elsewhere in the country. "There's been an awful lot of work done," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told "Fox News Sunday" in an interview taped last week. "A lot of the country is relatively stable."

But a growing number of military specialists, and some lawmakers, are voicing concern about trends in Iraq. There is even some quiet worry at the Pentagon, where some officers contend privately that the size of the U.S. deployment in Iraq -- now about 150,000 troops -- is inadequate for force protection, much less for peacekeeping. The Army staff is reexamining force requirements and looking again at the numbers generated in the months before the war, said a senior officer who asked not to be named.

"If you talk to the guys in Iraq, they will tell you that it's urban combat over there," the officer said. "They all are saying, 'What we have is not enough to keep the peace.' "
Keeping the peace is just one problem. Fighting the war is another. Peace and war are not like pregnant and not-pregnant -- it's not a binary choice. Conceptually, I think there's more of a spectrum from peace to war, along which you have law enforcement, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, low-intensity conflict, and war. (This isn't just my thought; it's also what official U.S. Army doctrine says.)

So what are we seeing in Iraq? I don't think we're just seeing criminal activity or the activity of out-of-work soldiers. I think we're seeing the start of a real guerilla war, in which we will fight a determined, well-equipped and organized enemy in the streets of Iraq for some time. Ricks' article alludes to this trend:
Retired Army Col. Richard Dunn, a former head of the Army's internal think tank, agreed, saying, "I'd like to be wrong on this, but we may be seeing a classic insurgency situation developing." At the same time, he said, it is possible that "we may just be seeing a surge of activity that they're unable to sustain."

Last week, 45 armed men began a concentrated assault against a U.S. convoy north of Baghdad. And attacks in the capital appear to be more effective.

In one incident, an Iraqi stood up in a moving car and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an Army Humvee. In addition, snipers have been hitting troops in Baghdad. Over the weekend, one 1st Armored Division soldier guarding the National Museum was shot and killed, and another died in a similar attack at Baghdad University, in a neighborhood that had been considered quiet.

With the two weekend deaths, the U.S. toll grew to 209, including 70 troops killed since President Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1.

Overall, some U.S. soldiers at fixed points such as road checkpoints and outposts say the attacks on them are far more widespread and persistent than is reflected in the casualty figures.

In contrast to the head-on charges that some Iraqi fighters launched against U.S. tanks in the war, the attacks now tend to focus on more vulnerable parts of the military, such as isolated checkpoints and slow-moving convoys, and not against strengths, such as armored units.
Analysis: What if this was their strategy all along? What if, instead of fighting America in the desert, the Iraqi command authority made a conscious choice to suck us into their cities and fight us 1 platoon at a time, with small-unit ambushes and such? This looks an awful lot like classic insurgency warfare; what some call 4th Generation Warfare. It reflects an old maxim most recently stated by Chinese leader Mao Zedong: "The reed bends with the wind, and then snaps back up again."

I do not think we're seeing low-level criminal activity anymore; I also don't think we're seeing uncoordinated attacks. I think that our enemy has coalesced into something larger and more menacing. Of course, I don't have the on-the-ground intelligence to make this assessment, nor do I have access to anything but open-source reports. But the tea leaves look clear to me. The Iraqis have strategically withdrawn from the desert and regrouped in the cities, and instead of fighting us where we are strong (the desert), they are now fighting us where we are weak. Their ultimate goal is to mimic Somalia. The Iraqis hope to inflict enough casualties on us that we will go home with our tail between our legs. Ultimately, this is a dubious strategy, given our national level of commitment to Iraq as compared to our commitment to Somalia. But in the short-term, it means that Iraqi guerillas will seek to kill as many Americans as possible wherever they present targets of opportunity.

If I were a planner again... I'd recommend three main courses of action:

(1) Boost the U.S. troop presence, because you're going to need a lot more boots on the ground in order to properly secure the American footprint in Iraq.

(2) Ratchet up the force protection level significantly, to the point where U.S. troops conduct their nation-building operations as if they are still at war. This will hamper and delay much of the nation-building, as it's more difficult to conduct business at rifle's length that an arm's length. But we cannot let our guard down like we have been in recent weeks.

(3) Go on the offensive, as we did with Operation Peninsula Strike and Operation Scorpion. Find the Iraqi guerillas, their weapons caches, and their leadership -- and take them out. Again, these offensives require more soldiers, because you have to have enough for basic security and offensive missions. But if you let the enemy seize the initiative, you're toast. We absolutely have to take the fight to these Iraqis before they take the fight to us, and fight them on terms favorable to us.

Update: I've been asked to comment on this issue and the situation in Iraq tomorrow morning between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on WCTC, New Brunswick, NJ (AM 1450). If you're in that area, I hope you can tune in.

Update II: David Adesnik at Oxblog has some thoughts on the relationship between stories like this and soldier morale. For what it's worth, I think that criticizing the mission and the cause can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. We ought do that for the sake of the mission and our soldiers in the field. But I think we should recognize this conflict for what it is -- something in the gray area between peace and war -- and devote the resources necessary to win it.

Back from the holiday weekend... blogging will resume at my regular summer pace. Thanks for stopping by; more to follow.