Sunday, July 27, 2003


Lance Armstrong, the gifted athlete who battled testicular cancer and won, added a fifth consecutive Tour De France title to his long list of accomplishments today. This tour was tougher for Lance than previous ones. He faced fatigue, dehydration, French citizens, crashes, and near wipeout during the grueling 2,130-mile race. But in the end, his experience and endurance enabled him to win the race, supported by the strong U.S. Postal Service team. Lance already ranks with the best American athletes of all time -- Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz -- to name a few. But this title puts him in the rarefied ranks of cycling. Only one man (Miguel Indurain) has ever won 5 consecutive Tour De France titles.

Maybe Lance will go for six?

Friday, July 25, 2003

More on the impact of killing Odai and Qusai Hussein

Speaking by video teleconference from Iraq, 4th Infantry Division commander MG Ray Odierno said today that the killing of Saddam Hussein's two sons in Mosul on Monday had little practical effect on the threat he was seeing arrayed against him.
Q: General, Eric Schmitt with the New York Times. What's been the effect of your region in the last few days since the deaths of the two Hussein sons? What impact has it seen in your area?

Odierno: I will just comment that I believe most of the operations are really decentralized, so I've seen, actually, no impact. It's been about the same. We've seen no increase or no decrease; we've seen about the same amount of activity. And I think that has to do with it -- it was not organized up to the top, but is a very decentralized organized effort.

But we've had some great successes. What we continue to see is Iraqis coming forward to us with information, and that has been going on now in significant numbers for the last two to three weeks, and that's what we've really seen the difference.
Analysis: This sounds very similar to what I wrote on Tuesday. I opined that America would not see a significant dropoff in guerilla attacks because Odai and Qusai probably spent more time hiding than exercising command and control over insurgents. Moreover, the evidence tends to indicate a loosely connected network of guerillas in Iraq -- not a hierarchical organization controlled by former Saddam henchmen. Ultimately, I think the killing of these two men will probably have a marginally positive effect on our operations in Iraq, but not a large one. MG Odierno agrees:
. . . What I would say is -- to comment on that -- I think there will be more of a long-term effect. It's very important that this operation occurred and that we have shown them that no one of the old regime's going to survive. And I think it's going to have a long- term effect. It will take a little bit of time. Might take months, might take weeks, might take three months, four months, but it's going to have an effect overall on the overall outcome. But I have seen no immediate impact based on the specific attacks.
Sounds like a very prudent commander, and one that I'm glad we have over there. Taking these men out was the right thing to do, but it's not the end of our mission in Iraq. We must continue to persevere, to take the offensive, in order to prevail over the guerillas who aim to thwart our goals in Iraq.

3ID commander orders an end to media embedding

In response to the controversy this month surrounding some out-of-school comments by his soldiers to the media, MG Buford Blount has put the 3rd Infantry Division "off limits" to embedded reporters from the states, according to Lisa Burgess in the European Stars & Stripes. The move appears to be calculated to reduce troop contact with the media, giving them a chance to blow off steam without having their comments picked up by a journalist and transmitted around the world. This move comes after one soldier candidly told an ABC News reporter: "If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I'd ask him for his resignation."
On Monday, the 3rd ID commander, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, decided to stop allowing reporters to spend time with his troops, other than to gather information for pre-approved "news features," according to an e-mail response from Lt. Col. Birmingham, 3rd ID spokesman in Baghdad.

The 3rd ID is "no longer embedding media for short stays, effective the beginning of this week," Birmingham said.

The only exceptions to the policy will be made for three journalists who were embedded with the unit during the war and have subsequently returned, Birmingham said.

Blount "instituted the new ground rules with the intent to give soldiers some opportunity to unwind among themselves," Birmingham said.
It would be a shame if the "media embedding experiment" ended on such a low note after the second Gulf War. For the most part, I think this experiment worked very well. It gave the American public a grunt's eye glimpse of the war and exposed a generation of reporters to the military. If anything, media embedding created problems because news reports from the field were largely positive, and most media did not offset that coverage with quality analysis from the rear. (The Washington Post is the notable exception to this criticism)

Nonetheless, this may be the right thing to do now, with so many media "flooding the zone" in Iraq to find stories of disenchantment and quagmire. Our soldiers need to blow off some stress, and they don't need a reporter embedded in their unit to hear them do that. Furthermore, there's nothing preventing a reporter from covering the news as a "unilateral" in Baghdad or any other part of Iraq -- they don't need to be embedded anymore.

Was it legal to take out Saddam's sons?
Corollary: was it legal to show their post-mortem photos?

Slate provides an excellent explainer on this subject, citing to Executive Order 12333 and other relevant authority on the subject. The basic answer is "yes -- it was legal to kill Odai and Qusai Hussein". The legal analysis boils down to one question: were these political leaders, or military leaders? Political leaders (e.g. Yassir Arafat) cannot be killed because it would be an assassination. Military leaders (e.g. Admiral Yamamoto in WWII) can be killed lawfully in wartime. Whether Odai and Qusai were military or political targets is a matter of argument, but I think the administration is on firm ground in saying that they were not legitimate political leaders now, after the fall of the Hussein regime.
During wartime, it is generally acceptable to attack figures who are involved in military operations, and it is widely believed that Odai and Qusai were helping to coordinate resistance to the American occupation. As long as the brothers weren't killed by treacherous means—say, by luring them to a peace conference, then shooting them—they are legitimate targets. A close parallel is the 1943 killing of Japanese Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. When U.S. aircraft* ambushed his plane, Yamamoto was the mission's sole target. However, because the admiral oversaw military operations against the United States at the time, the killing is generally not considered to have been an assassination.

Since Ford's order, the United States has occasionally targeted foreign heads of state for purposes of self-defense, most notably when American warplanes bombed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's personal quarters in 1986. The attack was in retaliation for the Libyan-orchestrated bombing of a Berlin disco in which two U.S. soldiers were killed. According to the Reagan administration, the United States had the authority to launch an attack under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which states that nothing "shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs." By this logic, Qaddafi was a combatant who was planning military operations and could be targeted just like Yamamoto.

A thornier question is whether the United States can legally kill terrorists, who lack formal affiliation with a particular nation. It's unclear whether war can be declared against a terrorist group, as opposed to a sovereign country, and that muddles the issue of what qualifies as combat or self-defense. But the ban on assassinations may be lax enough to render these concerns moot. Unlike a law passed by Congress, an executive order like 12333 can be amended by the president at any time. And since this one deals with national security, the president can make that change secretly.
The Slate explainer goes on to tackle a more pressing issue: the legitimacy of our decision to publish photos of the two men's corpses.
The military claims that the publication of Odai's and Qusai's photos was necessary in order to prove to the Iraqi public that the pair were dead. But as Explainer noted in March, the Geneva Convention prohibits the public airing of pictures that might humiliate a combatant—the same justification the United States used to object to broadcasting interrogations of American POWs.
As a matter of law, the Third Geneva Convention does indeed prohibit anything that would expose POWs to "public curiousity". Of course, one can argue that these were corpses, not POWs, and that at no time were they alive and in the custody of the United States. Some have also suggested that the U.S. might have given the bodies and photos to the Iraqis for dissemination -- or for public display as was done for Mussolini when he was killed. Though that may technically sidestep the Geneva Convention problem, I think it's still wrong. Using our agents and surrogates to do our dirty work is not a good answer. Furthermore, doing so would make the Iraqi "government" look more like our puppet.

The Moral Dimension of War: We've dealt with this issue in other contexts, such as the "rendering" of captured suspects over to allies (like Pakistan) for interrogation, or the use of foreign interrogators in American detention facilities to do things that our guys can't do. Those things don't sit well with the American public, let alone the international human rights community. And I'm not sure that the marginal gains are worth the loss in political capital and moral capital.

One of John Boyd's ideas that really intrigued me was his perspective on the moral dimension of war. I think this is one of the defining characteristics of 4th Generation Warfare. If you can define the moral dimensions of a conflict and the norms/rules of conflict, you can dominate it. To date, we have been able to do so by casting asymmetric means like terrorism and guerilla warfare in a negative light. But the more we employ unconventional tactics, and the more we step into the gray area of international law, the more we will cede the moral high ground to our opponents. I think it's something we need to be cognizant of.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

The Art of War

Jess Bravin has a fascinating piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on the combat artists who accompanied allied forces in Iraq. These men went as soldiers first, artists second, and captured some incredible images of the war that simply transcend what photographers were able to capture.
Britain started the modern practice of appointing war artists in 1916. Hungry for propaganda to shore up the war effort, officials sent such leading painters as John Singer Sargent and Paul Nash to the front lines. Britain's World War I allies, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, followed suit with combat artists of their own.

There were occasional aesthetic battles between artist and army. No fans of modernism, Canadian authorities ordered World War I artist David Bomberg to redo his cubist rendition "Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunelling Company." But the work of war artists, reproduced in domestic magazines, provided folks back home their best glimpse of life in the trenches.
* * *
. . . war art still tells a story that mere photography can't touch, military painters say. "The photograph is like prose. The painting is poetry. That's my opinion," says Nick Mosura, deputy director of the Air Force Art Program. An illustrator himself, Mr. Mosura escorted four civilian painters to Iraq for a two-week stint painting airplanes and airmen. The Air Force maintains relations with five different illustrators' clubs across the country, in peace and war. In exchange for free travel to Iraq, the artists agreed to donate their paintings to decorate air bases.
The Journal has one of the Marine Corps artists pencil sketches embedded in the story on its website, of a Marine cleaning his rifle in Kuwait while wearing chemical protective gear. The elegant simplicity of the sketch is quite powerful. I recommend reading this piece if you can, and looking for these artists' work over the next several months.

Editor's note

All of the news stories I post on this site are the intellectual property of their authors and the publications which originally run them, e.g. the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Additionally, I own the copyright to all of the content that I write for this site, and I have a copyright notice posted on this page to indicate that. Federal copyright law prevents me from posting anything more than brief excerpts or summaries of an article, with due credit, under the "fair use" doctrine. I intend to follow the law, and respect the intellectual property of the authors and publications which I cite.

In one note (see below), I excerpted parts of a story that altered the balance that the writer attempted to achieve between conflicting viewpoints. At the editor's request, I have posted the entire story in order to provide that balance. Normally, I would not post the entire text of a story because doing so would infringe on the copyright of the publication. However, I have received permission to do so in this case.

Finally, some of the publications I cite to include the notation (subscription required) after the link (such as the Wall Street Journal). That means that these journals require a subscription in order to see the full text of the article. I am typically more careful about borrowing text from these publications, since they have made a conscious decision to sell their content instead of giving it away online. If you want to read the full text, then I ask that you purchase a one-time subscription or general subscription. Good reporting is worth paying for.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Recruiting and retaining top talent in the FBI

Today's Los Angeles Times has a great Column One piece on their front page about the difficulties the FBI is facing with recruiting and retaining its best agents despite a meager salary scale. Unfortunately for all of us, the difficulties appear most acute in urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York -- where the threat of terrorism is greatest.
While the FBI plays a lead role in the war on terrorism, many agents say they are waging a private battle against financial hardship. An outdated pay structure has left many agents struggling to make ends meet, especially in high-cost cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

Some agents endure lengthy commutes. Others have gone deep into debt. A few have gone on food stamps or moved into government housing.

FBI veterans say the impact on the bureau's crime-fighting prowess is subtle, but unmistakable. Scores of younger agents are resigning for better-paying jobs in the private sector. Experienced agents want out of big cities. Top-level vacancies in specialties ranging from white-collar crime to counterterrorism go begging for applicants.

The financial squeeze, agents say, is greatest in the very urban centers where the need for top investigative talent is most urgent.

"It is the elephant in the living room that no one wants to talk about," said Nancy Savage, a Portland, Ore., agent who is president of the FBI Agents Assn. "It is killing us in terms of getting people to want to work and stay in these high-cost cities. And these are critical places for us to work."
Analysis: This problem is not unique to the FBI. Lots of public agencies are having difficulty with recruiting and retaining the best and brightest Americans they can. Nick Thompson had a great piece in the Washington Monthly on this issue in June. Federal judges (including Chief Justice Rehnquist) have also expressed their discontent with the federal salary structure. Although they're making as much money as any federal employee save the President, the differential between the pay for a federal judge and a private law firm partner can run into the thousands of dollars. This has been an issue for America's military as well, with an exodus of junior officers from all four services in the late-1990s due to chronic problems in the military and opportunities in the outside world. (This exodus has slowed somewhat due to world events, but it may resume when large units redeploy from overseas and "stop-loss" orders come off.)

So how do we encourage more public service? That's a really hard question. I'm not in favor of a draft, nor am I in favor of compulsory public service. However, I do think that we should create an opportunity-based system (like military enlistment) where young Americans can serve in various capacities in return for college scholarships, graduate-school scholarships, and other benefits.

In the age of terrorism, our lives depend on the FBI's abilities. The FBI's abilities, in turn, depend on the people it can recruit and retain. Given the importance of these agents to our national security, it may be wise to pursue some sort of housing allowance or cost-of-living offset for the agents we put in high-threat/high-cost areas like New York and Los Angeles.

Better terrorism intelligence -- or a longer OODA loop?

That's the question posed by members of Congress in today's Los Angeles Times. The Times reports that several lawmakers have taken the new "Terrorist Threat Intelligence Center" (TTIC) to task for being just another piece of bureaucracy instead of an effective clearinghouse for the gathering and analysis of intelligence.
The intelligence center, staffed by more than 100 agents from all three agencies as well as the State and Defense departments, was established to remedy a widely acknowledged failure of the CIA and the FBI to share critical intelligence in the months leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Members of the House homeland security and judiciary committees, at a joint hearing, said the center began May 1 with the deck stacked against it.

"There is an unclear division of responsibility and therefore no basis of accountability," said Rep. Jim Turner of Texas, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee. "The robust intelligence unit envisioned by the Homeland Security Act does not exist today."
* * *
Committee members questioned why the center was not a part of the Homeland Security Department. "What this looks like is the intelligence community's jobs-forever program," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Anaheim). "Why are we duplicating our efforts?"
Analysis: These members of Congress are on to something, but they're not there yet. The central problem is this: how can the large, bureaucratic, federal security apparatus (DoD, CIA, DHS, DoJ, etc) compete with a nimble, agile, networked, flexible foe like Al Qaeda? How can it possibly react to intelligence reports fast enough to actually do something before a terrorist attack?

The best conceptual framework for this problem comes from the late-Col. John Boyd, whose ideas redefined military strategy over the last 4 decades. Boyd also developed the "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act" (OODA for short) model of military decisionmaking. He developed this model to map the competitive mental processes of fighter pilots in the Korean war, largely to explain why U.S. pilots did so much better with ostensibly inferior aircraft. The answer was that they had slightly more maneuverable aircraft, and better training, which enabled them to move through their OODA loop faster and react faster than their opponents. Though designed for 1-on-1 combat in the skies, the OODA loop can be used to illuminate almost any competitive endeavor, from corporate decisionmaking to warfighting.

In the context of terrorism, it provides the perfect framework for understanding the difficulties of the U.S. government in dealing with a threat like Al Qaeda. We now face a global terror network capable of rapid innovation and adaptation to our actions. They, in short, have a very tight OODA loop. It is imperative that we construct organizations capable of rapidly gathering intelligence on Al Qaeda, analyzing it, and exploiting it. The TTIC can be such an organization, if given the chance. But it must be embraced by its colleagues in DoD, DoJ and DHS, who ultimately must act to exploit the intelligence from TTIC.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

U.S. confirms the death of Uday and Qusay Hussein -- now what?

The Washington Post (and others) report that American military officials in Baghdad have confirmed the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein -- sons of the former Iraqi dictator. The two men died after a fierce firefight with American infantry who surrounded a residence they had sought refuge in. After pounding that house with rifle, machine gun, and other fires, American infantry entered the building to find the two Husseins dead.
[Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, gave few details about the operation, but he said it lasted about six hours and involved troops from the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Special Forces and others. U.S. officials became aware of the location when a "walk-in" informant came to them last night and said that several high-ranking suspects could be found there.

Sanchez said more information on the operation would be coming tomorrow, and details of the attack were very sketchy. But an intelligence official in Washington said that tentative identification was made when the bodies were shown to several Iraqis who have been detained by U.S. forces and who told U.S. military officials that they were Hussein's sons.

"We're certain that Uday and Qusay were killed," Sanchez said. "We've used multiple sources to identify the individuals."
So what does this mean for our Iraqi endeavor? Well, it depends. If these two men were providing some of the command and control behind the ongoing guerilla attacks on American forces, then some of that activity may drop off, assuming they did not have a redundant command structure. However, it's not clear that these two men were directing those attacks, or doing anything other than trying to hide from American forces along with their father.

Optimism is good, but realism is better. We need to consider all possible scenarios in Iraq, including the possibility that the guerilla resistance we're seeing is not the result of a coordinated, shadow command structure led by Mr. Hussein or some other "Mr. Big". (American forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti and Afghanistan have been predisposed to see this organized crime-style model even in the absence of evidence indicating its truth) It's very possible, given the diffuse locations and tactics of these guerillas, that we are seeing a loosely connected network of enemies in Iraq. If that's the case, then we may not see any drop at all from this latest success.

Bottom Line: The jury's still out on this one. This success may have some effect on the guerilla activity in Iraq, but I don't think we're going to see it disappear entirely anytime soon. Relentless pursuit of the Hussein regime (and Hussein himself) will help the infant government now forming, and add to the sense that the Hussein regime will never return to power. But it's hard to tell anything else with a great deal of certainty.
Did we plan for success in Iraq?

"Maybe," according to a report in today's USA Today, which mirrors a story in the Los Angeles Times last week. Barbara Slavin and Dave Moniz make the point that U.S. planning for post-war Iraq was less-than-stellar, largely due to faulty assumptions and group-think about what post-war Iraq would look like.
Baghdad fell just 21 days after the initial assaults, and military analysts describe the campaign as historic, even brilliant.

But so far, the verdict on the aftermath of that campaign is much harsher. More than three months after Baghdad fell, American soldiers are not being treated like liberators. Instead, they are mired in a guerrilla war, according to Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the region. Shadowy forces prey on U.S. troops, sabotage the nation's electric grid and other vital infrastructure, and spread fear among average Iraqis that Saddam is coming back.

Administration officials say the violence will eventually subside. But as of mid-July, even the top U.S. official in Iraq was offering no clear forecast for when. "We need to be patient," Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, told Meet the Press on Sunday. While expressing confidence that resistance could be overcome, he conceded that "we are going to be there for a while. I don't know how many years."

Interviews with more than 30 current and former U.S. officials, analysts, Iraqi-Americans and others — including a cross-section of those involved in the planning process — identified a number of pre-war decisions that they say helped create the current situation. Hasty planning, rosy assumptions about Iraqi attitudes and a failure to foresee and forestall the disastrous effects of looting and sabotage all contributed, they say. Most spoke on the record, but a few in sensitive positions requested anonymity.
Apparently, Bush Administration knew the post-war phase would be the toughest. The USA Today report notes the advice given by the Army's leadership -- former-SecArmy Tom White and retired-Gen. Eric Shinseki -- that the occupation would require "several hundred thousand" troops. The USA Today report also notes a National Security Council memo analyzing past nation-building operations and projecting a need for 500,000 troops for this one:
As late as February, barely a month before the war began, the question of how many troops to send to Iraq to stabilize the country after the war was unsettled, according to a high-ranking Defense Department official involved in the planning process.

To help planners reach a decision, staff members on the White House's National Security Council (NSC) prepared a memo that looked at the numbers of troops used in recent peacekeeping operations and stated what numbers would be sent to Iraq if those models were followed, the official said. If the peacekeeping operations during the 1999 Kosovo crisis were used as a benchmark, the memo said, 500,000 troops would have been deployed to Iraq. A large number of peacekeepers was also sent to Bosnia, but relatively smaller forces were deployed in other crises in Haiti, Sierra Leone, where the outcome has been less successful than in the Balkans.

The memo did not set an inflexible rule for force size, but instead laid out the apparent lessons of recent peacekeeping operations. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice saw the memo, but it is not clear whether President Bush did. Michael Anton, an NSC spokesman, refused to comment on the document, apart from denying that any specific recommendation had been made regarding how many troops should be deployed. "The NSC staff does not make recommendations or provide estimates to the president on the number of troops needed for any mission," he said.

Yet about the same time the document was drafted, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz harshly criticized then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki for telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" to stabilize Iraq in the months after the war.

In the end, the conviction that U.S. forces would be warmly welcomed was at the heart of the decisionmaking, judging from the administration's public statements and inside accounts from those who took part in the debate. Thomas White, who served as secretary of the Army until Rumsfeld pushed him out after the war over differences about force size and other matters, traces the force-size decision to the belief by Cheney, Rumsfeld and others that U.S. troops would be hailed as liberators.
Shortly after American troops entered Baghdad, I wrote a piece similar to this memo in the Washington Monthly, arguing that our recent experience with nation-building should be a guide for doing it this time around.
The architects of the war might be forgiven for misgauging the number of troops required had the war come a dozen years ago, when the United States had little experience in modern nation-building. But over the course of the 1990s America gained some hard understanding, at no small cost. From Port-au-Prince to Mogadishu, every recent engagement taught the lesson we're now learning again in Iraq: America's high-tech, highly mobile military can scatter enemies which many times outnumber them, in ways beyond the wildest dreams of commanders just a generation ago. But it's not so easy to win the peace.

Consider the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. In Bosnia, America won its war with a combination of muscular diplomacy, air power, and covertly armed Bosnian-Muslim and Croat proxy armies on the ground. That mix of tools brought about the Dayton Accords in the fall of 1995. But when it came to making that treaty work, America had to send in its heaviest armor divisions, putting a Bradley fighting vehicle on nearly every street corner to enforce the peace. NATO initially sent 60,000 soldiers into Bosnia, and almost eight years after Dayton, America still has several thousand soldiers on the ground in Bosnia, as part of a 13,000-soldier NATO force. Winning hearts and minds took a backseat to overawing malcontent factions with an overwhelming and, for all intents and purposes, enduring show of force.

Like Bosnia, Kosovo was taken without any American ground commitment. There the United States won its war by unifying air power with what now-retired Gen. Wesley Clark calls "coercive diplomacy." But to win the peace America had to send in substantial ground forces. NATO quickly deployed a force of nearly 50,000 troops to the tiny province that is roughly 1/40 the size of Iraq. Truly pacifying Kosovo--a process that has really only just begun--means leeching it of its toxic ethnic hatreds and endemic violence. Most indicators hint that NATO will have to maintain its mission in Kosovo for at least a generation.

In Afghanistan, the pattern was much the same. It took only 300 U.S. special forces on foot and horseback--supported by 21st-century aircraft, GPS-guided bombs, and a force of Northern Alliance fighters--to bring down the Taliban. But once the government in Kabul had fallen, thousands of U.S. and allied troops had to come in to secure the country. Today, 15,000 American and allied soldiers remain there, 50 times more than it took to win the war.
So what's the bottom line? I think we can draw some conclusions from today's article, the LA Times article last Friday, and some of my writing.

(1) The U.S. knew what it would take to do the job right in Iraq, because of our recent experiences in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Indeed, our top officials knew what it would take, based on studies done by the Army War College and National Security Council.

(2) Senior officials in the Pentagon and White House appear to have chosen courses of action which were contraindicated by the advice mentioned in (1). It's not clear why this choice was made. It may never be possible to pin down the exact decision calculus inside the minds of the top leaders in the Pentagon. However, it appears that the Pentagon made a conscious decision to accept risk in the planning and execution of its post-war plan, in order to start and fight the war faster. That may have been an acceptable tradeoff, given the effect that our high operational tempo had on the Iraqis. But it's clear now that the risk on the back-end (in the post-war phase) was significant, and possibly larger than planners anticipated. (More on operational risk and planning later...)

(3) The entire post-war plan was given relatively short shrift by planners and commanders at the top levels, apparently because of assumptions at the highest levels of government that "we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." (Vice President Cheney, March 16) This assumption drove every other aspect of the plan, from mobilization of additional reservists for security to contracts for additional civilian security forces. When this assumption proved to be false, it was too late to change those other aspects of the plan. Without a contingency force already sitting in Kuwait ready for commitment, it was impossible to rapidly mobilize one from the states to get there when they were needed.

The result: American soldiers have not been set up for success in Iraq. The Administration has not yet done all it can do to set them up for success, and we must. Our mission in Iraq is important, notwithstanding questions about our casus belli. (See Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo for the best reporting on this issue.) We must succeed there in order to create regional stability and prevent the kind of threats from emerging in Iraq that have emerged in other failed states (e.g. Afghanistan). Going to the U.N. on bended knee to get official U.N. sanction and peacekeeping support is one answer. Mobilizing sufficient numbers of reservists to implement a long-term rotation plan with enough boots on the ground is another. Contracting with Iraqis for civilian security forces is a third good option. Ultimately, we must prevail. But we must get smarter about our planning in order to do so.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Army examines its choice of weapons lube

After taking sharp criticism from current and former soldiers alike for its continued use of "CLP" weapons lubricant, Inside the Army (subscription required) reports today that the Army has decided to relook its choice of lubricant for the standard M-16A2 assault rifle that most soldiers carry. (The same lube is also used for the M4 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon)
Inside The Army
July 21, 2003
Pg. 1

Small Arms Problems In Iraq Spur Army To Investigate Lubricants

By Megan Scully

Problems with small arms during Operation Iraqi Freedom have prompted the Army to investigate alternatives to the standard lubricant used for individual weapons, like the M-16 machine gun, according to service officials.

Soldiers deployed to Iraq have consistently complained that the Army's standard "CLP product" attracted sand to weapons and otherwise performed poorly in the desert terrain, according to an Army after-action report on soldier equipment. CLP stands for the military specification for a lubricant -- cleaning, lubricating and preserving.

With confidence low in CLP, many soldiers turned to Militec-1, an artificial lubricant deemed by troops to be a "much better solution for lubricating individual and crew-served weapons," the report states.

Army officials, however, are not so sure.

As a cleaner and a lubricant, the product works "fine," according to an Army official. But because the product does not protect weapons against corrosion, it is not approved for small arms use by the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center.

Interest in the performance of small arms in Iraq has heightened in recent weeks with the release of the report on the March 23 ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company. The report details several instances in which the soldiers' M-16s malfunctioned during the ambush, but does not definitively indicate whether the jamming resulted from inadequate lubrication, poor maintenance or desert conditions.

The report on the 507th, however, does suggest that the weapons malfunctions "may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment."

According to a Militec Inc. official, the maintenance company never requested the Militec-1 product.

Militec-1 has been listed in the Defense Logistics Agency inventory for more than a decade. As such, field units were free to purchase it on their own until such requisitions were canceled in March, just prior to combat operations in Iraq, Russ Logan, senior vice president at Militec Inc., told Inside the Army last week.

Unit commanders and individual soldiers -- especially those from the 3rd Infantry, 1st Armored, 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne divisions -- then began to purchase the lubricant individually, using both personal and military-issued credit cards, Logan said. Since March, the company has received thousands of individual orders for the product, which sells to the military for $3 per 1-ounce bottle -- enough to last a soldier in combat for six months.

In early May, the Army re-opened DLA requisitions for 60 days because officials didn't want to "second guess field commanders' operational requirements for lubricant," the Army official said. That requisition window has since been closed and the service is now in the process of conducting an assessment of the "application and performance" of Militec-1 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Those findings will then feed into the overall lubricant study, which will review all alternatives to CLP -- not just Militec-1, the official said. The investigation will include representatives from across the Army, U.S. Special Operations Command, the independent Southwest Research Institute and industry.

"We're concerned about getting the best product to the soldier," the Army official said. "If the study conclusions lead us to an entirely new military specification, that's one option. If it leads us back to CLP, that's another option; back to Militec-1, another option."

But Militec claims that word never got out to the field on the re-opening of the requisition period and nearly $120,000 in canceled orders placed through the DLA in March and April were never recovered.

"The 60-day window was put into effect primarily after combat was over," Logan said. "Very few people in the field knew about it."

The Army and Militec are now locked in a heated debate over use of the product, with the service decidedly opposed to the full-scale distribution of any lubricant that does not meet military specifications.

"Our specifications are developed in response to operational requirements identified by [U.S. Army Forces Command] or [Training and Doctrine Command] soldier-customers," Maj. Gen. Ross Thompson, commander of the Army's Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, stated in a May 15 memorandum to Militec.

Thompson adds that the Army has worked for the last two years to update the lubricant specification "with input from industry that capitalizes on advanced technology," according to the memorandum. The service eventually determined that the current CLP specification represents "state-of-the-art performance for this multi-purpose product."

Militec, however, has argued that the preservative specification is not essential in dry environmental conditions. In the jungles of Vietnam, the Army "might worry" about corrosion, but the risk of that occurring in the Iraqi desert is low, Logan said.

The company also argues that the product's lubrication capabilities would be hindered if it functioned equally as a lubricant, cleaner and preservative. CLP, Logan said, "doesn't do any one of those three things well."

"If the gun doesn't work, everything else is not important," Logan said.

Thompson, however, is firm in his memorandum, stating that specifications are intended to challenge industry to "meet the span of the users' requirements."

The Army official questioned whether malfunctioning weapons during OIF can be directly attributed to the lubricant itself. More likely, he said, a weapon will fail to work because proper preventative maintenance checks and services (PMCS) have not been performed.

"In my opinion, malfunctioning weapons, particularly small arms, historically have had more to do with a lack of PMCS on the weapon than a lack of Militec-1," he said.

Any changes to PMCS, a function of leadership at the tactical level, would be made by TRADOC and field commanders. The lubrication review will focus only on materiel fixes.

"Inadequate small unit leadership is often the elephant in the living room and, therefore, often lost in the debate when evaluating lessons learned," said the official, a former small unit leader. "It's seldom a one-dimensional problem of hardware . . . or lubrication."

* Reprinted with permission from Inside Washington Publishers. Copyright 2003.
This is something I've written on before, in connection with the report on the 507th Maintenance Company ambush. "Soldiers For The Truth" has also had some good reporting on this, along with blogger colleagues One Hand Clapping and Winds of Change. Few things are more important in combat than having small arms which work when they're needed. I'm not sure if Militec is the right answer here, but I'm pretty sure that CLP is less than adequate. Of course, no weapons lubricant will work when soldiers fail to do the necessary weapons maintenance, a trend which also appears in the 507th report. However, we owe it to our soldiers to give them the best materiel that our defense dollars can buy. I hope this investigation pushes the Army a little bit closer to that product -- whatever it is.

Update: I recently updated this post with the full text of the article from Inside the Army, which is an independent publication which covers the Army and is associated with several other such publications about the other services. The original article was quite balanced, but I made the editorial decision to only post certain excerpts which criticized the Army. I received a note asking me to post the entire article, as well as permission to do so from the publisher, in the interest of fairness. I thought it was the right thing to do. For more outstanding coverage of this issue and others, I recommend making Inside the Army a regular stop. Their reporters consistently do a good job of reporting on this kind of stuff -- which as we see from this story, has a direct effect on the way our soldiers perform in combat.