Thursday, November 20, 2003

An old refrain: too few MPs to go around in America's reserves

Jeff Quinton passes on some news from South Carolina that ought to seem eerily familiar to those who have been following the state of America's military reserves since Sept. 11: too few Military Police units for too many missions. Immediately after Sept. 11, MPs were called up to handle force protection missions everywhere from the Pentagon to the Golden Gate Bridge. Since then, reserve MPs have taken on the Afghanistan MP mission, the Guantanamo Bay mission, and a great deal of the MP mission in Iraq. I can't think of a single MP unit in the reserves that hasn't been mobilized in some way since Sept. 11, along with a few other high-demand specialties like Civil Affairs, Military Intelligence, and Special Forces.

Practicing judo with the Senate Armed Services Committee

The New York Daily News reports that Gen. Peter Schoomaker has effectively learned how to deal with Congress -- agree with them when they criticize the military, and turn the criticism to the Army's own benefit. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Hillary Clinton criticized a recent Pentagon study and used the occasion to argue for more pay, more benefits, and more money for Americans who serve and their families. (Not a bad way to get votes, according to this Washington Monthly story) Rather than obfuscate, obscure and tapdance, Gen. Schoomaker took ownership of the problem and did something wholly unexpected -- he agreed with Sen. Clinton.
New York's junior Democrat laid into a Pentagon cost-cutting study that suggests closing dozens of schools and commissaries on bases - and won the support of Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the new Army chief of staff.

"For the life of me, I do not understand this," Clinton said of the study on the viability of schools and the low-cost shops (PXs) for military families.

"This sends the wrong message" in a time of war, and could hurt recruitments and reenlistments by "undermining the quality of life of our soldiers and their families," Clinton said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

To Clinton's delight, Schoomaker, the former commander of the supersecret Delta Force, was in full agreement.

"It's a great point," Schoomaker told Clinton. "The issue you raise here is central to having the kind of Army we want to have," he said.

"It's absolutely important for this nation" to boost morale with improved benefits for soldiers, Schoomaker said.
Nice job, Gen. Schoomaker. If you can combine your political acumen with your extensive experience as a snakeeater to pry money out of Congress, the Army will be better for it.

Admin note: Just as my college newspaper, the UCLA Daily Bruin, studiously ignored the O.J. Simpson trial while I worked there as a reporter and editor, so too will I studiously ignore Southern California's latest celebrity trial: People v. Michael Jackson. I may comment on the implications this story's prominence has for foreign policy, in that it may push news of Iraq and terrorism off the front pages and TV news shows. But probably not -- I think such stories are best left to Court TV and the tabloid news shows.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Al Qaeda 3.0?
Global terror network evolves into an opportunistic enemy

Peter Bergen, the brilliant journalist who wrote Holy War, Inc., described the evolution of international corporate jihad recently as "Al Qaeda 2.0". A report in today's Los Angeles Times makes me wonder if the enemy has evolved even more, to something beyond what Mr. Bergen has described thus far. Here are the two key parts of the story:
Al Qaeda has always been relatively decentralized and unstructured. But today it moves faster, inciting attacks that require less time, expertise or high-level supervision, said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst and terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"It was always a network of networks whose inner core would wait patiently for three to five years to carry out spectacular attacks," Levitt said. "What's different today is that it's not clear they can conduct attacks with that kind of command and control. So to maintain relevancy, they gave the go-ahead: Do what you can, where you can, when you can. And they are targeting softer targets more frequently."

* * *
The resurgent global menace leads critics to assert that the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have boomeranged by scattering Al Qaeda's forces, making them harder to detect, and inspiring like-minded extremists.

"I think it [U.S. strategy] has backfired," said Alani, of the London defense studies institute. "There is no evidence they can cope effectively with these groups."

On the other hand, some U.S. and European officials see signs of weakness as inexperienced, improvised terrorists turn to soft targets. Even in a diminished condition, Al Qaeda has shown how effectively it can harvest the seeds of hate, said Olivier Roy of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

"It's a movement that functions by franchise," Roy said. "You find a local group like the Casablanca group who exist all over, who are radicalized and controlled by intermediaries. Al Qaeda gives a general attack order, and then it's not really important if the attack is rational. Casablanca was not rational in many aspects.... The real message was in the suicide, not in the targets. It was necessary to strike fear."
Analysis: This is truly a living, breathing, thinking, evolving enemy. Its original form was probably the "Afghan Arab" movement which successfully fought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with a composite force of Afghans and Arabs supported by America and others. In the 1990s, this force mutated into the international terror network responsible for the 1996 bombings in Africa, 1998 embassy bombings, 2001 USS Cole attack, and Sept. 11. Over that period, the Al Qaeda network evolved, building redundancy and operational capabilities, building doctrine, and learning lessons from other conflicts. One lesson it learned well was how to survive the eventual Western counter-attack.

The organization had enough redundant operational capability, as well as enough dispersal, to withstand our operations in Afghanistan and continue its operations abroad. The best that can be said is that Al Qaeda has been diminished. It currently appears to lack the ability to conduct "spectactular operations" in the U.S. or Western Europe. But Al Qaeda does not lack the ability to conduct operations abroad, either in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. It appears likely that Al Qaeda has adopted a purposeful operational strategy of "wait and strike where we can." Even pinprick attacks on seemingly insignificant targets can be a big deal for Al Qaeda, because they show the ability to continue the fight even in the face of overwhelming odds.

The tale of David and Goliath is an old one, but it has never lost its ability to inspire the masses. Al Qaeda vs. the United States has became a tale of David and Goliath writ large on the Arab street, and only spectacular successes on our part (which are broadcast by Al-Jazeera) will have any effect on this. To lure more recruits and more donations from sympathetic Arabs around the world, Al Qaeda doesn't have to launch another 9/11-style spectacular operation. They can simply go on, throwing rocks and bombs at insignificant targets while being hunted by American special operations units. Doing so will inspire their followers, which will make them stronger.

At some point in the future, Al Qaeda 3.0 will resume its larger operations, perhaps when we have become complacent or when America can no longer politically justify the exhaustive hunt for Al Qaeda. This enemy has the tactical patience to wait for that moment, and to strike then. Our best counter-measures are psychological. We can never allow ourselves to become complacent, and we must conceptually think of everything as a potential target.

Coda: The original Afghan Arabs may be evolving too, and learning lessons from both the Somalia operation and the current occupation of Iraq. Michael M. Phillips reports in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that Afghan insurgents have adopted many of the same disruptive tactics as their Iraqi contemporaries. That is to say, they are striking so-called "soft targets" of opportunity when they can in order to create chaos and inflict casualties. The goal is not to defeat the NATO military operation in Afghanistan, but to destabilize the situation and make it politically untenable for the West to continue its nation-building operations there.
The recent surge in violence, particularly in areas adjoining Pakistan where the Taliban enjoys considerable support, is impeding the international reconstruction effort. Following the assassination of a French staff member, the United Nations refugee agency scaled back its aid operations Tuesday and, for now, shuttered its offices in several southern and southeastern cities. The killing followed a bomb attack on a U.N. vehicle and another on the U.N. offices in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the ousted Taliban regime.

Nine charities working in Afghanistan, including CARE and the International Rescue Committee, say in a report circulated among policymakers that the growing insecurity has delayed, reduced or cut off reconstruction aid for 600,000 Afghans. They and other aid agencies are urging the U.S. and its coalition allies to boost both financial assistance and military forces in Afghanistan, which they fear has taken a backseat to Iraq.

"In most cases the terrorist groups are coming with clear instructions to undermine the reconstruction activities," said Said Tayeb Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to the U.S. and former chief of staff to President Hamid Karzai. "In some instances, there have been clear instructions, for instance, to kill the people working on road projects."

The opposition's hit-and-run tactics are similar to those being used in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein loyalists, foreign extremists and others opposed to the U.S.-led occupation have attacked the International Committee of the Red Cross, the U.N. and private contractors assisting in the reconstruction effort. The aim appears to be to cow the populace by demonstrating the inability of international forces to keep the peace or improve the public's living standards.
Coda II: Citizen (formerly LT) Smash has an illuminating chronology of post-Afghanistan Al Qaeda operations around the world. Note the fact that all are confined to the Arab and Islamic world. Why? Because Al Qaeda has been hobbled -- not dismantled -- by our global war on terrorism. They are limited to opportunistically hitting the soft targets now. Will they rise again? Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes, for some of the reasons discussed in this UN report. Our charge is to be ready for them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

America's new military plans for the world

Bradley Graham reports in the Washington Post about an extremely important strategic/operational development in the Pentagon: the creation of new operational plans for such major theaters as the Middle East and Korea. Unfortunately, news of the sniper's conviction and Arnold's swearing-in pushed this story from page A1 to A18. But I think this is probably the most important story to come out of the Pentagon in weeks. The most important change is that the new operational plans assume America's ability to "do more with less" -- that is, to fight a military campaign with fewer boots on the ground and more airpower/artillery guided by "C4ISR" (command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance).
U.S. military commanders, working with the Pentagon's Joint Staff, have revised plans for potential wars on the Korean peninsula, in the Middle East and elsewhere based on assumptions that conflicts could be fought more quickly and with fewer American troops than previously thought, senior officers said.

The changes reflect advances in precision munitions, greater use of Special Operations forces, and improved coordination between air, ground and sea forces tested in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. By incorporating these and other new elements in all U.S. war plans, Pentagon authorities hope to make them permanent features and gain greater combat efficiency, the officers said.

Although many specifics remain classified, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has alluded to the revised plans in recent statements, saying they show the Pentagon would be able to deal with other conflicts while U.S. forces stay heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has rejected calls from lawmakers and others to increase the overall size of the armed forces.

In the case of a North Korean attack on South Korea, one senior Joint Staff officer said, the new plans would allow the United States to respond without waiting for as many ground forces to arrive, by substituting air power for artillery and getting such critical equipment as counter-battery radars -- for pinpointing enemy mortar and artillery fire -- on scene ahead of the rest of their divisions. The resulting force might not be as "elegant" as planners would like, but "it will certainly be capable," the officer said.

Still, the new planning does not appear to have addressed issues of postwar stabilization and peacekeeping, which in the case of Iraq have imposed huge burdens on the Pentagon that were not foreseen by Rumsfeld and many of his top aides. Instead, it has focused on how to win wars fast.
Analysis: In essence, these changes take the alleged lessons learned from Iraq and incorporate them into updated and revised operational plans. We all watched the way that American firepower and intelligence capabilities worked together in Iraq to defeat the Iraqi army in three weeks. I haven't seen these new operational plans (obviously, they're classified), but I would guess that these plans assume a lower number of infantry, armor and combat-support troops on the ground as well for the mission, either because those troops may be tied up elsewhere (e.g. Iraq) or because there won't be time in future conflicts to deploy them before the balloon goes up.

What's wrong with this plan? Well, I see two glaring areas where the operational plans assume substantial amounts of risk -- at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.

Risk Area 1: Security. The decision to fight a war with less of a ground footprint leaves you with less manpower to protect those things that you do actually put on the ground. Although the initial stages of a war may be fought entirely by airpower, I think it's still true that you must eventually commit ground troops in order to seize, hold or occupy terrain -- or to truly impose your will on an enemy government. As T.R. Fehrenbach said so brilliantly in This Kind of War:
"You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life," wrote Fehrenbach. "But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud."
This is still true. The problem then becomes one of force protection. Our enemies have learned to hit us asymmetrically because they know that they cannot hope to succeed against the combined-arms effort of American infantry, armor, artillery and air support. Indeed, if Gulf War I and II are any indicator, they will lose thousands of soldiers in any such effort. However, they have also learned from Somalia, Afghanistan and Gulf War II that asymmetric tactics can be highly effective -- particularly against those parts of the American war machine that are less well-protected: supply lines, logistics bases and command posts. Such units are absolutely critical to the American way of war, because our front-line units can't operate without the support of a heavy logistics tail -- and they will be less effective without the assistance of a command post to direct close-air support and artillery, among other force multipliers. Asymmetric attacks on these targets will likely produce American casualties, which in turn will make Americans question the war effort and possibly hasten our withdrawal from any endeavor, according to this theory. They will also reduce our effectiveness and slow our advance.

As we saw recently in Iraq, such attacks will eventually rise to the point where the operational commander must pull front-line troops out of the fight to secure the lines of communication and critical American high-value assets. The asset requirements for force protection will sap combat power from the fight, where it's needed. And if the decision was made before the fight to deploy less troops to the theater, it's often too late during the fight to get them there, since American units typically require weeks to deploy anything heavier than a paratroop battalion to war. If this problem grows bad enough, it will necessitate an operational pause. But at that point, the whole point of moving fast and light is lost, and you should've just deployed enough troops when you had the chance.

Risk Area 2: Troops to Secure the Peace. As this article states, the new operational plans don't fully consider the post-war requirements in each respective theater of operation. In Iraq, those post-war requirements were assumed away too, according to excellent reports in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, among other sources. The result was a hasty effort to secure the peace in the immediate aftermath of the war, compounded by a lack of resources (boots on the ground) to do the job in April and May. The result was chaos. If there is one lesson that operational planners (and I've been one) should take away from Iraq, it is this: don't assume the post-war phase of the operation out of the planning process. You simply can't afford to assume a d*mn thing when it comes to planning, and failing to plan such a major part of the operation is planning for failure. The post-war phase in Iraq is turning out to be far more important, far more costly, and far more lengthy than the war itself.

But that's always been the case. In every war we have fought since WWII, the ends have been messy. After WWII, we had to occupy Germany and Japan for years. We're still in Korea, although the nation-building efforts were largely complete by 1960. Vietnam ended quite messily, though we're now returning there to rebuild the nation's economy with the foot soldiers of capitalism. Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Rwanda, East Timor -- every recent nation-building op has shown that it takes more troops to secure the peace than to win the war (or change the regime, if that's the case). I made this point in May in the Washington Monthly, and Amb. James Dobbins made it more elegantly in the RAND study America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq.

If you commit less troops to the fight, then you will have less troops on the ground at the moment the mission changes from war to post-war stabilization. Moreover, America lacks the strategic-lift (think Air Force cargo plane) capability and rapid-deployment (think 82nd Airborne) capability to rapidly get troops to the battlefield in the time it will take to affect the situation on the ground. In Iraq, the situation deterioriated in a matter of days, and even if we had made the decision on 9 Apr 03 to deploy additional forces, it would've taken weeks to get them there. The pre-war decision to commit less troops to battle has profound post-war implications, and these operational plans appear to miss that point.

I don't think these are necessarily fatal flaws. The combatant commands (e.g. CENTCOM) can scrub these plans, generate their own requirements, and request more resources for operations when the order is given. But they really don't have the resources -- or the asset visibility -- to do so as effectively as the Joint Staff and the service staffs (e.g. Army and Navy). Plus, they will be under significant time pressure to execute the mission, and it will be hard to request more resources if and when the balloon goes up in a place like Korea. The right answer would be to incorporate the real lessons learned from Iraq into these operational plans. History has shown us that winning the peace is often more difficult than winning the war, and we should plan for that. Depending on your perspective, such an event may be a contingency or an eventuality. But a good planner plans for both.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Novices at nation building

Stanford Professor Stephen Krasner writes in today's Los Angeles Times that American difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq should come as no surprise to observers around the world, because frankly, America and the world lacks experience in building democracies.
What we do know — or should know — is that getting from here to there will be hard. The states we're most interested in helping to transform today generally have low per-capita incomes, limited experience with democracy and long histories of autocratic and sometimes brutal rule. These are not conditions that tend to foster democracy.

Among the surprisingly few things we know about creating democracies is this: While it doesn't necessarily take higher per-capita income to establish a democracy, it certainly helps in sustaining it. No democratic country with per-capita income above $6,000 has ever reverted to autocracy.

We also know that democratic transitions are dangerous. Autocratic leaders feeling threatened by democratic reforms can respond by cracking down. A destructive sort of nationalism can surface (think Kaiser Wilhelm II before World War I, Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe today). And states in transition are more likely than either stable democracies or autocracies to become involved in wars.

Foreign occupation, even when accompanied by large amounts of money, does not guarantee a smooth transition to democracy. Since the Dayton accords of December 1995, Bosnia has effectively been under the control of the international community, led by Europe. Aid has flowed freely: In the late 1990s, foreign assistance amounted to a quarter of the country's gross national income. While this international effort has kept the lid on a volatile situation, it has hardly set Bosnia on a clear path toward democratic autonomy. The situation in Kosovo, which in 1999 became a de facto NATO protectorate, is no better.

The simple fact is that we do not know how to do democracy-building. We do not have clear historical precedents. Germany and Japan after World War II demonstrated that an extensive, sustained American presence can contribute to the establishment of stable democracies. But in 1945, Germany and Japan were countries with more wealth, better-educated populations and more experience with democracy than the countries with which America is now engaged.

In other countries where we have attempted regime change, results have been mixed. Over the last century, the United States has intervened both covertly and overtly in the Caribbean and Central America. But we have not done nearly as well as we would have liked in leaving successful democracies and market economies in our wake.
Analysis: I think this is a powerful argument, and one that's not without a shred of truth. I suppose it's debatable whether democracy should emerge first -- and set the conditions for a liberal society -- or whether the liberal society and market economy must come first. In many ways, it's a classic chicken/egg problem. I happen to think that the market economy, infrastructure, and educational systems must come first in order to set the conditions for the emergence of democracy. You have to build a class of educated persons with a personal economic incentive to become stakeholders in society; to defend what they have acquired by means of civil government. Towards that end, America can create the conditions for the emergence of democracy in Iraq by building roads, schools, markets, hospitals, and other institutions to help Iraqi society reestablish itself. Self-determination will take over at that point, and while we may not get the government we want, I think that the Iraqi people ought to be trusted to decide their own destiny.

"A citizen check on war"
Active/reserve mix in American military effectively checks the President's war powers

Former Air Force pilot Janine Davidson has a well written essay in today's Washington Post Outlook section on the "total force" concept, which is the term of art to describe the mix of active and reserve forces in today's American military. Ms. Davidson lays out the history behind this concept, and the way this concept has developed into a check on Presidential warmaking and deployment power.
The current U.S. military structure -- known as the "Total Force" -- was implemented after the Vietnam War. The system was designed to require activation of Guard and reserves personnel in order to wage war. Defense officials ensured that war-fighting capabilities were integrated across the active and reserves components to such a degree that, as an Army chief of staff, Gen. Creighton Abrams, is said to have claimed, "they're not taking us to war again without calling up the reserves."

Abrams and others recognized that when reservists are mobilized, whole communities are affected to a much greater degree than when a draft is conducted of only young eligible men. Their primary concern was that when reservists went to war, troops serving abroad would have more support "back home."

But the Total Force had another goal as well -- to act as a check on indiscriminate or capricious uses of military force. Recent experience in the Balkans and the Middle East demonstrates that it is easier to send troops abroad than it is to bring them home. And history shows that Congress rarely has acted against a president to limit the use of force. Thus, the Total Force was designed to compel Congress to scrutinize military operations. As employers give up workers and as families say goodbye to soldiers augmenting active forces, Congress should be pressured by constituents to act. In sum, the sacrifices of waging war -- or even keeping peace -- are supposed to spread throughout our democratic society to such a degree that our elected officials are forced to debate the wisdom of sending troops abroad.
Analysis: Indeed, Gen. Creighton Abrams' total force concept has become a more effective check on presidential warmaking ability than either the Art. I power of Congress to declare war, or the potentially unconstitutional War Powers Act. This check works because it's closely tied to the Art. I power of Congress to fund the military. Mobilization decisions also require political capital, and even in this gerrymandered age of safe Congressional seats, decisions to send large numbers of Americans into harm's way translates into lots of political pressure on Congress to manage those deployments.

On the other hand, this force balance effectively ties the SecDef's arm behind his back, because it limits his ability to deploy certain critical units such as Civil Affairs, Military Police, Military Intelligence and logistics. And, America's reserve system was designed for a WWIII-style scenario where the entire nation would mobilize to fight the Soviet hordes as they streamed through the Fulda Gap. It does not work well for the constant level of peacekeeping deployments we had in the 1990s, and it is about to break down from the strain of repeated, long-term deployments to support the Global War on Terrorism. There is a good argument for moving some of the most critical units into the active force, such as Civil Affairs, at least in sufficient numbers to give America a 9-1-1 capability in these specialties.

The travels of LCPL David C. Botti

Sunday's New York Times carries an exceptional personal essay from David Botti, a Marine reserve infantryman who was mobilized first for post-9/11 security and later for combat duty in Iraq. LCPL Botti answered the call both times, taking himself away from his nascent writing career and dreams of living in New York City. But he took his journal with him to war, and captured a number of the stories of his comrades while deployed. The result, I hope, will eventually be some sort of war memoir (or work of fiction) that accurately characterizes the experiences of Marines in Iraq. His essay today marks his journey from New York to Iraq and back again to the big city.
The August night I returned to the city from Iraq, I found myself drunk in the bathroom of an East Village bar. As I steadied the wall, I wondered how this skin of mine, tanned brown from the Iraqi sun, could now soak up the atmosphere of a good, seedy city bar. Wondered how the people in line behind me could enjoy the night while their peers still slept with rifles, halfway around the world, where I had been just the week before.

I wandered back to my friends, and drifted out of the conversation as soon as I sat down. It was easy to leave the city once more, relive the past four months in the time it took for the next round to arrive. No one spoke to me. Perhaps my silence betrayed my thoughts; I was glad to be left alone. But at that moment I was not having flashbacks, or letting alcohol numb grief and pain. There was no nervous tick or trembling hands. My thoughts, my reverie, lay with the people I had known in Iraq, the soldiers and citizens still dealing with the violent reality.

As the fighting unexpectedly intensifies in Iraq, as the American body count rises, each headline strikes deeper, and I can still see it, still feel it: walking through a foreign city, looking to the rooftops, the windows, in alleys, behind me, in front, to the sides. One person thanks you for freedom, and the next stares through you as if you are already a ghost.

It is a forceful process, ingesting the news and carrying it with me through the day. There are moments when I want the rifle back in my hand, so I can return to Iraq and remain there, until the war ends in a solid conclusion. There is still a reluctance to forget my initial, unwavering idealism that leaving Iraq meant that things were improving, and that others would soon be following me home.

But sometimes, it's New York that feels like a foreign city. One night, in another bar, I read a note posted by the staff above the urinal that ridiculed the city's smoking ban and urged patrons to send Mayor Bloomberg hate mail in an attempt to change the law.

This was the city I had returned to: outspoken and opinionated, the center of freethinking. I want the inspiration and nurturing that New York can give young writers. I am not ashamed of my service, but am conscious that my past might overshadow what I want to accomplish. As my friends and I headed home from that Village bar last August, I allowed myself respite from the guilt of being safe and happy. I watched the blocks pass with the hopeful feeling that soon the city would cease to feel new again.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Is the NYT rewriting Time's copy?
2 stories on combat casualties seem eerily familiar, down to the details

Time had an exceptionally well-done piece in last week's issue (with Russell Crowe on the cover) about America's wounded from Iraq, and the long road they travel from wound to recovery. I was about to comment on it, and some of the advances (like body armor and medical corps doctrine) that have led to this paradigm shift in casualty evacation, treatment and recovery. Then I saw this piece by Neela Banerjee in the New York Times, scratched my head, and said "Gee... these look awfully similar." The stories are so similar, they even talk about the same computerized prosthetic limb that costs $100,000 each. And what's even odder is that the 16 Nov 03 New York Times story bears a 10 Nov 03 dateline, leading me to believe it sat in the editor's hopper for a while.

After the Blair incident, I doubt the NYT is actually lifting Time's copy or story ideas, and Ms. Banerjee is known as a good reporter. But it still struck me as odd that these two flagship publications would run what is basically the exact same story. What do you think?

Friday, November 14, 2003

Jessica Lynch and women in combat
Why Elaine Donnelly gets it wrong in the National Review

A lot has been said so far about Jessica Lynch, from the date of her capture through her rescue, recuperation, return home, discharge, and release of her book. Now, the inevitable charge has come from Elaine Donnelly, chair of the Center for Military Readiness, that Lynch's story exemplifies why women should not be sent into ground combat. Moreover, Donnelly argues in the National Review that Lynch was sent into harm's way because of 1994 reforms by the Clinton Administration that changed the Pentagon's policies for women on the battlefield. Here's an excerpt:
How did Lynch get to the frontlines, many Americans may wonder. Under rules issued by the Clinton administration, female soldiers in support units are now being forced into areas involving a "substantial risk of capture." This policy is inconsistent with privacy rules that deny information about what happens to women who are captured — unless a victim of sexual abuse decides to write a book months later.

During the first Persian Gulf War, then-major Rhonda Cornum, a medical doctor, was subjected to sexual indecencies within hours of her capture in 1991. An ardent advocate of women in combat, Cornum kept silent when Congress debated and repealed one of the laws exempting women from combat. Candor about her experience in captivity, which later appeared in her own 1992 book, could have changed the course of the congressional debate.

Jessica Lynch is not responsible for the media's irresponsible hyping of expedient myths that many people knew to be false. Nevertheless, the fairytale story manipulated public opinion on the issue of women in combat, which ideological feminists keep insisting is "not a big deal."

In 1994, Les Aspin, Bill Clinton's secretary of defense, announced new personnel-assignment regulations that were billed as expanded "career opportunities" for women. Female enlistees, including Lynch and former POW Spec. Shoshana Johnson, clearly were not aware that the rules had changed. No one told them, it seems, that women would be assigned to previously all-male units, even in support missions known to involve a "substantial risk of capture."

These Clinton-era rules remain in effect today. Civilian and uniformed Pentagon officials will not act on their own to initiate change unless the Commander in Chief provides a clear mandate for objective review and constructive change. Without further delay, President Bush should direct Pentagon officials to find a way for female soldiers to serve their country without deliberate exposure to greater, unequal risk, to the greatest degree possible.
* * *
There are restrictions on the discussion of war crimes such as rape, but with so many women being exposed to unprecedented risks of capture and abuse, perhaps those rules are in need of revision as well. If Defense Department officials cannot bring themselves to tell Americans the truth about what happens to women in war, perhaps they should not be sending female soldiers so close combat zones in the first place.
Analysis: This argument is wrong on several levels. As an initial matter, I should say that good things happen to bad units (sometimes it's better to be lucky than good) and bad things happen to good units. I have analyzed the 507th Maintenance Company ambush and I think that this was the predictable result of training, resourcing and leadership decisions made which sent a poorly prepared unit into combat and put them too close to the front lines. At the end of the day, though, the 507th was unlucky, and they paid a heavy price for that misfortune.

1. Jessica Lynch's position in the 507th Maintenance Company was not opened to women as a result of then-SecDef Aspin's rule change in 1994. (See the actual memo here) The 507th Maintenance Company habitually supports a Patriot missile unit. Doctrinally, this unit exists at the echelon above corps level. Doctrinally, they should fight far back on the battlefield, beyond the reach of enemy artillery and well behind the battalions, brigades, and divisions which actually fought the ground war in Iraq. PFC Lynch's supply clerk billet would have been open to women in 1990 for Gulf War I. PFC Lynch was not a front-line position, such as that in the 3rd Military Police Company or 1-227 Aviation (Attack) -- two units where women fought as MP soldiers and Apache helicopter pilots respectively. Instead, she held a supply clerk position in a rear area logistics unit where the risk of combat was thought to be low.

The 1994 rule change opened up a number of jobs for women, as I explain in this December 2002 cover article in the Washington Monthly. This rule changed allowed women to lead the way to Baghdad as MPs, intelligence officers, Apache pilots, front-line surgeons, and many other specialties. But this rule change had nothing to do with the 507th Maintenance Company, which even under the old Reagan-era rules, would have been open to women. Even under the "risk rule" that Ms. Donnelly writes of, the 507th would have been open to women.

2. So what happened? Well, the 507th Maintenance Company stumbled into combat as the result of many factors. Most importantly, CENTCOM planners built a warplan that called for a rapid advance through Iraq to Baghdad -- an advance which stretched American supply lines and left main supply routes unprotected. This allowed Iraqi guerillas to attack American logistics convoys and wreak havoc in our rear area. In addition, the "bypass criteria" was set very high on the advance to Baghdad, meaning that American tanks and infantry would bypass enemy platoons and companies as they fought on. These bypassed units were then faced by lightly-armed MPs and logistics units in the rear area, and also caused problems. At one point, GEN Tommy Franks had to pull entire brigades of infantry out of the fight in order to secure his rear area, because the dual problems of enemy guerillas and bypassed units had become so threatening to logistics and command units. The 507th Maintenance Company convoy was in this rear area, and they suffered as the result of an ambitious operational plan that lacked effective planning for security in the rear area.

On top of this failure, PFC Lynch's unit failed her. CPT Troy King, the company commander for the 507th, failed to effectively lead his company on the day in question. He wrote his route down wrong, got his convoy lost, and then failed to take effective actions on contact when the ambush was initiated -- at least, according to the Army's report on the subject. PFC Lynch paid the price for her company commander's dereliction of duty and poor performance, as have soldiers throughout history for the failures of their commanders. (Note: CPT King has not been officially disciplined by the Army, which appears to have taken the position that his bad luck should not be punished with criminal or administrative action. I beg to differ, and have a hard time reconciling the prosecution of men like LTC Allen West when the Army lets a commander like this escape the blame. Good or bad, company commanders are responsible everything that happens to their unit. The buck stops with the man or woman who wears captain's bars.)

3. Ironically, had PFC Lynch been assigned to a front-line unit like the 3rd MP Company, she probably would have been better prepared for combat. The 1994 reforms did open up a number of opportunities for women, including service in front-line MP units assigned at the division and brigade level. In these MP units, male and female soldiers conduct missions such as route reconnaissance and area security -- missions which often require them to train and fight as infantry or scouts. My last unit, the 4th MP Company, trained hard on these missions, and was well resourced to conduct them. We often trained with the scouts and infantry of our brigade, and even shot gunnery with our brigade's reconnaissance troop. That training has paid off. Despite seeing as much fighting as any unit on the battlefield, MP units have experienced relatively light casualties -- including no fatalities in my old unit. (Thank God) The best way to take care of soldiers and bring them home alive is to train them hard, and front-line units at the brigade level and below train hard with that in mind.

PFC Lynch was not assigned to such a front-line unit. She was assigned to a rear-echelon unit that likely had never done an NTC rotation, had never done a live-fire exercise, and had never done a field exercise longer than 2 weeks. Indeed, I doubt that PFC Lynch had effectively trained for combat since she graduated from basic training. The 507th certainly did not train effectively with the 3rd Infantry Division, under which it fought in Iraq. None of the 507th's officers or sergeants had experience with 3ID orders, maps, or TTPs. This lack of training and readiness was to blame, according to the Army, for the chain of events that led to the 507th being ambushed.

Jessica Lynch herself had this to say in an interview with Time Magazine:
What did they tell you to expect? "What you trained for [maintenance and supply] obviously wasn't what happened. We had to do the whole weapons qualification again to make sure that we knew how to operate a weapon, but also we did a lot of training with gas masks. In a sense we were ready, but we weren't ready for an ambush attack."

Did you feel your commanding officer had the training and equipment he needed to do his job? "Yeah, I think he did. I think it was just all a big mistake that happened. Just fatigue, sleepiness, the whole thing—we were just not prepared."
As I stated earlier, it's impossible to know whether good training and leadership would have made the difference when the 507th was ambushed. But we can certainly point to the absence of such training as a key factor in the 507th's failure to respond to its ambush. As PFC Lynch herself has said -- she didn't even get off a shot. Why? Because her weapon jammed. Why? Because it was poorly maintained and poorly lubricated and poorly cleaned. Why? Because the NCOs and officers in her unit lacked the training, experience and fieldcraft to effectively lead their soldiers in combat. The results were all too clear. If you want to fix these problems, don't take women out of these units. Make every soldier a rifleman instead, led by competent officers and NCOs who have what it takes to accomplish the mission and take care of their soldiers.

Bottom Line: PFC Lynch and her unit were not ready for combat when they went into harm's way. Too many of the soldiers in the 507th paid the price for that readiness. PFC Lynch was no front-line soldier, and she was no Rambo. But PFC Lynch was no further forward on the battlefield than thousands of other women -- women who have served ably and effectively for more than 15 years. Her ambush and capture should not be used to judge the 1994 reforms which opened up more positions to women, because frankly, those reforms had nothing to do with where PFC Lynch was on the battlefield.

If you want to draw lessons from the 507th Maintenance Company incident, you should do so. But draw those lessons from what actually happened, as reported by the Army's after-action review and its forthcoming 15-6 investigation; draw those lessons from the facts about the 1994 policy change, and how it allowed women further forward on the battlefield than ever before. But don't draw conclusions about the 1994 policy changes that let women into front-line units, when those policy changes had nothing to do with the 507th Maintenance Company or PFC Lynch. Doing so is disingenuous, and takes liberties with the facts and the policy of this matter. It also does a disservice to the thousands of women in Iraq today who have ably and effectively served their nation in uniform, and deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.

John Keegan's latest work

Joseph E. Persico reviewed John Keegan's latest book this past weekend in the New York Times, titled Intelligence In War: Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. (The Times also has this excerpt from the first chapter of the book) The book looks like a must-buy for anyone interested in military history, intelligence, or operational art. (In other words, it's on my list to buy/read) Mr. Persico's review makes the book look even more appealing.
Though ''Intelligence in War'' carries the subtitle ''Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda,'' Keegan has written not a history, but several case histories, measuring the contribution that intelligence made to victory. He is put off by the romantic notion generated by espionage fact and fiction that spies somehow win battles, even wars, by ruses, pilfered secrets and cracked codes. His own conclusion, hammered home again and again, is that ''decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge. Let those who disagree show otherwise.''

While spying is as ancient as the pharaohs, Keegan dates the beginnings of ''real time'' intelligence, that is, information obtained in sufficient time to be used, to the invention of radio. He illustrates the limitations of intelligence before then in the chapter entitled ''Chasing Napoleon,'' his case history of Admiral Nelson's 1798 zigzag hunt across the Mediterranean in search of the French fleet. Surprisingly, even in that era, information could fly -- from the Admiralty in London to the English coast in two minutes, via a chain of semaphore stations. But once the fleet put out to sea, communication vanished over the horizon. Consequently, while the Admiralty had intelligence from several sources that the French fleet was headed for Egypt to obstruct Britain's trade routes to India, no way existed to get this information into Nelson's hands in time for him to act on it. That the French fleet was finally destroyed at Alexandria after a 73-day chase had more to do with Nelson's deductive genius, Keegan says, than with the stale intelligence that was arriving from London. By World War I, however, the development of radio, as Keegan puts it, ''altered for ever the nature of war at sea,'' and on land as well. Which leads to his root question: can intelligence win rather than merely abet victories?

Keegan takes a hard look at the role of intelligence in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II, beginning with an observation from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that ''the only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.'' Was Churchill's concern justified? In the conventional telling, Allied intelligence, particularly code breakers, located German U-boat wolf packs, which Allied ships and planes then sank. This, it is said, saved Britain from strangulation. But Keegan is quite ready to sacrifice the heroic legend to the duller truth. Yes, the Allies did defeat the German U-boat fleet in the Atlantic. And yes, intelligence did play an instrumental role. But, he points out, even in 1943, the year of the biggest convoy battles, 9,097 Allied ships made it safely across the ocean, while only 139 were lost. He concludes that ''the Battle of the Atlantic could have been won without the assistance of the code breakers.''
* * *
In this latest work, Keegan has not set out to debunk intelligence. Rather he has sought to place the clandestine underbelly of war in perspective, to wrest it from the popular imagination as some sort of entertaining shortcut to victory. In the end, as he puts it, ''It is force, not fraud or forethought, that counts.'' Whatever its truth, the roots of this conviction are not hard to divine. Keegan came to military history well before he came to military intelligence, and he understands all too well the barbarous physical reality of war as contrasted to the largely cerebral battlefields of intelligence warriors. To John Keegan, warfare has always been far more blood and guts than cloak and dagger.

A letter from Kabul

Patrick Belton also has this report at Oxblog from his correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan, which gives a pretty interesting slice of life from a country that's largely been forgotten by the major newspapers. Interestingly, my military friends send back two kinds of e-mail. Those stuck on the major bases (e.g. Bagram Air Base) for force protection reasons write about a dreary existence, much like the movie Groundhog Day. Those allowed to move around the country, such as civil affairs officers, paint a much more dynamic and interesting picture of the country.

Language analysis, gender and blogging

Patrick Belton has an interesting report at Oxblog on the results of a language analysis he did on several blog posts, using the internet Gender Genie. He also plugged in some female authors, including Maureen Dowd and Virginia Postrel. Suffice to say, the results were less than stellar. I imagine that an analysis of Intel Dump would look about the same, although it would certainly reflect the language used by my sources (NYT, WP, WSJ, LAT, etc) as much as my own prose.

Mark Kleiman on Clark's ideas to enlist Saudi commandos in search for OBL

My UCLA mentor/colleague Mark Kleiman has some thoughts on the comments by retired-Gen. Wesley Clark that he would like to attach Saudi commandos to U.S. special operations units looking for Osama Bin Laden. Mark things it's a no-lose proposition, insofar as we would gain diplomatically and maybe even catch the guy.

Operationally, I'm not so sure. There is the risk of sharing too much of our special operations capabilities -- things the Saudis, Egyptians, and Pakistanis have no idea about. This is a lot like the reticence showed by spooks about revealing "sources and methods". We don't want to show countries (who aren't our really close allies like Britain or Australia) what we can do with units like the Army's Special Forces or the Navy's SEALs. A lot's been made about the "blowback" from American support for the Afghan rebels during the war with the former Soviet Union. Well, if we taught the Saudis to do special ops and then the Saudis had a regime change of their own (not an improbable thing), we'd see a whole lot of blowback.

Then there's the matter of Saudi special forces themselves. I'm no expert on the subject, but I've never heard of Saudi commandos extolled along with the great commando forces of the world, like the British Special Air Service or the Israeli commandos who took down the airliner at Entebbe. Surely, the Saudi military has some intelligence and language/cultural capabilities that we would love to add to our special operations community. But I'm not sure the Saudis could really add anything in operational terms to our own American special operations forces.

Still, this idea has some appeal. I would bet that Wes Clark got this idea from an old special ops veteran that he knows, and that it's an idea being seriously considered in the military's "black" community right now. Though a 4-star general, Clark has very little special operations experience of his own. "Good ideas" that are ill-considered tend to get people killed in this line of work, and Clark knows at least that much. I think he would have vetted this idea with some of his special ops friends before offering it up for public debate.

Update: Apparently, operational capabilities mean a lot more to the Pentagon than language or cultural abilities. The Korea Times reports that American officials are interested in deploying the South Korean special forces units known as "Sangnoksu'' to Iraq.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, will inspect South Korea's Special Forces Command Tuesday--a symbolic move indicating that the United States is eyeing the crack contingent for dispatch to Iraq.

"Gen. Myers' visit to our Special Forces Command was arranged at the request of the United States delegation to the Military Committee Meeting (MCM), which will be held on Saturday,'' a Defense Ministry official said. "The U.S. side explained it has heard much about the fame of the `Sangnoksu' unit and Gen. Myers wanted to observe it in person.''

The "Sangnoksu'' Unit, part of the Special Forces Command, was sent to newly independent East Timor for peacekeeping operations four years ago.

Experts believe the top U.S. military officer is hinting that his country wants the special forces to be sent to Iraq, since it is rare for a someone of Myers' rank tomake such an inspection.
Interesting... more to follow.