Thought for the Day

"No matter how busy you are, you must find time for reading, or you surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." Confucius

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do We Really Understand Unconventional Warfare?

Do We Really Understand Unconventional Warfare?

by David S. Maxwell

Journal Article | October 23, 2014 - 11:34am
Do We Really Understand Unconventional Warfare?
America May Not Be Interested In Unconventional Warfare
But UW Is Being Practiced Around The World By Those Who Are Interested In It
David S. Maxwell
The United States has the most powerful conventional military force and the strongest nuclear deterrent in the world. It remains the sole superpower because it is well prepared to fight and win in state on state conflict.  Yet the majority of wars, conflicts, and threats in the 21st Century are unlikely to be purely conventional or nuclear.  In the 21st Century we are more likely to experience kinds of warfare for which scholars have been hard pressed to find a name. Scholars have used many names including irregular warfare, hybrid warfare, 4th Generation Warfare, and of course the post 9-11 rediscovery of insurgency and counterinsurgency.  Yet despite all these various names the one overarching form of warfare that encompasses all is unconventional warfare (UW). However, the fundamental question is do we understand unconventional warfare?  And if not, why not?
We know that the Department of Defense (DOD) defines unconventional warfare as “activities to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power through and with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.”[1]  Although this was designed by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) UW working group in 2009 to be a broad definition and apply generally to this form of warfare and not specifically from a U.S. centric perspective it continues to connote a very narrow description of warfare (e.g., the overthrow of a hostile government) and has often been relegated to the province of Special Operations Forces and more specifically Special Forces.[2]  Furthermore many political leaders either fear the blowback from such operations or, perhaps worse, have unrealistic expectations of the efficacy of UW.  However, as I have argued before, if the United States is going to consider employing unconventional warfare as an option in support of policy and strategy then it is imperative that policy makers, strategists, and theater commanders and staffs have sufficient understanding of and appreciation for unconventional warfare not only if UW is to be conducted by the US government but also for when the US government must develop policies and strategies to conduct operations to counter unconventional warfare executed by opponents of the US or our friends, partners and allies.[3]
Although this definition now resides in the DOD dictionary there is no DOD or joint level doctrinespecifically for unconventional warfare.  There is no national policy for unconventional warfare.  There is Army Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Special Forces doctrine[4] but, as we know, few people in uniform or out really read, study, internalize, and practice the concepts published in our doctrine.  USSOCOM has been working over the past year to remedy the lack of joint and DOD doctrine and will soon publish the first ever joint doctrine for UW; however, that is unlikely to solve the problem of policy makers and strategists not appreciating and understanding unconventional warfare and all that operating in that realm of warfare entails.  There seems to be an insufficient intellectual foundation in unconventional warfare.
Before addressing the lack of intellectual foundation let me state for clarity the essence of UW.  Definitions and doctrine aside, unconventional warfare at its core is about revolution, resistance, and insurgency (RRI) combined with the external support provided to a revolution, resistance, or insurgency by either the US or others (who may or may not have interests aligned with the US and may in fact be opposed to the US and our friends, partners, and allies).  This is a type of warfare that is timeless, timely, and something that we can expect to occur over time in the future.  It is both political in nature and at times violent – even as violent as conventional warfare in some cases.
What makes me say that we do not have an understanding of and appreciation for unconventional warfare?  Two recent articles from the New York Times and the Daily Beast illustrate this.  In the first Mark Mazzetti writes about a classified CIA report that alleges that the US has rarely been successful in training and equipping rebel forces and because of this report the US Administration was reluctant to arm and train Syrian rebels.[5]  Christopher Dickey takes issue with the report and claims there have been some successes despite there often being an “acrid aftertaste” as in the case of the Afghan war in the 1980s.[6]
What the Mazzetti and Dickey articles (as well as simply the emphasis on “train and equip" by government spokespeople and pundits) illustrate is that policy makers really do not understand the nature and conduct of unconventional warfare.  It is neither an abject failure in every case nor is it a war winner in almost any case but it is a viable strategic option if used in the right conditions at the right time by the right organizations.  But most importantly it is both risky and hard and what makes it most difficult for policy makers and the public is that it is time consuming.  It cannot be employed "in extremis" in most cases (in the fall of 2001 post 9-11 being an exception) and really requires long-term preparation, thorough assessments, and relationships with key players to have chance of being successful.  And most importantly it must absolutely be part of and in support of a coherent policy and strategy.
Again to restate the problem there is little intellectual foundation for unconventional warfare.  Yes there are some important books to ready from Max Boot’s Invisible Armies to John Tierney’s Chasing Ghosts,to John McCuen’s The Art of Counter-Revolutionary Warfare as well as works by Hy Rothstein and Thomas K. Adams and one of the most prescient studies by the late Sam Sarkesian from 1993:Unconventional Conflicts in a New Security Era.  These are all important to read and I would commend them to any policy maker or strategist; however, what the all lack is how to think about the strategic application of unconventional warfare because they do not delve sufficiently into the common “principles” used to conduct unconventional warfare (save perhaps McCuen’s work).  There is only one time in the history of the US military that unconventional warfare was sufficiently studied to provide the necessary knowledge to policy makers and strategists and that was in the 1950-1960’s with the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) and the partnership between the Army and the Academy. 
We have a number of contemporary examples about UW that are worth examining to illustrate both our lack of understanding as well as the continuing importance of UW.  We have only to look at both Libya and Syria from a US perspective and how we either “led from behind” or are now focusing only on train and equip.  We have thoroughly adopted such concepts as “through, by, and with” and “train and equip” and “building partner capacity” as ways in our strategic calculus.  But we do not understand the complexity, the difficulties and the depth of operations and activities necessary for the conduct of effective UW and we expect to simply apply building partner capacity and train and equip to problems that may require an understanding of UW to support a strategy.  This is most prominently illustrated by the public statements of our political leadership and pundits who only focus on training and equipping rebel forces as if this action is enough to succeed and achieve our interests.  The second example we have comes from competitors and opposition.  We are seeing variations of UW conducted by the Russians and their New Generation Warfare,[7] the Chinese and their Three Warfares,[8] and the Iranian Action Network.[9]  And finally groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are conducting variations of UW (though ISIL might be said to have completed its UW campaign and is now functioning like a quasi-state).  Interestingly the roots of these strategies and campaigns can be found in George Kennan’s political warfare that he described in his 1948 memo to the Policy Planning Staff:
Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz's doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition, political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP--the Marshall Plan), and "white" propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of "friendly" foreign elements, "black" psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.[10]
Kennan describes the realm of revolution, resistance, and insurgency that can contribute to coercing, disrupting or overthrowing a government or occupying power.  These are truly strategic actions and objectives but the question remains: do we understand what it requires to implement strategies with campaigns that either support or counter-revolutions resistance, or insurgency. 
To graphically illustrate our lack of understanding of unconventional warfare we can turn to two charts from the Assessing Revolution and Insurgency Strategy (ARIS) project.[11]  The first depicts the relationship and relative size of the fundamental components of UW: the underground, the auxiliary, and the guerrilla or armed military force as well as the public component.
For some years in Syria we have been focusing on training and equipping the “armed component” (and until recently provided only limited non-lethal assistance).  Yet it is the underground that provides the key to understanding the motivation, objectives, interests, methods, and strategy of the leadership of a revolution, resistance, or insurgency (RRI).  It is through the underground that we can not only vet members but also try to determine one of the most important questions of “what comes next?” after the organization achieves success.  We really need to assess all the organizations of an RRI and not solely the armed component, which seems to always be the focus of our strategy and activities.
Another chart illustrates the scope of activities in an RRI environment and in particular the underground.  We tend to focus only on the “tip of the UW iceberg.”

(Continued at the link below)

Syrians to be trained to defend territory, not take ground from jihadists, officials say

Then why bother?  I guess we can only train them in our image and if we cannot provide them all the support we give our own forces they will never be as capable as ISIS who do not have the luxury of having all the same support we have.  What are we thinking?  

The Syrian opposition force to be recruited by the U.S. military and its coalition partners will be trained to defend territory, rather than to seize it back from the Islamic State, according to senior U.S. and allied officials, some of whom are concerned that the approach is flawed.

“We have a big disconnect within our strategy. We need a credible, moderate Syrian force, but we have not been willing to commit what it takes to build that force,” said a senior U.S. official involved in Syria and Iraq operations who, like others cited in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the training program.

Military commanders are reluctant to push Syrian fighters into full-scale battles with well-armed militants if they cannot summon close air support and medical evacuations, mindful of how fledgling forces in Iraq and Afghanistan crumbled without that assistance during the early years of the wars in those nations. But U.S. military aircraft cannot provide that aid without American or allied troops in close proximity to provide accurate targeting information on secure radio channels.

If we cannot provide training to forces that is commensurate with their abilities and in accordance with their customs, traditions, and capabilities and can only train them in our image then we have no business training them at all.


National Security
Syrians to be trained to defend territory, not take ground from jihadists, officials say

 
Rebel fighters run during a battle against Syrian government soldiers in Handarat, on Oct. 20. ModerateSyrian fighters have been deemed essential to defeating the Islamic State under the Obama administration’s strategy. (Fadi Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran October 22 at 8:57 PM  

The Syrian opposition force to be recruited by the U.S. military and its coalition partners will be trained to defend territory, rather than to seize it back from the Islamic State, according to senior U.S. and allied officials, some of whom are concerned that the approach is flawed.

Although moderate Syrian fighters are deemed essential to defeating the Islamic State under the Obama administration’s strategy, officials do not believe the newly assembled units will be capable of capturing key towns from militants without the help of forward-deployed U.S. combat teams, which President Obama has so far ruled out. The Syrian rebel force will be tasked instead with trying to prevent the Islamic State from extending its reach beyond the large stretches of territory it already controls.

“We have a big disconnect within our strategy. We need a credible, moderate Syrian force, but we have not been willing to commit what it takes to build that force,” said a senior U.S. official involved in Syria and Iraq operations who, like others cited in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the training program.

Military commanders are reluctant to push Syrian fighters into full-scale battles with well-armed militants if they cannot summon close air support and medical evacuations, mindful of how fledgling forces in Iraq and Afghanistan crumbled without that assistance during the early years of the wars in those nations. But U.S. military aircraft cannot provide that aid without American or allied troops in close proximity to provide accurate targeting information on secure radio channels.


Military officials also want U.S. and allied special operations troops to advise opposition forces if those forces are thrust into combat, helping them to fight effectively and reducing the chances that the new units will disintegrate in the heat of battle.

 
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr. speaks about the operations in Syria during a news conference at the Pentagon in this Sept. 23 file photo. (Cliff Owen/AP)
“You cannot field an effective force if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them,” said a senior U.S. military officer with extensive experience in training the Iraqi and Afghan militaries.

Obama’s unwillingness to deploy ground combat forces is rooted in concern that American troops would be drawn into a long, bloody war in the Middle East.

In announcing the campaign to confront the Islamic State, the president said the United States would “strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists.” The Pentagon subsequently announced that the U.S. military would seek to train as many as 5,000 Syrian fighters a year, aiming to build what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called an “effective opposition force, not just a hit-and-run group of rebels.”

The Obama administration’s plan calls for U.S. Special Operations troops to recruit moderate Syrianopponents of the Islamic State from refugee communities in Jordan, Turkey and other nations. They will be flown to Saudi Arabia, trained for about eight weeks, and then sent into the small enclaves of Syriaalready controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other moderate opponents of the Islamic State. The first units are expected to be deployed in roughly six months.

“The plan is for them to safeguard cleared areas,” said a senior official of an Arab nation that is part of the U.S.-led coalition and who has been briefed on the training program. “They will end up being a defensive force more than an offensive force.”

(Continued at the link below)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

AUSA: Contemporary Military Forum #6: Strategic Quality of Landpower

For those of us who missed the AUSA convention.  The 2 hour 13 minute panel video is at the link below (this is one of 14 panels).  

Moderated by LTG James Dubik and the speakers are LTG Cleveland, LTG McMaster, Max Boot, Sarah Sewell, and Viva Bartkus.



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Video: Contemporary Military Forum #6: Strategic Quality of Landpower


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Persistent Influence and the Strategic Quality of Landpower Introductions By: Retired Lt. Gen. Janes M. Dubik, U.S. Army, AUSA Senior Fellow Lead Speaker: Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, Commanding General, U.S. Army Special Operations Command Panelists: Max Boot, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations Sarah Sewell, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights U.S. State Department Lt. Gen. Herbert R. McMaster, Jr., Deputy Commanding General, Futures/Director, Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Dr. Viva Bartkus, Ph.D., Professor, University of Notre Dame

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change

Quite an interesting thesis.  But I think Glennon discounts the third leg. Partisan political machinery.  (Glennon hand waves it away).  I think if the double was in control we would have seen things done much differently in  Iraq (the withdrawal and lack of SOFA), Libya (no ground forces and "leading from behind"), Syria (lack of full support to the resistance two years ago and not just the lame non-lethal assistance), the Syrian chemical weapons "red line," and now the late move to "train and equip" the rebels and the "anything but Bush" strategic direction in Iraq and Syria, just to name a few.  No, I think President Obama owns all those and that illustrates the elected leadership is calling the shots with the support of and blessing of the partisan political machinery.  Yes everything rests on politics, every national security action is a political action or must be understood from the political perspective but it is the partisan political class that makes the double government (or perhaps a "triple government.") I know from an Asian perspective that the Asia advisers in the administration have no standing with the President and his key circle of advisers because none of them came through the "crucible" of the 2008 and 2012 president election campaigns  (except for Mark Lippert the new Ambassador to Korea for which Korea is very happy).  Maybe our republic has shifted from the three branches - executive, legislative and judicial to the elected, the shadow bureaucracy (the "self governing national security apparatus") and the partisan political machine.

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon
By Jordan Michael Smith
  |    OCTOBER 19, 2014


THE VOTERS WHO put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.
Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.
Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.
How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.
IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?
GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmentalpolicy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?

Continued at the link below)

The CIA's Wrong: Arming Rebels Works

Some interesting excerpts:

Criticism keeps pouring in and the Obama administration is hard pressed to prove it made the right decision back then, on the one hand, but has good reason to change its mind now as it tries to train new cadre to fight, not Assad, but ISIS. “This makes no sense,” says the same CIA veteran.
But from Obama’s point of view, actually, it does. The basic principles by which this administration operates are clear for anyone to see, even if the once-eloquent POTUS now finds it impossible to articulate simple ideas:
Obama does not believe in overthrowing foreign governments.
Obama does not intend to occupy foreign countries.
Obama does not think American troops—overt or covert—provide very good answers to the world’s crises.
Indeed, Obama sees very clearly what most average Americans see: U.S. efforts to overthrow bad guys abroad usually wind up making things worse, and the only reason to move against them is if they pose, as Tom Clancy would say, a “clear and present danger” to the United States.
...
Back in January, Obama told David Remnick of The New Yorker that when he was thinking about arming Syrian rebels a couple of years ago, he “actually asked the CIA to analyze examples of America financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.”
The New York Times ran a story last week that suggested CIA covert operations failed again and again to achieve the policy objectives set for them.
Just about everyone I talked to afterward in the U.S. intelligence community saw this as a story put out by the administration. One retired high-ranking intelligence officer said the article “seems founded on the kind of leaks that are permissible when beneficial to folks in high places but prosecutable when done by others.”

What the NY Times article and Christopher Dickey's article here (as well as the emphasis on 'train and equip") illustrate is that policy makers really do not understand the nature and conduct of unconventional warfare.  It is neither an abject failure in every case nor is it a war winner in any almost any case but it is a viable strategic option if used in the right conditions at the right time by the right organizations.  But most importantly it is both risky and hard and what makes it most difficult for policy makers and the public is that it is time consuming.  It cannot be employed "in extremis" in most cases (in the fall of 2001 post 9-11 being an exception) and really requires long term preparation, thorough assessments, and relationships with key players to have  chance of being successful.  And most importantly in must absolutely be part of and in support of  a coherent policy and strategy.
Christopher Dickey

DIRTY BUSINESS

10.19.14

The CIA's Wrong: Arming Rebels Works

President Obama has weighed the options and concluded America does more harm than good when it sets out to topple regimes. OK. But don’t pretend that’s the CIA’s fault.
PARIS, France—What could be more cynical than a covert operation? Sure, there’s always a lot of talk about fighting for freedom, defeating tyranny. What was it Ronald Reagan called the Contras and the Afghan mujahedin? “They are the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.”
Actually some of the Contras whom I knew were the moral equivalent of pathological killers. They were so out of control that the CIA, which had armed them and trained them, finally had two of their commanders hunted down and executed.
As I say, covert ops: cynical business.
But recent reporting on the subject has been profoundly and, indeed, dangerously misleading about both the truth and the consequences surrounding such operations.
All sorts of politicians—left, right and center; former administration insiders and confirmed outliers—have been talking about arming and training Syrian rebels as if that could have been the salvation of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Damascus in 2012, and would have preempted, somehow, the rise of the horrific organization that calls itself the Islamic State, but which we’ll call by the acronyms it despises: ISIS or ISIL.
Certainly there was bitter infighting inside the administration back then. As one agency insider told me, “three years ago the Syria program was headed by a man who was competent but not senior enough to run such a high-profile account.” So Langley decided to cut short the tour of the then-CIA station chief in Bangkok and bring him in to head up the show. But “he was so shocked by the disorganization and lack of seriousness that he submitted his papers to retire.”
Criticism keeps pouring in and the Obama administration is hard pressed to prove it made the right decision back then, on the one hand, but has good reason to change its mind now as it tries to train new cadre to fight, not Assad, but ISIS. “This makes no sense,” says the same CIA veteran.
But from Obama’s point of view, actually, it does. The basic principles by which this administration operates are clear for anyone to see, even if the once-eloquent POTUS now finds it impossible to articulate simple ideas:
(Continued at the link below)