Thought for the Day

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Military Advising Was So Successful in Vietnam…

Of course how did Vietnam turn out in the long run in its relationship with China?  The PLA got their butts kicked by them in 1979 and now there is friction over the South China Sea with Vietnam siding with other regional powers and asking the US for support.  The Chinese advisory operations did not result in an alliance that was closer than lips and teeth the way their intervention on behalf of the north Koreans did (though they are probably regretting that relationship now!)

But these three factors for Chinese success (or effectiveness) outlined here are are important considerations and should factor into both decision making and planning.  There are a number of very important lessons to which we should pay attention though those with professional advisory experience will tell you they are common sense. E.g.:

In contrast, the US advisors shared no historical background with their South Vietnamese counterparts, and there was a complete lack of cultural understanding between the two. American advisors were confident in their experience from World War II and the Korean War, and any reluctance by their Vietnamese counterparts to do exactly as the Americans would do was often perceived as laziness or incompetence[II]. The foundational relationship for a successful military assistance partnership was simply not strong as it was for the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communists.

The highlighted excerpt above is an illustration of our lack of cultural understanding and the one track path we follow, e.g., fight the American way or you cannot fight.
To be clear, China’s assistance was critical. As Seals[VIII] points out, China provided professional advice, weapons, logistics, and a strategic deterrence against a US invasion of the North Vietnam. But the fighting was always left to the PAVN and thus China never took the feeling of ownership of away from the Vietnamese.
This is why I advocate that while we need expertise in counterinsurgency we should not be conducting COIN ourselves but instead  conducting foreign internal defense to help a friend, partner or ally in their internal defense and development programs so that they can defend themselves from lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism.  If we are doing it for them then we know how that turns out.

Could we substitute Iraq and Afghanistan below?

This is in stark contrast to the ARVN forces who, as US support decreased later in the war, complained that their way of fighting had become dependent on massive amounts of supply and ammunition and significant air support[VI]. They had become accustomed to fighting a materiel and ordnance heavy fight like their US advisors, which was not at all suited to the nature of counterinsurgency warfare fought among the civilian population. Nor were such methods of fighting suited to the ARVN forces capacity to sustain it.

But we should also realize that no two situations are the same and that there are no exact models that are transferable in every way but there are many lessons that do carry over.

Conclusion:

The Chinese may have simply been lucky to support a motivated and culturally compatible Vietnamese military. Given less favorable circumstances the task would no doubt have been exponentially more difficult.  Could Mao’s PLA have advised the Vietnamese, if necessary, in a strategy other than People’s War? Could it have successfully advised a military with which it shared no culture or history if the situation required it? Could Chinese encouragement have provided the necessary enthusiasm for the cause if the Vietnamese Communists were reluctant? One can only speculate. More importantly, can the US advise any of its allies in anything other than its own methods and doctrine if the situation requires something different? Can it tailor advising and assistance to a military that culturally is a poor fit for US institutions? Can the US encourage host nation ownership? Judging from the current efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer unfortunately seems to be no.

And a friend responded to my comments on this article on my national security list serve to remind me of this pithy quote that also illustrates one of our American strategic weaknesses:
  • “The very massiveness of our intervention actually reduced our leverage. So long as we were willing to use U.S. resources and manpower as a substitute for Vietnamese, their incentive for doing more was compromised.” – Komer, Bureaucracy At War.

Why Military Advising Was So Successful in Vietnam…

by Peter Murphy

Journal Article | June 28, 2015 - 3:58pm
Why Military Advising Was So Successful in Vietnam…for the Chinese: And What the US Can Learn From It
Peter Murphy
In post-World War II Vietnam, the fact that the Vietnamese Communists consistently demonstrated more motivation to fight and maintained greater popular support than their adversaries leads many to conclude that the communist victory was inevitable and no military action would change what was ultimately a political situation favorable to the communists. It is true that the Vietnamese Communists did enjoy these advantages over the French and later the South Vietnamese government and its poorly motivated military forces. But military action was necessary for the Vietnamese Communists to force out the French and later to force out the South Vietnamese government. No popular uprising was sufficient to create the unified Vietnamese state under communist control without the military victory.
The Vietnamese Communist government and People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) received some material assistance from the Soviet Union, but were primarily advised and assisted by People’s Republic of China (PRC) throughout most of the Indochina Wars. Those Vietnamese troops decisively defeated the French, survived a war of attrition against the US, and completely overran the South Vietnamese forces that had received decades of French and US assistance. It seems the Chinese must have done something right in their military assistance effort.  There are undoubtedly many contributing factors that led to the success of the Chinese assistance effort in Vietnam.  The three most significant of those factors will be examined to see how they facilitated such a success, and why it seems the US continues to have difficulty finding similar success.
The Historical Relationship Between Advisors and the Advised
The first key factor contributing to China’s successful assistance to the Vietnamese Communists was the dynamic of the relationship between the two countries. The Vietnamese Communists and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shared a common brotherhood from their leaders’ mutual involvement in the communist movements of the early twentieth century. Additionally, both countries had recently emerged from struggles against the Japanese and had both been the victims of western imperialism. But perhaps even more important, the two countries shared a much longer historical relationship. The Chinese empires had always exerted a significant cultural and philosophical influence on Vietnam, a country on the periphery of the old Chinese tributary system. But Vietnam also had its own unique heritage and with it a history of resisting Chinese interference in Vietnamese affairs[I].
This created a situation where some cultural similarities mixed with the shared communist ideology and resistance to colonialism would facilitate a mutual understanding and a good working relationship.  Yet this was balanced by a history of Vietnamese independence and mistrust toward their larger neighbor. This second element of the relationship is important because though Vietnam and China quickly established an effective cooperative relationship, this sense of Vietnamese independence helped Vietnamese Communist leadership resist attempts by the Chinese to play too active a decision making role in what was after all a Vietnamese struggle.
In contrast, the US advisors shared no historical background with their South Vietnamese counterparts, and there was a complete lack of cultural understanding between the two. American advisors were confident in their experience from World War II and the Korean War, and any reluctance by their Vietnamese counterparts to do exactly as the Americans would do was often perceived as laziness or incompetence[II]. The foundational relationship for a successful military assistance partnership was simply not strong as it was for the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communists.
The Assistance and Mentorship Was Appropriate
(Continued at the link below)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Iraqi Army Can't Be Westernized


If we cannot get the highlighted line imprinted in our brains or at least tattooed on the inside of our eyelids we will never be successful at working through and with indigenous or host nation forces.  This is probably our single most problematic weakness with all the concepts of building partner capacity, train advise and assist, organize, train, equip, rebuild and advise, and yes even foreign internal defense.  We have spent the last 14 years believing we could organize and train Afghans and Iraqis and others and yet we have not learned from history and we have tried so hard to create not only militaries in our image but also many other institutions.  We have spent so much time coming up with new concepts with new names and variations on foreign internal defense that have NOT been built on the important history we should have learned long ago and instead we continue to conduct social experiments to try to create armies and governments in our image.  Until we understand and accept the sentence below we will never be able to work effectively with host nation forces.

Can the Iraqis readjust their army to better reflect culture and clan in time for the next offensive? Can the United States commit to an air campaign to rival Desert Storm? Can we provide enough moral and technical support to make all this possible by the beginning of the next campaign season in April and May 2016? I don't know. But I do know that history has been harsh to those who try to build alien armies in their own image. All the American firepower and "boots on the ground" will be for naught unless we allow the Iraqis to fight their war their way.

The Iraqi Army Can't Be Westernized

Arabs fight best in formations organized around familiar groups sharing more than the same national flag.

By  
ROBERT H. SCALES
June 25, 2015 7:10 p.m. ET 
Twenty-four years ago, in June 1991, as American troops began to gear up to invade Iraq, I started writing and researching my book "Certain Victory," the U.S. Army's official history of the Gulf War. I spent nine months reading documents and interviewing soldiers ranging from private to four-star general. I asked one question of everyone: How did the U.S. defeat the world's fourth-largest military in only 100 hours of combat?
The universal answers from the soldiers: We fought with superior equipment, bought by the taxpayers during the Reagan years; our leaders overcame the malaise of Vietnam to build a new volunteer military; the revolutions in training and doctrine of the 1980s proved their worth.
All true. But as I started to write, I knew something was missing. One afternoon at my office I convened a roundtable discussion with some of the most successful operational commanders against Saddam Hussein in Desert Storm. I asked the same question and got the same stock answers. But then one general and dear friend of mine paused for a moment, looked into the air pensively and said: "You know, Bob, Arab armies really can't do this very well. Remember we not only fought an Arab army, we fought with Arab armies, and the Saudis and Syrians weren't any better than Saddam's Republican Guard."
It was a politically incorrect moment to be sure. But after watching nearly a quarter-century of history pass, I must conclude he had a point. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) certainly knew this to be true when he ignored orders from senior British Army officers to make his Saudi Bedouin brothers into a proper conventional force. The Israeli Defense Forces have racked up four wins and zero losses in wars against Arab armies that tried to fight them with Western methods and equipment. Our march to Baghdad in 2003 lasted only three weeks and crushed Iraq's conventional army.
The stark consistency of contemporary history tells us several things as we ponder why the Iraqi military is proving to be so inept in its war against Islamic State. First is the immutable tenet that wars are human endeavors and that culture counts. Arab culture is based on family, tribe and clan. Thus it should come as no surprise that Arabs fight best in formations that are organically grown and organized around familiar groups that share more than the same national flag.
(Continued at the link below)

Friday, June 19, 2015

IMPORTANT FOLLOW-UP NDAA provisions on Countering Unconventional Warfare

Sometimes it is good to be wrong and good to be corrected.  I received an important response to my comments below:

Your comment below is incorrect.

"Although the mark-up to the house bill directing the SECDEF to develop a plan "to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors" did not make it into the final bill agreed to by the House and Senate, a somewhat watered down version from the Senate version was agreed upon that focuses on Russia and Europe."

Congress has not
 conferenced the bill yet, so the House language is still absolutely play.  What the Senate just passed today was only their version of the NDAA.  Now the conversation starts about merging the House and Senate bills, and both chambers voting again to send it to POTUS. So the House-Senate negotiated outcome could be a combination of the two UW focused provisions, or both standing as is.  
​The language on the
 House side has Chairman Thornberry's full backing so it is likely to stand as is - and those negotiations will start in the coming weeks.  

​We are very fortunate to ​have Congressman Thornberry backing UW and counter-UW.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Maxwell <David.Maxwell@georgetown.edu>
Date: Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 4:08 PM
Subject: NDAA provisions on Countering Unconventional Warfare
To:


Although the mark-up to the house bill directing the SECDEF to develop a plan "to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors" did not make it into the final bill agreed to by the House and Senate, a somewhat watered down version from the Senate version was agreed upon that focuses on Russia and Europe. 

Of course there is a big difference between require and urge.  Urge means it probably won't get done because the SECDEF does not have to do it.   

I still think the HASC mark-up was useful and wish we could get the leadership to focus on this and language of the mark-up is probably the best description and understand of the threat that we could expect form Congress (the original language is below and I hope the HASC staffers are able to get something like it in next year's approved NDAA).


Page 183 from the JOINT EXPLANATORY STATEMENT TO ACCOMPANY THE NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2015

Page 183:

The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1080) that would require the Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees a plan recommending actions and resources to enhance the capabilities and capacities of U.S. Armed Forces in Europe to counter the conventional, unconventional and subversive activities of the Russian Federation in the U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility and to respond under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Senate committee-reported bill contained no similar provision. The agreement does not include this provision. We note that a provision requiring a security strategy for Europe is included under another title of the Act.

Page 256-257:

European Reassurance Initiative (sec. 1535) A proposed amendment to the Senate committee-reported bill (amendment number 3875) contained a provision (sec. 1527) that would specify the purposes for which amounts authorized to be appropriated for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) could be used and provide other limitations on the use of such funds. The House bill contained no similar provision. The agreement includes the Senate provision with an amendment clarifying that for fiscal year 2015 $1.0 billion is authorized to be appropriated in Overseas Contingency Operations funds for the ERI. The amendment would also provide that of these funds not less than $75.0 million would be available for programs, activities, and assistance to support Ukraine, and not less than $30.0 million would be available for programs and activities to build the capacity of European allies and partner nations. Amounts specified for the ERI fund would be available for the purposes of ERI through September 30, 2016. We are deeply concerned about the ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and note that a provision in another section of this title expresses the sense of Congress in support of providing Ukraine military assistance, both non-lethal and lethal assistance, that is defensive and non-provocative. We are also concerned about the potential spread of the unconventional and hybrid warfare tactics used by Russia in Ukraine to other countries in the region, potentially including the Baltic countries, Moldova, and Georgia. We urge the Secretary of Defense to devote the appropriate level of planning and resources, including resources under the ERI, to countering the threat

The original HASC Mark-up:


Section 10XX—Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Unconventional Warfare 

 This section would required the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the President and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a strategy for the Department of Defense to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors. This section would require the Secretary of Defense to submit the strategy to the congressional defense committees within 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act. The committee is concerned about the growing unconventional warfare capabilities and threats being posed most notably and recently by the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The committee notes that unconventional warfare is defined most accurately as those activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area. The committee also notes that most state-sponsors of unconventional warfare, such as Russia and Iran, have doctrinally linked conventional warfare, economic warfare, cyber warfare, information operations, intelligence operations, and other activities seamlessly in an effort to undermine U.S. national security objectives and the objectives of U.S. allies alike. 

Winning Irregular War: Conflict Geography

This might be a very useful resource.  The 685 page 10MB PDF can be downloaded at the link below.  Table of contents below;

Winning  Irregular War: Conflict Geography

by  Geoff Demerst



 QUICK START: HOW TO READ THIS BOOK
You can take a traditional approach, reading the sections in numerical
sequence; or you can read the author’s preface, the first seven-fifteen sections,
then the last several, then the middle (say 68-76), then skip around.
Going backwards from 144 to 1 will work, or you can peruse the Contents
and go to whatever sections interest you, which I hope will be all of them.
Some of the sections have expansive titles like Legitimacy or Human
Rights. They aren’t intended to encapsulate those subjects, but just tie those
themes to the book’s central assertions. Other titles, like Dogs and Mules,
or Forts and Walls, or Poop are less abstract, but relate to the same assertions.
Those assertions, or propositions, include:
• An impunity-based definition of State success;
• Attention to anonymity as a competitive emphasis;
• Inventorying as an indispensable knowledge activity;
• Withdrawal and pursuit as key operational and strategic concepts;
• Deception as a compulsory element of strategic thinking;
• Geography as the academic discipline of choice;
• Property analysis as tool for exposing the distribution of power;
• Distance as a key variable in the measurement of relative power;
• Civil engineering and construction as noble activities;
• Personal dignity and honor as key quantities of a durable victory;
• Adaptation of classic strategy as operational artistry; and
• Formal property regimes as a basis of peaceful social compacts.
‘Winning’ means not just neutralizing your enemies, but doing so
without creating more of them. It may also mean building places that do not
create enemies.
Building such places requires that ideology, political philosophy,
epistemology, engineering, and shooting all get along, so the book assumes
these things cannot be distanced one from another. Below each section is a
joke, quotation, or piece of poetry. They are interrelated in a way similar to
the text, and with the text. They are like the fins on a `60 Cadillac.

CONTENTS
DEDICATION ............................................................................ p. iii
QUICK START ........................................................................... p. v
FOREWORD ............................................................................. p. vii
AUTHORS PREFACE ............................................................... p. ix
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT ....................................................... p. xiii
CONTENTS ............................................................................... p. xv
LIST OF MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS .............................. p. xxi
GLOSSARY ............................................................................ p. xxiii
RESTATEMENT ..................................................................... p. 567
SYNTHESIS ............................................................................ p. 569
APPENDIX: MISCELLANEOUS LISTS .............................. p. 573
BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................................... p. 585
ENDNOTES ............................................................................. p. 597 I
NDEX ..................................................................................... p. 621 A
BOUT THE AUTHOR ......................................................... p. 632 S
ECTIONS 1-144:
1, Impunity...executive strategy ......................................................... p. 1
2, Anonymity...operational art ........................................................... p. 4
3, The Domesday Book...executive strategy ....................................... p. 6
4, Defining Enemy...executive strategy ............................................ p. 11
5, Vocabulary of Classic Strategy...knowledge process .................... p. 14
6, The Operational Equation...operational art ................................. p. 19
7, Sanctuary...operational art ............................................................ p. 22
8, Linearity and the Line of Retreat...operational art ...................... p. 28
9, White Bird...historical vignette, Chief Joseph’s failed retreat ........... p. 31
10, Decisive Battle...operational art .................................................. p. 36
11, Protraction and Diligence...executive strategy .......................... p. 40
12, Commitment of the Reserve...operational art ........................... p. 44
13, Puthukkudiyirippu...historical vignette, Sri Lankan war .............. p. 46
14, Legitimacy...executive strategy ................................................... p. 52


15, NGOs, IOs, and Unions...environment ...................................... p. 56
16, Presence...operational art .......................................................... p. 62
17, Keeping Secrets...operational art ................................................ p. 65
18, Whole of Government...executive strategy ............................... p. 69
19, Mercatus...environment ............................................................. p. 73
20, Rule-of-Law...synthesis ............................................................. p. 79
21, Iximché…historical vignette, warfare in Guatemala circa 1982 ...... p. 83
22, Badassoftheweek.com…environment ....................................... p. 93
23, Mens Rea…environment ............................................................ p. 96
24, Ruthlessness and Resolve...environment ................................... p. 99
25, Why Humans Don’t Fight...environment ............................... p. 101
26, How Violent Groups Form...environment .............................. p. 105
27, ‘Nonviolent’ Action...operational art ........................................ p.110
28, Takeovers and Sieges...operational art ..................................... p. 116
29, Heavy Machines...executive strategy ....................................... p. 119
30, Control Technology...executive strategy .................................. p. 121
31, Holes in the Ground...operational art ...................................... p. 124
32, Land-use Planning...knowledge process .................................. p. 126
33, Engineers & Built Environment...environment ...................... p. 130
34, Urban or Rural...environment .................................................. p. 133
35, Comuna 13...historical vignette, a troubled borough in Medellín .. p. 137
36, The Denver Broncos...environment ......................................... p. 147
37, School Lunches...operational art .............................................. p. 151
38, Cultural Study for What?...knowledge process ........................ p. 153
39, Socioeconomic Causation...knowledge process ....................... p. 155
40, Popular Support...knowledge process ....................................... p. 159
41, Dear Westy...historical vignette, a letter to Gen. Westmoreland ... p. 163

42, Brigands...environment .......................................................... p. 170
43, Sam Spade’s Whereabouts...knowledge process ....................... p. 174
44, Political/Military/Administrative...executive strategy ............ p. 177
45, Police or Military...executive strategy ...................................... p. 180
46, Taxation and Debt...environment ............................................ p. 186
47, Why the County...knowledge process ...................................... p. 189
48, Grading the Social Compact...knowledge process ................... p. 192
49, Territorial Scrutiny...knowledge process ................................. p. 195
50, U.S. Persons...environment ...................................................... p. 200
51, Get Willy...historical vignette, manhunt in part of Colombia ........ p. 204
52, Sovereignty...knowledge process .............................................. p. 210
53, Hohfeldian Grievance Analysis...knowledge process .............. p. 215
54, Extortion...executive strategy ................................................... p. 220
55, Kidnapping...environment ........................................................ p. 223
56, Militias and Gun Control...executive strategy ......................... p. 225
57, Dogs and Mules...executive strategy ......................................... p. 231
58, Condottieri...executive strategy ................................................ p. 233
59, Spontaneity...environment ....................................................... p. 235
60, War Nouveau...historical vignette, the world circa 1900 ............. p. 239
61, The Geography of Dope...environment ................................... p. 248
62, Bank Robbery...environment ................................................... p. 255
63, Roadblocks and Checkpoints...operational art ........................ p. 258
64, Measuring Distance and Comparing Power ...knlg process . p. 262
65, Smuggling...environment ......................................................... p. 268
66, GIS...knowledge process ............................................................ p. 271
67, Points, Lines, Spaces...knowledge process ................................ p. 275

68, Scale...knowledge process ........................................................... p. 277
69, Measuring Effects of Actions on Enemies...knowledge process . p. 281
70, Measuring Effects of Actions on Structure..knowledge process p. 288
71, Jerusalem...historical vignette, the Zionists create a nation state ...... p. 293
72, Land Strategy...executive strategy ............................................... p. 300
73, Property and the Social Compact...ideology ............................. p. 306
74, Refugees and Displaced Persons...environment ......................... p. 313
75, The Price of Real Estate, and Tourism...knowledge process ...... p. 316
76, Gender...environment ................................................................. p. 319
77, Sex...environment ........................................................................ p. 322
78, Identity... knowledge process ..................................................... p. 326
79, Suicide... moral compass ............................................................ p. 330
80, Why You Should Like Geography...knowledge process ........... p. 333
81, What a Clergy Wants...environment .......................................... p. 336
82, Conflict Thresholds...knowledge process .................................... p. 339
83, Why Are Irregular Wars Lost?...synthesis ............................... p. 343
84, Cultures of Violence...environment .......................................... p. 345
85, Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck...historical vignette ............... p. 348
86, Shifting Covet-geographies....environment .............................. p. 354
87, Water Wars...environment ....................................................... p. 356
88, Escape Geography...operational art .......................................... p. 359
89, The Dot Game and Go...operational art .................................... p. 362
90, Prisons & Prisoners....operational art ....................................... p. 364
91, Forts and Walls….operational art ............................................. p. 366
92, Graves Registration...environment ........................................... p. 371
93, Diseases and Disasters...environment ....................................... p. 375

94, Poop...environment.................................................................... p. 379
95, Childhood...moral compass ..................................................... p. 381
96, Combatant Status...executive strategy ..................................... p. 384
97, Oviedo...historical vignette, start of Spanish Civil War ............ p. 386
98, Jorge Verstrynge and Pio Moa...ideology ................................ p. 395
99, Postmodern and Post-structural...ideology ............................. p. 399
100, What the Foucault?...ideology .............................................. p. 404
101, Magical Realism...knowledge process .................................... p. 408
102, Negotiations...executive strategy ........................................... p. 412
103, Amnesty...executive strategy ................................................. p. 415
104, Extraterritorial Jurisdiction...environment ............................ p. 419
105, Genocide Geography...knowledge process ............................ p. 422
106, Massacres...historical vignette, repugnancy ............................ p. 428
107, Guerre d'Algérie...historical vignette, Algerian War .............. p. 434
108, Common Knowledge...knowledge process ............................ p. 443
109, Your Staff Work Sucks...knowledge process ......................... p. 446
110, Knowledge Gaps...knowledge process ................................... p. 450
111, Knowledge Cultures...knowledge process ............................. p. 454
112, DIME and PMECII...knowledge process ............................... p. 460
113, Unrestricted Chi Whiz...executive strategy ........................... p. 465
114, R.V. Jones...knowledge process .............................................. p. 467
115, Academies...executive strategy .............................................. p. 469
116, Songs of Chu...operational art ................................................ p. 471
117, Strategic Communication...executive strategy....................... p. 473
118, Democracy...ideology ............................................................ p. 475
119, Declaration of Counterinsurgency...moral compass ............. p. 479

Montana circa 1878 ............................................................... p. 35
Sri Lanka circa 2006 ............................................................. p. 51
Bolivia, La Paz and El Alto .................................................. p. 61
Guatemalan Highlands circa 1982 ....................................... p. 92
Comuna 13, Medellín, Colombia circa 2002 ..................... p. 146
Hell with Limbo (Purgatory?) circa 1300 ......................... p. 188
Yoknapatawpha circa 1936 ................................................ p. 191
South-central Colombia circa 2012 .................................... p. 209
World Map circa 1900 ........................................................ p. 247
Palestine circa 1920 ............................................................. p. 299
East Africa circa 1914-1918 ................................................ p. 353
The Revolution of ’34 in Asturias ...................................... p. 394
Colombia, various locations ................................................ p. 433
French Algeria circa 1954-1962 ......................................... p. 442
Europe circa 1805 ................................................................ p. 490
Kansas-Missouri Border circa 1858................................... p. 508

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Only Thing Worse than Misusing SOF is Policy Makers Misusing SOF Operational Methods as a Strategy

I have included the essay with the embedded hot links to the references that did not come through on the web page along with my original formatting.

The Only Thing Worse than Misusing SOF is Policy Makers Misusing SOF Operational Methods as a Strategy

by David S. Maxwell

Journal Article | June 17, 2015 - 8:27am
The Only Thing Worse than Misusing SOF is Policy Makers Misusing SOF Operational Methods as a Strategy
By David S. Maxwell

Special operations forces are a national grand-strategic asset: they are a tool of statecraft that can be employed quite surgically in support of diplomacy, of foreign assistance (of several kinds), as vital adjunct to regular military forces, or as an independent weapon.  Colin S. Gray[1]

For decades now Special Operations Forces have made numerous important contributions to the military services from equipment to tactics to actual operations.  From pioneering night vision flying to development of advanced weapons, body armor, personal equipment and advanced communications, much of the military equipment that is now service common was once SOF unique.  The room and building clearing techniques that are used by every Army and Marine squad and platoon were once classified tactics used by special mission units.

“Through, by and with,” was developed by Colonel Mark Boyatt to describe operations by Special Forces working with indigenous elements in Haiti was adopted by GEN Odierno in Iraq in his guidance to the force when the Iraqi military was to take the lead in operations.

USSOCOM has partnered with the Army and Marine Corps to ensure there is sufficient emphasis on the human domain in the full spectrum of war fighting.  The Army established the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) that drew heavily from the active duty and retired SOF community and often shares SOF tactics, techniques and procedures with the Army and joint forces.

While the public is enamored with Special Operations conducted to capture or kill bin Laden in Pakistan and Abu Sayyef in Syria or rescue Captain Phillips in waters off the Horn of Africa policy makers have also become enamored with the possibility of using Special Operations methodologies on a larger scale and have a larger amount of non-SOF forces conduct operations using SOF methods. Without specifically saying so US national leadership seems to have based the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance on an operational methodology and techniques that are heavily influenced by SOF.  We should consider this paragraph from the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance:

“…, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.”

This is a description of some of the traditional SOF operational methods and seems like a sound way to operate in a fiscally constrained environment in which the President bases his strategy on not committing ground troops to overseas conflicts.  This is the essence of our strategic problem today:  we have an “ends – ways” mismatch between what we say and what we will order our military to do.  We have said our end is to degrade and destroy ISIL yet we have constrained our ways and instead are trying to employ a low-cost, low-risk course of action based on SOF methods that can be very effective when properly employed in support of an overall strategy but in the wrong situation can be counterproductive and even lead to mission failure.

However, the above quote is missing two very important words:  “whenever possible.”  I deliberately left them off because we seem to have forgotten them and now default to using these techniques and methods without consideration of what is feasible, acceptable, and suitable.  The problem is that we really do not think strategically and when it comes to SOF we do not appreciate how it can support policy and strategy with the operative word being support.  SOF does not win wars by itself.  Conducting operations “through, by, and with indigenous forces,” using a small footprint, advising and assisting and building partner capacity support strategy but cannot be the sole ways and means of strategy especially when trying to achieve an end such as the destruction of ISIL.  Despite success host nation forces in places such as Colombia, The Philippines, and Africa with SOF support through discreet operations by advising and assisting friends, partners, and allies in support of US strategy, employment of SOF and SOF methods alone is not a substitute for strategy.

We have built a strategy of words saying we will degrade and destroy ISIL but it rests on the foundational administration policies of "no boots on the ground," no nation building (not that I am advocating nation building at all - I believe the military can be used for stability operations but only the people of a nation can build a nation and its state - we cannot do it for them), do nothing that can be associated with Bush 43.  It also means that we can have no mission creep.  As an aside, this is really problematic for anyone who knows that strategy needs to be adaptive and iterative but any change to the strategy based on assessment and understanding of actual conditions, both military and political, is automatically deemed mission creep.  This means that strategists have to come up with the perfect strategy the first time and from then on it cannot be adapted. Use of air power is controlled from inside the Beltway and airmen are not allowed to use the full extent of their capabilities to maximize effectiveness (although administration officials and policy makers remain enamored with the Air Power and SOF lash up they observed in Afghanistan in 2001 – yet they will not allow it to be effectively employed).   Worst of all the military is told to destroy ISIL but it will only be able to outsource the fight to ineffective proxy forces in Iraq and Syria whose interests are not aligned with the US.  The situation in the Middle East also requires political solutions to achieve success but the US cannot force the necessary solutions upon the partner governments and organizations.  Perhaps the name of the mission in Iraq and Syria should be Mission Impossible and the Task Force should be called the Impossible Mission Task Force. 

We really have to get our  "WMD" right - word, message, and deed or as I like to think:  word, mind, and deed  -the words mean nothing to the mind of the target audience unless they are connected to the right deeds that back up the words.  The problem we have with ISIL is our ends-ways disconnect - degrade and destroy ISIL does not compute in the minds of ISIL, Syrian "moderate" resistance, Iraqi government and people, the international community, and the American public when it is not backed with the appropriate deeds.  The "deed" that is not appropriate, to reiterate, is contracting out the ways to inept proxy indigenous and host nation forces whose interests are not aligned with ours so that they will not be able to achieve our ends. 

One  of our strategic weaknesses is that we labor under the assumption that we can get people to like us (and even worse that we should try to make them like us).  We should consider Machiavelli who said it is better to be feared (or better said perhaps, respected) than loved.  We need to be able to act decisively in our interests and not apologize for trying to protect those interests as well as our values.  In fact we should consider focusing on protecting our values rather than projecting them.

Which brings us to the most important point.  We have been trying to define the nature of the conflicts we are experiencing around the world.  While we still see the full spectrum from peace to war what we are observing most are conflicts in the space between peace and war or between diplomacy and war where effective use of all the instruments of power to include some forms of military engagement and at times fighting are required.  While we can debate various names, i.e., "gray zone", "hybrid threats," "the missing middle," "asymmetric warfare,"  and more, what I fear our strategy is called is “politically correct warfare,” which is based on our fundamental strategic weakness above, namely our desire to be liked.  It also leads to another strategic weakness: risk averseness (risk to the forces, risk to the mission, and most of all risks to the political leadership) that constrains us from effectively using all the instruments of national power and again drives us toward the words from the 2012 Defense Strategic guidance:

“…, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.”

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recognizes that the troops on the ground do not have the latitude necessary to accomplish the mission.  If you want the troops on the ground to be effective then you have to let them do their jobs.  The more constraints we place on them in the misguided belief that by doing so and by micromanaging them from inside the beltway that this will somehow prevent things from going wrong, the more we hinder mission accomplishment and the more we put the troops at risk.

In our risk (averse) analysis,  as previously stated, we have three risks: risk to mission, risk to force (people) and risk to political leadership.  Based on not giving the troops sufficient latitude to do their job we demonstrate that our risk analysis is only focused on one of the three risks.

We were of course “surprised” by the rise of ISIL, so much so that Brett McGurk now says we must get a handle on this on this and the CIA has had to reorganize to fight ISIL.  But our politically correct warfare has blinded us to the reality of the threats and we have spent the past 14 years trying to counter narratives and make people like us rather than protecting our interests and achieving the correct policy and strategic ends.

While all forces from both the conventional force and special operations must have advisory capabilities we are now developing these capabilities on an “industrial scale” which of course will conflict with both low cost and small footprint approaches.  Despite General Dempsey recognizing that operations are going to be long duration and we must have patience it appears that the view among some policy makers is if we can send more advisors and supporting forces of up to some 20,000 to 30,000 as John Nagl advocates then we can achieve results faster.  However, the 450 troops recently announced is a far cry from what Dr. Nagl and other analysts recommend.  As the old adage goes: “Cheap, fast, or good, pick two because you cannot have three.”  It appears we are going for cheap and fast vice good.

This is a problem caused by replacing strategy with special operations tactics, concepts, and operational methodology.  This choice should be understood by policy makers and strategists:  if you want a rapid and decisive victory employ conventional forces along with SOF and all the elements of national power in support of a strategy that can maximize the effectiveness of all elements.  If you want to constrain the footprint and restrain cost and only work through and with indigenous forces then employ SOF.  However, to do the latter you still must have a strategy that employs and orchestrates all the elements of national power with SOF in support and you must accept that it will take time and require patience to achieve the desired effect.  The strategy also cannot simply be based on training and equipping but must include effective advice and assistance on operations as well as the effective diplomatic efforts to influence the host nation government and other partners (i.e. resistance forces).  But we must be prepared to explain the reason for a long duration sustained effort and seek the support from the American public for a long term commitment using the U.S. military in a purely secondary and supporting role.

Continuing to add larger numbers of advisors, particularly from the conventional force will likely dis-incentivize host nation forces from fighting effectively.  It will also undercut our diplomacy to influence the host nation government to make the necessary domestic political changes to undercut the legitimacy of the enemy. 

But perhaps the grossest misunderstanding of SOF methodology was demonstrated in Brett McGurk’s other comments this weekend.  He stated what every SOF advisor has known from long experience.  Indigenous forces always perform better when US advisors accompany them on operations.  That is logical and borne out by history. But the problem becomes when the number of advisors becomes too large you create a dependent relationship and while their performance improves in the short run it may not be sustainable over time and after the departure of advisors which is perhaps a lesson we should learn from the eight years Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2011.


Special operations and specifically special warfare, from which the expertise of advising and assisting is derived, is by nature long duration, requiring presence, patience, and persistence.  SOF in today’s Iraq mission cannot be the main effort or at the forefront of policy and in the public eye where immediate short-term results are demanded by the 24 hour news cycle.  They are by nature low visibility often discreet operations but of course this no longer the case with ISIL.  And conducting advisory operations on an industrial scale the way the U.S. military does it is not a small footprint or low cost especially with all the logistics support required.  And worse, the larger our advisory effort the more we take over operations and strategy and put the host nation in the back seat and as has been said, dis-incentivizing the host nation military forces because they know that U.S. forces will pick up all the slack.

Rather than conducting “politically correct warfare” perhaps we should consider a political warfare approach though it may well be too late to make this the foundation of an approach in Iraq.  In this case the US Army Special Operations Command SOF Support to Political Warfare White Paper published in March 2015 is instructive.

Quote:

“Political Warfare emerges from the premise that rather than a binary opposition between “war” and “peace,” the conduct of international relations is characterized by continuously evolving combinations of collaboration, conciliation, confrontation, and conflict.  As such, during times of interstate “peace,” the U.S. government must still confront adversaries aggressively and conclusively through all means of national power.  When those adversaries practice a form of Hybrid Warfare employing political, military, economic, and criminal tools below the threshold of conventional warfare, the U.S. must overmatch adversary efforts—though without large-scale, extended military operations that may be fiscally unsustainable and diplomatically costly.  Hence, the U.S. must embrace a form of sustainable “warfare” rather than “war,” through a strategy that closely integrates targeted political, economic, informational, and military initiatives in close collaboration with international partners.  Serving the goals of international stability and interstate peace, this strategy amounts to “Political Warfare.”  (Page 1)

The question we should be asking is whether ISIL has crossed the threshold of conventional war.  If not we may be able to develop an effective political warfare strategy.   And note these important caveats.  Political warfare is not a SOF strategy but instead plays an important roll in supporting it as is described in the USASOC White paper.  But if ISIL has crossed the threshold of conventional war then we really must re-evaluate our “end-ways” mismatch and determine the appropriate elements of the military instrument to employ, assuming we believe their conventional war fighting capabilities poses a threat to the US.  However, even if a larger US military force is required political warfare will still be able to play an important supporting role.

In summary, if you want to make SOF (or SOF methodologies) the lead (which I do not recommend) then look hard at a strategy based on political warfare and the orchestration all the instruments of national to achieve the ends.  But if immediate or near term (even 2-4 years) destruction of ISIL is the end state then you might have to consider a strategy that does not rely solely on proxies.  We cannot contract out the defense of our interests.  We can help friends; partners, or allies defend themselves against their threats but if the threat includes the U.S. then contracting out operations with proxies may not be the best course of action for the U.S.

This is the fundamental analysis we must conduct. If the threat is limited and not a direct threat to the U.S. then indirect means using a low cost, small footprint advisory approach (SOF methodologies) may be enough to achieve our objectives by following George Kennan’s definition of political warfare: “In broadest definition, …the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.”  But if we determine the threat is a significant one to the U.S. then we must consider the use of all means necessary to protect the nation, to include conventional military forces in a decisive manner.  The bottom line is if we are at war then we need to go to war.


David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.



[1] Colin S. Gray, Explorations in Strategy, Praeger, Westport, CT: 1996, p. 149.