Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Special Operations: What New Powers They Need From Congress & Pentagon

I attended this event yesterday and from some of the questions it is now apparent to me how misunderstood is the "indirect approach" within the US.  Based on the questions and much of the reporting I have read over the years and even the concepts coming out of DoD and the Services, the "indirect approach" means, to many people,  simply "building partner capacity" or training foreign military and police forces. This results in what many in the SOF community call "random acts of touching" which is either training of foreign forces for SOF benefit (e.g., Joint Combined Exercises and Training (JCET)) or a hope that periodic training will provide the host nation with an ability to defend themselves or to conduct operations that are in US interests.  All worthy goals of course but the real question is whether building partner capacity is the end in itself (for many people it seems that is so).

This leads to such comments that while Colombia and the Philippines are "successful" Mali has proved to be a "failure."  First, I would say that despite Linda Robinson's touting of Colombia and the Philippines we should not construe that they are the models and if they typify the indirect approach then I do not think we are going to be conducting such an approach on a broad scale.  While both Colombia and the Philippines offer great lessons and a relatively small footprints as compared to Afghanistan and iraq they are still much too large for employment in most other countries around the world.  And to say that the example of Mali is a failure of the indirect approach (despite those words coming from both GEN Ham and Ambassador Sheehan) I think we really need to examine what failed in Mali. Was it a failure of the "indirect approach" or was it a failure of the strategy.  I think that when we do the forensics on Mali we will find that our sole focus was on terrorism and the force that we focused on training was the Malian CT force (which by all accounts from those on the ground appears to be the most effective fighting force in the conflict).  The focus of the strategy was on Counterterrorism and not taking a holistic approach to the entire scope of the problems that existed, such as lawlessness, subversion, terrorism and the potential for insurgency (and even coups).  Again, I think when things are examined in some detail we will find that although the SOF elements in Mali were only there with a CT focus on training the CT force, they likely observed more complex problems and reported those problems that were likely overlooked and not acted upon.  The failure in Mali is not one of the indirect approach but is really a failure of strategy, focus, and not employing the full range of tools available to support decision making.

The indirect approach is a "way" of strategy, it is not a strategy in and of itself.  To be effective as a way it must support a comprehensive strategy and not be singularly focused (such as on CT only.) Although many want to employ the indirect approach as part of a Phase 0 of an overarching campaign I think the focus needs to change from solely supporting the Geographic Combatant Commanders Theater Campaign plan to focus the main effort on supporting the Chief of Mission's Mission Strategic Plan.  If the Mission Strategic Plan is successful there will be no requirement for transition from Phase 0 to Phase 1 (and the remainder of the phases which is what operations in Phase 0 seems to imply).  I think this is a source of a DOS and DOD divide.  If the indirect approach can help DOS be successful that and means that there could be no Phase 1, 2,3, and 4, I think Chiefs of Mission will be more receptive to having the support of selected military forces providing the way of the indirect approach.

Furthermore, the indirect approach is so much more than simply providing training.  It includes a continuous assessment of the conditions in a given country (from threats, to civli-military, infrastructure, host nation capabilities) in order to help the Chief of Mission and the Country Team to work with the host nation in order to help them with their internal development and internal defense programs to defend against lawless, subversion, insurgency and terrorism.  It includes maintaining and sustaining long term relationship in order to provide a deep level of situational understanding.  It requires operations in countries that are not currently on priority and high priority terrorism lists because the indirect approach as a way of strategy is best used to prevent future instability and conflict or to be in a position to support additional operations (from the interagency and military) should instability and conflict arise.

Lastly regarding authorities.  I actually think that many "authorities" imposed by Congress are really "restrictions" imposed because of past mistakes.  But the quest for "blanket authorities" is one that we will likely never succeed in obtaining from Congress.  However, if we develop a comprehensive strategy with supporting Mission Strategic Plans that specific what specific tasks are to be conducted and what resources are required specific authorities can be provided.  The problem with the myriad authorities and action officers searching for pots of funding is that it leads to a strategy of random acts of touching and support to "good ideas" for this fiscal year.  But a comprehensive, long term strategy and supporting programs that can be sustain over fiscal years, while hard to develop initially, will provide long term flexibility and ease of administration so that all the agencies can focus on sustained execution.  Strategy and planning is the key and necessary authorities and funding should flow from there.  But instead we want blanket authorities and pots of money from which to choose and this method I think is contrary to effective strategy development and planning. Let's get the strategy and campaign and mission strategic plans right first and then go after the authorities and funding.

Apologies for the long rant but the bottom line is that the indirect approach is so much more than just building partner capacity but it must be employed as a way of a comprehensive strategy.  I would close with these four points with the understanding that Special Warfare incorporates the indirect approach:
Number 1.  The future is UW and counter-UW
Number 2.   We have the greatest Surgical Strike capability in the world but we need to prioritize and resource equally our Special Warfare capabilities.
Number 3.  We need Strategists and Policy makers who have a deep understanding of and value the strategic options of UW and Counter-UW.
Number 4.  Effective Special Warfare is counter-intuitively characterized by slow and deliberate employment – long duration actions and activities, relationship establishment, development, and sustainment.


Special Operations: What New Powers They Need From Congress & Pentagon

Published: April 15, 2013

WASHINGTON: America's commandos have been darlings of the Congress, Pentagon, and the media since 9/11. Now, as Special Operations Forces reorient from Iraq andAfghanistan to lower-profile missions worldwide in places likeMali, they will need new sources of funding and new legal authorities -- changes that may rub both Congress and the four armed services the wrong way.

That's the conclusion of a recent report by Wilson Center scholar and sometime US Central Command advisorLinda Robinson, released last week by the Council on Foreign Relations who interviewed more that 60 senior officers and civilian officials.

"This is not a call for more resources," Robinson said at a briefing this morning. In the current budget crunch, she knows they won't be forthcoming. But, Robinson said, the money Congress already allocates could be managed much better.

The problem isn't just that the huge flow of supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is drying up. It's that operations outside the major warzones are funded by a grab-bag of different sources, "a portfolio of about 30 different authorities," said Robinson.

Each pot of money has its own particular purpose and legal rules. Commanders must figure out where to apply for money for their particular operation, and if they do get it once, they still have to compete for it again next year. (It's rather like thinktank academics scrambling to fund their next study). There is "complicated wargaming that goes on [just] to get your operation funded," Robinson said. It is, she wrote, "a lottery system."

This annual scramble is not only a huge waste of staff officers' time and energy: Such an ad hoc approach undermines the kind of "persistent presence" that no less a figure than Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven considers essential to building up local allies so they can prevent regional crises without large-scale US intervention.

"You can have the most beautiful plan in the world, but if you don't have predictable funding to implement it, it doesn't matter," said Robinson.

So how can Congress provide more stability, I asked Robinson after her public remarks. The ideal might be to fund several years of operations in a given country with a single vote, but legislators hate to make multi-year commitments.

"Multi-year money is a hard ask for Congress and that may be a bridge too far," Robinson agreed, "but... you have to have a sustained approach to these countries." As a compromise, she suggested, one politically more manageable reform would be to package all the support for a particular country into a single line item subject to a single vote every year.

Different agencies and the different committees overseeing them are notoriously reluctant to pool funding across jurisdictions, it's true. However, said Robinson, there is a precedent for this approach in Plan Colombia, the long-running support for counter-guerrilla and counter-drug operations in Colombia that actually predates 9/11. (Many human rights groups and drug legislation activists loathe Plan Colombia, but the intelligence community and the military view it as a geostrategic success. And no one can argue that Colombia isn't much more stable and much safer than it was before).
(Continued at the link below)

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