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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Obama Close to Authorizing Military Training of Syrian Rebels

A day late and a dollar short?  (based on discussions I have heard with people coming from the region with long presence there many of the answers to the basic questions below would be negative)

I would like to see the feasibility assessment for the conduct of unconventional warfare with specific emphasis on an analysis of the resistance potential.  I wonder if someone has asked the very basic and fundamental questions laid out in Mark Grdovic's excellent Leader's Handbook to Unconventional Warfare (can be downloaded at this link:  And then of course we should be asking about the unconventional warfare campaign plan that will be executed to support the resistance.

From pages 25-26:

The Criticality of the Feasibility Assessment Planning must remain limited until certain assumptions have been confirmed as valid. If operations proceed without a proper assessment of feasibility, the likelihood of unintended consequences is high. To gain an accurate picture, operational personnel will need to meet with indigenous personnel who represent the resistance forces. This can take place inside the denied territory (extremely high risk), in the U.S. or in a third-party nation. While meeting representatives in the U.S. or a third nation provides a safer option for an assessment team, it conversely provides a less reliable assessment for potential capabilities. The normal questions that comprise a feasibility assessment are as follows: • Are there groups who could be developed into a viable force? • Are we in contact with or can we make contact with individuals representing the resistance potential in an area? • Are there capable leaders, with goals compatible with U.S. goals, which are willing to cooperate with the U.S.? • Can the leaders be influenced to remain compliant with U.S. goals? • Are their tactics and battlefield conduct acceptable by the Law of Land Warfare and acceptable to the U.S. population? • Will the environment (geography and demographics) support resistance operations? • Does the enemy have effective control over the population? • Is the potential gain worth the potential risk? Is this group’s participation politically acceptable to other regional allies? 
Expatriates can prove to be a valuable resource, particularly in regions where the culture is largely unfamiliar or alien to a planner’s frame of reference. However, great care should be taken to ensure the individual’s claims are valid. An expatriate’s influence in a given country is inversely proportional to the length of time he has been away from his former homeland and the level of control measures, propaganda and intimidation employed against the population. While there are many reasons an expatriate might exaggerate his influence in a region and attempt to exploit the situation in his favor, he may legitimately be surprised to find his own assessment of his influence to be grossly inaccurate. During normal peacetime conditions, a person can spend years away from a country and expect to maintain his contacts and influence. Under the pressures of a harsh regime or occupation, this time period is reduced significantly. 
Operational personnel involved in determining the feasibility of a potential campaign must have (1) clear campaign objectives, (2) a desired end state and (3) knowledge of exactly what level of support is available and acceptable. Without these specifics, negotiations with potential resistance forces would be futile. During assessment, if conditions prove to be unfavorable, planners need to also consider if there are measures that could change the current situation to one that would be favorable. For example: 
• Can a potential resistance group be persuaded to cease unacceptable tactics or behavior? • Can a coalition ally be persuaded to accept a specific resistance group’s participation under certain conditions? • Can the enemy’s control over the population be degraded? • Can the population’s will to resist be bolstered? • What can actually be achieved given the constraint of time? Operational detachments need time to organize with their indigenous counterparts, to develop a working relationship in terms of trust and credibility, and to build up the guerrilla capability and supporting infrastructure, while remaining relatively undetected by the enemy. These objectives would take considerable time to achieve in friendly territory, operating with U.S. units. For forces working within enemy territory, dealing with unfamiliar units and coordinating operations across a wide, decentralized and compartmentalized front, the time requirement is much greater. 
Risk Analysis and Risk Acceptance 
Planners and commanders need to appreciate the relationship between risk and capability. The resistance capability that can be developed is directly proportional to the amount of time available to operational detachments on the ground. If the risk associated with inserting U.S. operational detachments is considered to be unacceptable until the night prior to an invasion, the desired operational capabilities will likely not be in place for several months. During operational phases, forces (to include U.S. advisers) are normally out of range of many capabilities that are generally accepted as the norm in conventional military operations. These absent capabilities may include medical evacuation, close air support and continuous lines of communication. The associated risks from not having these inherent standing capabilities can be mitigated to some degree by many SF operating techniques. Commanders will likely need to accept a greater degree of decentralization than they may be used to from operational elements during these types of operations. 

Obama Close to Authorizing Military Training of Syrian Rebels

President to Discuss U.S. Move in Address at West Point

May 27, 2014 9:49 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama is close to authorizing a mission led by the U.S. military to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad and al Qaeda-linked groups, a move that would expand Washington's role in the conflict, U.S. officials said.
A new military training program, if implemented, would supplement a small train-and-equip program led by the Central Intelligence Agency which Mr. Obama authorized a year ago.
U.S. officials said the new military program would represent a significant expansion of Washington's public efforts. U.S. officials don't discuss the CIA's limited training program because it is covert.
In a commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will signal backing for the new training effort by saying he intends to increase support to the armed Syrian opposition, including by providing them with training. Mr. Obama isn't expected to provide details about how, or where, that training would be accomplished.

Write to Adam Entous at

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Thoughts on Junior Officers

I did an interview/podcast with Major Claire O'Neill of the Australian Army last year when she was here at Georgetown on a Fulbright.  I just came across it on her blog "Grounded Curiosity" 

There are also interviews with TX Hammes and David Ucko

A summary of my comments is below and the 41 minute interview is at this link.

I chatted with Dave Maxwell at Georgetown University to hear his thoughts on what the future holds for junior commanders. The podcast starts with the discussion of the future operating environment within the framework of nuclear, traditional and irregular warfare, and ends with a great story about initiative and strategic perspective by a junior leader in the Philippines. Here are some of Dave Maxwell’s insights as a quick introduction:
  • “one of the most important things for us as officers is to continue to study and be self-learners, life long learners and have a passion for knowledge of our profession”
  • “we’ve got to be able to understand strategy and policy and be able to translate that strategy and policy and be able to translate that strategy and policy into campaign plans and then conduct tactical operations that support the strategy”
  • “in addition to our war fighting skills, which must be maintained for deterrence (and) defence, we also have to understand unconventional warfare”
  • “our younger officers and soldiers … are much more capable of operating in very complex, ambiguous environment”
  • “I see our young officers thinking and acting at levels far beyond what I was doing during the Cold War … we need to build on that … we have a much higher quality of officer and force, we must protect that, we must nurture that and we can’t put them back in the box “
  • “one of the most important things [junior commanders] should be doing is writing about their experiences, good and bad, and they should be just like Clausewitz, they should be wrestling with what they think the future is about … and our leaders need encourage our junior commanders to write as that’s what’s will contribute to the development of the future force”



David S. Maxwell (@DavidMaxwell161) is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University, Washington D.C. He is a 30-year veteran of the US Army retiring as a Special Forces Colonel, with his final assignment serving on the military faculty teaching national security strategy at the National War College. He spent the majority of his military service overseas with nearly 25 years in Asia, primarily in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, leading organizations from the SF A-Team to the Joint Special Operations Task Force level. David holds a bachelor of arts degree in Political Science from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and Masters of Military Arts and Science degrees from the US Army Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies and a master of science degree in National Security Studies from the National War College of the National Defense University. He is the author of numerous works on Korea, Special Operations, Foreign Internal Defense, Unconventional Warfare and National Security. He is a Columnist for War on the Rocks. He and his family reside in Northern Virginia.
Dave Maxwell with his books mentioned in the podcast: Military Geography by John M. Collins; On War by Carl von Clausewitz, translated by Michael Eliot Howard and  Peter Paret; The Art of War by Sun Tzu, translated by Samuel B. Griffith (a much loved book)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

“Counterinsurgency is Not a Substitute for Strategy”

My review of the new COIN manual.  Please read the entire review at Small Wars Journal.

“Counterinsurgency is Not a Substitute for Strategy”

by David S. Maxwell

Journal Article | May 6, 2014 - 9:07am
“Counterinsurgency is Not a Substitute for Strategy”
(para 1-4, page 1-2 FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5)
David S. Maxwell
This quote alone justifies the publication of the new FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5.  And the new title is worth noting as well – “Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies.”  The title recognizes and illustrates what scholars and practitioners alike should know – insurgency is not monolithic or single scope.  There is a broad range of insurgencies 9and revolutions) and it can be said with near certainty that no two are the same.
Overall I think this version is a vast improvement over the 2006 edition and I think it will be more useful at the tactical and operational level.  Before I get into my criticisms I will say that although it is stated many times throughout the manual that the US forces should be in support of (or work with as Chapter 11 says) host nation forces I believe that the culture of the US military remains hard pressed to let go of the reins of control nor has the patience to allow another government and its security forces to be in the lead when countering insurgencies in their countries.  Despite the multiple admonitions and direction in the manual (including the figure 11-1,  “Host Nation Security Force Meter” which shows US forces in the lead as ineffective and host nation forces in the lead as effective after they have been taught, coached, and advised by the US military) many military planners may still gravitate to leading counterinsurgency operations with US forces. 
I will also state my bias and provide a caveat up front.  I am approaching this review from a perspective based on my personal experience as a Special Forces soldier and basing it on the short time to read and study this nearly 200 page document (197 page in PDF format). 
There are two aspects of the new manual that are particularly noteworthy.  The first is the emphasis on the importance of assessment, continuous assessment and reassessment.  Not only are these critically important concepts discussed in great detail in Chapter 7 “Planning and Operational Considerations” and other chapters as well, there is a complete chapter (12) dedicated to a discussion of assessments.  There is probably no more supporting concept and capability for countering insurgencies than being able to conduct thorough and continuous assessments to gain situational understanding (vice only awareness).  As a first aside, I would note that there is some very good doctrine in the Special Forces community for conducting both area studies and area assessments and there are excellent examples of their use both in Haiti in the 1990’s and in the Philippines, post 9-11.  A similar template using guided questions was used in both operations to gather information to really learn about and understand the local conditions from security to politics to the economy.  I would have included an example of this sixty-plus question template as well as other tactical examples that have been developed over the years in an annex.  That would have really put the fine point on the importance of assessments and provide something of immediate practical value to tactical units. 
The second noteworthy addition to this manual is the discussion of conventional and special operations forces synchronization.  There is a useful discussion in Chapter 6, “Command and Control and Mission Command” and it notes that “the integration of conventional force and SOF have special considerations in counterinsurgency” as they depend on each other.  This is a lesson learned from Afghanistan and Iraq and from a special operations perspective also illustrates the 5th SOF Truth: “most special operations require non-SOF support.”   Another interesting side note is that in the reference list there is a new manual with which I am unfamiliar but I think should be read in conjunction with this one: FM 6-05/MCWP 3-36.1.CF-SOF Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Conventional Forces and Special Operations Forces Integration, Interoperability, and Interdependence. 13 March 2014. 
While these are two important parts of the new manual there is another aspect that requires some discussion.  The first is that Chapters 10 and 11, “Indirect Methods for Counter Insurgencies” and “Working with Host Nation Forces” does not emphasize the idea or possibility that some US operations to support a host nation in countering an insurgency might be appropriately led by US SOF.  In some situations it may be more appropriate to conduct the mission using the doctrine of Foreign Internal Defense (FID) as the proper way to frame the relationship between US Forces in a supporting role and the host nation forces in the supported role.
However, FID is not mentioned until briefly in Chapter 10, along with Security Force Assistance (a post 9-11 doctrinal development), and then only in terms of security assistance planning training host nation forces.  Passing references are made to two current and ongoing FID missions, namely Colombia and the Philippines (page 11-10, para., 11-34 and page 11-11, para., 11-36).  US SOF and other forces are conducting FID to assist the host nation government and its forces to the insurgency that threatens it.  As an aside from a historical perspective I would have recommended returning to the 1963 FM 31-22 US Army Counterinsurgency Forces (access here) which not only provides a framework and force structure for SOF led operations, it also provides many still relevant operational concepts that could have been considered for inclusion in this manual. 
As we consider historical examples, the Laotian insurgency is also mentioned in passing with an historical vignette on pages 1-3 and 1-4.  It failed to mention that the United States conducted a CIA and Special Forces led operation called White Star in Laos. (short summary here) This is another example of a historical SOF-led FID mission.
Another historical vignette used in the manual is the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines, in this case to illustrate the new framework of “shape-clear-hold-build-transition.” (Chapter 9).  This is also another example of a very limited US footprint and commitment to support the host nation government and security forces and one that was also conducted in effect by a SOF officer, Maj Gen Edward Lansdale who was a member of the OSS in WWII and later the CIA.  Three other historical vignettes of very small footprint indirect operations were Sri Lanka, Peru, and El Salvador but they are not described in terms of FID or the effective use of SOF to advise and assist host nation forces to counter insurgencies.  The problem that I see is that the manual only recognizes FID as part of security cooperation and then only in the function of training host nation forces despite the definition of FID which is  “Participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to its security.” This is the most comprehensive US (military and interagency) mission to help a US friends, partners, and allies to counter insurgencies (as well as threats from subversion, lawless, and terrorism). FID provides the framework for the indirect approaches yet Chapter 10 fails to mention it.
In my opinion the main effort focus of the manual should be on the indirect methods and the support to host nation forces (as opposed to working with host nation forces – a perhaps subtle distinction – support to ensures host nation primacy, working with can be interpreted as US lead).  This would be in keeping with Defense Strategic Guidance, January 2012 that is not referenced in the manual. (access here)
Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations. In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations. (emphasis added)
The initial chapter makes it very clear that the Army and Marine Corps’ role in counterinsurgency is to enable the host nation.  However, as mentioned at the beginning of this review US military culture will always drive us to the desire to lead and it is hard for the US military mind to envision being a supporting effort to friends, partners, or allies.  Again, although the manual emphasizes the importance of indirect methods and the host nation there are subtle messages that can be read throughout by a mind pre-disposed to lead that will cause him or her to focus on the direct approaches.  The most obvious of the subtle messages is that the chapter “Direct Approaches to Counter an Insurgency” comes before “Indirect Methods for Countering Insurgencies” and “Working with Host Nation Forces.”  I would have recommended a reverse order if only to send the message that the direct approaches are a last resort or used in extreme situations where no host nation forces exist (though in a post-conflict situation after major combat operations the proper execution of stability operations in support of the remnants of the host nation government might well prevent an insurgency – an insurgency does not have to result from defeat in major combat operations – though it is likely in a place such as north Korea).   But even if that were changed there is simply too much discussion and too many examples of the US as the lead nation throughout the entire manual.
Planning is of course discussed in detail in Chapter 7, Planning and Operational Considerations.” but interestingly the new methodolgy of “shape-clear-hold-build- transition” is introduced and described in Chapter 9, “Direct Approaches to Counter an Insurgency.”  This appears to be the fundamental planning construct as the US method for countering an insurgency.  The relatively old (2006) but very well known “clear-hold-build” has been updated and since it is now associated with the direct approaches this is bound to reinforce, at least in the subconscious, that the direct approach is the preferred method of countering an insurgency by US forces.
(Continued at the link below)