Saturday, August 29, 2015

General Baek Kun-ki is my old commander at the Special Warfare Command/Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force (CUWTF).  I also worked with him when he was the G3 of CUWTF.

I have not spoken with him in a few years but I hope he recalls all our unconventional warfare discussions in the 1990's.  Dialogue can be a very important tool for assisting in internal regime change as I outlined in my 2004 strategy(Can be downloaded here  Summary is below (note that this was written in 2003-2004 when the state of the ROK/US Alliance was not at its best, thus requirement for "repair of the alliance - and of course the "Korea Questions" is the phrase from the 1953 Armistice Agreement, para 60, that recognized the Korea question as the unnatural division of the peninsula and must be solved for their to be lasting peace):

This paper proposes a long term ROK-US combined security strategy to work toward resolution of the “Korea question”: Comprehensive Engagement with Strength: Partner and Prosper.  It establishes a long term end state toward which all efforts will focus.  It provides a framework that allows management of the current and future crises while simultaneously allowing the ROK and US to identify opportunities stemming from current and future emerging crises that will support achievement of the long term end state.  . 

Key Points:

·      Ensure that an effective defensive capability remains in place until the “Korea Question” is resolved

·      Method for developing a combined strategy

(1) Consultations at the political and military level between the ROKG and USG. 
(2) Increased high level contacts. 
(3) Establishment of a combined planning group (Korea Strategy Group (KSG)) with permanent NSC level members that meet on a rotating basis in Washington and Seoul.

    • Repair the alliance: This will take a concerted effort by the President and senior US leadership.  Must come to agreement on the divergent ROK and US policies (sunshine policy versus regime change).  They are not mutually exclusive if you do not use the Iraq/Afghanistan models for regime change. 

    • Proposed mutually acceptable strategic end state: A stable, secure, peaceful, economically vibrant, non-nuclear peninsula, reunified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people.

            This end state implies regime change.  But it must come from within.  Most importantly while the US desires regime change it has not prepared for it.  Fundamental to the strategy is that near term crises must be managed (and exploited for possible opportunities) while it prepares the foundation for a post Kim Family Regime era.

General-turned-lawmaker calls for more dialogue between two Koreas

Despite the military background, Baek firmly believes in the power of dialogue to solve problems on Korean Peninsula
August 28th, 2015
South Korean lawmaker Baek Kun-ki, one of leading lawmakers of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), notes a sharp drop in dialogue between the two Koreas since 2008.
According to his data, meetings between the two Koreans in the fields of politics, military, economic development, humanitarian aid, society and culture dropped from 171 during former President Roh Moo-hyun’s term (2003-2008) to 21 times during President Lee Myung-bak’s era and 32 times in 2013-2014 under incumbent President Park Geun-hye’s administration.
“Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War book emphasizes the importance of winning the battle without bleeding from either side,” he told NK News. “War inevitably brings massive direct and collateral damage to both sides. The mental and physical damage that the Korean War has inflicted on us is still unhealed and unsolved, as was shown in the recent conflict caused by North Korea’s provocation.”
Despite his prominent military background, particularly as a former four-star commander of the Third ROK Army, he strongly promotes the power of dialogue.
“The wound that the Korean War left on our society will be healed in time when our future generations get to be the leaders of Korea. If another Korean War occurs between us, the Korean Peninsula will once again be forced to live in pain and agony for centuries. That is why we have to emphasize the need for more talks, and now is the perfect time for it.”
As much as he emphasized the need for more dialogue, he firmly believes in the military readiness of South Korean troops to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula. Being the member of National Defense Committee of the National Assembly, he has been one of most active lawmakers in prioritizing national defense.
“National defense and peace are like two sides of a coin, they always come in pairs and one can’t stand without another. The NPAD and National Defense Committee are struggling day to day to find out what is best for our troops so all of Korea may live in peace.”
특전사령관 비트
Baek Kun-ki during his time as commander of the Republic of Korea’s Special Warfare Command. Courtesy of Baek’s office
(Continued at the link below)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Conference Report: Exploring Theories of Change Implicit in Policy Approaches to North Korea August 2015

This workshop took place in September of 2014.

I participated in this workshop a year ago.  I think you can probably guess some of my contributions in the excerpts below.  I could not shape the discussion to focus sufficiently on unification (as it was not the focus but I tried to emphasize its importance whenever I could) as the majority of participants were of the opinion that we can engage the regime to change its behavior, particularly about the nuclear program.

One participant argued that U.S. laws should be consistently enforced, regardless of the state of diplomatic negotiations, and that the U.S. should send the message to North Korea that the way to prevent new sanctions is simply to cease illicit behavior. Others responded that while it was incumbent for some sanctions efforts to be ongoing regardless of the diplomatic context – such as efforts to interdict proliferation activities – efforts to crack down on second-tier concerns such as counterfeiting could be applied more selectively. Another participant, however, questioned whether North Korea would differentiate between ongoing or discretionary sanctions efforts, and would interpret either as a sign of American hostility.

One participant argued that efforts in line with what scholar Andrei Lankov has called “subversive engagement” – which aim to change North Korea by exposing its people to new ideas and information – could be implemented in tandem with both an engagement and a pressure track. As these are inherently long-term efforts, they could be undertaken without regard to changes in the status of negotiations or U.S.-DPRK relations.

The participants agreed that proper implementation of both pressure and engagement measures requires greater domestic and international policy coherence. Several pointed to the need for the President to empower a high-ranking official to take charge of all aspects of U.S. policy toward North Korea, directing and coordinating diplomacy, sanctions, and military actions. Other participants, however, pointed out that there does not seem to be the political will in either the White House or Congress for such an effort, and furthermore that the separate role of a Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights is required by statute. 

Preparing for the Next Korean War

I received these comments from a long time Korea hand that I think are very much worth sharing.  I think the last question is very much worth considering for all those pondering a limited war in Korea.

Agree 100% with everything you said.  When the NK artillery attack starts on Seoul, it will include 1/3 chemical rounds which will increase the civilian casualty ratio three-fold.  ROK-US Alliance response, beyond what you describe, must include C2 facilities in Pyongyang and once Pyongyang is hit seriously the proverbial gloves within the Kim Regime come off.  Standard practice in war preparation will include the party's order, not the military's order, to mobilize the entire population for war through the party's provincial and county military committees to support the military as the military requires.  Based on NK's well-documented (their documents) plan to guarantee survival of the military industrial facilities dispersed countrywide, the logistical arm will give false confidence to the leadership in terms of survivability.  As air defenses crumble, regime vulnerability will spread and panic will begin to set in at the top.  Stopping the artillery attacks with chemicals on Seoul will not likely be seen as an option.  The momentum of war will eliminate any concept of limited war.  If the ROK suffers 200-300,000 civilian casualties in the first 48 hours, why would the ROK leadership tolerate a limited ending and why would they not press for the complete  end of the Kim Regime?  What would we do if New York suffered 200,000 casualties?


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Maxwell <>
Date: Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 9:26 PM
Subject: Preparing for the Next Korean War

I have a very hard time envisioning  "a limited war."  Any attack scenario that includes any massing of artillery fires or crossing of the DMZ with any forces of sufficient size to conduct a "limited war" will require an execution of the defense plan.  Once the defense plan is initiated the end result will be the end of the Kim Family Regime with the ultimate end state of Korean unification.  There is no "limited war" scenario that will result in a cessation of hostilities with either the north gaining territory in the ROK or even the reestablishment of a new DMZ either South or north of the current DMZ.

While Dr. Jackson can accuse me of cognitive dissonance when I say that survival of the Kim Family Regime is the vital north Korean national interest and yet can make argument that Kim Jong-un might make a very rational decision from the north Korean perspective that an initiation of the campaign plan in order to unify the peninsula under the north's control.  To think that regime survival will prevent Kim Jong-un from attacking is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Kim Family Regime and how it perceives not only its interests but also its military power (and things are likely worse now because there are probably no generals remaining who will provide Kim Jong-un with the real facts on the correlation of forces and balance of power which is more likely to lead to a miscalculation).

I would also say that once any kind of attack occurs we are going to be hard pressed to assess that it is only a limited attack.  And to ever assume that an attack is limited will end up causing the expenditure of great amounts of blood and treasure and put the ROK at even greater risk.  When the north uses military force the ROK/US Alliance must seize the initiative and finish the fight.  But a limited war is one that is likely to be protracted which again will result in great expenditure of blood and treasure.  But it is the height of military irresponsibly to assume a limited war and not respond decisively with the full execution of the defense plan.  Just think about this.  Once the north begins firing artillery preparation (which likely will consist of thousands of rounds of artillery) the Combined ROK and US Air Forces are going to begin destroying all of the north's air defense systems and missile and rocket launch capabilities because not doing so would make the ROK extremely vulnerable and again to not do so would be militarily irresponsible.

Furthermore, to think that approaching an attack from a limited war perspective would be prevent the use of nuclear weapons again is a bad assumption.  The only way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons after the north initiates its campaign and attack is for the ROK/US alliance to execute the defense plan as rapidly and decisively as possible.  The longer we allow Kim Jong-un to maintain control of his nuclear weapons during war time (limited or otherwise) leaves the ROK vulnerable and the chance of use increases over time.  The north's nuclear weapons and delivery systems have to be immediately targeted and destroyed as soon as hostilities are initiated by the north.

Limited war scenarios are fantasies and should not be entertained because to do so increases the death and destruction in the ROK and increases the likelihood that the north will be able to use nuclear weapons against the South or even UN/US bases in Japan.  This is a nice scenario to play out in simulations, war games, and think tanks but it is not a military or political reality.  But again, once the north attacks on any significant scale must result in execution of the defense plan and it must be executed to its logical conclusion, the end of the Kim Family Regime and the path to unification.

Preparing for the Next Korean War

Preparing for the Next Korean War
Image Credit: U.S. Navy Photo
Why the U.S.-ROK alliance should plan for a limited war on the Korean Peninsula.
How do you fight and win with one hand tied behind your back?  U.S. and South Korean officials would do well to figure out, quickly.  A dark cloud descended over the Korean Peninsula last week as a series of North Korean actions along the DMZ escalated tensions to the highest level since 2010.  Despite ongoing talks between the two sides, tensions remain high.  The prospect of limited war on the Korean Peninsula is all too real, and the alliance must reorient its preparations accordingly.
I’ve spent most of my tenure since leaving government warning about limited war in Korea—a conflict in which both sides avoid nuclear exchanges, no invasion of Pyongyang occurs, and both sides limit their objectives and the means of attaining them to eschew conquest.  In limited war, a return to the status quo may count as a victory.  If that sounds perverse, it’s because we’ve become accustomed to an image of war as an all-or-nothing affair; no goal short of total enemy surrender will do.  Not so in a world of limited wars.
I raised this issue in congressional testimony earlier this year.   I noted it in subsequent op-eds, and in a Center for a New American Security report for Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.  I’ve discussed it before the media, and at conferences.  And in a forthcoming report for the U.S.-Korea Institute, I attempt to sketch how the alliance might adjust to a future of limited wars.  The most recent mini-crisis brings the point home in disturbingly clear fashion: the risk of limited war on the Korean Peninsula is increasing with time.
I’ve identified a number of mutually reinforcing reasons why this is so, and why the reality of limited war actually gets more likely with time.
Nobody Wants Nuclear War—Not Even Kim Jong Eun
Every Korea expert I’ve ever met believes North Korea’s primary goal is regime survival.  Yet most of these same experts believe that Kim Jong Eun is capable of anything and there’s no telling what he might do.  To put it politely, that’s cognitive dissonance.  If we know North Korea seeks regime survival, then we know something about what it’s keen to avoid.  Even Kim Jong Eun must know there are certain actions that would end him and his regime—nuclear attacks, the destruction of Seoul, or a mass invasion of South Korea.  Kim Jong Eun isn’t a Millenarian or a Jihadi; his goal isn’t suicide.  So unless we want to shrug our shoulders and say “anything could happen,” we should have some modest confidence that Kim won’t pursue the extreme actions that North Korean media routinely threaten.
(Continued at the link below)

The Military’s Purpose is Not to Kill People and Break Things

I would add this simple description:

The military's purpose is to fight and win the nation's wars (yes I know it is a cliche and some would say a throw away statement but I think it is worth remembering at all times).

If there is demonstrated political will (leadership and popular) combined with the military capability we can achieve deterrence (though we have to understand deterrence can never be assured because the enemy does have a vote).

With the national will and military capability to fight and win the nation's wars diplomacy is able to take the lead among the elements of national power.

With diplomacy in the lead and the will and capability to fight and win the nation's wars then and only then can we pay attention to the question of the former senior US Diplomat Madeline Albright when she said "What good is having a military if you do not use it." 

I of course think it is a damn good thing not to have to use the military but if it is necessary to use it for purposes other than fighting and winning the nation's wars (e.g., humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, operating in the "gray zone" conducting political or unconventional warfare as required) we can make the political decision to do so and know that if we have properly organized, trained, and resourced the military for its fundamental purpose then we can have the agility and flexibility to do other tasks to support policy, diplomacy, and strategy.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Maxwell <>
Date: Wed, Aug 26, 2015 at 6:01 AM
Subject: The Military’s Purpose is Not to Kill People and Break Things


So when, in the first Republican presidential debate earlier this month, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee responded to an open question from moderator Bret Baier on the “changing” culture of the American military by saying, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” the audience applause appalled me.
The military’s purpose is not to kill people and break things. This idea is factually, historically, professionally, and philosophically wrong — and must itself be remorselessly killed and violently broken. This 11-word platitude has no place in modern society.
Critics will counter with Clausewitz, dismissing my argument as the naïve, “kind-hearted” words of someone that misguidedly believes there is “some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed.” But Clausewitz was writing in an era of limited options, when a bloodsucking leech was often the medical profession’s first and only recourse. Today is different. New U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley just alluded to the same kind of red stuff. “As America, we have no luxury of a single opponent,” Milley said, warning that “we will pay the butcher’s bill in blood” if the military is not prepared to succeed at tasks across the full spectrum. Limiting the military to killing and breaking would inappropriately constrain us to black/white responses in a Technicolor world.
The purpose of the military is not to kill people and break things. While sometimes it must break, it must always guard. While sometimes it must kill, it must always keep. In all things, in all tasks, beyond any debate, the military’s purpose is to serve and protect America.

The Military’s Purpose is Not to Kill People and Break Things

  • by Matt Cavanaugh 
  •  Aug. 26, 2015 
  •  5 min read 
  •  original
I have killed people and broken things in war.
I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal. Always. My country, profession, and family demand this, as is the case for all in uniform.
So when, in the first Republican presidential debate earlier this month, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee responded to an open question from moderator Bret Baier on the “changing” culture of the American military by saying, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” the audience applause appalled me.
The military’s purpose is not to kill people and break things. This idea is factually, historically, professionally, and philosophically wrong — and must itself be remorselessly killed and violently broken. This 11-word platitude has no place in modern society.
To suggest the military’s purpose is to break and kill confuses purpose and task, ends with means. Ironically, this miscalculation came from a minister. To apply the error in ecclesiastical terms would be to claim that Jesus’s purpose was merely to die a painful physical death, without any higher design. This might seem like silly semantics to some, but to professionals carrying either cross or carbine, words matter.
(Continued at the link below)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Koreas to resume high-level talks Sunday to work out differences

Ten hours of talks at Panmunjom.  Sounds like a page out of Admiral C. Turner Joy's book How Communists Negotiate and his experience negotiating with the north Koreans as the senior UN delegate in 1951-1952.  Or we could read Chuck Down's Over the Line: North Korea's Negotiating Strategy to gain a sense of what the north is doing.  The ROK negotiators need patience and big bladders.

It is better to jaw-jaw than war-war so long talks should be a good thing.  

Here is one scenario of how this will play out.  Marathon talks will continue.  Eventually the north will give the ROK negotiators a private verbal apology in return for the ROK agreeing to shut down the loud speaker broadcasts.  There will be a brief joint verbal statement from the heads of each delegation that will be somewhat vague and will not include a specific apology.  The ROK will cease the loudspeaker broadcasts and inform the public that the north offered its apologies during the negotiations.  In response the north will deny that an apology was made and will instead say that their superior negotiating tactics combined with the strength of its military (and the fear that it brings to the South and the world) that forced the ROK to cease the loudspeaker operations (and we should remember that it was the north that sent a message to the South asking for talks). Then we will return to "normalcy"  (e.g., armistice)  during which we should keep in mind north Korea's four "principles" of provocation outlined by Dr. Bruce Bechtol in his latest book that I have sent out before.

 "North Korea and Regional Security in the Kim Jong-un Era,"

"Most North Korean provocations have had four things in common: 

1) they are intentionally initiated at moments when they have the likelihood of garnering the greatest attention on the regional and perhaps even the
world stage; 

2) they initially appear to be incidents that are relatively small, easily contained, and quickly ‘resolved;’

3) they involve continuously changing tactics and techniques; and 

4) North Korea denies responsibility for the event."

(LEAD) Koreas to resume high-level talks Sunday to work out differences

  • Aug. 23, 2015 
  •  1 min read 
  •  original
(ATTN: UPDATES with quote; ADDS background)
SEOUL, Aug. 23 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea will resume high-level talks later Sunday to work out differences on how to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The talks between South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin and Hwang Pyong-so, the North Korean military's top political officer, were adjourned at 4:15 a.m., presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters.
The marathon talks -- which lasted for nearly 10 hours at the border village of Panmunjom -- were joined by South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yang-gon.
"The two sides held in-depth consultations on how to resolve the situation that was recently created, and how to improve inter-Korean relations," Min said.
South and North Korea will review each other's positions before resuming the talks at 3 p.m., Min said, without elaborating.
The talks, which were first proposed by North Korea on Friday, came an hour after the Pyongyang-set deadline for defusing the crisis passed.
On Thursday, North Korea gave a 48-hour ultimatum for South Korea to end propaganda broadcasts along the heavily fortified border and dismantle all loudspeakers, saying it otherwise will launch "a strong military action."
   North Korea also warned Friday that it is prepared to engage in "all-out war."
   Propaganda broadcasts have become a bone of contention between the two Koreas after South Korea resumed them earlier this month for the first time in 11 years.
South Korea took the measure in retaliation against North Korea for a recent land mine attack that maimed two South Korean soldiers. South Korea accused the North of planting the mines inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, a charge denied by North Korea.
North Korea views the psychological warfare critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as an insult to its dignity. The isolated country is also concerned that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to Kim.
Still, South Korea has vowed to continue the psychological warfare.
Tensions between the Koreas have risen dramatically since Thursday's exchange of artillery fire.
The North fired one artillery shell across the border Thursday afternoon before firing several more rounds later in apparent anger over South Korea's resumption of propaganda broadcasts. South Korea fired back dozens of shells.
The North later claimed that it never started Thursday's exchange of fire with the South and accused Seoul of fabricating the allegations that the communist nation fired first.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Who Won the August 20th north-South Provocation Exchange?

My initial thoughts on the provocation that occurred today in Korea.  I do not have anything more than the initial reports to base this on but it is my initial assessment.

Who Won the August 20th north-South Provocation Exchange?

On the afternoon of August 20th the north Korean People’s Army (nKPA) apparently fired an artillery round into South Korea ostensibly to respond to the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) decision to initiate psychological operations broadcast along the Demilitarized Zone.  Although some viewed this as a weak response to the north’s next most recent provocation of emplacing a box mine on the southern side of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that injured two ROK Army soldiers.  The purpose of that provocation might have been to protest the current ongoing ROK/US Combined Forces Command (ROK/US CFC) annual readiness exercise Ulchi Focus Guardian.

In response to the nKPA  artillery fire, reports indicate the ROK Army immediately and decisively responded at the time and place of provocation with counter fire directed against the nKPA firing units just as the new ROK/US  Combined Counter-provocation Plan calls for.

Some have speculated that the north could achieve a “victory” with this artillery exchange if the ROK/US CFC cancels or suspends the current exercise.  I think the exact opposite is going to happen and the “victor” from a psychological, political, and military perspective with the ROK military, the ROK government and the ROK/US alliance.

First we should consider the ROK response to the mine provocation.  Some accuse the ROK of only taking half measures and that a psychological operations only response is weak and inconsequential.  This is wrong.  The Kim Family Regime fears outside information more than an artillery attack.  A psychological operations response is a significant threat to the regime.  While people may discount loudspeaker broadcasts the regime will rightly assume that the ROK is going to intensify other PSYOP efforts to include supporting defector efforts to get information in the north.  Information is more dangerous to the regime than a kinetic military response.  This is why the north responded with threats and then with action.

Will the August 20th  provocation cause the cancellation of Ulchi Focus Guardian?  If that was the north’s intent then it will fail miserably.  It would be prudent for any commander to suspend the current exercise because no one can predict how far up the escalation ladder this incident could go.  The alliance must remain vigilant and ready for the north Korean response and conducting a training exercise in the face of increased tensions and open hostilities (if a single artillery exchange could be considered as such).  However, what the north has done in this case is provide an even “better” training scenario for the alliance and because the ROK and US headquarters are deployed to their operational headquarters and the ROK/US CFC chain of command is in effect for the exercises and the ROK and US forces have gone on higher alert the north’s provocation is actually having the opposite effect.  This also provides more opportunity for alliance PSYOP and information operations planners to develop themes and message to undercut the legitimacy of the Kim Family regime, which again is the biggest threat to it.

ROK and US forces now have the opportunity to review the current actions to confirm the counter-provocation plan.  It provides the intelligence community with a focus on observing for the next north Korea action that is better “training” than can be done on any computer scenario.

Furthermore, the ROK response should generate increased confidence among the Korean people because President Park issued decisive orders for counter-provocation and the ROK Army executed them as intended.   Most importantly people should understand that the ROK responded decisively and appropriately to two provocations with the first psychological operations response counter-intuitively being the stronger one because it threatens the regime more than artillery fire.

The north ‘s actions continue to paint the DPRK as a pariah state which will further cause its international isolation (as if it could be any more isolated).  Its actions will also likely increase the rising anti-north and pro-unification sentiment among the Korean people in the South as well.

The only objective the north can really achieve with this is that with the alliance demonstrating the will and capability to respond to provocations and the continued activation and manning of all the alliance operational headquarters and the raised alert status of alliance combat forces the north can continue its rhetoric that the alliance poses a threat to the regime and it can use this to demand further sacrifices of the Korean people living in the north to support its military.  Since that was going to happen anyway with the exercise there is no real benefit to the north.

Although it is the (correct) intent of the alliance to deter provocations and attack by the north, the response by the ROK Army to the mine and artillery provocations as well as the continued operations of the ROK/US CFC headquarters from their operational locations shows that the north has miscalculated and not been able to achieve its objectives on August 20th.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

FOLLOW-UP COMMENTS Why the New Syrian Army Failed: Washington and Unconventional Warfare

I received the message below from a newly qualified Special Forces soldier.  In writing this article I did not mean to harm the morale of our incoming SF soldiers.  But I think from a Napoleon’s Corporal perspective he provides us  a very important viewpoint.  First there is a strong desire among our young soldiers to conduct UW.  We have worried in recent years that too many want to come into SF and focus on the counterterrorism/direct action missions and not on the FID/UW missions.  But if this soldier is any indication (and since he mentions his peers I am optimistic that there are more) then our SF selection process is working and we are selecting the right people for SF.  But the concerns and frustrations he articulates (though as I mention in my response they are shared by all SF soldiers throughout SF history) should give us pause and ask whether we are moving forward to ensure that this strategic tool in our national security tool kit is well understood by our senior political leaders and policy makers and strategists and if not how to we ensure they are.  And just as important we need to instill confidence in our young SF soldiers that they are going to be properly and effectively employed in support of our national security strategy.


As a very recent graduate of Robin Sage, your article "Why the New Syrian Army Failed: Washington and Unconventional Warfare" resonated with me. My peers and I frequently discuss what we perceive as a lack of political will for the US to fully embrace Unconventional Warfare as a viable approach to foreign policy dilemmas. I assume there is a lot I don't know about US strategy, and I hope this message doesn't come across as presumptive -- but it is discouraging because I feel like US policy is overlooking a major tool by not employing SF to its full potential. It is doubly frustrating when other states like Russia are employing UW, arguably with success. Syria specifically seems like the model scenario for a full UW strategy to be implemented, and yet it has not been.

The current state has lowered my expectations of how the nation will employ me and my peers in the near future.

Again, thank you for writing this article. You have captured both my and many of my peers concerns.


Here was my response:


I have good news and bad news for you.  First you have just passed the final test to prove you are a Special Forces Soldier.

However, the bad news is that the reason you have proven yourself is because you feel the same way as every Special Forces Soldier who is a true believer in UW has felt since the Vietnam War.  

We have all felt the same way about the senior political leadership throughout our careers.  That is the nature of democracy and the way our Republic is organized and run.   That is the nature of Special Forces and soldiering in general.  We would all like to fully employ the capabilities for which we have been organized, equipped, trained, educated and optimized.

While the vast majority of us will never participate in the ideal classic UW mission (unless we do another Afghanistan from October 2001 to December 2001) the truth is you will employ your UW training and education in myriad important ways throughout the rest of your career. And some day the conditions will be right and some of you will conduct a high payoff strategic UW mission.  But you should take heart that all of you who just graduated from Robin Sage will contribute to national security in some form or fashion often throughout your career and you will do it well because of your UW training and education.

Your education and training will not go to waste.  Here is an article I wrote about 5 years ago on why we train and educate for UW.  And please feel free to share this with your peers.  Please download the PDF and read the whole thing.

And one last request.  Would you give me permission to use your email message (sanitized of course so your fingerprints are not on it)?  I would like to send it out with this response to my national security listserv and to our senior leadership as well as post this on my blog.

Best of luck to you in the future.  In 20 or so years please hunt me down and let me know if I was right or wrong.


Why the New Syrian Army Failed: Washington and Unconventional Warfare

  • by David Maxwell 
  •  Aug. 17, 2015 
  •  5 min read 
  •  original
All public signs point to failure in a key U.S. effort to turn the tide of the brutal Syrian civil war — the training and fielding of a vetted and politically palatable Syrian force to fight the Islamic State. As Nancy Youssef reveals in The Daily Beast, exasperated U.S. officials are trying to adapt in the wake of disastrous setbacks for the Syrian forces back by the United States, including the New Syrian Army and Division 30.  An initial contingent was beaten up badly by rival groups, including al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, not long after it was introduced back into the wild. Washington’s favored Syrians are now in disarray and in a public spat with the Pentagon over its mission.
This should lead us to ask, why can’t the United States conduct effective unconventional warfare any longer?
What is unconventional warfare? The Department of Defense defines it as “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power through and with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.”
Recent examples of successful UW campaigns and supporting operations include Afghanistan in 2001 and Northern Iraq in 2003, in which the 5th and 10th Special Forces Groups conducted operations built on a foundation of long established relationships either through the intelligence community (Afghanistan) or directly between Special Forces and indigenous Kurdish elements (in Iraq dating back to 1991 and Operation Provide Comfort).
(Continued at the link below)

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