Friday, June 20, 2003
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Slate's Fred Kaplan has a thought provoking piece on how the Army has struggled over the last several weeks to define "victory" in Iraq. The "end" of the war now looks increasingly uncertain, as guerilla forces clash with American units on a daily basis and American units mount massive operations such as Operation Peninsula Strike.
Huba Wass de Czege (pronounced HOO-ba VOSS de-say-ga) is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general who has given some thought to these matters lately. To the extent the Army has evolved into a more agile fighting force, Wass de Czege has been a major influence: In the early 1980s, he rewrote the Army's official field manual on operations, replacing the old book's doctrine of attrition and firepower with the ancient but forgotten concepts of maneuver warfare, deep-strike offensives, and combined air-land battle. He then founded the Army's School for Advanced Military Studies, an elite, yearlong postgrad program, to inculcate the new concepts in the next generation's officer corps.I'll have some more on this later in the week. I think there are important analytic points to be made about what "victory" means, how we quantify such a thing, and whether we can achieve such a thing when our strategic goals are so amorphous and ill-defined. Until then, ask yourself this question: What are we really trying to do in Iraq? If you can't answer that question, how can you possibly define when you've achieved the goal?
Last year, Wass de Czege observed two big official war games, the Army's "Vigilant Warrior" and the Air Force's "Global Engagement." Shortly afterward, he wrote and privately circulated a memo, called "02 Wargaming Insights," that Donald Rumsfeld would have done well to read. (The general recently sent me a copy.)
These sorts of war games "tend to devote more attention to successful campaign-beginnings than to successful conclusions," he wrote. "War games usually conclude when victory seems inevitable to us (not necessarily to the enemy), at about the point operational superiority has been achieved and tactical control of strategically significant forces and places appears to be a matter of time."
Winning a war, he noted, doesn't mean simply defeating the enemy on the battlefield. It means achieving the strategic goals for which we've gone to war in the first place. In both war games, he wrote, the question of how to achieve those strategic goals couldn't be answered because the war game ended too soon.
This is unfortunate, he went on, because, important though it is to understand the early stages of a military campaign, "it is just as important to know how to follow through to the resolution of such conflicts." He added that, if the game managers did follow through the next time they play, they would learn that they—and, by extension, U.S. military commanders generally—have underestimated "the difficulties of 'regime change' and the magnitude of the effort required to achieve strategic objectives."
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Tuesday's Washington Post has a dramatic account of PFC Jessica Lynch's convoy mission, ambush, capture and subsequent rescue. The Post pieced the account together from interviews with Lynch's comrades in the 507th Maintenance Company, Iraqis in Nasiryah, and others. All the big papers and networks are in the hunt for this story, and I imagine that more details will leak out over the coming days and weeks. Eventually, I hope that PFC Lynch will tell her own story. But more importantly, I hope she recovers physically and mentally so that she may continue to serve and live her life as an American soldier.
This morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) also has a great piece on the work being done by American, French and German forces in Afghanistan. Despite the acrimony between Washington, Paris and Berlin, commanders on the ground have made peace between themselves -- and worked together over the last 2 years to get the job done. Indeed, according to one American commander, the mission simply could not get done without French and German support.
The U.S., despite peerless military might, can't tame an unruly world without its less-muscular and, in recent months, contrarian allies. From the Balkans to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military maintains formidable garrisons but neither wants nor is able to tackle the laborious tasks of nation-building alone.Analysis: Hmmm... maybe this is the blueprint we should use for Iraq? Our allies are really good at this low-tech, soft, humanistic nation-building stuff. That could owe to their colonial past, or progressive governments, or welfare-state experience, or some other factors. I also think it's because these countries are willing to assume operational risk in peacekeeping, by putting soldiers in harm's way to do critical foot patrols and person-to-person interaction. Whatever the reason, these guys are good. And we should take advantage of their skill when/where we can to achieve American strategic objectives, regardless of bad blood between America and 'old Europe.'
"We still have French fries here," not freedom fries, says Lt. Col. Kevin McDonnell, an American Special Forces officer who heads the Kabul Military Training Center, set up last year to train a new Afghan army.
* * *
The limits of America's freedom to reorder alliances and of its military muscle are starkly evident in Afghanistan. America's most important partners in the international effort to restore some order and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for terrorists are Germany and France, two vociferous opponents of the Iraq war.
Col. McDonnell says that when he first arrived from Fort Bragg, N.C., he had no money to pay the salaries of Afghan recruits. France, responsible for officer training at the center, stepped in to cover a monthly payroll of around $22,000.
The swift victory against the Taliban 18 months ago has been followed by a painfully slow process of piecing together the fractured country. In a brutal reminder of the perils of postwar rebuilding, a suicide car bomb in Kabul on June 7 killed four German soldiers and seriously wounded seven others.
* * *
The ISAF includes personnel from 29 nations, but the vast bulk of the manpower comes from European countries at odds with the U.S. over Iraq. Germany has the biggest contingent, with around 2,300 soldiers. France has 500 troops in the ISAF as well as 50 soldiers helping Col. McDonnell at the Kabul Military Training Center. In a speech last week on security cooperation, Mr. Rumsfeld made no mention of the German or French roles, hailing instead a modest Afghanistan deployment by Romania. Former communist states of "new Europe" make only a token contribution to Kabul peacekeeping: Ten countries from Albania to Estonia have rustled up a total of around 170 men.
The U.S. has about 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan but eschews street patrols and other peacekeeping tasks -- duties Washington regards as vital for Afghanistan but burdensome, low-tech distractions for U.S. combat forces. American troops hunt, sporadically, for Osama bin Laden, and stage quick raids into remote areas infested with militants.
Sen. John McCain tried hard over the last 2 years to block a lucrative $15 billion deal between Boeing and the U.S. Air Force for the lease of 100 aircraft to be used as in-flight refuelers. The Pentagon overruled Sen. McCain's objections, but it appears from this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that the fight is not over.
On Friday, Sen. McCain, an Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, sent a two-page letter to Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Philip Condit asking for related documents. The request for information included all communications between Boeing executives and government officials at the Pentagon, White House and the Office of Management and Budget related to the lease. Also being sought are all records of sales or leases between Boeing and commercial customers, specifically Continental Airlines and FedEx Corp., as well as foreign governments, specifically Uzbekistan.Analysis: There are good arguments on both sides here. Boeing wants to sell its planes and make a reasonable profit; there's nothing wrong with that. The Air Force wants a lease deal because it avoids some up-front capital costs and enables them to more easily replace these planes at the end of their service life. On the other hand, it looks like war profiteering, and that's what Sen. McCain is steamed about. We should be wary of the Bush Administration using its current political capital to ram things through Congress, especially in the area of defense procurement. Our sons and daughters in the field deserve the best gear money can buy. But we must make sure we're spending our money wisely, so that we don't throw money away that could have gone to buy our troops the things they really need.
Boeing spokesman Walt Rice confirmed the company received the letter and will respond accordingly.
Last month, the Pentagon said it had reached a $16 billion arrangement with Chicago-based Boeing to lease 100 specially modified 767 jetliners to use as airborne refueling tankers. The Air Force had negotiated the first-of-its-kind lease for nearly two years, contending it would allow the service to get the aircraft sooner than if they were purchased outright. Air Force officials have said the military's existing tanker fleet is decades old and have taken on more work in recent years with military operations overseas.
Monday, June 16, 2003
Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, a legend in the Pentagon who worked closely with the late-Col. John Boyd to reform the Pentagon in the 1970s and 1980s, has decided to retire. Spinney started as an Air Force officer whose maverick style and brilliance caught the eye of Boyd. He eventually provided a great deal of the intellectual support for Boyd's ideas, and fought as one of his most loyal foot soldiers ("Acolytes", to use Robert Coram's word) in the movement to reform the way America's military worked after Vietnam. (Among other things, Spinney has been instrumental in pushing the ideas of 4th Generation Warfare which have revolutionized thinking about post-state/non-state/trans-state threats.)
Since leaving the Air Force, Mr. Spinney has worked in the Pentagon for one of the top Air Force offices for testing and procurement. I don't know Mr. Spinney, except through his writing, so I can't speculate intelligently as to why he decided now was the time to retire. Certainly, age had something to do with it. This is a man who's ably served his country for three decades. Whatever the case, America should thank him for his service. I hope Mr. Spinney continues his regular "Blaster" updates, and that he plays an active role in mentoring young military officers and thinkers who might assume his role in the next generation.
Saturday, June 14, 2003
Sunday's New York Times has a well written front-page story on the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, whose soldiers have served in Kuwait and Iraq for nearly a year. As you might expect, these soldiers and their leaders are tired -- exhausted after training in the desert, fighting their way to Baghdad, and being yanked off the planes at the last minute to stay a little longer. Yet, for the most part, they now seem to accept their mission. The road home will be a little longer, but these men and women feel they have to stay in order to get the job done right.
The First Brigade received orders in May to prepare to go home via Kuwait. Late last month, Maj. Mark B. Nordstrom, the brigade chaplain, and Capt. Kevin A. Bayles, the brigade doctor, gave their briefings to soldiers about the emotional and physical adjustments they were likely to experience.One infantryman was particularly honest about his situation, and his desire to go home.
Their replacements, the First Armored Division, had arrived and had begun to take over their patrols.
Then a new order came. The First Brigade would stay to act as a reserve in case Baghdad tumbled back into anarchy; its sister brigade, the Second, went to quell pockets of fighters in Falluja, to the west. Only the Third Brigade was going home, along with unneeded units, like the artillery battalions and the division's band.
Back in Georgia, where the Third Infantry Division is based at Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, families had already made "Welcome Home" banners. They were told to stop sending mail on May 21, so most soldiers are not receiving letters or packages anymore.
Major Nordstrom described the last two weeks as "the hardest weeks of my career as a chaplain." He drew a distinction between morale and "fighting morale." He said he meant that the soldiers would still do their jobs, but that they were not happy about it.
Several soldiers have received psychological counseling after showing signs of combat stress: nightmares, sleeplessness, edginess, outbursts of anger and what the chaplain called "intrusive thoughts."
"We have guys whose wives are sick, but not sick enough for them to get emergency leave; guys whose wives are cheating on them — they've heard through the grapevine," Major Nordstrom said. "And you know, the hardest thing is we don't have anything to offer them."
The mission remains as important as the battles that preceded it, for if some order is not brought to Iraq and the economy restored to a functioning state, the war these men fought so hard to win may seem to have been in vain.
"You call Donald Rumsfeld and tell him our sorry asses are ready to go home," Pfc. Matthew C. O'Dell, an infantryman in Sergeant Betancourt's platoon, said as he stood guard on Tuesday. "Tell him to come spend a night in our building."After what he's been through, I can hardly blame him. It's time to rotate these soldiers home; to replace them with fresh troops from the National Guard or NATO who can pick up where 3ID left off.