Weekly Photo Challenge: Sunset

I guess the trick in this week’s challenge is to know whether a pic is really sunset or someone slipping in a dodgy sunrise…

But Sunset has another significance for soldiers, more than simply the going down of the sun and the closing of the day but a time to remember those who have gone before and sometimes to also mark the end of an era…here Sunset is a sad but beautiful tune played during Beating the Retreat as the flag is lowered…

This photo was taken on July 20, 1989 at the closing ceremony for the home of the First Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, at Dieppe Barracks in Sembawang, Singapore. The following month, in our own version of East of Suez, the battalion and its supporting force, began its relocation back to New Zealand, ending 32 years of continuous service in South East Asia.

As the battalion marched off that parade ground, a place of so many memories, for the last time, the roll of honour of those who had not gone home was read – a particularly sad moment for many of us as we had lost a number of friends through accidents in that last tour…remembering is particularly poignant here at the moment with the news on Wednesday of the death in combat of a second NZSAS soldier near Kabul…

Michael Yon wrote this on 24 September after a young soldier from his tent in 4-4 Cav was killed…

This whole tent is empty now. Chazray is gone and his buddies must be checking their emails in another tent. There were two more KIAs who were shot and so the internet was blacked out. One was shot in the chest and the other in the stomach. Very saddening. Families have been notified and so the internet is back on. It’s strange to see Chazray on the news and then look over at his empty cot and see his picture taped to the door. The video says he ran over the IED but he actually stepped on it but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he is missed by so many people.

While a soldier can always be replaced – no one is ever indispensable – the gap they leave is a different story altogether…the empty bed space, the position in the Prezzies rugby team, that spot in the bar where they always sat, the spot in family photos where Dad should be…

I didn’t know LCpl Leon Smith who was killed during a pre-emptive operation against insurgents near Kabul last week. I did know Cpl Doug Grant who was killed a few weeks earlier while doing the business against insurgents in Kabul. I remember him as a young soldier, third from the right in the back from of this photo, quiet and professional with the burning desire to learn demonstrated by many young soldiers of that period – when the camp library was shifted to a new building around that time, someone did some analysis of library loan patterns and found that the large proportion of professional military book loaning was done by JNCOs and soldiers, creating more than few ripples in the pond – the sort that so often answer a higher calling and earn the sand beret and winged dagger…in Dougie’s case, going back for a second time…

We are the Pilgrims, Master…We shall go always a little further…It may be beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow…Across that angry or glimmering sea…

Sunset can mean so much more than the simple disappearance of a ball of burning hydrogen and helium…

Stupid is…

Forrest Gump had it so right…some classic examples of practical application of the Gump Doctrine in the last couple of weeks…

First prize must go to the Taliban which persists in stirring up trouble in Kabul. How hard is it to sit on your hands for a couple of years, tour the world, read a book and THEN take over the country once NATO and the US have packed up and gone home, secure in the knowledge that Afghanistan has worked…?

The Tea Party are always Top Ten ‘Gump-ers’ and this example, albeit from Mother Jones, is a classic…let’s not build any more infrastructure because Al-Qaeda will just blow it up – this would be the same AQ that got lucky ONCE in the US, once in Madrid and struck out badly in the UK with attacks on physical infrastructure?

If anyone doesn’t believe me—England and Spain. Now, if we have a more decentralized mass-transit system using buses, if the terrorists blow up a single bus, we can work around that. When they blow up a rail, that just brings the system to a grinding halt. So how much security are we going to have on this rail system, and how much will it cost?

Yeah, dude, let’s just take the horse instead…more telling is this rebuttal from The Onion:

Here’s what Al Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said in a video released in July: 

The al-Qaeda network is fully prepared to continue the jihad against the American infidels by launching deadly attacks, but your outdated and rusting transportation infrastructure needs to be completely overhauled for those strikes even to be noticed. We want to turn your bridges into rubble, but if we claimed credit for making them collapse, nobody would ever believe us.

And in this week’s third place, just when you thought he might be ‘getting it’ here’s Mike Yawn lipping off again…if anyone ever doubts whether there really are some dumb-as (second ‘s’ optional) people (the much-vaunted ‘the people’?) around, just check out his fan base like some of the clowns posting on this Yawn FB post:

One Day this American Soldier May Try to Kill Me

He’s stationed now at Kandahar Air Field. I’ve warned the Army about him numerous times. I have little doubt that he will attempt to kill me if he gets the chance. He’s a US Soldier named CJ Grisham. He published this on Facebook this week in regard to me: “I want to rip his head off and piss down his windpipe!”

I cannot warn the US Army loud enough that this Soldier is unstable. They ignore my back channel warnings.

And again today…

Criminal American Soldiers

Only a small percentage of US troops become murderers, but it happened here and it happened in Iraq.

The warning signs were there. I have cautioned only twice about dangerous American soldiers. The first one committed suicide last year after my repeated warnings that he was dangerous. I told numerous key people that this soldier might want to kill me. He’s dead now. The second one is Master Sergeant CJ Grisham, now stationed and armed at Kandahar Airfield. Our military is playing with fire by keeping this man armed and in uniform.

Let’s not forget that Mikey is currently embedded with a US unit in Afghanistan – and has been doing some good work – and so, you might think, would be less likely to snap at the hand currently (literally) feeding him…What’s CJ Grisham’s real sin? He dares criticise Saint Mikey…that’s it.

Mikey, there is a big difference between someone fantasing about what they would like to do to you “I want to rip his head off and piss down his windpipe!”,  threatening to do so…”I ‘m going to rip his head off and piss down his windpipe!”, and then actually  acting on those wordsOne of these days, you’ll be a big kid and understand…in the meantime, try not to cry too much if you get disembedded again…or maybe even slapped with a libel suit yourself…I mean, you are after all abusing your position to make unsubstantiated allegations about a serving member of the force that is currently supporting you – how big do you think its sense of funny really is?

And finally, Australia which, having been thumped at the Global Oval Ball Competition (speaking of stupid…Rugby World Cup has been so heavily copyrighted that we can’t use the three words in close proximity to each other!) by Ireland, promptly resorted to accusing everyone of being mean to it…not like when the boot might be on the other foot, eh, Diggers? Even more embarrassing when, just like the much-reported misbehaving Government Ministers on opening night, not a single shred of evidence could be found to back up the bleating….so just for you guys, Seven Tips For Fans Going To Matches in New Zealand

So get over it!!

Ten truths

I was motivated to write something this morning by this item from Tom Ricks  10 truths from the last decade that you could tattoo on an arm — or maybe a leg, based in turn on an article in the August issue of Marine Corps Gazette.  I’ll get to them in a minute.

As you all know, I like to head up each post with a picture (adding, of course, considerably to the drafting burden but a that’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make for you the reader!). In searching for a truth-themed image that was neither religious nor X Files in nature, I stumbled across Tip Top Tens, specifically it’s take on 10 Truths10 Truths That Will Change Your Life:

01 : The full name of Donald Duck: Donald Fauntleroy Duck.

02 : A giraffe can clean its own ears with its tongue.

03 : Millions of trees in the world are accidentally planted by squirrels who bury nuts and do not remember where they were hiding them.

04 : Eating an apple is more effective than drinking coffee to stay awake.

05 : blue tooth brushes are used more than the red.

06 : Nobody can lick his own elbow, it is impossible to touch it with his tongue.

07 : The pig is the only animal that burns with the sun more than man.

08 : Right-handers live, on average, nine years longer than lefties.

09 : Laughing during the day makes you sleep better at night.

10 : Approximately 75% of people who read this article try to lick your elbow.

And, no, I neither attempted 02 nor 06! I take no issue with any of these truths however I can not quite say the same with the ones summarised by Tom Ricks:

— Take the high ground at night so you own it in the morning.

Yep…an oldie but a goodie…

— It may be counterintuitive, but you are probably safer dismounted than in your vehicles, preferably before contact.

Situational – depends on the vehicle and the war; also very land-centric thinking (shame, Marines!) aviators and sailors would probably not agree…except for the old Iraqi doctrine of flying with one hand on the stick and the other on the little yellow handle.

— The bait and ambush is a classic from the ancient Greeks up to today.

Yep…because people STILL keep falling for it.

— Why do we keep using the column formation in what is clearly an advance to contact, rather than using wedges and echelons?

Because we are fixated on staying on the roads? Or…the roads are the only places our vehicles will go? Every in the J, there is an overwhelming temptation to follow tracks and trails – never a good idea…

— Every Marine a rifleman, and every NCO a leader and fire support coordinator.

Marine/soldier/sailor/airman when on the ground ‘someone else’ will not bail you out…!

— These are seasoned fighters with a wealth of experience fighting against Jomini-type tactics and a sense of personal honor and bravery that means they are looking to close and kill, not snipe and run.

The difference between a war and peace support…don’t go to either seeking to do the other…

— If you are not using Small Wars Journal and Company Command, you should be.

If no one is giving you PME, then DIY…only you can make you smarter…

— Afghanistan is a battle for the provision of governance from the ground up, from the outside in, not from the top down, Kabul out.

True, but not really a ‘truth’ per se…fight the war you’re in, not the war you want…

— The Taliban, while at some level perhaps associated with al Qaeda, is not al Qaeda.

As above…fight the war you’re in, not the war you want…

— Is this the right war?

The squiggly bit on the end (?) makes this not a truth at all but a question – clearly not enough attention paid (nor wooden ruler applied) during Miss Brown’s Year 2 English classes…

So only five truths really and five elements of political grandstanding that aren’t really that useful at the tactical level…the first five though are well worth picking up and running with as they are proven, if not learned or applied…

The application of FM 3-24 principles and success in COIN

Staying up lat-ish last night to watch Torchwood: Miracle Day when I knew I had a 0300 start this morning was probably not the best idea I ever had but, like many, things, it seemed like a good idea at the time and I know that if I record something I only rarely go back and actually watch it…

It’s still very dark outside and the webcast from the COIN Center at Fort Leavenworth has just ended…the topic for discussion this morning related to principles identified in the RAND study Victory Has A Thousand Fathers and their application to FM 3-24, specifically from the perspective of what an updated FM 3-24 might include.

I really don’t like Victory Has A Thousand Fathers – the idea is good: to study historical COIN campaigns and determine what truisms or principles can be derived from those campaigns.  This, I believe, is a necessary and long overdue step in the development of useful doctrine for the contemporary environment as for too long there have only really been two dominant schools of thought in this area:

  • The false prophets of Malaya who fail to truly understand that campaign and whom only glean the most superficial principles from it, namely a misapplied emphasis on ‘hearts and minds’, and who ignore the context in which that philosophy was applied and how it was applied.
  • The COINdinsta who forget that FM 3-24 was a seminal, timely and truly useful publication – for the situation that the US faced in Iraq, in 2006 and 2006. It has limited applicability as writ for dogmatic application in other campaigns.

Although I agree with the findings of Victory Has A Thousand Fathers as briefed this morning, they are weakened by the paper’s overly narrow and selective focus:

  • The scope of the study is restricted to only 1978-2008, omitting the post-WW2  ‘golden age’ of counter-insurgency and many other critical campaigns of thus nature. While there would have been a need perhaps to keep the initial sample size to a manageable number, this arbitrary period omits a large proportion of relevant campaigns.
  • The list of COIN campaigns 1978-2008 is somewhat limited: missing are any of the campaigns fought in Southern Africa in this period, as are those from the Middle East including Israel v Palestinians, and Iraq v Kurds;  East Timor is not listed, nor is the campaign in Southern Thailand – while it is flawed in other ways, at least both of these campaigns appear in David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla.
  • Kiwis and Australians will be surprised to see that Papua New Guinea 1988-1998 which must be the Bougainville campaign is listed as ‘red’ i.e. a failure for the host nation government. The island of Bougainville is still very much part of PNG and that the world has heard little from that part of the world since the withdrawal of the monitoring force in 2002, is a testament to the effectiveness of that force 1998-2002.

The principles for COIN derived from Victory Has A Thousand Fathers were on slides that I missed during the discussion (too slow with the screen grabs) so I’ll cover those in a couple of days once they are posted on the COIN Centre events page.  What follows are some of the other insights from this morning.

There is a case for the use of force in Irregular Warfare but first, let’s stop calling this COIN. As we know, COIN is a very specific and very narrow slice of the broader realm of IW: the continuing abuse of the term ‘COIN’ to describe operations in the contemporary operating environment unhelpfully muddies the waters. Specifically. these slides discuss the repressive use of force but we need to consider this just as much as we have to consider the other side of the pendulum that it’s all about being nice to everybody.

One of the most refreshing things about FM 3-24 during our review of COIN doctrine in 2007-08 was that it acknowledged the need for use of force within a campaign, a most realistic diversion from other nations’ COIN doctrine which was based upon either experience in peace-support operations (whole different ballgame), super-localised internal issues (go Northern Ireland!), or Malaya (myth city). If there was no potential for the application of force, then the military is not needed i.e. the military is not a cheap labour force, nor an easy substitute for the other government agencies and non-government organisations that should be there.

While FM 3-24 does have a strong population-centric element, it was written for a specific campaign (Iraq) in a specific period (2005-6). That notwithstanding, the population-centric elements are well-balanced with other key principles and truisms for irregular warfare and I think that many critics only cherry-pick thos easpects they want in order to criticise and few if any consider the publication as a whole.

This is the Hierarchy of Assessment referred in the last two points:

In simple terms, it all comes down to national interests linked to campaign objectives and being able to measure the same; and at the tactical level, specifically, as recommended below,  link development objectives to those campaign objectives and national objectives i.e. no more AID for its own sake. This just creates legacy dependency issues.

One of the questions asked this morning was “…I’ve recently returned from RC-S .  Agree with HNG but it does not to have a national flair to it.  If a specific district enforces the govt rep there, the HNG should be deemed endorsed…” This is the real rub in Afghanistan where the role and legitimacy of central government are in an entirely different context to that of Iraq. Shifting the emphasis for effective government from a central to a district government focus can produce strong district/regional government but usually at the expense of the central government. But then as we discussed in the opening day of the IW Summit in May, a ‘horses for courses’ approach to Afghanistan might find that a federalist system of strong provinces and weak central government might be the best for Afghanistan – after all, it seems to have worked OK for the last two millennia…

As the US Army and USMC gear up to update FM 3-24, the time is ripe for some robust discussion on the content of its next iteration. Most definitely the sections of air and maritime power need to be expanded and updated. The forum for thoughts on this topic is at the COIN Centre Blog….

Who dares…

Have been offline since leaving home yesterday morning for a weekend in the big smoke…it was only a chance meeting of an old friend at the Expo this morning, ironically while chatting about Patient Tracking systems, that I learned that a member of the NZSAS team in Kabul had been fatally wounded during a rescue mission…

Our condolences to CO, officers and all members of the unit, another fallen in the line of duty, doing the business…a reminder that this is a dangerous but necessary business…

Getting it….

Not getting it…

One of my ongoing beefs with ‘modern’ COIN is the misperception is that successful COIN is all about being nice, of waging war without casualties (although casualties amongst one’s own soldiers appear to ‘OK’), and having this great expectation that one day ‘the people’ will just rise up, out of gratitude for the niceness shown them by the security forces and cast out the insurgents…

The simple fact is that this ‘doctrine’ is all lala-land, cloud cuckoo vunderland fantasy. That’s pretty much the theme of Wilf Owen’s article in the Spring 2011 edition of the British Army Review (I’d post a link to BAR but it seems that it is a highly classified publication and not one suited to easy intuitive location via the Power of Google), titled Killing Your Way To Control. He takes particular issues with statements like

Effective counterinsurgency provides human security to the population, where they live, 24 hours a day. This, not destroying the enemy, is the central task. (from Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla)

Unlike in general war, the objective is not the defeat or destruction of the enemy, but neutralisation of a threat to stable society. (from JDP 3-40)

And guess what? He is absolutely 100% correct! Was it Douglas MacArthur, addressing the cadets at West Point, who said something like “Your duty is clear and inviolate: to win our nation’s wars”? Something about “Victory, always victory”? Even if victory might mean achieving your objectives on your terms as opposed to victory always equating to absolute, grinding under the steel-shod boot, unconditional victory…

Use of the military is, should be, the final option in execution of national policy to achieve national objectives…because it is brutal and unpleasant – and effective when employed properly. The military should be used when other instruments in the DIME construct are not effective. That is not to say that once the military deploys, the rest of DIME takes for some time out; it just means that the lead agency has changed.

And what is it about the military that both makes it an option of last resort and one so effective? Simply…the use of force…brutal force, whether blunt or surgical, but brutal none the less because force can only be brutal. Who talks about let alone attempts to develop and  apply ‘nice’ force? And this is Wilf’s point, and, for an irregular environment,  encapsulated nicely in the extract he selects from the UK’s 2005 Land Operations

Neutralising the insurgent and in particular the leadership forms part of a successful COIN strategy. Methods include killing, capturing, demoralising and deterring insurgents and promoting desertions. This is an area in which military forces can specialise and should be a focus for COIN training. The aim should be to defeat the insurgent on his own ground using as much force as is necessary, but no more.

Now we know that there are times, especially immediately following an intervention and lodgement when the only people who can realistically maintain and provide essential services like power, water, electricity, sewage and security are the military. Forget about some imaginary gendarmerie with shovels that will miraculously appear and relieve the military of such onerous and unpleasant tasks…never happen…

Nor is anyone saying that forces optimised for high-end force on force  major combat operations can successfully instantly reconfigure, collectively and individually, into an irregular warfare scenario. If there was one myth that was majorly debunked in the last decade it was the “If you train up (for MCO), you can easily step down (for COIN)”. Thus, a choice must be made between a dual force optimised one side for MCO and irregular warfare on the other: just to be real clear, two forces – NOT one size fits all; or a deliberate acceptance that one’s forces will only be capable of engaging in one form of conflict OR the other. Most nations forced towards the latter choice will probably tend towards a specialisation in irregular warfare up to a limit of national capability on the spectrum of operations.

And while the logical threads in population-centricity unravel, this does not mean that the military should isolate itself from ‘the people’. GEN Petraeus was right in Baghdad in 2006 when he brought the troops back in amongst ‘the people’ and ended the daily tactical commuting/sallying from the FOBs. The military is not some horde to be hidden away – if ‘the people’ is where the adversary(s) are, then that’s where the military should be – configured and trained for the application of force in that specific environment just as they would/should be for any other unique environment.

And on the spectrum of operations…let’s not forget that it is NOT the linear progression from peacetime to all-out warfare that is it portrayed as…a more accurate model would have peace in the middle, surrounded by a ring that includes peacetime engagement (a smidgen up from peace), peacekeeping, peacemaking, irregular warfare, HADR, limited war (e.g. the Falklands War), major war (DESERT STORM, OIF Part 1) and full-on all-out war (Red Storm Rising).

Imagine that ring being like a trembler switch (who didn’t used to watch Danger: UXB or The ProfessionalsSteady, it’s a trembler!?) from which a nation can flick from peace to any state around that ring, and from that state then flick to another and another or back to the stable centre. Accepting that there are two clear extremes, peace and all-out war, most nations would assess the planning for one, peace, carries too much risk as it would naïve to expect peace to remain constant in the most benign scenario. Similarly few nations can afford to truly step up to the full range of capabilities required for the other extreme. Thus most opt for a point in-between.

But regardless of where that point may lie, the primary role and output of that national military force is the application of force. That is why the lead group in the Air and Space Interoperability Council is the Force Application group, with six important but supporting groups. That is why, in the continental staff system, the staff branches are NOT all created equal – operations leads, supported by whatever combination of numbers floats your boat – whoever heard of logistics or intelligence supported by operations? That is because the ops branch is all about creating and delivering effects – and the effect that the military delivers best…is…force.

So you might imagine just how it felt as I scrolled through my ‘most recent’ view on Facebook to see the link to Wilf’s paper first from DoctrineMan! (still not sure about people who include punctuation in their name) and a ways further down, the original post at Small Wars Journal.  Even more so when I realised that Wilf, who I have spent more time at Small Wars disagreeing with than ever agreeing, had authored it.

What was disappointing was the number of people on both DoctrineMan! And Small Wars fixated on pulling every literal point of contention from the article. I was sadly reminded of the 45k+ morons who ‘liked’ the Boycott Macsyna King Book page; or the moral minority who all ‘just know’ that Casey Anthony killed her daughter and that there was no need for all that legal dues process stuff: let’s just string her up!! Wonder sometimes if western society is descending to a point where the capacity for independent thought is lost…and we all just become drones circling the brightest, loudest light…

The irony in his article that he does not point out is that while British Army doctrine in 2005 included the quote above from Land Operations (now that I think about it, I was working at Uphaven on CLAW 1 when it was released and got to bring the first copies back home), this was the same period that the UK was trumpeting the success of Malaya and the triumph myth of ‘hearts and minds’ that set irregular warfare back decades. If only the UK had read and applied its own doctrine… (What’s that? You read doctrine? And apply it?)

So where does this leave us? Wilf has articulated what we have probably known along, what the dead Germans told us is right, that the military is about the application of force, not the application of ‘nice’, as an extension of policy. That force may be applied to create the conditions where others can see to the building of a stable society, hopefully where such existed at some stage before; equally as much it may be applied to simply attrite an adversary to the point where further resistance is either untenable or impossible.

But, harking back to the dead Germans again, the ultimate target for force is one specific part of what is popularly accepted as the Clausewitzian Trinity: of ‘the people’, the action arm and the leadership of any collective entity, military force ultimately targets the leadership to either eliminate it as the driving force behind the organisation, or convince it to consider and change its ways. That’s what the military is for….

The Princess Leia Doctrine

(c) 2011 Graham Art Productions

Doctrine Man!’s Facebook page this morning links to a Politico article Robert Gates’s Final Act: Slow Afghan Drawdown

As his final act before leaving the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working to build support for what he is calling a “modest” drawdown in Afghanistan, even though a war-weary Capitol Hill wants more.

Gates, who retires June 30, is hoping that his 12th and final trip to Afghanistan will help steer the Washington debate subtly away from the number of troops that will come home next month — a figure that is almost certain to disappoint the growing number of Washington critics of the war.

I’m a big fan of Doctrine Man! – and not just because he is a ‘doctrine’ guy (clearly some very very bad karma in a previous life!!) – his ‘life on the staff’ cartoons are great,and  his FB output is not only prolific, but also spurs robust debate. Some of the comments on the Gates’ article include:

 I don’t think we are going to get a choice here. Politically these wars have been milked to death, and I think regular old Americans are actually pushing this. A collective “sick and tired of war” let’s bring them home has settled in. I remain on the fence as to whether it is good or not, but I count myself in the “sick and tired of war”. You know some idiot will start spouting about win/loss war, but we all know it’s just ego. Military did their job, state department failed miserably.

With other examples of leaders making some very negative comments on their way out the door, this is one that can be seen as very consistent with the profile of the man (who, by the way, warned against Libyan intervention). Good stuff.

 However brilliant one might think Gates is, you never hear any of this drawdown talk discussed in the same context with objectives. Either we are saying objectives are unachievable and we drawdown anyway, or we are drawing down for the pure political gain the appearance gives. Either way, the American people need to hear specifically what we are trying to achieve, in clear, unambiguous terms.

Of course, that comes on the heels of being asked (by a planner) what the difference was between tasks and objectives. For the third or fourth time. If deep-seated rage is a symptom of PTSD, then DM probably needs to get checked out.

It would help me be a little more positive about staying if I knew in measurable terms (a) what the desired end-state is, (b) how much that’s likely to cost in death, injury, and treasure, (c) how long it’s likely to take, and (d) where the money is going to come from.

To those who say “this is war, we can’t tell you these things,” I say that we do these kinds of multi-variable plans all the time in the civilian economy; now go back and get us some answers.

Failing those sorts of answers, I’d rather see us stick to the drawdown plan we have — or accelerate it. I don’t want to see one more American service member or NGO person come home in a box or on a gurney than is absolutely necessary and the thing that haunts me most is the memory of those who died in my war while Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were arguing the merits of round table vs. square table in Paris.

Re tasks and objectives, whatever happen to the Princess Leia doctrine “When you broke in here, did you have a plan for getting out?”

The last comment is, of course, mine…I have been a staunch proponent of the Leia doctrine for years and wonder  if, with the fall of Saigon only two years previous to the release of Star Wars, George Lucas was actually slipping in some very insightful commentary on recent history…some ammunition for pub trivia: Saigon fell on April 30 1975, Star Wars was released on an unsuspecting world on May 25, 1977.  His 1973 American Graffitti has clear parallels today of a nation in war but possibly not at war in Vietnam, as perhaps it is today with Afghanistan…

In conducting my typically superficial research for this article (Google is our friend, as is Wikipedia) I was caught by this paragraph from the Wikipedia item on the Fall of Saigon…

Among Vietnamese refugees in the United States and in many other countries, the week of April 30 is referred to as Black April and is used as a time of commemoration of the fall of Saigon. The event is approached from different perspectives, with arguments that the date was a sign of American abandonment, or as a memorial of the war and mass exodus as a whole.

No one can argue that South Vietnam was abandoned in 1975 but it is unfair and inaccurate to label this as solely ‘American abandonment‘ . America was not the only nation involved in Vietnam, nor the only one that walked away…let’s not forget that the only nation that was there to the very end was America…everyone else had just quietly drifted away…With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the application of US air power (like anyone else was going to ante up) in 1975 would only have prolonged the pain of and for Vietnam…

Abandonment is also the word that springs to mind when discussing drawdowns in Afghanistan…the true failure in Afghanistan has not been one of tactics or capability but quite simply one of having no clear idea what it’s all about. If there is only one lesson we learn from a decade (come November this year) in a nation that NO ONE have ever managed to pacify over millennia, it surely must be the Leia Doctrine…

Before you go in, have a plan for getting out.

This is such a fundamental of life, NOT just the military…as any teenage boy in his girlfriend’s room knows where he hears her father’s footsteps outside the door…how can it be that it has been purged from our doctrine and our thinking for so long? Of conflicts since the end of WW2, the 1982 Falklands War and DESERT SHIELD/ STORM in 1991 are the only two that I can remember  where the strategic objectives were clearly stated, adhered to and achieved…

And while contemporary planning doctrine may prattle on about metrics and measureables, it rarely if ever links these to decision points and from there to exit strategies. During one of my irregular warfare engagements in this trip, we used an analogy of the campaign plan as a freeway and each off-ramp along the journey being both a decision point and a potential exit…depending upon how well a driver understands where they are going and why, they will consider off-ramps along the way and opt to drive off or stay the course…

It also just struck me that the freeway analogy also works quite well as an analogy for unilateral, alliance and coalition warfare:

When you are the only driver on the freeway, it is quite easy to select your course, speed and direction.

When you are driving with habitual partners of which you normally only have a small number and who all generally sing off the same sheet of music, it’s much the same.

When you have a coalition, all driving with different national rules and customs, most if not all free to join and depart the coalition at will, and many for whom the use of indicators is totally alien, you have potential chaos, traffic jams and pile-ups..

That’s something I will explore further in another item…today’s takeaway is to promote and encourage adoption and application of the Leia Doctrine to hopefully avoid replays of this…

Never again?

A legend in its own mind

This week the air campaign in Kosovo is examined. The gradualist/risk strategy was employed despite its apparent discrediting in the Vietnam War. This led to a conflict between the commanders. General Short wished for the implementation of a punishment theory. It remains true that ground forces were not committed. However, was it the air campaign alone that achieved the favourable outcome or is there other factors? Was this a true convergence of ‘effects’ generated by the fortuitous or planned combination of offensive military action and the actions of a range of non-military players?

The gradualist (graduated escalation?) strategy was discredited in Vietnam? The elements of strategy and tactics that were discredited in Vietnam (and other conflicts where the same has occurred) were those that were separated from the professionals in those fields and dictated largely by powerful but inexperienced (in warfare) politicians.

Ground forces were not committed in Kosovo? So which famous armoured brigade crawled over narrow mountain roads into Kosovo? (Clue: its emblem is a rodent) Who raced the Russians for Pristina airport? Who’s still there now? While the air campaign may have helped set the scene for a relatively successful positive outcome to the Kosovo campaign, let’s not forget that the other instruments of the DIME (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic) model were also decisively engaged in regional, domestic and international fora; and that these elements also deserve recognition for the roles they played in the campaign.

Russian vehicles mount a road block at Pristina Airport. A British armoured fighting vehicle and Landrover provide assistance

It might actually be argued that Serbian land forces would have been more decisively engaged had a land campaign been conducted in the traditional manner. The ability of the air component to engage Serbian land forces proved to be far more difficult than in the super-optimal environment of Kuwait and southern Iraq, and there is considerable evidence that a large number of targets engaged were ‘spoofs’. As events in the Falaise Gap (1944), Quang Tri province (1972) and the road to Basra (1991) showed, land forces in contact and on the move are significantly easier to engage with aerial fires.


Given that the first Gulf War concluded with a notion of air power being capable of winning wars, how has the employment of air power since then challenged that assumption?

This notion existed in a very few minds and if there is one single reason for air power’s lack of traction as an equal component of military power, it is the constant assumption of achievements that do not exist. Air power did not win the Kosovo campaign, Gulf War 1,or the Battle of Britain any more than my three-legged floppy-eared Spaniel. Not only do the domains operate together as part of the joint environment, there is no solely military solution to conflicts and these military options are employed as part of a whole of government inter-agency and broader comprehensive approach.

The notion that dominated military thinking after DESERT STORM was that of the revolution in military affairs, the dreaded RMA, but not one in air power. DESERT STORM was the first conflict where information had been employed as a decisive tool. As it turned out as the 90s unfolded, much of the hype from that conflict was simply just that, hype; but at the time it had swayed the minds of the world to justify both the conflict and the methods by which it was conducted. While the application of air power may have influenced the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, that movement did not actually start until after the commencement of the ground war. This action offered an unacceptable threat to Iraqi land forces and forced the withdrawal, or maybe rout would be more accurate. While air power advocates may crow over the road to Basra, it is arguable whether that level of destruction was actually necessary or that it contributed anything meaningful to the conclusion of the conflict. For whatever reasons, air power was also unable to deter Iraqi repression of Shia in southern Iraq.

So how have events since March 1991 challenged the assumption that air power won the 1991 Gulf War? Quite simply there has not been a single campaign or conflict that could claim to have been ‘won’ by air power. To flip that around, every conflict since March 1991 has required ‘boots on the ground’ (or ‘boats in the water’ in the case of counter-piracy campaigns) to force a conclusion:

Somalia. 1992-95 and current. Air used for ISR and mobility; a strong air bridge into Mogadishu during the former campaign. All decisive actions fought on the ground with air in support.

Bosnia. Resolved by the deployment of a powerful US force prepared and empowered to play the warlords at their own game, meeting force with force. Primarily a land mission during the decisive post-Dayton phase with air in support.

Rwanda. Air could have played a decisive supporting role here in 1994 by enabling the mass airlift of troops to reinforce the small UN force and reduce if not halt the genocide.

Kosovo. See above: possibly a contributor to the scene setting before the deployment of land forces, however there are arguments that the air campaign was largely counter-productive and actually strengthened Serbian resolve.

Bougainville. The 1997 deployment of peacekeepers (withdrawn in mission success in 2003) was supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement.

Solomon Islands. 2000, 2003, 2006-current. Land force deployment supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement; air transport also employed during various NEO during these periods.

East Timor. Major ground force deployment (division level) supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement; kinetic air support also stood to during the lodgement phase in 1999.

RNZAF Iroquois helicopters fly Australian troops in Dili, Timor-Leste.

South Ossetia. Major, albeit one-sided land force on force confrontation between Russia and Georgia, with air in support (primarily on the Russian side after Day1) for ISR, strike, mobility and CAS.

Chechnya. Primarily a land conflict between conventional Russian forces and irregular Chechan forces; significant air resources employed by Russia to no discernible positive value.

Iraq. The primary effect of the no-fly zone campaign and its associated sporadic strikes into Iraq 1991-2002 was to keep the wounds between Iraq and the US open and festering. While the ‘shock and awe’ aspect of the opening of OIF was feted, the reality is that a decisive land campaign was always identified as the decider in this campaign, both the Plan A campaign to May 2003, and the insurgency to mid-2010. While ‘shock and awe’ can trace its roots through the Powell Doctrine of the 90s back to the ‘triumph’ of Gulf 1, the primary driver behind it was SECDEF Rumsfeld’s belief that greater reliance on technology would reduce defence costs by eliminating large numbers of expensive personnel.

Afghanistan. Neither the British (between the wars) nor the Russians (1979-89) were able to quell local tribesmen by air. OEF was always predicated on a strong land campaign supported by air. The air bridge into Kabul in the earliest days of the campaign was a key enabler for early successes however air has remained in a supporting role to the land campaign. The mission to take down OBL was a land mission supported by air i.e. no UAV-delivered PGM through the window.

Sierra Leone. Primarily a land-based peacekeeping operation. The British JPR mission in 2002(?) was a land force mission supported by air for mobility and CAS however use of kinetics was hindered by misperceptions of proportionality with the rules of engagement.

Israel v Hizbollah. A classic example of how not to do it. Not only would any other aspect of the DIME model been better employed to counter HIzbollah rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, but the use of air power as Israel’s tool of choice not only illustrated how behind the times Israeli military thinking was but also had the opposite effect to that desired, regionally and in the court of world opinion.

Libya. The ultimate (so far) example of how not to employ air power. Not only has this meddling extended a minor internal conflict into one likely to drag on for years, but it has seriously damaged the credibility of air power as a decisive force and its advocates. Already some NATO nations are trickling land forces (under the guise of training and liaison) into Libya to attempt to recover the situation. This is what happens when you start to believe your own press.

It is to our benefit that the one strategic scenario where the use of the air and space would have had a direct and decisive effect on the outcome of a conflict is the one that has never come to pass…

Good use of colour

(c) Lily aged 4

A new release by ‘Lily aged 4’. displaying exceptional use of colour with clear direct and subliminal imagery which gets her message across in manner which is crisp, concise and to the point…it’s a pity that we can not expect the same from the socalled professional media…

Michael yon yanks Time’s tail for if not directly telling porkies, then definitely playing fast and loose with reality…the Taliban have initiated a spring offensive!!! Wow!! What have they done every other spring since 2003…? If Time wanted any credibility at all in this article it might have found a source better than Hamid Karzai whose grip on reality is tenuous at best…

And still on the Yon trail – in a good way again(Wow!! twice in a row – is Mike reforming?) – while I accept Nancy Colasurdo’s point in Spotlighting Loyalty and Our ‘Confirmation Bias’, I don’t agree that Mike was wrong in calling for a boycott of Rolling Stone magazine for its Kill Team story. I do not believe that the positioning of the Kill Team story with the roadside checkpoint video was an accident or an error – the intent was for readers to join the dots and form a totally erroneous opinion – that is both dishonest and not in the best interest of those at the sharp end of this conflict – certainly not those in US uniform – and I assume that Rolling Stone still considers itself an American magazine? No matter what one might think of the conflict in Afghanistan, how we got there or where it’s going, these are issues to be raised with politicians not targeted against those who serve… (a fine distinction perhaps – is what politicians do regarded as ‘service’?)

Yon’s call for a boycott of Rolling Stone advertisers became even more timely when the results of the Pentagon’s investigation into the circumstances leading up to the dismissal of GEN McCrystal by President Obama following another skewed Rolling Stone article were released last month…

Pentagon investigation clears McChrystal of all wrongdoing | The 

Pentagon Investigation Casts Doubt on Rolling Stone’s McChrystal 

General McChrystal did not violate US military policy, Pentagon 

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: Pentagon internal investigation of “Runaway 

General McChrystal did not violate US military policy, Pentagon 

So..until such time as Rolling Stone tidies up its act, it should be hit where it hurts the most – while is not in the court of the media where the more controversy the better the ratings but in the bank account…as Michael Yon discusses in Rolling Stone: Boycotting Advertisers

Getting back to the Spotlighting Loyalty story…I do like the point that she raises in regard to confirmation bias…a year ago, I had no idea that such things existed; well, certainly not that such a body of social science existed around them. I have been doing a lot of reading about this and other biases and am planning an article on some aspects of them and their employment…or the practical employment of that supporting science anyway…

In other news

FM 3-24 is being critiqued again…when will it register with some people that this was the right book at the right time – FOR IRAQ – and that it was never intended as the universal panacea for all thing not major combat operations…

Fighting Al Qaeda To Fight Liberalism, that I got from Dean at Travels with Shiloh…has given some food for thought but with all the big words, it’s become a bit of a mouthful…some more digestion required nefore I draw any conclusions from it…

Over at the new Unofficial Airfix Modellers Forum, I have started to populate my work area and also started a build (which I may finish) of Trumpeter’s 1/34 128mm PAK 44

Getting it right

In regard to Vietnam, it is too easy to focus on the perceptions of ultimate failure without understanding what the conflict was about from all protagonists’ points of view, and to ignore what actually worked which was an awful lot of it. Vietnam offers some great opportunities for ‘Yank-bashing’ but in reality, it was a learning experience for all the nations involved.

Did the air war over Vietnam suggest a ‘best practice’ for the employment of air power?

Yes and in so many areas. All of the following capabilities today owe their current ‘best practice’ to the Vietnam air war:

  • modern air-to-air combat;
  • Combat Search and Reascue (CSAR);
  • aerial casevac and AME;
  • fixed- and rotary-wing gunships;
  • use of maritime patrol aircraft overland;
  • fixed- and rotary-wing air mobility;
  • Suppression of Enemy Air defences (like we would want to suppress friendly air defences) SEAD;
  • airborne C2;
  • Close Air Support (CAS);
  • air-to-air refuelling;
  • aerial special operations and support to COIN;
  • Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR);
  • UAVs;
  • precision strike;
  • Air-Land Integration;
  • airfield ground defence.

I may have missed one or two minor capabilities but the development of best practice, which lies predominantly at the tactical and operational levels, is largely separate from the outcome of the conflict, certainly from victory. In fact, it might be said that the best catalyst for learning is a good punch in the nose.

Curtis Le May said he could have ended the Vietnam War inside two weeks. Do you think this was possible?

Without a doubt. Le May was a strategic thinker and it is unlikely that he was only thinking in terms of targeting only North Vietnam. The two key enablers for North Vietnam’s war effort were the Soviet Empire and China and Le May would have been considering what things they might hold more dear that sponsoring a sideshow conflict in Indochina. This is not to say that he would propose physical attack on either nation or its assets but certainly the big stick might have been waved in other geographic and political areas. This was the time of Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s nuclear brinkmanship over Matsu and Qemoy, Berlin and Cuba.

Having said that, there has never been any doubt that the USAF and USN could have shut down the flow of ALL military aid into North Vietnam in a week: North Vietnam only has a very small number of ports and railway links through which this aid travelled and these were always off-limits to the campaign that was conducted. Without the external war aid, ranging from AK-47s to SA-2s, coming in by ship and rail, North Vietnam would have had little more than moral support to provide its forces in the south.

What do you think are the essential conditions for an interdiction, denial campaign to be successful? – and – were they met in the Vietnam War?

There are four key conditions to a successful air interdiction campaign:

  • political will,
  • clearly defined objectives,
  • knowing what to strike,
  • having the means to strike.

Only the latter two were consistently present in Vietnam until the Easter ’72 invasion and LINEBACKER II campaign at the end of the same year. Note, please, that both campaigns were successful…go figure…

The interdiction campaign was at the operational level while along the Trail and in South Vietnam itself tactical actions were conducted daily to constrain the flow of reinforcements and supplies to anti-government forces. If the operational campaign was successful, then the tactical actions would have been less challenged. It may also have meant that it would have been less necessary to conduct airstrikes into Laos and Cambodia, especially since North Vietnam’s ability to influence and intimidate those governments would have been reduced by a successful campaign north of the DMZ.

In considering current events, the current sham of a campaign in Libya only meets one of the four criteria, that of being able to hit things with a hammer…

Is it true to say that the Vietnam experience represented a massive failure of air power?

As per my response to the first question, not even.

Not only were most aspects of airpower employed well, many were developed and taken to a much higher level throughout the war. To fixate on one aspect of the air war, a relatively small one in the timeline when the various bombing halts are taken into consideration, and based on that one aspect, declare the whole campaign a failure of air power is grossly over-simplistic.

Was air power unduly restricted by political considerations?

Yes and this has been well documented since the end of the war. This is not to say that a strong political will in the White House would have led to a victory for South Vietnam as there are no guarantees in war, and less so in the complex environment that was post-war Indochina.

Johnson was an internalist, not an internationalist like the four Presidents before him and Nixon after him. Like Barack Obama, another internalist, he inherited a war he neither started nor wanted or cared about. Surrounded by senior advisors who understood systems but not politics, and who personified Eisenhower’s warning against the ‘military-industrial complex’, Johnson took it upon himself to personally run the air war bypassing his air power professionals. Unfortunately, this is nature of the military beast in most western nations where the military is subordinate to civilian control. All we can do is educate…or go start a junta in South America someplace…ours not to question why…

We can see another example of political considerations affecting the application of air power in the way that the false lessons of DESERT STORM led to the false perception that a similar approach would bring the Serbs to heel; and again in Iraq and Afghanistan where SECDEF Rumsfeld favoured the use of air power over the use of ground forces.