How “We” Lost Yemen

How We Lost Yemen – By Gregory D. Johnsen | Foreign Policy.

yemen drone

Tonto used to say “We? White man..?” I haven’t seen the new version of The Lone Ranger so I’m not sure if Johnny Depp resists the temptation to weird this classic out…

The first thing that I like about this article is that it starts with “…drones, ships, and planes have all taken part in the bombardment...” and avoids the tendency of the uninformed to focus solely on the drone aspect of these attacks. Yes, for sure, we all know that ‘drone‘ isn’t the right word from a UAS geek perspective but as has been pointed out to me, the nice people at Merriam-Webster (the dictionary you use when you can’t afford real English!) still include as one of the definitions of drone “…an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control…” Unfortunately, that definition is more apt than its other two definitions of drone as either “…a stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen…” when we all know that the modern use can both collect and sting; or, and I had not seen this one before, “…one that lives on the labors of others…” although one might offer than a number of commentators on the so-called Drone Wars may be doing this.

The author asks why AQ continues to grow if this campaign has been so apparently successful – wasn’t it just not so long ago that victory in the war on terror was declared? Just as all the US and UK Embassy’s slammed the doors behind them as they knuckle down for yet another AQ-inspired assault? His answer? “…Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy…” I think that he is absolutely right and to these I would add reliance on resurgent but disproven ‘shock and awe‘ doctrine – we will so dazzle them with our technology that they can not fail to be overcome…yup…hasn’t worked for the last two decades and it’s not going to now…

Among the faulty assumptions are a demonstration of a total lack of grasp of military operations, culture and human factors – that, today, there are still people in power that believe that what work in one place will, without any supporting evidence work somewhere else: Yemen is not Pakistan is not Afghanistan is not Iraq. This is the same fundamental hubris error that the US made attempting to translate FM 3-24 from its successful implementation in Iraq to the total basket case that is Afghanistan (at any time).

Another is that there is some sort of subtle but vital distinction between launching strikes from an unmanned aircraft and launching them from a manned aircraft or a naval vessel or sharing the luff with a special operations team. Apart from avoiding the potential for inconvenient bodies to be displayed during News at 6, strikes from unmanned aircraft are really, as we all know deep down inside, just another form of national power employed in support of national objectives.

But…there’s always a but…might we assume that an inherent reluctance to be seen to put blood on the line by using drones further undermines national credibility especially in the absence of a declared or properly recognised or accepted conflict? Would the kinetic cross-border campaign against proponents of terror be more credible if it was conducted with manned resources i.e. to be specific, if human resources (a term I generally hate as aren’t resources things to be exploited?) aka nationals of the nation waging the campaign were actually doing the border crossing bit and not, as in the case of unmanned aircraft strikes, sitting back in the relative safety and comfort of an undisclosed top-secret location?

Although his model was flawed and needs further development, David Kilcullen was right – the accidental guerrilla not only exists but is created by precisely this sort of heavy-handed, poorly-formulated use of force. As the author of the article points out, the current campaign in Yemen is focusing on individuals and not on countering or neutralising the actual network in which they exist: control the water and the fish are yours for the taking…continue to play a short game and you are destined to play the short game forever – sort of like Happy Gilmore Hell…The article concludes:

The United States can do a lot of good in Yemen, but it can also do a lot of harm. And right now it is playing a dangerous game, firing missiles at targets in the hopes that it can kill enough men to keep AQAP from plotting, planning, and launching an attack from Yemen. After this terrorism alert that has sent America’s entire diplomatic and intelligence operatives in nearly two dozen countries scrambling, it may be time to rethink that approach in favor of a strategy that’s more sustainable — and more sensible too.

When you consider this statement – which I totally agree with – you might see the fundamental flaw (and irony) of a campaign strategy that employs shock and awe to conduct attrition warfare. As I recall, after the bloodbaths of WW1 and its sequel, we decided that we could do this war-fighting thing a lot smarter and developed concepts of manouevrism and asymmetry. It looks like the only ones that read all those books were the bad guys…


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….


Over the weekend, it was reported that there had been what appears to be a triple murder-homicide in the small town of Feilding, only a few kilometres from where I’m based. The story recapped Feilding’s unfortunate recent history which has in the last few months included a particularly nasty ambush murder of a young farmer, a mid-air collision that killed two people and the death of LT Tim O’Donnell in an IED attack in Afghanistan.

It particularly annoyed me that Tim O’Donnell was described as being killed by ‘insurgents’ which may or may not be correct but it struck me that the use of this word ‘insurgant’ without any supporting evidence, indications or other pointers is again conceding the information battle to our adversaries. Surely better to be part of a strategic communication plan in which those perpetrated that attack are referred to as criminals, thus robbing them of any possible perception of legitimacy or right that may be inherent in ‘insurgent’. After all, it is a COIN truism that one man’s insurgent is another’s freedom fighter and another that most insurgencies are built in one form or another on elements of righteous greivance…mere use of the term implies a base level of right in their actions…so let’s stop doing that and in doing so, erode further their conceptual foundations…

One man who does ‘get’ strategic communication is Steve Tatham, who was the Director of Advanced Communication Research at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, but whom I see from the tailpiece of his latest paper is now “…completing a PhD in Strategic Communication…” I hope he’s not planning on taking too long on his PhD because we really needed him to be out there expounding the Strategic Communication message. The new paper, Strategic Communication & Influence Operations: Do We Really Get It?, builds further upon his previous works,  Behavioural Conflict – From General to Strategic Corporal: Complexity, Adaptation and Influence and Strategic Communication: A Primer.

Do We Really Get It? moves further into the how-to of Strategic Communication and, of particular note to anyone who’s ever wonder what the Strategic Communication group in their organisation actually does, defines the distinction between Strategic Communication and Strategic Communications:

Strategic Communication

The processes and sequencing of information for carefully targeted audiences

A paradigm that recognises that information & perception effect target audience behaviour and that activity must be calibrated against first, second and third order effects.

Strategic Communications

The paper also discusses in detail the concept of the Target Audience Analysis (TAA), a process clearly and sadly lacking from the coalition’s forays into the information arena against the takfiri: “…Understanding the audience is the beginning and end of all military influence endeavours. Without TAA, influence success is dependent upon randomness, luck and coincidence – in short, ‘a fluke’…” This is what we in the trade would call ‘good stuff’ however no more previews: to learn more you need to not just read the paper, but hoist its message aboard and look to applying it daily…

The Small Wars Journal Blog today linked to an interview with David Kilcullen on Australia’s rising casualty rate in Afghanistan – it is a very interesting read and well worth following the link to the full text of the interview. I offered a small comment of my own based on a discussion we had yesterday regarding the changing situation in Afghanistan and the vague endstates that still persist in most if not all nations with forces in ISAF. I was humbled by the response from one of the SWJ administrators “…and, BTW, nice blog. Added to our roll…” So way down the bottom of the Small Wars Journal blogroll is yours truly…I now know how Dean @ Shiloh felt after Tom Ricks picked up his blog comments on the COIN Symposium in May this year and am a little worried that I will be able to hold up my end in such company as other members of that list…

Good Answer

Nice one, Mike!!

Just when I was about to write Michael Yon off after his disembedment, he comes up with a comment that is both insightful and relevant…

The father of a veteran now in Afghanistan emailed with a question: “Michael: What would you say to a group of US soldiers if you were a company commander (and it’s easy for me to imagine you in this role) if after a briefing you gave them as you and they were about to participate in the BfK – when after inviting questions a soldier asked: “Sir, are we being asked to risk our lives to prop up Wali Karzai and if so, is he a good man or just my generation’s Diem? (Or some such question.) A beneficiary of the drug industry, a thug, feared and hated by the people of Kandahar City? How would you Michael Yon answer this US soldier?”

I would likely say, “Yes, we are being tasked to prop up a drug lord. That’s our orders. Let’s get to work.”

It’s a good point – as much as some elements continue to portray the war in Afghanistan as a ‘nice’ war in which no harm really befalls anyone, except the bad guys, and which is conducted according to the highest moral principles….which, of course, is totally false…if what is going on in Afghanistan was anything close to nice, then there would be no need for the thousands of combat troops, strike aircraft, etc, etc, etc…NGOs and aid agencies could run rampant over the country to do-good their little hearts out…but it’s not like that and we shouldn’t be kidding ourselves that it is…

On the same theme are the bedfellows that we might have to partner up with in order to achieve our national objectives…let’s NOT forget that the reason that all these forces are in Afghanistan in the first place is not an overwhelming concern for the wellbeing of the nation or people of Afghanistan…some nations are their for flag-waving purposes, others because the rest of their gang is there, others again perhaps hoping to secure trade or commercial gains…whatever the underlying motives, there is little room for altruistic partnerships based on niceness and the moral high ground. To be blunt about it, most of the nice people that you might be able to partner up with are probably amongst the least effective…

To get the job done, your partners of opportunity will more than likely be those whom you would NOT bring home to meet Mother or the voters but they are way more likely to advance your aims and objectives…

The other insight that falls from Mike’s comment is that these issues of lawful or unlawfulness generally exist at levels stratospherically above the tactical level where the down and dirty fighting occurs…as Mike implies, these issues are not things that the troops on the ground need to be worrying about – so long as someone has taken the time out to remind them why they are face down int eh dirt and the sand, listening to bullets zing by, just over their heads…the direction and ownership of said bullets is largely irrelevant when you’re face down in the sand and the dirt….

Sallying Forth

My brief foray out into civilisation last week went very well. I had (another) great visit to the Air Power Development Centre @ RNZAF Ohakea and am looking forward to doing a lot more work with them. I overnight in Ohakea this time and must comment on the standard of the rooms in the Mess, even for a casual guest like myself…my room had all the amenities necessary for someone working away from home…especially the little details like an alarm clock, towel, bathrobe, iron and ironing board, even a Do Not Disturb sign for the door and some of those little soap and shampoo thingies…all the little details that are such a PITA to lug around with you on the road…very nice…

The following morning I drove down to Wellington – catching the early bird parking deal @ the James Cook by less than two minutes – to listen in on Josh Wineera’s lecture The Contemporary Operating Environment to Victoria University’s Counter-Terrorism course; after which I delivered  Doctrine, COIN and Kilcullen (critiquing The Accidental Guerrilla). It went OK but only OK and I am really annoyed that I ran overtime (despite numerous rehearsals to the big dogs at home) and had to skim over the Kilcullen section. Hopefully I will have other opportunities to polish up my delivery for this type of work as I think that part of the problem is that I haven’t had any opportunities this year to practise let alone hone presentation skills.

I’m now converting the elements of that PowerPoint brief into a loose paper, combining the images with the accompanying words, for Jim Veitch at Vic as a record of those thoughts. I found last year that both MS Word and OpenOffice’s Writer are sub-optimumal tools for this and have opted to try this using a dedicated desktop publishing application called Scribus. It’s open source as well and like much of these open source apps has an almost vertical learning curve (the reason I uninstalled it last year) but I cracked it last night and am now making pretty good progress. The result for this project probably won’t win too many marks for prettiness as I am learning as I go but progress is progress….

You turn your back for just a second…

Exhibit 1

Exhibit #1 – authorities believe Grasshopper is just an innocent victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time…the usual suspects (both of them) are being lined up…

We had the twins for the weekend – it’s always fun but full-on and this is just a none-too-subtle reminder of how quickly they are growing up (literally)…the jar was only about one-third full when one of them swiped (the evidence is difficult to argue with) it off the kitchen bench after lunch. It was quite a good effort as they managed to keep most of the jam off themselves (something they refuse to do at actual meal times) and were only busted when the penny dropped for me that there was simply way too much jam around the house to have come from the jam on toast we had for lunch (with healthy stuff as well) in the lounge…

It’s a lesson that one can never become too complacent that little hands will not extend their reach, the guy you install as president of Afghanistan will not decide to go his own way, or that the service you dedicate 18 years to will not dump you like a hot and embarrassing potato…I refer here to the case of Royal Marine Sergeant  Mark Leader [PDF: Two war-weary Marines with a size 10 wellington boot] who was court martialed and dismissed, after 18 years of top quality military service five times decorated with campaign medals , after throwing a Wellington boot at a Taliban terrorist. The Taliban in question had been found burying an IED just 50 metres from base  where Leader had witnessed his best friend and two other mates blown up by an IED just prior to this.

It’d be interesting to see the full facts of this case – perhaps there is way more to it that was has been reported to date – but this certainly seems to be yet another application of the perception that we, the good guys, can fight nice wars. Unfortunately the price of niceness is the blood of US and NATO soldiers…The opposite of ‘nice’ is not ‘brutal’ – it is ‘practical’ and ‘pragmatic’ – and this seems to be totally lost on British leaders who seem think this war (lower case) is simply an over-resourced exercise in flag-waving and a great gesture of unity with the US (which, after all, might be required to sail across the Atlantic and bail out the UK for a fourth time)…


I’ve just finished a great book, Greg Bear’s Eon, which is one of the main reasons that blog updates have dried up over the last few days. Carmen picked it up for me at the Sally Army shop in Hamilton for a dollar at the same time as she bought me The Star Trek yarn Garth of Izar…I must have read another Bear story in the dim dark past as I have always avoided his books for well over two decades but Eon really gripped me right from the start and I will probably have to go off and ferret out some others once the ‘have-to’ reading list gets a little shorter….

The fractal guy…

Benoit Mandelbrot’s The  (Mis)Behaviour of Markets was recommended to me as a fresh look at irregularity and uncertainty, and as such, a possible source for some out of the square illumination on the complex contemporary environment…I haven’t even got to the end of the preface and already I a. love it, b. have dredged out some really good material, and c. taken off on some wild tangential thoughts…once the employment situation becomes a little more stable, I think that this one will be a permanent addition to the library.

Kilcullen again…

The other recent tome that I have decided to add to the physical library is David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla. I am speaking on doctrine, COIN and Kilcullen this Friday and have had to wait for the library to reloan me a copy to use as an aid for any parts of my review notes that I can’t, read or remember why I wrote what I did. Dr Kilcullen has secured a place for himself as one of the most influential figures of the last decade and as such is deserving of a place on the shelves in the study here at the Raurimu Centre for Thinking About Stuff (CTAS). He’s just released a new book but I think I’ll test read this from the library first as the abstracts for CounterInsurgency @ Oxford University Press and Small War Journal sounds a little too much like a rehash of previous works…

Ginga Ninja

Andrew Inwald released his 1/33 Yokosuka P1Y Ginga at Paper Models last week…and it surpasses even his Judy and Il-14…those who are into this sort of creative expression might want to download it just to see how it’s done…you can do that here at Paper Modelers although you will need to register and make one post on the forum to get to the downloads…

Yes, it’s paper…!

In other paper news, Ken West of XB-70 Valkyrie and B-58 Hustler fame has announced the start of the design phase of a 1/32 Lockheed SR-71, although the exact model or models is still TBC e.g. A-12, YF-12A, D-21 drone carrier etc…

A ‘poor western to arab death ratio!’

Curzon @ Coming Anarchy recounts his adventures flying on local airlines around the Gulf…sounds like feigning sleep is the best option…and while on the topic of Curzon, I have yet to finish reading his biography. The reason that it is taking so long is not that it is hard work and difficult to read – if anything, exactly the opposite: although some of the content is quite dry, it is so well written that I find myself savouring it like a fine dessert…comparing it to more contemporary writing, I think that we have lost a lot in the fifty years since this book was published…

Also on Coming Anarchy, Younghusband reviews David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla. He summarises:

For close readers of COIN and CT theory, I do not think this book will offer any new insight. Kilcullen’s contribution though is an excellent overview of the “social work with guns” theory of COIN, as well as a succinct presentation of the realist arguments for non-intervention and conservation of military power…The last few pages, where he presents his policy ideas, is really where practitioners can sink their teeth in. Lots of debating points there. For example:

    • develop a new lexicon to better describe the threat (rather than UW, COIN, irregular warfare etc)
    • discuss a new grand strategy (have an ARCADIA conference on terrorism)
    • balance capability (Why is DOD 210 times bigger than USAID and State?)
    • identify new “strategic services” (ie. a new OSS)
    • develop a capacity for strategic information warfare.

As readers will now from the work published here, these insights are nothing new although it is refreshing to see them in a mainstream publication. It’s unfortunate that the conceptual COIN effort in the US especially (most others are simply followers) is still largely fragmented and lies predominately in the domain of the information militia. The focus on the Iraqi insurgency in 2005-6 has caused the term COIN to be used interchangeably across the contemporary environment and that has caused many to apply inappropriate concepts, policies and doctrine to the issues they face. Our findings in 2007 were initially that the Marines had a better grip on the issue in developing the Countering the Irregular Threat (CIT) concept; and then that the UK encapsulated it even better with Countering Irregular Activity (CIA) which covers the broad spectrum of irregular (potentially destabilising) activities from all sources and causes, natural and man-made. The flip side of both CIT and CIA is the need for a comprehensive approach harnessing the appropriate and relevant instruments of national power including those on NGOs and commercial/corporate interests which usually fall outside the accepted definitions of NGO. These are all themes that we have been exploring in the series The New War.

Bears in the Air

QRA Scramble to Intercept Russian Blackjack_Aircraft MOD_45151233

Well…Blackjacks actually…in a timely reminder that there are more bad things out there than just some nutjob hiding in a cave inciting the masses with poor quality video…the Russian Bear is alive and well and still has aspirations of Empire, certainly under its current keeper…perhaps we ought not be so quick in cancelling programmes like F-22 and planning total reliance on a committee-designed one-size fits all hybrid like the F-35…wasn’t the last time we tried – and failed – at a ‘joint’ aircraft the infamous F-111 project that skewered the TSR.2, set back the Aussie strike programme by over a decade and saw a less-than-stellar combat debut in Vietnam…thank the maker for the F-4 Phantom that carried the resulting load for the better part of a decade.

And on the topic of potential threats, STRATFOR carries an item on Chinese speed wobbles as the US ramps up a comprehensive (or unified, if you went to that school) approach to a potential threat…like Japan, China has built an economy on a foundation of sand and hope and its starting to get wobbly…all the more reason to keep the F-22 fires stoked and warm up that A-10 production line (and do a naval variant this time round!)…on yes, and you might need some decent SPGs to replace the M109s that grandpappy used in Vietnam…and don’t be counting on your data links staying up all the time so have a think about leaving the seats in any new airfames you invest in for combat… Neptunus Lex also carries some comment on this article…

The top ten manly movies

John Birmingham has been busy…The Geek discusses what are the top ten manly movies…JB votes for these with my comments in red:

1. True Grit. (Yes, you must fill your hands with this sonofabitch). Absolutely!

2. Saving Pvt. Ryan. (Because war is hell good lookin’ on blu-ray wide screen). Nah!! Too much gratuitous violence in the beginning that adds nothing to the story and the meandering journey across France is just boring. Blackhawk Down delivers all the same messages better and is based on a true story.

3. Master and Commander. (Tips out Gladiator because nobody wears skirts). Agree re Master and Commander not Gladiator which I slot in below.

4. Casino Royale (the remake, and the manliest Bond flick EVAARRR!). Yep!

5. Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (Or any Bogart flick, except the ones with a love interest). Ummm…no…Bogey never quite did it for me…from this era I’d opt for The 39 Steps.

6. The Magnificent Seven. (Well duh. It is magnificent, you know). Yep!

7. The Dirty Dozen. (Or Kelly’s Heroes, if you prefer your war movies with a psychedelic twist). Or both…

8. Cool Hand Luke. (Because I say no man can eat fifty eggs). Hmmmm…whatever…ditch in favour of 633 Squadron, the best flying movie every made.

9. Raging Bull. (Or any movie about boxers or wrestlers. They’re all good.) Replace with Kelly’s Heroes.

10. 300. (Because this is Sparta). How come these guys get to wear skirts, JB? Replace with Gladiator.

Cheeseburger Gothic also hosts a nice piece of fan fiction from The Wave section of the Birmoverse.

Get it off!

Dean @ Travels with Shiloh has developed a new counter to female suicide bombers…I wonder if the cure might not be worse than the problem…?

In more serious news, he summarises a recent workshop at Princeton on Afghanistan – in terms of being out of AFG in 2011, I hope that someone is working on the chopper pad on top of the Embassy…I think we all must have slept through the lesson on COIN re the long haul – or maybe that lesson took place during the five year summer holidays in Iraq?

Where it all began

Peter has released a prologue to The Doomsday Machine…great to see a local lad doing so well at this authoring thingie…

I also like his comments re President Obama’s snub at Israel…but disagree on the credibility of commenting on a book one has not read…I used to be prone to making similar judgements especially on movies so missed Gladiator on the big screen and gave the first series of Dr Who a miss as well…that learned me!!

Who am I?

Portable Learner discusses ways and means of promoting oneself on LinkedIn, something that I have been wresting with recently as well. The options available are quite prescriptive and I don’t think that will change regardless of what’s on the list. Lists, I think, are an industrial age tools that we have yet to evolve away from and, like so much industrial age legacy material, they hold us back. I agree with Shanta that ‘internet’ is probably more descriptive of how one might think than its clinical definition might imply.

I also agree totally with her points re e-learning which is sliding back into industrial age slime instead of being the shining beckon of knowledge it once appeared to be. In order to “…design effective learn ing environments in a networked world…” we must sever the ties with industrial tools and focus on the information and it s nurturing and growth…This is one reason that I think that the US Navy may have ever so slightly lost it in merging its 2 (intel) and 6 (comms) branches into the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) – yes, for real!! I see a very real risk that the information under this structure will be overshadowed by the fears and rules of the technicians and we will lose that timely dissemination that we so desperately need…it maybe that the victims of this merger will see their op critical information become a commodity that is delivered IDC…In…Due…Course – a phrase straight from the repertoire of petty bureaucrats and mindless chair polishers…


Kilcullen on horticulture

Nah, just kidding…but what if David Kilcullen had taken horticulture instead of political anthropology…it’s entirely feasible…my last commander had a degree in zoology…

Anyway, this site still gets a number of daily hits from people searching for information on Michael Yon, BGEN Menard and the Tarnak Bridge incident aka Bridgegate – sometimes when I am bored I type in some of the search terms to see what pops up…this time around, I found a thread on, which appears to be the official forum of  the Canadian forces (why don’t we have one of those?) and it’s thread on Bridgegate is hardly complimentary to Mr Yon…hardly surprising, is it?

One of the the hits in my search of the Milnet site brought me to a treasure trove of links, called the Sandbox, on Afghanistan. One of the linked articles was The Boston Globe‘s Mowing the grass in Afghanistan, published on March 2…this guy, H.D.S. Greenway, gets it…

‘MOWING THE grass’’ is the term frustrated soldiers use to describe the war in Afghanistan. America and its NATO allies sweep in and clear an area. But, once they leave, the Taliban creep back like weeds in the lawn and the allies have to mow it all over again.

General Stanley McCrystal wants to put an end to grass mowing. He plans to hold Marja and has brought in his ready-made Afghan “government in a box.’’ Can it last? And what of other Marjas? Since it would take a foreign army of many hundreds of thousands to stand on every blade of grass – a force level we will never see – the war will continue.

Part of the problem is the very nature of Afghanistan, driven by ethnic, tribal, and linguistic rivalries. It is governed best when it is decentralized, playing to its strengths rather than its weaknesses. But the United States and NATO have tried to build a highly centralized state, lumping regional commanders together and ignoring tribal differences.

Apart from Christmas, I’ve been at home since the beginning of November and it being summer (or as close as we are likely to get this year) I have spent a reasonable amount of that time out in the garden. My main gardening mission this ‘summer’ is to root out all the buttercup (an evil strangling weed) from the garden and then eradicate from the rest of the Lodge section and then the Chalet as well. In doing so, I have made the most of the opportunity to contemplate the similarities between COIN and gardening.

Buttercup is insidious. I’m not sure yet how it initially inserts into the garden although I suspect birds are the only real common denominator. Once it takes root, it will gain strength while sheltered and concealed, usually unwittingly, by other plants; it spreads locally by extending tendrils under the leaves of plants and grass, strangling them as it goes. It grows through bushy plants where it is difficult to back-track to a root that can be pulled  complete from the soil.

The enemy - elusive and tenacious

The temptation is to just blitz the garden with Roundup and start over on the scorched bare soil remaining. However this is hardly ever practical for a number of reasons. Our monthly rainfall is quite high even in ‘summer’ so baring the earth only opens us to erosion. There are already established communities in the garden which are not readily transplantable and which have grown over long periods of time – to try to regrow them would just take too long. Other communities are protected in other ways, often alliance with other power blocs like my wife whose trip-wire retaliation policy is quite clear. Other communities again offer too much in the way of practical value to be subjected to a bare earth strategy: these include vegetable gardens and the flower beds serviced by the 20,000 head of bees that graze the ranges here over summer.

Other conventional weapons are often equally ineffective against an adversary like this. In other campaigns we have found the use of the goats and sheep to be quite effective but attempting to apply this lesson in this campaign was not only ineffective but was grossly detrimental to the overall war effort. We found the hard way that the goats conventional targeting methodologies were more likely to take out useful infrastructure and productive parts of the biosystem while leaving the main adversary untouched…it would appear that goats find it difficult if not outright impossible to accept the targeting paradigms of this new war.

Precision strike is an option approved under current domestic rules of engagement so long as due diligence is paid to wind direction and water courses. But as we all know, precision strike is a bit of an oxymoron: event the most precise strike is almost bound to create so collateral damage, even when applying with high-tech precision technologies like a weed brush. And buttercup, like the typical insurgent, doesn’t exactly advertise its presence and precise location unless in a position of strength. Often sighting a leaf or two will result in an area pattern spray in order to best take out the whole plant; same-same for spraying along the tendrils. This responsible engagement seems to offer the best balance between proportional use of resources, effect upon the enemy and being seen to be taking reasonable steps to mitigate unnecessary collateral damage. Yes, you can read into that last statement that there is such a thing as acceptable collateral damage.

Because of the way that buttercup weaves its way into and through existing communities, it is ultimately necessary to get hands-on and surgically remove it. This is not without certain risks. Many of these communities e.g. roses, raspberries, etc are relatively well defended and even with the greatest care, passive defensive mechanisms can inflict quite nasty wounds. Further out in the hinterlands, there are others who would simply prefer to be left alone and who tend to strike lethally at intruders. The worst of these are wasps and due to their somewhat intractable attitude towards compromise, it is usually necessary to destroy the entire nest. Wild bees are also common however these can be bypassed if spotted early and not provoked as can the giant wetas that frequent less traveled areas.

As H.D.S Greenway states in his article, the insurgent is more likely to spring back into a cleared area than more benign and useful communities. Frustrations arising from this ‘whack-a-mole’ resilience often tempts friendly forces into responding with more and less discriminate force – cures that do almost as much damage as the original invaders. The secrets to successful campaigns in the garden are…

To have a clear idea of what you want to do and how you are going to do it.

Accept that it is going to get messy and that there will be casualties.

Know your enemy.

Before commencing operations, agree on the measurables for success.

Ensure that you have adequate resources to fight the campaign properly – time is one of those resources.

Be prepared to get your hands dirty.

There is no such thing as a nice short war in the garden either…

Who are the Taliban?

That’s the title of another article listed in the Sandbox written by an Afghan woman living in Vancouver. Her description of the Taliban could apply across any one of a number of cultures and religions and it is important to note that “…The Taliban are perhaps less easily identifiable than we might think. We are accustomed to thinking of them as bushy-bearded Afghan men with black turbans and kohl around cold eyes, clutching automatic weapons. Yet this is merely the visual symbol of what does, in fact, not always announce itself visually. The Taliban were officially born in 1994. But in truth, they were born long before…” This is where a number of key strategic documents are getting it wrong, among them the 2010 QDR and Australia’s 2010 Counter-terrorism White Paper, in that they persist in identifying “…global violent jihadist movement…” as the “…main source of international terrorism and the primary terrorist threat…” for the new decade. This is no more correct than those who trumpeted urban operations as the new war in 2005-2006. What we should be focusing as the threat facing us for the next decade at least is that alluded to in the Who are the Taliban article, that of those who seek to subject others’ ways of life to their own, those who, in seeking to do so, would destabilise ‘normalcy’ as WE now it…

On similar lines, Neptunus Lex documented an attempt by an Australian Moslem to introduce a parallel sharia legal system into Australia…whatever, if it’s such a great system, why doesn’t he pack his bags and head off to someplace that already has one in place?


To just take issue with something ADM Mullen said in what’s being referred to as the ‘Mullen Doctrine’ address…”…The Australians are experts at counterinsurgency warfare…” No, sorry, not true at all. Peace support, yeah, sure but COIN? Not since its hey day in South East Asia. Australia is the only Anglospheric nation to not have conducted at least one counter-insurgency campaign on its own soil – even little New Zealand has had four distinct campaigns to determine who actually runs the country. Australia struggled to identify any relevant COIN experiences which to illustrate points in LWD 3-0-1 Counterinsurgency 2008 and ironically, omitted what is probably one of the best examples of the blurred lines and fuzzy responsibility in the complex environment, that of Breaker Morant in the Boer War…

While it’s nice that ADM Mullen has tried to spread the love around the coalition, the fact remains that, apart from political considerations and because it must be nauseatingly tiresome saving the world on its own all the time, the US military doesn’t rally need much help from anyone and really can get by quite nicely (and more smoothly) on its own, thank you very much. The correlative side of this is that if you want to work with the Americans, read the instruction manuals first.

Round Up

Just a quick round up of what’s happening around the blogspace – have loads of domestic duties this week so focusing on those while the sun shines…

Europe Descends

Neptunus Lex continues to chronicle the decline of Europe as a major power, if it every was in the first place – certainly some of its member nations may have been – once – but EU Europe definitely seems to be less than the sum of its parts…Britain, Eire, Netherlands, Greece, Russia

Keep 558 alive

At Paper Modelers, there is a request to support XH558, the last flying Avro Vulcan bomber. 558 took to the skies once more in 2008 but exists only on donations and some minor corporate support…have a look at the Vulcan Trust site and at least sign the supporters card – give a little if you can….

Is this not both beautiful and super cool?

Birmoverse – The Movie

Following the creation of a Facebook page calling to Hollywood to option John Birmingham’s Axis of Time trilogy, Cheeseburger Gothic called for ideas on who should play who in the movies…still room for your 2 cents…

Mr Birmingham is also off to Puckapunyal again next week for another get together with Force Development Group on what future conflict environments might be like…interesting to be a fly on the wall for that chat…

RIP Charley Wilson

Coming Anarchy carries a brief obituary for the orchestrator of the mujahedeen victory against the Russians in the 80s.

Natural Selection in Action

Some would-be bombers in Adelaide have gone to a better place…

Be older and happier

Discover Magazine reports on a survey that finds we get happier as we get older – something to look forward to…

Kilcullen on Metrics

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy is carrying a series of new material from David Kilcullen:

Kilcullen (I): Here’s what not to measure in a COIN campaign

Obviously more to follow on the nuggets in these articles…


More thefts from Army Museum Stop dodgy crims at Crimestoppers.

And we should respect your traditions in our countries why?

Valentine’s police see red as Saudis crack down on Valentine’s Day…

Accidental Guerrilla Part 2

Well, that did get better as it progressed…I found the first two chapters close to interminable, loved Chapter 3 on Iraq and the last Chapter on the way ahead; I didn’t like the chapter of allegedly supporting case studies: nothing annoys me more than someone flogging a dead horse of a model when the evidence in the case studies simply doesn’t supply the model, in this case, that of the Accidental Guerrilla.

I agree that foreign fighters and Rupert Smith’s ‘franchisers of terror‘ are significant forces in the irregular activity world, however I simply do not accept that national guerrillas become such ‘by accident’. Opportunist, reactive or responsive would be better adjectives for national guerrillas in that they react to and/or seize an opportunity presented by the actions of national or international interventions (civil and/or military).

The other major factor that detracts from The Accidental Guerrilla is its over-fixation on Islamic terrorism, instead of upon more general terrorism and insurgency. By labouring the Islamic angle, the author may be going some way to further the rift between Islamic communities and the rest of the world.

Similarly, the whole concept of ‘hybrid warfare’ just grates…war is by definition is a complex activity that resists simple definitions – one which also tends to punish those who fail to respect this fact. To postulate that hybrid war is either new or different from any other form of war is illustrative of a concept inability to consider and learn from history. Another contribution to the global game of buzzword bingo…

David Kilcullen writes very well when recounting his own experiences, and considerably less well when trying to support his theoretical model. To get the most out of The Accidental Guerrilla, read the preface,  Chapter 3 The Twenty-First Day, and Chapter 5 Turning an Elephant into a Mouse in conjunction with Jim Molan’s Running the War in Iraq. It’s probably entirely coincidental that both books are written by Australian Army officers – or maybe not – maybe that slight aspect of distance from US and NATO issues provides an subtle but important difference of perspective. These readings will give a reader from most backgrounds a firm grounding in issues and approaches for the complex environment. I have a dozen or so pages of notes and will write a more detailed review in the next week or so…

The bottom line on The Accidental Guerrilla is that it is worth reading – the preface, Chapters 3 and 5 outweigh the slog through the other chapters…having said that, down here we have a beer company called Tui which sponsors a range of topical billboards across the country, using the Tui slogan “yeah right“…here’s some Tui moments from The Accidental Guerrilla (yes, I really do like it but these were too good to pass up):

Buy a crate on the way home tonight…