The people that really count

What’s always puzzled me is that for all the bluster about these being population-centric wars, very few American reporters feel comfortable living with the people or listening to what they have to say.

These words were part of a comment by Carl Prine in response to the link posted up by Doctrine Man this morning  U.S. military to pass oversight of embedded reporters to Afghan security forces . My care factor over the subject of the article is fairly low – I think the whole embedded media idea is in need for a fairly severe overhaul to ensure that reporting is fair and truthful and that

a. isn’t simply a clumsy extension of the campaign information operations plan, and

b. protects the hosts from Mikey Yawn ‘biting the hands that fed them‘ or Paula Broadwell ‘I have ideas above my station‘ style embarrassments…

However, on the subject of population-centricity…


…the Hector’s Dolphin population is much like the populations of in COIN theatres, places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Malaya, France, etc. Like those populations, the poor old Hector’s Dolphin can do what it likes to ensure the survival of its way of life but all that is largely meaningless without the support of the population(s) supporting the intervention/COIN campaign

In fact, when you think about it, much the same applies to the insurgent forces as well…without the support of the populations caring, caring nations like North Vietnam, Great Britain, Iran or Pakistan (yes, there will be a test later on to match up supporters with supported!), many, and most, insurgent campaigns would fade away like a five year old’s ice cream in the sun…and conversely, with the support of the COIN/intervention force domestic population, the same will occur. Perhaps, the melted ice cream could become the 21st Century version of the classic COIN inkspot, one that transforms rapidly into a sticky spot of the map that just attracts flies?

ImageSo, when we talk about population-centric warfare, we are not referring to the population of the nation, province or other area where the insurgency is physically occurring – or we shouldn’t be if we have a good handle on this COIN thing – but instead we should be referring to the populations that support their nation’s participation in any given COIN campaign. When these populations stop caring, either by simply allowing apathy to run its course, or by actively opposing support, that nation’s effective contribution to the campaign is doomed…

Like, hello?

Is this where some people live?

I noticed an item on the Small Wars Journal blog this morning on my pre-breakfast scan of what’s up on the planet…in it Dr. Christopher Paul comments on an article (also in Foreign Policy) that is strongly critical of the RAND study Victory Has a Thousand Fathers, of which he was the lead author.

Dr Paul would be correct in his comments on the Hoyt/Rovner article except for the minor point that THEY are actually correct in what they say…

I hadn’t read the RAND ‘study’ in question until seeing this item in the SWJ Blog this morning but it is one that would have eventually crossed my desk for review…it’s 187 pages but having just read the summary and introduction, I don’t think it’s going to be a critical read for me anytime soon…

Although it quotes William Rosenau “…insurgency and counterinsurgency. . . have enjoyed a level of military, academic, and journalistic notice unseen since the mid-1960s…”, the authors have not included one single case study from this period that was the heyday of COIN (both as we know it and how others like the USSR and Cuba applied it)…like, hello? By selecting on those campaigns that started after 1978 – you didn’t consider Northern Ireland? Like, hello? – the RAND study only really focuses on a very narrow range of campaigns and even then I’m not convinced that there is much rigour in the selection of campaigns…we all know the COIN campaign in Kosovo, right? and Croatia and Bosnia? Some bad things may have happened in those countries but COIN? Hardly…the COIN campaign in Somalia was concluded in 1991? Papua New Guinea was a COIN loss? By PNG one assumes that the study is referring to Bougainville which is actually a success in that Bougainville is still a part of the nation it sought to break away from and the campaign that was conducted on that island actually addressed the root issues underlying the ‘insurgency’ – actually IAW one of the key COIN trusims…I also note that the use of repression as a strategy is frowned upon when, whether we in the West like it or not, historically (before and after 1978) it is one of the more consistently effective means of keeping a population in line…

I suspect that if I opt to wade through the remaining 161 pages of this ‘study’ (I have to use the term ‘study’ loosely), I will find find more such weak ‘logic’, poor research and inconsistency – and having written this, I find myself resigned to having to read the rest of it…

I wonder to what extent this paper was driven by statements at the COIN Symposium in May where various staff called for a COIN checklist, displaying a fundamental lack of ‘getting it’? While there are some fundamental principles/tenets/truisms for Countering Irregular Activity (COIN is too narrow a term for modern use) that a study like this may have analysed, one of them is that every campaign must be considered on its own merits i.e. there is no checklist in CIA!!

Perhaps, instead of using his position at Foreign Policy to have a self-righteous whiny-nana, Dr Paul might want to reflect on the comments here and in the Rovner/Paul article, and then go back to RAND and redo the job properly this time…

Critical thinking more and more seems to be superseded by a level of superficiality that is quite scary and I wonder if this is due to the economic crisis really putting the acid on academics to publish or really perish…? The really annoying this about products like this RAND ‘study’ is that so much information is freely available for them to do the job properly – the analysis is not that difficult – it’s the application in the contemporary environment that offers up the true challenges and weak superficial work like Victory Has a Thousand Fathers offers nothing to mitigate those challenges…

Later that day…Edit: just used this line in a discussion on this paper on Facebook…pretty well sums up my feelings…

“…I think it’s even worse than that…I simply don’t think they ‘get’ the environment we are operating in now so what they’ve done is pretty much like setting off to study the Third Reich and then limiting themselves to 1946 onwards…”

Friends in High Places – review

The cover raised such expectations

Friends in High Places – Air Power in Irregular Warfare was published in July 2009 by the RAAF Air Power Development Centre. It has been edited by Dr Sanu Kainikara, a former Indian Air Force pilot who is now the Air Power Strategist at the Air Power Development Centre in Canberra. Including the preface and glossary, the book has 267 pages divided into nine sections:

  • Foreword. Group Captain Rick Keir, AM, CSC. July 2009.
  • Introduction. Dr Sanu KainiKara. July 2009.
  • The War of the Running Dogs: The Malayan Emergency. Air Commodore Mark Lax, CSM (rtd). An edited version of the paper originally presented at the RAAF History Conference in Canberra, 1 April 2008.
  • Offensive Air Power In Counterinsurgency Operations: Putting Theory Into Practice. Wing Commander Glen Beck. An edited version of Air Power Development Centre Paper #26 published in August 2008.
  • Air Power and Special Forces: A Symbiotic Relationship. Wing Commander David Jeffcoat. An edited version of Air Power Development Centre Paper #14 published in February 2004.
  • Taking It To The Streets: Exploding Urban Myths About Australian Air Power. Wing Commander Gareth B.S. Neilsen. An edited version of Air Power Development Centre Paper #23 published in October 2007.
  • Air Power and Transnational Terrorism: The Possibilities, Advantages and Limits to using Australian Air Power in the ‘War on Terror’. Mr Sam Gray-Murphy. An edited version of Air Power Development Centre Paper #20 published in October 2005.
  • The Role of Air Power in Irregular Warfare: An Overview of the Israeli Experience. Dr Sanu Kainikari.
  • Conclusion. Dr Sanu Kainikari.

My initial visual impression of this book was “Yes! the Aussies have ‘got it’!”: the cover very positively shows a C-130 at low level over a Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle and not the F/A-18 and M-1/ASLAV combination that might be indicative of a conventionally focused publication. Unfortunately this warm buzz did not last beyond the second page of the foreword which notes the ‘…predilection towards precision strike…‘ in the collected papers as ‘…one of our key asymmetric capabilities against a typically asymmetric foe…(1)’

These comments set the scene for the remainder of the book. While various CIA(2) truisms appear through the papers, they are not supported by the text which largely drives towards supporting the maintenance and further development of current air power capabilities with continuing focus upon kinetic operations. Although it makes a case of a balanced spread of air power capabilities, the truth today is that only a very small number of nations can actually do this – the rest of us have to make some tough decisions about what capabilities we need to maintain nationally and what we may have to give up to do so.

Friends In High Places does not consider the lessons of allies and partners in coalition operations since WW2. Its conclusions focus on what was i.e. offensive kinetic air power and not upon what is and will be: a blended mission-specific capability mix drawn from national and coalition military, government and civilian sources – to use an obsolescent but appropriate term: Joint, Inter-agency, Multi-national and Public (JIMP)(3).

This publication has been written around a pre-assumed conclusion: that traditional kinetic air power will remain as the premier ADF air power output. While this may or may not be the case, by approaching this publication with that belief as a given, all the content is badly skewed from the reality of the COE. A more effective approach would have been to consider the COE and what makes it different from  the more comfortable traditional forms of warfare and then apply these findings to the employment of air power. Applying an open mind to the complexities and nuances of the COE may have produced a volume that lives up to the promise of its cover.

Although the foreword notes the minimal consideration of air power in contemporary COIN doctrine like FM 3-24 and LWD 3-0-1, there does not seem to have been any attempt to engage the COIN/CIA(2) community of interest (COI) in Australia or offshore. This is doubly disappointing as agencies like Force Development Group in Puckapunyal, the NZ Army’s Interbella Group, or the COIN Center at Ft Leavenworth could have added considerable value to relevant aspects of this book without detracting from its air-centric theme. As a result, both the land and CIA aspects of this book are very weak. Similar comment can be made regarding the Special Operations and Urban Operations chapters.

The editorial staff has not included any discussion of maritime considerations, from general or air-specific perspectives which is a significant omission for a nation surrounded by water, which is reliant upon the sea ways for trade and industry, and whose major military operations are far more likely to be expeditionary than domestic.

In considering how air power can best operate in a CIA environment, there has also been no mention of the aviation branches of either the Australian Army or RAN apart from a couple of inaccurate paragraphs on ARH (the Eurocopter Tiger Attack Recon Helicopter adopted by the Australian Army). There is also no mention of integration with other government or civilian air assets or those of likely operational partners like New Zealand or Singapore; nor any acknowledgement of the vital role of all sources fusion when discussing aspects of ISR.

The papers included in this collection do not have a good nor consistent grasp of the irregular environment and thus any conclusions they may draw are developed on a somewhat shaky foundation. By the time that the original portions of this book were drafted i.e. those that are not rehashed staff papers, vast quantities of analysis, comment and intellectual horsepower had been expended on defining the COE. Had these resources been tapped, Friends in High Places would be a must-read. As it stands at the moment, its most effective message is the cover photo.

(1) Page xii
(2) The UK term Countering Irregular Activity (CIA) is used instead of the more popular but less accurate term Counterinsurgency (COIN) to describe the complex Contemporary Operating Environment (COE).
(3) I think that I may have inadvertently helped kill off this term a few years back when I made a number of public comments along the lines of ‘Bring out the JIMP‘ from Pulp Fiction.

Get over it!

I’m pretty picky when I subscribe to Facebook pages – last thing I really need is a constant stream of trivia through my Live Feed. I prefer to use Facebook as a situational awareness tool and so my limited number of subscribed pages includes Steven Pressfield, my favourite bach and the Small Wars Journal (note: you need to be a Facebook member to see these pages). Last night, there was a post headed Afghan Corruption Concerns US Policy Planners linking to this Voice of America ‘news’ item about which I thought Please!!! Get over it!! Some places they do things different to how we would like – is the war on terror or to inflict the moral high ground on another nation’s culture and mores?.
The responses were pretty scary (names have been removed to protect the stupid):
  • On the contrary – the international community’s insistence that government leaders adhere to some basic level of anti-corruption standards is because terrorism is less likely to be a course of action undertaken. It’s not that “they” do differently than “we” would like; corruption is not a part of any culture’s mores, it’s pretty well established in every culture that stealing from one’s people never turns out well. What? Have you ever been anywhere in the world? Across the non-Western world, ‘wheel greasing’ in some shape mor formed is not just tolerated by accepted.
  • I’m also pretty convinced that the “moral high ground” offers as much tactical advantage as the physical terrain’s high ground. Yeah, perhaps, but not if you bring your own high ground from home…
  • Remember, when some Afghan cop steals $ 2.00, he’s taken someone’s wages for a day. And the Karzai family steal millions. You’re wrong, Simon, we’re not trying to ‘inflict’ our culture on them, as you so incorrectly phrased it, we’re trying to keep them from stealing every dollar the West sends them. Then stop sending money and do something useful instead – the same thing would happen in the US, UK and Europe if all of a sudden somebody began handing out great dollops of cash.
OK, so it’s only three responses (but that’s a lot for the SWJ Facebook page) but they are fairly consistent with the self-righteous tone of the original article on VOA. There’s also an interesting article on a similar theme on Coming Anarchy, questioning why corrupt officials from Equatorial Guinea are allowed to live in palatial estates – in Malibu. Apparently US law forbids the granting of visas to ‘corrupt’ officials. My question is: Whose corruption laws/values do you apply? Outside of the First World, such practices are pretty accepted – to any extent that argues that they are at least as successful and sustainable than the squeaky-clean-green moral high ground philosophy.

Do these people just not ‘get it’?  You cannot go to someone else’s country, say we’re going to make everything better but you’re going to have to do things our way from now on? Isn’t that what we are (apparently) fighting the Taliban to prevent. Haven’t we gone to war over this very principle? In fact, it would not be unfair to say that a goodly lot of the wars we have engaged in have been in opposition to someone throwing their weught around and trying to enforce ‘their’ ways on someone else…?

The simple sad fact is that most of the world, including a sizable chunk of western societies, thrive on ‘wheel-greasing’. When I was in the UK in October, the Attorney-General was being pressured to press corruption charges against BAe for ‘greasing the wheels’ in order to secure international contracts. As BAe pointed out in its defence, ‘…this is how the world spins: if we don’t do it someone else from France, Israel, Eastern Europe etc etc etc, will wing-in in our place; if we don’t do it, then we will be forced to shut down a number of UK plants due to lack of work – and, if you smack us with a £1billion fine, we will just be forced to shut down more…‘ When you think about it, if the UK was really into this moral high ground thing, it wouldn’t be letting BAe sell weapons across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Would they…?

COIN doctrine tells us a successful campaign needs to address the core issues behind the insurgency, ultimately giving the insurgents some or all of what they want but under controlled conditions.

Meanwhile, back at the Real World Ranch, The Strategist has developed his alternate generations of war model:

1GW: the mercenaries
Early 16th century to late 18th century.
Powerful monarchies, supported by increasingly efficient state bureaucracies, field “hybrid” armies of elite professional troops, mercenary contingents and transnational military specialists (such as siege engineers and artillerymen). In the 18th century, hybrid armies evolve into more homogeneous forces of cavalry, artillery, and infantry regiments of the line, recruited from the aristocracy and the rural poor within a state’s territory. These forces owe allegiance to the sovereign, not society.

2GW: the conscripts
1790s to 1970s.

Nation-states fight each other with large armies of conscripted citizen soldiers. The nation becomes synonymous with the army – “the people-in-arms”, as Clausewitz described it. Universal conscription is a rite of passage for generations of young Europeans, who are animated to serve by patriotism, national and racial identity, and warrior myths.  The apogee of the nation-in-arms occurs in the two world wars of the 20th century, when nations mobilize all their resources – human and material – for total war.

3GW: the volunteers
1980s to early 21st century.

Armies become all volunteer and professional forces of career soldiers who are relatively well-educated and highly trained. These forces recruit people from ethic minorities, immigrant groups, decaying industrial cities and hardscrabble rural regions. These people enlist because they see the army as a route to advancement and acceptance in society, not out of patriotism. Meanwhile, the scions of the wealthy elite and the prosperous middle class shun military service.

4GW: the champions

Emerging in the early 21st century.

Armies become caste-based – an increasingly distinct and detached element within society. They comprise highly skilled “champions”, specialists in esoteric skills such as counterinsurgency, special operations, and cyber-war, who owe primary allegiance to their castes and combat leaders. The distinction between armies and civilian agencies blurs. The state outsources military responsibilities to private military companies. These also safeguard the interests of powerful corporations and wealthy elites.

Peter, in a week, has probably applied more real intellectual effort to the GW construct than did the originator! I really like it although I would offer that his 4GW is actually 5GW with 1GW being the Braveheart style, every tribesman for himself, hope-it-all-works-out-on-the-day form of warfare that kept the trade alive for millenia before it all got organised.

In terms of applying the generational model across history and societies, it DOES work if you apply to individual societies/cultures instead of taking a global macro approach e.g. while the Romans make have been at 3GW, many of their adversaries may only have be 1 GW. The model works even better if you remove the time frame from under each heading.

The Judge Dredd approach to COIN

So it’s out. The super-uber COIN strategy for Afghanistan. If you blinked, you may have missed it. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much – kinda like finding you’ve fallen asleep in the car (as a passenger!) and missed Hamilton…we’re going to fortify the urban areas where the insurgents AREN’T, and only engage selectively in the rural areas where the insurgants ARE. I have visions of Afghanistan becoming a real word escapee from 2000AD: a few isolated Mega-Cities surrounded by the feral hordes of the Cursed Earth. Sylvester Stallone has already filmed in both locations: with some clever editing of Rambo 3 and Judge Dredd, we could have the movie out for Christmas…

John Dredd or Judge Rambo?

The rules murdering their troops…

A top article from the NY Post on the COIN Center blog – most definitely stimulating for the grey matter and really makes you wonder what’s it all about. The day of 911, I was working with a guy who had just come back from a US college and I clearly remember his words that this was Pearl Harbor all over and from this point on, America would consider itself at war. The implications of this were that the gloves would come off and any pretence of being a team player would vanish if it got in the way of the main effort…

Somewhere along the way, the ‘war’ seems to have been lost out of the whole ‘war amongst the people’ model – the key part is that, unlike peace support and reconstruction and peacekeeping and all the nice safe sounding words (like offshore and deployment and operations…) is that war is war and there not very much nice about it – certainly it is not about trying to be nicer to the bad guys or potential bad guys than to your own troops, or hobbling them with rules to prevent anything bad happening (apparently except to them)…this is a war.

Bad things happen in wars. Sometimes people get caught in the middle and get hurt. That’s war but we accept these risks because there are bigger things at stake…Any non-combatant death is bad but the key is whether there was an intent to kill, either directly or passively by failing to apply a reasonable duty of care (key word: REASONABLE!!) War is and always has been (possibly always will be so long as people are involved) messy, untidy, dangerous and indiscriminate…we should not be kidding ourselves that we can write a book and toss in some technology and all of a sudden make it squeaky clean and politically palatable.

However, this article and FM 3-24 both skirt around or possibly even overlook the key point: the keys to successful COIN are probably endurance and habit forming – the foe that can stick it out the longest AND ensure that the habits it desires are embedded over a couple of generations (Note: speed is not a characteristic of COIN!!) will most likely be declared the winner. While the Malaysian Emergency may have been declared ‘over’ (won?) in 1960, the last CT did not surrender til 1988. Similarly, and they are probably halfway there, it will still be another ten or so years before anyone can confidently state that the troubles in Ireland are truly over. You want to be out of Afghanistan in ten years? You’re dreaming – you might as well pull the pin and bail out right now…

Wars are wars and you can not fight (definitely not win) them with a sterile ‘big arrows, little maps’ approach…forget the non-lessons of DESERT STORM and get down and dirty…