20 July 2008

AQ and the SecDef and Acronyms

Ralph Peters makes the argument that, having largely lost Iraq, al-Qaeda is returning to a strategy of open confrontation in Afghanistan because that is the only place in the world where al-Qaeda can still gather enough force to fight without getting stepped on hard, because al-Qaeda is discredited in the rest of the Arab world. I certainly haven't had a chance to survey the mythical "Arab in the Street" in the rest of the Arab world. On the other hand, I am bored off my ass in al-Anbar, once the centerpiece of the Media's attempts to "prove" we were "losing" in Iraq, due in no small part to the support which AQI used to have here. So as far as I can see, he has a point.

Argghhh! makes the argument that this was an intended consequence of our invasion of Iraq. By forcing AQI to fight for Iraq, we managed to kill lots of them and discredit them pretty completely. Of course, we'll never really know until historians of my grandchildren's generation start digging through piles of unclassified records and most of us who were involved are on our last legs. Good history is rarely written before the participants are dead. But I digress. Whether it was intended or not, it worked.

My prediction: We keep seeing attempts to regain credibility, flashy violent attacks in Afghanistan. A certain amount of troops get shifted to Afghanistan, but not the numbers that Barak Obama wants you to believe he'll send. The problem, exceedingly ticklish in my opinion, has to do with Pakistan. Afghanistan we can fix with patience--although it will NEVER be like, say, Pennsylvania. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state which has some common interests with the United States. On the other hand, Pakistan cares about things that the US doesn't, like avoiding having open armed rebellion in the Tribal Areas. Solution is not to invade Pakistan as Barak Hussein Obama keeps promising he'll do. That's about as dumb a concept as could be imagined, and while I do not think that Barak Hussein Obama is the recruiting director for al-Qaeda, he'd make a fine one if he actually were so stupid as to invade Pakistan and also withdraw from Iraq at the same time.

Solution is to make Afghanistan more stable and secure, to secure the border areas as best as we can, and to support and gently nudge the Pakistanis into doing the right thing. No one will make the tribal areas into neat suburban communities with white picket fences and sidewalks. The best thing to do is to ensure that they don't make trouble elsewhere and support internal elements that will be more cooperative. Which leads to my next point.

The Honorable Mr. Robert M. Gates, SecDef, has been quoted extensively as saying that the State Department needs to pull its head out of its ass and start realizing that the State Department has a bigger job than attending high tea in nations with flush toilets, and issuing visas. Actually, he's been making these noises for months. He wants State to get into Counterinsurgency. I'm in favor of that, shockingly. I don't like most government employees, because many of them are lazy bastards. But State has the ability to do stuff that we don't, aren't trained to do, and have questionable legal authority to do. A completely military counterinsurgency approach has the potential to be fairly one-sided, focusing on catching bad guys and the security situation. We're doing a LOT better than we were, say, four years ago. Part of this is the idea that counterinsurgency is just a form of "war" in the WWII sense, and that civilians need to 'get out of the way' and let the military handle it.

In the sense that politicians need to NOT Monday-Morning Quarterback tactical decision making processes and micromanage the war from the air-conditioned comfort of their videoteleconference room in Washington DC, they do need to butt the hell out. But in the sense of pushing people out to theater and getting involved in interagency action to approach the entire bundle of problems that support an insurgency, the civilians need to get more involved.

What do I know, I'm just a staff, right? Anyway, the problems I've seen in the historical instances have to do with unity of command. The State folks belong to the Ambassador who may or may not have a good working relationship with the military folks. Who outranks whom in this circumstance? If State gets more heavily into the fight, a framework to coordinate the military and civil chains of command sounds like a necessity to me.

All I know is that I'm NOT a diplomat, and my approach to problem-solving is pretty BFI. But I'm just bright enough to know that once the initial security situation starts to get under control, you need to start doing a little more than shooting people in the face. Besides, any history of Iraq (and much of the rest of the Third World) more complex than the Wikipedia article makes it abundantly clear that one of the main reasons for dictatorial government has been the high degree of politicization of Iraq's military. How can we tell them that civil control of the Armed Forces is a good thing, indeed a prerequisite for effective democracy, if the only leadership they see comes from green-suiters?

The Small Wars Journal has an interesting article on the subject, do go download and read!

Regarding acronyms: I do run on the assumption that this blog is read by a fairly small readership (what, four or five folks) most of whom are at least passingly familiar with many if not most acronyms.

MRAP: Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected. This is a fun new buzzword which refers to several families of vehicles, the Buffalo, the 'jerv' (I think that one's JEERV), the Cougar, Husky, Meerket, the RG-31, the RG-33, etc. All of them are of South African origin and are trucks with a v-shaped hull that ride fairly high on large tires. Their armor is effective against small arms fire, IEDs, and RPGs to a certain extent. They do have a high center of gravity, however.

IRAM: Improvised Rocket-Assisted Mortar. Not sure the origins of this term, but it was applied to IEDs made from propane tanks with rocket motors attached. The rocket motors were intended to launch 3 lb warheads thousands of meters, and hence can only chuck an 80 pound warhead on a high trajectory that has a few hundred meters of range.

BFI: Brute Force and Ignorance. Shooting people in the face, for instance.


Blogger cmad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:57 AM  
Blogger cmad said...

By forcing AQI to fight for Iraq, we managed to kill lots of them and discredit them pretty completely.

Among others ... maybe al-Qaida in Iraq are discredited completely, too.

Now, speaking of US diplomats in particular and federal employees in general ...

I don't like most government employees, because many of them are lazy bastards.

Tell me all about it. One particular government employee whom I'm watching on a regular basis, because I'm kind of curious what happens to my tax dollars, even admits, and I quote verbatim,

"So I've been semi-reliably informed that we'll either go North on Monday, or Tuesday, or two weeks from now."

"Between intermittent internet failures and electrical Issues I haven't been able to do as much as I liked."

"Sunday, and it's slow."

... and on and on like that.

Seems that that particular lazy bum alsp uses government equipment paid with my tax dollars for a lot for private internet surfing.

Ah well.
At least the federal employees hiding behind the SOCAL TRACON acronyms do their job rather well, despite a high level of general aggravation (GA), to which I am occasioally contributing (like, earlier today).


6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't disagree with you, but ask you to consider an alternative POV. It goes back to 'first principles', if you will.

Remember that Sun Tzu tells us that something as trivial as sleep can be a weapon. If you can sleep while denying sleep to your enemy, then sleep is a potent weapon.

The ultimate battleground is not real estate. The ultimate battleground is the 'hearts and minds' of our enemies. If we can friends out of our enemies, then we have achieved the ultimate aim of battle without firing a shot.

Because of this, a health clinic, bridge, school or sewer system is just as much a weapon as is any rifle or crew-served firearm. I say that force of arms can only achieve limited victory. They can only kill and frighten, but not persuade.

That being said: I agree with you that the job of the Soldier should be to fight. Properly: the Department of State should be the governmental orgnanization that builds schools and clinics. But the DoS has never (in my lifetime) been an efficient implementor of Administration policy. This is why the 'hearts and minds' campaign has devolved to the military. The armed services will, when ordered by the civilian government, built a school or clinic. The DoS will not. Its not that they CAN not, its that they WILL not.

Yes this is a disgusting waste of national assets. But it is effective, it is efficient.....and it works.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Laserlight said...

John Barnes said "Physical brutality is the sincerest form of criticism", although I suspect he was thinking applying it to some of his theater students.

4:48 PM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/21/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...


I'm curious as to when it was that the State Dept. became the international school-builder of choice rather than, take your pick, Seabees, the CoE, USAID or Peace Corps.

2:57 AM  
Blogger brstahl said...

3 points:

First, the Foreign Service already has almost 75% of its people in Third World countries, and many of the rest have either just left one or are in training to go to one.

Second, the Foreign Service has less people than the military has in the various musician MOS.

Third, when the State Dept. asked for the money and additional personnel needed to do some of these missions, COngress said no.

4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Seabees and CoE are builders of _military_ structures, usually in a war zone. I have few issues with these groups building civilian infrastructure, however. I would like to see warfighters spend their time fighting wars, or training to fight the next one. As it is now, however, a lot of our warfighters are building civilian infrastructure. It seems a waste of national asset to take a trained infantryman and put him to work at a farmers co-op vaccinating sheep.

Work at the co-op properly belongs with the State Department (or Dept. of Agriculture). But only the warfighter is there in place in Afghanistan or Iraq. The American warfighters are 'cowboying up' to the job of building that infrastructure, and doing a damn fine job of it. But I would still rather see them training or fighting.

In the overall war, a vaccinated sheep contributes to final victory. The payoff of a healthy sheep is not as directly contributory as (for example) investing the enemy capital and arresting enemy leadership. But it IS a contribution.

In the GWOT, we have already won most of the warfighting. Vaccinated sheep are probably the next task. At issue is only who will vaccinate the sheep, not whether or not it should be done.

5:15 PM  

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