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Two websites with blogs about the current wars that you may find interesting are The Best Defense by Tom Ricks, who has written two books on the Iraq war and until recently was the military reporter for the Washington Post, and the Small Wars Journal, a site operated by ex-Marines. A few weeks ago I was a bit taken aback when I found out that these websites existed and I hadn't known about them earlier.
These two sites offer a bit of insight into what is going on that daily newspapers and TV don't offer. The discussion on these sites also gets into the subject of doctrine for how to fight counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist types of conflicts.
From the Wings Over Iraq blog--http://wingsoveriraq.blogspot.com/--by "Starbuck," an Apache helicopter pilot in the 10th Mountain Division:
Clear, Hold, Build...in Fayetteville, NC
Posted by Starbuck at 18:12
Tom Ricks opened the field to a debate in his blog regarding the merits of light infantry leaders in counterinsurgency operations. In The Gamble, Ricks mentions the merits of commanders in the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, noting that it was they who participated in the "small wars" and peacekeeping operations--Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Sinai, etc, as opposed to the tank divisions which merely sat in Germany the entire time.
It prompted a response from an armor officer who noted that many of the early COIN successes came from armor officers such as now-Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, a particularly brilliant counterinsurgent who, nevertheless, won an important tank battle during the first Gulf War at the Battle of 73 Eastings.
Now, I hate to break it to Tom, but this debate isn't exactly new, having been done before in Kings of War, where they posited the "Boots Beats Bolts" hypothesis, a sentiment echoed in this thread in Small Wars Journal's Council. Nevertheless, many of the respondants in these articles and threads note that, in many cases, armored divisions did well with counterinsurgency, while light infantry divisions did poorly in some cases--leadership played a critical role. (With many armored leaders, such as McMaster, doing better than some light infantry commanders, such as Col. Michael Steele).
Tom Ricks brings up the example of the 82nd Airborne Division's tour in 2003-2004, during which they allowed the city of Fallujah to become a cesspool of insurgent activity as an example of poor counterinsurgency being practiced by light infantry. It shocks me that the 82nd would be unable to comprehend COIN as well as they did. You see, the city of Fayetteville, NC--just adjacent to the 82nd Airborne's home at Fort Bragg--has had its own experiences with the principles of counterinsurgency.
About twenty years ago, Fayetteville was a cesspool. Violent neighborhoods (with ethnic and sectarian tensions), rampant car theft and vandalism, you name it. Downtown Fayetteville, with seedy bars, streetwalkers, and the like, was a walled citadel of Dis from one of the lower levels of hell itself.
But, according to legend, Fayetteville cleaned up its act. You see, the city of Fayetteville revoked all of the liquor licences of the vendors downtown. That allowed the city to clear itself of seedy elements, who quickly went out of business and were forced to vacate. The city then bought up all of the property, holding it so that the aforementioned seedy elements would not come back. Then, the city sold the property to businesses who built microbreweries, decent restaurants, an art-house theater, the Airborne and Special Ops Museum, and so forth.
Clear, hold, build. It's classic counterinsurgency theory, except instead of ridding downtown Fayetteville of insurgents, the downtown area rid itself of crackwhores. Same thing, really. (Note: COIN hasn't hit every area of Fayetteville, as Boss Mongo has astutely pointed out in a post not too long ago.)
I remember Fayetville Nawth Calina. My father was stationed there in 1943
Quickly picked up the southern accent. Where y'all going Miz Allen?;)
From The Best Defense blog by Tom Ricks:
Canadian officer: Yes to McChrystal, and here's why
Wed, 10/21/2009 - 1:29pm
I've been reading an unusually candid report on the Afghan war a Canadian military intelligence officer delivered earlier this month in Ottawa. Capt. G.B. Rolston, who served in Kandahar from September 2008 to April of this year, offers several striking observations about the state of the war that go a long way toward explaining why the current approach has been so unproductive. They also speak to the crucial question of why Gen. McChrystal's proposals are about much more than just adding more troops and in fact amount to a call for radical change in the conduct of the war.
Welcome to an Afghan army brigade headquarters: "The table is [the brigade commander's] CP. His cellphone is their primary comms link. The G2 is off somewhere playing chess with a source, the G3 is driving around the city by himself looking for troops to jack up and the G4 is taking a nap. Most of the rest of the headquarters are off playing cards or chess or watching Bollywood videos on a cellphone."
The Afghan treatment of detainees is so lax as to verge on bizarre. "The Afghans are, I am happy to report, exceedingly hospitable to detainees. You can see [in an accompanying photo] these men are neither restrained nor blindfolded. This picture was taken shortly after I suggested to the Canadian operations mentor, seated, that he remove the magazines from their weapons."
Detainee operations around Kandahar actually probably help the Taliban more than they do Afghan government forces. "[I]t's fair to say that every high level insurgent in the province has been through the mill at least once. More problematic to me was the disposition of detainees while in custody, either left to sit around in the intelligence office, or sometimes next to the brigade commander as shown here for extended periods. It's fair to say that any bona fide insurgent in ANA custody probably learned more from the experience than the other way around."
Afghan National Army military intelligence officers brought an interesting perspective to signals interception: "rather than passively listening [to enemy radio traffic], the ANA had a tendency to get into arguments with insurgents."
In one remote village, strong Afghan commanders worked hard to deny the area to the Taliban, and also gained a remarkable amount of intelligence. But then the outpost "was closed just after the end of our tour due to its sustainment difficulties, in all likelihood dooming many of the locals who had collaborated with us there." This is the opposite of protecting the population -- it is endangering them.
He also takes a small whack at the Americans, saying that the safest police stations in southern Afghanistan were those where Canadian mentors lived and slept. "The American PMT approach, which involved teams driving out in the morning to visit, regrettably was far less effective in this regard."
After years of training and advising, "we were still very much at year zero." (Are you listening, Senator Levin?) The Afghan forces he knew couldn't control a district, he said. "And that's a big problem, because the whole definition of victory in a counter-insurgency, as defined in FM 3-24 and elsewhere, is getting the battle to the point where indigenous forces can take over, and you can leave. ... All [the enemy] has to do is deny you that indigenous force development, by making things so kinetic that you can't focus on mentoring."
Under the way we currently operate, he says, most allied units think that dealing with Afghans is someone else's job. "Mentors in effect become the excuse for Western soldiers to avoid contact with Afghan soldiers."
That last issue, the failure of mentoring, leads to his strong endorsement of Gen. McChrystal's recommendations for a radical new approach to the war. The most significant aspect of the general's plan, he says, is to have Americans and other foreign troops co-located with Afghan forces, living, eating and sleeping alongside them. He advocates giving up mentoring and going instead to this flat-out partnering.
His conclusion: "The key, the absolute key aspect in McChrystal's words is co-location."
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