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Archive for February, 2012

More on COIN and Irregular Warfare, and Another of the Very Thoughtful Comments: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Others: Small Wars, Insurgents and Terrorists and Threats, American Foreign Policy, and the American Public, Part 6

Friday, February 24th, 2012

As we eye the end of our combat involvement in Afghanistan, examine what may have turned the tide in Iraq, decide what level and types of involvement to have in Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and other similar failed states, the discussion of whether we will stay in the special operations, combined action and interagency teams, generally the kind of strike teams whose objective is to dissuade, disrupt, decapitate threats, the conversation about whether this special teams organizational and operational approach ought to be an on-going core component of our foreign policy and military heats up again.  This week’s note includes multiple and very different views on whether this approach is effective, and whether our leaders are convinced of its value. 

And we include for you one more of the very thoughtful notes you’ve sent us with your perspectives.

A couple of thoughts to start us off:

·         Are we not engaging in the upheavals in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somailia and others because they are not critical to our foreign policy, to our international relations, to our national security, or are we standing by because our policy makers and politicians believe the American public will not support any more “wars” or involvements?  Where are terrorists most likely to come from this week?

·         If we commit to any level of involvement, will we find ourselves without partners and obligated to carry most of whatever “load” is required once we are there on the ground with better understanding of the situation?

·         If we contributed combined action or interagency teams, high-value target teams, or something less than occupying forces, would the public accept or support that involvement?  Would they believe it will not be the first step to larger and longer involvements?

·         Can we afford even these much less costly commitments of small teams dedicated to engaging the terrorists there instead of here?  What perception of the US is created as the world comes to see us as repeatedly engaging with “bad guys?”

·         Are we actually already committing small teams to involvement in these conflicts and just not telling the American public?

·         Without occupying forces, depending only on specialty teams, if the current government in these failed states is overthrown or thrown out, how do we know that something even less stable will not take its place?

·         Is it our place to have a role in determining what leadership emerges in each of these failed states once the old regimes are out? 

Is Is there an adaptable process we can use to anticipate where there a the phenomena that precipitate instability to begin the kinds of collaboration that make for more stable changes in these vulnerable states?  Should that be a military or foreign policy agenda?




Wall Street Journal DECEMBER 12, 2011

Toward a Dictator-Free World


“Dictators made the 20th century the bloodiest in human history, with over 100 million deaths directly caused by Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Armed with nuclear weapons, the 21st century’s dictators could kill upwards of a billion people. That’s why it’s folly to think we can ever achieve a “nuclear-free” world—as President Obama seeks, echoing President Reagan and, more recently, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and others—without first achieving a dictator-free world.”

The entire article is available at

My reaction to this: I’m all for freedom and liberty.  But I think we have found and are continuing to see that what follows the dictators that is just as important.  Is the change a step toward more or less stability and predictability in our world?


Flipping the COIN

EDITORIAL | Editorial | Pentagon’s strategic review

January 17, 2012

THE LONG-AWAITED strategic review at the Pentagon, released earlier this month, was the first salvo in the deficit-reduction effort to cut defense spending by $487 billion over the next decade. The Obama administration’s proposals – slowly reducing the number of aircraft carriers, trimming excess nuclear weapons, focusing on Asia rather than Europe, and limiting ground troops in favor of technology – all move in the right direction. Hidden in the specific budget reductions, however, was a direct acknowledgment that America’s brief and unhappy foray into counterinsurgency operations has come to an end.

The strategic review flatly declares that “US forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.’’ Counterinsurgency, a strategy designed and pursued by former Iraq and Afghanistan commander General David Petraeus, was about “winning the people’’ in potentially belligerent nations. It required surging numbers of troops to carry out functions better left alone or to others. Obama’s brief commitment to COIN, as it is dubbed, in Afghanistan was quickly reconsidered with the help of the much more skeptical Vice President Joe Biden. Troops will now be returning by 2014, and their goals are focused on counterterrorism more than nation-building.

At one time, Petraeus had rock-star status. But as the Iraq and Afghanistan war strategies were being reconsidered, Petraeus was given the post of CIA director. It may be that keeping Petraeus in the Obama administration while it dismantled his theories was a way to hold a potential critic close. Not much is heard from Petraeus these days.

Given the checkered history of counterinsurgency, and its cost in lives and money, its demise is hardly unwelcome. Even better to read of it in the very document that hopes to guide how the United States conducts wars the next time around.”


Fighting the Insurgents? War in Afghanistan
By Christopher Sims
Journal Article | Jan 12 2012 – 10:10am

“In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There the eponymous heroine is transported through a mirror to an unfamiliar world. Surveying the country on the other side she declares that the terrain resembles a chess board; that the whole thing is ‘a great huge game of chess that’s being played – all over the world – if this is the world at all, you know.’[1] To understand it, Alice decides to take a grand survey of the country concluding: ‘It’s something very like learning geography.’[2]   Encountering foreign landscapes requires a frame of reference: in unfamiliar territory Alice constructed the alien terrain according to the architecture of her own experience.

Like Alice through the looking-glass, the United States has been confronted with unfamiliar political and social terrain in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet has nevertheless sought to impose centrality of government, democratic representation and Westernized bureaucracy. Predictably, the interim and elected coalition supported elites failed to win popular endorsement being plagued by corruption and lacking reciprocal relationships with the people. Recent surveys have found fraud and corruption reaching comparable levels of concern to Afghans as insecurity.[3] A functioning state is as much about IOUs as it is about IEDs: social inequality, corruption and injustice have, for example, led to recent upheaval in the Maghreb and Middle East.

Unlike Alice through the looking-glass, the United States struggled to develop a coherent strategy because it failed to learn its geography, attempting nation-building in the Western image to offset the risk from terrorists using the territory as a haven, a concern foregrounded in the 2002 United States National Security Strategy which stated: ‘America is threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.’[4] This security assessment highlights both the United States’ conventional military dominance and its fears of the dangers posed by ‘asymmetric’ adversaries operating from failed states.

The failed state[5] is characterized by weak central authority in which exists little reciprocal relations between the government and the governed. The contrast is made with Western state structures which evolved through the levying of taxes and enlargement of the military from which necessarily grew bureaucracies of administration and societal institutions to provide for the population. Taxation was a symbiotic relationship between the government and the governed, an economic contract.

To mould in the Western image was to hope to create law and order from injustice and chaos. To that end, intervention aimed at nation-building became an ascendant trope in military planning highlighted by the December 2001 Bonn Conference which sought to centralize Afghanistan’s mode of government, in which the interim authority would be the sole repository of sovereignty, deferring all armed factions including mujahideen to their control.[6]

As the curtain comes down on the campaign in Iraq and shortly in Afghanistan the examination of these conflicts as historic events begins in earnest; to learn from the wars as the United States’ relative decline in the world escalates, forcing it into greater global engagement with all its commensurate distinctions and antagonisms. This essay argues that difficulties encountered across the spectrum of nation-building will in the future escalate the use of proxies. The argument is made in three steps. The first step exposes the paradoxical nature of prosecuting nation-building as a military-civilian project. The second step argues that counter-insurgency doctrine was hamstrung by an incoherent narrative. The third step highlights the advantages of utilizing proxies in foreign theatres.

Nation-building as paradox

Attempts at nation-building require considerable military, civilian and economic exposure. To promote support for an enterprise that would cost treasure and lives, the intervention in Afghanistan was accompanied by two different narratives relating to the failed state. The first was a security concern borne of the terrorist havens that these areas – absent of a central monopoly on violence – create. President Obama addressing troops in Afghanistan in 2010 said: ‘If this region slides backwards […] if al-Qaeda can operate with impunity then more American lives will be at stake.’[7] This was an argument reinforced by Brigadier General McMaster in an address at the Naval War College: ‘battlegrounds overseas are inexorably connected to our own security.’[8] The second narrative was ethical; that the intervention is a necessity from a humanitarian perspective. As Richard Holbrooke emphasized concerning the civilian element: ‘we have to remember why we’re here; we’re here to help the Afghan people stand up on their own feet.’[9]

The coalition saw an alien landscape through the looking-glass and projected its own template into the vacuum. The two goals, homeland security and Afghan security, were conflated beneath the nationbuilding banner. Yet whereas in the first instance the military campaign could be conducted with few limitations placed upon it, the presence of the second narrative imposed many restrictions on the means through which the political aims could be achieved. Arguing that kinetic methods should be subservient to civilian operations, in 2007 then Secretary-General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed: ‘the final answer in Afghanistan is called reconstruction, development and nation-building.’[10]

Treasure was expended: support for centralized rule ensured that the West became a generous patron to its client in Kabul. The aid afforded to the Karzai regime by international donors reduced incentives for the ruling elite to negotiate with its public for tax revenues and the elections – which in the presidential 2009 and the parliamentary 2010 votes were evidently fraudulent[11] – were no guarantors of democratic representation sought by the coalition since they were mere instruments for legitimating ruling entities interested largely in self-aggrandizement. The right to rule became a contract between the elite and foreign donors. It was ambitious at best to believe that the aims of these two entities were in any way similar; for the latter, ruling was as much an exercise in personal gain as an attempt to restore law and order.

An escalating insurgency further hindered nation-building. Examining the conflict from its own architecture, it was believed that the coalition confronted an asymmetrical adversary though to define the insurgency in this manner was to create an error of definition: any agent militarily engaged against the United States has to prosecute the conflict asymmetrically because the United States possesses a peerless fighting force. Yet the insurgents’ strategy did not require advanced weaponry. In counter-insurgency the pro-government force loses by not winning; conversely the insurgent wins by not losing. Therefore the insurgent strategy is to demonstrate that the terrain is not secure by generating casualties buttressed by severe injuries which gain media attention, negatively influencing domestic populations.

Conversely, in order for the coalition to hand over military power to the government it must ensure that the insurgent is denied space to operate in. In this campaign of attrition, the tactics have devolved into the least dangerous method through which to make a space untenable for the opponent. It is conflict by the lowest-common denominator: find the smallest number that will be able to both coerce a local population and make it potentially unsafe for the enemy.

He who cares, loses?

Because the doctrine of FM 3-24 was implemented neither homogeneously nor effectively but on an ad hoc basis a default setting was reached where the pro-government forces ending up simply responding to the moves of the opponent.[12] This flaw became exacerbated when the coalition campaign began to take as its points of reference those of the insurgent, to see the physical and cultural terrain as the enemy saw it and to prosecute the conflict in their manner. That the insurgents in Afghanistan had little materiel, were quite prepared to die, competed with coalition forces for space denial and often instigated engagements with inferior numbers had a psychological impact on coalition soldiers.[13]

In this atmosphere, advocates of remedial or novel approaches to war-fighting gained prominence; Donald Vandergriff asserted that beating the enemy would involve, ‘being better at their way of fighting than they are.’[14] Even experts directly involved in planning stressed the need to ape the enemy. David Kilcullen suggested that local forces should engage in mimesis: ‘Local forces should mirror the enemy, not ourselves.’[15] These assertions miss the point of the technological inferiority of the Afghan insurgents.

The insurgent against the coalition by necessity prosecutes the conflict asymmetrically with whatever means at their disposal can accomplish the strategy. Why should the coalition or Afghan National Army be better at fighting with Improvised Explosive Devices or Rocket Propelled Grenades? The U.S.-led forces ape strategy but are greatly hindered by the humanitarian narrative, since cooperation by the population can be rewarded, but unlike the insurgent, support for the adversary cannot be punished.

The strategies being symmetric – denying the opponent freedom to operate amongst the population – only the means are asymmetric because the materiel available to each side differs enormously and there exist cultural peculiarities borne of an existential threat: the suicide bomber is an action the coalition would not nor could not utilize, its escalating use wrapped in a complex socio-cultural web.[16] But dwelling on means distorts the nature of the conflict for it is the ends rather than means which are symmetrical. In Afghanistan the asymmetric actor’s end becomes the norm through which the contest is conducted, devolving the hierarchical command structure of the military, decentralizing and flattening the nature of operations in a manner that seeks to mirror the insurgent’s own forces.

The insurgents have adapted in their ability to deny space to the adversary; rather than settling to eat soup with a knife they attempt to recast the knife as a spoon. Tellingly, and to the detriment of the nationbuilding enterprise, they have accelerated their use of Improvised Explosive Devices.[17] These devices are effective at denying the pro-government forces the security required to operate effectively without jeopardizing their own safety in confrontation. Suicide bombers operate likewise – they are cheap, extremely ‘smart’, not part of the group’s command structure, requiring no exit plan and with high psychological impact.

Losing face and coin

The rush to deny the enemy space is accompanied by a narrative that legitimizes action and casts the enemy in a pejorative light. The humanitarian discourse centers upon emancipation and is accompanied by the evolution in media affording local events global exposure meaning that the counter-insurgent cannot dissuade the population from siding with the insurgents through harsh penalties: when engaging in nationbuilding it is a non sequitur to destroy either the nation or its nationals.

Emancipating the civilians of a foreign nation fails to manifest itself as an existential threat in the minds of a Western population. Dangerous though the threats from failed states may be, neither side in such a conflict can afford to risk large numbers of casualties; the insurgent because of limited manpower and the counter-insurgent through considerations of precarious domestic support (dissuaded from the necessity for combat casualties). The conflict spirals into a low-intensity campaign. Lengthening of the conflict through lack of critical engagements suits the insurgent, who is host rather than guest of the terrain and can exploit critical weaknesses in the opponent exposed by the time frame: the financial drain of deploying and servicing advanced-technology war materiel and the mutability of domestic opinion.

Financial drain

Where is the centre of gravity which affords the moral and physical power to act and which represents the core strength of the fighting force? The gravity is in both host and domestic populations. In democracies where candidates pander to the short-term considerations of the electorate, the economy is a critical consideration. War-fighting can only be supported if the threat posed by non-intervention is imminent and explicit: the decade long presence in Afghanistan does not fit the bill.

So too if finance is the oxygen through which insurgents and terrorists breathe, money is a necessity for the nation-state to prosecute a war. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been paid for in the United States by increasing national debt rather than raising taxes[18] there has been no reciprocity between the government at war and the civilians of the nation-state. This has been a leveraged conflict where the lack of concessions made by the population has created an ersatz peace at home in which the support for troop presence in these foreign theatres has waned.

Similarly, U.S.-led forces have sought to weaken the enemy by interdicting finances. Just as the insurgent creates new and develops existing parallel economies especially illicit economies – which can destabilize foreign societies – so too foreign agencies acting to offset these parallel activities attempt to provide new industries for former insurgents through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs such as the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme implemented under the auspices of the UNDP in March 2003. In Afghanistan, attempts to extinguish illicit economies are difficult as a major illicit economy is also the most lucrative: opium. So too, the illicit economies rather than being marginal or aberrant actually were the more formal since they existed prior to artificial centralized authority and provided more principled relations of reciprocity between producer and distributor.

Indeed, a major weakness of counter-insurgency doctrine is its ambiguity concerning money. The counterinsurgency field manual FM 3-24 observes that ‘money is ammunition’ but that money is also a motivation for insurgents. Such has been the application of money to finance local actors that a 2010 Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs report concluded: ‘Security for the U.S. Supply Chain Is Provided Principally by Warlords’ that ‘The Highway Warlords Run a Protection Racket’ and the ‘Protection Payments for Safe Passage Are a Significant Potential Source of Funding for the Taliban’.[19]

In fact, when remuneration for property damage or death is administered by the foreign military it in itself becomes an illicit economy in which the civilian administration and justice system is bypassed. The relationship is then between the foreign military and the civilians – an illicit economy in which the administration is not adequately represented. This is a major concern. Ideally, remuneration, so-called solatia and condolence payments, for damage caused by the military would be administered by civilian government, with oversight to reduce corruption, hence fostering legitimacy by establishing reciprocity between the governed and the government.

Winning the mob

In such a low intensity conflict as Afghanistan has become, popular support, both in the host and the home societies becomes central to the war’s continuation. As such the rhetoric and the manner in which the narrative are disseminated are crucial to the long campaign. The media method becomes a weapons system and the language employed its arsenal.

There is no unjust war when seen through the eyes of those prosecuting it. All sides in conflict employ rhetoric to justify their own actions and denigrate those of their opponents. Gaining the moral high ground in a low-intensity conflict is as important as the physical high ground in a high-intensity encounter; to that end the enemy must be derided as cowardly and risk-averse. According to Osama bin Laden, the withdrawal of United States forces from Somalia in 1994 showed ‘the incredible weakness and cowardice of the American soldier,’ who ‘fled in total darkness in the middle of the night.’[20] John Keegan writing in the aftermath of 9.11 depicted the oriental as embodying a culture that ‘shrink from pitched battle, which they often deride as a sort of game, preferring ambush, surprise, treachery and deceit as the best way to overcome an enemy.’[21]

For the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’[22] If language enables confrontation by critical framing of the enemy it must logically make engaging in postconflict reconstruction more arduous. In Iraq, at least some coalition forces ascribed the pejorative term haji indiscriminately to the civilians and insurgents alike.[23] Such blanket terminology creates difficulties when a granular understanding of the people is required. To go from war to reconstruction is inherently confused by language, since the space in which they operate is the same, the people are the same, but the idea of what the people represent, moving from threat to friend, has altered significantly whilst the language has remained on a war-footing. The frame of reference must be altered but just as the rifle makes a poor spade so the language of conflict cannot be easily changed to the language of equality and association.

Since support is vital then the media campaign is essential. To win hearts and minds away from the enemy, opposed forces stress the other as committing atrocities against civilians. The insurgents are adept at showing Western reporters supposedly civilian casualties from drone strikes, and the twitter spat that NATO and a Taliban spokesman had in the aftermath of the twenty-hour Kabul siege in September 2011 is instructive. The NATO spokesperson tweeted: ‘the outcome is inevitable: question is how much longer will terrorist put Afghans in harm’s way?’ To which the Taliban affiliate replied: ‘u hve bn pttng thm n ‘harm’s way’ fr da pst 10 yrs. Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.’[24]

Conventional media is fickle. Somalia in the early 1990s is an interesting case study. The United States military propagated the television focus as they came ashore, allowing reporters on the beach.[25] But the camera is fickle, subsequent images of dead Americans in Mogadishu influenced the United States’ decision to withdraw and reduced enthusiasm for further stabilization missions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Rather than affording the conventional media the lead, it is thus of value to narrate and propagate your own story in the manner you want. Western technological innovation has enabled the dissemination of information globally at a cost of only the labor hours associated with its construction. Insurgent and terrorist figureheads are lauded on supporter websites and forums in text and images as masterminds, portrayed as semi-mythical beings. The Internet becomes a force-multiplier with the ability to negatively influence the domestic populations of the coalition. The internet-linked camera-phone is hence a device capable of a sophisticated cyber attack, uploading images instantaneously to YouTube or Bambuser and assaulting world opinion: every person with an internet-linked camera-phone becomes a de facto reporter [26].  Whereas British forces suppressing the Mau Mau rebellion could use systematic techniques of suppression which would remain secret for fifty years, current conflicts are prone to information leakage that can result in instantaneous global dissemination.[27]

Employing proxies

Conventional warfare against the United States courts annihilation presenting two alternatives: obtain nuclear strike capability to discourage military antagonism or propagate your war-fighting utilizing proxies. Nation-states will escalate the use of proxies in future wars fought for the control of third-party spaces because the use of proxies severely constrains conventional responses. For example, during the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Saudi ruling house funded Afghan mujahideen groups in Afghanistan; they were ideally suited to the task being austere, devout and dedicated in their fight against Communism.[28]

Today, Pakistan uses proxies in its efforts to secure borders and implement military aspects of its
belligerent foreign policy against its symmetric antagonist in the region, India. Pakistan has been linked to the group which launched suicide-assault attacks in Mumbai in 2008, and has admitted that planning for the attack took place on its own soil. Similarly the United States has accused Pakistan of using the Haqqani Network as a proxy in Afghanistan.[29] To Pakistan, such operations represent offensives action by the only means available to avoid retaliatory strikes or crippling economic sanctions.  Despite the rise of non-state actors with global aspirations, the Central Intelligence Agency continues to recognize the advantages of proxies, rumored, for instance, to finance and co-ordinate a three-thousand strong Afghan militia used to hunt down insurgent commanders.[30] Why should Alice travel through the looking-glass with all its inherent risk and uncertainty when she could ask a national to map the geography for her? In the future, Western policymakers will stress the advantages of being the puppetmaster over being the puppet.

Using proxies changes the character of conflict, becoming more like intervention in Libya or the training and support roles in Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines than Iraq or Afghanistan. Iraq and Afghanistan as bold ventures spurred by the events of 9.11 have drained the coffers; now with a more austere economic landscape, pragmatism in foreign affairs will likely prevail. The military must be streamlined and the acquisition of technology for technology’s sake must be re-evaluated; many over budget advanced projects face increasing scrutiny in the face of a global economic malaise and a vacuum of known threats.

Special Operations involving U.S. military trainers represent a multiplication of manpower. Fully aware of the possible multiplication of dangers posed by the Shabab in Somalia, United States Special Forces train the Kenyan army in their fight against the Islamists. Funded by the State Department, the United States based private contractor Bancroft Global Development trains Somali troops supporting the fragile Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.[31] Drones are used in both Somalia and Yemen. Proxies reduce to nil Western casualties and employ in situ highly motivated groups with innate cultural understanding and language capabilities. The national has the de facto luxury of time; it is their place, their space – whether they die in peace or war, that soil is their cemetery.


Nation-building is a paradoxical undertaking in which intervention is undertaken in order to give a people independence. In the post-Afghanistan landscape, the use of proxies is destined to become the favored method through which to influence the security landscape in small wars. The employment of proxies offers emancipation from the difficulties of implementing counter-insurgency tactics. Moreover, counterinsurgency remains a perilous undertaking precisely because there are many invisible hands at work protecting their interests through third parties, interrupting and transforming geo-strategic balances.

Counter-insurgency when accompanied by dual humanitarian and security narratives restricts the methods of the modern campaign in the Internet-age rendering impotent a vastly superior force. The low-intensity war spirals downward, reducing the potential for mass casualties by deploying an inadequate number of troops to prosecute any of the more ambitious population-centric tactics. Thus mired, the counterinsurgent assumes the character of Prometheus from Greek myth; shackled from above by its own humanitarian narrative, from below by the inability of language on the frontline to adapt from conflict to post-conflict settings, the body contorted by pain from the attacking insurgent which although never enough to deal Prometheus a decisive blow, harries him for the duration of his incarceration.”


“Secret Weapon: High-Value Target Teams as an Organizational Innovation”, a 2011 paper by Christopher Lamb and Evan Munsing of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the national Defense University.

“This study argues that interagency teams were a major catalyst in turning around the Iraq War, and that they will disappear from America’s arsenal unless the knowledge base supporting the innovation can be supported…….we argue that the United States employed an underappreciated organizational innovation – interagency teams – to put insurgent organizations on the defensive and give population security measures a chance to take effect.”

The first [component of the] innovation was network-based targeting.  This meant charting the clandestine terrorist and insurgent cells and their immediate supporters in order to attack them, but also using all-source intelligence to reveal the local environment, its social networks, and key decisionmakers and their motivations.  The second innovation was the fusion of improved all-source intelligence and operational capability.  Having intelligence and operations working together in common space on a sustained basis produced persistent surveillance, improved discrimination, and better decisionmaking.  The third innovation was the integration of counterterrorist and counterinsurgency efforts and the proliferation of this model.”

” Collaborative organizations are not only powerful but also cost effective.  In comparison with new weapons systems or reconstruction funding, interagency teams cost next to nothing and can be used almost anywhere.  However, collaboration is a difficult force to harness and institutionalize.”


One of the comments we got last week related to “Reflections on the Vietnam War”, a 2006 speech by Dr. Lewis Sorley:

“This speech and the following reaction illustrates some salient points about how lacking our current policy is with respect to what our CON-OP for warfighters should be.  Afghanistan will be our second Vietnam because we didn’t learn from the Russian’s experience there.  Global conflicts have evolved into more asymmetric threats where assassination and “terrorist” actions are replacing more structured engagements.  Unfortunately with respect to policy, we seem to focus on looking backward instead of forward while neglecting to remember our history.

In my opinion, Intelligence has fallen into the same trap, by looking backwards instead of forward and focusing almost exclusively on our limited technical means (Facebook alone has 800 million accounts/OSINT sensors) and ignoring what the open source could do.  Comprehensive transformation is required across the DOD/IC, but I don’t think this transformation can be accomplished from the inside.  I think that commercial competitive business intelligence could do more to transform the DOD/IC than anything else, but these capabilities must be established and tailored within the commercial marketplace as finished intelligence products before they are introduced into the community.  By trying to create and consume these types of open source intelligence products inside the community, nothing changes (established tradecraft, programs of record, polices) and therefore nothing new is accomplished other than spending money.  This is evidently by the number of Government IT data centers alone.

Unfortunately, the commercial marketplace doesn’t understand the mission requirements of the US Government sufficiently to take the business risk to build the commercial services needed by a transformed DOD/IC.  Without a codified understanding of the risk/reward, no one will invest in developing these types of services and the status quo is maintained.

I would like to see the US Government invest some R&D $ to jump start a knowledge-based marketplace for business intelligence services that could facilitate the transformation of DOD/IC and the rest of the US Government, while providing a new competitive landscape for US companies to compete both here and abroad.  This marketplace could drive the creation of millions of new knowledge-based jobs in the US to service the emerging global need for these types of analyses, if only we had some vision.  Commercial investment would finance the creation of these jobs and services, once the opportunity (vision) was codified and validated (risk/reward) through the establishment of a codified Government acquisition strategy for such services.

The resultant finished intelligence products from these commercial business intelligence services could then be correlated and fused with our more limited technical means to provide truly superior situational awareness globally.  Unfortunately, to accomplish these broad goals our leadership must be willing to look forward instead of backward, but in our current risk avoidance culture, who will be willing to even try.”

Just some thoughts from a small business owner perspective.

Brent Bursey

We look forward to your additions to and thoughts on this topic, via comments on the Roundtable at, or your e-mails to me at



More on Vietnam, and One of the Very Thoughtful Comments: Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Others: Small Wars, Insurgents and Terrorists and Threats, American Foreign Policy, and the American Public, Part 5

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

A thought to start this week’s note, from conversations with several of you.

We saw examples in Vietnam, as we saw in Iraq, that we see in Afghanistan, and that we will see in other poor, weakened, troubled and vulnerable states, of the success of village-based collaborations between the population and military/security forces/peacekeepers to create sustainable peace and security that enables the locale to turn its attention to providing itself the basic human needs and build on that with governance, clean water and power, schools, commerce, etc.  


The circumstances that permit and enable this bit of bottom-up progress are hard to scale, I believe, to generate consistent and repeatable successes across a conflict, in part because the combination of phenomenon is so different from valley to valley, and the experience and ability to apply thoughtfulness in the military is so inconsistent from unit to unit.  For every COL Chris Kolenda’ success, there are an equal number of examples where the combination of circumstances and approach may not have been sufficient to enable success.

How do you incorporate effective observation and situational awareness, relationship-building, empathy and consideration, thoughtfulness, and the like into the young military men commanding squads, platoons and companies?  This is the critical factor, I believe, that determines our success or failure with the population in each of these small areas that are the basic and critical building blocks of enabling peacefulness and enough stability.


I’ll be very interested in your views and comments. 


One of you sent me the following article:

“Reflections on the Vietnam War”, a 2006 speech by Dr. Lewis Sorley, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1956. His Army service included leadership of tank and armored cavalry units in Germany, Vietnam, and the U.S. In Vietnam, he was the Executive Officer, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 25th Infantry Division. He retired from the Army a lieutenant colonel, and received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Sorley is the author of several books, including Arms Transfers Under Nixon, Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of his Times, and the acclaimed, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam—a work which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. One of the most esteemed historians of the Vietnam War, Dr. Sorley addressed the Ninth Annual Conference on November 10, 2006. The following is a transcript of that presentation.

“I am very pleased to be here and to, in a very short time, say a few words about the war in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was one of the longest and most complex wars our country has ever taken part in, so you will understand that what I am going to say is highly selective, but I hope will open up some aspects of the war that you may want to talk about. I would like to say something about the nature of the war, about the conduct of the war, about the outcome of the war, and about the people who fought the war.

First of all, one of the controversies you have heard over the years has to do with the nature of the war, with some commentators arguing that it was essentially a guerrilla war, and others disagreeing, saying that it was a conventional war. I think that, in many ways, this is a false dilemma. Because the fact is that, in some times and in some places, it was one, and in other places and other times, it was the other. Sometimes, in the same place, and in the same time, it was both. You talk to people who served in Vietnam, you get a wide range of views as to the nature of the fighting they were engaged in, and the enemy they were engaged in fighting, and that will be because some were engaged in fighting in one province, some up in the north near the demilitarized zone, where the nature of the war was, let us say, more conventional, and others who might have found themselves in the Mekong Delta, where for most of the time the war was more of a guerrilla-type war. Then, some who served in the early period will have one experience, while some who came later will have had a different experience—maybe in the very same province or provinces. And so, what you have really is a patchwork of experiences, all of which are a part of the whole. But if you try to reason from an individual experience at one time and in one place, you will only get one piece of that whole.

The conduct of the war is probably the most interesting aspect of it. It’s interesting to think of the war in terms of segments. I have used for analytical purposes four segments (involving the U.S. experience in the war) starting with 1960. You can pick different starting points, but for those of us who served in Vietnam, we each received a medal from the government of the Republic of Vietnam—the South Vietnamese—and on the ribbon of that medal, there is a little metal scroll. It has the opening date—1960—then a little dash, and then it is blank after that. I presume the intention was, at some point, to fill in the last date, but unfortunately by the time that date came, there was no longer a South Vietnam, for reasons which you know and on which I will comment in a bit. I took the date 1960, the date that they chose, as a reasonable starting point for the American involvement, even though we had people there in various roles before that. I think it’s useful to look at the period of 1960-1965 as the period of primarily advisory effort of Americans in Vietnam, although we did do other things during that period, to include helping the South Vietnamese improve communications, and with intelligence and logistics. By the way, the advisory effort that we made during that period was a very difficult one for the American armed forces, particularly for the U.S. Army, because the people who were sent there as advisors, primarily senior non-commissioned officers and junior officers, were drawn from the existing units. We had no separate corps to fill that role, so we pulled those people out of their units, which meant that less experienced people had to step in to fill those jobs, and others would fill in behind them. This extended advisory period in Vietnam took something of a toll on our existing units. So let us state that the advisory period went from 1960 to 1965. I pick that date 1965 because at that point President Lyndon Johnson decided to commit ground forces to Vietnam, a major change in the nature of our involvement, and in the nature of the conduct of the war.

In the spring of 1965, some Marine units went in and, in July of ’65, major American ground forces were sent in to Vietnam. The next period could be called the “buildup of the American involvement in Vietnam.” This is combat involvement on the ground, side by side with the South Vietnamese and, as time went on, with certain forces from other nations as well, primarily those from the Republic of Korea. This buildup continued from the summer of ’65 through when it was capped early in 1969. It eventually resulted in our fielding 543,400 Americans on the ground in Vietnam at the peak—over one-half million people on the ground helping to fight the war. That was the period of the buildup. I end that period at Tet of 1968, because that event was a watershed in many ways, including a change in command on the part of American forces there from General Westmoreland, who had commanded from June of 1964 until June of 1968, to General Creighton Abrams, who commanded from 1968 until 1972. So from ’68 through ’73, that is the period of American withdrawal, and handing over more and more responsibility for the conduct of the war to the South Vietnamese themselves, who of course had the sole responsibility before we had become involved, so it was a change back to the earlier situation, except by that time they had a lot more combat wherewithal, and in some cases a lot more combat experience. We are out of there at the end of March 1973, pursuant to the Paris Accords, as they were called, which were a so-called peace agreement, theoretically ending the war. Of course no such thing happened, because the North Vietnamese violated the accords from the very first day, and meanwhile we withdrew as we had said we would.

So then you have the final period, from 1973 through ’75, when on the 30th of April of that year Saigon fell, which was the end of the war for the South Vietnamese, and North Vietnam, as they had always sought to do, had unified the country by force under their communist domination.

Let me go back and say a little bit about how those various periods were conducted, as they were quite different. In the earlier period, when General Westmoreland took command and we began to deploy the large numbers of forces which I described, his approach to the war was to conduct what he called a “war of attrition,” and to conduct operations in pursuit of that strategy that were characterized primarily as search and destroy operations. What this meant was the measure of merit in this period of the war was body count, as the objective of a war of attrition was to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The theory was that if you killed enough of the enemy they would lose heart, cease their aggression against South Vietnam, and therefore our objectives would be accomplished, and our objective from the beginning to the end was to allow South Vietnam to be able to sustain and maintain itself as an independent non-communist government, free of domination from the north. During this period of the war of attrition, as I mentioned, the buildup continued, and the use of these forces, larger and larger American forces, was primarily to conduct large-scale multi-battalion and sometimes multi-division operations primarily in the heavily jungled areas adjacent to South Vietnam’s extended western border with Laos and Cambodia. And one of the major problems of this period was finding an elusive enemy, because we had said that, politically, we had put the constraint on ourselves that we would not cross those western borders. So if the enemy decided or desired to disengage, they had a relatively simple mechanism for doing that, which was simply to move to the west across the borders, where they were off-limits and out of reach of our forces and those of the South Vietnamese.

During this same period, the South Vietnamese forces were relegated to somewhat of a secondary mission in support of what was called pacification, and I am sorry to say given what were rather inferior weapons, largely castoff World War II American weapons. Those were great weapons in World War II, but they were not the best weapons in the world by the time we are talking about now. Furthermore, if any of you ever lugged a BAR, and you looked at the average Vietnamese person of rather slight stature, and think of them trying to lug a BAR through the jungle, that’s not the easiest task in the world. Meanwhile American forces were getting the best first-line weaponry (which included the M-16 rifle) and by the way, so were the enemy forces, which in 1965 began to be armed with the best of current ChiCom and Soviet-bloc weaponry, such as the famous AK-47. Unfortunately it was not until about three years later that the South Vietnamese began to get comparable weaponry. So if you hear people criticize the South Vietnamese forces during these early years, I think it is only fair to bear in mind that they had inferior weaponry, not only to what the American forces had, but inferior to what the enemy forces had. And by the way, Americans were also hogging most of what we might call combat wherewithal, I am talking about close air support, B-52 bomber raids, intra-theater troop lift, helicopter gunship support, all things which are combat multipliers, and which American forces had in abundance, but the South Vietnamese very little.

How did this work out during this period? I would have to say that the approach of General Westmoreland was highly successful in its own terms, which means that large casualties were inflicted on the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong—horrifying numbers, really—but the intended and desired and anticipated outcome did not result. They did not give up their aggression against the south, they simply sent more and more forces south, and of course many of them were slaughtered too, but yet more would come to take their place. Meanwhile it’s only fair to say that two more important missions did not get the attention that conduct of the ground war was getting. To wit, the South Vietnamese were not trained, counseled, advised, and improved as they might have been, both because of the secondary mission and because they did not get the first-line weaponry that other forces were getting. And another extremely important mission, which was conduct of the pacification program in the villages and the hamlets of South Vietnam, was neglected. The importance of that was that the communists had in place and had had in place for a long period of time in these villages and hamlets a covert infrastructure that was through terrorism and coercion keeping the South Vietnamese people, the populace in the rural parts of Vietnam under their domination. Until you came in and rooted out this infrastructure and neutralized it, the people could not be free no matter what happened out in the deep jungle.

The Tet Offensive of 1968, which began at the end of January and lasted throughout February was a huge event, a watershed event, I think it is fair to say, in the history of the war. In part because in the months preceding that Lyndon Johnson, General Westmoreland, Secretary Rusk, and others had been saying that the war was proceeding extremely well. And then, people across the country saw on their television screens this offensive in which all of a sudden, in most of the major cities and towns of Vietnam, here came enemy uprisings that were completely unanticipated, at least by the people at home. There was an argument as to whether they were anticipated by the forces in the field. A series of cataclysmic and dramatic events followed from that, including Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not be seeking reelection and his decision to begin a partial bombing halt in North Vietnam.

Soon after that the command changed in Vietnam. General Creighton Abrams replaced William Westmoreland. Interestingly enough they were 1936 classmates at West Point, Westmoreland an artilleryman and Abrams a tanker, and a horse cavalryman before that who had been a great hero in World War II when he commanded a tank battalion that had broken through the German encirclement to relieve the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne. Abrams had a different view of the nature of the war, and that view led him to prosecute it in a different way. He saw the war as “one war,” as he described it, along with his two excellent colleagues, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and William Colby, who had come out from the Central Intelligence Agency to be in charge of support for the pacification program. They all described it as “one war,” which meant a continuation of the military fighting, as had been the case previously, but much revised. In equal measure with fighting, there was emphasis on pacification and rooting out the infrastructure, which I described, and upgrading the South Vietnamese armed forces so they became more capable of undertaking a major responsibility for defense of their country. These things were enhanced by now finally giving the South Vietnamese first-line equipment, giving them better training, and especially incorporating into the armed forces and giving emphasis to territorial forces. Territorial forces were what were called Regional Forces and Popular Forces, and they remained at the province and district level, which meant that they were basically defending their homeland and families. They were very strongly motivated by that, and as they were given upgraded equipment and training they became a very important part of the South Vietnamese ability to defend themselves.

The changed tactics were also very important and need to be mentioned. General Fred Weyand, who was a very close associate of Abrams, said, “The tactics changed within 15 minutes of Abrams taking command.” The way in which they changed was from emphasis on large operations and in the deep jungle a change to an emphasis on small unit operations, and for those operations to be positioned more in between the enemy and the people, because Abrams recognized that this was a war for the control of people, and if you positioned yourself so that the enemy had to come to and through you to get to the people, first of all, if they came, the problem of finding them, which had plagued us in the earlier years was much less, and secondly, if they engaged you, you had the opportunity to deal with them. If they couldn’t get through, then the people in the village and the hamlet, if you got the infrastructure out, would be increasingly free. That was the nature of the war in that second period. And, by the way, things went extremely well, so much so that I was emboldened in A Better War to say that the war was won. The fighting hadn’t ended, but the war was won and the reason it was won was because the South Vietnamese had achieved the ability to maintain their independence and freedom so long as we kept the commitments that we had made to them.

We come up to January of 1973, the Paris Accords the supposed peace treaty that had been agreed to in Paris, then pursuant to that agreement, we began to withdraw our forces. They were all out by the end of March of 1973. Before that, in the spring of 1972, the enemy had mounted a major conventional invasion of the south, across the so-called demilitarized zone in the north, and through two places in the western borders I had mentioned before, and a very fierce battle had ensued that lasted several months, but the South Vietnamese prevailed. Our ground forces were mostly gone by that time and did not play any part in the battle, although our air and naval forces did. With support from them, the South Vietnamese were able to prevail and throw back that invasion of a force totaling the equivalent of about 20 divisions. It was a very serious battle.

Some people criticized the South Vietnamese, saying they could not have prevailed except for American air support. That is a rather strange criticism, because we had at that time hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe to help the European allies in the very same manner, should they need it, and we had about 50,000 troops in Korea to help the South Koreans in the very same manner, should they need it, and nobody was criticizing them for not being able to defend themselves without American help. But in Vietnam, I think that criticism was unfairly leveled. By the way, General Abrams rose to the occasion, saying, “I doubt that the fabric of this thing could have been held together without American air power, but, if the South Vietnamese had not stood and fought as they did, ten times the air power would not have allowed us to prevail.”

In January, 1972, rather late in our involvement, just before the Easter Offensive, one of the famous people of the war was a man named John Paul Vann, who was an Army officer early in the war, and went back and rose to a very senior position in the pacification program and was very highly regarded, especially by Gen. Abrams. Vann said in January of ‘72, “We are now at the lowest level of fighting the war has ever seen. Today there is an air of prosperity throughout the rural areas of Vietnam, and it cannot be denied. Today the roads are open and the bridges are up, and you run much greater risk traveling any road in Vietnam today from the scurrying, bustling, hustling Hondas and Lambrettas than you do from the VC.”

The end of the war in Vietnam is a very sad case, and it is in part because—and there is no other way to describe it—we wound up abandoning the South Vietnamese. I told you about the crucial conditionals. We had promised the South Vietnamese that if there was renewed fighting, if the North Vietnamese violated the Paris Accords, we would reintroduce combat forces to punish those violations—air and sea power. Secondly, if there were renewed fighting, we would replace—as the Paris Accords permitted—we would replace major combat system losses on a one for one basis; that means artillery pieces, tanks, and aircraft. And we said we would maintain robust material support for the South Vietnamese for the indefinite future. In a meeting at the Western White House, President Thieu of South Vietnam and President Nixon had mentioned the figure of about $1 billion. When it came to crunch time, I am sorry to say, we defaulted on all three commitments. Meanwhile the North Vietnamese are getting much increased support from their patrons, the Soviet Union and China. As Tom Polgar, the last CIA station chief, said in his last brief message, “Ultimate outcome hardly in doubt, because South Vietnam cannot survive without U.S. military aid as long as North Vietnam’s war-making capacity is unimpaired and supported by Soviet Union and China.” So that is basically the end of that story.

I have only a little time left, but I want to say a little something about two groups of people who fought in the war. First, I want to talk about the American veterans of the war in Vietnam. We have been hearing for a number of years now about the Greatest Generation as christened by Tom Brokaw, those who fought in World War II. That was a wonderful generation, and I am extremely proud of them, and what I have to say in no way denigrates that generation. My father was a part of that generation. My uncle was a part of that generation. But if I last long enough, I am going to try to write another book, the title of which might be Also Great, and the subtitle would read The Generation That Fought the Vietnam War, because I think they are a marvelous generation which has not gotten the credit they deserve. For example, very few people know, as B.G. Burkett points out in his wonderful book, Stolen Valor, two-thirds of Vietnam veterans volunteered for their service. He said, compare that to the 33% of World War II veterans; in other words, the percentages are just the opposite. I doubt that many people know that.

Not too long after the Vietnam War was over, the Veterans Administration got the Harris polling company to poll those who had served in Vietnam to ask them a number of questions, and the results were very interesting. Ninety-one percent told the pollsters they were glad they had served. Seventy-four percent said they had enjoyed their time in service. And most impressive of all, two out of three said they would serve again, even knowing the outcome of the war. Those are great people and we have every reason to be proud of them and grateful to them. And as I am sure you have heard, the only thing that was missing was when they returned from their service very few people said, “Thank you for your service, and welcome home,” which every veteran, of course, wants to hear.

The last thing I want to say to you is about the Vietnamese who fought that war. They were very heroic people who fought for a long period of time under a number of severe handicaps which I described earlier but, when they got the wherewithal to do the job, did it very well until we essentially pulled the plug on them monetarily and logistically, and they no longer had the wherewithal to go ahead. Many of them – no one knows exactly how many, fled their country to avoid living under communist domination. You have heard them described as the “boat people.” Many of them perished in the South China Sea trying to escape; storms overturned their boats, pirates attacked and robbed them, but many of them made it to the United States to refugee camps and were sponsored by church groups and in some cases by their former advisors who were compassionate toward them. There are now about one million former Vietnamese in this country, spread out over a number of places around the country.

I would like to end with two vignettes. There is a place very near where we are now, in Northern Virginia, that is called the Eden Center. It is about a city block, and hollow in the middle. Around the outside of it, there are all Vietnamese establishments—jewelry stores, a grocery store, restaurants of all kinds, a music store, a bookstore. In the hollow middle, besides parking, there are two tall flagpoles, one of which flies the American flag, and right next to it is the flag of South Vietnam, still flying proudly.

I was there a few years ago on the 30th of April—the date of the fall of Saigon, and a date that is commemorated, but not celebrated, by many Americans and their Vietnamese friends. I met a person there who had been a captain with the Regional Forces at a place called Dak Sut. He was with his wife, who had also been a captain. Their daughter had graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, and she was now an Air Force captain. She was getting her PhD at a college in Tennessee, after which she was going to teach at the Air Force Academy. They were very proud of her, and I was very proud of them.
My closest Vietnamese friend is a man by the name of Ha Mai Viet. Viet and I were captains in the armor officer advance course in 1961-62. He rose to be a colonel, and was the G-3 to General Truong, considered by most Americans, including General Abrams, to be the best fighting general the Vietnamese fielded during the war, and Viet was a wonderfully fine staff officer for him, having commanded himself and being a province chief in Quang Tri, one of the toughest provinces to deal with. I lost track of him when the collapse came, but a few years ago I found him in Houston. He and his wife had found their way to America. He had gotten a menial job, and she got work, too. Eventually he was trained as a draftsman and worked in the oil industry and did very well. Viet and his wife worked at two jobs, and sometimes three jobs—a day, night, and weekend job—to put their five kids through Texas A&M and Sam Houston State college, which is near where they live in Houston. All five kids are now professionals. The mother, a very strong woman, had a conference at one point when all five kids were still at home. She said to them, “Any of you who want to go to college, we’ll find a way to put you through college. Any of you who do not want to go to college, I will give you $1,500 to get yourself started, and you can leave now. Who wants to go to college?” And all five hands went right up. They all did extremely well, though they had a little problem when the youngest daughter, Qui, wanted to get married. She married a Chinese man from Malaysia, and they were worried that if she got married, she wouldn’t finish college—she had a year to go still. So Viet said to her, “If you will let me do this in the ancient way, between me and her father, I will agree to it.” She went along with it, and Viet wrote to the father, who as he knew, was in an internment camp somewhere in Southeast Asia. The letter had to go through a cutout in Paris before going to the internment camp, then through the same route on the way back. That took about six months each way, and by the time the response had come back, Qui had graduated, they got married, and everybody was happy.

I would like to close by saying, I am very proud of our Vietnam veterans. I am very proud of our Vietnamese colleagues, though I wish we had done better by them in the end. And I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today.”

Article printed from American Veterans Center


 Here’s one of the very thoughtful comments we’ve gotten over the past week:

“I am certainly no expert in this field but I thought I would add some commentary to the discussion.


1.       I find merit and logic in both view points.  However, I believe the discussion is fundamentally flawed because there are underlying core issues not being addressed.  This discussion is based on the counterinsurgency belief of using the combination of military, political and social actions as the counterinsurgency mission plan.  From my perspective, I believe the wrong person is doing the right job and U.S. combatants should only have one (1) mission in the counterinsurgency mission plan  – Military Action.


2.       My position is line officers can’t and shouldn’t serve as both a warfighter and a nation builder when deployed on a combat mission.  By ordering a line officer to act as both will undoubtedly conflict against every fiber of a soldier’s training and that of being an elite warfighter. 


3.       Furthermore, I believe one could make a case that soldiers acting as both the warfighter and nation builder contradicts the philosophy of 3 Pillars of Counterinsurgency by Dr. David Kilcullen, the Chief Strategist of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the U.S. State Department in 2006.


4.       In short – my views are:

·         In counterinsurgency efforts, the warfighter should only participate in military actions. 

·         Soldiers are trained to fight – not to broker peace;

·         Line Officers should not be inserted to build relationships and/or lead humanitarian efforts.  Support –Yes / Lead – No; 

·         Officers are inserted into hostile territory to lead their troops, complete the combat mission assigned, secure the area of operations and get the soldiers home in one piece. 

·         In this discussion, you are asking a soldier to handle more money than he or she will probably see in a lifetime on a monthly basis;

·         These local relationships can be manipulated to the detriment of any military unit (Friendship, sorrow and/or love).  Time and history has proven this over and over again;

·         You are asking a soldier to build relationships with villages and individuals that, at some point, he may have to put a round down range against the very village or persons he has been paying and meeting with for months – if not years. 

·         That soldier has now put a name to a face and memory to that person.  Has anyone ever wondered why PTS has spiked over the last 20 years?;  and

·         Soldiers are trained not to hesitate – if they hesitate – soldiers and civilians die.  If a soldier hesitates because he is conflicted by a face, name and/or memory – they are no longer warfighters;


I would also suggest that a component of counterinsurgency is being part psychologist and well trained in body language and movement – it’s more than learning how to sit, drink tea, negotiate and pass out money.  Line officers do not have extensive training in this area – nor should they.  This skill is done and mastered by a certain type of individual which is developed over a long period of time.  Last time I checked this is what the CIA does.  The CIA would not take a new line officer and PCS that individual to Damascus – would they?  Of course not, they would send an experienced officer with years of training and expertise to handle the mission requirements.  For the new CIA line officer, he is moved and promoted to more challenging posts as his experience, confidence and skills evolve.  The U.S. warfighter operates on a different learning curve.  That could be a whole other discussion.


If it remains the job of the line officer to participate in socio economic counterinsurgency programs, then embed counterinsurgency specialists into active units and the warfighter can provide security to that mission.  If it is an overall mission requirement of the DOD, then create separate units that specialize in this field to include creating a new MOS and training curriculum.  These units can be deployed and billeted alongside the warfighter and the warfighter can provide escort and security functions to these units.  It is my opinion, the two should never intertwine – warfighters should not be nation builders and nation builders should not be warfighters.  You don’t want the flight surgeon working on the deuce and a half and you don’t want the mechanic operating on the soldier.


Last note on the above – In this war, a soldier does not know who the enemy is because the Taliban does not wear uniforms – the lines can become blurred in an instant.  Also, a soldier has no way of telling when or if an individual changes sides due to threats, torture or personal choice until it’s possibly too late.  This war is not about nations fighting nations – soldiers are dealing with the Taliban with the war cry of Jihad.  This preys on the core of a person’s soul – which makes this war an individual’s choice to fight.  As we know, this is a very dangerous thing.  This is too much to ask a line officer to process and not expect he may hesitate in a critical situation or start blurring the lines of his own mission.”

Jeffery Freitas

We look forward to your additions to and thoughts on this topic, via comments on the Roundtable at, or your e-mails to me at



Bing West Weighs In: Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Others: Small Wars, Insurgents and Terrorists and Threats, American Foreign Policy, and the American Public, Part 4

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
One of the many replies we’ve gotten to this series of notes came from Bing West in the form of and article in the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.  It includes commentary by Christopher Sims, another of the thought-leaders we have cited in these notes, as well as Major Fernando Lujan, an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Affairs based at D.C.’s Center for New American Security.  Thank you, Bing, for the following discussion.
Both Sides of the COIN:
Defining War After Afghanistan
Bing West and his critics:
I. THEORY VERSUS PRACTICE - Christopher Sims, Department of War Studies at King’s College London.
In his analysis of the shortcomings of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Bing West offers a compelling assessment that, as he writes, “counterinsurgency as nation building became a Sisyphean mission” (“Groundhog War,” Foreign Affairs, October 2011). But the real problem is not with counterinsurgency doctrine itself but rather with how it is being applied. U.S. military planners and officers should not entirely abandon counterinsurgency, as West predicts they will; instead, they should return to counterinsurgency’s guiding principles and make sure they are properly implemented on the ground.
For starters, West argues that Western handouts have led to a culture of entitlement in Afghanistan, which, in turn, has bred opportunism rather than patriotism or a desire for self-improvement. This is a real concern: in 2010, foreign aid was equivalent to approximately 90 percent of Afghanistan’s total GDP….
The schizophrenia often found in counterinsurgency tactics is especially apparent in the distribution of money. Some analysts believe money to be an important part of counterinsurgency: in 2004, for example, the U.S. Marine Corps’ first Regimental Combat Team handed out cash payments as compensation for property damage inflicted during their operation to secure Fallujah. Yet in the documentaries West reviews, Restrepo and Armadillo, there is no clear logic to such payments; money is withheld in one case and given in another…
Counterinsurgency doctrine also calls for limiting collateral damage as a central element of winning the support of the population. This led, for example, to the controversial 2009 decision of General Stanley McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to focus on protecting Afghans during military operations above all other objectives. But what officers call “courageous restraint” is not always so easy to implement during the adrenalin-fueled confusion of a firefight. As the Danish platoon commander in Armadillo tells his troops , if you cannot distinguish between an insurgent reaching for a weapon and one reaching his hands out to surrender, then shoot. Nation building is not what most infantry soldiers sign up for.
Counterinsurgency doctrine has evolved, but most soldiers do not keep up, meaning that innovations in strategy often do not work their way down to the tactical level. … Too few soldiers are familiar with the changing theories and guidelines of counterinsurgency.
A project of nation building in which the central government is neither reflective of nor responsive to the needs of the people is not the desired terrain; Kilcullen, for example, has criticized the decision to invade Iraq. Yet the anthropological potion that he and others created — modern counterinsurgency doctrine — turned out to be a remedy for a seemingly incurable malady. It should not be abandoned because it has not been implemented effectively or homogeneously; it is an invaluable intellectual reservoir that the U.S. military should draw on, adapt, and modify for the future.
II. BEYOND GROUNDHOG DAY – Major Fernando Luján is an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign ­Relations based at the Center for a New American Security.

Bing West uses a pair of documentary films, Restrepo and Armadillo, to illustrate grim realities in Afghanistan and to argue that the principles of counterinsurgency will soon “be rejected by the younger generation of company-grade officers who had to execute a flawed doctrine.” But as a mem­ber of this younger generation of U.S. military officers, I disagree; in fact, I can speak for many of my peers in arguing that a wholesale rejection of counterinsurgency after Afghanistan and Iraq would be a grave error that would put the U.S. military on the path to irrelevance.
Whereas West has certainly served his time on the ground, the reader has probably not, and so should be cautioned that the experience of the soldiers in Restrepo is far from universal.
Restrepo‘s Korengal Valley is an example of one place where a perfect storm of unforgiving terrain and hostile tribes has made counterinsurgency virtually impossible. But just as important was the initiative, cultural savvy, and experience of the soldiers on the ground. When those dynamics come together, West’s claim that “no matter their skills and good intentions, foreign troops cannot persuade the people of another nation to reject insurgents in their midst” does not hold up. Even in some of the most tightly controlled, longest-standing Taliban strongholds, U.S. and Afghan units working closely together have been able to draw the local populations to their side.
The most successful military units have been those that learned the secret to overcoming the “Groundhog Day” phenomenon: stop trying to do it all yourself. Instead, reduce the footprint of foreign soldiers on patrols and coach Afghan soldiers and police on taking the lead. Ten Afghans and six U.S. soldiers can be infinitely more effective at approaching locals than the same ten Afghans with 100 U.S. soldiers in suppor.
At the same time, the most adept U.S. units have learned to stop playing Santa Claus with projects and aid money — every dollar spent, every well dug or school built, is predicated on getting local leaders to step forward to make decisions as a community and then on connecting them to the Afghans working at the district center a few miles away.
Yet this very abundance of resources can also inhibit the long-term viability of these achievements. More U.S. troops, for example, can mean less incentive to train Afghan counterparts; after all, why work through Afghans if you can do it yourself and do it better?
The rush to condemn counterinsurgency doctrine as a failed expd.eriment is based on two myths. The first is that counterinsurgency is nothing more than a contest for hearts and minds, a squishy theory that looks to turn the army into the Peace Corps or buy popularity in conflict zones with lollipops and Band-Aids. The second is that counterinsurgency is nation building on a massive scale, reliant on tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to succee
No matter how much the various institutions of the U.S. military may prefer wars in which the enemy wears uniforms and fights in large formations, the United States is certain to face insurgencies again. The U.S. defense establishment must be prepared to deal with them effectively, with very limited resources, or face irrelevance.
Rather than demonizing a false, straw-man version of counterinsurgency that calls for tens of thousands of troops and a commitment to nation building, West and other defense leaders and theorists should focus on how to institutionalize the adaptations of the past decade and increase the military’s capability for smaller-scale, but equally complex, counterinsurgency and stabilization efforts. 
III. West Replies:
Christopher Sims essentially argues that counterinsurgency theory is sound; the problem, he says, lies with the soldiers who do not know how to implement it. He observes that modern counterinsurgency doctrine was conceived by “warrior-intellectuals” who applied lessons from cultural sensitivity and anthropology and urged soldiers to act as therapists and conflict managers.
But such concepts are fundamentally incompatible with the reality of everyday combat. I spent many years on the battlefields and in the villages of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. From what I saw at the ground level, counterinsurgency was — and is — a branch of warfare. War is the orchestration of violence in order to force your enemy to agree to your terms. U.S. soldiers carry rifles rather than checkbooks for a basic reason: to kill the enemy. To treat counterinsurgency as social science is to deny that violence remains at its essential center.
Military force is the ultimate arbiter of Afghanistan’s future — and today, the Taliban are the superior fighting force. They have not won hearts and minds; most Pashtuns dislike them. But the Afghan army cannot yet stand up to their enemy due to poor civilian and military leadership, tribal affiliations, and corruption. Yes, the defects of the Kabul government are deplorable. Many states, however, have weathered insurgencies without building an honest government responsive to the people. Afghanistan can survive with a weak government and a subsistence economy, provided its armed forces can keep the Taliban at bay. Conversely, the country cannot survive with a weak military, regardless of the quality of the central government and the economy.
This means that the Taliban must be beaten on the battlefield. Of course, this task will require the Pashtun tribes to, at the very least, not actively support the Taliban. This requires that Afghan security forces actively protect the population. That is the fundamental military task of counterinsurgency. There should be no mincing of words about the role of force and violence. If Afghan soldiers shirk from patrols, refuse to drive down mine-laced roads, or avoid villages that fly Taliban flags, they will lose. The essential problem in Afghanistan is that the Taliban are a fierce, dedicated enemy, willing to risk death and to kill.
As the historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote in his 2001 book Carnage and Culture, “Military history must never stray from the tragic story of killing.” Hanson argued that, “to speak of war in any other fashion brings with it a sort of immorality.” He continued: “Euphemism in battle narrative or the omission of graphic killing altogether is a near criminal offense of the military historian.” In other words, the very term “warrior-intellectual” is an oxymoron because it suggests that killing is not the basic mission of the soldier challenged to battle.
Fernando Luján, meanwhile, argues that counterinsurgency as “nation building on a massive scale” is a “myth.” He objects to “demonizing a false, straw-man version of counterinsurgency that calls for tens of thousands of troops and a commitment to nation building.”
But like it or not, nation building has been the reality, not the myth. In Afghanistan, there are now 100,000 U.S. soldiers and 44,000 soldiers from other NATO countries responsible for safeguarding the Pashtun population while improving governance, combating corruption, delivering economic projects, and instituting the rule of law. These tasks are carried out in compliance with the joint U.S. Army-Marine Corps field Manual 3-24, entitled Counterinsurgency. That manual was signed in 2006 by General David Petraeus, now the director of the CIA, and General James Amos, currently the Commandant of the Marine Corps. On the first page, the manual states, “Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as warriors.”
Luján argues that those units most successful at counterinsurgency “have learned to stop playing Santa Claus.” Not quite. The U.S. military in Afghanistan has carried out 16,000 development projects since 2001. Overall, the United States has disbursed more than $18 billion in aid over the same period. Aid from Western countries accounts for most of Afghanistan’s national budget and economic growth (aside from the annual opium crop).
As for what Luján identifies as the “undeniable reality” that “U.S. and Afghan units working closely together have been able to draw the local populations to their side” in large parts of Helmand and Kandahar, this would indeed be marvelous news, given that those regions are the heartland of the Taliban movement. But until U.S. forces depart, it is impossible to know how reliable the allegiance of local populations to the Kabul government actually is. After all, as Petraeus observed last year, the rural Pashtun people have survived through the years by being “professional chameleons.”
On the whole, Luján’s observations amount to a recommendation for fewer conventional battalions and for more Special Forces advisory teams. On that point, he and I are in complete agreement. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military should have concentrated from the start on building strong indigenous armed forces. But this did not happen; neither the U.S. Army nor the Marine Corps gave proper attention to the ­development of a U.S. adviser corps. Only recently has this changed. The current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, faces the challenge of increasing the number of military advisers while decreasing the size of the overall force.
Major Luján correctly points out that a robust advisory effort is a necessary but far from sufficient requirement for success, which is minimally defined as preventing the Taliban from taking over major Afghan cities. Without advisers, the Afghan security forces are likely to fall apart. Advisers must share the risks on the battlefield.
“Having advisers outside the wire — in the fight — is not optional,” General Allen told me last August. “It is required.”
Even with advisers, the military situation will still remain perilous as long as Pakistan provides shelter to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. It is impossible to predict how the situation in Afghanistan will unfold, given that the outcome depends on Afghans and Pakistanis, not Americans.
What is predictable, however, is that the younger generation of U.S. Army and Marine officers will reject the definition of counter­insurgency as requiring wholesale nation building. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military tried to do too much.
Copyright © by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.

We look forward to your additions to and thoughts on this topic, via comments on the Roundtable at, or your e-mails to me at



Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Others: Small Wars, Insurgents and Terrorists and Threats, American Foreign Policy, and the American Public, Part 3

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

A friend asked me last week about the first two notes in this series, “What’s the point to all of this, John?  What’s your purpose?”

Well, I’ve got several objectives in mind in sharing these views with all of you:

1.      We each try to find ways to contribute to the thinking, discussion and thoughtfulness that important and complex topics like these require.

2.      Given what appears to me to be the high likelihood of numerous uprisings, insurgencies, threats that our nation views as endangering our national interests and/or security emanating from the 60+ very poor, weak and broken nations around the globe over the next decade, there are likely to be of these small war, Long War situations in which we will have to decide to intercede or remain uninvolved.  If there are parallels between what occurred in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan that can be beneficially applied in these other situations, then it is worth raising the topic and getting smart people thinking and sharing viewpoints and ideas.

3.      What’s different about today’s conflicts relative to Viet Nam?  I think there may be at least three key differences, and they need to be factored into our thinking about what to expect of our nation when the next conflict arises:

a.       The threats are different at the margins.  It’s not just village threat networks, or nation-based threats, as was the case in Viet Nam.  On the one hand they are transnational in nature (Yes, Viet Nam had some of that too, but not to the global extent that is the case today.), and at the other extreme they are one-person, self-radicalized individual threats.

b.      Our politicians, population…and as a result our foreign policy…..may be in very different places relative to one another versus where they were at the time of the Viet Nam conflict.  We have even less national will for these conflicts than we did, we have less international influence and relative power and so have more need of alliances than we did, our population is not as united around our nation as was the case then, an all-volunteer military means the affects of a conflict are isolated in a very small portion of our population, and the threat may emanate from within the U.S., in more ways than not.

c.       I believe the increasing concentration of wealth and power in an ever-smaller group of have’s, the increasing gap between haves’ and have nots’, the disappearing middle class, combined with the increasing segmentation of our population into groups that have other first loyalties that to our nation…..all of this portends for me the kind of riffs that lead to more serious problems and divisions and frustrations.  When I hear people talking about “class warfare”, I say “Be very careful.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Back to our dialogue.  Let’s start this week with another few excerpts from Steven O’Hern’s book, The Intelligence Wars, as he continues to examine the dilution of America’s nationalism:

“Poor and marginalized countries that experience an improvement in economic fortunes also experience a rise in nationalism.  Increased national pride and demand for national recognition can result in support for military operations or isolationist economic and trade policies.”


“On the other hand, the openness of democracies encourages citizens of those nations to create and maintain ethnic, social, and financial ties to groups that detract from the power of their nations.  Residents of the United States are increasingly divided into groups with widely divergent interests.  The major political parties and the labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ only begin to describe divisions in our society…..Members of ethnic groups who don’t integrate into the social fabric of the nation are more likely to view domestic and foreign policy through the prism of their own ethnic identities.”


“More divisions are created by financial differences.  The distinction between poor, middle income, and wealthy has always influenced political views.  But now Americans are further divided between those who benefit from international trade…..and those who don’t….”


“The United States and other democracies must recognize that the openness of their societies places them at a disadvantage in dealing with both transnational movements like al-Qaeda and non-democratic countries such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.”

“A nation-especially a democracy-that has many groups with divergent interests will experience difficulty in determining and implementing its domestic policy.  It is differences among citizens that massively complicate national security for a democracy.”


“The increasing number of differences in our society and the willingness of people to be more loyal to a group or an interest than to the nation will change US foreign policy.  The US will be forced to operate on the international stage more swiftly and decisively than it has in the past……The citizens of the United States are willing to commit their forces to faraway battles when their leaders tell them that such wars are necessary in the interests of the nation, but they won’t give leaders unlimited time or budget to complete such a war…….The cost of war such as we have fought it in Iraq-in terms of casualties, tax dollars, and fatigue to our military’s people and equipment-may soon be viewed as a threat to our national defense.”

“The need to operate quickly and decisively in foreign matters will require a different approach to fourth-generation warfare (4GW).  In order to be successful at 4GW, the United States must have an intelligence system that functions much differently than the current system.”


Read more of O’Hern’s book to understand some of the ideas and recommendations he has.

Now, as I promised, on to more discussion of the Combined Action Teams concept in Viet Nam.  Where did this strategy originate?  In a 2008 paper, “Counterinsurgency in Vietnam: Lessons Learned, Ignored, the Revived”, by Rufus Phillips describes the origination this way:

“the legendary Colonel, later Major General Edward G. Lansdale, USAF, had earlier developed a winning counterinsurgency strategy and set of tactics in the Philippines against the rural based communist led Huk Balahap (Huk) movement.  In 1948 the Huks were on the verge of winning control of the Philippines.  The Philippine government was corrupt and incompetent.  Its army was poorly led, taking on th Huks with conventional military tactics and in the process often alienating the population.”


“Lansdale became the advisor to an extraordinary Filipino leader, Ramon Magsaysay, who as Secretary of Defense changed the army’s approach.  Adopting a policy he called ‘all-out friendship or all-out force,’ Magsaysay persuaded the army to put the security and well-being of the population first while aggressively using small unit combat operations and psychological warfare to defeat the Huk guerillas.”


“Protecting the civilian population and ensuring their security and well-being were put ahead of other military objectives such as killing the Huks and force protection.  Military civic action in which each soldier was indoctrinated to believe he derived his authority from the people and was honor bound to protect and help them became both the order and the practice of the day.  Popular support for the Huks was winnowed away and the movement collapsed when their hard core communist leader, Luis Taruc, turned himself in, saying he no longer had a cause worth fighting for.”


“Lansdale undertook a similar approach to establishing security in the South Vietnamese countryside.”


“Consequently, in preparing for the next occupation of a large zone in Central Vietnam containing about two million people, the (Vietnamese) army leadership with our (US) help undertook much more intensive training in troop behavior and civic action all the way down to the platoon level……The army as servant of the people and civic action-actively helping the population-was instilled as every soldier’s duty down to the lowest private……The population’s initial fear and indifference turned into active support as the local people began identifying arms caches left behind by the Vietminh (the existence of these caches clearly indicated they intended to return), as well as fingering active Vietminh stay-behind cadre.”


“Based on what I saw I recommended a decentralized economic, social and security assistance program to be funded by AID focused on the hamlet level and administered at the province level where a troika of the Vietnamese province chief, the American advisor and a USOM provincial representative would jointly decide how to expend funds in support of the hamlet program. “


“By 1970 practically all of the countryside had been pacified.  Unfortunately, this came too late to affect the ultimate outcome of the war.”


And now to some very current thinking about a type of Combat Action Team, the interagency high-value target teams approach used in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Christopher Lamb and Evan Munsing, in their March, 2011 paper, “Secret Weapon: High-Value Target Teams as an Organizational Innovation”, conclude by stating:

“Collaborative warfare required collaborative organizations.  It meant in practice going beyond ‘jointness’ to intense give and take (or mutual adjustment) between otherwise disparate military and nonmilitary organizational elements.  On the interagency high-value target teams, the collaboration was between the SOF Task Force and the diverse intelligence organizations….When the high-value target teams and the conventional force commands collaborated tactically, they produced quick and powerful results……Collaborative organizations are not only powerful but also cost effective.  In comparison with new weapons or reconstruction funding, interagency teams cost next to nothing and can be used almost anywhere.  However, collaboration is a difficult force to harness and institutionalize.  It is not just a function of good leadership, as is often assumed.  On the contrary, and as one interagency veteran we interviewed said, organizations that want a reliable record of success do not rely on personalities to generate unity of effort.”


“…we argue that the United States employed an underappreciated organizational innovation-interagency teams-to put insurgent clandestine organizations on the defensive and give population security measures a chance to take effect.” 


Innovative or not?  Innovative or lessons forgotten?

We will look forward to your additions to and thoughts on this topic, via comments on the Roundtable at, or your e-mails to me at



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