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Archive for December, 2012

More Compassion Needed

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

In my Thanksgiving note, I asked you all to make a point of showing some compassion to one another.

Now, the whole world cries over the deaths of 20 little kids.  I saw a president cry yesterday. 

This time, let’s make this tragedy make a difference going forward.

As a nation, we need to find better ways to express our feelings, frustrations and disagreements.  Our nation is the poster child for violent behavior.

Until then, we have to rule the weapons, or they will continue to rule our lives.

I will have compassion for our representatives in Washington as they do the right thing about this terrible national threat.

But, we, all of us, sent them there to make the best lives for all of us, and that includes our safety and our well-being.

Allan Simpson said it better……”They have to be patriots, not politicians.” 

They should have our compassion as long as our representatives do what is necessary to promote our well-being and safety. 

The moment we see them “playing politics” instead of doing the right thing by all of us, we have to call them out and get them out of Washington.

The Newtown tragedy can be the inflection point for a New Time for our nation. 

Don’t let the moment or this opportunity pass…….until the next tragedy.

Newtown.  New Times.

Take care.


The Look of Future Military Deployments, Continued: The Future of Special Operations

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Good friend Bob Andrews recommended a Foreign Affairs article from the November/December 2012 issue, written by Linda Robinson.  I bought a copy of “The Future of Special Operations”.  It’s outstanding and timely, given our focus on the look of future military deployments.

“Over the past decade, the United States’ military and the country’s national security strategy have come to rely on special operations to an unprecedented degree. As identifying and neutralizing terrorists and insurgents has become one of the Pentagon’s most crucial tasks, special operations forces have honed their ability to conduct manhunts, adopting a new targeting system known as “find, fix, finish, exploit, analyze, and disseminate.” They have adopted a flatter organizational structure and collaborated more closely with intelligence agencies, allowing special operations to move at “the speed of war,” in the words of the retired army general Stanley McChrystal, the chief architect of the contemporary U.S. approach to counterterrorism.

Implementing McChrystal’s vision has been costly. Spending on sophisticated communications, stealth helicopters, and intelligence technology; building several high-tech special operations headquarters; and transforming a C-130 cargo plane into a state-of-the-art flying hospital have consumed a large (and classified) portion of the total special operations budget, which has increased from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.5 billion in 2012. The investment has paid clear dividends, however, most dramatically in May 2011, when U.S. Navy seals, operating in coordination with the CIA, raided a compound in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden. The target and location of that raid made it exceptional. But similar operations, which in earlier eras would have been considered extraordinary, have become commonplace: during the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. special operations units sometimes conducted as many as 14 raids a night, with each successive raid made possible by intelligence scooped up during the previous one and then rapidly processed. When decision-makers deem raids too risky or politically untenable, they sometimes opt for strikes by armed drones, another form of what special operators refer to as “the direct approach. (The CIA conducts the majority of drone strikes, but special operations forces are also authorized to employ them in specific cases, including on the battlefields of Afghanistan.)

Dramatic raids and high-tech drone strikes make for exciting headlines, so the media naturally focus on them. But this attention, along with policymakers’ reliance on raids and drones, has encouraged a misperception of such actions as quick, easy solutions that allow Washington to avoid prolonged, messy wars. In fact, raids and drone strikes are tactics that are rarely decisive and often incur significant political and diplomatic costs for the United States. Although raids and drone strikes are necessary to disrupt dire and imminent threats to the United States, special operations leaders readily admit that they should not be the central pillar of U.S. military strategy.

Instead, special operations commanders say the direct approach
must be coupled with “the indirect approach,” a cryptic term used to
describe working with and through non-U.S. partners to accomplish
security objectives, often in unorthodox ways. Special operations
forces forge relationships that can last for decades with a diverse
collection of groups: training, advising, and operating alongside
other countries’ militaries, police forces, tribes, militias, or other
informal groups. They also conduct civil-affairs operations that
provide medical, veterinary, or agricultural assistance to civilians,
improving the standing of local governments and gaining access to
and a greater understanding of local conditions and populations.

It is time for special operations forces to prioritize indirect operations.
That approach—also called “special warfare,” the preferred
term of its advocates in the U.S. Army—offers the prospect of

lasting benefits with a smaller footprint and lower cost than the
hugely expensive wars of the last decade. The indirect approach is
not without its pitfalls, and the special operations community will
need to reconfigure itself to execute it more skillfully. But it holds
great potential for advancing security objectives, especially in a
time of fiscal austerity.

Direct versus Indirect
In testimony delivered to the U.S. Congress last March, Admiral
William McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command,
said that “the direct approach alone is not the solution to the challenges
our nation faces today as it ultimately only buys time and space for the
indirect approach,” arguing that “in the end, it will be such continuous
indirect operations that will prove decisive in the global security arena.”
Yet despite such high-level rhetorical support for the indirect
approach, when it comes to funding and sta/ng, the special operations
community and two presidential administrations have prioritized
the direct approach for the past decade. The resulting unilateral
actions have sometimes disrupted imminent threats. But their positive
eªects have rarely proved permanent, and they have often complicated
longer-term efforts.

These are never easy calls, to be sure, as illustrated by the case of
Pakistan, where bin Laden and much of the al Qaeda network hid
for the past decade and where the United States has opted for a heavy
application of the direct approach. In the aftermath of Operation
Neptune Spear, the raid that killed bin Laden, the Pakistani public’s
anger at the raid, along with the embarrassment of Pakistani o/cials
over the violation of the country’s sovereignty, plunged the already
tense U.S.-Pakistani relationship into crisis—with a specific cost
to U.S. special operations forces. Among several retaliatory actions,
Pakistan aborted a carefully cultivated, multifaceted American presence
in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas, both of which are dominated by Pashtuns and where

U.S. special operations forces were distributing wheat seeds to
civilians while also training, advising, and equipping the paramilitary
Pakistani Frontier Corps and Pakistani special forces. Pakistan also
terminated a U.S. special operations advisory mission with the
Pakistani navy along the strategically important Makran coast in
the restive province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran.
Unilateral strikes, mostly in the form of night raids, have also
caused significant problems in Afghanistan, where they have enraged
civilians and Afghan o/cials, including President Hamid Karzai,
who has complained loudly about the tactic. After ten years of strife
between the putative allies over this issue, the United States agreed
last year to Afghanistan’s demand that all raids must be authorized
by the Afghan government and conducted jointly with Afghan
forces. The long-term solution for most of Afghanistan’s problems is
for the Afghan government to provide reliable security for its own
civilians, and in fact, the majority of U.S. special operations forces in
Afghanistan have been working toward that goal. U.S. special
operators have built an Afghan special operations command consisting
of 11,000 Afghan commandos and special forces, and they are now
adding a mobile ground strike force and an airborne unit. U.S. and
NATO special operators are also training and advising emergency

response police units in Kabul and around the country. And the largest
contingent of U.S. special operators is spread out in 52 districts across
the country, conducting stability operations and training villagers to
serve in local police forces comprised of more than 16,000 police
officers who report to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior.

Of course, like the direct approach, indirect operations also pose
risks, as demonstrated by a recent rash of “insider attacks” on
U.S. personnel, some portion of which were carried out by Taliban
operatives or sympathizers who had infiltrated the Afghan security
forces. Although special operators have not been disproportionately
targeted in such attacks, in September, the commander of U.S.
special operations in Afghanistan suspended his forces’ training of
Afghan recruits so that the Afghans could be vetted again for any
potential security risks. Such caution reflects the high premium on
mutual confidence required by the fact that special operators live
and work in close quarters with their Afghan partners and plan to stay
in Afghanistan after the rest of U.S. forces are withdrawn in 2014.

Two success stories

The long-term relationships fostered by the indirect approach
are conduits for understanding and influence. They are the basis
for partnerships through which the United States can help other
countries solve their own problems and contribute to increased
security in their regions. In some cases, the partnerships grow into
alliances, as other countries become willing to assist the United
States in security missions elsewhere. But such results come only
after years of hard work, and success is often partial. Other countries’
interests rarely coincide entirely with those of the United States.

Moreover, by definition, these are troubled countries, under threat,
with flawed governments and often incompetent or abusive security
forces. Still, the partnership option frequently represents the only
realistic course for U.S. security policy between doing nothing and
a unilateral military intervention.

Two of the most successful recent U.S. special operations partnerships
took place in Colombia and the Philippines. In both cases,
over the course of a decade, and with relatively modest investments,
a few hundred U.S. special operators were able to strengthen those
countries’ security forces and dramatically reduce threats from
insurgents, terrorists, criminals, and armed separatists and thus
stabilize regions important to U.S. interests.

Owing in large part to assistance from U.S. special operations
forces included in the Plan Colombia policy that U.S. President Bill
Clinton launched in 1998, Colombia’s military and police have all
but vanquished the narcoguerrillas of the
FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia), who once controlled large segments
of territory in the country’s jungles. For years, the United States had focused decisive and often incur narrowly on Colombia’s ballooning drug
trade even as the country was increasingly besieged by a growing insurgency and a and diplomatic costs.
governance crisis. Under the $7.5 billion Plan Colombia, the U.S. State Department
and the U.S. Agency for International Development worked in
conjunction with a security assistance program in which U.S.
special operations forces helped build and train a large and capable
Colombian special operations command and a highly proficient
special police unit.

In 2008, after a prolonged manhunt across the country’s southern
wilderness, Colombian commandos rescued three American contractors
who were being held hostage by farc guerrillas. U.S.
technology and training helped, but it was the Colombians who
devised and carried out an elaborate deception operation that rescued
the hostages. The achievement served as a very public demonstration
that Colombia’s special operators were ready for prime time.

Today, Colombia is a dramatically different place: violence is
down, cocaine production has declined by 72 percent since 2001,
and the guerrillas have forsworn kidnapping, released their prisoners,
and begun peace talks with the government. Although
right-wing paramilitary groups still wield influence in some parts
of the country, most have demobilized. And although Colombia’s
military does occasionally commit human rights abuses, it is on
the whole a much more professional organization than it was prior
to receiving the U.S. training. And as drug violence and organized
crime wash over Central America, Colombia’s security forces are
helping train police units in every Central American country (except
Nicaragua) and helicopter pilots in Mexico.
Colombian special operators act as valuable
force multipliers since they speak the language and understand the culture of these places in ways that U.S. forces might not. These Colombians are part of an expanding net-work of U.S.-trained special operators that also includes forces from Middle Eastern and eastern European countries
and whose members are now participating
in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere alongside traditional U.S.
partners from western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Beginning in 2001, meanwhile, U.S. special operations forces
began training and sharing intelligence with Philippine military units
combating jihadist militants in the country’s south. After conducting
an extensive assessment of the local conditions and actors, U.S. special
operations units reached out to the neglected Muslim population
in the Sulu Archipelago, oªering health care and building wells and
roads. They also conducted training exercises to build relationships
with the most trustworthy Philippine units, which took the lead in
combat missions. Sensitivities over Philippine sovereignty prevented
U.S. special operators from taking any combat role, but they were
permitted to supply intelligence, advice, and logistical support.
One of the most significant successes of the U.S.-Philippine
partnership was the 2002 rescue of a group of hostages, including an
American missionary, who had been kidnapped a year earlier by
members of Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine-based jihadist organization
a/liated with al Qaeda. According to one of the U.S. commanders
involved in the mission, a U.S. special operator came up with an
ingenious scheme that relied on Philippine human intelligence sources
and American technology to discover the Abu Sayyaf hideout where
the hostages were being held. A man suspected of acting as a courier for
the militants was followed through a market in the city of Zamboanga
and persuaded to add a hot chicken to a shipment that the U.S. and
Philippine forces believed the courier planned to immediately deliver
to the hideout. Thermal sensors aboard an unarmed U.S. drone flying
overhead tracked the shipment’s heat signature as the courier headed
north to a dock and loaded the shipment onto a boat. Surveillance
conducted from the drone followed the boat’s movements until it
unloaded at a location that the U.S. operators correctly surmised was
the hideout. In a subsequent operation, Philippine troops rescued the
hostages, although two were killed.

One of the kidnappers, the Abu Sayyaf leader known as Abu Sabaya,
managed to escape in a boat. The Philippine units, backed up by two
boats full of U.S. Navy seals and guided by the drone, pursued Abu
Sabaya and killed him in an attack on his boat. Had U.S. personnel killed Abu Sabaya,
it might well have sparked anti-American protests among Filipinos, many of whom special operations still resent the American occupation of their depends to a large
country a century ago. Since Filipinos killed
him instead, there was no backlash. Indeed, a key to the overall success of the decadelong William McRaven.
partnership is that U.S. special operators scrupulously observed Philippine sovereignty
and the rules of engagement that banned any U.S. combat role. “We
established a relationship of trust and made it succeed,” said the now-
retired air force commander Lieutenant General Donald Wurster, who
led the special operations task force in the Philippines at the time of
the rescue operation. Wurster readily concedes that the Philippines
still struggles with religious and ethnic separatism, insurgencies, and
corruption, but he claims definitive success in a more focused objective:
“There is no al Qaeda nexus. We eliminated that.”

The U.S.-Philippine partnership may lead to further security
cooperation between the two countries. During a visit to Manila
by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this past summer, the
Philippine government expressed interest in expanding security
ties as the United States shifts its attention to Asia—a remarkable
turnaround considering that just 20 years ago, the United States
vacated two large military bases in the Philippines in response to
anti-American protests.

To assist or not to assist?

Navigating the failings of partner governments, as well as
civil strife and complex sectarian, ideological, or tribal conflicts,
is extraordinarily di/cult, and given the high risk of blowback, the
United States must constantly assess whether special operations
partnerships with non-U.S. forces are, on balance, advancing or
compromising U.S. interests. In forging relationships, U.S. special
operators must not become accomplices to abusive practices or
policies. Early in the war in Afghanistan, special operations forces
partnered with a number of Afghan warlords with reputations for
brutality. These alliances of convenience were arguably justified by
the pressing need to topple the Taliban and uproot al Qaeda. But
this path can become a slippery slope, and some special operators
now acknowledge that the relationships they forged with some
warlords were ultimately counterproductive.

The case of Yemen is also instructive in this regard. Although the
headlines about Yemen have predictably been dominated by U.S.
drone strikes aimed at leaders of the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula, since 2005, U.S. special operators have also been
training, advising, and assisting the Yemeni presidential guard and
special units within the Interior Ministry and the Republican Guard.
These forces were once all led by relatives of President Ali Abdullah
Saleh, the country’s longtime strongman, who violently repressed
dissidence throughout his three-decade-long reign and clung to power
during the Arab Spring revolt against him. Saleh finally relinquished
his position in February—but he handed of power to his vice president,
and two of the units training with U.S. forces remain under the
command of Saleh’s relatives.

Familial, tribal, sectarian, and secessionist rifts make Yemen a
treacherous place, one where the United States risks being tainted by
the bad acts of its partners. In such situations, congressional oversight,
independent evaluations, and restrictions such as the so-called Leahy
amendment, which prohibits U.S. training of or assistance to any
foreign security unit found to be violating human rights, are all
useful forms of leverage. Conditionality is a stick to match the carrot
of aid, and sometimes the right answer is to wield the stick. As part
of the pressure campaign to oust Saleh, Washington suspended U.S.
advisory assistance to Yemen for a time. But because al Qaeda in
the Arabian Peninsula has directly targeted the United States, has
continued to grow, and has formed links to groups in Somalia, just
across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, the case for more assistance
has won out. Although reform measures are still being pushed on
Saleh’s successor, it is not clear that the United States has figured out
the right mix of cooperation and pressure. Nonetheless, ignoring a
strategically important country such as Yemen would probably be
even more risky than is engaging with it.

Organizing for the long term
For partnerships in Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere to
produce positive results over the long term, four significant changes
are required in how special operations campaigns are conceived,
funded, and executed. These changes will allow special operators
to deploy in an integrated fashion with other elements of the U.S.
government, including conventional military forces, in well-thoughtout
campaigns that will last not days but years and achieve durable
positive effects.

First, the special operations community needs to create templates
for standard procedures based on its successes in Colombia and
the Philippines. Military leaders also need to communicate clearly the
lessons of those experiences to others in the U.S. government who
will ultimately decide on and assist in the execution of any new plans.
Second, Congress and the Pentagon need to end the practice of
funding special operations in a piecemeal fashion. Currently, special
operations are funded by numerous different authorities, with
budgets that expire each year. Much of the funding—for example,
money that comes from defense-authorization bills—is restricted
to certain purposes or types of forces, which makes it di/cult to
plan and conduct comprehensive campaigns. For broader stabilization
missions, other funding sources can be tapped, but they often require
State Department approval, which can take up to two years to
obtain. Special operations forces need a faster and more straightforward
budgetary process. State Department oversight is crucial,
but it currently moves far too slowly, owing to the U.S. government’s complex procedures for approving foreign assistance.

Third, the military must improve the way it plans and coordinates
with other government agencies for long-term special operations
campaigns. Currently, these responsibilities fall to theater special operations
commands (TSOCs), which are supposed to lead special
operations in a given regional theater and to advise the regional
combatant commander (also known as the geographic combatant
commander), who is in charge of all U.S. military forces in that
area. But unlike the well-equipped headquarters built to oversee
special operations manhunts, tsocs are thinly resourced and
poorly staffed. “TSOC staffs are where special operators’ careers go
to die,” one senior special operations o/cer told me. But ensuring
that regional combatant commanders understand special operations
forces and how to use them for maximum lasting impact is a crucial
job. So rather than being regarded as backwaters, the TSOCs should
attract the best talent and become central nodes for regional expertise.

Finally, the special operations community must make a more
concerted effort to enlist the support of interagency country teams in
U.S. embassies around the world and of Washington-based national
security agencies. Diplomatic, development, and law enforcement
agencies often play critical roles in special operations missions; the
U.S. ambassadors in Colombia and the Philippines, for example,
proved to be strong advocates of the value of special operations. But
due to a lack of outreach to those agencies on the part of the special
operations leadership, that is still the exception rather than the rule.

New leadership
The likelihood that the U.S. military will take these crucial steps
depends to a large extent on one man: Admiral William McRaven,
the current commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command
(socom). McRaven took the helm at SOCOM’s Tampa headquarters
in the summer of 2011, fresh from overseeing the celebrated raid that
killed bin Laden. McRaven, who had led the special operations unit
in charge of manhunts from 2008 to 2011, was riding a crest of enormous
credibility inside the Obama administration, which he had

earned by his careful planning and unflappable leadership. He put
his considerable credibility behind a number of proposals for reform.
The ideas were bold, but if implemented, their net eªect would be to
concentrate power within socom. As a result, McRaven’s plans were
not popular in other parts of the military.

McRaven’s package of proposals ignited a fierce debate inside the
Pentagon and the regional commands, as some o/cials feared that
his plans would diminish or eliminate their voices and votes when it
came to the use of special operations. One source of controversy was
McRaven’s proposal that the TSOCs be assigned to socom instead of
to the regional commands, a step that would eªectively give McRaven
command authority over the tsocs. McRaven assured the regional
combatant commanders that they would retain operational control
over missions. Some remained unconvinced, however.

McRaven also proposed broadening SOCOM’s operational purview
by giving it a global responsibility and the authority to move forces
around worldwide, so long as the regional combatant commands
concurred. (If they did not, the matter would go to the Pentagon for
adjudication.) Such changes would push SOCOM into a far larger
operational role than it has traditionally played; indeed, the law that
establishes SOCOM’s responsibilities makes clear that the command
will have an operational role only when directed to assume one by
the president or the secretary of defense.

In introducing these proposals, McRaven was reviving the
argument—made frequently but unsuccessfully ever since the
9/11 attacks—that a single entity needs to be solely responsible for
prosecuting special operations against threats that crisscross the
boundaries of the regional commands. Turning SOCOM into a global
combatant command, however, would create constant friction with
the regional commands. And in fact, it soon became apparent that
McRaven had overestimated his clout and that important constituencies
interpreted his proposals as a power grab.

But this past spring and summer, McRaven traveled repeatedly to
the regional combatant commands and to Washington to hammer
out a tentative compromise. According to officials involved in those
negotiations, they agreed to a decision memorandum that guarantees
that operational control of the TSOCs will remain with the regional

combatant commanders, as McRaven had pledged. McRaven agreed
to a modified version of his initial proposal to make SOCOM a global
combatant command; instead, it will be designated a “functional
command with global responsibilities.”But it remains unclear whether
McRaven will secure for socom the ability to deploy forces globally.

In McRaven’s defense, SOCOM should have a voice in how and
where special operations forces are employed. But the more urgent
reforms are the ones that foster greater integration, not greater stove-
piping, both within the U.S. military and between the military and its
civilian counterparts. His initial missteps notwithstanding, McRaven
has begun to reorient the Tampa headquarters to provide more support
to the tsocs and for the indirect approach. He plans to reinforce the
TSOCs by assigning more than 300 of his own SOCOM staffers to
them. McRaven seems to understand the importance of the TSOCs
from firsthand experience: he himself led a TSOC in Europe from
2006 to 2008.

In May, in his first press conference since taking command of SOCOM,
McRaven explained that his proposed changes were intended to provide
the regional commanders with “the best special operations capability
we can.” But, he added, those commanders are “generally focused on
their region—not solely, but generally focused on their region.”

It remains to be seen whether McRaven’s peers within the military
will believe that the SOCOM commander is trying to help them rather
than trying to expand his own authority. Creating a culture of collaboration
within the U.S. military, which is an inherently hierarchical
institution, is a difficult task. McRaven appears to recognize this.
According to an officer on his staff, McRaven gave his staff a reading
list when he arrived in Tampa, and the first title on it was a book
by the management guru Stephen Covey, The Speed of Trust—
trust being what McRaven seems to think is necessary in order to
go beyond McChrystal’s “speed of war” and so allow special operations
to realize their full potential.”

Let us know what you think about this article and its perspectives.  You can write a comment on the Roundtable, or send me a note at, and I’ll share your ideas with our readers.


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