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New Book: Warrior Diplomat by Michael G. Waltz

Monday, October 20th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

WARRIOR DIPLOMAT: A Green Beret’s Battles from Washington to Afghanistan by Michael G. Waltz

Just received a review copy of this yet-to-be-released memoir from Callie at Oettinger & Associates, which I have thumbed through ( formal review coming soon).

The author,  Michael G. Waltz has had a very interesting career arcGreen Beret officer, Commander of multiple SF and SOF teams, Afghan combat veteran with valor awards, DoD counter-narcotics policy adviser, counter-terrorism adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Senior National Security scholar at the liberal New America Foundation, Co-founder of Askari Associates and President of Metis Solutions.

Waltz , it must also be noted, is donating 100% of the proceeds of this book to veterans charities.

An active commenter on FP and .mil affairs, Waltz most recently opined on ISIS here:

Ten Lessons from the Afghan War about how to fight ISIS 

….There were over 40 nations involved in the ISAF coalition, which caused numerous functional and strategic issues.  Even base terms such as “counterinsurgency” (COIN) were interpreted very differently by every partner.  For the French, COIN, invoked memories of their brutal campaign in Algeria; while for the Dutch, the military focus of COIN was to provide security for development projects.  These differences led to years of 40 countries going in as many different directions to little strategic effect.  In the ISIS campaign, the U.S. should start with ensuring all members of the coalition have the same understanding of the President’s stated goals of “degrade” and “destroy.”  These terms are more than just rhetoric in military circles and will have different meanings to each contributor. 

….Coalitions are difficult to assemble and even more difficult to maintain when the going gets tough.  Too often ISAF’s military failings would be swept under the rug in Washington and Brussels for the sake of preserving the political unity of the coalition.  It reflected the view of many in U.S. and European circles working the NATO portfolio that the war in Afghanistan was good for NATO; as it would force the alliance into shape rather than forcing NATO to confront its failings for the good of Afghanistan.  The coalition against ISIS must be good for winning the war effort against Islamist extremism, not the other way around.

Read the rest here.

Warrior Diplomat falls into the same military genre represented by American Spartan, About Face, A Bright Shining Lie and to a lesser extent, classics like Street Without Joy and Diplomat Among Warriors - books that integrated “the fight” with the political, bureaucratic, policy context in all of the latter’s monumental dysfunction. For example, writing of the Tagab District, where the Bagram air base is located, Waltz lamented:

….Though we had information about the HIG broadly as an organization and about some of their commanders in the area, I was bothered by our lack of knowledge about Tagab and the people of the valley. We knew little beyond the very basics of local government, the police, or the local economy. We also knew little to nothing about the tribal make-up of the area or which tribes had aligned with the HIG. most important, we had no idea why certain locals were supporting them. Was it ideological? Tribal rivalry? Abuse from local officials? I hoped our patrol would answer these questions, but I was astonished that we didn’t know more about an area so close to our main base in Afghanistan. Four years into the war, in 2005, we were going into the area partially blind because of our lack of meaningful intelligence

This passage would probably ring true with Major Jim Gant. Or with friend of ZP blog Pete Turner,  who spent so much time in Zabul. Or with most of the soldiers and Marines who went on patrol in Afghanistan any time in the past decade.

Warrior Diplomat is scheduled for release November 1, and I will try to have my formal, full review posted that week.

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REVIEW: American Spartan by Ann Scott Tyson

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen']

American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant by Ann Scott Tyson 

When I first posted that I had received a review copy of American Spartan from Callieit stirred a vigorous debate in the comments section and also a flurry of email offline to me from various parties. Joseph Collins reviewed American Spartan for War on the Rocks , Don Vandergriff posted his review at LESC blog , Blackfive had theirs here,and there was an incisive one in the MSM by former Assistant Secretary of Defense and author Bing West, all of which stirred opinions in the various online forums to which I belong. Then there was the ABC Nightline special which featured Tyson and Gant as well as an appearance by former CIA Director, CENTCOM, Iraq and Afghanistan commander General David Petraeus:

Major Gant was also a topic here at ZP years ago when he released his widely read and sometimes fiercely debated paper “One Tribe at a Time“, at Steven Pressfield’s site, which launched all of the events chronicled by Tyson in American Spartan.  To be candid, at the time and still today, I remain sympathetic to strategies that enlist “loyalist paramilitaries” to combat insurgencies and other adversarial irregular forces. It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered. With that background in mind, on to the book.

First, as a matter of literature and style, Ann Scott Tyson is a gifted writer who can weave a compelling story with dramatic flair. American Spartan is a page turner from start to finish. Having all the ingredients of a Hollywood action movie or bestselling novel, American Spartan would appeal to a wide audience, not simply readers with military experience or a wonkish interests in foreign and defense policy. Moreover, Tyson is well served by her long experience as a war correspondent. She gets the gritty texture of the theater of  scenes and little details of Army outpost life right in a way that other civilian writers sitting at a remove, recycling war stories could not. American Spartan is compared to Sebastian Junger’s War for good reason. If you like a good story and that is reason enough for you to read a book, buy American Spartan; it will not fail to engage and entertain.

Secondly, we need to be frank regarding Tyson’s objectivity. It is clear-cut; she has none. American Spartan is not a work of journalism or a biography of Jim Gant, it is Tyson’s memoir and apologia. She was not an observer or an anthropologist among the Mohmand. Nor is she merely partisan scribe on Gant’s behalf. Tyson is a full-fledged participant in events – even battles -in her own right.  Tyson pleads her own cause as well as Gant’s in American Spartan. This is an ancient rhetorical tradition that goes back to Xenophon and Julius Caesar and it is often a noble one, but to the reader, with this kind of genre, caveat emptor.

The substance of the book, Gant’s implementation of his “One Tribe at Time” strategy among the Pashtuns and his rise and fall with the hierarchy of the US Army is more complicated and begs for deeper examination. Readers with knowledge of Afghanistan, the Army, American policy or some combination of the three will find nearly as much to read between the lines of American Spartan as they will in the text itself. It is fascinating, really, and the moral implications are deeply disturbing.

To summarize, American Spartan lays out a tragic paradox. My impression is that the tribal engagement strategy Gant championed would never have been permitted to succeed, even had he been a Boy Scout in his personal conduct; and secondly, even if tribal engagement had been fully resourced and enthusiastically supported, Gant himself would have self-destructed regardless.  A Greek tragedy in a khet partug.

Gant has frequently been compared to the legendary Lawrence of Arabia and the fictional Colonel Kurtz.   Interestingly, both of those figures died early and untimely deaths, having long outlived their usefulness for their respective armies. Major Gant is, fortunately, very much alive today which may be the only good outcome associated with his fall from grace.  Given his predisposition for assuming heroic risks, taking battle to the enemy, chance hazards of war and Gant’s own struggle with PTSD, alcoholism and pills chronicled by Tyson, the bitter vendetta of Gant’s immediate superiors ironically may have kept him from also becoming Afghanistan’s John Paul Vann or Bernard Fall.  Gant is not a Colonel Kurtz. That charge would be a slander; nor is he really T.E. Lawrence either, though that is a much better comparison. Gant had more bite to Lawrence’s bark and that was at least part of the equation in Gant’s success.  The al-Saud and al-Rashid tribes and Turkish pashas did not fear Lawrence the same way Taliban commanders and rival Pashtun subtribes personally feared Jim Gant, whom one of his fiercest anthropologist critics called “very scary”.  It was not only tea and beards, nor could it be.

Gant was the best qualified SF officer to go on the mission he was assigned, to win over Pashtun tribal support against the Taliban, but was in no condition to do so in the aftermath of his firefight-heavy deployment in Iraq.  Gant went to Afghanistan anyway, despite jealous Kabul based colonel-bureaucrats warning him and and his mission off as unwanted.  This is a brutal and seldom fully appreciated aspect of our recent wars. In Vietnam, two combat tours was considered heavy-duty and three or more tours could have you marked as a “combat bum”. Today three combat tours are not unusual and I have met men with five and seven. This burden is distributed with great inequality among uniformed personnel and even more so among society at large. To this burden is added an incredible degree of micromanagement of fighting units by the chain of command, particularly in Afghanistan. In this respect at least, Gant proved the exception to the rule: he defiantly operated largely free of oversight or constraint.

The behavior of the US Army hierarchy toward Jim Gant and his mission as chronicled by Tyson in American Spartan could only be characterized as schizophrenic. Gant enjoyed tremendously intimidating “top cover” support for most of his time in Afghanistan – Admiral Eric Olson, head of SOCOM, General David Petraeus, head of CENTCOM (later ISAF commander), General Stanley McChrystal, ISAF commander, Lt. General John Mulholland (who would later cashier Gant), head of Army Special Operations Command, Brigadier General Michael Repass, the commander of Army Special Forces, several key members of Congress and the powerful Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. As a result, Gant enjoyed tremendous autonomy in his operations in Mohmand territory, both with the tribe and how and where he chose to engage the Taliban. There was a distinct lack of curiosity, a studied looking away of Gant jettisoning counterproductive ROE, refusing micromanagement by radio during firefights or even what could only be called the batshit crazy decision  to have Tyson live with him as his camp “wife” in Malik Noor Afzhal’s village. That Tyson was useful to Gant in dealing with Mohmand families and winning the trust of the tribe is true but her presence was also a mad risk and so flagrant a violation of the rules that Gant was essentially daring a termination of his mission and likely his career. Despite her presence being well known – the Taliban openly spoke of Tyson’s presence on their radio –  these things were ignored because Gant was producing the political results he promised the top brass without losing a man to the enemy.

Not that this success made Gant popular with his immediate superiors or staff officers at ISAF headquarters. By contrast they termed him “an alcoholic, womanizing, mentally unstable, maverick”.  But smarting from being publicly overruled on tribal strategy by General Petraeus, having failed at sidelining Gant into a desk job and then thwarted in an attempt to divert Gant to a different district, Gant’s nominal superiors in Afghanistan were too afraid to try to openly derail his  high profile operation a fourth time. So they retreated to a campaign of petty bureaucratic harassment and non-support of Gant’s mission.  Needing an experienced SF team of AfPak hands, his superiors assigned Gant soldiers from conventional units, transfers from noncombatant positions, green recruits straight from boot camp and those who had washed out elsewhere. They issued lengthy, niggling,punitive, regulations prescribing the precise grooming and length of beards worn in the field and the placement of patches. They slowrolled supplies and later squeezed money and ammunition and eventually succeeded in removing Gant from the Army, partly on Mickey Mouse violations but mainly because of  his cohabitation with Tyson. In short, the Army bureaucracy demonstrated with Gant’s mission all of the utter lack of urgency regarding the war, blind obstinacy, misplaced priorities, selective ethics, politicized incompetence and manipulative self-regard that has helped the US maintain its  glide path to defeat in Afghanistan.

Gant, however, made their task easy once his superiors felt safe to pull that trigger.

In between Gant’s arrival and his departure from Afghanistan, Gant demonstrated that he was a remarkably talented SF officer, gifted at recruiting and training indigenous forces and adept in harmonizing tribal politics to a convergence of interests with ISAF security goals.  Gant expanded his earlier rapport with “Sitting Bull” Malik Noor Afzhal, integrating his unit with Noor’s Mohmand villagers and himself with the tribe, eventually becoming a malik himself and virtual son of NoorAfzhal.  Gant’s methods, leadership based on personal example and building trust cemented by careful adherence to local conceptions and customs of honor, paid dividends. Taliban influence in the area receded and neighboring district subtribes, once determinedly hostile, began to waver and send feelers to Gant. However, these methods required working with tribes from a posture of respect, adjusting to the ways of Afghans rather than trying to adjust the tribesmen to the ways of America, living with them, eating their food, listening to their advice. If Gant resembles T.E. Lawrence in anything, it is here; with the Mohmand, Gant walked their walk and the Mohmand responded.

Until Gant’s downfall at the hands of a malcontented subordinate, vengeful superiors and his own personal foibles, he was doing exactly what special forces were created to do – connecting the tactical to the strategic by enabling indigenous troops to become real force multipliers. This is also inevitably a political act in the local context. As villagers become armed and trained they become empowered to defend their own interests.  That changes the power calculus not only against the Taliban insurgents, but also against wealthy bigwigs, criminal gangs, corrupt provincial authorities and the central government itself. That threat was why Karzai had so little tolerance and even less enthusiasm for “arm the tribes” American schemes and why a national expansion of Gant’s “One tribe at a time” template was unlikely to happen. It was politically impossible in Afghanistan, as Gant himself conceded to General Petraeus. Arguably, it may have also irked the chain of command to have some “cowboy” Major free-lancing thousands of tribal fighters from his qalat in rural Afghanistan, accountable to no one, while they sat at desks in converted shipping containers  designing power point briefs and attending to paperwork. Hence their accusations that Gant had “gone native” and had become a Colonel Kurtz-like mad warlord of Chowkay. Gant was subsequently broken in rank, his special forces tab was revoked and was retired as a captain.

The story of Major Jim Gant, placed into historical context, should give us pause for several reasons:

First, is the repeated difficulty of the American military in the modern era to effectively fight counterinsurgency wars.

One element in our failure may be the historic intolerance of a swollen military bureaucracy for the inherently political demands of unconventional and counterinsurgency missions that require greater flexibility and autonomy of judgement on the part of NCO’s, junior and field grade officers than standard procedures and regulations normally permit. Repeatedly, COIN wars tend to yield up “mavericks” like Gant whose successes in the field are conducted by methods at odds from the expectations of micromanagers running headquarters. Or whose local successes result in an overselling of possibilities at the policy level to scale these efforts up to an unsustainable degree. It may also be that the sizable expansion of special forces and special operations forces in size since 9/11 have also resulted in an importation of greater bureaucracy into the way that even these relatively nimble, elite units conduct their missions. I’m not certain, but when it takes the concerted intervention of a constellation of  three and four star generals, including theater and combatant commanders to force something as simple as the deployment of one single SF officer and a small unit to work with tribesmen, something is seriously wrong.

Secondly, the shifting of costs in our recent wars has become troublesome at a moral level.

Seldom in American history have so few bore so much on behalf of so many who did so little in wartime. Major Gant’s flaws and mistakes are his own but it is difficult to argue that a tempo of overdeployment to “hard combat” that is burning out and breaking down the SF/SOF community was likely to improve his or anyone’s performance as a soldier and commander. The AVF was not designed to fight a decade of war without calling up all of the reserves and/or returning to conscription but that is how we have prosecuted our wars, including temporary gimmicks like stop-loss orders and lowered recruitment standards to patch over the manpower deficit. As a result, the cost of doing the real work of fighting fell on far too few with the unsurprising rise in PTSD, broken marriages and suicide among veterans while absolutely nothing has been asked of society at large. Nor have we done right by those who have helped us. By that I do not mean the corrupt and incompetent Karzai and Maliki regimes, but of the ordinary Iraqis and Afghans who stuck out their necks to fight with Americans against the enemy as interpreters, allied units or tribal irregulars. As a seventy year historical pattern, the USG and military bureaucracy always abandons our real friends to the enemy, denying them visas, money or even ammunition even while continuing to lavish aid dollars on treacherous thieves like Hamid Karzai.  When we leave and the day of reckoning comes for those who helped us, we look away and accept no responsibility.

American Spartan is not a book, it is a mirror held up to America’s war effort at the granular level.

Strongly recommended.

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Lexington Green on the Army War College National Security Seminar

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Michael Lotus, a,k.a. “Lexington Green” of Chicago Boyz blog and co-author of America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century gives his review of the 2014 National Security Seminar at the US Army War College:

Mike Lotus at the U.S. Army War College 2014 National Security Strategy Seminar 

I had the great good fortune to attend the U.S. Army War College 2014 National Security Strategy Seminar, which ran from June 2-6, 2014.

The War College runse an annual course for colonels and lieutenant colonels, personnel from the other branches, as well as officers from foreign armies. According to the Army War College website the resident class of 2014 included 385 students including: (1) 216 Army officers: Active, Reserve, Guard, (2) 64 Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard officers, all components, (3) 77 international officers/ fellows, and (4) 28 senior national security civilian professionals.

The final week of the year, civilians are invited to attend the National Security Strategy Seminar, which consists of lectures and participation in seminar discussions. The NSS very well organized and professionally run.

The seminar I participated in is depicted in this photo:

MJL NSS Photo

Military officers who reach these ranks are, in my limited experience, an extremely impressive group. The participants in this seminar were no exception, with most having served multiple tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. The opportunity to listen to them in the seminars, and to talk to them informally, was the most rewarding part of the event, for me. I also had fascinating conversations with officers from foreign militaries.

The seminar discussions touched on many subjects related to the security of the nation and the future of the U.S. military. Some recurring themes in the discussion were (1) the impact of shrinking military budgets on the capabilities of the US military, (2) concern about losing the corporate knowledge gained in over a decade of fighting and non-combat activities gained in over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, (3) concern about a disconnect between the military and the civilian population, (4) the over-sue of the military, as the only part of the government that works, to solve all problems, to “hit the M button” instead of using the other DIME elements (diplomacy, information and economics) (5) discerning what the main threats in the future will be, and how to prepare for them, (6) making the professional transition from being executors of strategy and policy to originators of strategy and policy. [....]

Read the rest here.

The National Security Seminar Mike describes is a wonderful program that brings future US Army leaders together with their counterparts in civilian society for a week of discussion about strategy, national security, international relations and future conflict. I attended in 2011 thanks to the kind offices of Steve Metz and can attest to its value.

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Today’s DoubleQuotes 1: in the wild

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- fascinated to see the uses others make of the juxtapositions I call "DoubleQuotes" ]
.

This first one was suggested to me by Scott Shipman as a “match” for my DQ about Von Karman’s mathematics of flow in liquids and Van Gogh’s night sky — and indeed, the two of them make a fine double DoubleQuote.

**

The second comes from the “HSM Press Office” twitter feed, the exact nature of which is unknown, but which calls itself the “High Spirit Mission Press” and sports a jihadist “black banner” as its avatar:

**

And the third?

M’friend Bryan Alexander suggested what he called “a Piketty doublequote” in a note to me this morning:

It may be excessive to accuse senior executives of having their “hands in the till”, but the metaphor is probably more apt than Adam Smith’s metaphor of the market’s “invisible hand”

**

Let’s take the two visual “DoubleQuotes in the wild” above, and look at my own equivalents:

I have to say that I find the respective beauties of the von Karman vortext street diagram (upper panel) and the Van Gogh night sky painting (lower panel) seem perfectly balanced to me, while the fractal generator still has a ways to go before it arrives at the brilliance of Hokusai.

The fractal-wave comparison, btw, is one that has obviously occurred to more than one person — here’s another version:

It’s also interesting to me that in both cases — that of Hokusai and that of Van Gogh — the arts appear to have been “ahead of” the sciences.

**

As to the second “wild” DQ –

I’ve used TinEye and Google image-search engines, and haven’t found any other uses of the double image HSM Press Office posted, showing an Imam praying for a deceased US soldier and US aoldiers urinating on the bodies of deal Taliban — so I imagine the pairing of the two images may be KSM Press Office’s own. And it’s funny, because I think the intention is to suggest “we” (ie jihadists) treat “you” (ie US military dead) with appropriate respect, while you show no such respect for deal Taliban.

The thing is, here’s a caption for the photo of the Imam praying:

Imam Hashim Raza leads mourners in prayer during a funeral for Mohsin Naqvi at al-Fatima Islamic Center in Colonie, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. Naqvi was a Muslim, a native of Pakistan (he emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 8 years old and became a citizen at 16) and a U.S. Army officer. He was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

So what we’re seeing is an American imam at the funeral of a fellow Muslim — in this case a fellow Muslim who was also American soldier. And BTW those American soldiers urinating on Taliban corpses? They’re not representative of the American military as a whole.

Knowing this, I’ve made my own DoubleQuote in response to the one above.

In the upper panel, it shows the New York imam at the funeral of Lt. Mohsin A. Naqvi, whose flag-draped coffin was carried to the service by an Army honor guard from Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division.

In the lower panel, we see US medics — marines, I think [ Army, see correction below] — treating wounded Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

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Octavian Manea interviews T.X. Hammes

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Octavian Manea and SWJ are on something of a roll lately. Colonel T.X. Hammes (ret.) PhD is the respected author of the excellent The Sling and the Stone. If you have never read it, you should.

The Fallacies of Big Expeditionary Counterinsurgency: Interview with T.X. Hammes

SWJ: How different is Mao’s people’s war compared with what you call 4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare)? Is 4GW an updated, evolved form of people’s wars? In the end, isn’t 4GW focused on people and minds, on influencing people and minds?

TX: Mao is a little bit different because (in China) it was a domestic insurgency and focused on wearing down the nationalists and changing the minds of the warlords who supported them. In the case of 4GW, the focus is overseas. People you can’t reach with force, you must reach with the message. 4GW is an evolved form of insurgency. It is also important to note that Maoism is a type of insurgency that essentially fits a hierarchical society, not a tribal one. It always ends with a conventional campaign to destroy the government’s army as the final step in overthrowing the government. You can’t run a Maoist insurgency in the mountains of Afghanistan, the society won’t tolerate that kind of structure.  Nor can you do it in Iraq. 4GW covers both because its objective is not the military defeat.  4GW does not focus on the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but on changing the minds of the enemy’s political decision makers. 4GW directly attacks the will of enemy decision makers.  Once the outside power has been ejected, the conflict can continue until resolution. 

SWJ: Tell us about the center of gravity in a 4GW.

TX: The center of gravity in a 4GW is the will of the policymakers of the other side. 4GW war uses all available networks – political, economic, social and military – to convince the enemy’s political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. 4GW is not necessarily targeted at the people.  If the war is small enough, it can run on for years like El Salvador.  In that case, the US commitment was small enough there was no major political cost to US decision makers to continue supporting the El Salvadorian government.

When you look at the counterinsurgent side, I am more and more convinced that as a foreign power you can only do indirect counterinsurgency. You can advise and assist.  But keep it small – the host nation has to make it work. We, the United States, have done this successfully a number of times. Admittedly, we have not created the perfect nations that the nation-builders want, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to achieve US strategic goals. And we achieved our strategic goals in the Philippines, El Salvador, Columbia and Thailand. In a 4GW, the insurgent is not trying to win over the people as a whole. But the counterinsurgent must do so. In a tribal society, you can do what Kilcullen refers to as wholesale COIN – if you persuade the tribal chief everybody flips. In a more democratic society, you have to convince the people. It is more of a retail operation. It is critical to understand the society you are in and tailor your counterinsurgency and insurgency accordingly. 

I would add, in the 4GW theme of reasoning with the “moral level of war”, that a foreign power supporting a host nation government with FID that faces an insurgency, can probably get away with “punitive raiding”  of the non-state actors from time to time, particularly in rapid response to some heinous action committed by rebels. A heavy in-country footprint though will change the political calculus for the population – it is too easy to look lie occupiers and stringpullers. Foreign troops are rarely welcome guests for long.

Read the rest here.

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