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Entries in SysAdmin (59)


Winning in Iraq: What else do you call it?

The periodic chart in the NYT that tracks trends over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Pakistan too.

Unsurprisingly, the numbers are inconclusive in the latter two, reflecting the previous neglect and now the heightened effort.

The only numbers here that jump out are from Iraq.

Somehow we go down from 153k US troops to just 95k, while the Iraqis go up from 445k to 665k and EVERYBODY'S deaths go down dramatically--ours and theirs (to include their civilians).  

Hard not to call that victory, and that's important to remember. Bush-Cheney screwed up the postwar, and then spent years resisting the move to serious COIN, finally giving in after the 2006 election rebuff. When the generals really took over and did what their own hearts and minds told them was right, we got success.  Didn't come in a flash and it cost plenty, but we got success.

That's where the rush job now on Af-Pak strikes me as destined to fail--and prove nothing, especially when we doom ourselves by aligning with Pakistan.

Where I was wrong on Iraq:  I did not believe that the COIN would be enough absent a regionalization effort that included some cool-down on Iran.  I still think we'd have a much more stable Iraq with such an effort, but I clearly underestimated our ability to stabilize Iraq and put the civil war dynamics on the backburner. Iran's domestic troubles have helped in this regard, but we are still a long ways away from engaging Iran more sensibly on the nukes.  There I see a postwar generation of leaders not unlike the Brezhnev crew in the USSR (in relation to the Great Patriotic War) that are brutal enough in their repression but clearly calculating in their brinkmanship with the West and essentially obsessed with getting their revolution historically recognized by the West in the form of admitting their "power" achievements--to include nukes that protect them from regime change.  In sum, I don't view Iran as irrational.  We've been down this pathetic path before and we know how to handle it.  So the regionalization logic, while deferred, still awaits Iran's clear achievement of nuclear weaponization, which is coming.

On Afghanistan, I will stick to the same regionalization logic, because Pakistan's interests here are so strong in seeing Kabul dominated by a Pashtun/Taliban dynamic in the south.  As with Iraq, I see a larger player (India) that must be satisfied on some level if we want true regional security to emerge (and guess what, it's basically another unofficial nuclear power, as is its rival Pakistan). 

In the end, both of these regional efforts at security regimes will resemble what we did in Europe following WWII, and yes, even there it took about 30 years to work itself out, but our patience and our engagement and our military resolve all paid out magnificently.


McChrystal hinting at a more realistic timeline

AP story by way of Our Man in Kabul that reminds us that two timelines are out of synch:

The commander of NATO and U.S. forces stressed Sunday that progress toward real stability in Afghanistan will be slow as international troops painstakingly try to win over a population that includes its enemies and has little trust in the government.

The NATO push in Afghanistan has long been running on two timelines: one in which officials call for years of patience to establish peace in the war-wracked nation, and one in which President Barack Obama promises to begin drawing down troops in July 2011.

McChrystal hinting at the truth:  "Progress will be measured in months, rather than days."


Caldwell's assessment of, and efforts on, improving the training of the Afghan police forces

Readers will remember Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV for his hosting of one of my visits to Leavenworth to address the student body of the Command and General Staff College (Petraeus hosted me the first time). Caldwell then asked to make a direct post to my site, which I was honored to accept and publish.

So when you're talking WAPO's Greg Jaffe covering Caldwell's recent review of police training, I'm all ears for any glass-half-full news.

The best bits culled:

A U.S. military review in Afghanistan has concluded that the addition of more than 1,000 new U.S. military and NATO troops focused on training has helped stabilize what had been a failing effort to build Afghanistan's security forces, but that persistent attrition problems could still hinder long-term success.

"We are finally getting the resources, the people and money," said Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who heads the NATO training effort in Afghanistan and oversaw the review of his command's past 180 days. "We are moving in the right direction."

U.S. war plans depend on Afghan forces maintaining security in areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is adding 30,000 troops this summer. More broadly, the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy places a heavy emphasis on an expansion of the Afghan security forces before the United States begins to withdraw troops in July 2011.

Caldwell's report card on the training effort, which The Washington Post obtained in advance and is expected to be released within the next couple of days, paints a mixed picture.

On the plus side, new money for pay raises has helped boost a recruiting situation that was so dire last fall the Afghan army was shrinking . . .

For the first time in years, the Afghan forces are "currently on path" to meet the ambitious growth targets, the assessment states. It isn't yet clear how well those forces will perform once they are in the field, which is the most important measure of success, Caldwell said . . . 

"In some areas last fall, we had one trainer for every 466 recruits," Caldwell said. "When you have that kind of ratio, it means that people aren't receiving any training."

The additional trainers have helped double the number of new Afghan soldiers who meet the minimum marksmanship standards by the end of basic training, the report states, although it is still lower than U.S. commanders would like . . . The number of police recruits enrolled in basic literacy programs has also more than doubled, to 28,000 from about 13,000 last fall.

Despite those improvements, police and army units are still struggling to retain personnel, especially in critical areas where fighting is heavy and the demand for forces the greatest . . .

The assessment found that the attrition rate in the Civil Order Police is about 70 percent. That's lower than it was at the end of 2009, the report states, but still "unacceptable and unsustainable" . . .

To fix the problem, U.S. and Afghan officials are weighing the possibility of increasing combat pay and giving soldiers a break from battle. "We are working real hard to set up a system to rotate units" out of areas where combat is heaviest, Caldwell said.

U.S. commanders have said the performance of Afghan police and army forces in Kandahar, the country's second-largest city, is essential to the military campaign planned for the area this summer. There are concerns that, as fighting with the Taliban increases, recruitment and retention could suffer . . .

"We're going to start seeing a more professional Afghan force in the field over the next eight to 12 months," Caldwell said.

Or else, I guess.


The ultimate in disconnectedness

Excellent reportage by Elisabeth Bumiller in the NYT.

Some Afghan women are so conditioned to fear outside males that it limits the ability of the US military to provide to their medical needs.

The killer (literally) quote:

Corporal Gardner, a helicopter mechanic who was working with the female Marines from Pendleton but had not trained with them, found herself as the lone woman dealing with five ailing Afghan women. There was no female interpreter or medical officer — there are chronic shortages of both — and the Afghans refused to leave their compound or let the male interpreter and medical officer come to them. Corporal Gardner devised a cumbersome solution. “Some of these women would rather die than be touched by a male,” she said. “So we’ll diagnose by proxy.”

The quote misleads a bit:  the women have been conditioned into accepting this restriction.  The people who would rather see them die before being touched by a male doctor are their husbands and fathers and brothers and sons.

Such is the level of gender control:  their health is sacrificed to the honor of their males.

It does get any more backward than this:  my pride before your pain.


Naxalism: killing it softly

Photo: PTI

Raghu Raman in a LiveMint opinion piece.

The realization sinks in:

The recent series of Naxal attacks highlight the paradox of the internal security in India. Unlike virtually any other country in the world, we face daunting security challenges while being presented with extraordinary economic development opportunities. Our globally acknowledged growth story is marred by a very real and present danger in the form of Naxal militancy and fundamentalist terrorism, which are two distinct show-stoppers if not dealt with a sense of determined and sustained urgency. The sheer scale of the challenge, however, poses the fundamental question of whether we should be thinking of incorporating new stakeholders into the campaign.

Taking a page from the US operations in Iraq—where an overwhelmingly powerful army crushed the existing regime, only to find itself struggling to manage the ensuing peace process—brings a realization that perhaps a transition phase is imperative between phases of conflict and prosperity. But managing a conflict and facilitating prosperity require very different skill sets.

Then almost a recitation of my slide that highlights the differences between the Leviathan and SysAdmin sides of the house:

As Thomas Barnett, adviser to the Pentagon, points out, the strategic purpose of security forces hinges on menacing and punitive response to events threatening national security. By their very nature, such a response is focused on rapid, and, if necessary, violent degradation of opposing forces. In our case, these would be operations against the Naxal militants. The emphasis is on speed of operations, often unilateral in nature, using a young force whose core training is in destructive operations.

Building prosperity, however, requires different mind and skill sets. This calls for non-threatening, long-term, continuous and economically self-sustaining operations. It focuses on capacity-building rather than capturing power centres. This has to be a deliberate, multilateral and inclusive set of activities carried out by a mature body of people. People who can spot growth opportunities and empower the affected districts to create an environment that is preventive to militancy, rather than punitive towards it.

Piece then explores the native skills that India already has with regard to entrepreneurship.

Then an argument that India's Core MUST integrate its Gap areas, for its own economic reasons:

The question for companies is not whether there is a return on investment in such projects. It is about whether they can afford not to get involved. There is clearly a limit to the growth potential in “secure” zones.  When one-third of India’s land mass is in the grip of some form of disturbance, it is only a matter of time before economic growth of the private sector starts hitting a ceiling. Moreover, it is also only a matter of time before militancy from the hinterland spills over into urban “secure” areas.

The challenge for the private sector is to reorganize its business paradigm to specifically target disturbed areas. The numbers work in its favour. Almost all such areas have only a fractional militant composition. Eventually majority of the local population will rally around income generating opportunities. Because militancy by itself cannot generate sustained income. Income brings access to communication facilities such as mobile phones and television, resulting in knowledge and aspiration. Militants focus on disrupting communication networks precisely for this reason.

Almost a perfect microcosm of my global arguments on a national basis.


New rules force Lockheed to shed PA&E

WSJ story.

Sad for me to see because I played a small role as outside cheerleader on the purchase (I ended up giving speeches to a couple of the early Lockheed-Pacific Architects & Engineers corporate gatherings.

But CEO Bob Stevens announces he will be putting PA&E up for sale because new federal rules from last year (Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act of 2009) places stricter limits on mil-industrial companies who provide both managerial support and then seek to build on systems that are ultimately slotted in under the same--i.e., it's a conflict of interest to both manage programs on behalf of the government and then seek to bid on subordinate contracts.

PA&E was acquired in 2006 as part of Lockheed's move into soft-power/second-half/SysAdmin activities.  PA&E continues to do well; it's just that the new rules force divestiture.

To me, this is part of the yin-yang struggle within DoD:  it knows it's stuck with a lot of SysAdmin workload for the foreseeable future, but it fears the military-industrial complex getting too used to horning in on these activities--contract-wise--because the Pentagon wants these functions to migrate elsewhere ultimately, and the more the mil-indusrial complex settles in, the harder that becomes.

So it's just hard to have it both ways, as both the Pentagon and Lockheed find out.


Brief Reminder: The beginnings of System Administration

Fairly self-explanatory slide I used in the original brief I delivered for the Office of Force Transformation.  Wasn't a cornerstone slide or anything like that, but I did have it in for certain audiences.

Basic notion is to show that the SysAdmin activity really started about the same time (mid-1980s) when Soviets were deep into their withdrawal from mischief-making in the Gap (curtailing or ending aid to Countries of Socialist Orientation) as part of the Gorbachev-led rethink of foreign policy and relations with the West.

The first great SysAdmin op, in my mind, was the escort ops during the "tanker war" between Iran and Iraq. It was rather purely designed to be a system-stabilizing effort and it worked magnificently.  After that, we're into the sheriff work:  arrest Noriega, oust Iraq from Kuwait, stabilize Somalia, the Balkans stuff, then Afghanistan-Iraq-and-associated-GWOT (as it was then known: global war on terror).  

Meanwhile, the Sovs fall off the map and the only thing capturing the Leviathan's long-term attention is the possibility of casting China as a semi-hostile threat of "near-peer" status (remember, this is before our growing financial connectivity with China took off or became widely recognized).  

I remember this chart as a 2002-2003 slide.


Conservatives embrace "new" idea of SysAdmin's responsibility for "expeditionary economics"!

From the panel reports from a conference jointly put on by the Kaufman Foundation (focus on free enterprise) and the Command and General Staff College Foundation (Leavenworth), via John Richardson at Esquire's The Politics Blog (to whom the ideas here are radical and "new").

First, Richardson quoting from the conference and/or report or just feeling like he should italicize:

Too often, in both the military and the international development spheres, there has been a failure to consider the postwar economy is any strategic sense. Military doctrine has usually treated operations other than war as secondary matters to be handed off to other agencies. These agencies, USAID in particular, have rarely conceived of their work as part of  a larger strategy for the country in question or for promoting U.S. interests. One-off projects and bureaucratic delays — due in no part to congressional constraints on USAID - have created the impression that dependence and subsistence are the inevitable future for countries such as Afghanistan. Economic growth is rarely even considered a posible goal ... yet economic growth plainly is a positive force in society and for governments; it is no coincidence that most conflicts today, most of which are civil wars, occur in countries with weak or stagnant economies.

Dare we say, "disconnected" from the global economy?

From the future panel report:

Most people agree that the concept of “expeditionary economics” needs to play a greater role and be incorporated into doctrine in future stabilization and reconstruction efforts in post-conflict countries. The questions are “How do we get there?” and “Who should do it?” Answers to these questions vary. While there is a general consensus that the United States is not adequately nurturing economic development in places where security and engagement requires it and that we are not adequately stimulating the entrepreneurial dynamism that has produced global economic prosperity, there is audible disagreement over whether these responsibilities should fall to the military.


Key Takeaways:

• In an ideal world, economic development in post-conflict situations lies within the purview of civilian organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, USAID, and Department of State. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, these institutions often lack the requisite resources and capacity for post-conflict economic development. As a result, responsibility for the economic dimension has fallen to the armed forces; yet, the military also lacks a guiding doctrine for such work. For future operations, we must develop doctrine for both the military and civilians, as well as consider new ways of implementing expeditionary economics.

• The primary objective of a stability operation is different than that of a development imperative. When you build a water plant, the secondary objective is to bring clean water to people in the town. The primary objective is the psychological change that reduces violence as a result of building the plant. But if we are not measuring for and evaluating the right things, we can’t determine if the $50 billion that’s been spent in Iraq could have been better spent. We’re scratching our heads because we haven’t won over hearts and minds, and we don’t know why. We need to find better ways to measure the psychological impact of stability operations and, more specifically, economic development efforts.

• When assessing the economy of a country in which we might engage, we can’t fall into the pattern of merely looking at the absences. We must pay attention to the assets that do exist—natural, physical, and human assets that can anchor future economic growth. Moreover, our view must be a regional one as opposed to just local or national. In considering how to stabilize failed states, we need to consider what is the right balance between the state, the market, and civil society 

• When considering who needs to lead to economic development in failed states, the tendency is to look to the State Department and USAID. But the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States also should play a major role in investing in and underwriting risk.

• The U.S. preference is to separate political, economic, and military concerns when dealing with states abroad. An imperial approach is well understood, and less complicated than our democratic approach. However, it’s more difficult when the objective is to leave once enduring conditions are set so we don’t have to intervene again. Rather than continuing our tendency to view things in a two- to three-year thought cycle, we need a longer-term approach.

• In war, just as there are human casualties, there also are financial casualties, and we need to accept this reality. Some dollars will be misappropriated, and some will go to the enemy, to criminal networks, to ineffective local leaders, and to bad projects. This doesn’t make it okay, but we need a productive dialogue to determine what is a reasonable level of these financial casualties.

• The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 defined foreign aid as a State Department function because it was a tool of public diplomacy geared toward poverty alleviation and moral good. But the problem with public diplomacy as an imperative is there’s a need to take credit and ensure people know about it. In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, we’ve learned this can generate ill will and be counterproductive. We need to sacrifice public diplomacy to be more effective at counterinsurgency and long-lasting and effective development.

• One proposal is to create a FEMA-like agency with a very modest staff, 100-150 people, that would spring into work when there’s a stability operation. The office would report jointly to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State and would have a limited, circumscribed role. It would coordinate with the chief of mission on the ambassador side and the commander general on the military side.

• It’s important to concentrate planning efforts before a crisis arises. If you are not engaged in long-term strategy and planning, you will not get it right.

• How does the military put expeditionary economics into practice? Meeting the economic needs of the populace in an area of operations is an essential task in stability operations, and the best way to do that is with business formation. An example: If a neighborhood lacks dependable electricity, a commander could provide generators to local entrepreneurs, and give them the ability and responsibility to keep them running. This eliminates the insurgent’s ability to generate public support by attacking municipal power grids and then blaming the government or occupational forces; any attack on the power supply thus becomes an attack on individual families and locally owned businesses.

• It is essential to tie the concept of expeditionary economics to the military security mission. How can the military foster economic growth to establish security? The military needs competence with expeditionary economics tools to get through the “golden hour”—the early days of a conflict when the civilian agencies have minimal or no presence, and it’s up to the military to execute.

• Some disagree that economics is not a soldier’s job. Yet, economics is required to win, and a soldier’s job is to win. The military has no choice but to use economics as a weapon in stability operations, so let’s be as good as possible at it. What we need to be thinking is, “What are the appropriate economic principles we can teach military leaders so they can use them to accomplish their mission?”

• The military lacks a doctrine to use economic development in conjunction with other elements of a counterinsurgency effort—information, security, and stability operations. The easiest way to change doctrine is by Department of Defense or commander’s mandate, but there are other requirements: A new doctrine must be proven workable and should demonstrate added value, longevity for application, and it must foster those traits the military sees as important.

• One area of debate is over the constraints on the use of Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) Funds. Those on the ground maintain that a ten-day approval process makes CERP less useful—commanders need to make investments on the spot or at worst within twenty-four hours. This assumes commanders have a high level of ability and economic literacy that sometimes isn’t there because it’s such a complicated task that requires complete attention.

• Economic development and stability is also an intelligence problem. Almost no attention is given to economic intelligence analysis. Threat Finance Cells are for threat targeting—a different function—but if you don’t understand the economies and then intervene, you are not going to be successful.

• USAID and the State Department staff are not properly trained—there is poor investment in level- and role-specific training and education, and senior leaders could be selected for their qualifications in economic development and entrepreneurship.

A call for a Department of Everything Else-like entity that reports to both SECDEF and SECSTATE and somehow bridges the "expeditionary economics" responsibilities that bind them in failed-state or postwar interventions.  

Plus, an almost exact description of Enterra's diagnostic approach in Kurdish Iraq (a focus on critical assets, creating entrepreneurial opportunities and counterparty capacity locally for deal-execution), right down to the regional focus we used in bringing in the Monitor Group to do a competitive assessment. This is Development-in-a-Box in a nutshell.  That's why I penned the self-promoting (for Enterra) section on DiB in "Great Powers."

In short, none of this is new, and much was proven our or templated in the field by Steve DeAngelis.

The SysAdmin's economic responsibilities; the need for a Department of Everything Else that focuses on the postwar reconstruction; the market-based diagnostic focus of Development-in-a-Box, which lives on in Enterra's collaboration with Pacific Command's Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance--all good stuff.

At first the ideas are ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as conventional wisdom.

Patience and perserverance are the keys, and a willingness to be told to your face--for years on end--that your ideas are bullshit, naive, and completely impracticable--never gonna happen!

Because these are not theories but inevitabilities.  There are only questions of who and when.

There is no credit sought because there is no credit to be assigned.  Everybody comes around to these realities eventually, and until enough do, it's just vision without a budget--otherwise known as an hallucination.

But yes, there is a useful role for consistent hallucinators.


The SysAdmin's civilian-soldier ratio climbs

WAPO story on Army's deputy assistant secretary for procurement, Edward Harrington.

The government's contracting out for services is nothing new, as Harrington's office notes. Its "Contractors on the Battlefield" chart outlines the number of contractors compared with the number of soldiers since the American Revolution. Back then, the ratio of contractors to soldiers was 1:6. World War I, 1:20. Vietnam, 1:6. Gulf War, 1:60. Iraq, 1:1. Afghanistan, 2:1.

An evolution toward SysAdmin operations that has created a rule-set gap:

These days, Harrington points out, the job is tougher because the government's workforce to write, manage and oversee the contractors has shrunk dramatically. The office estimates that as the workload has increased 1,000 percent since 1987, the government's contracting workforce has decreased by 25 percent.

It's why I believe it inevitable that a new bureaucratic center of gravity is created between Defense and State--the Department for Everything Else notion.

It's a serious requirement that's yet to be treated seriously in a bureaucratic revamp.


The Sri Lankan option:  details

map here

Little poor Sri Lanka is suddenly a global model of successful COIN.  Everybody seems to forget how long it took (it stretches back to 1983) and instead want to know how the decisive punches were landed.

Louise Arbour, head of the International Crisis Group, sums up the model thusly:


  1. Full operational freedom for the Army to pursue scorched-earth tactics;
  2. Little concern for noncombatant deaths (pretty much a requirement for #1); and 
  3. Dismissing international and media protests regarding #1 and #2.

Judging by Israel's latest mistakes in mishandling the protest flotilla (pen knives and deck chairs = a dozen-plus dead?), Tel Aviv is absorbing the message alright.



Fascinating piece by Matt Armstrong in WPR on next-generation UN peacekeeping

 The starting premise intrigues:

A subtle evolution of United Nations peacekeeping operations is underway. If the first of these missions kept an agreed-upon peace, and later missions sought to make peace, several countries now use these operations to advance their foreign and economic policy agendas, and raise their global profile. This shift, selective as it is to date, may potentially raise the standard of conduct in U.N. peacekeeping operations increasingly fraught with charges of criminal behavior, corruption, lack of accountability, and general ineffectiveness. However, there are significant downsides to this approach. 

China, Brazil and India are thereupon presented for being "well-positioned to leverage this new facet of peacekeeping."

Some cool background precedes the country analyses, to include the factoid that, "Since 2001, more than half of all U.N. peacekeeping forces have come from seven countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Jordan, Nepal and Ghana."  Body-intensive operations, occurring at heightened frequency, means the UN ends up turning to cheaper militaries--in every sense--that are rich in numbers.

Africa, we are told, is China's primary target for public diplomacy through peacekeeping.  I myself have been surprised, whenever I met with Chinese military officers, how many of them have done time on the continent. It is really viewed as a prime operational experience.  True to form, the Chinese provide purely SysAdmin troops (docs, police, observers, engineers) and no combat-capable personnel.  China explicitly explains its expanding role as filling the vacuum created by the decline of Western military participation in such peacekeeping ops.  

As natural as the day is long to me.  You go with the frontier integrators of the age--not last century's version.

Brazil is presented as seeking more peacekeeping roles as part of its long campaign to win a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, although the geographic purview of its participation remains tight on LATAM.

India, a long-time supplier of peacekeepers, is presented as lacking the tight strategic focus of China--as in, it's not yet sure what it wants to become as a great power.

Conclusion:  mostly upside for the UN with some danger that rising great powers will pick only their preferred missions.

Smart piece.


Asia's demand triggers frontier integration in Africa via mining co's

FT story.

The basics:

Six of the world’s biggest mining and steel companies have converged on an unprecedented scale on a mineral-rich corner of west Africa beset until recently by civil war. 

The companies plan to spend billions of dollars in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where some of the world’s richest deposits of iron ore, the raw ingredient of steel, are found. 

The groups are Vale, the Brazilian iron ore miner, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, the Anglo-Australian mining houses, ArcelorMittal, the UK steel company, Russia’s Severstal, and Chinalco, the state-owned Chinese mining company.

Buoyant demand for steel has lifted iron ore prices, intensifying global competition for Africa’s hitherto little exploited deposits, and pushing companies into increasingly risky territory.

Liberia and Sierra Leone emerged only recently from civil wars, while Guinea has been teetering on the brink of conflict since the death of dictator Lansana Conte prompted a military coup in 2008.

As yet there is little infrastructure to facilitate mineral exports from any of these countries, whose governments want to use the multinational corporations to fund the ports, roads, and railways needed to lift their struggling economies.

Last month, Vale agreed to spend between $5bn-$8bn on building mines, ports, and railways in Guinea and Liberia by 2020. By comparison, the gross domestic product of Liberia is under $1bn (€800m, £700m).

Done well, this can be a big boost to local economic development.  The hoped-for key difference with the past is the sustained, boom-like demand from Asia, which constitutes a socio-economic revolution all its own for Africa.

Takeaway:  compared to our tiny Africom effort, this is SysAdmin work on a grand scale.

The good news:  America's role in shrinking the Gap shrinks by the day.  The bad news?   TBD.


The Taliban, in gearing up their attacks, keep us in Leviathan mode as much as possible

The preview from Marjah, a former insurgent stronghold, does not bode well for the far larger and more seminal effort in Kandahar, where the persistent attacks against NATO base hubs suggests the Taliban will not simply wait out our latest surging COIN effort but will aim to keep us in combat mode as much as possible so as to crowd out the nation-building stuff.

Going into Marjah, we promised tens of millions of dollars for serious SysAdmin reconstruction efforts, only to so far spend $1.5M--a bit short of the projected $19M.  The Taliban has simply kept up the sort of harmonic attacks that keep the situation just unstable enough to prevent recovery--the usual kidnapping of Western workers on key projects and the beheading of pro-gov locals and "night letters" threatening retaliation.  Classic example:  USAID buys irrigation gear, but no local farmers will accept after one of the first to do so was killed by Taliban.  

To date, the whole telegraphing our punch by saying up front Kandahar would be the big proving ground seems to be backfiring.  The Taliban have geared up and gone toe-to-toe every step of the way.  We have our set level of effort, and the Taliban are effectively calculating just enough counter-effort to prevent any lasting impact.

This is where our go-it-alone-with-NATO package looks weak.  Everyone knows we make little effort to regionalize a serious long-term solution beyond Pakistan's cynical buy-in, and that reality encourages the Taliban to play hard for the anticipated short-duration--by their standards--effort the Westerners are likely to make.  Their threshold for critical mass is being met; ours is not.


The Middle East after Iraq

Very nice World Politics Review piece by Gregg Carlstrom.

The premise:

In dozens of statements, interviews and news conferences since taking office, Obama has been adamant about sticking to the withdrawal timetable, which calls for removing all U.S. combat troops by August 2010 and a complete U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011 . . . 

And Obama is by no means bucking domestic public opinion in holding so steadfastly to that promise now. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released in January found that 62 percent of Americans support his timeline for withdrawal . . . Domestic politics, in other words, argue strongly against delaying the withdrawal. 

And yet, the prospect of doing just that continues to be a hot topic in Washington. Tom Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, published a paper in February urging the Obama administration to scrap the timeline. Conservative commentators and analysts -- Max Boot, for example -- think the U.S. should maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq. Lawmakers routinely ask civilian and military officials whether the deadlines are flexible. 

At times, the Pentagon has also seemed far more circumspect than the White House about the timetable.

Publicly, the Iraqis take great pride whenever US troops pull back or out of a city or region, but privately, Iraqi officials are more circumspect, says Carlstrom.

Internally, the future is rather bright:

"What's left of the insurgency is pretty quiet these days," said Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation. "And there's never going to be a time when they have a greater motivation to attack than now."

Why now at the end?  Insurgencies always ramp up violence when the occupier is leaving, in order to claim "victory!" So expect some additional effort.

The real concerns are "external":  e.g., the internal border with the KRG (Kurds) and the real one with Iran and Syria (but more so Iran).

I certainly agree with Carlstom here about the look of an inevitable post-2011 presence:

But most analysts say that any American presence will look much different after 2011 than it does today: A few thousand troops, mostly serving in an advisory and training role, or performing functions that Iraqi forces can't yet handle. The Iraqi military is also executing an ambitious procurement plan, with the air force, for example, planning to purchase more than 400 new planes over the next decade. U.S. troops will certainly help train the military on its new hardware. 

Regionally speaking, it is as I've long argued, a question of competing Shia-Sunni poles potentially using Iraq as a proxy-war site.  But Carlstrom reassures here:

Iran's role in Iraq does continue to grow, as evidenced by the parade of Iraqi officials visiting Tehran before and after the parliamentary election. Saudi Arabia represents the other pole, a Sunni Arab counterweight to the Persian Shiites in Iran. But both countries are mistrusted by a plurality of Iraqis -- and not always for sectarian reasons. For instance, the Shiite Sadrist movement, with its staunchly nationalist views, often holds Iran at arm's length. Against that backdrop, some analysts say, the U.S. could carve out a durable diplomatic role in Iraq. 

What may temper Obama on all this:  Bob Gates fears a final-scene-of-Charlie-Wilson's-war outcome, as in, penny wise and pound foolish.

I agree and don't see how Obama can stick with his zero troops notion, unless it naturally incorporates several thousands of non-combat personnel--essentially pure SysAdmin.


Brazilian favelas: subject to modern COIN reformating?

By way of Craig Nordin, a post on Tech Crunch by Sarah Lacy.


While it’s hard to match the lack of infrastructure like water and sewage systems in an Indian slum, there’s little that can compare to the violence of a Rio favela. So it was understandable, as I entered a Rio favela a few weeks ago that my guides kept impressing on me that a year ago I couldn’t under any circumstances have come here. One year ago, a cab wouldn’t have taken me here. One year ago, no one would even deliver pizza here.

What’s changed in a year? Specifically, the city is doing something about the problem, embarking on a project of “pacification.” As it was explained to me, newly-trained, SWAT-style cops take each favela back, driving out the drug dealers, by any means necessary, in a recognition that the situation isn’t just a bad neighborhood, it’s an urban war-zone. Being new to the force, these police officers have a clean slate with the residents of the favela, and so are able to continue to protect it, keeping the peace. So far, eight favelas have been pacified. Residents I spoke with talked about the relief of being out from under the daily violence: Suddenly they can be a part of the city. But many are still wary. “This is the best I’ve seen the community in a long time, but I’m still scared,” said Nivea Mendes of the pacified favela Babilonia. “Very few people trust the government. They are just out for an election. I’m still skeptical.” Put another way, even though they’re physically gone, the drug dealers still have power in these neighborhoods—for now.

There’s another tactical problem with pacification that never would have occurred to me: Violence aside, the move basically shoved the richest people – the criminals -  out of the favela, creating a need for a new livelihood for merchants and survival-level entrepreneurs (like the boy to your right and his family) in these neighborhoods. This is where technology is coming in.

For more than ten years a non-profit organization called CDI has been giving favela residents a different kind of freedom, setting up computer labs and offering training in everything from basic computer services to IT skills.

What caught my eye:  this is peacetime COIN or SysAdmin at its best.


Jaffe portrait of the quintessential SysAdmin officer

Nice piece by Greg Jaffe in WAPO that explores what it means to be a frontline SysAdmin-style officer: part-warrior, part-diplomat, part-anthropologist, part-nationbuilder . . . just a lot more moving parts than the usual Leviathan role of ass-kicker-and-then-leave.  Focus is Lt. Col. Robert Brown.

Story comes in two parts.

The career background is classic:  This guy has been SysAdmin his entire career, just missing out on the Leviathan's last great romp.

Brown was commissioned as an armor officer in 1991 just months after U.S. tanks sliced through Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard in a demonstration of the post-Vietnam Army's raw power.

Two Iraq tours in 2004 and 2007 opened Brown's eyes to the limits of his Army and himself. He avoided "we can do the impossible" pep talks that other commanders used to fire up their troops. His goal was to build the Afghan government and bring his soldiers back alive.

The vast majority of his time was spent quizzing Afghan elders and officials on decades-old tribal disputes and intrigues. In the evenings he scoured the Internet for information on the HiG and its history in Nurestan province during the Soviet era. "There is so much here that is opaque to us," he said.

The dances-with-wolves isolation and vulnerability:

The outpost, surrounded by soaring mountains on all sides, was isolated and hard to defend. "It felt like we were living in the bottom of a Dixie cup," one of Brown's soldiers said.

Brown eventually decides that his unit's presence is uniting two wings of an insurgency that could otherwise be split.  He asks to close the outpost and the decision to do so takes a while.  In the meantime, his unit suffers a massed attack by local insurgents:

Eight U.S. troops were killed in the Oct. 3, 2009, battle at Combat Outpost Keating, making it one of the deadliest fights for Americans of the Afghan war. For soldiers, the harsh reality of combat has scarcely changed in the decades since Vietnam. To survive, the outnumbered Keating grunts relied on their mutual devotion and marksmanship.

What makes Keating different from past battles is what happened afterward. A decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has forced battlefield commanders to accept that victory in today's wars is less a matter of destroying enemies than of knowing how and when to make them allies. This new kind of war has compelled midlevel officers such as Brown to take on new roles: politician, diplomat, tribal anthropologist.

"My goal is to get people to stop shooting at my soldiers and support government," said Brown, a wiry, quick-talking officer whose three combat tours have imbued him with modesty, skepticism and a little self-doubt.

After the Kamdesh battle, an insurgent leader known as Mullah Sadiq sent word to Brown that he wanted to drive his more radical Taliban rivals from the area around the Keating outpost. Sadiq, who had been on U.S. kill-or-capture lists for five years, needed money and Brown's help brokering a peace deal with Afghan government officials in Kabul. The offer was Brown's chance to ensure his eight soldiers didn't die in vain.

"We don't think Sadiq is a Jeffersonian Democrat," Brown wrote of Sadiq in a February e-mail from Forward Operating Base Bostick in Naray. "But he is rallying public support to the Afghan government and against the Taliban. . . . And frankly, that may be good enough."

From part two:

Sadiq wanted 50 assault rifles, $20,000 and a promise that U.S. forces would not kill him. In return, he promised to turn against more-radical Taliban insurgents and to begin to work with the Afghan government.

Sadiq's proposition gave Brown a chance, however tentative, to achieve a victory of sorts in his corner of Afghanistan and redeem the loss of his men.

"This has the potential to work," Brown told his commander.

It has become a given within the U.S. military after nearly a decade of grinding battle in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq that U.S. forces cannot kill their way to victory. Enemies must be persuaded to lay down their weapons through a mix of negotiation and force. Grievances must be understood and wherever possible addressed. These principles are at the core of the military's coming campaign in Kandahar, which U.S officials are touting as the most important battle of the nine-year war.

Brown is a firm believer in this new American way of war, one that has forced him to puzzle through dauntingly complex tribal feuds and to overcome a fractured Afghan government that often prefers to fight enemies, such as Sadiq, rather than cede influence to them.

Brown, 41, has struggled to make sense of Sadiq, who insists on dealing with the Americans solely through intermediaries. Some Afghans describe Sadiq as a religious scholar and brave commander. Others maintain that he is a warlord and extremist.

"The bad guys aren't bad because they were born bad," Brown said from his base in Naray. "What no one ever teaches you is how to get to the bottom of the story. No one ever teaches you to ask, 'Why is Mullah Sadiq the way he is?' "

 The deal struck sounds right out of Anbar in Iraq:

Every few nights, one of Sadiq's deputies telephoned Brown to work out the terms of the deal. By March, the insurgent commander had assembled an informal police force of about 230 locals, some of whom had probably taken part in the Keating attack. Brown arranged for the United States to pay the men about $25,000 a month until the Interior Ministry formally accepted them as police.

But the problems are two-fold: 1) does the Afghan government really want to broker such deals? and 2) what's the nature of US staying power?

In early April, the deal with Sadiq began to fall apart. Senior Afghan officials in Kabul banned Zaman (local PD chief) from sending any of his forces to meet up with Sadiq's fighters.

"They are worried that we are trying to give Kamdesh district to the HiG," Zaman said. "They don't want us to give these guys a say in the government."

The hedging in Kabul also unnerved Sadiq, whose representatives immediately called Brown. "We are surrounded by 1,000 Taliban, but our government doesn't accept us!" one of Sadiq's deputies screamed over the satellite phone. He demanded Brown's help in acquiring 600 assault rifles, 16 Ford Ranger pickup trucks and two dozen machine guns and grenade launchers for the new Kamdesh police force.

Brown explained that the weapons had to come from the Afghan Interior Ministry, which was refusing to send any arms to Kamdesh. Sadiq's representative hung up on Brown in mid-sentence.

To get the deal back on track, Brown and George pressed the Afghan officials to write a letter to the central government in Kabul detailing the need to move forces into the valley and to better arm Sadiq's police force.

"After much cajoling, we have gotten all the Afghan players supporting the resources for the police in Kamdesh," Brown wrote in an e-mail in early May. Sadiq didn't get all the weapons he wanted, but he got some.

A new U.S. unit was scheduled to replace Brown's cavalry squadron at the end of May. He knew the next U.S. commander wouldn't have the same incentive to close the deal with Sadiq. Brown also had ample reason to question Kabul's commitment to working with Sadiq.

"We want this to happen more than the Afghans do," he said he often worried.

The reconciliation ceremony has not been held, but in recent days hundreds of Afghan army and police forces have been inching along the perilous road to Kamdesh to link up with Sadiq. Taliban commanders have been assembling a force to stop them.

Brown said he does not know exactly what to make of the maneuvering, although he detects signs of progress. "The momentum change has been significant," he wrote in an e-mail.

He expects to be home in Colorado in about two weeks. Kamdesh will be a new commander's fight.

The usual problem of being there only so many months, learning enough to start working the situation, and then being yanked out just as things might mature into something better.  Here, they don't for reasons beyond Brown's control.

Nice reporting by Jaffe, showing the great difficulty and complexity of the task, but also highlighting, in an anecdotal way, how Afghanistan probably won't work out, COIN-wise, like Iraq.  Just too many competitors fighting for influence in a zero-sum manner.


Private contractors as spies? Welcome to the frontier

The gist from the NYT story:

Top military officials have continued to rely on a secret network of private spies who have produced hundreds of reports from deep inside Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to American officials and businessmen, despite concerns among some in the military about the legality of the operation.

Earlier this year, government officials admitted that the military had sent a group of former Central Intelligence Agency officers and retired Special Operations troops into the region to collect information — some of which was used to track and kill people suspected of being militants. Many portrayed it as a rogue operation that had been hastily shut down once an investigation began.

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government officials and businessmen, and an examination of government documents, tell a different a story. Not only are the networks still operating, their detailed reports on subjects like the workings of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and the movements of enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan are also submitted almost daily to top commanders and have become an important source of intelligence.

The American military is largely prohibited from operating inside Pakistan. And under Pentagon rules, the army is not allowed to hire contractors for spying.

Military officials said that when Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in the region, signed off on the operation in January 2009, there were prohibitions against intelligence gathering, including hiring agents to provide information about enemy positions in Pakistan. The contractors were supposed to provide only broad information about the political and tribal dynamics in the region, and information that could be used for “force protection,” they said.

Some Pentagon officials said that over time the operation appeared to morph into traditional spying activities. And they pointed out that the supervisor who set up the contractor network, Michael D. Furlong, was now under investigation.

The private players were organized under a Lockheed Martin contract.  Why resort to this effort?

The private contractor network was born in part out of frustration with the C.I.A. and the military intelligence apparatus. There was a belief by some officers that the C.I.A. was too risk averse, too reliant on Pakistan’s spy service and seldom able to provide the military with timely information to protect American troops. In addition, the military has complained that it is not technically allowed to operate in Pakistan, whose government is willing to look the other way and allow C.I.A. spying but not the presence of foreign troops.

So a classic improvisational response to a frontier integration situation:  normal bureaucratic channels don't work (bit too "out there" for the CIA, apparently) and the lack of full-up connectivity (i.e., technically, our military cannot operate there) pushes the Pentagon to outsource the function to the private security sector.

Simply put: the frontier lies just beyond the normal rule-set, so you get this working-for-the-gov-but-not-belonging-to-the-gov result.  Read your history of the American West, it happened all the time.


The usual SysAdmin shortage: no enough trainers to go around

Pic found here

Per an NYT story, the usual suspect:

The Pentagon, in an official assessment of the Afghan mission released last week and current to the end of March, said that “one of the most significant challenges to the growth and development” of the Afghan security forces was the shortage of trainers.

So the US is forced to surge an additional 850 trainers to go with the 1,500-or-so provided by allies.  This is beyond the 30,000 troops surged previously.

That's a telling stat, is it not?


Update on efforts to professionalize the Afghan National Police

Dreazen story in the WSJ on the SysAdmin effort in Afghanistan:  the great battled against endemic corruption within the Afghan National Police.

Latest tricks:  dial #119 to drop a dime on corrupt cops, blue dye that marks government gas so the cops won't sell it off for personal gain (about one-fifth on average disappears), and electronic funds transfers of salaries so police superiors have a harder time demanding kickbacks.  In the past, they would just send the salary total for entire units to regional bases, which would then distribute them in cash.  Stunning, when you think about it.

But it's almost always these small training/human resources/personnel stuff that defines the major differences between professional and non-professional forces--not the gear nor the numbers nor the funding (beyond salaries, that is).  Rooting out the waste, fraud and abuse follows all that, but it cannot replace good wages.

Recent polling said the average bribe paid to cops by citizens was $160--in a country with a per capita income of just over $400.  That will get you a lot of angry people.

New officers are now getting $165 a month now--a wonderfully symmetrical number.  You ought to be able to beat the average bribe with your monthly salary.

Holbrooke, our special envoy to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, goes around telling the world that the police is terribly corrupt and inadequate, which is probably true, but I just wish the guy actually accomplished something in all his travels and speeches beyond such criticism.  I mean, hasn't he be a tremendous non-entity in this whole effort?

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