02 November 2008

The other side of the COIN...

As this latest presidential campaign draws to a close with the quick approach of November 4th, there is no doubt that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan always held a prominent place on the whole plate of issues.

That being said, it can be easy for us to focus only on the impact on Americans that the wars have held.  American fatalities and casualties typically shoot to the top of the headlines (but usually only in the form of cold, unemotional statistics).  The travesty that is our system of institutions and programs that are supposed to help returning wounded veterans is another salient topic of the times.

It's easy to forget that in Iraq, there are more than 25 million people trying to scratch out a life for themselves and their families -- all while death comes and knocks on doors all around them.

The New York Times gives us a good reminder of the type of challenges that an untold number of families face in Iraq on a daily basis...

01 November 2008

Petraeus takes over CENTCOM; SECDEF seeks "coherence" to Afghanistan strategy

GEN Petraeus took over U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), giving him overally responsibility over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stressed that while it would be a primary
task for General Petraeus to "keep us on the right path in Iraq," an immediate
challenge was "bringing coherence to our own strategy" in Afghanistan.

So we'll see what happens. I greatly admire and respect GEN Petraeus: he epitomizes everything about that warrior-scholar paradigm. I hope he knows what the next step in Afghanistan is, because I certainly don't. I feel as though even classic COIN strategy may find itself challenged in Afghanistan (assuming, of course, that we are even undertaking a classical COIN effort).

Where STEP ONE always reads "Secure the population," I wonder if we have yet to even lace our boots up in that regard. The enemy is able to move and operate with almost complete freedom, and is able to threaten and influence the population as he pleases. The presence of a neighboring nation-state which is either unwilling or unable (due to fears of retribution or reprisals or fomenting instability etc. etc.) to prosecute any kind of substantial search for terrorists within its borders, certainly exacerbates the situation.

We have a long way to go in the long war in Afghanistan. I hope GEN Petraeus' hundred-pound brain can put us on the right path.

20 October 2008

What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Andrew Exum's excellent counterinsurgency blog brought this incredible Rolling Stone article by Nir Rosen into the spotlight.

Rosen writes of his experience as an embed with the Taliban.  In addition to some damn good storytelling (I could feel my own heart start to beat faster as Rosen recounts a time when he nearly met his doom when a rival Taliban group suspected Rosen of being a spy for the Afghan Army), his article raises a few questions as to just what the hell we are doing in Afghanistan.

Rosen's Afghanistan (the one of 2008) is an Afghanistan where the Taliban are able to move and operate with near impunity.  It is becoming clear that American and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan are treading water, if not flowing backwards with the rising tide of insurgency.

My old roommate from FAOBC (Field Artillery Officer Basic Course) and Fort Hood is currently serving in Afghanistan.  He writes home about once a month via email.  His messages have become more and more sobering over the past 4 months -- his unit has lost several soldiers, and "the bullets seem to get closer and closer every day, I swear to God they do."

It took America a few years to buy into classical counterinsurgency doctrine: securing the population, winning hearts and minds (God I hate that phrase!).  However, our classical counterinsurgency strategy does not seem to be working.  It's difficult to win hearts and minds when the Taliban is able to freely enter any village and cut off the head of the village elder whenever they please.  It's difficult to win hearts and minds when Coalition reconstruction efforts are woefully underfunded.

So if counterinsurgency strategy is not working, then what next?  COIN is often referred to as the graduate-level of warfare.  We recognized that brute force using only kinetic direct action was not going to solve the problem, so we moved to classical COIN.  Now even that appears to be failing.  What is the doctorate level of warfare?  Where do we go from here...?

13 October 2008

A muse rediscovered...

Something interesting happened last night.  I was hanging out at a friend of a friend's place, and I discovered a novel by one Mark Helprin, titled Winter's Tale.  I read a single passage: a short, one-page chapter somewhere in the middle of the book.  The author had written about the mysteries and magic of the universe and our existence.

What struck me was how damned good the prose was.  The writing was so compact and economical.  Each word was perfect.  He said what he wanted to say in exactly the number of words it required.  No more, no less.

I was thoroughly impressed, and it sparked in me that old desire -- the desire to do something great.  That's part of the reason why we write.  Or act.  Or draw.  Or paint.  Whether admitted to or not, there's a desire to do something noteworthy and great.  Something deserving of recognition.  Something to be remembered.  That desire was rekindled in me.

It's part jealousy.  I'm not sure if I could ever meet that standard of prose-writing.  If I could, it would take me a hell of a long time to ever climb that summit.  But one can always try.  Give it the ol' college try.

Long story short, it made me go back to my old writing and even rediscover this blog.  I remember when the words used to come so easily.  I used to be able to sit down in front of the TV with a good, gel pen and a legal pad, and be able to just spit out fragments or passages.  Now I wonder how much work and concentration it would require.  I feel like my creativity has atrophied, and that thought bothers me.  I'm disturbed by the fact that I allowed it to happen to myself.  I blame only myself for letting work consume my life...

04 August 2008

Navy SEAL awarded Medal of Honor

Navy SEAL Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor today.  Most of the major media/news outlets are running brief stories on this, but as BlackFive.net notes, few if any have fully delved into PO2 Monsoor’s story.  And by that, I mean his STORY -- who he is, not just what he did on 29 SEP 06.

The story: it’s a familiar one, told repeatedly since humans started donning uniforms, picking up weapons and killing each other: a guy who put his buddies before himself.  

No matter what’s happening on Capitol Hill right now, a second of your time needs to be devoted to reading PO2 Monsoor’s story.  Considering what he did for a living for both you and me, I’d say that second of your time is mandatory.  There are no viable excuses; you do have the time.

No matter what your personal politics are on this "big thing" going on "over there"...if the story doesn’t tug at your heart just a bit, then you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and assess what you see looking back at you.

There’s a lot of folks -- a lot of them just young kids -- out over there doing good things.  I don’t mean "good" in any kind of grandiose, idealistic, or political manner.

I’m just talking about people doing their jobs, taking care of their buddies, and taking care of the people they have daily contact with -- the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, moms and dads (and I’m not talking about Americans here) that they have the opporunity to influence, protect, and maybe even save from a worse fate (far worse than anything you, me or anyone else will face here at home).

Try to keep these things (the simple things, the human things) in mind while the media, politicans, your friends, your teachers, that guy in line in front of you at Starbucks and everyone else spins and stretches and pulls this whole thing in every which direction for their respective agendas...

I’m not trying to tell you what to think, or that you need to lean towards one side of the grand debate or the other (and if I somehow come across as trying to persuade you to think one way or another, then ignore everything I’ve said here, because persuasion on the grand newspaper headline issues is neither my intent nor my privilege).  

I just want you to (for a moment) forget the politics.  Forget the spin and the talking heads and all that jazz.  Just look at the people.  

And take a moment to think about them.  That’s it.

(I apologize for hitting the preacher button...y’all know what’s important to me)


"..On the rostrum, all three [wounded] SEALs whose lives Mike personally saved hobbled up together to thank Michael and his family for their very existence and to show their family’s gratitude for sparing them the grief that Michael’s family is now experiencing..."

18 March 2008

America's changing officer corps

(originally published on 18 March 2008)

With the 5-yr anniversary of the kickoff of OIF comes the expected tidal wave of editorials and opinion pieces on the state of our military, the effect the war has had at home and abroad, etc. etc. etc.

Newsweek's running an article that caught my eye...

20 February 2008

U.S. News article

Interesting article in this week's issue of US News & WR.

Think back to the last time you thanked a soldier/sailor/Marine/airm en for their service. Was it when you accidentally bumped into them on the subway? Or in the mall? Or at the airport?

If these are the only times you think about the kids that are making the ultimate sacrifice out there, you need to start thinking about them more.

Don't thank ME for my service. I haven't done a thing. Thank the guy with the patch on his right shoulder. Or the girl that has to learn how to use a metal hook for a hand. Or the family who lost a son/brother/father/husband /sister/mother/daughter/wife... The 18 year old kid who no longer has any need for left-foot shoes. The father who came home unrecognizable to his baby girl and worries about hugging her good night because she's too scared of him now...

Thank them, and do it often. It's not really an option for any of us...it's an obligation.