Sunday, June 28, 2009

Over To Starbuck

Okay, Starbuck has a good assessment of the 30 June shenanigans we can expect. Ordinarily, I'd jump on the band wagon. But I'm too close to the situation to write or assess without editorializing and getting out of my lane. And for a variety of reasons, I'm in a really, really bad mood, and that would probably bleed over. Maybe someday, when I'm in my dotage, I'll re-visit Mosul circa 30 JUN 09. Right now, I'll let Starbuck do the talking, which he does well.

Mosul: Post 30 JUN

On thinking about it, I'm not going to post squat on the 30 JUN withdrawal of US combat forces from urban areas in Iraq. Too easy to get crosswise with OPSEC, PAO, etc. Instead, I'll link to this article, which does a good laydown of the situation. One note, though: the Iraqi Police that the writer mentions as the "weak link" are the local police, or shurta mahlhauli, not the Iraqi National Police, or shurta wattaniya, with whom we (the team) are partnered.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

100-lbs of Home Protection

James Rummel is a self-defense instructor who blogs over at Hell in a Handbasket. He's a reliable internet go-to guy for factoids on firearms--especially esoteric pistols, home defense, and self defense.

When asked about protecting the home without a firearm, he provides a slew of good advice. He recommends my personal favorite tip: get a dog. James suggests a basset hound for this mission. I'm thinking the Mongo Clan will stick with bark and bite:

Afghanistan Round Up

With LTG McChrystal taking over our efforts in Afghanistan, there are going to be some changes in the way we do business there. I try not to comment too much on Afghanistan, since I haven't deployed there (yet) and believe that you can't go far wrong when you don't know squat if you keep your cakehole shut.
Over at The Captain's Journal, there are some good observations on the ROE and other operational changes here, here, and here.
A reasoned overview of the new policy is also posted over at Just Barking Mad.

A Matter of Degree

Mr. Smith over at The Captain's Journal responds to my rant about putting SOF "under" Conventional Force control.
Given the caveats that he stipulates, I think that what he is proposing is already taking place. The "lag time" is caused by CF adapting their organizations to be able to maximize the capabilities that they are incorporating. I'm going to table this subject (or at least until I read another post on someone's blog that sends my blood pressure through the roof) until I can get smarter on SOF/CF integration. I think that a lot of the capabilities about which Mr. Smith writes are migrating, even if the personnel aren't. However, I'm not up on the exact "line and block" charts that would confirm or deny my suspicions. I'll try to degrade my ignorance before I climb back up on that particular soapbox. I know, it's a little out of character for me to try to "get smart" before opinionating.
One thing that I would add, though, is on Mr. Smith's comments about the ISF (of which, I work pretty much exclusively with the Iraqi National Police) versus the Sons of Iraq. While I can't quite agree that the conclusion he has reached on the ISF is wholly accurate, I think it comes down, again, to a matter of degree. A good analogy is the way US citizens feel about their Congress; while polls show that people have a very low opinion of Congress overall, most of these same people are relatively satisfied with thier own representatives.
First, the SoI is local, so they are fighting for their homes, their neighborhoods, and their extendend families. Second, leadership within the SoI breaks is grafted on from tribe/clan leadership. So the SoI leaders are, at least to some degree, comfortable with the mantle of leadership and already have established and enduring credibility and legitimacy. Finally, the SoI are a one-dimensional force. They really don't have to worry about their next assignment, or their next promotion, or the political considerations of doing their job.
The ISF, on the other hand, does not have immediate credibility or legitimacy with either its soldiers or the local people. In order to have, in the long term, a viable security apparatus that can represent all the people of Iraq, wherever it goes within the nation state, the ISF often have to eschew--or even operate counter to--local tribal norms. All of the things we take for granted about military service, and which are difficult to establish and maintain even in a highly functional organization, the ISF is struggling to matriculate.
The SoI fights, and then goes home. The SoI stands watch, and then goes home. And when he goes home, the Son of Iraq is in an environment where all of actions were known to and approved by his tribal elders. The Coalition really doesn't have to worry about sustainment for the SoI, because all of the "backside" support functions are handled by the SoI going home. On the other hand, the ISF is working hard to build a sustainment capability and finding it a significant challenge. This affects, as it does with every military force, the morale, performance, and reliability of its soldiers. Also, officers are a little more free to line their own pockets, because they are shortchanging "the government" as opposed to their local leaders, friends, and relatives.
I'm very proud of my own guys; they live in terrible conditions and are afforded little advancement or training opportunities, but are out there every day slugging it out. Sloth, negligence, and apathy do plague the force, but it is balanced by bravery (as I've said in other posts, a lot of my guys are crazy brave), loyalty, and sincerity. I do trust them, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are shurta in my Brigade who would take a bullet for me without hesitation. Because the ISF is still in the "start up" stage, though, different units have wildly different capabilities and norms. While I'd have no problem sleeping in my guys' compound, or shedding my body armor while I'm there (which I do), there are other ISF elements out there in whose company I would not only keep my kit on, I'd make sure that the QRF new where I was going and how long I intended to be there, and I'd try to get them to monitor my freq, too.
The SoI is a great force that is performing exactly as it ought. But long term success will depend on growing a professional, capable ISF that can sustain itself. We have a long way to go, but I believe we can get there, despite the fact that there are days when I feel like suck-starting my own 9mm.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Random Entries

-Haven't been able to post too much. Everyone is girding his loins for 30 JUN (as I wrote before, this event deserves its own post, my goal is to get to it before 30 JUN).
-I'm not a gourmand, but Hammer is killin' me with the chow recipes. Baked potato soup, mmm...Dinner here tonight was coffee, candy bars, and beef jerky. Actually, it was pretty good.
-The gym here is a 15 minute walk (at an EIB pace) away. This means that I've got to factor in an extra half-hour for any workout. Workout time is scarce, so it's a pain. Worse, that extra 30 minutes starts the siren sound of weakness "blow off the workout" singing in the back of my head. Max Lumber squared me away with a tire and a sledge hammer. The tire is a BFT--Big F'ing Tire; I couldn't tell you how much it weighs (muy pesado), but it comes almost to my clavicle when stood up and has "front loader/grader" stamped into the side. 25 minutes alternating banging away with the sledge and flipping the tire will set your mind right and induce shaking, sweating, and nausea. Good stuff.

25 June 09

Monday, June 22, 2009

Revision and Apologies

The other day, I hawked IraqSlogger as a pretty good round-up of Iraqi news. That was based on reading a pretty decent article, and scanning all the headlines. Now I'm revising that assessment based on the following headline:

US Accused of Bribing and Murdering Journalists During Military Operations

The article is about Fallujah 1 & 2, and how we either bribed journalists "to refrain from documentations showing dead and wounded US soldiers" or, if the journalists wouldn't comply, executed them. Bullshit. My apologies for not digging deeper before I lauded the site.
Not linking to it. Fuck them.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rhetorical Question

This question is unanswerable, at least until the smoke clears--literally. To what extent has a free and democratic Iraq (as fragile and tenuous as it is right now) influenced the Iranian people's uprising subsequent to their fixed, sham elections?
It's not like the Iranian people didn't know going into it that the fix was in; every election since 1979 has been a farce, so why start resenting it now?
Been trying to catch news on Iran as I can, but I haven't seen this question posed yet.

The Things We Miss At Home

The boys cleaning out the night's catch on the back dock in the dawn's early light, while Boo Boo Bear provides Quality Assurance and helpful critiques of efficiency, speed, and technique.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Piling On

Who'd've thought, Starbuck beat me to the punch on this article from the Stars and Stripes about leadership in the ISF and how it occasionally rubs US Forces a little raw. Great post, I'll just through in a couple of random thoughts from a slightly different perspective.
On Inshah'allah: Literally meaning, "If God Will's It," it is used in conjunction with almost every declarative statement of intent by ISF leadership. While I initially had the same view of it as Starbuck does (and he ID'd the SOUTHCOM analogy, too, dammit), my interpretation of Inshah'allah has grown a little since I've been here. The usual American's interpretation, as Starbuck points out, is that the phrase means "maybe it'll happen, maybe it won't, who knows? Only God. But if God wants it to happen, that means I really don't need to lift a finger, now do I?"
Now, I see it as "It'll happen, I'll try to make it happen, but of course only if God wills it." Generally hearing that term is a positive thing. "It's going to happen if I have anything to do with it, but I'm being respectful and acknowledging that God, too, must want this to happen." Kind of like our vestigial pagan phrase "knock on wood." Much less encouraging is when you hear mumkin (maybe) or bukra (Egyption dialect for tomorrow, which does mean the same thing as it does in SOUTHCOM).
-On the rapport building with counterparts: Sometimes, though, we misinterpret Inshah'allah because we're missing the import of the entire conversation. Many times, if he has an option, an Iraqi, or an Arab, won't tell you "no." Many Amriiki's think that they've got great rapport built with their counterparts because they never tell them no, but then that same American will complain about the counterpart's whole fucked up Inshah'allah philosophy on execution, so nothing ever gets done. In fact, the guy never meant yes when he said, "yes, Inshah'alla." He's just too polite to tell you to go pound sand. You, as the requestor, are supposed to be polite enough to realize, after being told "yes" four or five times with nothing happening, that yes means no. Is that clear enough? I got this "yes, but get the friggin' hint" bit of wisdom from Dr. Nydell, when she was my Egyptian dialect instructor, and it has always served me well. I'm pretty sure she didn't say friggin', though; she's a lady. Oh, and all my myriad failures at Arabic linguistics are my fault, the poor Doctor did what she could, but c'mon, I could be the poster boy for a GIECO commercial.
On ISF effectiveness: Starbuck astutely notes TE Lawrence's advice that that it is better that the Arabs do their business in Arabia tolerably than to have Westerners do it perfectly. But it's more than that; although we are orders of magnitude better than the ISF at any type of military operations, the ISF will always be more effective than us at battling insurgents here and making Iraq secure and stable. Commanders who don't get that the ISF is the sole viable defeat mechanism for insurgents and jihadis in Iraq are in denial. This is a hard fact to acknowledge. When you midwife an operation with the Iraqis, you're going to get stuck with an ugly baby. But it's going to be the only kid that'll survive to adulthood, so you better love it. Making the ISF the face of Government of Iraq credibility and legitimacy will mean putting up with a lot of ugly babies, but it's the only option that will work.

A Note To Mr. Smith

Sorry, I don't know how I did it (although I think the official, IT term of art is "fumble-fucking around"), but I deleted your comment. It wasn't my intent, nor do I have any objections to anything you wrote. As you intend to address the subject on The Captain's Journal, I'll continue the dialogue with you either from here or at your blog as a commenter, if I can figure it out.

On the commenting, I registered, and no password came up on the registered e-mail for a couple of hours. I tried to re-register, and the registration screen said that that user-name (Boss Mongo) was already in use (which it hadn't said the first time I registered, so I think the user it was referring to was me). As of today, still no e-mailed password. If it doesn't come through by tonight, I'll try to re-re-register, probably as "Mongo, Computer Super Genius."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Slogging Through the News

Apparently, the IraqSlogger is free for the month of June. After that, it's only available in a "consulting format only." Whatever the hell that means. Anyway, get it while it's hot; best one-stop shopping I've seen for news on Iraq.

Iraqi National Karate Coach Killed in Mosul

From the article:

Gunmen killed the coach of Iraq's national karate team Friday in Mosul, underscoring the dangers still facing this northern city less than two weeks before a deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from urban areas.

Izzat Abdullah, a 45-year-old Sunni, was shot to death near his house in an eastern section of Mosul, according to police and sports officials.

Interesting quote:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, said earlier this week that American combat soldiers would pull back from the center of Mosul by the end of this month as scheduled, despite the continued violence.

Earlier this year, he said Mosul might be one of the cities where combat troops might remain. But he said Monday that violence and tensions in Iraq's third-largest city have declined.

"I feel much more comfortable with the situation in Mosul now," Odierno told reporters.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No, No, A Thousand Times No

Over at The Captain's Journal, Mr. Smith* analyzes a paper by Jonathan Kay summarizing the findings of a conference of experts on how to handle the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan held in...the Bahamas (okay, maybe there's a good reason for that, but every time I try to think of it, "boondoggle!!" keeps popping into my head. Weird, eh?). I guess that Mr. Smith has been an advocate of closer SOF/GPF integration, to the extent that SOF ends up attached to (read "operating under") conventional forces. Here's one of Kay's paragraphs, followed by Smith's assessment:

In addition, Special Forces (and special operations troops in general) will get more resources. This is part of a trend, as commanders have found that efforts are more successful when Special Forces personnel are taking the point. This has led to some special operations troops getting special privileges, like wider authority to call in artillery fire and air strikes. Thus this “unleashing” of the Special Forces and other special ops units (SEALs and foreign commandos) will lead to some interesting situations.

Smith: They’re listening, and we’re partly there folks. No special privileges though. Re-attach them to infantry, just like Force Recon is attached to Marine infantry. Just another billet to do specialized things. The Army is dumbing down their expectations and taking the vast majority of their fighters out of the fight while also taking their SOF fighters out of the counterinsurgency operations. Time to end that nonsense. Get back to the basics.

Let's talk basics. Conventional Forces, represented here by the Infantry, are regimented, hierarchical, and inflexible. SOF operations and culture--where merit, competence and aptitude often win out over rank--is anathema to CF. As for "no special privileges" like greater authoritiy than CF to call in indirect and air support: those "special privileges" are generated because the force receives special training and has special capabilities. What do you think the S in SOF is for? Is the argument that a 26-year old squad leader should have the same access to the wide array of US effects as a 44-year old, specially trained operator?

If, in our current COIN fights, SOF/GPF integration is so all-fired important, let's turn the paradigm around: let's attach infantry companies (commanded by captains) to SF companies (commanded by majors). Better yet, let's attach infantry battalions to SF Groups and SEAL Teams. That would ensure that the forces are integrated. Of course, the infantry guys would be ruined forever (from thier commander's point of view) because they'd learn to think for themselves, would prioritize mission accomplishment over placating the command, and would go to the gym and do PT in any clothes they wanted (the horror, the horror).

Starbuck pointed out the case of a sergeant major who admitted to using a multi-million dollar unmanned aerial vehicle to covertly inspect the uniforms of Soldiers at remote combat outposts. Yeah, the organization that promoted that guy and put him in a position of such responsibility and authority could properly utilize SOF. You know what, on second thought assign a bunch of SOF guys to that unit; they'll chill that motherfucker out muy pronto.

*My apologies to Mr. Smith for not being able to send him my comments directly. Couldn't successfully register, maybe because of the Iraqi IP address, maybe because I'm technically retarded (Mongo no like magic box, magic box make Mongo angry).

Fair Hair Assessment

To some of my friends and family that saw the pics of me with my new haircut:
If I'm cool enough to wear long hair, I'm smart enough to try to get cool when the daily temps are in the triple-digit teens.
On that note, I've got a flat-iron for sale cheap, if anyone's looking...

Fair Air Assessment

MAJ Angelina Maguinness on the considerations for the use--and misuse--of air power in a COIN environment. It's a pretty fair assessment, countering some voices that think that our COIN endeavors should be more "air centric."
A couple of points, though:
-I'm not sure that her use of British employment of the RAF for imperial policing is a great example. I would think that the technical advances in air capability would be like comparing the rifled muskets of the Civil War to the M4s that we carry today; the difference in performance, reliability, and capability is so great that using mistakes made in employment of the rifled musket would be insufficient in a critique of the employment of the M4. Not an air guy, though, so I could be wrong.
-When MAJ Maguinness demures from those who state that "air power can be a replacement in COIN for large ground forces," I'd go one step further and say that the requirement in COIN is for small ground forces, and that in some respects, large ground forces prove to be just as distant as air forces. She's right on target saying that the most critical target set is the indigenous population, but large ground forces often stir up the ire of that population; they're too intrusive.
-I think that most of the "Air Centric" COINistas would back off after an intellectually honest mission analysis. The real requirement for COIN is for small-ticket platforms that won't elicit tumescence from fighter jocks or ISR junkies. Small (and cheap, which means that no one wants to buy them) STOL aircraft to resupply and support small groups of warriors in the far-flung reaches of the Area of Operations are the real requirement. I don't need--or want--an $80 million platform designed for COIN, because then I'll never get to use it. Stack up procurement of the requisite numbers of Sherpa's or Twin Otters against the F-22 and the F-22 wins every time. I just can't wait for someone in the Pentagon to start pitching the Raptor as a COIN requirement.
-I violently, adamantly agree with the MAJ on the importance of intelligence, and that "Today, intelligence is operations." However, the example that she provides--the hit on Zarqawi--is the exception that proves the rule. We still have a long, long way to go before I would consider us trained and effective in the conduct of intelligence-operations fusion desired in COIN.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Long-Term Capability in a Long War

Max Boot's take on LTG McChrystal's first policy in Afghanistan. I like the idea, but I think it would have to be done properly. The Army has a tendency of making everything painful. There is a love of running marathons at a wind-sprint pace.
Making a long-term investment in building true regional expertise--with operations in mind, rather than the ancillary and peripheral reasons that we usually stick officers in foreign countries--is a good decision. Making the job so that it doesn't suck so much that people vote with their feet should be an implied task, but we'll see.
One aside: Boot claims that being on a staff is less stressful than being in combat. Not if you're on a good staff, pal. Being a staff officer is participating in a battle of a different kind. Doing the job well, over the long term, is one of the most stressful, physically debilitating endeavors one can undertake. Of course, there are plenty of weak staffs out there whose miscreant members work--maybe--nine-to-five, never miss a trip to the DFAC--or the dessert bar in the DFAC--and consider weekends the time to lounge around the FOB in their PTs. Then there are the guys who actually make the Army work by logging 16-20 hour days every day for a year, eating when they catch a break, or not, and considering PT a luxury, if not just a fond memory. You can be a "good" staff officer for a year or so in the combat zone and do the job right. Too much more than that, though, and you're taking the same nosedive in effectiveness that Boot cites for combat troops.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Clarion Call...

...from Iraqi Entifadh Qanbar to the United States not to give up on Iraq's nascent democracy.

Meditations on the Way of the Warrior and COIN

I was looking for background on Jean Larteguy's The Centurions. I have a sneaking suspicion (totally uncorroborated by anything resembling a fact) that Galula was the model for one of the characters in the novel. I even think I know which one. However, I'm not sure that I have the research resources (most especially, time) at my disposal to figure it out, and I'm going to keep my yap shut until I do.
In looking for some clues, I stumbled on this Atlantic review/article by Robert Kaplan. Anyone who wants to meditate on COIN and the nature of those who wage this type of war should read the article in full. It's got it all: Bud Day, MACV-SOG, Jean Larteguy, Orde Wingate, and Misty & A-10 pilots. The article will also extend the never-ending reading list. There's a couple of books in here I haven't had the chance to read yet (alas, Don Pendleton's The Executioner series isn't cited). I didn't know that Wingate was one of Larteguy's heroes. Wish I had read the article before I shacked up this post, as it would have lent me more specificity in my chronology. Also, my take on the A-10, and by extension its pilots, is here (God, I hate lauding aviators).
Anyway, reading the article, I've scrapped my original concept for a post-that-does-not-suck and replaced it with bringing you the Kaplan article.
One important point in the article (ie, a point that validates one of my recurring themes) is it ably demonstrates the unavoidable friction between the warrior and the bureaucracy.
The article also cites one of the most famous quotes from The Centurions
I'd like...two armies: one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.
The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display but from whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That's the army in which I should like to fight.

[bullshit flag: Kaplan truncated the quote, probably to avoid scatological imagery that would upset the delicate sensiblities of the Atlantic's readership. The actual quote is:
I'd like France to have two armies: one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their general's bowel movements or their colonel's piles: an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.
The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That's the army in which I should like to fight."

The problem with the edit, is that regimental officers figuratively wiping thier commander's ass instead of thinking of ways to accomplish the mission reflects an enduring characteristic of conventional military forces.]

One area where I think Kaplan got a little bit off azimuth was Larteguy's disparagement of conscripts. In the book, when the paras are building their COIN force for the Algerian fight, the new unit consists of paratrooper veterans (most graduates of the fall of Dien Bien Phu and the Viet Minh prison camps), volunteers, and conscripts. The veterans realize that winning over the unwilling conscripts is the key to thier success, and actually indoctrinate using all the techniques they were exposed to in Vietnam (the dialectic, cross-criticisms, self-criticisms).
For anyone who has studied the POW experience in Vietnam, The Centurions describes a remarkably different set of resistance techniques than anything the Americans used. They basically became more Communist than the communists, and used this artificial revolutionary zeal to create gaps and seams in which to exploit camp life and glean from their captors enough resources to survive. Letarguy demonstrates pretty convincingly that the French paratroopers' POW experience in Vietnam that was the crucible for their COIN paradigm (and their commitment to it) in Algeria.
One other facet of the book that Kaplan touches, but for which the reader cannot gain a true understanding without actually reading The Centurions is that the book delves into the moral cost of violating one's principles in a dirty war. Larteguy was the first military thinker to throw out the "ticking time bomb" scenario about which so many politicians and pundits prattle. The paras decide that they will find the locations of the bombs, whatever the cost. Thing is, the soldiers understand--and dread--the price they know they will have to pay. However, they pay it willingly, in some cases destroying themselves, in order to accomplish the mission and protect the innocent.
Great article that should provoke some thought.

Exporting American Values, Enlightened Governance...and Absolute Bilge

One note on working with the Iraqi Security Forces: television is ubiquitous. Every office (that has electricity) has a television running in it. Not necessarily on the news (as you might find in US military offices). I've sat in meetings and planning sessions with everything from Steven Seagal movies, the A-Team, Steel Magnolias, and Tom & Jerry. Frequently, the volume is not muted or even turned down while a conference or conversation is taking place. And, personnel in the room are vulnerable to the TV drift, where their eyes wander over, and glaze, and their attention is obviously not on the subject at hand.
I've mentioned to my counterpart before that drifting off like that, or even acknowledging that there is a television in the room, in a US General Officer's office is an invitation to get wire-brushed. The response was something like, "Ah, you don't understand. For thirty years, there was only one station, and it was all Saddam, all the time. Now, Iraqis can see what goes on in the world. It is one reason why we will never be enslaved again."
Okay, as far as it goes.
But today, walking into my counterpart's office, I had to throw down a "Oh, hellll no!" The satellite was beaming in "The Real Housewives of Orange County." Now, think what you will of that particular show, but I'm in the office of a conservative, Muslim officer and this is going to be his idea of America? I had to explain to him that "reality television" was anything but, and that this was not how 99% of the country lived its life. On top of that, the eponymous matrons were getting their astrological charts done, so I was interrogated for an ass-tearing amount of time on astrology and whether Americans believe that bullshit.
Consider the picture that Third World nations get of the US when their only exposure is through television--especially if it's reality television. Ugh. It took me about about 10 minutes of cajoling to get him to change the channel to an Arabic music station. Which is to my ear kind of like fingernails on a chalkboard, but a definite improvement over a reality show.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two Generals, One Warrior

Being a soldier wearing the “Big Red 1” of the First Infantry Division on my left shoulder, I’ve been pleased to get better acquainted over the last couple of weeks with Terry de la Mesa Allen, the Division’s most storied commander. I’ve been getting smart on MG Allen via two books.
The first was in Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn, the first installment of the author’s Liberation Trilogy (which I vowed to complete during the course of this deployment; we’ll see) where the reader first meets Allen at the onset of the Allied landings commencing Operation Torch. Atkinson introduces Allen impatiently awaiting his chance to hit the beach on the weather deck of the S.S. Reina del Pacifico, “…his thick neck and sloping shoulders implied his uncommon strength, fortified with Indian clubs and a medicine ball during the long passage from Britain.” Obviously, Allen was doing crossfit before crossfit was cool.
Atkinson’s book piqued my interest, so I downloaded Gerald Astor’s Terrible Terry Allen, Combat General of World War II. I was actually looking for Astor’s book on Orde Wingate, but that wasn’t digitally available. However, seeing Astor’s biography of Allen so close on the heels of meeting him in Dawn, I figured I’d check it out.
The son of a West Point graduate, who was booted out of the Academy himself, Allen was practically bred in the saddle and was, like his contemporary Patton, an inveterate supporter of combat applications of cavalry up to the dawn of WWII. At one point when stationed with the 2ID in Texas, A rodeo promoter and the Cattlemen’s Association president wanted to sponsor a long-distance riding contest between a cavalryman and a “real horseman,” celebrated cowboy Key Dunne. The competitors were to race 300 miles over five days. Starting from equidistant, opposite directions, the race would terminate at The Alamo. Dunne came in seven hours after Allen. When he enquired as to Allen’s whereabouts so that he could congratulate him, Dunne was informed that Allen was at the Fort Sam Houston officer’s club…playing polo.
As a battalion commander in WWI (with seven years of service under his belt—how do you make that happen?) Allen developed his affinity for night attacks preceded by a detailed reconnaissance. Allen believed that this tactical template accomplished the mission while minimizing casualties. During an operations order for just such an attack, one of his company commanders declared “this is suicide!” Allen pulled his revolver and shot his subordinate in the ass, saying, “There. You’re out.” Allen’s penchant for taking objectives via night attacks continued through WWII, where even his detractors (such as Omar Bradley) conceded that his division (the 104th ID by the time the war moved to Europe proper) was the most proficient in the force at night operations.
Allen was acknowledged at the outset of the war as one of the most pugnacious, battle-loving commanders available, which led to his selection as a division commander before the risky commencement of Operation Torch (the invasion of North Africa). Allen’s warrior ethos, though, was unconstrained by the political tact or calculation that he would need to be promoted (let alone survive) in rank or level of command. While the soldiers of the Big Red 1 acquitted themselves wonderfully on the battlefield, their “indiscipline” gave the higher command everything needed to relieve Allen. He was universally called “Terry” by all the men of the Division. As if this wasn’t enough to prove that Allen was a lackluster commander, they also frequently failed to salute Eisenhower’s four-star-bedecked staff car. Slackers. To give you an idea of the command climate, his Corps commander—George Patton—was relieving officers and administering punishment on soldiers for not wearing their ties into combat. Patton supported Allen’s relief not long after the landings in Africa, but insisted it not happen until after Sicily was taken. After all, there was some tough fighting to be done in Sicily.
A point that I often forget, but am reminded of when reading histories such as Atkinson’s and Astor’s, is what a bevy of careerist sons of bitches the General Officers that comprised our senior leadership in WWII were. Most of the GO’s whose names still retain some semblance of celebrity do not impress when studied with a view toward “selfless service.”
Speaking of which, Patton in particular does not stand up well under scrutiny. I’m not sure that the appellation is in common usage with historians, but the phrase “douche-nozzle sphincter monkey” comes to mind. Patton pretty much decided he would build his own myth regardless of the butcher’s bill. Juxtaposed to the boys of the Big Red 1, who would do anything for their Terry, Patton’s men were known to bitterly quip of Patton’s nickname (selected and introduced to the world by, um, Patton), “yeah, our blood, his guts.”
In order to build his own myth and advance his own career, Patton was willing to fellate whomever he needed. Patton was living in DC when the new CSA, GEN George Marshall, was moving to that city. Patton extended an invitation to Marshall to bunk with him while Marshall’s new homestead was being established. About this Patton wrote his wife
I have just consummated a pretty snappy move. Gen. George C. Marshall is going to live at our house!!! He and I are batch-ing it. I think that once I can get my natural charm working I won’t need any letters from John J. P[ershing] or anyone else. Of course it may cramp my style a little about going out but there are compensations.

Patton’s disdain for anything resembling defense or a regard for survivability is well known. I’d heard this story before (but not quoted from a primary source that had witnessed the event, adding the bit about the bodyguards); at one point Patton visited Allen and his Deputy Division Commander, Teddy Roosevelt Jr. at their position at the front. On noting survivability holes dug into the ground outside Allen’s CP
Patton strode about eyeing these slit trenches with utter contempt, as though they were cowardly retreats. In his squeaky tenor, he said, “Terry, which one is yours?” When Allen pointed out his slit trench, Ptton strode over, unzipped his fly and urinated into the trench. Imperiously rezipping his fly, Patton sneered at Terry, “Now try to use it.” …the burly bodyguards for Allen and Roosevelt, armed with stripped-down Thompson submachine guns, unlocked the safeties on their weapons—making a clearly audible noise. “Had either commander given the order, there is little doubt they would gladly have shot Patton where they stood. Patton got the message and left as quickly as he had come.”

Later Roosevelt wrote his wife about another slit trench incident, with a somewhat different outcome. He related to her that
At el Guettar, I was in a slit trench with Terry Allen, only large enough to hold two. Patton came up. A dive-bombing raid started. I got out & gave Patton my place. He took it.


Don’t mean to harp on Patton, but juxtaposing him with Terry Allen is instructive. Patton was a blowhard megalomaniac who used his various commands to forward his own agenda—the glorification of George S. Patton. Allen, on the other hand, strove mightily to do what was best for his unit, even if it came at his own expense. Make no mistake, Allen was ambitious and always bothered when he was not given credit he thought was due. But Allen prioritized the men under his command over his own gain, while Patton never saw them as anything but props in his own play of self-aggrandizement. One spouted the warrior ethos, one lived it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Family Business

When you're an Iraqi GO, it's never too early to start training the next generation of leadership. And yes, that is a real 9mm on the li'l nipper's hip. I don't think it was loaded.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Stick A Fork In My Soup...It's Done

I'll try to make this post coherent. I haven't reached the hallucinatory stage of sleep dep yet, but it's coming. If I start seeing Keebler Elves dangling off of my semi-colon key, I'll hang it up. As usual, I let Starbuck do most of the heavy lifting assembling links and literature while I'm out working my day/night job and he's on crew rest, or "manicure-pedicure time," or whatever Aviators are calling it these days. Starbuck pointed out a great article in SWJ by SFC Morgan Sheeran on COIN, COIN doctrine, and the joys of being on a Transition Team. I guess some of the frustrations of Transition Team guys are universal, cutting across space, time, and theaters of war. Starbuck and Sheeran both refer to the titanic struggle between the Army's intellectual pachyderms over the role of COIN in the Army's training and force structure paradigms. Some say the Army has not yet embraced the conduct of COIN as a core mission set, while others posit that we've gone too far in adopting the precepts of COIN and, as an Army, have failed in our responsibility be able to crush our enemies in a Big War. Starbuck and Sheeran both point out that as COIN has not been ensconced as a part of the Army's professional education system, we are probably too COIN-lite rather than COIN heavy.
The best instructive example for how the hidebound military missing the boat on COIN is Vietnam and The Ugly American. When I first read the book* I was struck by three things:
1. The State Department is still plagued by a lot of the problems ascribed to it in the book. Several years ago, I would've said that the DoS is still exactly as ineffective as it was in the book. However, in the last couple years I've been exposed to and worked with some DoS personnel who had a true ability to adroitly wield soft power.
2. The Department of Defense--or, if you will, the military culture-- is still plagued by a lot of the problems ascribed to it in the book. I would not have made this observation back when I was blaming everything on State, but that was before I was exposed to every level of the military bureaucracy and saw the sausage being made close up.
3. Most pertinent to this post, the book was a great primer on the type of war being fought in Vietnam (an insurgency, or national war of liberation) and the (COIN) strategy needed to defeat it. Now, the accusations of fighting the war in a totally inappropriate manner were levied against the French, as Lederer and Burdick published the book in 1958. So, for a full generation before the Vietnam war became the elephant in the room for the US, there was a viable roadmap available describing how to win Vietnam. And it's not like the US officer corps had never heard of the book or didn't get an opportunity to contemplate it's lessons; the book won a Pulitzer, for crying out loud. Heck, Marlon Brando starred in the movie, and this was back when he was still considered a mensch and wasn't doing photo shoots for adult magazines nuzzling nutsacks.
We've got a lot of really bright (and well read) officers and NCOs out there debating the breadth, depth, and efficacy of our COIN doctrine, and our ability to matriculate and execute a viable COIN strategy in our current conflicts. But bureaucracies are resistant to change. The military thinkers who complain that the formulators and executors of our current strategies are working in a vacuum are, themselves, working in a vacuum. A viable, enduring COIN capability can only be developed by implementing large changes across the entire spectrum of DOTLMS PF (Doctrine, Organization, Leadership Development, Materials, Personnel, and Facilities)--not just strategy, doctrine, or military education. This means that the entire military bureaucracy needs to be engaged, convinced, and modified. No easy task, but trying to institute change or develop a capability without engaging across the bureaucratic front will lead to fatally flawed initiatives.
External Transition Teams are a case study in a good idea poorly (or at least, not comprehensively) executed. All of SFC Sheeran's criticisms of the use and abuse of Transition Teams are accurate, and anyone who has spent a little time on a TT could probably add to the litany. External Transition Teams are (or were) a good idea, but they are going away. This is because the building and employment of Transition Teams contained flaws in the original concept that ultimately proved fatal, both to the mission and to the TT entity itself. The two primary flaws were a failure to factor in military culture and an incomplete mission analysis.
First, External TTs are just that, external. SFC Sheeran bemoans, what appears to the TT member, the willful ignorance of the Battlespace Owner on considerations of the proper employment of TTs in executing a COIN strategy. Let's not forget, though, that this guy is the Battlespace Owner, responsible for everything that happens, or fails to happen, within his battlespace. Now, he has foisted upon him TTs of unknown quality and character, possessing disparate strengths and weakness, composed of strangers to his unit that did not participate in the unit's pre-mission training, and who, by definition, run around in his battlespace as largely independant actors. Thus, TTs are often viewed as entities to be endured, rather than assets to be exploited. Also, whatever improvements any give TT generates within its partner unit, those improvements are going to be slow, incremental, and initially fragile. The unpredictability of the pace and quality of partner nation capability building does not lend itself to the one year road map with which the Battlespace Owner is going to hit the ground. Battlespace Owners are justifiably loathe to declare External TTs and the development of their partner units the main effort--even though in a COIN environment viable and effective partner nation units are the only long-term, sustainable success mechanism.
The failure in mission analysis, at the genesis of TT building and employment, stems from a lack of understanding of the Army/DOD bureaucracy. There is a holy trinity of mission accomplishment consisting of manpower, resources, and authorities. Failure to address any part of this trifecta will endanger the mission. This trinity is often transparent to members of Big Army units: the manpower is your unit, resources are the budget you get from higher, and your authorities are contained within the orders you are issued. Anything not covered gets pushed higher. With regard to its mission, manpower was the only dimension of the holy trinity addressed in the mission analysis for TTs, and that was done poorly.
TTs have personnel. However, these troops were culled throughout the force with little vetting. The personnel and force management pressures on the Army caused by multiple big unit rotations to CENTCOM means that the two primary selection criteria for service on a TT have been a pulse and respiration. A significant percentage of TT troopers are/were not volunteers. So, a unit designated to serve autonomously in the battlespace with often unproven partner nation units is to an extent composed of unqualified or unwilling members. This does not strike me as a recipe for success. TTs are expected employ judgment, maturity, and tactical acumen as they move and operate autonomously through the battlespace on thier mission. The slapdash manner of personnel selection has meant that the utility and proficiency of many TTs has been dependant on the assignment roster lottery. On a team as small as a TT, one or two toxic members can eviscerate the team's effectiveness. It does not seem improper to me for a battlespace owner to view TTs as elements that need to prove themselves before they become trusted agents.
As far as resources (above and beyond sustainment) and authorities: none, nada, zilch, sifr. A TT leader must go to the Battlespace Owner and have his projects racked and stacked with all the other competing priorities that the BO is staffing and adjudicating. How much of a priority does an external, suspect, semi-autonomous unit get, when whatever resources that are allocated for a TT are decremented from the battlespace owners own coffers? How many extra hours is the staff going to put in, slaving away on a TT initiative that is not guaranteed to yield tangible results in the near term? Yuh, I have so often run into staff officers who feel that they need to expand their horizons and find extra shit to do for units that do not reside on their line and block chart.
Training to achieve proficiency at COIN tasks is difficult because there is no "go" or "no-go." Most of the characteristics of a successful COIN practitioner are the results of years of training, operating, and experiential learning. Whether in a TT or in one of the new Brigade Advisory and Assistance Teams, it is difficult in the near-term to give the right guy the right tools and training to accomplish an often ill-defined mission. Three week jaunts to a CTC won't cut the mustard.
This brings me to the Gentile argument. I think that our military is exceedingly good at the big war "kill people and break things" mission set. It's what we do, we do it well, and the military is resistant to other, "peripheral" missions. But to use a martial arts analogy (who'd've thought?), it's relatively easy to kill somebody; doesn't take a whole lot of training, and technique and finesse is not necessarily required. What distinguishes a martial artist from a killer (and a COIN practitioner from a Big War GI Joe) is the ability to, under duress, maim rather than kill, to injure rather than maim, to hurt rather than injure, and finally, to talk rather than fight. Developing a martial artist requires the development within the fighter an comprehensive knowledge of the use of force, just as developing a COIN practitioner requires far more time, effort, and expense to deveop than a one-dimensional soldier whose responsiblities are limited to his wartime MOS duty performance. The Army has warfighting down pat; in most COIN environments the warfighter's frustrations stem in large part from the enemy's refusal to participate in a stand up fight. That we have strayed from or under-prioritized our charter to go to the far ends of the earth and dispense a liberal application of brute force to whomever needs a spanking is an observation that is, I think, invalid and inaccurate. However, we do need to study how best to select and train our troops to fight in ways that are not conventional slugfests.
Hmm. A requirement to identify, assess, select and then train soldiers for missions that aren't conventional and that require the soldier to operate in ambiguous situations with a high degree of autonomy. Gosh, it's a wonder we never identified this requirement before. Actually we have, and you probably know where I'm going with this.
If you want to know how to train troops for politically sensitive yet strategically important missions, how to nest the right personnel with the appropriate resources and requisite authorities into missions, and know how to guage how intransigent the military bureaucracy will be to acknowledging, supporting, and prosecuting the necessary DOTLMS PF changes to facilitate acquiring this capability, then look at the history and development of SOF--and, for the COIN mission, Army Special Forces. The DoD was unable and unwilling to support the radical change (the holistic approach that SFC Sheeran identifies) on its own. It took Congress to force DoD, through the 1987 Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the Goldwater-Nichols Act. Before that, the military adamantly refused to reform itself, redistribute its time honored equities, and to redress glaring lacks of capability above and beyond the normal Big War fighting requirements.
Whether COIN (in this post, I've used COIN universally; however, I'm pretty certain that I could make an argument that what we're really talking about here is FID) is going to be taken seriously as a DoD-wide requirement will depend on our big brain thinkers addressing and marketing DOTLMS PF-wide changes, and disrupting equities, and redefining where our centers of power and advancement are. Whether the military will be able to do that on its own, or needs to be forced, is yet to be seen. What is certain is that we will not have a functionally sound and reliable core (or corps) of Big Army COIN practioners until we do. Whether Big Army should be allowed--or forced--to create and support this mission, or whether it should reside within SOF is for another post. All I'm saying here is that Big Army has not done what needs to be done to quicken the production of these types of soldiers. And that the thinkers that spend time pondering whether and how we should cannot limit themselves to strategy and doctrine. If you don't engage and defeat the bureaucracy, those soldiers will never be forthcoming except by accident. And once we do get them, they'll probably all need haircuts all the time, anyway.

* Full disclosure: I'm not Mr. Army Professional Reading Guy. I finally read The Ugly American when, as an instructor in an Army school, I had to teach it, and worse, grade my students' essays on it. So, I don't read as much as I should. I'm figuring, just so that I can be considered qualified to participate in the debate, I'm going to have to break down and read Kilcullen's Accidental Guerrilla. Of course, that'll be after I finish my current professional reading project, which is re-reading Don Pendleton's Executioner, Books 1-317

Training Vicariously

I'm not training; probably won't til I get back. Figured if I can't do any cool training, may as well post a cool video about training. That counts, right?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Debt for the Ages

I'm busy and smoked, so I'm going to do some blatant ripping from AoS on the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
First, Ike's pre-invasion message to the troops:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower

And, then, a little perspective from Russ of Winterset:

You know what I did this morning? Maybe it would be better if I told you what I didn't do this morning.

I didn't have to spend over 12 hours on a transport ship in choppy water, then clamber down a cargo net into a plywood landing craft, all while carrying up to 100 pounds of gear on my back. Then, I didn't ride through the rough surf in that little plywood target, only to have the steel ramp (the only part of the little plywood boat that was even remotely bullet-resistant) flop down and drop me into the cold ocean water in front of a beach filled with steel obstacles, mines, flying bullets & exploding artillery rounds.

I didn't fly over enemy occupied territory at 1000 feet in a C47 cargo plane and then jump out of the plane into the teeth of enemy anti-aircraft fire. I didn't have to worry about my bright white silk parachute making me a good target for troops on the ground who wanted to use me for target practice, and after I landed, I didn't have to worry about engaging a vastly superior force with only the gear I carried with me (providing that said gear wasn't ripped off by the turbulence I encountered exiting the plane) with whoever I could gather together from the other troops dropped behind enemy lines the same as I was.

I didn't march into a plywood glider (PLYWOOD, as we've already established, is NOT very resistant to gunfire and explosions) and sit quietly while I was towed into anti-aircraft fire, only to be released and experience a controlled crash into trees, buildings or apparently open fields that were booby trapped with wooden poles and steel cables by the enemy.

I wasn't asked to take my place in a McGyvered together amphibious tank, where I would most likely be swamped by the waves and sink to the bottom of the English Channel like....well, like a tank rigged for amphibious operations with lumber and canvas. And if I DID happen to get to the beach, I would have been the prime target of every enemy artillery piece for miles around.

I wasn't asked to sit in a command bunker deep beneath London looking at casualty projections that predicted that we would lose 60% of the airborne troops committed to this battle and a good chunk of the troops storming the beaches, and I also didn't prepare a letter taking full blame for the possible disaster in order to protect my political leaders.

You know what? Now that I've told you what I DIDN'T do this morning, what I actually DID seems pretty freakin' trivial. Veterans of the Normandy landing are becoming scarce now that we're sixty-five years down the road from that horrible day, but if you know one of them, make sure to thank them on this day. And don't limit yourself to D-Day vets - whether it was Normandy, Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir, the Tet Offensive, Grenada, Panama, Mogadishu, Fallujah, or just some godforsaken mountain road at the ass-end of Afghanistan, EVERYONE who served this country in uniform deserves a hearty handshake and our everlasting gratitude on this day.

And those veterans who never saw a shot fired in anger? Thank them too. As John Wayne once said in his last movie role, "It's not about being the fastest gun: Its about being WILLING." Everyone who wore the uniform was willing to "go see the elephant", and that willingness sets them apart from the rest of us.

God help any nation that cannot produce men and women like them. Remember that on this day.

Since blatant plagiarism is the purest form of flattery, I'll just say, I couldn't say it better.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mongo's Rule #1: WWJD?

As some of you know, Mongo's Rule #1 states: If you don't have a gun, you're chum.

Apparently the Rev. Ken Pagano agrees.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Someone Killed Bill

Unfortunately, looks like it was Bill. The linked article says it was apparently suicide. Or maybe not. There are times when that little voice in your head saying "what could possibly go wrong?" should be told to shut the hell up. Guess he was trying to balance his yin and yang.

h/t AoS HQ

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Uh-oh Moments in MMA Fighting

Okay, actually calls them "Oh, Shit!" moments, but some of my readers have delicate sensibilities and I didn't want to foist the word "shit" upon them. That's me: I'm a giver.
Anyway, some of the best "Oh, Shit!" moments in MMA, according to Gotta say, the fights listed here that I've seen are deserving of being on the list (I can't watch them all before linking to them because I don't have the pipes for it here). My two personal favorites: Bob Sapp vs. Nogueira and, of course, the Frye/Takayama pummel-thon.

H/T AoS news sidebar

Monday, June 1, 2009

Studying and Hard Work Usually Pays Off...

...but sometimes it's who you know.
Today was report card day for a lot of the Mosul schools. We found this little darlin' walking home crying her eyes out over her report card. She was really inconsolable. Some quick questioning revealed that she cares very much about school, her grades are very important to her, and her injured hand had kept her from class the last couple of days dedicated to review before final exams. She was really devastated.
So my good friend, LTC "Amin," walked her back to the school to have a chat with her teachers and see if he could, uh, influence them to grade on a curve. End result: the little girl will be able to re-take her exams after some study/review time, the National Police win over one more heart and mind, and the school administrators stay out of traction. Everybody wins.

Drifting Off Azimuth A Wee Bit

The intent of this blog is not to provide a pictographic travelogue of my year in Iraq, although the last couple weeks posting pictures has been about the extent of my blogging efforts.
The Coalition and our ISF brethren are feverishly trying to set conditions for success after 30 June (the date by which the US-Iraqi Security Agreement mandates that we move out of the cities and urban areas, and constrains even more the US' participation in security operations; this date and its implications are worthy of their own post...later).
So, most of my reading and writing has been relegated to PowerPoint CONOPs and most of my "deep thinking" has been in the vein of "what's around the next corner" and "is there anything over there that might detonate on our collective ass."
Hopefully, I'll be able to start reading and writing a little more soon; til then, I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Cross Pollination

Scenes from 01 June over at the Team Blog; I don't have the pipes to double tap on pictures.