Tag: military personnel

DADT Debate

Last week military analyst Stuart Koehl had a piece at the Weekly Standard opposing the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). I wrote a response, and he posted a rebuttal. I recommend reading those pages before continuing here.

Koehl first makes the point that he was writing about “combat effectiveness” and I only addressed “readiness.” His point being that readiness is a black and white evaluation on paper – is the unit up on personnel and equipment, and have they completed necessary training prior to entering the fight? Combat effectiveness is only measured when the bullets start flying, and then in subjective terms. In response to this, I would simply reiterate everything I said in my initial response and replace “readiness” with “combat effectiveness.” We are both discussing personnel issues that impact morale and unit cohesion, and these are the intangibles that make readiness translate into combat effectiveness. My responses on the specifics below bear that out.

British and Israeli Experiences

Koehl continues to claim that the success of the British and Israeli militaries with gays serving openly does not translate into a combat effective American force where DADT has ended. I will address this on several fronts.

First, Koehl says that the British and Israeli armies have not experienced a sustained High Intensity Conflict (HIC) in recent decades, and that the Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) experience they have is not indicative of what their combat effectiveness would be in a HIC environment. For the uninitiated, HIC would be a conflict between two nation-states with uniformed armies, and LIC is all of the stuff going on now – counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and the like.

Before I get to the HIC/LIC differentiation Koehl makes, it is worth noting that we know exactly what the United States would do with regard to gays serving in the military in HIC, since we saw it in World War II. Gays served honorably throughout the war (which wasn’t all HIC, plenty of partisans fighting around the world) while their comrades suspected or knew of their sexual orientation, and were then discharged at high rates afterward.

With regard to success in LIC not translating to success in HIC, I think Koehl gets it exactly backwards. From a personnel standpoint, HIC is a lot less stressful on the force than LIC. Taking on a uniformed force in a stand-up fight that is resolved relatively quickly is less of a test of combat effectiveness than a long counterinsurgency campaign against an enemy that melts back into the population. Compare the British experience in the Falklands with their involvement in Afghanistan. Compare the Israeli incursion into Gaza in Operation Cast Lead (a high-intensity phase of an otherwise low-intensity conflict) with their occupation of Lebanon. Compare the initial invasion of Iraq to the subsequent counterinsurgency.

When you are restructuring your force to provide more “dwell time” between deployments, that is a sign that you are coming close to, as Koehl puts it, “stress[ing] combat units to the breaking point.” To say that gays may serve openly without ill effect in LIC, but that we should hold off changing our policy because we may someday have World War III against China and her allies, is ignoring the fact that combat effectiveness is tested in both low- and high-intensity conflicts and more in the wars we are fighting than in the ones we could hypothetically fight.

Koehl also dismisses the British and Israeli experience due to their smaller militaries. In terms of raw numbers, they are smaller than ours, but the per-capita rates defeat this argument. Yes, the British armed forces are smaller in absolute terms, but proportionally are only about a quarter smaller than the American military (overall population of 61 million versus 307 million). With Israel, it flips the other way. A nation of 7.3 million with over 175,000 active service members (and twice that in the reserves) has a much higher per-capita ratio of service members to the total population. Dismissing them as a “commuter” force is unpersuasive as well. When you are deployed, other soldiers’ significant others may just be a photo on the wall. When your military is fighting on home field, you will see more of your comrades’ personal lives.

Women in Combat

Koehl devotes part of his original article making a parallel between keeping DADT and excluding women from combat arms positions. He says that there will always be a small percentage of women who can equal men in the physical demands of combat, and the only reason to exclude them from combat units is the undesirable influence eros will have on combat effectiveness.

Once again, I think this is completely backwards.

First, we may be excluding women from combat arms branches, but we are certainly not excluding them from combat. The lack of a front line means that all units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan can come under sudden attack. Women are rising to the occasion. Take this combat medic who received the Silver Star for braving enemy fire to save members of her unit. Or this military policewoman who responded to an ambush by clearing two trenches and killing three insurgents in close combat. Women are serving with distinction and the units they serve in do not show reduced combat effectiveness by virtue of their presence.

Second, I think that the exclusion of women from the most physically demanding branches is appropriate and constitutional. While some women can max their physical fitness test and generally keep up with the boys, adding women to light infantry units does not make sense unless they can keep pace in the one area where women are particularly disadvantaged – moving under a heavy load. Paratrooper planning weights for combat remain around 145 lbs. Integrating women means that your battlefield calculus for foot movement is seriously impacted – can you maintain your desired rate of movement given combat load, terrain, weather, and visibility? If the answer to this is no, then integrating women in those units is a mistake. There is a serious argument that we put too much gear on the average soldier, but it’s not a problem that’s going away any time soon.

Women coming to the infantry would have to take the physical fitness test under male standards and road march without slowing down the unit. Would the military hold true to that standard if women were allowed in the combat arms? No. Is it discriminatory not to allow them in those branches? Yes. But I strongly believe that it would pass constitutional muster under the intermediate-level scrutiny used for gender-based discrimination claims.

Conclusion

Koehl admits that gays “have served in every army in every war since we began recording the history of warfare.” If that is the case, and if we can change policy without impacting American readiness – and yes, combat effectiveness – as the British and Israeli experiences show, then resistance to ending DADT seems less a matter of national security and more a political football.

Drug Violence in Mexico

The apparent drug gang killings of U.S. consular employees this weekend in Juarez, Mexico are a bloody reminder that President Obama is getting the United States involved in yet another war it cannot win. Drug gang killings also occurred in Acapulco, with a total of 50 such fatalities nationwide over the weekend.

Unfortunately, Obama has responded to the latest incident by following the same failed strategy as his predecessors when confronted with drug war losses: a stronger fight against drugs.

Though the deaths are the first in which Mexican drug cartels appear to have so brazenly targeted and killed individuals linked to the U.S. government, illicit drug trade violence has killed some 18,000 people in Mexico since President Calderon came to power in December 2006—more than three times the number of American military personnel deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

The carnage only shot up after Calderon declared an all-out war on drug trafficking upon taking office. After more than three years, the policy has failed to reduce drug trafficking or production, but it is weakening the institutions of Mexican democracy and civil society through corruption and bloodshed, which are the predictable products of prohibition.

The 29 people killed in drug-related violence this weekend in a 24 hour period in the state of Guerrero sets a dubious record for a Mexican state. And an increasing number of Mexicans, including former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, are calling for a thorough rethinking of anti-drug policy in Mexico and the United States that includes legalization. Legalization would significantly reduce drug cartel revenue and put an end to an enormous black market and the social pathologies that it creates.

Afghanistan Now Is Truly Barack Obama’s War

Afghanistan is voting for president. Unfortunately, the outcome, even if a fair result, is unlikely to matter much. The war will continue.

In 2008 President Barack Obama was seen as the anti-war candidate.  In fact, his reputation reflected his prescient opposition to the Iraq war, but he said little to suggest that he was out of sync with Washington’s interventionist consensus.

We see his status quo foreign policies with his support for continued NATO expansion as well as maintaining American garrisons around the globe, including in South Korea and Japan.  But his escalation in Afghanistan most obviously demonstrates that he is a man of the interventionist left.

He is now making it clear that Afghanistan is his war.  Reports Reuters:

President Barack Obama will seek to shore up U.S. public support for the war in Afghanistan on Monday just days before an Afghan presidential election widely seen as a major test of his revamped strategy.

Obama will address a military veterans group in Phoenix at a time when U.S. combat deaths are rising amid a troop buildup against a resurgent Taliban, and polls show a softening of public backing for the eight-year-old war.

Hoping to reassure Americans, Obama is expected to sketch out why he believes the Afghanistan policy he unveiled earlier this year is working and why the United States must remain committed to stabilizing the war-ravaged country.

The political risks for him are enormous.  Anything bad that happens in Iraq can be blamed on George W. Bush.  But any failure in America’s nation-building mission in Afghanistan – and failure is the most likely outcome in any nation-building in Afghanistan – will be seen as his responsibility.

And American and other coalition military personnel, as well as the Afghan people, will pay the price.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment in Afghanistan

In yesterday’s Washington Post, veteran newsman Bob Woodward recounts a recent meeting between National Security Advisor James Jones and a few dozen Marine officers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province under the command of Marine Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson. 

The subject on everyone’s mind: force levels. Saying that he was “a little light,” Nicholson hinted that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

Of course he doesn’t. One senior military commander confided, in Woodward’s telling, ”that there would need to be more than 100,000 troops to execute the counterinsurgency strategy of holding areas and towns after clearing out the Taliban insurgents. That is at least 32,000 more than the 68,000 currently authorized.”

So, Nicholson and other commanders were asking: Can we expect to receive additional troops in Afghanistan any time soon?

Jones’s answer: don’t bet on it.

The retired Marine Corps general reminded his audience in Helmand that Obama has approved two increases already. Going beyond merely an endorsement of the outgoing Bush admiministration’s decision to more than double the force in Afghanistan, Obama accepted the recommendation of his advisers to send an additional 17,000, and then shortly thereafter another 4,000.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops,…if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF – which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels – all or nearly all veterans of Iraq – seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Nicholson and his Marines should be concerned. But so should all Americans. The men and women in our military have been given a mission that is highly dependent upon a very large number of troops, and they don’t have a very large number of troops. The clear, hold and build strategy is dangerous and difficult – even when you have the troop levels that the military’s doctrine recommends: 20 troops per 1,000 indigenous population. In a country the size of Afghanistan (with an estimated population of 33 million), that wouldn’t be 100,000 troops, that would be 660,000 troops.

Pacifying all of Afghanistan would be nearly impossible with one half that number of troops. It is foolhardy to even attempt such a mission with less than a sixth that many.

So, what gives? (Or, as the military folks might say, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot?”)

It is doubtful that anyone in the White House, the Pentagon, or on Capitol Hill honestly believes that 70,000 U.S. troops can turn Afghanistan into a central Asian version of Alabama – or even Algeria, for that matter. They might reasonably object that they aren’t trying to pacify the whole country, but rather the most restive provinces in the south and east. Perhaps barely 10 million people live there (which my calculator says would require a force of 200,000). Besides, they might go on, the 20 per 1,000 figure is just a guideline, just a rule-of-thumb. Some missions have succeeded with fewer than that ratio of troops, just as other missions have failed with troop ratios in excess of 20 : 1,000.

These seem to be nothing more than thin rationalizations. They reflect the fact that the American public would not support an open-ended mission in Afghanistan that would occupy essentially all of our Marine and Army personnel for many years. The “70,000 troops for who knows how long” is a political statement. They are pursuing a strategy shaped by focus groups and polls, rather than by doctrine and common sense.

No, that is not an argument for more troops. It is not an argument for ignoring public sentiment. It is an argument for a different mission.

The public’s growing ambivalence about the war in Afghanistan reflects a well-placed broader skepticism about population-centric counterinsurgency that are heavily dependent upon very large concentrations of troops staying in country for a very long period of time. Americans don’t support such missions, because the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. And they likely never will. They are equally skeptical of COIN’s intellectual cousin, ambitious nation-building projects.

And if I’m right, and if no one actually believes that killing suspected Taliban, destroying fields of poppies, building roads and bridges,  establishing judicial standards and training Afghan police is actually going to work, then, well,….

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

The mission in Afghanistan, especially the troop increases, appear more and more as face-saving gestures. A show of wanting to do something, even if policymakers doubt that it will actually succeed. It is a delaying action, a postponing of the inevitable, a kicking the can down the road.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that a miracle happens. I hope that the Taliban disappears. That Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and every other bad guy I can name winds up dead on an Afghan battlefield. Tomorrow, preferably. I hope that all Afghans (girls and boys) get an education and earn a decent living. I hope that Hamid Karzai learns how to govern, Afghan judges learn how to judge, and that the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police quickly learn how to defend their own country.

In short, I hope that the people who are crafting our Afghan strategy know something that I don’t.

I fear, however, that the deaths and grievous injuries endured by our military personnel during this interim period, which may run for years or even decades, as we seek “peace with honor” or “a decent interval” (or pick your own favorite Vietnam cliche), will weigh heavily on the consciences of policy makers if, in the end, they have merely burdened these men and women with an impossible task.

Ask Robert McNamara how that feels.

Iraq’s Future Is Up to Iraqis

The U.S. is not yet out of Iraq, but American forces have pulled back from Iraqi cities.  Iraq’s future increasingly is in the hands of Iraqis.  And most Iraqis appear to be celebrating.

Reports the Washington Post:

This is no longer America’s war.

Iraqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks Monday in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation’s troubled history: Six years and three months after the March 2003 invasion, the United States on Tuesday is withdrawing its remaining combat troops from Iraq’s cities and turning over security to Iraqi police and soldiers.

While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles as of Wednesday will largely disappear from Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq’s other urban centers.

“The Army of the U.S. is out of my country,” said Ibrahim Algurabi, 34, a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen now living in Arizona who attended a concert of celebration in Baghdad’s Zawra Park. “People are ready for this change. There are a lot of opportunities to rebuild our country, to forget the past and think about the future.”

On Monday, as the withdrawal deadline loomed, four U.S. troops were killed in the Iraqi capital, the military announced Tuesday. No details about the deaths were provided. Another soldier was killed Sunday in a separate attack.

The Bush administration never should have invaded Iraq.  The costs have been high: more than 4,000 dead American military personnel.  Tens of thousands more have been injured, many maimed for life.  Hundreds more military contractors and coalition soldiers have died.  And tens of thousands of Iraqis – certainly more than 100,000, though estimates above that diverge wildly. 

The U.S. has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and the ultimate cost is likely to run $2 trillion or more, as the government cares for seriously injured veterans for the rest of their lives.  America’s fine fighting men and women have been stretched thin and America’s adversaries, most notably Iran, have been strengthened.  Yet another cause has been added to the recruiting pitch of hateful extremists seeking to do Americans and others harm.

Nevertheless, let us hope that Iraqis take advantage of the opportunity they now enjoy.  It will take enormous statesmanship and restraint to accommodate those of different faiths and ethnicities, forgive past crimes committed by Sunni and Shia forces, eschew violence for retaliation and revenge, resolve even bitter disagreements peacefully, and accept political defeat without resort to arms.

Other peoples who have suffered less have failed to surmount similar difficulties.  But it is no one’s interest, and especially that of the Iraqis, to lapse back into sectarian conflict and political tyranny.  Let us hope – and dare I suggest, pray? – that they prove up to the challenge.