A couple of days ago I blogged in Failure of British COIN about a COIN Panel held at the CNA for the launch of Daniel Marston and Carter Malkasian’s new book Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare. At the panel some rather critical things were said about the state of British COIN with central reference to Brig Aylwin-Foster’s 2005 critique of US COIN attitudes and capabilities Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations. However, on reading the transcript of the panel it seems to me that neither Marston or Kilcullen intended wound. Personally, I agree that that there are good reasons for sober consideration of Britain’s own COIN capabilities and attitudes right now. We have not paid enough attention to keeping our own house in order and reading our own history (a point recognized by Gen Dannatt in his recent speech at the RUSI Land Warfare conference) as though COIN proficiency was something which happened by osmosis or was in the British ‘DNA’. To say that there are structural factors which have been eroding British COIN capacity for years and that the United States has overtaken us in many areas is simply to speak the truth. But I do not agree that the British Army needs to be ’embarrassed’. Aylwin-Foster’s essay was timely, accurate, and constructive–and generally received as such in the USA as a result. If the microscope is to be turned the other direction then it should be equally constructive and offer something which commanders, planners, and doctrine writers here can actually do something with. The bridge between the US and the UK should not be burnt by pique in Washington or by hubris which, it must be said, has been evinced by not a few Brits since 9/11.
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General saw police forces play counterinsurgency roleBy Sean D. Naylor – firstname.lastname@example.orgAugust 04, 2008
An adviser to incoming U.S. Central Command boss Gen. David Petraeus predicts that the general will seek to re-create his Iraqi success in Afghanistan, using many of the same methods that appear to have turned the tide in Iraq over the last 18 months.
“It can be safely assumed that he will apply many of the lessons learned from Iraq to what has until recently been a forgotten war” in Afghanistan, retired Lt. Col. John Nagl told a packed audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on July 22.
Nagl, who retired this year to become a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, was speaking as part of a panel on “Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare,” held to promote a book of the same name edited by two other panelists, Daniel Marston, a research fellow at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University, and Carter Malkasian, director of the Center for Naval Analyses’ Stability and Development Program.
Nagl, who was due to leave for Iraq on July 25 to advise Petraeus, and who co-authored the Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual produced under the guidance of Petraeus when the latter commanded the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., highlighted one lesson in particular from Iraq: “Foreign powers cannot win counterinsurgency campaigns, but they can enable and empower host nation governments to do so, and one of the most important tools they have to accomplish this task is the use of combat advisers.” With that in mind, he said, “perhaps the single most pressing need is for a larger Afghan National Army and police force, and additional American and allied advisers to help them fight our common enemies.”
Malkasian also focused on the important role played by “police and other community self-defense forces” in quelling the violence in Iraq, particularly in the Sunni areas.
“The thing that made them more effective than anything else … was their ability to collect intelligence,” he said. By late 2006 police and community self-defense forces in Sunni areas “were capturing and killing twice as many insurgents per policeman as their counterpart was in the Iraqi army,” he added.
Afghans, however, are still waiting for a similar model to be implemented in their country, according to Malkasian.
“The lessons of Iraq have not fully been transferred over to Afghanistan to learn how to do this the right way,” he said.
“The [Afghan National Police] … have potential, a potential that has not been exploited,” he continued, noting that the Afghan and coalition governments had capped ANP strength at 82,000 police.
“Even combined with the [Afghan National Army], which is projected to be 86,000 people, that is not enough to protect a population of 33 million. Amir Abdurahman in 1890 had roughly the same number of men to protect a population of only 5 million. Afghanistan is a dangerous, difficult country. We’re probably going to need more police to maintain stability there.”
Two speakers — Marston and David Kilcullen, who moderated the panel and is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s special adviser for counterinsurgency — were sharply critical of the British military’s performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that the British had failed to back up their boasts of superiority in counterinsurgency and in fact had fallen behind the U.S. military.
“The British Army has the reputation of being good at counterinsurgency, and in 2003 and 2004 there was lots of fairly snide criticism of the United States by British commanders saying that Americans didn’t understand counterinsurgency [and] were taking too kinetic an approach,” said Kilcullen, who described the British attitude as, “‘Look at us, we’re on the street in our soft caps and everyone loves us.’”
Marston, who was until recently a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — the British Army’s rough equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. — said that “as an American working in the British system for the last five years” in 2003, he watched the British “act as if they were the best in [counterinsurgency] in the world.”
But the British performance on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields since then has not backed up such strident talk, according to Kilcullen and Marston.
“It would be fair to say that in 2006 the British Army was defeated in the field in southern Iraq,” Kilcullen said, adding that there were numerous “incidents” in Afghanistan that further undercut the British claims of superiority in counterinsurgency.
“They’ve been embarrassed by their performance in southern Iraq,” Marston said. Meanwhile, the Taliban “almost destroyed” the British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In some places, he said, “they just held on.”
The British military was simply unprepared for the challenges it faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Marston, who stressed he was not speaking in his official capacity as an employee of the British Ministry of Defence.
“There have been major problems with their pre-deployment training,” he said. “There were a lot of problems with their education. … The staff college had one day for counterinsurgency for majors. The RMA Sandhurst lieutenants course was a bit of a joke, bit of a video here and there.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman was not able to provide a response by press time.
Chastened British officers have gained new respect for their American counterparts, according to Marston.
“There’s a lot of envy in the U.K., looking at the processes that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps have gone through in the last few years to get to where they are,” he said. “The British are open to that.”
Indeed, the British Army’s performance has improved recently, but only because it has embarked on a similar learning process to that which the U.S. military had already undergone, Marston said.
“We changed it from within, bottom-up, because we had platoon commanders who knew more than the generals on the ground,” he said, referring to his recent work with the British. “They are catching up. I’m not saying they’re going to lead anytime soon, but they are definitely catching up.”
Kilcullen and Marston each referred to a controversial article by British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster that the U.S. Army’s professional journal, Military Review, published in late 2005. In the article, which ruffled many American feathers, Aylwin-Foster criticized the U.S. Army’s approach to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq.
“Many senior British officers feel that an American needs to write an article to embarrass the Brits in some ways,” Marston said.
Afghanistan – A former Taliban fighter has provided a gripping first-hand account of being secretly trained by members of the Pakistani military, paid $500 a month and ordered to kill foreigners in Afghanistan.
Mullah Mohammed Zaher offered a vivid description of a bomb-making apprenticeship at a Pakistani army compound where he says he learned to blow up NATO convoys.
Earlier this month RAND released a report by Seth Jones Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan which claimed that Pakistani intelligence and military were providing training, intelligence and other support to Taliban fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan. If corroborated the account of the former Talib above would have major strategic implications.
The Times has published a gallery of photos chronicling the recent ANA / NATO offensive to clear Taliban forces from the Arghandab district in Kandahar province, which had been taken by the Taliban following a successful operation to free several hundred captured insurgents from Kandahar prison.
Afghan and NATO forces are clearing Taleban militants from a
strategic group of villages in Arghandab district near their
former stronghold of Kandahar (Allauddin Khan/AP)
Some of the Taleban fighters are said to have been former prisoners
who escaped during a recent night raid on Kandahar prison, possibly
the largest jail break in the world. Up to 400 Taleban fighters are
thought to have been among the 1,100 inmates who fled after two
suicide bombers blasted through the walls (Ismail Sameem/Reuters)
The Arghandab district of Kandahar province is also the location
of many opium poppy fields. The production of poppies in
Afghanistan has hit record levels this year, and is thought
to fund much of he Taleban operation (AP).
View all 11 images here.
Following on from recent posts on KOW ‘Beyond Stupid‘ and on IRG ‘Worrying Implications of the Terrorism Act for Insurgency Researchers‘ about the arrest and detainment of a Nottingham University student researching Al Qaeda terror tactics I received the contribution from a reader and friend who wishes to remain anonymous. I do not think I am making a mountain of a molehill with this case. The threat to academic freedom is not really the main issue; rather it is the wider impact on radicalization which is caused or accelerated by the sorts of police measures we see in this story–particularly damagingly amongst precisely those individuals who are the most vital assets in the ‘war of ideas’. I think our anonymous contributor, a thoughtful, highly-educated student of international affairs, illustrates extremely well why this story is important. Read the whole thing:
The First and Second Story of Radicalization: Why Ideas Matter!
Submitted by an anonymous onlooker
In an academic debate, personal experiences hardly seem appropriate; however, having been held under the anti-terror legislation soon after 7/7, I can say that it’s a pretty shattering process. Unlike our colleague in Nottingham, I was not taken to a police station, or interrogated for six days. But I was stopped on a rather peaceful afternoon in a quiet town in South England, only because my skin tone and age fit the profile the police squad had drawn up. Details aside, the specter of being stopped in a populated town square, having semi-automatic weapons pointed to your head, and being told, rather politely I might add, that I was being searched in accordance with the anti terror law – did little to temper my anxiety. I was kept in the square, surrounded by a yellow police ribbon, asked to stretch my hands wide and not move! After about 25 minutes of standing with my hands stretched – and another 15 minutes or so of my credentials being checked – the ribbon was removed, and a sergeant explained to me that I was held under suspicion because an unidentified object had been placed in the nearby railway station by a group of three young persons of Asian origin. I was hence, a suspected terrorist!
In the end, my training as a research student in the area of terrorism and insurgency allowed me to rationalize the entire 40 minutes in the square. In the preceding week or so, the image of standing in a square with a gun pointed at my head – observed by almost everyone in this small town, became a recurring theme. I toyed with a number of explanations. 7/7 had injected a degree of fear syndrome – hence I reasoned that I should not be surprised that I was stopped under the conditions explained to me. All this was part of a larger strategy to keep me safe, even if in this particular case I might have served as a target victim for the anti terror law. In between this obvious rationality, there were enough and more times that I felt a genuine spur of anger, humiliation, and even disgrace. I was angry at a society that held me in contempt for the way that I looked, even if it was for only 40 minutes. I felt humiliation every time I passed by that square, it seemed to me as though everyone their recognized me (when of course they could not have cared less) and remembered my incident with the police.
In the end, my story ended with a lot of thinking, some writing, and a degree of understanding. In this case, I would even argue that perhaps the anti-terror law was in fact effective. The reality of the situation was that young people of Asian origin had dropped off an unidentified object at a railway station. This, just a few days after a group of youngsters of Asian/South Asian origin had been caught on camera, before embarking on an act of violence that threatened the multi-cultural fabric of this nation (7/7). I was treated well, during the relatively brief investigation, once my credentials were checked and my body searched – I was told why I had been stopped, and then I was freed. Yes, it took a bit of time to find reason in this whole episode. But in the end, that July afternoon remains a distant memory.
The end point is that the anti-terror laws has a number of merits, but imagine if I was a Mosque going student closely related to one of the many Islamic groups in UK universities. Imagine if I cared to narrate my story to the local Mullah as well as a particular brand of Muslim friends. The rationalization process that I had the luxury to conduct wholly on my own might just have provided someone else with fodder for their respective agendas. If this can happen to X, imagine what can happen to Y? We need to stay together? The mosque will shelter you from the infidels? This might very well have been the support base I would have turned to provide myself with an explanation. Aggression, rather than reason might well have ingrained my mind with the politics of division, of sectarianism and eventually, disaster.
Racial profiling is a double edged sword! It serves as a deterrent to potential terrorists or those engaging in terrorist activities in the homeland, and makes it a little bit more difficult for imported Mullahs and their brethren to thrive in increasingly sensitive Western societies. However, the down side is that the physical action of deploying the advantages provided to law and enforcement agencies by the anti-terror law is manipulated by those seeking a Caliphate to recruit their aspirants. I had the fortune of returning from my brief ordeal to a university where I could spend hours talking to professors of international relations and colleagues engaged in academic research. They understood the contradiction that haunted me, and provided me with the support to move on whilst allowing me to confront my fears. Mr. X or Mrs. Y, do not necessarily enjoy these advantages. They return to their homes in East London, Bradford and Manchester. For salvation and reason they turn to their spiritual leader, and for protection, to their local youth groups. They begin attending lectures and sermons delivered via tele conference from Quetta and Karachi. Soon, the brightest of these, who was once but just an innocent bystander, is asked to visit Pakistan and meet with senior Mullahs and thinkers. In two or three years, his minute encounter with a police officer in London or New York is turned into a tale of how the infidel had launched a war against Islam. Having been trained in the art of warfare, and spurred on by a particular brand of ideology that incites the myth of after life and seventy virgins, X and Y return to their country of origin to carry out their chosen Fatwa!
This is the first story of radicalization. The one confronted by Western societies on a daily basis. Already, better intelligence gathering, reconciliation efforts by the UK Home Office, and the abandonment of Islamisist Mullahs – who have little understanding of the peaceful religion that is Islam, have helped temper the anxieties of the many Xs’ and Ys’ in our body-politik. But what we must not forget is that this is just the first story, the second, and more confusing story lies in the fact that Islam, like Christianity, does not recognize color or creed. A Caucasian youngster, born in the Muslim ghettos of Chechnya or Bosnia and living in the UK – will most certainly serve as the next Mr. X or Mrs. Y – waiting to be honed in by the priests of Islamism (not to be confused with Islam in itself) to wage Jihad against anything ‘modern’ or vaguely Western? We, in the academic community need to figure this out faster than the ‘other’ side. Pre-empting the initialization or deployment of the second story lies not with the anti-terror legislation, but with greater efforts to maintain the balance between drying the swamps in far off lands as well as fighting and winning the battle of ideas here, at home! How we do this, is certainly a worthy cause for a presumably far sighted group such as the IRG!
Crossposted from Kings of War; IRG members take note of the update at the bottom. Kimmage is giving a talk next week in the War Studies Department.
Via Marc Lynch at the link above I note that the US government because of ‘budgetary shortfalls’ is forced to fire analysts in Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty. Those receiving pink slips are apparently to include RFE/RL analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo authors of important reports on Iraqi insurgent use of media The War of Images and Ideas and Al Qaeda’s use of the Internet The Virtual Network Behind the Global Message.
I really don’t get this administration. Actually I do get something: six years into the GWOT they still haven’t got a clue about the nature of the war they are in. It’s not just the ignorance which galls its the studied, committed blindness and warped priorities which they exhibit. RFE/RL’s annual budget is $79 million. By comparison that kind of money would buy you about one half of a single F-22–pilot and fuel not included. Says Aardvark:
That’s right: the US government is cutting loose one of its best analysts of al-Qaeda’s use of the internet in order to save money which doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in the Pentagons budget.
Update: Is it a sign of the apocalypse that Jon Stewart on The Daily Show perfectly encapsulates this administration in two pithy words? ‘Seldom outdumbed.’
Another update: For some reason I completely forgot that Daniel Kimmage is coming to give a talk here in the war studies department next week. These are the details:
Crossposted from Kings of War
The Secretary of Defense just made a strong speech on a hot topic. Here’s a snip but you should read the whole thing:
There is a good deal of debate and discussion – within the military, the Congress, and elsewhere – about whether we are putting too much emphasis on current demands – in particular, Iraq. And whether this emphasis is creating too much risk in other areas, such as:
• Preparing for potential future conflicts;
• Being able to handle a contingency elsewhere in the world; and
• Over stressing the ground forces, in particular the Army.
Much of what we are talking about is a matter of balancing risk: today’s demands versus tomorrow’s contingencies; irregular and asymmetric threats versus conventional threats. As the world’s remaining superpower, we have to be able to dissuade, deter, and, if necessary, respond to challenges across the spectrum.
Nonetheless, I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis” – the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict. This inclination is understandable, given the dominant role the Cold War had in shaping America’s peacetime military, where the United States constantly strove to either keep up with or get ahead of another superpower adversary.
And, certainly, one cannot predict the future with any certainty. Soon after 1900, Winston Churchill said that he could not foresee any “collision of interests” with Germany. In the 1920s, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he said that there wasn’t the “slightest chance” of war with Japan in his lifetime. Today, rising and resurgent powers with new wealth and ambition are pursuing military modernization programs. They must be watched closely and hedged against.
But in a world of finite knowledge and limited resources, where we have to make choices and set priorities, it makes sense to lean toward the most likely and lethal scenarios for our military. And it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms – ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank – for some time to come. The record of the past quarter century is clear: the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon, the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Smaller, irregular forces – insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists – will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries. And even nation-states will try to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities in an asymmetric way, rather than play to our inherent strengths.
Overall, the kinds of capabilities we will most likely need in the years ahead will often resemble the kinds of capabilities we need today.
On National Public Radio there’s a good piece on the debatet that Gates is talking about: Army Focus on Counterinsurgency Debated Within
My two cents (heavily informed by a correspondent who observes Beltway politics from a closer perspective than me):
What is the future conventional threat? Not Russia and not China either for a long while yet but low-level skirmishes in which a COIN-focussed military would be a useful thing.
What is the current imperative? In a nutshell: not losing the wars we are actually in right now.
Is there really a conflict of interests between major warfighting and COIN? Possibly, but less than meets the eye. A COIN-adapted force is one with a high level of basic skills in which low-level leaders are tested for flexibility, initiative and the ability to adapt. These are good things. Anyway, we know now that the old orthodoxy is wrong. It’s harder to go from warfighter to COIN-operator (should you care to make that distinction) than it is to go the other way.
Is there a risk of overdoing COIN? In my view, not really. The real problem is overstretch of the forces. That’s what’s killing the Army and Marine Corps.
That said, call me cynical, but the real, real problem is that a COIN-focussed force really doesn’t offer a great deal of opportunity for the truly gargantuan defence contracts we’ve gotten used to over the years. It’s about the mindsets and skillsets of the force much more than it is weapons suites and materiel.
Thanks to Matt Armstrong at Mountain Runner who recommended me I just took part in a DoD bloggers roundtable (linked to above) on the Minerva Consortia which Secretary Gates recently announced. If you’re an academic interested in defence and security research this is a big thing. The gist of it is excerpted below (read the whole thing here The Minerva Consortia):
America today faces more, and more complex, challenges than at any time in its recent past. From the rise of new powers to trends in the environment, demographics, and culture to violent extremism, we will increasingly grapple with unprecedented change. To address these shared challenges, Americans, and their government, need a better understanding of the factors and causes behind them, what they mean, and what the future might bring. We in the Department of Defense propose a new initiative to help develop that understanding: government-supported research consortia that will draw upon the knowledge, ideas, and creativity of the nation’s universities. The Minerva Consortia will provide important and lasting professional contributions to a variety of disciplines, and a critical public service.
Minerva’s core approach is to encourage the formation of diverse consortia to conduct original research in a range of topic areas. Each topic or question will be framed and approached in a fashion appropriate to it and from a range of perspectives. We seek teams of scholars across universities and colleges who will tackle a question or topic across disciplines, coordinated by a lead institution. Participants need not be U.S. citizens.
Initial Topic Areas and Products
1. Chinese Military and Technology...
2. Studies of the Strategic Impact of Religious and Cultural Changes within The Islamic World…
3. Iraqi Perspectives Project...
4. Studies of Terrorist Organization and Ideologies…
5. Exploratory Areas for Research…
- The call is not exclusive to US institutions and scholars which is excellent because chances are that the problems which vex the DoD also vex their allies; that being the case,
- compelling insights and possible solutions may be found abroad; so,
- good for the DoD to recognize this with an international approach.
I was caught offguard by having the first question on the Roundtable. I managed to say ‘gee, good idea, we’ll send you a proposal’ which wasn’t a question as such, but an important point nonetheless. The fellow from Blackfive had a good question, I thought, about the gap between the military and academia (epitomized of late by the brouhaha over anthropologists and the Army’s human terrain system which we’ve written about here at KOW). The importance of getting the military into civilian educational settings was noted. This is another issue which is of much interest to me (see Pedagogy for the Long War). I was glad that he brought it up because I think this is a two-way street. Yes, the army needs to go Beyond the Cloister, as Petraeus put it; but universities need to think more creatively about how they can educate ‘beyond the cloister’ too. Our on-line Masters degree MA War in the Modern World is an example of how that can be done, so I was happy to get a plug in for that in the discussion. The British Army education branch has quite a good motto for our times: ‘train for certainty, educate for uncertainty.’ I think it expresses pretty much Gates’ message and intent with the Minerva programme. I welcome the initiative.
Sharon Weinberger at Wired’s Danger Room was less impressed: Pentagon’s Academic Outreach, Big Talk Little Cash Fair points, actually. The amount of money being stumped up is not huge–it is no Manhattan Project. It’s the defence department’s money being coughed up whereas arguably it should be coming from other agencies. And the appetite of universities for cash is so large (higher education is not cheap to operate, particularly to staff) that a few million is not going to go terribly far. All I’d say is a/ it’s a start, b/ other departments should be doing this, the DoD should be commended for actually doing it, and c/ if the funding is carefully targeted on issues which are otherwise extremely difficult to get funding councils to support then it could make a useful impact.
On the last point, it occurs to me that the initial topic areas are broad and what’s missing is, in my view, the biggest problem we now face: an understanding of how to conduct influence/information operations and propaganda in the 21st century. That’s the issue that is most pressing and it exists at every level of war from the grand strategic to the section level tactical. It applies ‘over there’ as well as at home. It’s a bit frustrating since Gates and Rumsfeld before him have both expressed the same frustration and incredulity about the situation they find themselves in:
Robert Gates: …public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the internet than America.
Donald Rumsfeld: Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not adapted. Consider that the violent extremists have established media relations committees—these are terrorists and they have media relations committees that meet and talk about strategy, not with bullets but with words. They’ve proven to be highly successful at manipulating the opinion elites of the world. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to intimidate and break the collective will of free people.
The US and the UK have been fought to a standstill in two theatres by global jihadists not because they’re better at moving metal than we are but because they’re better at the purposeful shaping of the ideas and beliefs of others to warlike effect. That’s the cutting edge for insurgency research.