Rapid Fire

3 cups of tea

Literally a storm in a teacup…I doubt there is anyone who ever published a book than was 100% honest in EVERY way and which did not lean towards one agenda or perspective or another in some way…

Greg Mortenson shot to worldwide fame with the book “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations … One School at a Time,” which describes his getting lost in an effort to climb K2, the world’s second-highest peak, being rescued by Pakistanis in the village of Korphe and vowing to return there to build a school for local girls.

Now it appears that it wasn’t quite as he says which is causing a little embarrassment around the traps for those who may have supported his initiatives financially or, like the US DoD, who may have extracted insights from Three Cups of Tea for use in COIN doctrine and TTPs…personally I agree with the headline, if not all of the content, of the Wired article on the subject Does It Matter If The Military’s Fave Do-Gooder Sells Three Cups of Snake Oil?  When an organsiation like the military moves out of its comfort zone, in this case, of large very structured kinetic military operations like Grandad used to do, it has to cast its net wider for ideas…

Let’s not forget that the COIN effort in Iraq got off to a false start as too many people heralded the false zealots of COIN the Malaya way, the US in particular, picking the wrong time to listen to its vocal but fickle ally from the other side of the Atlantic…it was only the efforts of David Petraeus, David Kilcullen et al who turned the tide towards a COIN strategy that would (and did) work in Iraq, this being encapsulated in the December 2006 version of FM 3-24 CounterInsurgency (don’t knock it unless you have actually read it!!). But, however applicable that FM 3-24 might have been in the Iraq of 2006, it was less applicable to the almost-forgotten Afghan war which had been festering away since March 2003 and which, as a problem, bore little resemblance to Iraq.

So, more power to those who cast the net wide in their attempts to get a better handle on the specific of the Afghan problem…Jim Gant with his One Tribe at a Time paper was one; those promoting Three Cups of Tea were others…and so what if Mortenson streamlined his experiences or even made them up? Are we still so template-ridden from the Fulda Gap that we can not think for ourselves and extract the nuggets from the rough…it’s just slipped my mind but one of the tenets that I referred to often in my work in the late 90s from a from a source that I eventually tracked back to one of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner pulp paperbacks…someone that I was working with at the time was mortified that I might draw real world insights from such a ‘disreputable‘ source but so far as I was, and am, concerned, it is not who the source is that is of prime importance but what it is saying…One area in which this has become very apparent and implemented in SOPs is in the Lessons Learned world where collection teams will endeavour to draw observations, issues and lessons (OIL – yes, it’s still all about OIL!!) from as close to the horses mouth as they can get – the trick, of course, being to avoid the equine’s other end…

On failed states

Got the cue on this article from Michael Yon’s Facebook page…always a good source of links to interesting articles…as well written as it is, I think it’s all semantic smoke and mirrors…three decades ago our biggest threats came from established states like France, the Soviet Empire and Maoist China…once again we need to resist the temptation to slap a template on a nation and use that to determine their level of potential threat or risk or not…as above, we should be able to consider each form or threat and risk on its own merits or or lack of thereof and draw our own conclusions…this sort of pseudo-analytical, ‘Eureka!‘ style of writing really leaves me cold…

Kiwi Gunners

On a positive note, I came across this great written snapshot of a Kiwi gunner’s perspective on Vietnam and the New Zealand of the time, again drawing the cue from someone’s (sorry, can’t remember the source) Facebook page….it’s not that well known that our artillery was in Vietnam well before there was any infantry deployment…and especially topical when one remembers that yesterday was ANZAC Day…

Getting it right

Just snippets today…

A couple of interesting comments (edit: made by visitors to his page – I just omitted the names for privacy reasons) on one of Michael Yon’s Facebook threads…

I’ve been in the army since Regan was president. i lived through the drawdown and saw how within several years the Army culture changed dramatically. zero defects was the norm… PC culture was jammed down our throats by new “sensitivity” initiatives. anyone that dared cross a PC line was slammed and pushed aside. when i attended the Strategy program at CGSC, we were fed a steady diet of liberal internationalist philosophy by Barnett, Nye, Fukuyama , and surprisingly the failed Sec of State Kissinger. these aren’t the people that are going to solve our strategic problems. in fact, they are the problem. we need to return to the classics of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, etc.

Personally I despise Sun Tzu, or certainly the popular pulp interpretations of his philosophies…I always mentally deduct marks when I see Sun Tzu quotes in papers and books I am reviewing…it’s, like, couldn’t you apply yourself enough to find a supporting quote with some substance behind it? But that’s just me…I do however support a return to study based upon the classic thinkers, especially as a foundation upon which to consider more contemporary works…

The government of South Vietnam was inept and corrupt … so it was illegitimate as far as the population was concerned. The South Vietnamese gov’t never won the support of its people and could not stand on its own without massive U.S. financial and military support. So the end was inevitable. I don’t know how much effect we can have on Karzai and his clown posse, but without an effective government in Afghanistan the fight is already lost.

The positive and negative parallels with the war in Vietnam continue to grow…on the positive side we see the incredible dedication and professionalism of individuals at the sharp end, regardless of the direction and reasons for the conflict; and we see the opportunity to get it write through the writings of people like Jim Gant, Josh Wineera and Steve Tatham, all of whom have identified key aspects that might make this war winnable – although chance is becoming slim indeed as the US prepares to meet its 2011 drawdown target…On the negative side we see war in an environment we do not understand; the top-down political meddling in the campaign plan; and the bolstering of a government that only serves to reinforce the opposition…

The Enemy Within

As I type this morning, the news is covering a taxi driver’s murderous rampage in Whitehaven in the UK…already here, commentators are noting the difficulties faced by UK Police due to their unarmed posture and linking this to our own unarmed police force. The anti-gun lobby hasn’t arced up yet but it must be winding up already…the simple fact is that the UK already has very strict gun control laws ans still something like this occurs…

More guns, less guns is not the core issue…if someone wants to go out like this, they will find a way, guns or no guns…and while I support the arming of Police (why not? everyone else is armed), that is a response whereas I think that we need to be looking at how to interdict this threat before it ever gets played out…

On the run…

Right that it for now…have to dash as I have a big day ahead maximising the sun while it has been out…we have had a lot of rain over the last few days and everything is drenched. Fortunately we live in top of a hill and have escaped the floods that hit Whakatane and Oamaru this week…

I have made considerable progress this week is identifying potential options that might finally get us (affordable) broadband access at home – I do so miss being able to listen in on the monthly Virtual Brown Bag sessions at the CAC COIN Center – either through the miracles of satellite or mobile technologies…

I also am steeling myself for the inevitable jabbing and stabbing medical assessments as part of transferring across to the Air Force…so long as there’s no pysch assessments, I should be OK…!!

My two COIN-related priorities remain completing my review of the Mandelbrot book and offering my two cents to the incredible amount of great insights that Dean @ Shiloh brought back from the COIN Symposium at Ft Leavenworth last month…

Edit: This Just In…

Hawkeye UAV in action

This came in just as I hit the Publish button…it’s some of the imagery captured during Hawkeye UAV sorties in the South Island last week that shows off the Hawkeye capability – like Transformers, ‘more than meets the eye’…it is way more than just a little UAV with a camera…the true value to the client is the real time geo-referencing and overlay of imagery over 3D terrain models and subsequent analysis using the Hawkeye suite of tools…all this happens in the field in real or close to real time…very cool…

Seven Days in May

I’ve been on a recreational reading blitz over the last month or so…mainly to daily purge the professional reading I have been reviewing…sort of getting a literary life, I guess…

I started with old favourites from Steven Coonts (The Intruders, America), Clive Cussler (Raise the Titanic, Night Probe) and Dale Brown (Wings of Fire and Fatal Terrain). I overnighted at Carmen’s flat in Otorohanga a couple of weekends ago and, having forgotten to bring a book with me, grabbed Michael Connelly’s Echo Park for my pre-lights out read. This was followed by my two wins from Get Frank, Jonathan Kellerman’s Deception and Stephen Leather’s Nightfall.

Two nights ago, I felt the need to reread another favourite and grabbed Larry Bond’s Cauldron but while walking down the hallway, found I had picked out his Days of Wrath instead which was not really what I was in the mood for. As I was replacing it on the shelf in the study, I noticed Fletcher Knebel’s Seven Days in May beside it. I’d only ever read this as a teenager in the Reader’s Digest Condensed version and so opted to read it next.

What a great read!! Published in 1962, before Cuba, Dallas and Vietnam, it is set in the early 70s after a Cold War conflict that leaves Iran divided into Communist North and democratic South – logical for the time considering the Koreas, Vietnam and Germanys. A nuclear disarmament treat has been signed with the Soviet Union but elements of the US military have littler faith in either the Treaty or the President that signed it…to find out what happens you need to read the book (recommended) or see the movie (on my to-do list but it has Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster so I have high expectations).

In addition to being a damn fine read, delivering a gripping  storyline without needing the prop of a high body count as perhaps a contemporary equivalent would, Seven Days in May has a couple of lines that I felt are relevant to our contemporary environment…

Cleaning up the “sad debris of surrender”, as Todd called it, took time

The sad debris of surrender – a good phrase…someone said to me earlier this week that the US is not good at nation-building and I had to bite back quite sharply…this is one of those myths that has appeared since the end of the OIF warfighting phase in 2003, a result of moral high-horsing from the UN and sniping from the UK when post-war Iraq didn’t snap nicely into a nice shining example of Middle Eastern democracy (now there’s an oxymoron for you)…my response included three names…Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and George C. Marshall…three generals who, between them, rebuilt Europe and Japan from the ashes of WW2. If there was any failure of nation-building in post-war Iraq, it was down to three factors:

The failure of the UN to get over itself and not step to the plate to take the lead in rebuilding Iraq. Regardless of the nature of the disaster that struck Iraq in 2003, the sad human debris of its surrender was left to suffer and endure after the UN’s half-hearted attempt at a presence in Iraq. The few casualties suffered by the UN in Iraq are but a drop in the bucket compared to the casualties suffered by the people of Iraq and those nations that did step forward…

The decision by the US to allow the bulk of development and reconstruction work to be let to US-based mega-corps that only had an eye out for the quick big bucks instead of perhaps applying a fraction of those billions to developing those construction capabilities in Iraq itself, thus contributing to the development and stability of the Iraqi economy. This was a point made by COL Dransfield in his presentation at Massey yesterday on his recent experience in  Afghanistan: he admitted some confusion as to how these contracts could cost so much when the daily rate for labour is about US$5 and all the raw materials like sand and gravel are there for the taking. He was surprised to learn that his PRT was one of the few forces in-theatre that purchased a lot of its support e.g. fresh food, minor mechanical repairs, etc from local resources.

The UK perception that it was on top of both conventional state versus state conflict AND low-level conflict and that it had nothing to learn from the US. The corollarative effect of this was that it also contributed little back into the Iraqi nation-building process at either the national level (after all, the UK was the other primary collaborator in the WMD ‘justification for the war in Iraq) or within it’s own AO which ultimately had to be ‘pacified’ by a US force as the UK was packing its bags to go home, it’s job not done…

At the Australian Army COIN Seminar in 2008, the comment was made that no one ordered Dwight Eisenhower to conduct reconstruction and nation-building tasks as he advanced across France and into Germany – they didn’t have to because it was such a logical and common sense method of pacificying the region. Similarly, Douglas MacArthur was expected to inflict draconian Versaille-like measures against the Japanese after Japan surrendered in August 1945 and many would have believed that he had a major axe to grind with Japan over the way it had treated his beloved Philippines. No doubt he did but, again, this senior US general determined that this would be counter-productive in the bigger picture. As a result, Germany and Japan sixty years on are still two economic powerhouses and one has to wonder what the Army of that day got right in training its senior officers.

Or possibly, as I’m not sure that the US has too much wrong with how it develops its generals today, what was so different sixty years ago that the governments and civil staff trusted those officers to just get on and do the job…?

“…the trouble is that democracy works only when a good majority of citizens are willing to give thoughts and time and effort to their government…”

And that remains the single biggest issue with the current campaign in Afghanistan: at the tribal and provincial levels the majority of citizens may be willing to contribute to government and leadership, there is simply no interest in a strong central government regardless of its composition or ethical philosophies. No matter how much you flog a dead horse it still isn’t going to get up and haul the cart any further…The McCrystal ‘Cursed Earth’ plan essentially abandons the centre of Afghanistan to whoever wants and only maintain a Maginot-like ring around the outer edges of the country – which might be useful if Afghanistan faced any credible conventional external threat. But it doesn’t, and ISAF’s failure to adopt a provincial/tribal based campaign along the lines of that proposed by Jim Gant that might, over time, allow the  ink blots of success to spread and merge only means that more lives and money will be wasted in ineffective and pointless kinetic operations.

MacArthur in particular achieved his success in reconstructing Japan not, by through kinetics or arbitrarily inflicting Western culture on the Japanese but by working within their own culture, evolving an his approach for that situation and no relying on templates from previous successes…what it it so hard to learn…?