Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mullah von Clausewitz

First, read Marine Captain Jonathan Rue’s recent piece for the Guardian looking at how we’re doing in Afghanistan.

It’s tough to argue with his conclusions, especially with regards to the advisory effort. Developing effective Afghan security is, for all intents and purposes, developing an indigenous Afghan counterinsurgency capability to combat a threat that only time will kill. It is the last, best hope for Afghanistan after our departure, whether that occurs in 2014 or 2024. The idea that we can exterminate the Taliban is, of course, an infantile fantasy. We either build enough capacity to stave off the Taliban without significant US troops, or we allow their return.

That’s why the numbers cited in the Guardian piece are so troubling. This is not to knock our advisors. I’ve been an advisor myself, in Iraq, and fully understand what a difficult job it is. I can’t speak to the quality of the advisory and partnering effort in Afghanistan but the majority of advisors I worked with in Iraq were definitely value-added to the Iraqi Army. Partnering efforts were spotty but fully supported by US combat units in theater. From what I’ve heard from maneuver commanders with Afghanistan experience, partnering is something they fully believe in. The US military has admirably developed a robust advisory and partnering capability on the fly.

Eventually. It certainly did not start out that way. The book The Snake Eaters by Marine Major Owen West details the difficulties the US military had in creating this capacity from scratch. While we’ve succeeded in creating an ability to advise and partner with host nation forces, we have done so at a strictly tactical level. At the Kabul Cable, Nathan Finney detailed our problems translating that tactical capability into strategic effects. Caitlin Fitz Gerald at Gunpowder and Lead also delved into our effort from a strategic standpoint:
The new version of victory would be to stand up the Afghan military and police forces, to act as advisors to build their capacity. It’s not that advisory missions can’t be effective – Finney’s piece touches on some of the ways in which they can - but forgive me if in this case it looked to me like another way to redefine victory, a grasping at one last straw that might let us tell ourselves that no we weren’t leaving because we’d lost, no it wasn’t all for nothing, all the damage and death and ugliness, that we achieved this thing, and that’s why we’re leaving, because we’re done and Afghanistan is better off….… This is why the advisory mission is a shambles too, with so-called ‘green on blue’ attacks – a pretty term for an ugly thing, that always evokes in my mind high grassy hills and wide summer skies, swirls of cool soothing color, not the heat and betrayal and blood it’s really meant to mean – occurring with alarming frequency, and I can’t help but think that it’s because all it ever was was a cover for our exit, a half-assed attempt to save face on our way out the door, and that deep down, we know it, and so do the Afghans.
Translated to Marine speak- the advisory effort is an expediency. Something we have to do in order to get out of the country. Or, even worse, a placebo placed on an open wound just to calm the patient. While this may not the case, it’s easy to see why it seems that way. Before 9/11, the US military only had a paltry capability to advise, train, and build host nation forces. Foreign Internal Defense was considered a special forces mission and the rest of the military was happy to foist the responsibility on a special forces community too small shoulder the entire burden. I’m sure the analogy has been used before, but our creation of advisory and partnering tactics, techniques, and procedures was akin to building an airplane while it’s in flight. The US simply did not see the need before it was upon us. Captain Rue alluded to the fact that the US made this same mistake in Vietnam. That’s true, but we also made this mistake in Korea and El Salvador. The US military, caught flat-footed by the need for advisors in Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, AND Afghanistan, has had serious issues when forced to create an advisory capability from scratch. Achieving productive strategic effects from an advisory effort may be a little bit easier if we did not have to reinvent the tactical wheels every single time we need it. This is another result of the “casual arrogance” with which we approached Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the race to both develop our own skills as advisors and partners and then to put those skills into action with our Afghan partners may have been begun too late to overcome an enemy that recognizes our vulnerability. While it is unclear just how many of the green on blue attacks are directly due to Taliban efforts, that number is irrelevant. The Taliban can exploit the trend to drive a wedge between ISAF and Afghan security forces. They do this because they recognize that relationship for what it is: our center of gravity. They’re in good company.
One must keep the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends…. (emphasis mine)… For Alexander, Gustavus Adoplhus, Charles the XII, and Frederick the Great, the center of gravity was their army… In countries subject to domestic strife, the center of gravity is generally the capital. In small countries that rely on large ones, it is usually the army of their protector. Among alliances, it lies in the community of interest… (emphasis mine).- Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (Page 596 in the Howard/Paret translation)
Whatever the cause, green on blue attacks are steadily eroding the bonds between the community of interest formed between ISAF forces and the Afghans who choose to fight alongside them. While the casualties that result from these attacks are few and the advisory effort is only a portion of the ISAF strategy in Afghanistan, they effects of these incidents can have far larger strategic consequences. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Real Loss in Afghanistan

The following is a repost from the USNI Blog. Founded in 1873, the U. S. Naval Institute is a non-profit, professional military association of more than 50,000 members.  An independent, nonpartisan forum on global security issues, it creates books, magazines, blogs and conferences – and maintains expansive historical archives.  The Institute educates on the need for a strong national defense; on the enduring role of the maritime services in preserving it and on our national obligation to the men and women of the all-volunteer force who provide it.

After noting the loss of Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Atwell in the attack a week ago, it is natural for many to point out the irreplaceable nature of the AV-8B+ Harriers that were destroyed – our greatest loss of aircraft since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

While true, that is just the background. It is also true that every loss of life is significant, but in time except for those who know them – losses become a number or perhaps a thumbnail picture.

It is helpful when the opportunity presents itself to look a little deeper in to a loss. What was the character of those lost? What did they represent? What impact did they have on those they served with, the organizations they led, the services they were members of, and the nation that they gave the ultimate sacrifice?

Thanks to our friends over at SLD – we have a copy of Lt. Col Raible’s Command Guidance. Read it. Ponder it. Compare it to your own. If you are someone soon to take Command and are working on one; here is your benchmark.

From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211
To: Squadron Attack Pilots

1. Professional hunger.
My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.

If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.

If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.

2. Professional focus.
Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”

Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.

3. Attitude.
I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”

Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.

4. Moral courage.

Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.

We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.

5. Dedication.
If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.

Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”

6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.

The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.

It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.

To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”

If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.

C. K.
Semper fi, LtCol Raible and Sgt Atwell.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Increasing the Stress Levels: A Complex Attack

GySgt Marco Angviano on patrol in Sarob.
By Andrew Lubin for Leatherneck Magazine

Range 220; Sarob District—The 19 Marines of Team One accompanied two platoons of notional Afghan National Army soldiers on a patrol into Sarob, Sept. 12. Led by Capt Jose Castillo, Sarob was believed to be a semipermissive town where a presence patrol was easily accepted by the locals. In a scene reminiscent of many villages through which Marines have patrolled since 2001, a few role players/Sarob residents sat outside their shops casually waving and smiling as the patrol slowly moved past under the hot desert sun.

But in another scene reminiscent of many Afghan villages in which Marines have patrolled, the bucolic scene disappeared in a burst of machine-gun fire and the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED).

“We plan the attacks carefully,” Sergeant Philip Lubin explained. “We’re able to conduct complex ambushes, with multiple points of attack, which are designed to stress the Marines we’re training.” Assigned to the Advisor Training Group a year ago, Lubin is on the Role Player Control Team. He and 12 other Marines plan attacks that include the use of notional crew-served weapons, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGS) and IEDs. With contractors hired to emplace and fire the IEDs, Lubin and his team don Afghan garb and while firing blanks from their AK47s and RPKs will ambush the joint patrols as they deem appropriate.

Today’s attack began less than 10 minutes into the patrol, and the “Afghan commander” and Castillo immediately fell into a synergistic rhythm with Castillo talking to the two Marine mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles accompanying the patrol as the Afghan took reports from his platoon commanders. Keeping their “terp,” very busy as they exchanged information, Castillo positioned one vehicle in order to evacuate a “wounded” member of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as the other laid down suppressing fire so the ANA troops could rush the insurgents.

But the attack was far from finished, and suddenly gunfire and indirect fire raked the neighboring bazaar, causing “casualties” amongst the civilians. Following the shouts of the angry men in the bazaar and the screaming women, the Marine and Afghan corpsmen and troops found a scene that would have been horrific if it were real. Three Afghan male bodies lay crumpled in the bazaar, with a notionally wounded male raising a bloody arm as he begged for aid. However, only a few meters away, the situation was worse. Three women had been theoretically wounded, and with other women shrieking and trying to aid their friends, the Marines and Afghans rushing to their aid had to push through them to attend to the wounded. Ululating wildly, the ladies pushed their way into the shop that the Marines had commandeered for a hasty aid station and continued to add their voices to the shrieks of the wounded ladies. It was an intense event in the day’s training.

For the Advisor Training Group (ATG) Marines, however, the day was not yet complete. An hour later, Team Five was observing a jirga, held in the Sarob Jail. A jirga is the first step in the Afghan court system, where evidence is produced in front of a judge, and an initial determination of guilt or innocence is made. It’s typically an Afghan-only event in which the Marine advisor may be invited to observe, and several of the Marine officers from Team Five were watching the proceedings. The jail was guarded by role players dressed as ANPs (Afghan National Police) who were perhaps not as attentive as the Marines and Afghans inside expected. With the proceedings drawing to a close, one of the American contractors, dressed as an insurgent, casually walked up to a green ANP light truck, screamed “Allah Akbar!” and detonated a mock suicide vest. As the SVIED (suicide vest improvised explosive device) bomber lay on the ground surrounded by notionally dead and wounded ANPs and the ANP and Marines pulled on their gear as they ran from the jail to the point of attack, the SVIED driver could be observed speeding away.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Advisor Training Group “Mission Rehearsal Exercise”

Capt Alex Luedtke (right) and a contractor observing during a notional 'attack.'

By Andrew Lubin for Leatherneck Magazine

Range 220, MCAGCC Twentynine Palms—It’s been “Clear-Hold-Build” throughout the length of the Helmand River Valley since 2009, but its “Transition,” or how successful the Marines are in teaching the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to control their own battlespace, is how the Marine efforts in Afghanistan will be remembered.

In the past few years, the Marine Corps built the largest military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) town in the American military, with 1,550 buildings spread over 284 acres. Built primarily from 20- and 40-foot shipping containers, the buildings replicate jails, hospitals, a bazaar, and even a multiple-story hotel complete with furniture. The roads have been reinforced to allow for Marine armored vehicles ranging from M1A1 main battle tanks, amtraks and light armored vehicles to participate in the exercises, with graveyards, Afghan women and “bazaaris” added to the atmospherics. The 284 acres have been subdivided into seven different districts, with Advisor Training Group (ATG) owning its own “battlespace.”

Taking teams of 14 to 20 Marines into the field, the Advisor Training Team uses a 28-day training cycle to teach the Marines the subtleties of training the ANSF. “It’s not just teaching tactics,” Captain Alex Luedtke told Leatherneck, “it’s using trust and respect so important in the Afghan culture to teach the tactical and soft skills necessary.” An infantryman by trade, Luedtke normally assists in the Human Dimension classes. This week he is one of seven captains who are overseeing the teams going through the mission readiness exercise (MRX).

Commanded by Colonel William Gillespie, the ATG consists of 25 to 30 Marines and some 400 (primarily) Afghan men and women who work together in teaching the Marines the subtleties of training the ANSF when they deploy. “We’re not teaching,” Luedtke continued, “we’re mentoring and advising, and it’s important the Marines understand the difference.”

Each training cycle has an MRX, in which the Marines are graded in how they interact and advise their Afghan counterparts during a series of high-stress exercises ranging from complex ambushes, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) strikes, detainee processing, jirgas, force protection, morale and discipline, and air medevacs. Each team consists of a number of ranks: staff sergeants, gunnery sergeants, lieutenants, who are able to advise one-rank-up or one-rank-down as necessary.

In one of today’s exercises, an Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol suffered multiple wounded from an improvised explosive device (IED) and was then attacked as they called in a medevac. With five Afghans bandaged realistically (including copious amounts of fake blood), while moaning and shrieking in Pashtu, the Marine first lieutenant called in a 9-line for a Mercy Air medevac. But while awaiting the helicopter’s arrival, the patrol was ambushed, with the Afghans being attacked from a nearby village by notional heavy machine guns, small arms and artillery. The purpose of the attack was to see how well the Marine lieutenant would liaise with his Afghan captain-partner while under the pressure of combat; and in this complex war, it was a complex answer.

With the Afghan commander seemingly paralyzed by the heavy fire, the Marine tried to get him to make a decision. “We can’t stay here,” he emphasized to the Afghan, “we need to move forward and attack, or we need to pull back.” A Marine armored vehicle accompanying the patrol moved forward into the fight, but an audible was called declaring the up-gunner wounded and the vehicle pulled back in order to deal with the WIA. Calling for additional ANA troops was another option, but as the audio of incoming fire increased in volume, the Afghan remained unable to make a decision. “We can’t wait 30 minutes,” the Marine emphasized, in a tone one could hear over the gunfire. “You need to decide NOW!”

While the lieutenant continued to push the ANA for orders, other equally important actions were ignored; no defensive perimeter was established, the landing zones (LZ) were not swept for IEDs, a rifle was left unattended, and the ANA troops remained huddled around the wounded who had been carried to the LZ. After an intense 10 to 15 minutes, the medevac “bird” arrived, the Afghan “casualties” were loaded, and the Mercy Air flight departed in a cloud of dust.

It seemed a complex problem with an unpalatable answer. If the Afghan continues to waffle, ANA and Marines may die. If the Marine takes command, he undermines the command structure by showing the Afghan commander to be ineffective, while the other issues needed to be addressed simultaneously. If the ANA commander isn’t effective, the role of the Marine is not to take command, but rather to spur him to command effectively.

“Mentoring is often an exercise in pushing the Afghans,” Luedtke explained, “but not to the point of pain. Leadership is tone as much as tactics; it can be a fine line.”

Tomorrow: a complex ambush and IEDs.