David Patraeus

Knowing the rules

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I read an article written by David Killcullen, one of the world’s top counter-insurgency men. He stated that the populace in a counter-insurgency want to know the rules that have been set in place for them. They want to know their boundaries, what will bring punishment and what will bring reward.

I believe that one of the biggest failures of the last 8 years in the war in Afghanistan is the lack of effort in reporting the real reasons and intentions for America being in the country in the first place. Since General Petraeus took over, there’s been a concerted effort to rectify this, but there’s a long way to go.

As Washington Post writer, David Ignatius points out, according to recent polls, Afghan haven’t a clue as to why Americans are in their backyard.

America’s first problem in Afghanistan is that the Afghan people in the key battleground don’t understand why we’re there: When pollsters read a simple summary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and its aftermath to a sample of 1,000 young men in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, only 8 percent said they knew about this event.

Nature abhors a vacuum. And so it is with information and propaganda. Whenever Coalition Forces fail to fill information gaps, we can be sure the enemy will oblige. Add to this the propensity of people in the region to believe the wildest of mythology–a neck-tie is a secret symbol of Christianity, Osama Bin Laden is a CIA operative–and you have a formula for unending war. Many Afghans, since they may not have even heard of 9-11, can only assume that America is in-country to do what every other invader has tried to do: Become a colonial power. And since America is primarily a Christian power, we must want to destroy Islam, too. No Afghan tribe that believes these things will ever fully support our efforts. And we need full support if the people are to be the eyes that find insurgents, not just a level of support that takes our money and goes about enabling the Taliban. The Taliban aggressively speads its message and rules through Shabnamah or Night Letters as well as face to face contact. The message and rules? Cooperate with the Coalition and you die. The Taliban has won the information war in to this point in Afghanistan. After researching the subject for an intelligence paper I wrote, I believe it is the number one reason that this war has lasted so long.

In a land rife with illiteracy, getting the word out is a huge task. But it is doable. When I visited a refugee camp in Afghanistan, I saw 25,000 inhabitants whom were ripe for Taliban picking. I made sure when I spoke with the camps leader to ask him why he thought America was in Afghanistan. I also told him that he needs to tell all of his people that America is here to fight al-Qaeda and trans-national terrorists, that American soldiers don’t want to spend years in his country; they want to go back to their family and friends. But we needed his help.

Every leader that interfaces with various tribes in Afghanistan should have a list of things that they tell the people. On that list should be an explanation for American presence and the rules that the people are expected to follow: Do this and we help you. Do this and we kill you or arrest you. The messaging should also include a laundry list of all the horrible things that the Taliban does, and a negation of the myth (propagated as much by Western media as the Taliban) that Americans kill more civilians than the insurgents do. All of this should be SOP with every engagement.

What I think of the war in Afghanistan now

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After having spent four months in Afghanistan and seeing much of the war from the inside, some may wonder if my opinions of the efficacy of fighting there have changed. In short, they haven’t changed much.

While I do see the benefit of having some foot print in the country, I also see that the country’s leaders and outside influencers in Pakistan are playing both sides in hopes that when the US leaves, the Taliban won’t have any grudges. Their actions form a self-fulfilling prophecy and enable the Taliban to continue maintaining some legitimacy.

I want to dismiss the myth that Afghan fighters are incredible guerrilla warriors, able to defeat our troops because of their years’ experience in this kind of fighting. In fact, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters get severely smashed every time they confront US troops. Obliterated. I’m talking 40 bad guys dead, and 0 US dead on several occasions since I’ve been in the country. The way they kill our troops is by paying some dupe with no job to plant a bomb on a road and then detonating it as we ride by.

So why can’t we win? I have several opinions on this. First, we must define what winning is. I think in some ways, we have won. Al-Qaeda is almost non-existent in Afghanistan. The Taliban in many areas is reduced to a loose crime syndicate. And America is still a great place to live. If we read the memo that directed then-General Stanley McChrystal on the objectives of this war, the goal was to “degrade” the Taliban. We’ve done that.

But the one conclusion that I’ve come to that means the most to me is this: Democracy is a reward. Democracy is not a cause, it is the result of doing the right things. The people of Afghanistan have not earned Democracy because they refuse to change the way they do business. And they must suffer the consequences. The people of Iraq have earned the right to reap the benefits of Democracy (much to the chagrin of the Left) , as they demonstrated in the Anbar Awakening.  To ask that Democracy be the cause that brings success to Afghanistan is like buying a teenager a new BMW in hopes it brings him a sense of responsibility.

I must point out that General Patraeus has made it clear we only need to make Afghanistan “good enough”. We don’t need to make it Switzerland, as he quipped. He is absolutely correct, and I do think that a good enough Afghanistan is in reach. But until the problems in Pakistan are dealt with, good enough is not possible. Our military leaders know this.

This is not a military failure. The military has defeated the Taliban on every battle front, though I don’t think we’ve been nearly aggressive enough. There’s also the problem of defining the enemy himself. Any guy can pick up a Kalashnikov and call himself Taliban, just as any person could now call himself a Nazi. So when do we know the Taliban has been defeated? The problem at this point, does not have a military solution. It is a Rule of Law problem and the result of cultural failure. The military part of the problem had been solved. The puzzle that remains is the endemic collapse of stabilizing social structures within Afghanistan. Chaos begets chaos. Corruption fathers corruption.

The War on Terror has not been a failure. Al-Qaeda suffered a massive strategic defeat. It’s plans are consistently disrupted, its fighters arrested or eliminated, many of it’s leaders killed or facing trial. The Taliban barely has a corporeal existence in Afghanistan, but its ghost remains in the form of criminal gangs and warlords. There are very real and positive results that’ve been gained from ignoring the defeatists. And we should continue to fight Islamic extremist. It is a fight that will continue in some form for the rest of our lives. That does not mean it’s not worth fighting. And the whining of the Left over this fight will also continue. We should throw them a couple of bones, like allowing gays in the military or legalizing pot. And then we should ignore them.

Our lesson should be that nation building while under fire is a bad idea. You don’t fix social structures while the enemy shoots at you. You smash the enemy, grab as much power as you can, than build. In most places you have to let everything burn out before you move in, and that can take generations.

The fact is, we’ve reduced the threat to America by fighting in Afghanistan. We just shouldn’t be giving the teenager a new car.

COIN operated politics

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Suppose a child is misbehaving. He or she repeatedly throws a fit when told it’s time for bed. A single mom, tired and reminded daily by Oprah-esque talk shows that children should never feel pain, decides that the best course of action is to offer a cookie to the child just before bed.

She has just made her life more difficult and taught the child that misbehavior brings concession and reward. Now the child will throw fits and get cookies.

This is exactly what some (mis) interpretations of FM 3-24 (The Army field manual outlining counter-insurgency operations) brought us. I knew our efforts in Afghanistan were all but lost when, a few months back at the beginning of the McChrystal surge, I heard a Marine officer tell a reporter: “If I kill one civilian in the course of killing 10,000 insurgents, I’ve just made my job here tougher.” My jaw dropped. You’d think America never won a war by killing its enemies. The sheiks take our money and cooperate with the Taliban. They know that no matter what they do, we’ll be nice. So now America is the exasperated single mom.

It is our politicians who’ve politicized our military, not our generals. We laud civilian control, but ignore that it is in fact the generals who are the experts. While they do not make policy–nor should they–they should be listened to. But they hardly ever are until it’s too late. The case of General Eric Shinseki is the obvious lesson. He told Congress we needed “several hundred-thousand troops”. Then he got sent to the locker room.

So we moved from Rumsfeld’s “Shock and Awe” (EBO, or Effects Based Operations), which hoped laser-guided munitions would make people drop dirty Kalashnikovs, to COIN. Both offer dreamy visions of near-bloodless war. In the first case, we can destroy our enemies’ “critical nodes” and make him combat ineffective. In the second case, we can give billions of dollars to locals sheiks and never have to pull a trigger. In both cases people forgot to refer to the history books. German bombing didn’t kill English determination, and American and English bombing of German railroads and ball bearing factories, while helpful, did not stop the Wehrmacht–only a titanic wave of soldiers from both sides of the Rhineland did that.

The politicization of military operations has many deleterious effects, but the most prominent is “either/or” thinking and rhetoric. We must either protect civilian populations at all costs (even at the cost of losing) or we must carpet bomb villages with no military value. Those are the only two options to COIN operated politics. The Marine officer’s statement about 10,000 insurgents vs. 1 civilian is classic either/or thinking (ideology really).

It seems that our mid-level officers misinterpreted the COIN manual. During the Iraqi surge under General Patraeus, airstrike frequency massively increased. He understood that while killing innocents is undesirable and hurts our effort, he also understood that being overrun by al-Qaeda was a much more direct route to getting our rears–Read: heads– handed to us. And he understood that ultimately his responsibility is to the American Soldier. Politicians value votes much more than Soldier’s lives. If they only understood that even under the best conditions, COIN offers only long wars, which are politically unsustainable. One statement that Patraeus made in recent testimony before Congress is that counter insurgency does not prevent us from actively targeting terrorists for destruction. One politician, encapsulated by either/or, asked why we don’t go to a pure counter-terror strategy. 

A thousand history lessons cannot blunt the razor-sharp arrogance of theoreticians. While they give us romantic platitudes about the genius of  Hannibal, Scipio and Napoleon, they’d have us believe that–just like the failed McClellan–we can go about victory by circumventing attriting the enemy. They hate William Sherman because his methods were not nice. And yet they cannot give me an example of any wars won with bribes.

Stanley McChrystal

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There’s a saying in the Army: Only do what your rank can handle. It’s safe to say that if  4-Stars can’t handle something, nothing can.

When I first caught wind of the article in Rolling Stone, my first thought was: Why are Soldiers allowed to talk to journalists from Rolling Stone? I was absolutely astounded when I found that General McChrystal gave “unprecedented access” to Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings.

Reading the article, I immediately catch a whiff of burnt cannabis in the air, and a tone that can’t wait to rile up some muck. It reminds me to some extent of the works of another Rolling Stone journalist named Evan Wright of Generation Kill fame.  The style is slightly raunchy, almost in the Beat Poet genre. In revels in pointing out the basest aspects of human nature. The style feels obligated to quote only when the language is profane. And let’s consider the title: 

The Runaway General

Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House

Seems obvious that Hastings wanted to stir some people up. And he succeeded.

This is not to say that it is not true and an excellent piece of journalism. Afterall, even McChrystal has not denied the truth of the article’s content. And I must also commend Michael Hastings’ conclusions in regards counterinsurgency and the fact that he quotes highly regarded critics of CI, such as Douglas Macgregor.

But aside from the journalistic qualities of the piece, let’s think about the “outrage” that’s flowed from many in the press and resulted in McChrystal’s resignation.

First, the accusations of McChrystal being insubordinate are overblown. I can find nothing in the article that points to McChrystal making contemptuous remarks toward the President. On one occasion McChrystal does tell a subordinate that he found President Obama to be unprepared for a meeting and intimidated by the military. Few can doubt that President Obama may find the military slighty intimidating. Many people in the military find the military intimidating. If it was McChrystal’s opinion that the President was unprepared for a meeting, can he not say so to a subordinate when asked how the meeting went?

If people in the upper ranks of our military want to know what people really think in the military ranks, they should visit a bathroom stall on a military installation; the only place a Private doesn’t have to kiss ass is while he’s wiping his own.

But as the great line in ” A few Good Men” goes: “You can’t handle the truth!”

I’ve always been intrigued by Stanley McChrystal. I see a bit of him in myself; someone who’s a bit impolitic at times, but greatly values personal toughness. But I never thought that McChrystal was the right man for the job. We need someone a bit more intellectual, and Petraeus fits the bill perfectly. Actually, I can’t think of a military bill that Patraeus wouldn’t fit. If Patraeus is the wizard in the high tower, McChrystal is Conan with a bloody sword. Two completely different styles, but both effective in their own way. McChrystal seemed better suited for the black art of hunter–killer missions and as commander of JSOC in Iraq, he helped shatter the leadership of al-Qaeda In Iraq.

I support President Obama’s decision. He has the right to pull McChrystal for any reason, not just this. And when the President said: “I welcome debate but not division”, I thought he was spot on. McChrystal should have known better. Regardless of the motives of Rolling Stone, McChrystal gave them access and Hastings managed to find people who wanted to show off. No doubt McChrystal’s underlings thought they had a confidant in Hastings. But they’re still dumb.

So now the show is handed to the Master. The man who against so much doubt turned the tide in a collapsing Iraq. If anyone can turn Afghanistan around, Patraeus can.

Patraeus displays brilliance again

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Last night I watched the second half of General David Patraeus’ testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. On the previous day, Patraeus passed out while testifying. He said he was dehydrated. He quipped on one occasion that one of his old squad leaders told him to drink water.

Several senators asked some good questions, others asked some pretty bad ones. Some even asked questions that I thought Patraeus may have a difficult time answering. But everytime, he came back with inciteful responses.

At one point, a woman stood up in the back of the room and began yelling something. I heard the word “murder” come from her mouth but couldn’t tell what else she was saying. She looked like a crazy old lady who probably has 12 cats at her house and daily tells them all that they treat her better than any man she’s had. She was probably a Code Pink cast-off; perhaps she had too few cats to maintain membership.

After she was led out by authorities, Patraeus turned back to the committee and said (paraphrase): “With regards to what the lady was saying, if all we wanted was Iraq’s oil, we could have bought it for the next 4 decades with the amount of meoney we’ve pumped into the country since 2003.”


Patraeus answered every question calmly and on a few occasions refused to allow himself to be interrupted by senators with an agenda. He stated that he was neither optimistic or pessimistic about the chances of succeeding in Afghanistan, but that he was a realist. If the time came that he had to advise the President that the operation was no longer worth while, it was his sacred duty to the American people and to the Soldiers on the ground that he communicate that message. On another occasion, he was asked: Are we nation building? His answer was: “Yes, we are.”

So, last night Patraeus almost made a believer out of me. We’ll see what the results will be. In any event, I feel confident that Patraeus will do what needs to be done. he is our generation’s greatest military man.

Let’s see what Obama and Hillary thought about Iraq when running for pres

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Here’s Hillary–now the Secretary of State under Obama, said the following concerning the surge in Iraq. She proposed withdrawal from Iraq within 60 days LOL! Riiight. Does she understand the logistics issues here? She even cites the flawed NY Times article concerning the “rogue” veterans returning from war. 



And here’s General Patraeus testifying as to the initial results of the surge. Remember, Obama still denies that the decline of violence in Iraq was the result of the surge. 



Here’s the most damning evidence against Obama. He says the surge will worsen sectarian violence. Can I get someone to say: “Bush was right”? 

America’s Army needs a cop’s mentality

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Why was Iraq so hard? Because our Army doesn’t know people. It knows field manuals, it knows regulations. It knows it can’t mess up, or the media’s going to jump all over it.

Cops know people. At least the best ones do. And a police officer can be all things to all people. He can help an old lady across the road, or he can kill an armed and threatening bank robber. He’s trained to be polite and have a plan to kill anyone he meets. He’s professional, courteous–and deadly proficient with his weapon.

The great police officer doesn’t sit at the station waiting for a call. He’s driving through the neighborhoods. He’s shaking peoples hands, reassuring them that he’s on their side. He’s getting a feel for the human terrain, a coalesced amalgam of culture, personality, psychology.

A great cop has instincts, cultivated by a day to day  grind on the streets. He senses what he could not know. Talented people are sometimes oddities outside their talent’s fiefdom. Some people just know people. That have a knack. Modern war is a media and perception war, almost as much as it’s a war of truth and destruction.

The Army needs fluidity, creativity, even artistry. It needs programs that not only cultivate these talents, but ones that teach leaders to recognize them.

The last administration failed to know the human aspects of warfare in the post-modern world. It could wage linear war on a scale never before seen, but when our enemies melted away behind curtains of humanity and learned to manipulate our own media in ways the administration did not understand, Iraq fell into civil war. It never had to be that hard. Barack Obama would not be president right now if the war had been properly fought after Saddam’s regime fell only a month into the conflict. Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army and prevented former Baathists from taking part in the new government. But the Baathists were the only ones with education, and most of them were former military people. So guess what? We had lots of guys with PHDs and no jobs. However, they knew how to pull a trigger and they could learn to make bombs. They wanted their power and their earnings back, and ensued on attacking Shia Mosques and Coalition convoys, as well as civilian infrastructures, in order to destabilize and discredit our efforts. Mujaheddin swarmed into the country, drawn by the overblown newscasts of American difficulties. Then things got worse.

We should have seen this coming.

Only one man was able to see the forest for the trees. That man General David Patraeus– a warrior and a scholar–US Army Ranger and paratrooper, brought his 101st Screaming Eagles into Nineveh Province in the largest Helicopter-borne assault in history. There they fought door to door, block by block, pushing the insurgents out with bullets and guts. In their wake, they shook the hands of the people who only wanted a regular, peaceful life; to be able to go to school and to work.

The 101st walked the dusty streets, sniper’s bullets at times whizzing by harmlessly, at other times evading a soldier’s body armor and finding a deadly home in a face or neck. But they kept walking and they kept talking.

The Iraqis found hope and trust in those meet and greets. No longer were the Americans absent from the core of the brutality, where the insurgents had moved about so easily, planning at will their next attack, planting bombs anywhere they pleased. The terrorists were being dimed out by the Iraqis. There’s a bomber that lives over there, in that house. There are men who carry guns into the basement of that Mosque every night.

The insurgency crumbled. Al-Qaeda had over reached, and America began winning by showing both strength (killing those who wanted to kill us) and gentle restraint. We thanked Iraqis for letting us search their homes. We turned their power on. We backed our words with action. Truth smashed perception. Now, Al-Qaeda’s beheadings worked against them. Iraqis wanted McDonalds, not Sharia. And the world is better for it, trans-fats non withstanding.

There is a place for the gritty warfighter who only knows marching, MREs and line and column formations. But more and more, there is a place for the oddity. The savant, who like Claudius, everyone doubts because of his apparent weakness, but in the end shows talent.

In this case, Claudius must carry a M-4 carbine, and sport a cop’s instinct for the Human Condition.