Duty: The Leadership Question

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ revelations in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, has served as cannon-fodder for what passes for intelligent political debate in our country.

While I am just now getting into the book, it appears to be a most articulate and considered analysis of how people in leadership make decisions affecting the lives of brave young men and women thrown into battle. While some may see Gates’ pointed commentary as an opportunity to skewer a political opponent, one should be far more interested in what the memoir says about leadership.

In the case of President Obama, former Secretary Gates goes to great lengths to insist that the President made all the “right decisions” (at least from his perspective), but that the President didn’t seem to “buy into the mission” which is critical for a Commander-in-Chief sending men and women into battle.

Paraphrasing what I believe Secretary Gates is saying:  “It  is simply not enough to make the ‘right’ decision, a ‘real’ leader fully embraces that decision and conveys a sense of determination and decisiveness that resonates with those he has been mandated to lead.” Churchill springs to mind, regardless of his many faults and errors in judgement.

I suspect that most military officers would support Gate’s position on the importance of demonstrating leadership when the lives of our citizens are put at risk.   Indeed, one could argue that Gates’ recipe for “owning the mission” is a necessary characteristic for all  leaders.  Sadly, the instructional value of Gates’ memoirs for future leaders will be largely lost on the current generation of politicians who prefer to lead based on the ever-shifting winds of public opinion.

With the War in Afghanistan now entering into its 12th year, the leadership and conviction that sustains and inspires deployed military troops are more important than ever.   Hopefully, President Obama and those in Congress can demonstrate leadership far more pro-actively than they have in the past and – equally importantly – send a message to those who have served so valiantly that they will not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, today’s brand of leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will continue to respond with the same stale and vitriolic political rhetoric that trivializes “real” leadership and personal integrity.    Thank you Secretary Gates for doing your Duty!

 

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Latest DOD IG Report on body armor confirms “reality testing” has replaced Quality Assurance testing

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The latest DOD IG report confirms — again — the scandalous lack of required testing for Interceptor Body Armor’s ballistic protective plates. A long-time industry insider has summarized the unstated and shocking meaning of the report: “What we have now is ‘reality testing’ where a failure is no longer a statistic, but a real live warrior.”

This simple statement strips away the Pentagon spin and exposes this ugly truth: All the crocodile tears Bob Gates can blubber while signing condolence letters will not wash away the reality that Gates, like his predecessor Don Rumsfeld, protected the players in the corrupt acquisition system whose criminal malfeasance routinely sent inferior, sub-standard body armor to our frontline troops.

Yes, it’s just that simple. Gates and Rumsfeld paid a lot of lip service to caring for our dedicated warriors, but when it came to seeing to it that something as important as protective ballistic plates were thoroughly tested before being issued to combat theaters, well, they just couldn’t be bothered.

And the congressional enablers have supported this sad state of affairs. Such stalwarts of the Military Industrial Complex as Carl Levin, John Warner, Buck McKeon, “Uncle” Ike Skelton, and Duncan Hunter (both Sr. and Jr.) should have to answer for their shameless failure to ensure proper testing of body armor before it was shipped to the bloody killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is appropriate to acknowledge the singular contribution of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter who kicked off this series of investigations after reading the 2006 NYT article citing SFTT’s report on Marine casualties due to lack of side-protective plates. (The plates were sitting in warehouses in the U.S. until the NY Times article was published.)

 This pathetic situation has been common knowledge inside the industry. Here’s the full quote from this most knowledgeable source cited above:

“If the defective protocol applies to the FAT (First Article Acceptance) then all subsequent production based on such a FAT is also deficient to the extent of the protocol. If this defective production lot is submitted for acceptance, any deficiency adds to the already embedded defects. There is no way to reconstitute a particular production lot once it has been issued and the product undergoes “use” stress. To certify what is now issued is to evaluate each plate physically to a non-destructive test [i.e., the vaunted field x-raying of plates by both the Army and the Marine Corps]. This accomplishes nothing. What we have now is ‘reality testing’ where a failure is no longer a statistic, but a real live warrior. “

This longtime insider is pointing out that by failing to properly test the plates during the acquisition process, the “reality test” is performed in combat on the plate of a “real live warrior” by the bullets of an equally live enemy combatant.

And how does the Army choose to respond to its indefensible conduct on the issue of flawed or non-existent testing that results in issuing sub-standard, inferior protective plates? In the NY Times article of August 17, 2011, they’ve “doubled down.”

The Army’s previous incredible claim was that no trooper has died because of defective body armor. An Army spokesman has now expanded that specious claim to state that no trooper has even suffered a wound due to defective protective plates!!

 Here’s the quote:

“The body armor in use today is performing as it was intended. We are continuing to research our data and as of now have not found a single instance where a soldier has been wounded due to faulty body armor.”

If this blatantly false claim is true, why won’t DOD release the forensic records held by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology which SFTT has requested under the Freedom of Information Act, and which document the performance of ballistic protective plates for every KIA and WIA?

Instead of releasing these records and these records. Indeed, when the federal judge recommended that the attorneys representing SFTT sit down with government lawyers to work out a compromise on what data would be released, the U.S. Department of Justice flatly refused to even meet with SFTT’s attorneys!

As one close observer of this sad story responded today to the latest limited, modified hangout from the DOD IG:

“As long as they can keep the pathology studies under wraps, they can continue to tell lies with impunity.”

Roger Charles

Editor SFTT

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Military Budget Cuts: Does it make sense?

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled a new plan which calls for significant cuts in our military budget.   In a Washington Post article published today, Secretary Gates and the administration agreed to of less than 2.7% based on the 2012 military budget of $553 billion.

This represents a major victory for the Pentagon, military contractors, lobbyists and armaments manufacturers.  While the traditional beltway insiders continue to benefit from the Pentagon’s largess, the ultimate sacrifice will be paid for the the men and women in uniform who will experience a cut of 6% in active duty personnel  (reduction of 27,000 in the Army and 20,000 Marines) plus increased contributions for medical insurance (Tricare) for service members.

If Congress buys into this tepid plan to curb military spending then I doubt that little will be accomplished with other areas of our Federal, State and Local governments to cut spending.   In all fairness to the Obama administration, they were reportedly seeking spending cuts of $150 billion and settled for $78 billion following a strong sell by the Pentagon.

If this was a “real” business where each dollar had to be justified by “results,” the leaders managing this budget process would have put out to pasture long ago.  In this merry-go-round of spending tax dollars unwisely, the military – like many other federal entities – doesn’t want to bite the bullet and do the right thing for our taxpayers and its service members.

If I interpret this budget correctly, Secretary Gates is arguing that it costs US taxpayers $553 billion a year to provide our country with the military security it needs.   But – and this is an important BUT – “If you want us to engage in combat, it will cost you more!” Ummm . . . That’s interesting.

While I am not a military budget expert, something doesn’t add up.    The proposed cuts simply look like window-dressing when a full-scale evaluation is required of how our military is positioned (both here and abroad).  Who is the enemy (both now and in the future)?  Do we have the “right” mix of human and physical resources to deal with those threats?  Simply waiting for the troops to come home from Afghanistan in 2014 to make budget isn’t budgeting, it’s simply bean-counting.

Secretary Gates, let’s cut the fat out of our budget and deal with the out-dated structures, procurement processes, military alliances and Cold War holdovers that severely hamper our ability to field a properly equipped and effective military force to deal with real threats.   Let’s leave “Nation Building” to the Peace Corps, the United Nations and the responsible citizens of a country who truly aspire to Nationhood.

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Military News Highlights: January 7, 2011

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Gates Recommends Dempsey as Next Army Chief of Staff

Secretary of Defense Gates has recommended General Martin E. Dempsey to be the next Chief of Staff of the Army.

An armor officer General Dempsey previously served as commander of the 1st Armored Division in OIF, Commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq, acting commander of U.S. Central Command, and is currently serving as Commander, Training and Doctrine Command.

Highlights from the Gates-Mullens DoD efficiencies briefing

In summary, the scorecard for cuts and spending announced by Secretary Gates:

  • A five year plan to achieve approximately $154 billion in overhead savings over a 5-year period.
  • The USMC Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle gets axed.
  • The F-35B (STOVL) is placed on a two-year probation.
  • $70 billion on procurement including:  Reapers; satellite launchers; F-15 radars; M1/M2/Stryker/Amtrac upgrades; tactical communications equipment; increased funding for mental health treatment; one new DDG and Littoral Combat Ship.
  • Cutting the end-strength of the Army by 27,000 and the Marines by 20,000 scheduled by 2015.
  • Increasing the Tricare premium for working age retirees

No mention or discussion of upgrading or funding individual force protection or small arms. And a plan to reduce boots when the happy talk continues to peddle COIN as the end-all-doctrinal-solution for the wars and conflicts the US will be involved in for another generation.  The math does not add up.  And get this, if say, a service-member retires after 20 years of perpetual deployments and combat, he/she can expect to pay a higher premium for Tricare health insurance; lip service.

NATO forces ahead of schedule: Petraeus

General Happy Talk continues to espouse progress.  No mention that NATO requires a quick infusion of 1,400 additional US Marines.  No mention of the throw-away money (+$10 Billion) being spent on Afghan security forces.  No mention of coordinated efforts and operations of the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Hekmatyer group, and AQ.  No mention of the record smashing civilian casualty rates.  No mention of the record smashing US/NATO casualty rates.  Just “We are heading in the exactly right direction.”

Air Force tweaks new fitness policy

Just pointing this out…

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Military News Highlights: December 16 & 17

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Uncertainty marks White House review on Afghanistan, Pakistan

In regards to the highly touted release of the administrations review of Afghanistan, one-step up and two-steps back. 

 One-step up, “strategy is showing progress”; two-steps back, no new information on how soon Afghan Security Forces will be able to assume responsibility for security and when the “rat-lines” coming out of Pakistan can be severed.

 One-step up, “we are on track to achieve our goals”; two-steps back, gains are still “fragile and reversible” and the size of the July 2011 drawdown is unknown.

 One-step up, “COIN is working”; two-steps back, but we can’t truly measure its progress until late Spring 2011, which may shift the strategy to pure-kinetic counter-terrorism. 

Oh, and the word “corruption” is only mentioned once in the report.  Two-steps back. 

While the report mentions six times in the sparse five-page summary/report that success hinges on Pakistan shutting down its borders and “safe havens.”  Two-steps back. 

The official White House report summary can be read here:

 A summary of how the report exposes a split over Afganistan pullout timelines can be read here:

Key highlights:

  •  Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of third more casualties among NATO forces this year.
  • Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.
  • Afghanistan and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at.
  • A fundamental conundrum, unmentioned in the report, is that the United States and its NATO allies constantly speak of Mr. Karzai and his government as an ally and a partner and try to shore up his image as the leader of his people. Yet many Afghans view his government as a cabal of strongmen, who enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the country.
  • Also largely glossed over in the report is the extent and implications of pervasive corruption. Bribery and nepotism remain a feature of daily life for the vast majority of Afghans, and nowhere is it more clear than in the judicial system.
  • The elephant in the room is that whatever the trajectory of the war, the Afghan government does not envision a defeat of the Taliban, but a negotiated peace. Unmentioned in the report is what the Americans may be looking for in such a deal, and what they are willing to do to bring that peace.

A summary of what the White House report on the Afghanistan War didn’t mention or highlight can be read

Key highlights:

  • State Department diplomats have complained that President Hamid Karzai has been an unreliable ally. Political resolution is key, but the review’s language on governance questions and on the shape of an Afghan “end-state” is vague.
  • Coalition support has helped the Afghan army meet its targets in terms of troop buildup. The Afghan force quality is a mixed bag. The majority of Afghan soldiers lack basic skills, including literacy. Preparing the Afghan army and police to be capable of providing security as Western troops depart has become an increasing focus of coalition efforts but remains a challenge.
  • The administration’s review summary highlights NATO’s “enduring commitment beyond 2014,” yet it’s clear that European leaders face considerable political pressure back home to withdraw, and only Britain has a sizable number of troops on the ground. As a result, the war is becoming increasingly Americanized. On Thursday, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed that country’s intention to begin withdrawing its 4,600 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
  • The review summary devotes considerable attention to the problem of AQ and Taliban leaders finding a safe haven across the board in Pakistan.  The document calls for greater cooperation with Pakistan but is short on specifics about how to get there. Pakistan clearly has ambivalent feelings about the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. It doesn’t want Western forces to leave behind a mess in its backyard, but at the same time it doesn’t trust the government in Afghanistan.
  • The review summary highlights “significant progress” in disrupting al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. “Al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been depleted, the group’s safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in important ways,” it states. The war’s initial aim of driving al-Qaida from Afghanistan has also largely been successful. Yet al-Qaida remains a mobile threat, and it’s unlikely the U.S. can readily muster 100,000 more troops to chase it outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Ratlines’ threaten White House Afghan war plans

While US troops logistics and lines of communications are held hostage to: the tyranny of terrain, the necessity of maintaining logistic hubs in a very inhospitable nature of Pakistan (and now the end around the bordering “stans”), the growing contractor base of support, and the necessity of pushing supplies to forward combat outposts and patrols.  It appears that the insurgency has little trouble maintaining their flow of supplies and refitting at their leisure while ensconced in Pakistan (and in controlled Taliban areas within Afghnistan, i.e. anywhere outside of Kabul, Kandahar, and Khost). 

The border with Pakistan remains porous and US/NATO/Afghan efforts to seal the flow of supplies “threaten Afghan war plans.”   Practically speaking we should dissuade ourselves from thinking that there are “safe havens” per se – a clearly marked area or region – in fact the entire country of Pakistan is a safe haven for the Taliban, AQ, and their confederates (i.e Haqqani and Hekmatyar network). 

Ultimately that is the root of the problem and one without a solution.

U.S. Army Modernization Review Set for Dec. 22

“Here we go again, same old stuff again.  Marching down the avenue…”  Next week senior Army leaders will conduct a modernization review to determine the future of weapon and equipment systems.  Called the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) equipment set, it was originally developed as part of the whiz-bang, bells-and-whistles Future Combat Systems (FCS) program which thankfully Secretary of Defense Gates ended.  But here we go again, marching back up that avenue to see if the Army can get some of the FCS components and systems approved for further development and tactical issue.  The question Undersecretary Ashton Carter should ask is, “would any of these equipment sets and systems, if deployed tomorrow to a Soldier in Afghanistan, and given the costs required to field them, improve his/her force protection while defeating the threat he/she faces?”  It’s a simple standard, because what Joe needs right now, this very moment, is equipment and small-arms that will increase his force protection posture while providing him a dead-certain lethality.  If the “Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit can’t meet this standard, then don’t waste the money, time, industrial base, or organizational energy that is being put into the E-IBCT.

Yearly Price Tab for Afghan Forces: $6 Billion, Indefinitely

Speaking of guns and butter, the waiter serving security in the outdoor cafes of Kabul, Kandarhar, and Khost just gave Uncle Sam the tab for training and equipping Afghan security forces — $6 Billion annually – indefinitely.   No problem, we’ll pay with a Chinese credit card.

Unused in Afghanistan, Longbow Deliveries Continue

The vaunted “Longbow” didn’t help the 11th Aviation Regiment in support of the 3rd Infantry Division’s fight north in OIF I, yet we still are procuring the system and deploying it to Afghanistan where it is not being put to use.  Great investment.  Great idea.

 

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Military News Highlights: December 15, 2010

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U.S. intelligence reports cast doubt on war progress in Afghanistan

National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) are authoritative assessments by the Director of National Intelligence related to a particular national security issue.  NIE’s are not written in a vacuum and express coordinated judgments of the entire US intelligence community.  Although these assessments are classified, summaries and excerpts are simultaneously provided to policy makers and/or leaked to the media when NIE’s are published. 

Commanders in Afghanistan argue that the most recent spate of Afghan related NIE’s are “dated” because they do not take into account the full effects of the surge these past six weeks because the NIE’s assessment period only covers the time frame up through September.  Additionally, they also argue that the drafters of the report are too far removed from Afghanistan to fully appreciate the success being made.  In fact, the NIE’s contend that large swaths of Afghanistan remain at risk of falling to the Taliban and that Pakistan remains a constant thorn in the side of any future progress – and these are just a few of the salient points made.  As to the assertion that these reports are being written by analysts from fog-induced cubicles within the beltway without connection to events on the ground, that is simply “preposterous.”  And it’s pure bunk that analysts and intelligence officers are not working “hand-in-hand” with the military when creating these assessments.  There is no vacuum!

One thing to consider is that Secretary of Defense Gates once served at the helm of the CIA, so he is not likely to discount the intelligence community.  However, after his recent Afghanistan tour he “is convinced” that the strategy is turning around the Afghanistan war and great progress is being made.  So who do we believe?  The intelligence community, commanders on the ground, or the former number one spook who serves as Secretary of Defense?  That’s a tough call.  What is known is that it never bodes well when operators “cherry pick” intelligence, because once someone starts down that road, all bets are off because the integrity of the process becomes compromised. 

US treading in bloody footsteps

Pulling no punches, The Australian provides a brutal account of a Marine rifle platoon as it fights to hold on to security in Sangin District, while contrasting a separate set of tactics used by British units that until this past September operated in the same area of operations.  You can read the account yourself and judge whether occupying static positions and conducting limited patrolling (Brits) or constant-active patrolling (US) offers the best solution for “securing” the populace in Sangin District. 

Highlights:

  • “I knew when I saw it there was nothing we could do for him. Half his face was missing,” Buckholz says. “When we got back to base it was like someone had stolen the life out of everyone. All you could see were pale faces and blank looks.”
  • “The British shed a lot of blood here,” says captain Matthew Peterson, commanding officer of Lima Company. “They sacrificed a lot of men holding on to Sangin. Let’s not forget that the British started what we are doing . . . We are building on [that].”
  • “It all just happened so fast,” Buckholz says. “We knew Sangin would be tough but we didn’t realise how fast it would happen. As soon as we got here it was, like, bam. There was no time to ease into it. People started dying immediately.”
  • “It’s strange to know that being able to shoot back at the people who did this acted as a kind of relief. It helped purge some of the grief,” Buckholz says.
  • “Out here it’s the small victories that count,” Owen said. “I got to this place and into cover and I didn’t get blown up. I am good. I didn’t get blown up or shot. It comes down to that.”
  • “We were all pretty pissed off when we heard,” says a British veteran. “To say that we had no success is both ignorant and short-sighted. We were there for four years and we’d already tried what they are now trying, which is obviously not working judging by the casualties.”
  • “We increased the number of patrol bases in Sangin and as a result the insurgents’ movement became more limited, as did their ability to lay IEDs freely,” says one.
  • “They have an amazing ability to watch what we do and to adapt their tactics to ours,” Owen says.
  • “There’s no panacea,” captain Mathew Peterson said. “It’s about situational awareness. The only ground that’s safe is the ground you are standing on. We must use cover wisely. We have to make ourselves harder to kill.”
  • “The first couple of times it f . . ks with you: you can’t believe that your friend was with you a few minutes before and now he’s dead,” Buckholz says. “But after a bit, it’s so sad, you become desensitised. That’s when you start to wonder whether that’s even more f . . ked up. There’s the thought that you’re not dealing with it right now, but that you’re going to have to eventually. I don’t want to be a different person when I get home.”

The Wounded of the Afghan War

The news for the next few days and weeks is certain to be dominated by the war in Afghanistan and the administrations review of its strategy and whether progress is being made.  This CBS news video story and the Icasualties.org   fatalities list should keep things in perspective during this debate.

SAS Commander Resigns

“The Sun”, a British tabloid (famous for Page 3) is reporting that a senior British SAS Colonel resigned because of “the general erosion of living standards” in the British military.  Makes you wonder why American Colonels don’t follow his example …

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Military News Highlights: December 9, 2010

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Gates declares Afghan war strategy is working

 Now it’s all good in Afghanistan.  The strategy is working.  The  goal to hand over the keys to the Afghans in 2014 can be met.  The security climate is improving while Regional Command-East, South, and South-west remain in a constant kinetic posture.  And you can eat chicken in Marja!

Taliban Bombs Hit New High; 1500 in November Alone

Good data provided by the Danger Room on IED’s.  Sadly, a new record was set this past month of November in Afghanistan when more than 1,500 new IED’s were constructed and emplaced.  However, somehow there is good news in all of this because the majority of IED strikes were less lethal and produced lower casualties.  I thought the idea behind COIN was to win the support of the populace by securing them.  If the numbers of IED strikes are a metric to gauge the intensity of an insurgency, and this number continues to increase over time (and set new monthly total records), then where is the good news in the fact that November’s IED totals set a new record?  Obviously we will always take comfort in the efforts to improve survivability and detection, as well as having less casualties, but really, this fact is not good news nor does it shed a good light on how effective or successful US/NATO COIN operations are.

Final note, why do General Officers who fail in their missions (i.e. defeat IED’s) get promoted and assume additional responsibilities?  Where is the accountability?

Handover to Afghan troops will start in few months

A lot happens when the Secretary of Defense visits the battlefield.  Miraculous progress is suddenly noted.  Karzai is suddenly a good guy because he stood stoic during the recent Wiki-imbroglio.  IED strike totals are up, but it doesn’t matter because no one is getting hurt.  And so on and so on…  Now we hear that Nawa district in Helmand Province is “our most advanced district” and will be the first point of security transition from U.S. to Afghan troops “in a few months.”  Well like the First Sergeant used to say “the checks in the mail; there will be trucks on the drop zone; we will be serving Hot-A’s after this mission” and so on and so on…anything to motivate the troops and keep the press happy. 

U.S. soldier dies of wounds in Wassit

Lest we forget that there are 50,000 troops deployed to Iraq still under fire.  This week a soldier assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team, north of Kut was gunned down by a sniper and died of his wounds.  The grind continues.

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Military News Highlights: December 3, 2010

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COIN standards for Afghanistan approved

Secretary Gates has approved a COIN skills list (COIN Qualification Standards) for troops in Afghanistan.  It is rather extraordinary for top civilian officials to approve pre-deployment tactical and operational training tasks.  Perhaps this is an effort for General Petreaus to dictate that a certain level of COIN proficiency is required prior to deployment.  Sounds reasonable, right?  But, why does this kind of guidance have to be rubber-stamped by Secretary Gates?  Can’t the uniformed service leaders and operational commanders work this out amongst themselves?  Unless of course, General Petreaus tried to work the COIN Qualification Standards through uniformed service leaders and operational commanders and they told him to get bent.   Seems that Petreaus’ brand of COIN is the only acceptable goblet at the table – all others don’t get served.  Won’t this stifle initiative and new ideas?   And what happens say, if you follow the list during pre-deployment training, and your unit deploys, and you put the task list into practice and your unit fails?  Then what?  Who then becomes accountable?

And one last thing, what the hell is “Develop a Learning Organization” as a task?

Cables Depict Heavy Afghan Graft, Starting at the Top

Are we at all surprised that the latest batch of Wikileak cables depicts unprecedented levels of graft, corruption, decadence, and lies coming out of Kabul and Afghanistan?  Are we really surprised by this?  Maybe it’s the scope and breadth of the corruption that is so startling.  Examples of a country where everything is for sale include:

  • The Transportation Ministry collects $200 million a year in trucking fees, but only $30 million is turned over to the government;
  • Bribes and profit-skimming in the organization of travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj or pilgrimage;
  • a scheme to transfer money via cellphones;
  • in the purchase of wheat seed;
  • in the compilation of an official list of war criminals;
  • and in the voting in Parliament.

Quite staggering after all when you consider the fact that the US  military is stuck with the mission of reversing Afghanistan’s failed moral and cultural compass.

Army Working on Lightweight .50 cal

The XM806 is a new version of the M2 Heavy Machine Gun undergoing a “fundamental redesign” to cut its weight in half, increase its accuracy, and improve its tactical application.  The M2’s basic items of issue including the tripod will also be lightened.  The intent behind the program is to enhance the current stock of M2’s and not replace the M2.  Perhaps the programs efforts can share its results in future redesign of other critical equipment and armaments in order to improve tactical firepower and survivability.

Somber ritual as slain soldiers are returned to U.S.

Hopefully the VIPs (Pentagon and White House officials) that recently attended and observed the dignified transfer of remains recently at Dover Air Base will keep in mind the “human cost of a long-running, faraway war” as they deliberate over the next few weeks reviewing the Afghanistan policy.

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Secretary Gates & Adm. Mullen Discuss Wikileaks

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In a Department of Defense (“DoD”) News Briefing at the Pentagon, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen discussed the latest release of classified documents on Wikileaks.

Secretary of Defense Gates’ answer to a Wiki-dump related question was in fact an artful dodge.  There were in fact significant differences on what the US public was informed of and what the stark reality of events in Iraq were and the same type of misinformation is bleeding out of Afghanistan.  Does it rise to the level of the Pentagon Papers?  Probably not, but misinformation and damage control nevertheless.

You can decide for yourself.

“First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.”

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Military News: November 18, 2010

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NATO official: Afghan leader affirms NATO mission  

Not sure how much arm-twisting went on to get Afghan President Karzai to change his mind, but yesterday NATO reported that he was actually on board with NATO’s military campaign and “reluctantly” in support of nighttime SOF raids.  President Karzai nor his staff could be reached for comment, but if the old adage of “the first report is a false report” holds true, we can expect some additional clarifying statements over the next few days as NATO, President Karzai, and regional partners meet in Lisbon to discuss an end state for the NATO mission.  Secretary Gates yesterday affirmed that there was no distance between President Karzai and General Petreaus.  So NATO, the Secretary of Defense and President Karzai are finally all on the same sheet of music.  Finally.

U.S. Must Sustain Military Might, Gates Says

Secretary Gates took on the recommendations to cut defense procurement by 15 percent and its research and development by 10 percent yesterday when he met with the WSJ’s CEO Council.  He called the recommendation to slash the defense budget “math, not strategy” and that the Departments intent was to “figure out how to kill programs that aren’t working.”   Given this position, any effort to review and replace individual equipment and small arms in the near future will compete directly with big-ticket weapons programs and sustaining personnel and manpower requirements.  Yes, it is about strategy, but it is also about math.  Especially if you consider the fact that the Department has embraced a strategic shift to COIN doctrine (and its application), which requires an endless calculus of “counter-insurgents” and proper individual equipment and small arms to support these endeavors.  Unfortunately you can’t have it both ways when trying to sustain US military might under the threats and circumstances that we face.

New Equipment Brings Greater Mobility in Afghanistan

This Youtube video provides some insight into the conundrum troops face when trying to lighten their combat load to improve mobility – a clear sacrifice of safety for survival in higher altitudes.   These troops in the Korengal are now wearing plate carriers instead of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV).  Note that there is an underreported deficiency in the IOTV and the pull tab which sometimes, when used “might get caught on something and fall apart”.  If the plate carrier is being used to give troopers mobility – no issue, understand, and that is a commander’s risk assessment call.  But if the plate carrier is being used to replace the IOTV because it “falls apart”, then fixes to the tab need to be addressed immediately. 

Bugle Calls

“Taps” is played everyday at funerals for our fallen heroes…

“Fading light dims the sight,

And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.

From afar drawing nigh — Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;

All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Then good night, peaceful night,

Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;

God is near, do not fear — Friend, good night.”

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