Small Wars Journal

Irregular Warfare, Village Stability Operations and the Venture Capital Green Beret

Mon, 05/14/2012 - 5:42am

After eleven years of non-stop general and limited war in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and elsewhere, Village Stability Operations are returning us to our Irregular Warfare roots. However, it is not the IW of the Cold War but rather the IW of Globalization. And there are three overriding truths driving this IW: investors are more powerful than nation states; stateless actors are more effective than standing armies; and, stability means employment. These truths have driven Special Forces, post 9/11, to move far beyond mastery of only the Military in Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic operations. And yet, though we are meeting with moderate success and ninety percent of the resource development is done, we fail to fully grasp how all these operations fit into a functional whole. This is due to the fact we have yet to add one critical component, the mind of the investor.

The highly skilled mind of the investor is trained to realize one thing only, Return on Investment. And in a world now driven almost solely by economics and finance we need look outwards to this community for a conceptual framework and body of practice which can be adopted and melded to our domain. Fortunately, there is already an almost direct analog for the DIME centric Green Beret, the Venture Capitalist. A skilled generalist, the VC melds unconventional, non-linear thinking with traditional finance and business models so as to realize a ROI from the empowerment of small businesses, from wealth and job creation. For the VC and Green Beret alike, ROI is not derived from doctrine or from top-down thinking and applications of decisions and resources, but from empowering the near limitless capacities of the entrepreneurial spirit resident within even the most illiterate and uneducated members of humanity.

For those who have not had the opportunity to work in both worlds, that of Special Forces and that of the Venture Capitalist, the similarities may not be obvious. Nor may it be obvious why the mind of the investor and in particular the mind of the VC is that critical missing piece of modern IW. To gain an understanding of why this is so, we must first know what Venture Capital does and how such is already an analog for the 21st Century IW Warrior.

Venture Capital

Many argue agriculture and infrastructure need be developed before a widespread business base can arise. Though a certain degree of initial development in agriculture and infrastructure is necessary, it is business alone which can afford to expand, improve and maintain infrastructure. Without the tax base and development demand derived from a thriving commercial sector, welfare and non-welfare governments alike can only provide for limited infrastructure. More importantly, it is only an expanding base of industrial and services companies which can create the necessary number of jobs.

The problem of course becomes one of creating an industrial and services base out of not much more than raw human potential, and in some of the most remote and underdeveloped parts of the world. A top-down “trickledown” approach is incapable of the task, meaning a bottom-up, local and individual driven process must be applied. This is what makes the Venture Capital industry the perfect model. This bottom-up style of economic entanglement, new industry and job creation, is exactly what VC specialize in.

The bottom-up approach is powered by the endlessly creative and entrepreneurial spirit of humanity, and provides access to a near limitless supply of ideas and future business leaders. Venture Capitalists harness this boundless capacity by applying sophisticated filters, derived from proven experience, to weed through the many in order to identify those few business plans and management teams possessing the right combinations to become investable assets.

The sole purpose of the Venture Capitalist, the relationships and access, highly trained tools and practices they employ, is establishing companies which are productive contributors to globalization. For the economy this means a tax base, for the community it means jobs, for the investor it means Return on Investment and for globalization it means stability and growth.

Historically, less than ten percent of companies reviewed receive VC investment. Fifty percent of these fail, and forty percent only break even. This leaves ten percent of companies funded to realize the critical Return on Investment for all. A comfort working with and ability to derive value for stakeholders and shareholders from these success-failure rates is the role of and what differentiates the Venture Capitalist and the Green Beret alike.

Return on Investment is derived in a Venture Capitalist’s investment portfolio, from failure, through Constructive Destruction. This is the process of supporting efficient companies and cannibalizing inefficient ones and redirecting assets to the more efficient companies within the portfolio or the portfolios of other investors. This requires a VC possess the ability to, identify and analyze the value of assets within the portfolio at any given point in time, and to rapidly devise and execute courses of action designed to realize and enhance the value of these assets.

To further understand the nature of Venture Capital and to see how the industry is an analog and model for 21st Century Irregular Warfare requires an understanding of the investment world as a whole. And though such is far beyond the scope of this paper, we can discuss the basic structure of the now global investor community and how they collectively drive the global economy.

The global investment community is a tiered structure with Angel & Seed Venture Capitalists at the base and the Stock & Securities Markets at the peak. Investments move up through the many layers of investors between the base and the peak, with each subsequent investor further refining and defining the asset and improving valuation. At the base are companies with unstable valuations which are not clearly defined and represent higher orders of potential Return on Investment but also much higher magnitudes of Risk & Uncertainty. At the top are assets with stable valuations and which are clearly defined and represent lower ROI and smaller degrees of Risk & Uncertainty.

Where all the many layers of investors above are focused on improving the valuation of existing companies, Angel & Seed investors are the only ones whose role it is to invest in new companies. It is the Angel & Seed investor who comes in when the Risks & Uncertainties are too high, when the ROI is too low and uncertain for even higher level Venture Capitalists to get involved. Without this highly specialized capability and its dedicated practitioners the global Capital Markets would be impossible.

The willingness to look for and the ability to see assets and Return on Investment where the system cannot or will not, the application of conventional and unconventional thinking and the willingness to cannibalize inefficient assets before they lose all value, is what is necessary, to create assets from almost nothing and to develop an economy. This is not made possible by executing a predetermined plan as to which assets and of which type to invest in. The power of A&S investors is their ability to filter and harness the incredibly creative and productive entrepreneurial spirit of the near endless numbers of those seeking to participate in globalization. And this domain is both unique and common to A&S investors and the Green Beret alike.

This does not mean to imply there is not some predetermination as to which companies and business models receive investment. In order to qualify management and the business plan, to model Risk and to identify the ROI potential, investors must possess a well-developed and proven base of knowledge, experience and relationships in the industry in which the potential investment is or intends to be engaged. These abilities, far more than the money, are the real advantage the A&S investor brings to their investments and which provides for entanglement with the greater economic and financial engines and thereby much higher certainty of success.

The real importance of the A&S investor is his highly trained unconventional mind, which, like the mind of the Green Beret, cannot be taught but only refined in those who already possess it. This mind demonstrates its uniqueness in two fundamental capabilities: i) a thorough and fluid understanding of the subset of globalization in which the investment exists and must compete and survive; and ii) an ability to appropriately identify and articulate a quantified (specific) financial value (price) to the asset at any given point in time.

Venture Capitalists know how to put people to work in sustainable businesses. And at its very basest level, non-welfare state job creation is the current and future endstate of Irregular Warfare. We can see the beginnings of this in the Village Stability Operations now being conducted by Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Village Stability Operations

Though globalization has greatly improved the standard of living and quality of life for billions, there remain billions who are only now, or who are only partially benefitting. And there are hundreds of millions not benefitting at all. It is in these places where we do VSO, places walled or partially walled off from globalization, where the enemies of the modern world survive, thrive and recruit.

The purpose of this article is not to define VSO, which is already the topic of a growing body of articles and academic works, rather the purpose is to identify the similarities between VSO and the Start-up world of VC. It is important to detail some of the key issues of VSO in the language of business in order to demonstrate a common framework.

Limited or Ineffective Governance (Leadership):

Absolutely essential to the success of any venture is management and leadership, particularly in early phases when everything is opaque and uncertain. It is also important to note the best managers and leaders are not always obvious and those who are most effective in early phases may not be as effective in later ones.

In the start-up world there are four traits absolutely essential for managers and leaders. The first is vision and the ability to clearly articulate and achieve active buy-in with this vision. Second is a comfort with not having all the answers, with listening and choosing the best Course of Action from amongst those put forward. Third is the ability to rapidly adjust to changes in the environment or to having made a poor COA selection, even if this means changing direction and cannibalizing assets. The fourth is a willingness to fail, to learn from failure and to employ the lessons learned from failure to enhance the next venture.

In the VSO world, where old grudges and hatreds often exist, it is also critical managers and leaders possess enlightened self-interest, the ability to see beyond and to put aside personal anger for shared reward. It is the same in the business and financial world where prolonged competition or aggressive contract negotiations often lead to angry, vengeful and conflicting interests which need be arbitrated.

One of the greatest strengths, if not the single greatest, of the Venture Capitalist is the ability to recognize talented managers and leaders. This constant search for talent often leads to career-long relationships and the same VC working with the same managers and leaders across multiple projects. Identification of local, provincial and national managers and leaders is critical to the long-term success and viability of VSO.

Divided Populace (Inefficiency):

It is the nature of systems, markets, industries, communities, to become inefficient over time, to require a new vision to energize and unify. A vision defines an industry and demonstrates a pathway whereby all constituents benefit from efficiencies. In the VC world it is rare a start-up is funded with the purpose of creating an industry, most receive funding for an innovative vision of how to organize and drive an existing market to improved market share, profits and asset valuations.

Though vision is critical, it is only half the requirement. Leadership, committed to creating consensus amongst enemies, competitors, customers, and suppliers, stakeholders and shareholders, is the other. Where the Vision demonstrates what the table will look like and what will be left on it, Leadership provides the trusted party who ensures all parties have a place at that table.

One of the most difficult tasks is to identify all the direct and indirect participants necessary to the vision’s success and to get them to come to the table. No company or community operates in a vacuum and a vision and leadership alone are not enough. It takes a community, an industry, the active involvement of many contributors and competing interests. And to succeed, requires a thorough understanding of the community, industry, what external forces interact and impact it and of the larger and far more complex web of relationships in which it resides.

Overcoming division requires an achievable and communicable vision driven by leadership out there actively engaged in commitment building. Commitment to a vision is difficult to obtain and sustain where the risks are high, where the asset and value are not obvious, and where Return on Investment is uncertain or delayed. The role of the investor is exactly this, to help define the asset, continually refine its value and assist in attaining commitment from external resources and participants. As management does what is necessary to improve asset valuation, the investor provides access to ever greater external resources which further validates the vision and leadership.

Venture Capitalists and Green Berets excel at identifying which visions are achievable and represent cohesion, at providing access to external resources and recognizing and empowering those leaders capable of realizing the required buy-in. If we are to succeed at Village Stability Operations we must overcome divisions and realize efficiency by empowering leaders as they engage stakeholders and potential stakeholders in sustainable asset development, valuation improvement and Return on Investment.

Lack of economic development (Wealth):

The modern economy is exceedingly complex and virtually indecipherable even to individuals born, raised and highly educated in Capitalism. Imagine how much more impossible it must seem to those in pre-industrialized economies. And yet, all humans are entrepreneurial by nature, even the poorest, least educated and illiterate.

The global investment community wants to invest in the entrepreneurial spirit where we now and in the future will conduct VSO. They are prevented from doing so by a lack of economic development, which does not mean assets are nonexistent. It means those few assets which do exist have not been codified or developed to the state where they are actively increasing in value. This increase in valuation is mandatory if a Return on Investment is to be realized. And without ROI the power of the global investment community cannot be brought to bear.  

It is for the very same reason these villages are unstable breeding grounds and safe havens for insurgents. Where the entrepreneurial spirit is neither understood nor supported, where new assets are not being created, individuals will look for other means to earn a living and generate personal Wealth. This represents itself as a willingness to take from others either through corruption, crime or replacement of the existing Wealth structure.

Perpetual asset creation and improvement is essential for sustainable stability and this requires an active, local entrepreneurial community supported by an active and well connected local investor community. The continual interaction between entrepreneurs and investors drives the creation of new assets, improvements in asset valuations and a broadening of the economic base. More importantly this interaction steadily improves the knowledgebase, capabilities and capacities, the sophistication, of entrepreneurs and investors.

The sole purpose of VSO is to establish the environment in which business assets are identified, valued and improved. Whether we recognize it or not, at the heart of all human endeavors is Wealth creation and every action and decision increases or reduces Wealth.  In the world of globalization, it is the Angel & Seed Investors who are responsible for establishing the conditions for new Wealth creation. If VSO is to go on and ultimately be successful the mind and Wealth creation skills and practices of these investors must become an integral skillset of the Green Beret.

With VSO, the members of a SFODA collectively organize their Wealth enabling efforts along three integrated Lines of Operation. A VC trained and enabled ODA would greatly enhance and ensure success along these same Lines of Operation:

Governance:  Conducted with the purpose to establish effective and meaningful leadership and management at the local level, which engages in dispute resolution, short and long-term planning and decision making, and which is integrated with the levels of governance above it.

Equally important to effective governance and civic leadership is active and effective local business and financial leadership. Working with, yet independent of, village elders and leaders the VC educated ODA would identify and educate and empower business and financial leaders. The ODA would concurrently work with both to educate as to how governance and business leadership work in a collaborative relationship to develop and improve the community.  

Security: Operations focused on establishing the rule of law and on creating a safe environment in which the community may conduct its business and go about its life. In most contexts today this means establishing a local security force integrated with provincial and national security forces and primarily emphasizes counterinsurgency.

The Rule of Law is costly and requires an active and consistent law enforcement presence, paid sufficiently so that its members are more likely to put themselves in harms-way and less likely to use position to extort the people they are sworn to protect. This requires a sufficient, yet not overly burdensome tax revenue base, to be derived from local commerce and investments. The VC enabled ODA would work with local investors, businesses and civic leaders and with district, provincial and Host Nation governments to establish viable investment and asset taxation models which emphasize covering the costs associated with the Rule of Law.

Development: Though currently focused mostly on infrastructure, livability and quality of life improvements, these operations are ultimately and increasingly about improving the economic viability and sustainability of the community.  

The VC enabled ODA would work with village elders to identify those within the community who should be provided with business and finance training. After filtering to identify those with aptitude and desire, the ODA would conduct business training, work to identify the business assets and capacity of the community and would begin the process of asset creation and improvement and integration with the greater business community of the Host Nation.

With some obvious difference, the Lines of Operation as conducted during VSO missions already follow the same pattern as the Venture Capitalist when making, shepherding and exiting investments:

Shape: Where due diligence, planning, preparation and relationship establishment is conducted. It is during this phase in which many of the kinetic, constructive destruction, activities are conducted in order to remove security impediments to asset creation.

Hold: Once an asset has been identified and its initial form created and invested in it is of critical importance to defend, hold, this asset while it is perfected and hardened. It is most often during this time where failure occurs, when poor relationship/alliance choices or insufficient due diligence and planning becomes obvious in application. It is absolutely essential during this phase that Trust is developed.

Build: Though the most involved, time and resource consuming of the four phases, the Build phase is actually the easiest. It is during this phase the asset is actually created through entanglement, locally, provincially and nationally. This is where all of the assets and access available to the SFODA for VSO support, and the individual Green Beret’s knowledge and experience, are brought to bear in execution of the business plan.

Expand/Transition: As is critical to any and all businesses, and as a natural extension of building the business, it is necessary to expand beyond the scope of the original plan into areas and business lines which further support the mission, goals and survivability of the company. And once the company has reached the degree of entanglement required to sustain itself, it becomes necessary to transition the business to professional, and in the case of VSO, local, provincial and national management which can better handle the day to day and future operations.   

The desired endstate of VSO and a Venture Capital investment are the same, to develop a stable asset out of next to nothing, which can sustain and improve its position in the marketplace and increase in value. The purpose is to create an entity which will continue to add value to both shareholders and stakeholders. In the case of Venture Capital this represents itself as companies, while in VSO it represents itself as local economies and the governance and Rule of Law which enables them.

Green Berets are becoming masters of modern IW through the lessons learned conducting VSO. We have demonstrated a solid understanding of governance and security but are only marginally making improvements in economic development. However, if VSO is to be successful the Regiment and each ODA must also master the VC skillset and become masters at creating Wealth and non-welfare state jobs.


The threats of today and tomorrow are not rogue nuclear nations or traditional nation states. The threats now come from failed nation states and those states which wall their people off from globalization. Because, wherever there is economic oppression or underdevelopment, wherever globalization is not being allowed to improve the standard of living of the common man, there is instability. And where there is instability the investor community, which is the driving force of the global economy, is hindered in their ability to improve standards of living.

In the world of globalization, powered by economics and finance, there already exists a highly seasoned Irregular Warfare expert. This expert is out there, in every corner of the world, focused on expanding and enhancing stability. These experts are Venture Capitalists and in particular Angel & Seed investors and they are applying unconventional minds and thinking and conventional assets to create Wealth out of nothing more than the raw entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of all seven billion of us.

The mission and purpose of the Green Beret and the Venture Capitalist is the same. Their common mission is to bring stability to the now global economic engine, to bring down the walls which prevent the free flow of ideas, people, Capital and Wealth. The purpose shared by both is the War on Oppression. And both are out there every day employing economics to Free the Oppressed.

In the short time I have been in the Regiment I have come across a number of potentially very successful Venture Capitalists, Wealth creators. They have without exception been rebels, unconventional thinkers uncomfortable with the doctrine based conformity that Special Forces is becoming. Every single one of them is an individual who thinks of nothing but the War on Oppression and how to win it. We must remember Special Forces was established by these very same nonconformists and it was this which once made us great. These voices must once more be heard.


LTC Mark Grdovic, A Leaders Handbook to Unconventional Warfare, SWCS PUB 09-1, NOV 2009

COL Gregory Wilson, Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines, and The Indirect Approach, Military Review, Nov-Dec 2006

Frank G. Hoffman, Hybrid Threats: Reconceptualizing the Evolving Nature of Modern Conflict, Strategic Forum No. 240, Apr 2009

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature, Viking, 2002

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1996

Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, Anchor Books, 1999

Rory Hanlin, One Team’s Approach to Village Stability Operations, Small Wars Journal, 2011 (

About the Author(s)


Robert C. Jones

Fri, 06/01/2012 - 6:17am

A couple insights from a guy who tries to think about things in holistic, strategic and unbiased ways (emphasis on "tries"):

"The threats of today and tomorrow are not rogue nuclear nations or traditional nation states"

This is once again a popular myth. Such myths are spread every 40 or 50 years and typically end in major state on state warfare larger than the last. The fact is that 8-10 regional powers/rising states collectively create 4-5 zones of competition and potential conflict where their respective spheres of influence, perspectives on vital interets overlap upon regions of geostrategic importance (LOCs, resources, etc). These states will act upon these intersts and will compete for influence over these zones.

To add to this mix the US clings to a perspective based upon the apex of our own influence and power, that does not recognize the spheres, interests and values of others; but rather promotes a global US sphere shaped by US interests and US values. This is a devil's brew for future major warfare. We'd be wise to recognize that and adjust our thinking and prepare our forces accordingly.

Most "failed or failing" states are simply states that have had some set of borders or form of government imposed upon them by others that are unsustainable in the reality of the cultures, populaces and geography they affect. Such messes are far easier to create than resolve, so yes, these states will remain unstable for some time as they sort this out. Such unstability will be exploited by all manner of internal and external state and non-state actors.

SOF need not to be tied to ideas that they can somehow "fix" such states from the bottom up, when in fact they are broken from the top down. SOF needs to break contact from such efforts and rebalance to engage persistently among the populaces within these zones of competition and conflict, and also among these troubled populaces when our interests are somehow at stake.

"wherever there is economic oppression or underdevelopment, wherever globalization is not being allowed to improve the standard of living of the common man, there is instability"

I guess I would have to see a citation for any kind of analysis to back up a statement like this. There are two broad forms of "stability" in my mind. There is the artificial brand of stabiliy that has been the gold standard of colonial powers and our own containmnet and GWOT strategies. Prop up the government, help suppress the challengers, sprinkle some development and aid, and call it good. The problems are not resolved, but the popualce is deterred from action. Then there is natural stability. The populace is not deterred from action, they simply do not believe they have cause for action. They are largely satisfied. This is what we seek for ourselves at home, but rarely offer to others abroad.

Historically, artificial stability was "good enough." I offer that this is no longer the case. An informed populace is far harder to suppress than an uninformed populace, and most populaces today are increasingly well informed. To support artificial stability is to create vectors for acts of transnational terrorism back upon the homes and interests of the nations who participate in such acitons. what used to be a reasonable "cure" to apply abroad is today as much a cause for what we seek to prevent at home. This is a lesson as of yet unlearned.

Natural stability can be enabled by intervening actions, but cannot be created but such action. In fact, the more we engage, the more we undermine much of the legitimacy and sovereignty of the nation we seek to help that is necessary for true stabilty to take root and grow. Natural stability requires a proper framework developed of by and for the affected populace, and it must give that populace adequate control over governance IAW their own cultural expectations. This cannot be granted by outsiders, it takes time and must be earned at home.

The dialogue below reminded me of this article, which touches on some of these concepts in a more specific sense, though not in relation to Afghanistan. It also serves as an excellent example of why such proposals have to be carefully vetted and treated with utmost caution: the proposal the article refers to was blessedly never implemented, but had the potential to be a major and lasting disaster. A useful caution...…

From the study:

""Most aid spending by governments seeking to rebuild social and political order is based on an opportunity-cost theory of distracting potential recruits. The logic is that gainfully employed young men are less likely to participate in political violence, implying a positive correlation between unemployment and violence in locations with active insurgencies. We test that prediction in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines, using survey data on unemployment and two newly-available measures of insurgency: (1) attacks against government and allied forces; and (2) violence that kills civilians. Contrary to the opportunity-cost theory, the data emphatically reject a positive correlation between unemployment and attacks against government and allied forces (p<.05%). There is no significant relationship between unemployment and the rate of insurgent attacks that kill civilians. We identify several potential explanations, introducing the notion of insurgent precision to adjudicate between the possibilities that predation on the one hand, and security measures and information costs on the other, account for the negative correlation between unemployment and violence in these three conflicts"".

Bill C.

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 4:35pm

In reply to by RandCorp


Would I have done better, re: "westernization," to say that what we wish to impart is "our version" -- not "their version" -- of political, economic, religious and social freedom: herein, the United States wanting to replace "their" political, economic and social systems -- and way of life/way of thinking -- with our own?

Also would you address our idea of westernization which suggests that states and societies must be "opened up" such that (1) their populations might have free and ready access to our ideas and to our products and so that (2) our enterprises and our populations might likewise have unfettered access -- not only to the natural resources of the locales -- but also to ALL of the human resources as well?


Sun, 06/03/2012 - 11:37am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

You wrote ,

“ does not seem to address the more characteristic "western" phenomenon; which would seem to be access to and use of political, economic, religious and social freedom.”

Inadvertently our exchange has highlighted our biggest problem – lack of empathy. My Eastern tale was a an attempt to depict what 1.5 billion Muslims would consider a pilgrim's utopia which would be a dream-like expression of all their political, economic, religious and social aspirations and freedoms. The fact that you consider it the opposite is quite depressing.

The same misunderstanding occurred in Vietnam wherein a War of Independence against the French was misconstrued as Chinese expansionism (The Domino Theory), WMD in Iraq and internal political dissension against the House of Saud as an attempt to create a global Islamic Caliphate and a reason to invade Afghanistan - of all places.

You couldn't make that shit up.



Bill C.

Fri, 06/01/2012 - 2:55pm

In reply to by RandCorp


Since Bill M. helped square me away a while ago, I have tried not to use the term modernization -- except with the added phrase "along western lines."

While your example of modernization above describes access to and use of advanced technology, it does not seem to address the more characteristic "western" phenomenon; which would seem to be access to and use of political, economic, religious and social freedom.

Along these lines, we often hear that our goal is to (1) "open up" states and societies and to thereafter (2) re-configure them so that they might be more like our own: More open and accessable to foreign ideas, foreign enterprises and foreign populations.

This (political, economic, religious and social freedom) is the version of the western world that we would seem to want to provide to others; along with advanced technology to help achieve this specific goal.

Herein, as I have noted above, the United States understanding -- if not before then certainly now -- that to accomplish these state and societal "westernization" goals, it must be willing to risk significant instability and opposition abroad -- and even here at home -- and to incur unknown costs in blood and other treasure.

Does this explanation ring true and is it helpful?


Fri, 06/01/2012 - 5:39am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

You have good reason to question the motives of the US government but when you frame your argument in the sense that modernization and westernization are one and the same my train of thought hits a brick wall.

Picture this - you are doing the Hajj to Mecca, your hotel which overlooks the Kaaba has a virtual App for your iPad as a part of their executive package – likewise your shuttle flight onto the roof of the hotel. You get a head-cam as well and a GPS tracker so the hotel Hajj Team can follow you in the crowd whilst they are streaming the footage back to your family in Dushanbe and your brother in Shanghai. You get a pigment scan for free coz you’ve also taken the Full Medical Cardio Plus option as well so you know what sun-screen you need for the first time in your life you are going in public shirtless etc etc.

I think we would both agree this a very eastern experience and the latest technology has meant your whole family gets to participate in it around the world. Modernization has made the experience of this very ancient ritual available to everyone. At what point would you say it is connected to Judeo- Christian, secular, liberated, educated , healthly, suburban, democratic , white dominated westernized society?


What we and EM, IMHO, must come to understand is that the United States is not in the business of achieving "stability" -- in Afghanistan -- or elsewhere in the world; neither yesterday during the Cold War nor again today. That is not what the United States is about.

Arguably Afghanistan was stable before the United States arrived (especially in the villages) and would likely soon become stable again should the United States depart today. In this regard, consider how fast Vietnam became stable after the departure of the United States and its allies.

No, what the United States seeks -- during the Cold War and again today -- is the "westernization" of states and societies.

Herein, the United States is prepared today -- as it was during the Cold War -- to sacrifice a certain degree of stability in these foreign countries -- and to incur a certain degree of risk here at home -- in order to achieve its objective (the transformation of states and societies along western lines).

Accordingly, it is against this standard (state and societal westernization -- not stability) that EM's ideas must be measured and found to be promising or wanting.

(Herein, the United States clearly understanding -- via its experiences in Vietnam and elsewhere during the Cold War and now again via its recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan -- that the process of foreign-sponsored/foreign-supported state and societal westernization is, by its very nature, a dangerous undertaking; likely to destabilize -- not only those countries in the subject regions -- but also the United States itself here at home. [Herein, consider the blood, treasure and social price paid -- by all those involved -- for Vietnam et. al, and the similar price that is being paid/may need to be paid for our state and societal transformation attempts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world today.])


Thu, 05/31/2012 - 2:32pm

"Follow this line out: There are sheep everywhere here. Yesterday I asked what the locals do with the wool. "We sell it in Pakistan." Then I asked where the dress and cloth came from that was hanging in the shop we were walking past. "From Pakistan of course." So the Afghans are selling their input at the cheapest price and buying back finished products at the highest. What if they were to simply take one further step to selling the raw wool in Pakistan, and were to process such into thread, in the off hours and season (benefitting from the very thing you are talking about which is clean lighting in the house, etc)? How much would the profits increase and be retained in Afghanistan? Take it one more step further, what if they converted into thread and someone else converted into cloth which was sold into Pakistan?" posted by EM

What you just described sounds more like a patronage network or possible criminal commodities enterprise than a regular business?

Bill M.

Fri, 06/01/2012 - 5:19am

In reply to by emburlingame

There is a difference between confidence and arrogance, and in combat arrogance is extremely dangerous. Did you seriously consider joining USAID instead of the military, and if not why not?


Fri, 06/01/2012 - 1:23am

In reply to by G Martin

I have found in life that confidence is a prerequisite to attempt what has not or is not being done, or that which is not being done as efficiently as need be. This is how we improve the system and continue to ensure its long-term survival and evolution. This confidence, drawn from experience, study, contemplation and from the interaction and contributions of others should not be confused with arrogance or a closed mind. Ideas must be put forward, some must be put into application and tested, even those which meet with great resistance. And as stated elsewhere in this chain of comments and in the article itself, some stand the test and some don't, some need be cannabalized so that what is additive may be combined with existing or new initiatives so that assets are not completely destroyed.

As to: "I’m a little confused as to the reason you joined SF- if it was indeed in order to put into practice and perfect your ideas. Really? What if your teammates/team commander/SOTF commander, etc.- don’t share your worldview? What if the practice of your ideas runs counter to U.S. objectives?" I came back in and put this concept forward after many conversations with members of the SF Regiment, several of which have been in SF for more than twenty-five years.

G Martin

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 10:38pm

In reply to by emburlingame

EM- honestly, I expected a fellow SF soldier to have a more open mind and to be less hubristic. I figured I might have been reading you wrong. Your resume, while impressive, does not (and should not) back up your assertions any more than Andrew Fastow’s 1990 resume backed up any assertions he had about asset-backed securities. I always have issues with folks who cannot entertain the notion they may be wrong about their assumptions. Questioning one’s assumptions in my opinion is necessary for learning. I’m not attacking you, just recommending some modesty and less of a hubristic attitude.

I’m a little confused as to the reason you joined SF- if it was indeed in order to put into practice and perfect <em>your</em> ideas. Really? What if your teammates/team commander/SOTF commander, etc.- don’t share your worldview? What if the practice of your ideas runs counter to U.S. objectives?

As for reading the comments- yes, I’ve been reading the comments and was responding based on your comment that we should introduce formal training “to refine our development and MAAWS efforts and thinking…” Formal training to me are things that belong in doctrine and that implies synching all courses with the logic you are espousing. If SF is to approach all operations in the manner you state then I submit you are offering a template that will drive strategy- similar to the tactical and operational templates found in 3-24 (actually, a lot like them), and thus TSOCs will find themselves in the “wag the dog” position.


Thu, 05/31/2012 - 12:17pm

In reply to by G Martin

After more than forty years of life and study, fifteen years in the Army, seventeen years in business and finance, and having lived and travelled the world, I am very confident with my thoughts and solutions. There is no doubt within me I am on the right path. As to proving the points. Firstly I gave up a very comfortable life to come back in the Army and had my forty second birthday at Special Forces Selection, all so that I may come to places like this and put into practice and perfect my ideas. Secondly I am working on the formal academic paper to support my claims and to further refine the arguments and perfect the program, all of which will be presented as my thesis for the Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis degree I am working to complete when and where I can.

And forgive me, but I am not certain you have been reading the comments, as we are not talking about changing SF or SF training. All we are talking about is augmenting and perfecting existing training, to enhance existing missions and capabilities.

G Martin

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 8:28am

Just one question, when you state:

<em>The Venture Capital mind, the very early stage models and practices, is the only mind capable of the task.</em> and then, <em> We are the ones who go in when the Risks are too high for others and we are the ones 'selling' stability, which requires all three legs (governance, security and development).</em>

Do you think of those two statements as hypotheses based on assumptions/theories which could be flawed, or do you think of those statements as facts?

The reason I ask is that you seem to imply by your wording that they are facts. So- "the only mind capable" is a fact to you- is that right? And stability "requires governance, security and development"- a fact- or even a principle, right?

This is important to me because, before anyone advocates changing SF training and education, I would think they would like to at least understand if we're doing it based on someone's hypotheses and where these hypotheses came from. If, on the other hand, you are stating these as facts/principles in your mind, then that will not in my opinion support wholesale change to SF education/training- although I would agree much of the military believes in at least the second statement as dogma.

The "stability requires governance, security and development" mantra- although found prevalently in our doctrine is more heavily debated in the non-military world and I would submit is rapidly falling out of favor within our policy circles.


Thu, 05/31/2012 - 4:49pm

In reply to by emburlingame

Regarding the mining I was referring to a few men sinking a shaft - a father and son team even. The traditional form was a family worked a separate shaft but the hammer and chisel was crippling most men in their twenties and very slow. The petrol driven kit made even abandoned shafts, some thousands of years old, economical and less dangerous as there was little need for blasting. Certainly if the field was owned by the tribe I'm sure a tax would be considered traditional as well. In my experience Afghans tend to understand ownership rights and subsequent obligations.

Until there is a railway to the sea large scale mining will never happen.

Traditional wool spinning and looms were common throughout rural Afghanistan but the Soviet depopulation tactic swept all of this away. I had a pair of woollen puttees which were a very fine knit which were made in the village and almost without exception every Afghan I encountered recognized them and expressed considerable surprise that an infidel had got his hands on a pair. My point is traditionally an almost cashmere level of knit was reasonably commonplace and there is no reason why it should not be so again.



Thu, 05/31/2012 - 7:52am

In reply to by RandCorp

Thank you for your comments. When I walk through a village I look to the animals, the crops and any items which may be made by the locals for their own use. Then I talk to people to see where the inputs came from, or where consumer products and goods which obviously were not created in the community come from.

Follow this line out: There are sheep everywhere here. Yesterday I asked what the locals do with the wool. "We sell it in Pakistan." Then I asked where the dress and cloth came from that was hanging in the shop we were walking past. "From Pakistan of course." So the Afghans are selling their input at the cheapest price and buying back finished products at the highest. What if they were to simply take one further step to selling the raw wool in Pakistan, and were to process such into thread, in the off hours and season (benefitting from the very thing you are talking about which is clean lighting in the house, etc)? How much would the profits increase and be retained in Afghanistan? Take it one more step further, what if they converted into thread and someone else converted into cloth which was sold into Pakistan?

Afghanistan will never be a low cost labor source for the West, the industrialized world, but what about locally and regionally? Of course there will be response from Pakistan as Afghanistan is now basically a vassal state economically. Virtually every finished product here comes from Pakistan. And as long as that continues Afghanistan will never be able to stand on its own and truly expand economically beyond the city centers.

As to mining. If we do not link mining to the tribes themselves which hold the land, the majority of these profits will also slip out of the country, and will benefit the locals almost not at all beyond jobs. But of course there are immense political and other considerations to be taken into account. And those are well above the level of the Green Beret. Metaphorically, all I am concerned with right now is increasing wool output and maybe converting wool into thread.


Thu, 05/31/2012 - 6:45am

I was pleasantly surprised by your take on the attitude towards modernization in an Afghan village and your observation how little the ‘Noble Savage’ sentiment resonates with the average villager. I dare say your Native American heritage has stood you in good stead when inevitable misconception crashed into immovable reality – then again perhaps your homeland experiences meant you hit the ground in Afghanistan running . Good for you - some very clever and dedicated people have spent a whole life-time in the field and never managed to acquire this insight.

Unfortunately when people read Venture Capital, Seed , Blue Sky, Angel here and White Knight there, they envisage pin-stripe suits, red braces, limos , jelled hair, Porsche, Wall St, Charlie Sheen etc and have thus decided you’ve lost your mind. No doubt you have noted some of these concerned souls post on the internet.

No matter how often you try to explain how small and primitive the improvements you are attempting to introduce, the naysayers will usually argue straight past you. One way of explaining the changes you are attempting to make is to suggest if the doubters visit the village before and after your team’s work is done they will be hard-pressed to ascertain any physical change. The attitude of the local people may be very different but few discernible changes will have occurred and, as if by a miracle, they will find there are no McDonalds, 7/11’s, co-ed colleges or discos!

As Ed commented NGOs efforts in Afghanistan have depressingly deteriorated to the extent that –

“...most of the civilian workers languish in a yellow zone of very rarely leaving the PRT bases and spinning up product that lies somewhere between creative and deceptive.”

The problem with much of the NGO effort is that it labored under the “Build a Hoover Dam and save the country!” syndrome. No doubt a Hoover Dam or two would have benefitted much of the country enormously but the “Hell Yeah!” dimension of any large scale foreign construct or program has a demeaning effect on the local population which is difficult to reconcile . The natives will resist for some good reasons and many bad ones, but resist they will. More often than not those who display genuine joy at the result, and thus inspired to join their three brothers living happily in Toledo Ohio, are the ones who decide to dedicate their lives to blowing everything/everyone up - just before they get on the plane to live happily ever after in the US. A common bipolar problem throughout the third world which any attempt to solve is best left for your next life.

Don’t get me wrong EM your main asset to the village is your team’s ability to train the villagers to fight off armed intrusion and co-ordinate with other VSOs and state actors. Hopefully this will diminish in time and the legacy of entrepreneurial skill you establish will push the bearing of arms into history but at this point in time VC it is a secondary skill-set, albeit are more important one over time, but still down the list.

As you are aware the opportunities are limited. The carpet and leather goods cottage-industry has for decades been done to death and the market place is flooded with vast stocks of questionable quality. The selling price of the finest items (requiring the skills of a master craftsman and not a child ) barely justify the effort.

The roundel of goat cheese is a product which is plentiful and sustainable and has been highly sought after throughout the sub-continent since before Alexander. It stores well, travels well (the cheese roundel is highly prized in the UK for cheese rolling hill races) and could definitely be improved with some hand-cranked dairying machinery. The retail premium giving to such organic products bodes well for the more lucrative but much more stringently regulated western market. Obviously there is also the canned variety which needs less processing but requires more in fixed plant outlays – but nothing that can’t be done by manpower. The emphasis on sterilizing equipment is no easy discipline to instil in an Afghan villager.

Mining is probably the most lucrative financially. The petrol driven jack hammer was the king for the Muj. The eyes of the traditional hammer and chisel miners would bulge out of their heads when we let rip with the petrol jack-hammer. The only problem if you didn’t have enough of them they would squabble bigtime . The emphasis was to avoid the use of blast as the shockwave severely degraded the lapis lazuli compared to the gem-stone extracted by old-school hammer and chisel. The gas hammer/drill did the job as sweet as the old method and was in another world productivity-wise. They loved them to a fault.

Obviously the removal of protruding rock within the village (where blasting isn’t possible ) is rendered much easier and more rapid. The cutting of fighting positions, walkways, masonry, mill stones, wells etc is infinitely easy. Despite the lack of immediate financial reward all of these non-mining tasks enhance the modernization ethos - displaying more effective methods, better time-management and the communal use of an economic multiplier.

I won’t bother to mention the 800 pound gorilla which makes its presence felt when certain holes are dug but the holes won’t be done quietly that’s for sure.

Probably the most effective modernizing venture which required an all inclusive effort and returned an all encompassing benefit was hydro-electric power generation. The advent of LED lighting as opposed to filament bulbs back in the day has made the possibility of illuminating every room in the village a reality. I have no experience in wind turbines but they are considerably more efficient to what they were. The presence of lighted rooms has profound implications which many westerners take for granted. Cleanliness and hygiene - whether personnel or household is very much dependent on available indoor lighting. Light bulbs enable the removal of burning torches and noxious smoke from the confines of a traditional Afghan home. Education and cottage industry in the home is heavily reliant on lighting - especially for females. Public security and safety is likewise heavily influenced by even a minimal amount of public lighting around the village.

Surreptitiously the initial intention is to provide the local Imam with a speaker system so that all the faithful may hear his sweet voice 24/7 from dawn to dusk. Needless to say the mosque will be suitably well lit first and foremost but from there the light will spread to the homes of the faithful. Unfortunately you’ll probably never be forgiven for giving the biggest pain in the ass in the village a PA system but you get the drift.
The necessary input of labor from the village is considerable - much more so for hydro than wind – but the system’s security is another function which the VSO can adopt on behalf of the community; especially if the dam is a considerable distance from the main village. If you have grid power I dare say it will be intermittent so a home-grown source of illumination when the grid goes down is no small technical boast.

The significant demand from households located in remote areas of the US and Canada and those folks who go green by choice rather than necessity has meant there is a vast amount of practical information on independent natural power generation and manpowered industrial appliance. Obviously there are many NGOs will copious amounts of information and manpower but their inherent byzantine decision making and an aversion to combat engineering renders them virtually useless.

Finally, your essay caught my attention as it addresses an oversight which has over time caused great damage to the US. When the Wahhabis moved into the rural areas of Afghanistan their main tactical weapon was money. Even villages which were blessed with plentiful natural resources were cash poor and a wad of worthless rupees or afghanis turned a lot of heads. As opposed to what you may have read the Wahhabi never fought the Soviets – unbeknown to everyone their sole objective was to establish a safe-haven from where to attack the US.

Needless to say a VSO unit manned by blood relatives trained and supported by a ODA team and fighting on their home turf are match for just about anyone. Something the ISI trained ALQ/Taliban are keenly aware of. As you are obviously aware this would not necessarily deter the Wahhabi ‘carpetbagger’ . However your efforts at establishing an entrepreneurial ethos should address this shortcoming and instil into the mind of the villager that it is not bundles of cash handouts that creates and sustains wealth but enterprise.



Thu, 05/31/2012 - 6:13am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Development is already one of the core components of Irregular Warfare's Stability Operations. What is being proposed is not the wholesale hand off of development to SF, but rather a refinement, the introduction of formal training so as to far better allocate already tasked development resources and efforts. I agree fully, traditional development efforts have for the most part been failures. But I would put forward this is not due to economic development being a fruitless endeavour bound to failure, or being conditional upon preconditions, but rather the logic behind and how such has been applied is the cause of such failures.

There is a world of difference between the mind of government and the mind of business, between the mind of business and finance and even more so between the mind of early stage companies and that of corporations. Until very recently, with the advent of the Acumen Fund, et al, most all development efforts were led by government and/or NGO's often in concert with larger financial and corporate interests. This is of course a model bound to fail in highly underdeveloped areas as we cannot hope to use the Marshall Plan in areas which have not previously been well developed economically.

The Venture Capital mind, the very early stage models and practices, is the only mind capable of the task. I would recommend again looking at Social Development Venture Capital. Now as to SF and why such. Because we are the ones going into the dangerous places where the 1%ers rule, the ones wearing guns and body armor while conducting meetings with village leaders focused on governance, security and development. We are the ones who go in when the Risks are too high for others and we are the ones 'selling' stability, which requires all three legs (governance, security and development).

And selling stability today, in the ever integrating and visible world, is far more complex and involved than during the Cold War. And those of us trained to fight that war (regardless our position is such war) must not bias our beliefs and practices with Cold War Era thinking. When conducting Stability Operations, Green Berets are 'selling' a product and that product at its very basest is improvement in living conditions. At the very entry and individual level SF is involved, that increase is minimal, but must be obvious and almost immediate, to make the product attractive enough for the local populace to stand up good governance and security.

We are already making these investments and having these conversations as part of VSO and Irregular Warfare elsewhere. What we are not doing is looking at communities, and groups of communities in which SFODA's are operating as a whole, as ecosystems, nor how to apply such with tactical precision. We use MAAWS as a tool in one off projects and grants with little regard to Return on Investment other than short-lived loyalty and friendships. Directly to your point, what is the strategic value in such, beyond the one time transaction and very transitory and non-trusted relationship?

All I am arguing for is the introduction of formal training to refine our development and MAAWS efforts and thinking for the missions we already conduct, in the parts of the world where we are already conducting them. As a soldier it is a moot point to me what weapon system the Congress and DOD have decided I use (though I do hope it is appropriate to the task). What is critical however is how precisely I apply such weapon system to the accomplishment of the mission, to realization of Return on Investment, which in the case of SF means Stability.


Wed, 05/30/2012 - 10:35pm

NedMcD wrote below that

<i>the strategic context of the current phase of that mission is clear for the U.S.: we are leaving. That leaves Green Berets, like EM, with the necessity of looking beyond immediate activities to sustainable legacies in the here and now.</i>

Again, this to me begs the question of what the effort is intended to achieve. If we're going to assign SF troops as village development mentors in the form of development venture capitalists, we need some idea of the strategic goal that's being pursued. Are we trying to defeat the Taliban by creating jobs and wealth-generation opportunities? If so, have we realistically assessed the time frame that would be required for such a venture to succeed, if it succeeds at all?

Or have we simply decided that ground-up economic development in Afghanistan is a goal in its own right?

Are we pursuing this project in support of a strategic goal, or as a strategic goal in its own right?

Nitpicking questions perhaps, but I don't think they are entirely irrelevant.

Economic development, large scale or small, is a complex business with a long history of failure. Is this a portfolio that we want to turn over to the US military? Maybe so, but before that decision is made it needs to be thoroughly thought through.


Wed, 05/30/2012 - 10:25pm

Obviously all revolutions are different, but I don't see any prevailing trend of people taking up arms against their countrymen in order to oppose change and preserve a tradition-based status quo. In many revolutions the opposite id the case: people take up arms against their countrymen to force a change in an unacceptable status quo, typically one sustained by elites that find that status quo comfortable. Look at your example of the Japanese samurai... emotional attachments aside, is this not a case where a threatened elite fought to sustain their own dominance?

I think you'd find that civil conflict is typically less about fighting to sustain a traditional way of life than about various factions supporting or opposing change for their own reasons.

PS: that was meant to be a reply to Bill C's post below.

G Martin

Tue, 05/29/2012 - 12:50pm

(Meant to be in response to RC's post) Saying they want modernization and actually being willing to make the sacrifices necessary to encourage it are very different things. Sure everyone wants to be "better"- but whether they want our definition of modernization is another story. We have tied modernization to women's rights, freedom, human rights, religious tolerance, education, secular over religious, capitalism, rule of law, free trade, meritocracy, etc. They might want to be richer- but they don't necessarily want all that other stuff. So- my point is it is problematic to use such a sweeping generalization and state that everyone wants to be modernized. If that means more money and better infrastructure- then, yes- but, as Bill stated- tying that to a motivation to fight for it is a stretch (or to stop supporting the fighting of others). This, then, is your logic, unless I'm wrong- 'if we modernize a community, they will stop supporting insurgency- because everyone wants to be modern, therefore we should prioritize development. I have great issues with that simplistic logic- if that is what you were saying.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 05/29/2012 - 1:44am

Had made in Diyala (Baqubah) in 2005 the suggestion after a long number of interrogations that indicated that the problems we were having with IDF was that the "unemployed" were earning 300 USD per fired round.

Suggested that we pay once a month every male over the age of 18 a monthly unemployment check---creating a direct competition to the 300 USD being paid by the insurgency. If nothing else it would have driven the IDF costs for the insurgency into the atmosphere in order to compete.

Suggestion was turned down by DoS.

What did eventually drive the IDF firing costs to 1500 USD per fired round was the 2 minute responses by the Paladins against the POOs. Once the costs reached 1500 USD the IDF attacks stopped---so yes economics can drive insurgencies to change their behavior.

G Martin

Mon, 05/28/2012 - 4:21pm

exactly. "To Free the Oppressed" becomes "To employ the unemployed"...

Bill C.

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 5:50pm

In reply to by emburlingame

Consider again whether you think my argument is spurious.

Do this by explaining why unemployed and impoverished people all over the world, for eons and still today, do not take up arms against their own country/countrymen; this, although many/most of these individuals had/have none of the opportunities or options that were/are available to you.

I would suggest that if you wish to find on-point cases of when individuals take up arms against their own country/countrymen (examples: the American Indians, the American Southerners and the Japanese Samurai in the mid-19th Century), then you should look to when someone (very often a foreigner) decides that the present way of life of the subject population is outdated, obsolete, and/or does not provide them (the foreigners) with sufficient opportunities or options.

G Martin

Tue, 05/29/2012 - 11:37pm

In reply to by emburlingame

We would "deny the same" if our country/people make that call. This is a political call- and I would submit you are arguing for imposing one political/strategic approach on our politicians by implying the only way to reach U.S. policy objectives in failed states is to offer the people options out of poverty. The R2P concept is also a political theory- just as failed states are threats to our security in all places and times.

If you are arguing, as I think you are, that the U.S. should embark upon a worldwide economic development effort (or just one in Afghanistan) and use SF to do so- then that is a political platform based on several theories/assumptions about how humans behave and what U.S. power should be used for. Much beyond the scope, IMO, of offering an SF-centric concept for the tactical approach to COIN. Again, I'd caution against thinking everyone thinks like you do and will behave/act like you have.


Tue, 05/29/2012 - 10:28pm

In reply to by Bill C.

This is a spurious argument. Of course I did not take up arms against my own country. Because that very country both ensured I survived (welfare, foodstamps, etc.) and was well educated (both public and private schools), but more importantly, that country provided me with a way out. I had no need or desire to fight against my own country or family because there was every opportunity for me to go on and have a good life. I did not need to fight six brothers for the same infertile piece of land. And there was every opportunity for me to go on and accomplish the things I have accomplished, to play the game at a much higher level. That was all made possible by our dynamic and expanding economy, by the entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists which ensured the economic engine kept growing and evolving, and all the other immense number of participants.

And had I wished to retain my meager and impoverished 'cherished way of life' I had every opportunity to do just that also. The point is, I had options. These people have virtually none. Give them options and let them decide where they take them. As a father now, I realize I cannot dictate what my child will do. I can only give her some tools and knowledge and let her decide where she will take them, how she wishes to live her life. Would we deny that same for these people?

Bill C.

Tue, 05/29/2012 - 6:10pm

In reply to by RandCorp

Rand Corp:

Take another look at my comment above.

The impoverished EM I am refering to is not yet a venture capitalist, much less a green beret. He is his earlier self: an unemployed, impoverished young man living in America.

And, although he is an impoverished and unemployed young man living in America, he does not go to war against his own country, he does not abandon the way of life of his own country, and he does not adopt the way of life of another country.

Once someone threatens his country (America), however, and threatens his way of life, he saddles up -- much as people have done -- and still do -- all over the world.


Tue, 05/29/2012 - 5:41pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

You wrote,

"Although EM was impoverished, did he go to war against his own country, abandon the way of life of his own country and adopt the way of life of another country because of this?"

If EM had attempted to force upon any single villager just one of the options you listed above he would more than likely be dead. At the very least his team would have been asked to leave the village at gun-point very early in the mission. So I think it is safe to say he and his team have better judgement than you give them credit for.

Essentially the very lives of his team are in the hands of the villagers. This is the trade off - you trust them with your lives and they reciprocate with the trust that your efforts are honourable and are worthy of consideration.

In his various posts EM has repeatedly pointed out the importance of establishing trust with the leadership. General Dempsey will be pleased at least one Green Beret team is listening to him.


Bill C.

Tue, 05/29/2012 - 11:14am

In reply to by RandCorp

Rand Corp:

I have little first-hand experience like you. Just Vietnam. (Herein, I wonder if your first-hand experience with the native leaders and the native elite might be most valuable.)

Rather, I have gained my perspective from reviewing history and watching events unfold over my lifetime.

Let me try to address your thoughts this way:

Although EM was impoverished, did he go to war against his own country, abandon the way of life of his own country and adopt the way of life of another country because of this?

Rather should we say that when EM goes to war, it was because some foreign entity has threatened his country and his way of life?

As to vulnerable, disenchanted youth. Certainly if a foreign power (say a communist great power during the time of the Cold War) sought a means to advance its ideas and interests, then the youth of various countries would be -- because of their relative lack of knowledge, experience, understanding, perspective, wealth, status and investment -- a very excellent target indeed.


Tue, 05/29/2012 - 2:11am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

You oft forward the suggestion that peoples living in ‘Third World’ rural environments are reasonably content to avoid modernization. I am curious to know where are these people located. I have spent the best part of 40 years right around the Western Pacific, SE Asia, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan training and working with the native inhabitants. I did only six months in China but the sentiment seemed the same in all these places where I spent much longer.

Everyone wanted to escape the ‘backwardness’ - especially so the the young. In many ways I thought their life-style idyllic but most were desperate to escape. The fact that they glided across turquoise lagoons to go fishing on their canoes every morning or herded goats with a backdrop of breath-taking beauty in the Hindu Kush did not change that in the slightest. EM even covers what it is like to be an impoverished Native American. My visits to rural regions throughout the US, Europe & Australia suggest his first-hand accounts correlate very closely to what I have found amongst the young almost everywhere.

Obviously in a war-zone the desire to escape is understandable but in the long periods of boredom between fighting the same desire I recognized in peaceful regions soon came to the fore. So I am curious to know from where you gained your perspective?


Bill C.

Mon, 05/28/2012 - 11:38am

Framing the debate:

Given that modernization and development characteristically require that populations -- who might prefer to live in a more-closed, more-exclusive and/or more-unique environment -- must, instead, have their state and society "opened up" and their political, economic and social systems totally "re-vamped;" so as to better accommodate and better provide for cosmopolitan uses.

And given that modernization and development are, thus, well known to be -- if not THE most destabilizing force that the world has ever known -- then certainly ONE OF THE most such destabilizing forces.

Given these facts, then are the interests of the United States best served by having the green berets seen by the population as individuals who are working to "open-up" and otherwise transform their village such that it might better accommodate foreign ideas, foreign enterprises and foreign populations?

Or might this cause the population to see the green berets in a less favorable light than that which we might require?


Mon, 05/28/2012 - 1:57am

I agree- too many assumptions stated as facts- that kind of writing is problematic if we are to learn and encourage open and honest debate.

The crux of this theory rests on several assumptions:

1) That development is necessary for stability
2) That stability is always in the interest of the U.S.
3) That the military can do sustainable development

I have problems with all three of these assumptions.

If, for instance, Afghan stability means Pakistani instability and Pakistan has nukes and AQ- and Afghanistan has... Taliban- then I think Afghan stability actually undermines U.S. interests.

If, for instance, stability means a pro-Sharia law country- say, Syria or Egypt- then stability isn't necessarily in the interests of the U.S.

If, for instance, stability and development means higher costs to the U.S. for resources, then stability won't necessarily be viewed as in the interests of the U.S.

(funny- the interests of the U.S.- since they are subjective and political- can change on a daily basis...)

If, for instance, the grievances in the Occupy Wall Street Movement are for social justice and not for increased employment, greater wealth, or more investment opportunities- then development in this case does not mean more stability (probably less stability).

Likewise, developing a sub-tribe can and has led to more instability as other sub-tribes/tribes feel threatened and conclude we have taken sides.

Lastly, I'm confounded at when the military became this Peace-Corps/USAID mouthpiece all of a sudden. It wasn't too long ago that we looked at development advocates like Tom Tuttle of Tacoma Washington in the movie Volunteers. There was a healthy doubt within our military of the feasibility of the whole "development industry" and mind-set. There was much more faith in long-term, host-nation-led, emergent phenomena guiding development as opposed to anything a bunch of missionaries- wearing uniforms or not- could do.

I would just encourage a healthier dose of less hubristic attitudes towards what development can do, if we can actually do it, and if it always is in the interests of the U.S. This whole idea that the world should be turned into a capitalistic, investor-friendly, and democratically governed entity is a political theory- and it isn't one held by the current administration. It wasn't held by the prior one either- until after 9/11... The bottom line is that it is a theory, many indigs might not agree with that theory (whether it is right or not), and many Americans right now don't support using that theory to justify deploying soldiers- SF or not.

Lastly I'd say don't assume SF will be there forever or must establish anything long-term. Congress pulled the funding to Vietnam shortly after we "won" there. Don't be surprised if they do the same to Afghanistan and we have no SF there in the near-term. Assumptions kill... (oh- and what happens if GIRoA decides- after they take lead here soon- to do away with VSO and ALP? What happens when the host nation government doesn't want us to do development- or at least bottom-up development??)

Bill M.

Sun, 05/27/2012 - 4:04am

In reply to by NedMcD


Dayuhan's criticism and mine differ considerably based on our experiences. I understand EM's passion, and while I do criticize his writing style because his tone implies his assumptions about human behavior are facts. They're not, they are at best a hypothesis. Most of my criticism is directed at his chain of command. It seems the VSO program is counter productive to our stated end of improving the legitimacy of the Afghan government (I'm not saying this is realistic, but if that is the objective then we shouldn't conduct activities that undermine it).

Agree or disagree the author of the article at the link below suggests that the VSO program should be stood down immediately. I don't know enough about how it fits into the larger context of our overall strategy (I do know the party line about making ALP tie into ANP, but I don't know if it is really working). More importantly the author makes some recommendations to narrow ISAF's objectives to the feasible and the ones that are clearly in our national interests, and nation building is not one of them.…

I agree with your point that the failure of our civilian agencies has nudged the military into the missionary business, and that has been detrimental to the force and the effort to defeat our adversaries (since we still say we're fighting the Taliban). That would conflict with your statement that Green Berets are not taking sides. NGOs may not take sides, peace keepers may not take sides, but our guys are definitely taking sides. I often think we would be better served by pursuing a peace enforcement approach and remain neutral, and simply target anyone that uses violence to pursue their ends, but even if that was feasible at one time, I think that window of opportunity has long passed.

I'm as interested in development as anyone else from a humanitarian perspective, but I don't believe the success or failure of development will win or lose the conflict for us. I posted a short book review today on "Behavioral Conflict" at the link below. It is an excellent book that challenges the prevailing wisdom associated with development (among other things) and how it relates to behavior in a conflict zone. I highly recommend reading it, so if nothing else we can discuss and debate the points the authors make. The authors are senior British military officers and a behavioral scientist. It is evident that they, like most senior military men, have been humbled by their experiences over the years in conflict zones. They point out that there much we don't know and don't understand when it comes to behavior in conflict zones, but encourage a greater effort to gain that understanding and use advances in modern behavior science to pursue our ends. If men like this can write with humility, I expect the same from our young CPTs in the field. By all means write, discuss, debate, but avoid making stating opinions as facts.

I think you'll get a better idea where my counterarguments are coming from after you read the article and the book (or at least my short review which doesn't do the book justice).

Dayuhan and Bill,

Thank you for well considered criticisms of my commentary to EM Burlingame’s provocative thought experiment. Before I address your questions, permit me to clarify four points.

I am a civilian and not a veteran.

There are points in EM Burlingame’s analysis where I clearly disagree.
Most of the things I say will be directly or implicitly present in EM’s article, which I have just re-read.

Finally, please accept my apologies for an inability to be concise.

As with any developing endeavor, the milestones achieved along the way are intermediate ends achieved toward a larger objective, or end state. The unclear and uncertain backdrop behind this current mission is due precisely to what EM points out: a high-risk, uncertain arena similar to that facing seed and angel investors.

As far as I can see, the idea avoiding or minimizing risk in the context of Operation Enduring Freedom, remains out of step with the decisions of two Commanders-in-Chief. The extended presence of U.S. and N.A.T.O. combat forces implicitly assumes the overwhelming risk to life and limb of our soldiers.

In any case, the strategic context of the current phase of that mission is clear for the U.S.: we are leaving. That leaves Green Berets, like EM, with the necessity of looking beyond immediate activities to sustainable legacies in the here and now.

The surge served partly as the basis of future withdrawal so that U.S. leadership could say, “Hey, we tried; hey we’re tired; hey, we are out of here…” I share the misgivings of taking a page out of the People Army’s old playbook of using military forces as instruments of social change. Part of that anxiety comes from seeing the Army take over yet another sphere of overseas development operations.

On the other hand, working as a civilian in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you that the civilian side has failed; while foot soldiers risk their lives in the red zone while bureaucrats and staff officers buzz around the green zone, most of the civilian workers languish in a yellow zone of very rarely leaving the PRT bases and spinning up product that lies somewhere between creative and deceptive.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, that nudges the foot soldiers and special operations personnel into that missionary mind-set. They know the terrain better than anyone; witness the project you cited where locals resisted a civilian development project, Dayuhan.

The concern for unintended consequences is compelling but not crippling. Yet, as EM states, but that presence is the nature of risk. The 90% companies funded by venture capitalists that fail do so for unforeseen risks that sound often like the blow-back of unintended consequences. So do what the venture capitalists do: diversify the risks and build in flexibility for response.

In the practical terms of Village Stability Operations, that means recruiting at least one potential entrepreneur from each tribe or faction in the area of operations, while making it clear that the Green Beret is not interested in taking sides, much as General Dayton did so well on the West Bank or General Garner had started to succeed in doing in Baghdad.

On the issue of obstacles like an absence of property rights, again diversification would be important, provided that the Green Beret could fire dud-appointments of any clan in the interest of empowering local elders to release their best talent into the program. Additionally, property rights will only have any meaning when there are physical assets or intellectual property to defend.

With time and the thinking of the (ad)venture capitalist’s discipline ingrained into the collective local conscience, the need for, and desirability of, property rights will grow concurrently. In short, the rivaling factions, that today make Afghanistan a non-state and her provinces mêlées of abused might, would find their interests best served by adapting Western property rights to their particular Islamic context.

With all major groups represented in this program -- in the wider context of neutrality professed and practiced to gain credence over time with results – the often-heard complaint of taking sides would be assuaged. The issue of de-stabilizing influences arising from the approach advocated by EM represents the unpleasant manifestations of unintended consequences, or what happens in risk-taking.

After more than a decade of Western presence in Afghanistan – including the presence of these soldiers themselves – any action or absence of it will have a street-level impact of a policy. In the relatively peaceful province where I served in Afghanistan, the pending arrival of 1,000 U.S. troops, there to enhance security and police training, created an adverse effect through pre-emptive resistance.


Because local Pashtuns feared that these troops were there to target them and that fear alone created consequences, like a willingness to invoke Pashto-Wali to harbor militant members of the Pakistani Taliban bent on fighting the ‘infidel occupiers’. The sticking point is that unintended consequences will exist no matter what we do or do not do.

Yet that ever-present challenge should prompt us to focus on teaching people how to build a life for themselves through the discipline of the start-up investment model, and not paralyze us into thinking that painting a mosque or refurbishing a school will accomplish anything or even buy time for a given regiment to finish a tour with few casualties. It takes little time for paint to start pealing.

The key and clever element of EM Burlingame’s framework is that it functions like a rolling budget, with tactics and activities automatically refining themselves – while continually adapting the framework itself – with the accumulating feed-back of incoming information and newly identified challenges.

While the problem of unforeseen consequences will always arise – whether it occur in an investment portfolio or village stability operations -- the villagers themselves may well, with mentoring from the Green Beret, manage those challenges and risks themselves by adapting the concepts of the model to the circumstances of the ground-truth.


Sun, 05/27/2012 - 12:20am


Of course instability is the antithesis of what we are tasked to accomplish in those countries in which SF operators. However, we need to be very careful when espousing a fear of introducing instability by conducting development efforts and through more efficient and effective allocation of US funds. I believe there are a couple fallacies we must be careful not to fall into when making arguments against SF being better trained and more precise in the application of the funds it already applies whenever it deploys to a country.

The first fallacy is that these places are stable to begin with. I would argue SF would not be called upon to go into these areas in the first place were they stable. And further I would state it is this very mind, the desire to create no further instability, which is at the root of the problem and which allows the local system to protect itself to the detriment of the populace (please see next article: Irregular Warfare; The Mind of the System vs the Mind of the Disruptor).

The second fallacy leads from the first and is that a stable and prospering community can be derived from keeping the status quo and not initially creating further instability. There is no system derived from the physics (quantum or classical) or the social (psychology, culture, philosophy, religion, etc) which can reach a higher and more sustainable level of expansion without first introducing instability. And unless we are talking about stopping the inexorable increase in human population, all communities and countries must evolve to reach a higher and more sustainable level of growth (if only to absorb the productive capacity of the younger generation).

With Respect,


Sun, 05/27/2012 - 1:16am

In reply to by Dayuhan

"As a general rule I'm not convinces that US military personnel should be employed as armed development workers, missionaries for globalization, or any similar role, whoever desirable that may seem in any immediate sense."

As long as we are not willing to wear the armor and the weapon under the suit, to wear the kit and gun while conducting development efforts, the enemies of stability win. They will do this by keeping their violence and insurgency just above the level which is required to keep civilized development workers out and just below the "that's enough" level of those who are unwilling or reticent to do violence.

If we stay behind the walls of "civilization" of "letting others be as they will be" of "not introducing instability", we will forever be relegating those people who live outside our walls to be subject to those 1%ers who are willing to do violence. For an analog look at something closer to home, the inner cities of our major metropolitan centers.

Bill C.

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 11:22am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Questions hopefully along the general lines of Dayuhan's comment immediately above:

a. Thus, "village stabilty operations" -- of the nature described by the author above (with his very best intentions being duly noted) -- potentially having a more "destabilizing" rather than "stabilizing" effect?

b. True in the past and likewise true again today?


Wed, 05/23/2012 - 11:41pm

In reply to by NedMcD

<i>The Green Beret serving in Afghanistan today in the area of V.S.O. understands all too well that he must make changes in the village itself that will persist and strengthen over time, after his departure. And he must make those changes very soon.</i>

Is "making changes" in a village an end in itself, or a means to an end? If the latter, to what end? I ask because it seems to me that one of the great problems we've had in Afghanistan is a lack of clarity and certainty on objective and desired end state.

As a general rule I'm not convinces that US military personnel should be employed as armed development workers, missionaries for globalization, or any similar role, whoever desirable that may seem in any immediate sense.

Trying to promote entrepreneurship and economic development in a village setting is often utterly dependent on the surrounding environment. Is there a legal framework to protect private property and defend small entrepreneurs? Is the area afflicted by predatory elites determined to maintain their own economic dominance?

Not idle questions: I've personally witnessed a case where villagers rejected and opposed projects designed to help them, because they knew what the project proponents didn't: that if the project succeeded in making their land more valuable and their farms more productive, they would quickly be pushed off that now-valuable land by bigger, stronger parties.

What this paper sets out to do is ambitious: the integration of two radically different disciplines (i.e., start-up or venture capital finance and village stability operations) and to embrace risk rather than mitigate it. As in other situations that generate innovation, basic constraints often drive the creativity.

The United States is exhausted, morally and financially, with the conflict in Afghanistan. Time and money are limited. The Green Beret serving in Afghanistan today in the area of V.S.O. understands all too well that he must make changes in the village itself that will persist and strengthen over time, after his departure. And he must make those changes very soon.

Enough of these villages have satellite dishes or internet access to make people in the countryside aware of what their current culture is not providing them. These people may feel deeply aligned with their ancient ways. Nevertheless, many villagers may not see a better standard of living, generated by their initiative, as incompatible with their traditional values.

Accommodating tradition to economic development presents a powerful alternative to doing one without one of the two. Thus, the Green Beret is similar to a venture capitalist or seed investor in that he seeks out the right talent to pursue the right opportunities in the village. Repeating this process enables others in that community to learn how to advance not only their own lot in life but prospects for their children and grandchildren.

While their investment discipline is cultivated within these selected entrepreneurs and filtered by their culture, these younger leaders, over time, attain the ability to frame and solve other challenges to the development of their villages, their regions, their countries. They mature into leaders who can teach others how to generate value from what resources they have.

This process will take many years. Applying this creative model -- to be adapted with time, failure, practice and success -- not only begins to integrate the forgotten and alienated poor into the global economy but gives them a stake in a future of order, governance and incremental development. Without a far seeing approach (based less on immediate finanical resources than on adaptive ingenuity) that outlives the life of a particular Green Beret's deployment, the cycle of exported violence, intervention, insurgency and counter-insurgency will not be disrupted by a vision that transcends immediate fault-lines and embedded hopelessness

Mark O'Neill

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 8:27pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill - in answer to (2) - whilst not called VSO, in practice remarkably similar, I would suggest maybe the British in Dhofar?


Bill M.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 3:19am

In reply to by sfsct3172

1) Do we need an overall strategy? Absolutely. Do they fight with an overall strategy? The Taliban most certainly do, but if you mean the warlords and their tribal disputes then perhaps not. Do “they” have meetings to determine MOPs and MOEs? I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Obviously this distraction has done nothing for us, so it isn’t approach that a wise adversary would mimic. Is it possible that a great unifying theme alone can direct the course of a loose confederation of elements towards victory? Perhaps, but that unifying theme won’t come from us, it will come from them, and we will probably have to get out of the way for that to happen (didn’t the Taliban provide the unifying theme after years of lawlessness?) I suspect victory for most Afghans is getting ISAF out of their country, in the end the Afghans know they’ll have to live with the Taliban (that doesn’t mean the Taliban will rule the country, but they’ll be there). What clear cut win do we seek?
Is it really useful to compare our revolution to the Afghans, especially as the counterinsurgent? It may be a useful act of humility to review British assumptions during the American assumption to see if we’re falling into the same arrogance trap in Afghanistan. The American revolution was complex, not unlike any other war, so any analysis of it boiled down to a couple of paragraphs is bound to be flawed, but a couple of interesting points beyond their logistical challenges and support our support the French and Spain, were British assumptions. They assumed the rebellion was due to only a handful of rebels, and if they seized a major city the rebellion would end. They soon learned that they needed to suppress a rebellion that covered a huge area, not just crush a few extremists in a couple of towns. The rebels on thought they couldn’t defeat the British, but suspected they could exhaust them economically and spiritually. Most interesting is the Brits assumed the American rebels were incompetent, and the Brits OVER ESTIMATED their support from the loyalists. These estimates led to rosy reports being sent home (must have been their version of MOE/MOP), and these reports led British officials to believe the resistance was a just a few rebels and that the loyalists would rise up at any time to help the British defeat them, so once again a failure to understand leads to bad decisions.
2) Yes, it was tried countless times, but I can’t recall any war where foreigners conducted it that the foreigners won?
3) As you know this isn't the U.S., so comparisons are not hlepful. Of course it hinders the process, and if it doesn't work then the process needs to be adjusted.

There are a couple of approaches to studying history, one is to study it casually and not attempt to understand why people behaved as they did. In my opinion this has led to a lot of less than stellar academic studies on COIN (based on statistics, not the social, political and economic context), and attempts to mimic so called tried and proven tactics from previousl counterinsurgents regardless of whether the tactic fits the context we're in today or not. The other approach is to study it with a critical eye and a multi-disciplinary approach to gain greater understanding. We are failing because we don't understand our environment, and we continue to try to over simplify it with claims of all people are the same, they just want jobs, or they just want security, all the while ignoring they don't want us in their backyard.


Mon, 05/21/2012 - 10:07am

In reply to by G Martin

G Martin and Bill M,
Thanks for the quick responses. I appreciate the comments. To answer some of your comments:
1) Of courze there are constraints. I did not mean to imply that ODAs operate without any, or above the law, but the latitude allowed them is much greater than that of GPF. I think the really interesting discussion here is: Do we need an overall stratey to deal with a cellular organization. Do they fight with an overall strategy? Do they have planning meetings to determine MOPs and MOEs? Is it possible that a great unifying theme alone can, in itself, direct the course of a loose confederation of elements towards a victory? I would say yes. Isn't that what made us successful in the Revolutionary war and isn't that the organization that has effectivly bogged down the greatest Army in history in Afghanistan? Does it get us the ultimate clear cut win we want/expect, no, but IMO it does gain us more stability with considerably less resources and in fact less risk.
2) Also, to be clear VSO is not a new concept invented in Afghanistan. These things have been done before in multiple countries, each adapted to the culture and history of the region. There is no set approach and it needs the VC flavor to adapt and remain relevant.
3) As for the problems of intergration of ALP to the ANA is an issue, but one that should not hinder the process. Remember that our police forces are not successful because they are organizaed under one Federal unit, but because they are layered Federal, State and Local under the guiding concept of RoL.

Bill M.

Sun, 05/20/2012 - 8:54pm

In reply to by G Martin

A well put and needed correction to the record. I am confident I have more time on an ODA than any SF officer (excluding some Warrant Officers), and I have never had complete leeway on a mission, and more often than not our ODA had significant constraints. More often than not those constraints were appropriate based on our national strategy and objectives. That didn't mean we didn't desire to operate unconstrained, but we didn't. I think some of the comments in this article and the above post could unintentionally give some readers a misperception that SF is a rogue organization. Far from it, it is a professional organization that frequently operates at the grass roots level, and often has a better understanding of what is happening at the "tactical" level than other units. They're the ideal force to operate in politically sensitive environments because they understand the political dynamics and associated constraints and will make decisions accordingly without crossing red lines. Admittedly, there are some situations so ambiguous, and/or where there is no coherent strategy that ODAs (not unlike GPF) will begin operating independently in pursuit of what they think the objectives are until a strategy is developed and disseminated. 10 years into this war that should not be the case. All units, SOF or GPF should adapt to their environment, but SF in my opinion is organized, trained, and employed in a way that generally makes them more capable of understanding their environment (specifically in an irregular warfare environment) and adapting than most GPF organizations (though that line between the two has been graying in the last few years).

Your last paragraph is interesting, because it potentially indicates that we don't have a coherent strategy. Is the VSO effort at odds with other parts of ISAF's strategy? What about the Afghan's government's strategy? Is it really tying the ALP into the ANP in a way that gives the national government more legitimacy or control the villages? Tactically it sounds like the ODAs are doing outstanding, but how this ties into the bigger picture is still a little opaque to me.

G Martin

Sun, 05/20/2012 - 5:42pm

In reply to by sfsct3172

Hopefully an ODA realizes they ARE constrained- constrained by our country's policy objectives and the intent of their higher- all the way up to the President. Unfortunately not everyone in the military understands this- and we frequently think we should be left alone once a mission is given- to get at military objectives in disregard of everything political. Ignoring the great internal political effects of helping one village over another, one tribe over another, etc.- the external political effects of helping Afghans writ large are weighed by our government against other U.S. political factors: will of our people, budgetary constraints, regional effects, etc. To think that our ways can be divorced from the macro-level end-state is dangerous in my opinion: part of understanding one's environment is to make sure that one's own means and ways ARE synched with the overall strategy- and therefore one WILL be constrained by that overall strategy. Likewise, I shudder to think of the idea that an ODA should determine "the worth" of a mission- unless I'm understanding you wrongly. An ODA's mission, as I see it- unless illegal or clearly in opposition to a higher level's objectives- is its reason for existence at that moment in time.

Part of the problem, IMO, with VSO is that it arguably ISN'T synched with the overall strategy. Depending on how one defines "the strategy" (we didn't even have one according to several advisers to the President in 2009)- I think one can make the argument that VSO is potentially at odds with what several key stakeholders value, some of ISAF's Lines of Effort, regional U.S. interests, and our own people's will. In short, if the overall strategy relied more on a bottom-up effort and there was very little confidence in, or support of, GIRoA- then VSO might make sense. One wonders if VSO- like other loosely connected efforts in Afghanistan- is working against the overall ISAF effort. In theory it seems intuitive: temporary low-level efforts in areas GIRoA isn't present in IOT deny the insurgency freedom of maneuver. But, like most things in complex adaptive environments- things can be counterintuitive. It will be very interesting to see what happens to VSO- and many other initiatives- once we transition to Afghan-lead.


Sun, 05/20/2012 - 12:49pm

Excellent article. As a former A- 1/1 guy myself, with experience in both the Philippines and Afghanistan, I agree with your assessment of the situation with current policies and doctrine, as well as your comparisons between the operator and the VC. Although, my financial background does not qualify me in any way to compare with the successful VCs of our time, I would like to think that still being alive today after multiple deployments would validate most of my observations.

The ability of an ODA to survive in its environment is very similar to that of a small business. A balancing act of relationships, personnel, equipment and capital, enviable by no one, that if unsuccessful does not only result in bankruptcy, but death. It is vital that operators work without the constraints of doctrine and avail themselves of all types of methods to accomplish success.

After being sent by the Army to scores of undesirable locations for many times vague and unclear reasons, I have learned that uncovering the worth of a mission initially is more important to the organization than defining the actual objectives. Objectives focus our thought processes in a particular direction and automatically limit our options. This is great for cut and dry military operations, but not realistic or practical for an ODA. On the other hand, when assessing worth, we self-interestedly look to further our own ability to succeed through what-ever ways possible given the actual situation on the ground, not a set of confining ideals. Although, the chosen ways may not nest properly with higher, the ends ultimately do. This method allows for great potential in collaborative thought, planning and ultimately development of courses of action. In effect, the team can design and build their own societal framework within which they and the local populace both prosper. How much effort and resources do we apply? What is the risk to force and mission? What do I give up? When approaching mission planning from a business mentality, it is easier to establish achievable goals based on the actual state of affairs rather than aspiring to link with higher’s cookie cutter approach. When does a successful company reinforce failure? Never, they reinforce success.

A start-up business assumes from the beginning that it is building the foundations for a long term operation without an end-state and that it must understand “ the mind of the investor” and keep them involved throughout the process. This involvement equals “Stability”. However, our own military establishment is incapable of realizing individual and small local success as equating success in the “big picture” let alone establishing end-states. Synchronization matrix, MOEs, MOPs, etc. These are all devices for the giant business to assess its overall progress in controlling the environment, but towards what goal? Large organizations seek to maintain the status quo, not to collaborate. Why change when you are already in charge? This is the view from the top, and one developed without accounting for the incalculable complexities at the lower levels. But since when have the people of the world enjoyed management by “Big Brother”? This methodology inherently causes instability as a side effect. The only way to deal with it from the “big” approach is to obliterate resistance. This is not a techniques that further enhances relationships in any arena.

Is it possible that a confederation of independent small businesses working with each other, but retaining their individual identities can succeed in maintaining a consensus of agreement, mutual respect and “stability”? A bazaar in Afghanistan is a great example. If left alone, the shop owners will find ways to prosper together. When threatened by outside influences, to include US troops, they will unite, hire Arbakai, complain to the government and find ways to deal with problems together. They have successfully “understood the minds of their investors,” and realize that being a part of the community promotes stability more so than the local police/army that stand around guarding the community. If you are not part of the solution, than you are a part of the problem.

ODAs are allowed great autonomy when operating. Teams share approaches and techniques, but no overall strategy should be forced on a team conducting VSO. As in the same way a VC is not constrained by a puppet-master in the background. They adapt and survive by understanding their operational environment and assessing worth to everything they do. Their ability to go beyond standing guard around the bazaar and instead working with the community to enhance prosperity and promoting stability allows them to become members of the community and capitalize on their investments.

EM, keep up the great work over there and all the best.

Disclaimer: Hart, Brian M Command General Staff College, ILE Class 12-002. The comments written here, by me, are my personal views and not the views of my class and are no way affiliated with the views of the military.


a. My examples below of the American Indians, the American Southerners and the Japanese Samurai of old,

b. The example of communism and the Soviet Union in the recent past,

c. The example of our current foreign policy goal of transforming "outlier" states and societies along western lines,

d. And considering EM's 2nd paragraph comment at his May 19th, 5:23 AM posting below; which seems to suggest that a barrier to finance and economics is presented when states and societies (ours included?) tend to favor or make some accommodation for those who have -- over a lifetime -- earned or otherwise achieved a certain degree of power, respect and/or control (to wit: the elders).

Do these not, in fact, confirm my suggestion that what is seen as standing in the way of where venture capitalists want to go -- yesterday and today -- were/are certain "hindering" aspects of the way of life of these numerous and diverse populations?

As current assaults are made on certain aspects of contemporary ways of life (ours included?) -- which today's venture capitalists, like those of old, see as "walls" or "barriers" -- should we not expect that there will be those who will fight to keep their state and society in its more current and, in their view, more viable form? Herein, and as in days of old, using whatever modern tools and weapons (today: democracy and WMD) are available?

Lastly and considering the above, are the interests of the United States best served by the green berets being used in such an overt manner as they might be seen as "agents" or "employees" of the venture capitalists; whose new job responsibilites include fundamentally changing the state and society as the venture capitalists require?

Bill M.

Sun, 05/20/2012 - 12:19am

Another perspective

Quotes follow:

It is a different world, with a different time zone. In these enclaves everything is always new. Every engagement is seen as progress, every local commitment as an irreversible step forward. There are no taints of history or ambiguity, no weight of past failures. No ebb and flow, no mixed results. No time to ponder what happens if the expected momentum does not materialize.

Sometimes the optimism is taken to the extreme. Recently a group of international think tankers visited Kabul on a NATO-hosted trip. They were briefed for over a week on the many faces of progress and imminent success, and as they were getting ready to leave they were finally advised to write up their respective reports quickly. Things were moving fast and their information may become irrelevant rather soon.

Afghanistan deserves dedication and earnestness, and all the hope and optimism we can muster. But it also deserves realism, as well as assurances that we are not just weaving a narrative and spinning a story.

End Quote

The U.S. government policy wonks encourage cheerleading and intellectual dishonesty (and many in the military embrace this approach). The government discourages intellectual curiosity, especially when it conflicts with the accepted spin. They spend millions of dollars and waste thousands of man hours conducting assessments to "measure effects", despite the directive to stop this non-productive and self-delusional behavior. It should not be a surprise we're developing a new generation of cheerleaders, because that behavior is encouraged, yet the risk to mission from this behavior is severe, we are operating blind when we stop seeking the truth. Those that oppose us don't buy into our spin, so in the end we are only spinning tales for self-consumption.


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 4:29am

In reply to by Bill M.

I am not certain where you read in that jobs alone defeat insurgencies. An expanding economic base (job creation) however is a very substantial contributor to defeating an insurgency. And not certain exactly where all the push back is coming with respect to simply better applying and tasking the vast amounts of money we now pour into every area SF works in. Or would you rather we continue on the destructive path of funding which is a genuine concern voiced by those herein this chain of comments? And I am not sure where the article takes away from or denies all of the other vast and myriad efforts and participants involved in defeating an insurgency or states that this is the only or the total solution. The proposal only addresses the E in the DIMEFIL, though as with the other six elements of national power, each influences the other.

We should look to ideas put forward to push them and see if they stand the test of application, to set them aside if they have been proven to not work or to adopt them if they do. And we should be careful not to throw proposals out in whole but discuss the components and the application thereof as the whole or the proposed application may not be feasible but some of the components or a different application may very well augment or enhance other endeavours. Or we can attack the messenger (either directly or in a veiled manner) and challenge their validity to put forward such statements, challenges which stem from our own assumptions most often based on a lack of knowledge of the messenger and/or our own personal biases and prejudices. But then again, if the messenger cannot stand the heat, he shouldn't be delivering messages.

MAWS, and its cousins, are out there. They are not going away, and with the reduction in CF involvement these financial efforts will most likely increase. We can either learn to apply these funds in such a manner as to realize a constructive Return on Investment or we can keep applying them as we are and do little but create the very chaos and turmoil you are so rightly concerned with. You don't go to a banker and expect them to provide you a solid base defense plan. And in the same manner, you can't be expected to go to a soldier or government employee and expect them to develop a solid ROI plan. In both cases you go to the expert, the one with the training and experience. With Green Berets we are increasingly being asked to do both and as such we need to master both.

Bill M.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 1:19am

In reply to by Dayuhan

"People quickly learn to tell us what we want to hear, and much of what we hear consists of disguised efforts to get a hand into the till, not to help "the people". When some ideas get funding and others don't there's a perception of bias, and often resentment. Even when good enterprises get funded the presence of money often draws a feeding frenzy of parasites."

Very well said, but did you know that when you were a younger man, or is that knowledge you acquired after years of field work? These are complex issues, and our attempt to dumb it down to simple truths like jobs defeat insurgencies indicates our lack of understanding, and from there bad decisions spring to life, and although we had the best intentions the outcome is far from what we intended.


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 7:47am

In reply to by emburlingame

In a general sense I think people have a naturally entreprenurial instinct, though it doesn't always take the forms we are familiar with. When we see a deficiency in entrepreneurship in an area it's always worth looking for artificial constraints that may exist. Often these may source back to local elites that find the current order congenial and profitable, and who may see efforts to distribute entrepreneurship as contrary to these interests. This can put us in the position of trying to maintain good relations with local elites while simultaneously pushing economic initiatives those elites see as a threat. That contradiction isn't impossible to negotiate, we won't negotiate it successfully if we don't see it in the first place.

In general, before looking for ways to stimulate entrepreneurship and investment by adding resources (financial or otherwise) I'd look for reasons why entrepreneurship is not flourishing in the first place. Lack of resources is often not the only constraint.

SF may typically be first on scene in areas where the US has a military interest, but in many other areas where public and private civilian aid is a continuous presence there has been no SF exposure. Personally, I've watched many many attempts at "development" at numerous levels, from massive multilateral agencies to small NGOs. Most fail. Perhaps strangely, local initiatives undertaken without outside assistance seem much more likely to succeed. The reasons for that could easily fill a book or two.

I'll send something by e-mail that might explain a bit of what I observe... not directly related to US involvement here but at least it's already written...